Tasting Notes : Versatility in a glass

 

Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Orme 2013

Region : Piemonte, Italy

Grape : Barbera

Price : $17

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I have done quite a few Nebbiolo tasting notes in the past and it is clearly the most prestigious varietal in the Piemonte region. However it is far from being the most planted. That honor belongs to the Barbera grape which makes versatile, affordable wines. There are 2 DOCG appellations for Barbera wines : Barbera del Monferrato Superiore and Barbera d’Asti, centered on the town of Asti.

Eye

  • Clear
  • Low to medium minus intensity
  • Ruby in color

Nose

  • Clean
  • Medium plus intensity
  • Developing
  • Aromas
    • Red fruit, red cherries
    • Red fruit, strawberries
    • Nut fruit, cola nut

Palate

  • Dry
  • Acidity medium plus
  • Tannins low to medium minus
  • Alcohol med minus
  • Body med minus
  • Flavor intensity med minus
  • Length medium
  • Flavors
    • Red fruit, redcurrant
    • Red fruit, tart cherries
    • Black fruit, blackberries
    • Hint of smoke, very faint

Conclusion

  • Quality : acceptable
  • Price category : mid-price
  • Ready to drink

A little underwhelming in terms of body and intensity, but as advertised a versatile wine that would go well with many Italian dishes.

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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

Judgment Day in Paris

What does being a wine nerd mean? Actually, what does being a nerd mean? If we define nerdery, then we can define wine nerdery as being simply the fact of presenting nerdlike attitudes to the subject of wine. The key word in the last sentence is “subject”, a nerd needs a subject to obsess about. Nerdery, at least the way I understand it, is different than passion. Passion is a strong desire, an overwhelming attraction for something whereas nerdery is a consuming desire to learn and know everything about a subject. I goes beyond liking something, there needs to be a thirst (see what I did here) for knowledge and lore, no matter obscure.

And there is a wine lore, undeniably. Actually, there are several wine lores; one could approach the subject matter through geography (the producing regions), science (the fermentation process), botany (grape varieties), law (bottling and labelling regulations)… There is a lot to know, there is a lot to learn, there is a lot to bore your friends with.

Personally, I like history, and there is a history lore of wine. Of course, mostly it consists of trends, underlying tendencies and slow processes rather than seminal events. There are however such events that helped shape the wine world. Once such event, known as the Judgment of Paris seems a good topic to bore you with today.

Judgment of Paris by Rubens

Judgment of Paris by Rubens

First of all, let’s mention the pun aspect. The judgment of Paris is the seminal event that caused the Trojan War, with the Trojan prince Paris finding in favor of Aphrodite against her fellow goddesses. In the wine world, it refers to a blind tasting event, held in Paris, on May 24th 1976, that pitted French wines around their US counterparts.

Eleven judges, nine from France, one from the UK and one American, blind tasted ten red wines and 10 white wines. The reds were all Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated blends, pitting top Bordeaux against top Napa Valley wines. The whites were all Chardonnays, this time pitting Burgundy against the Napa Valley. Remember, the year was 1976, so if you think French people are snobbish about non-French wines now, imagine how it must have been back then. Also, the grades given by the non-French judges were not counted, so the rankings are purely French-based.

tasting

Why did that tasting become a seminal, world changing event then? Well, because the US wines won. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars dominated the red competition and Chateau Montelena won the white wine contest. Just to be thorough and drool a bit here were the line ups for each contest (ranked by result with their final score).

Red wines

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Napa Valley (127.5)

Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (126)

Château Haut-Brion 1970 (125.5)

Château Montrose 1970 (122)

Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ’Mountain Range’ (Montebello) 1971, Santa Cruz Mts. (105.5)

Château Leoville-Las-Cases 1971 (97)

Mayacamas 1971, Napa Valley/Mayacamas Mts. (89.5)

Clos Du Val 1972, Napa Valley (87.5)

Heitz Cellars ’Martha’s Vineyard’ 1970, Napa Valley/St. Helena (84.5)

Freemark Abbey 1969, Napa Valley/Rutherford (78)

White wines

Chateau Montelena 1973, Napa Valley/Calistoga (132)

Meursault-Charmes 1973, Roulot (126.5)

Chalone Vineyards 1974, Monterey County/Soledad (121)

Spring Mountain 1973, Napa Valley/Spring Mountain (104)

Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973, Joseph Drouhin (101)

Freemark Abbey 1972, Napa Valley/Rutherford (100)

Batard-Montrachet 1973, Ramonet-Prudhon (94)

Puligny-Montrachet 1972, Les Pucelles, Domaine Leflaive (89)

Veedercrest 1972, Napa Valley/Mt. Veeder (88)

David Bruce 1973, Santa Cruz Mts. (42)

Of course this constituted a big surprise, there were controversy, protests, endless discussions about what it really meant. In the end, it did not matter, the result was that American wines were put on the map and I believe it’s a good thing. There is a movie about the event, it’s called Bottleshock and I plan to watch it soon. The question is rather, why did I decide to write about this now?

montelena

Well, it just so happens that last week, I was lucky enough to share a bottle of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay with some friends. It wasn’t the 1973 vintage of course, it was a 2011, which in a way is good because, like the vintage used in the competition, it was 3 years old when drank. It is a fantastic wine, crisp, with aromas ranging from tropical fruits to citrus while still sampling some peach along the way, great balance and acidity. One of the best wines I had all year. The price also doesn’t hurt, you can find it for around $50 which for a “star” wine is a bargain. For instance another wine from the contest, the Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles from Leflaive, will cost you around $200 for a bottle of 2011. I’d rather have the Montelena, thank you! It’s not often you can sample a wine that actually made history, or even just a wine that is famous. Price tends to be prohibitive for these bottles, and it is okay, it makes them even more special. An affordable, historic, great wine is something to celebrate though. This nerd will continue looking for wine knowledge, especially if it’s that tasty.

It’s not just for Pinot anymore !

Minimus, Natural? No7, 2013

Region: Applegate Valley, Oregon, USA

Grape: Syrah

Price: 26$

When you say Oregon wine you think Pinot Noir, and so do I. I mean, I spent a long weekend sampling Pinot Noir after Pinot Noir and enjoying myself immensely. That’s why I was surprised when a waiter recommended an Oregon Syrah to go with our dinner. Syrah? Really? The Rhone Valley staple variety grows in the middle of Pinot Noir country? Apparently so, the Southern part of the state, especially away from the ocean, tends to be dryer and more suited to Syrah. Ok then, Syrah from Oregon it is.

Interesting fact, the Minimus winery wines are labelled as “experiments”. For instance, the No1 is called “43 days” and was an attempt at extend the length of time for skin contact when producing a Sauvignon Blanc. No2 is called “Copigmentation” and uses white grape skins during the fermentation of red grapes (Tempranillo). The Number 7 experiment that I tasted is called “Natural?” and is of course a natural wine.

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Eye: Deep purple

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Blackberry, olives and bit of spice

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus body, long velvety finish. Lots of fruit (blackberry) with some underlying pepper and herbs (rosemary)

OK, you can make tasty Syrah in Oregon. It was really good, smooth, balanced with a lot of fruit. I definitely enjoyed it beyond the simple novelty of trying a Syrah from Oregon.

Food pairings: It’s a fairly straight up Syrah, so the traditional pairings will work well, bold foods, meats, anything cooked with herbs…

Overall opinion: Hard to find, only 48 cases were produced but if you can find it, go for it. It’s not too expensive and the quality is great

Grade: 8.5/10

Texture, sidekick and Buddha : Bocchino Nebbiolo

Eugenio Bocchino, La Perucca Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2001

Region: Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy

Grape: Nebbiolo

Price: 30$

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All life is suffering. I didn’t say that, the Buddha said that. This being said, I think he failed to account for wine. All life is not suffering, sometimes there’s wine, and ice cream. Sometimes your sidekick comes over for dinner, you make some pasta and open a bottle of Nebbiolo. There is very little suffering involved here.

Nebbiolo is still one of my favorite grapes, a tough to grow, temperamental variety from northern Italy, known for complex fruit, flower and smoky flavors. I reviewed several examples of such wines already, this particular bottle is from the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. An appellation centered on the town of Alba, like other DOCs such as Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Alba. This is not a premium appellation for Nebbiolo, unlike Barbaresco or Barolo, but that will not stop us from drinking it

Eye: dark garnet with hints of brown

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Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Mostly red fruits (blackberries and cherries) with a hint of smokiness

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus body, very nice tannins and texture that hit the top of the palate.

Red fruits galore, mostly cherries and blackberries, sadly no trace of the smokiness that was present on the nose. A little bit lacking in acidity but the tannins make up for it as they are structured and smooth. The length is good but it remains a simple, red fruits oriented wine.

Food pairings: worked with pasta arrabiata

Overall opinion: I think it might have been a bit past its prime. It was perfectly drinkable and interesting if only for the tannins. It was disappointing in the sense that you really don’t get any of the Nebbiolo’s complexity. I need to try a younger vintage to investigate.

Grade: 6/10

Unusual Loire valley wines

There are a few worse ways to spend a weekend evening than sharing wine with a friend. Sometimes there is even pizza, so things get even better. Last weekend’s wines had a theme: Loire valley weird stuff.

We started out with the Cuvee du Rosier 2013 by Pascal Janvier in the Coteaux du Loir AOC. It’s a light summer red to serve chilled, made from a pretty obscure grape called Pineau d’Aunis. The Coteaux du Loir appellation is located on a hill overlooking the Loir river, a tributary of the Loire river. I know, it’s dumb that the Loir is a tributary of the Loire, but hey,… The wine is light in color with red fruit notes, spicy undertones and a “meaty” aspect on the nose (interestingly enough, Pascal Janvier, the wine maker, is a butcher by trade). The acidity is high and the alcohol level pretty low, served young and chilled it will go well with cold cuts, appetizers or even grilled meat and veggies. It retails between $15 and $20 and it’s a well-made, original wine made from a variety that was described as the Hipster of all varieties by my wine shop guy.

Loire lineup

The second wine was le Grolleau, Clau de Nell 2011 by Anne-Claude Leflaive. Now, you see the name Leflaive and you think Burgundy. You might even be a little bit more precise and think Puligny-Montrachet. You’d be right, Anne-Claude has been running the Leflaive estate in Burgundy since 1994, it’s one of the great estates of Burgundy, producing incredible white wines, including some Grand Crus (Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet). Anne-Claude Leflaive bought some land in the Loire Valley in 2008 to experiment with a different environment and that’s how the Clau de Nell came to existence. This particular wine is made from the Grolleau variety, a Loire Valley grape often used in Anjou to produce rose wine. The wine is light bodied with high acidity, served chilled too. It’s aged in Burgundy casks which shows through a hint of smokiness. The main aromas will be floral with violets come to the foreground. It’s more expensive than the Cuvee du Rosier with prices ranging between $35 and $40 but it’s an extremely well made, interesting wine, not just a thirst quencher like the other.

A tart Summer red, Le Fraghe Bardolino

Le Fraghe Bardolino 2012

Region: Bardolino DOC, Veneto, Italy

Grape: Corvina / Rondinella

Price: $14

Summer finally decided to come to Massachusetts, and thank God for that. The thing, is, when Summer comes, it does not pretend, it’s really, really hot. Obviously, this is not a problem but rather an opportunity, when it’s warm, you’re thirsty, when you’re thirsty, you drink wine, easy and delicious solution to an easy problem.

Now most people will think that summer calls for white or rose wines and will leave their stock of reds almost untouched until Fall. I believe that’s a mistake, but only because I have been made aware of the power of the Summer Red! Summer reds are those red wines that you can serve lightly chilled (an hour or so in the fridge) and that will refresh you like a nice crisp white. It’s one of my favorite type of wine and it can come from various places. I trotted out my first summer red of the season last night, here’s the result.

The Bardolino DOC is located in Northeastern Italy, in the Veneto region, near Lake Garda. It’s made with Corvina and Rondinella grapes, two local varieties that can also be found in the neighboring, more famous DOC of Valpolicella.

Eye: Medium ruby with purple hints

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Lots of red fruits (cherries)

Palate: Dry, high acidity, very angular. Medium plus body, medium length of finish

Lots of fresh red fruits notes, mostly sour cherry and redcurrant that transition into darker notes of brambles and black pepper. The wine feels tart and refreshing but still has some body. It has certain elegance, if I had to compare it to anything it would be a red Burgundy with and added spiciness (black pepper notes).

Food pairings: It’s a summer red, perfect for sipping on the terrace with some cheese and lunchmeat

Overall opinion: I love Summer reds, this one is on the tart side which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes it particularly refreshing. It’s also quite affordable and I think it has good value for the price.

Grade: 6.5/10