Blind tasting challenge #1

As part of my WSET training, I force myself to blind taste wines and go through the description process that I have to apply. This could potentially be embarrassing, but it could be fun too. I grab a bottle off my wine rack (among a dozen options), then I put it in my trusty blind tasting sock, open it and then well, the magic happens. Well the magic is basically me going through my checklist of characteristics of the wine, it’s not very exciting as a spectator sport even though it’s like the Superbowl in my mouth. At the end I will venture a guess as of the nature of the wine and a judgement on its quality Simple in principle, complicated in practice.

The trusty wine sock

The trusty wine sock

Appearance :

Clarity : Clear

Intensity : pale

Colour : Ruby

Other Observations : with legs

I need better lighting for these pictures...

I need better lighting for these pictures…

Nose :

Condition : Clean

Intensity: medium +

Aroma Characteristics : red fruits : red cherries, raspberries, strawberries, fruit jam, stewed fruit, plum

Development : Developing

Palate :

Sweetness : dry

Acidity : high

Tannin : medium –

Alcohol : medium

Body : medium –

Flavour intensity : medium +

Flavour characteristic : red cherry, plum, prune, stewed fruit, redcurrant

Finish : medium –

Conclusions :

Quality level : acceptable

Level of readiness : can drink now, potential for ageing (but not much, maybe a couple years)

Identity : New World Pinot Noir, warm climate

Price category : mid-priced

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The wine : Mohua Pinot Noir 2012 from Central Otago, New Zealand

I got the New World and the variety and Central Otago is considered a warm region so, I didn’t do too bad. The winery’s tasting notes mention liquorice and cranberry, which I didn’t get at all… This did not end up too badly. I’m sure the next one will see me comically fail. Trust the process they say.

 

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Barnyard Burgundy under $20

Vincent Dureuil-Janthial, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, 2012

Region: Côte Chalonnaise, Bourgogne, France

Grape: 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Gamay

Price: $18

Last Friday was date night. I mean actual date night, at a non-divey restaurant, with hovering waiters, several menus, a large wine list and fancy lighting. It had been a while since an actual date night but it was nice to seat back and enjoy a great meal with a nice bottle of wine. It makes you feel like a grown-up, you know what I mean?

Well, I felt like a grown-up who was lost and bewildered when I looked at the wine list. It was big, with a lot of unknowns, hard to make a choice. Luckily, my eye fell on the name of a producer I knew and liked, Vincent Dureuil-Janthial. I tried a few of his whites a year or so ago and I was impressed. His wines come from the village of Rully, in the Côte Chalonnaise, south of the Côte de Beaune and north of the Mâconnais. Passetoutgrain is a weird appellation in the sense that it is not geography-based, like almost all Burgundy appellations, but rather variety based. Passetoutgrain wines mix Gamay (up to two thirds) and Pinot Noir (at least one third). Passetoutgrain is supposed to be a cheaper, less refined alternative to Pinot Noir burgundies but I trusted the producer and I was curious.

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Eye: light ruby

Nose: Clean, low to medium intensity. Red fruits (cherry) and flowers

Palate: Dry, medium to high acidity, medium body, all about the red fruits (raspberry and tart cherry). Underlying faint smoky notes, giving the wine a sort of huskiness. Medium finish.

Food pairings: Chicken, veal, pork, white meat in general

Overall opinion: Must love tartness. I think it’s closer to a traditional Bourgogne Red than to a Passetoutgrain. There is fruitiness yes, but it remains restrained, the Gamay playfulness is not really on display here. It is a well-made wine by a good producer at a very affordable price for a Burgundy. I liked the underlying, faint smokiness which gives it a barnyard style that I found enjoyable.

Grade: 7/10

Willamette Valley Wine Tour

After the city, and a quick presentation of the region, let’s do a quick overview of the three wineries we visited in the Willamette Valley.

First up was Rex Hill, just outside of Newberg. I have to say, it was the winery that impressed me the least. It’s a lovely building, an old hazelnut drying house, and they have a nice terrace and an aroma display that I thought was a very nice touch: you could sample a few different common wine aromas, a nice idea.

The aroma wheel

The aroma wheel

 

The issue was that the wines didn’t really make an impression. We tried a few of their pinot noirs and Chardonnays but the Pinots especially where underwhelming, too harsh for my taste. It was our first stop and I was worried. Fortunately, things improved quite a bit when we got to the next winery.

Winters Hills, deep into the Red Hills of Dundee did a lot to alleviate my worries, all the wines were very quaffable : Pinot Grigio (of which I’m usually not a fan), Pinot Blanc (not something you see often), rose from Pinot Noir (very interesting). All of these were more than decent and are great summer wines if you can get them. The rose in particular was bright and fruity with a bit of smoke, I highly recommend it.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, 1 week from harvest !

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, 1 week from harvest !

 

Then we moved on to the Pinot Noirs. First up the basic Pinot Noir 2009, a solid, affordable ($15) offering, then the Cuvee du Vigneron 2009, fuller, more complex and serious, with ageing potential, and finally, the 2008 Reserve, smooth with aromas that go way beyond the basic red berries. We’re talking cedarwood, cola, spices… Great wine, definitely could age more.

The tour concluded at the lovely Stoller Estate. Definitely the most impressive building of the three. The view is fantastic, and the building is brand new, built to be sustainable and ecofriendly (solar panels, natural materials…). The tasting room opens up to a great view of the Dundee Hills, it’s spacious, airy, and it looks damn cool.

View from the tasting room

View from the tasting room

The wines themselves were decent, nothing to write home about, but very solid if uninspiring to me. This place gave out a pretentious vibe to me, like trying too hard, and maybe that prevented me from enjoying myself, I don’t know, I’ll give Stoller an incomplete!

There it is, the three parts tale of my Oregon trip. Let’s week we will resume our regular programming of wine reviews, enjoy the weekend!

 

Meet the Willamette Valley

After exploring Portland and its wonders, it was time to make our way to the Willamette Valley for some wine tasting action. Conveniently, wine country is about 20 minutes outside of Portland, it made the whole thing a short trip. The Willamette Valley AVA is the biggest and most famous of Oregon’s wine growing region. It follows the Willamette Valley and is sheltered by two mountain ranges, the Coastal Range to the West and the Cascade Range to the East. This situation shelters the region and provides mild winters, cool and cloudy summers and damp autumns, sounds like good Pinot Noir Country.

The AVA is pretty big, as I mentioned, and there are even a few sub-appellations. Our wine tour actually took us to two of these smaller AVAs: Chehalem Mountains, centered on the town of Newberg which is really the heart of the Willamette wine country, and Dundee Hills, famous for its red soils and admittedly the top ranked sub-appellation.

The red Hills from the bottom

The red Hills from the bottom

Winemaking in Oregon is a recent development. The first modern attempts were made in the late sixties by rogue UC Davis students and they didn’t realize the potential for Pinot Noir until the mid-seventies. Once it happened though, it happened fast with the number of vineyards growing exponentially. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that exploitations tend to be on the smaller side, just like in the other Pinot Noir paradise, Burgundy.

Another Oregon-Burgundy connection is the Drouhin family, from Beaune, who decided to buy a vineyard in the Dundee Hills (we actually passed the vineyard during the trip). The legend says that it was the performance of Oregon Pinots in the 1979 Paris Wine Olympics (where an Oregon Pinot took second place) that prompted the interest of the Drouhins in the region. Whatever the cause was, the result is that they are there now, and that their wines are top notch.

The Red Hills from the top

The Red Hills from the top

That’s it for the region, next week I’ll finally talk about the wines and the three stops we made during our tour. A lot of wine was tasted and a lovely picnic was had on those famous Red Hills.

 

A visit to Portlandia : part 1, the City

At the beginning of summer, I spent a weekend in Portland, Maine with my sidekick. For Labor Day weekend, we decided to make things symmetrical by spending 4 days in Portland, Oregon. This one is further away from Boston, but it’s got a sizable advantage, it’s right outside of Oregon wine country. Of we went then. This is our story, a story of red eye flights, food trucks, runs along the Willamette River, street art, Subaru Outbacks, ironic facial hair, craft beer, thigh tattoos, plaid shirts and pinot noir. This is the story of a long weekend, in a few parts. First up, the city itself.

He's real !

He’s real !

Portland is named after Portland. I mean Portland, Oregon is named after Portland Maine. The two founders of the city were from New England, from Portland and Boston to be precise. They both wanted to name their new city after their old cities. How did they settle this? How did they chose between Portland and Boston? They flipped a coin. Of course they did. Best out of three and Portland it was. You can actually see the penny they used at the Portland Historical Society.

This is a happy BBQ pig

This is a happy BBQ pig

The city is parted by the Willamette Valley that runs North to South and is crisscrossed by bridges (Nickname alert: City of Bridges). It’s the most populous city in Oregon, but then again, Oregon has less than 4 million people. The main thing about Portland is that it’s weird. Intentionally weird even, the unofficial motto is “Keep Portland weird”, and portlandites do a good job of it. My vaguely preppy, non-descript appearance shouted out my non-portlandism to the world. Neither before have I felt such need for a weird mustache, a plaid shirt and a beanie. The city is the hipster capital of the US, and it shows.

Even the stores are plaid

Even the stores are plaid

The hipster/hippy/granola thing is actually a good thing. First of all, it’s fun, there are a million little details that will make you chuckle as you walk around, from quirky, to cute, to funny, to just what the hell was that. Second, the food scene is fantastic! Insistence on fresh, organic, locally grown means farmers markets, gourmet grocery shops and fancy restaurants. We actually visited 3 or 4 grocery shops. I swear, they are like temples to the God of good food. Another illustration is the food truck thing. Now, many cities have those trucks, even Paris got in on that recently, but Portland is the hub. They actually have little pods, tiny villages of those trucks, with tables and all. I had an awesome wood fire pizza at one of them. It haunts me.

The food trucks pod

The food trucks pod

Last, but not least, Portland, or PDX as the local call it everywhere, has the highest number of microbreweries of any city in the US. We sampled a few, Burnside (excellent), Deschutes (decent). Rogue (very good) and Cascade (original, because the brew almost exclusively sour beers). We went for the beer flights at all of these and there was much rejoicing.

Beer flight at the Burnside Brewery

Beer flight at the Burnside Brewery

That’s it for the city, next time, we dive into the Willamette Valley wine country.

Get me to the Greek, Xinomavro from Naoussa

As my friend Laurie continues to work towards her WSET diploma, we, her friends, get treated to wine tasting dinners with some good quality stuff, anything to help a friend study, self-sacrifice and all… Case in point, last week, our tasting line-up included:

–          Sogrape, Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2013. 

A vinho verde from Portugal with a majority of Loureiro grapes. Slightly sparkling with complex, layered aromas (citrus, white flowers, tropical fruit).

Quinta VV

–          Babich, Malborough Pinot Noir 2010.

A Pinot Noir from New Zealand, very jammy, lots of cooked or jammy fruit notes (prunes, plums, cherries). I’m not a fan of this overripe style of Pinot. It must be my (cold and calculating) Burgundian side and ancestry protesting this use of OUR grape.

–          Robert Talbott, Logan Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir 2011.

Another Pinot Noir, this time for California. Surprisingly more subdued than the NZ example above. The fruit notes were still ripe but not cooked. A well-made wine.

Talbot

–          Boutari, Naoussa Grande Reserve 2007

Now this last wine deserves a proper write up. Even though the label is in French “Grande Reserve” this is actually Greek wine.

Naoussa Boutari

Now, I get that Greece is not necessarily considered a major wine producing nation, when people thing of European wine countries it usually goes: France, Italy, Germany, Spain.  Greece has both a past and a future in wine-making though. The past part is obvious, most of European culture emerged from Greek civilization and its later appropriation by the Romans, which includes wine-making. Now for the future part, Greek wines have started to be recognized by critics lately and they are now considered quality products.

Boutari is one of the main, if not the main Greek wine producer. The Naoussa appellation is located in Northern Greece, in the region of Macedonia. Not the country Macedonia, but the Macedonia region of Greece, because, of course let’s try not to confuse people. The appellation includes 9 villages, including Naoussa which gives its name to the whole appellation.

Naoussa is a single variety appellation with only xinomavro vines being planted. Xinomavro or Ξινόμαυρο (I couldn’t resist putting it in Greek, I’m a language nerd), it’s a native Greek variety that is often compared to Pinot Noir (light color, tendency to become brownish with age, high acidity) or Nebbiolo (strong tannins, angular structure, ageing potential). You’ll have to admit, there are worse comparisons.

The thing is, those comparisons are what they are and surely they can point you in the right directions if you’ve never had xinomavro before, but, in my opinion, xinomavro is very much its own thing. I had two different wines from Naoussa and both were among the most unique wines I ever tasted. They have all they need in terms of body, structure and tannins, but they tend to be on the funkier side in terms of aromas: caramel, liquorice, herbs and olives…

If you can get your hands on some, and I think Boutari wines are fairly well distributed in the US, I definitely recommend going for it. They are well made wines with ageing potential and they will broaden your horizons. At the very least, you’ll remember tasting them, there is nothing quite like it.

The Ramblings : Wine Blog Awards, reference lists and unusual wines

Ramblings time.  A few thoughts and links that don’t really warrant a full post but that might however be of interest.

Wine Blog Awards

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You can submit your favorite wine blogs for the 2014 Wine blog awards. There are a few different categories (best blog, best writing, best post…) and it’s a good way to discover new online resources. If someone wants to submit Wine Ramblings in the Best New Blog category, I probably wouldn’t mind. I have to say the number of submissions is already impressive, there is such a big network of wine bloggers, and it’s hard to stand out.

Here’s the link http://wineblogawards.org/submit-your-favorite/

Milestones

Speaking of numbers and recognition, I recently passed 100 followers and 2000 views on Wine Ramblings. Granted these are not huge numbers but they are milestones nonetheless and I am happy to reach them. Also, granted, all 2000 views might have come from my mom (Thank you Mom!) but still, at least it shows my mom is dedicated! More seriously, I want to think everyone who read likes and shares my content. A special thanks to people who comment because, well, I like discussing things.

Grape variety reference list

On a less self-serving note (Yes, I do feel bad about shameless plugging and horn tooting), here is an interesting resource, pretty much every wine variety in the world explained by Jancis Robinson. It is a really good, free resource for wine lovers, especially when you end up facing more obscure grapes. Robinson is one of the authors of the World Atlas of wine which is probably the most common reference book; in any case, it is the one I currently use. Here is the link http://www.jancisrobinson.com/m/article/a20080829

Weird wines

ritual pinot

It’s an issue I mentioned a few months ago, how do you evaluate a wine that is just an outlier, different and that doesn’t relate to anything you had before? I recently had a Ritual Pinot Noir 2012 from the Casablanca Valley in Chile and I was perplexed. It was super ripe and jammy with in your face prune aromas. I would have never guessed Pinot Noir, not in a million years. It wasn’t bad (I don’t think it was great), it just made me think about whether being typical; being representative of a style is a good thing or a shackle. It might also just have been my Burgundian heritage protesting at this manhandling of Pinot Noir.

 In any case, and until next time, Cheers !

Wine Rescue Ranger, Pommard Les Epenots

Les Caves du Palais, Pommard 1er Cru, Les Epenots 1999

Region: Pommard AOC, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France

Grape: 100% Pinot Noir

Price: around 90 euros / $120 for this vintage

Yup, this was my Monday night

Yup, this was my Monday night

We have a problem in my family, a problem which, I think, is fairly common among wine lovers. We buy wine, a lot of it, a lot of every day wine and some special bottles that we swear we’ll keep for a special occasion. Of course, many occasions, more or less special arise, and we do not open the bottles, and we keep buying new wines. And of course, after a few years, our special wines are way past their optimal opening time. You open a bottle and the wine is dead. No mouth to mouth will bring it back to life. I happened to me a few times while I was in Paris and it’s pretty sad…

So, in order to save a bottle or two, on a Monday night, with no special occasion in sight, I went down to the cellar and decided to find a special bottle nearing or possibly just past its peak, and see what it had to say for itself. I found one, a Pommard 1er Cru from 1999. Pommard is in the Côte de Beaune but is known for its red wines. Pommard wines have the reputation of being the “manliest” of Burgundy reds with intense tannins. It seemed like a good idea to see if this manly wine stood the test of time.

Eye: pale ruby

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, raspberry, strawberry, wet leaves and ferns with woody notes

Palate: Dry, high acidity, medium + body, very structured and present tannins, long finish.

Red fruits aromas with raspberry first and strawberry and fraise des bois close behind. Then the typical Burgundy red sous-bois flavors hit. I call them Fall flavors as they automatically make me think of this season: wet leaves, fern, mushroom,… There were also a lot of woody flavors, tobacco mostly came to mind. The body and intensity were a little disappointing at first, which made me worry that I had found a DOA wine again, but the wine woke up after an hour or so and the aromas nicely expanded. The Pommard trademark tannins were there, definitely more so than on other burgundies and along with the long finish they made this wine something special.

Food pairings: I had it by itself but I think it would be a great cheese wine

Overall opinion: I’m glad I saved it, and I’m glad I gave it time to open up and give its best (the cellar might be a little cold). It was a great wine with complexity and structure that helped it last 25 years. A very special bottle in my opinion.

Dueling Burgundies, like in Deliverance but not quite

Have you seen Deliverance? If you did then you’d probably remember it. It’s one of those movies that leave a mark, a painful, sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful mark. It also makes you scared of ever going to the Southern United States, which is of course just your basic self-preservation instinct kicking-in. I, for one, only cross the Mason-Dixon Line when I really have to.

Anyway, there are two scenes from this movie that stuck with me, the “Squeal piggy, squeal” scene and the banjo scene. The first one is traumatizing (but makes a really argument for not marrying your sister), the second one is perfect. It’s just the right amount of tragic foreshadowing that at the same time tries to bring some levity to the whole story. Here is a link to the scene.

At a family dinner earlier in the week, two bottles of Burgundy were opened, both red, both from a “lesser” level of AOC, both supposedly past their primes in terms of age. My mind immediately jumped to the dueling banjos scene as we drank the two bottles.

ladoix

One was a Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune 2008 from Naudin-Ferrand and the other was a Ladoix 2006 from Capitain-Gagnerot, both from the Cote de Beaune, both made from Pinot Noir only, one from a sub-regional level AOC, the other from a Village AOC. And like with the banjos in the video, they played the same partition with slightly different tones.

Hautes cotes de beaune

Both wines were light in body with medium high acidity and medium length finish. Where they differed though was in the proportion of fruity and gamey notes. The Hautes-Cotes showed the classic red fruit aromas of Burgundy with some gamey, sous-bois undertones.  On the other side, the Ladoix was showcasing the gamey side with raspberries and red fruits taking a backseat but bringing some freshness to the finish. It was interesting going from one to the other during the dinner.

It was also a good reminder that even supposedly lesser level wines can have something to show, even if it’s unexpected. To be honest, I was worried when opening the bottles as I thought that 2008 and 2006 for a sub-region and village AOC respectively and they were both fine. This goes to show two things:

1) You can never tell before opening the bottle (although you can have reasonable doubts)

2) I’m like Jon Snow, I know nothing.

This being said, it’s been a long week at work, I’m off to the wine bar.

Unsung Burgundy grapes

Burgundy is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay territory (one third and two thirds respectively) and almost all the appellations produce wines that are 100% Chardonnay or Pinot. There are however two less know varieties cultivated in the region.

The first is Aligoté, a white grape used to make dry white wines. Those wines have their own AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté and are usually made from less valued tracts of land in the Cote d’Or, the Mâconnais or the Cote Chalonnaise. The Bourgogne Aligoté AOC actually allows for up to 15% of Chardonnay. There is also a more restricted appellation near the village of Bouzeron, this Bouzeron AOC allows for smaller yields than the regional AOC.

220px-Aligote_wine

Wines made from Aligoté have high acidity with green apple and lemon flavors and some floral elements. They are made to be drunk young, and they are often used to make the traditional Burgundian aperitif kir by mixing it with Crème de Cassis. I have a weird affinity with Aligoté since it was often the wine of choice for my family’s Sunday evening gatherings. It’s a minor grape that produces unremarkable wines but it makes for good aperitif fare.

kir

Even though it was banned by Philip the Bold in 1395, Gamay is grown in Burgundy today, especially in the southernmost region, the Cote Chalonnaise, close to Beaujolais where Gamay is actually the main variety. The main Burgundy appellation that allows the use of Gamay grapes; it’s Bourgogne-Passetoutgrains AOC (sometimes written Passe-Tout-Grains). It’s basically a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes; the name actually translates as “allows all grapes”.

passetoutgrains

Bourgogne Passetoutgrains must contain more than 30% Pinot Noir, more than 15% Gamay and less than 15% combined of other grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris). It’s another wine released and meant to be drunk young. It can be red or rose and is usually light and fruity. To me, this is a great picnic wine for instance.

So, two minor varieties used to make minor wines but both can be enjoyed in the right setting,