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.

20140830_195359

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

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Blackcurrants and tapas : Mas Martinet Menut Priorat

Mas Martinet, Menut Priorat 2010

Region: Priorat, Catalonia, Spain

Grape: Grenache, Merlot, Syrah

Price: $20

Menut Priorat

My Washington DC trip was capped with a dinner at a spectacular tapas restaurant. The food was great and the wine list was, well, extensive to say the least… There were so many references that they had to use a very small font. Anyway, to accommodate a assortment of tapas, I opted for a Priorat wine from Catalonia.

Priorat is one of these trendy up and coming appellations. It’s located in Northeastern Spain, near Barcelona. Priorat is a DOC, the highest level of appellation in Spain, with the only other DOC being Rioja. It should be noted that on Priorat bottles, it won’t read DOC but DOQ. The reason: Catalonia speaks Catalan, not Spanish (just go with it). Priorat vineyards are planted on terraced hills and the soil is a distinctive black slate and quartz composition (known as llicorella). Garnacha (Grenache) is the main variety used in Priorat wines with several other grapes being allowed,  Garnacha Peluda, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah for red varieties and Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, Pedro Ximénez and Chenin for white varieties.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a trendy region and as a result, the Priorat vineyard is expanding with the total planted area almost doubling in size from 1990 to 2010.

Eye: Medium-plus ruby

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Blackcurrant and black pepper notes.

Palate: dry, medium-minus acidity, medium body, rounded tannins, long finish

The wine is dominated by the blackcurrant notes detected on the nose. I realize that blackcurrants are not a very American fruit but for a Frenchmen they tend to be reminiscent of childhood. Blackcurrant (cassis) then and some underlying black pepper to spice things up (from the Syrah?). The finish is long with oaky notes of coffee.

Food pairings: We had it with tapas which included: crab, shrimp, cheese, sweet corn, patatas bravas and duck. As I said, it was a spectacular meal and the wine went along with everything.

Overall opinion: Trendy region but reasonable price point. It’s not the most complex wine but it’s easy to enjoy which makes is a winner in my book.

Grade: 7/10

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

Southern France, 1 (big) region, 6 wines

I went to a tasting last Friday that offered various wine from Gerard Bertrand, one of the main producers in Southern France. He’s a bit of a media darling, having graced the cover of Wine Enthusiast under the headline “Southern France’s Leading Man” complete with a picture of him with flowing locks and boyish good looks.

Anyway, he produces a lot of different wines, from a vast collection of vineyards and regions spread around the central part of Southern France, around the cities of Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan and his production is structured in ranges, including an organic wine range called Naturalys.

At the tasting I went to we had access to wines in the Terroir (focused on a region), Grand Terroir (focused on smaller, more defined appellations) and Reserve Speciale (variety-based) ranges. Here are my quick impressions

Cremant de Limoux : $12

cremant de limoux

Started off with the sparkling. Cremant is a generic word for French sparkling wines. Usually made with the same techniques than champagne, cremants can be found in various regions: Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant du Jura). This one is made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, it was nice and refreshing, an easy alternative to champagne.

Terroir Picpoul de Pinet : $12

gb picpoul

Made entiterly from the Picpoul variety. I never tried this grape and I ended up finding the wine a little flabby, lacking some acidity to give it structure. Nice pear notes but it remains my least favorite wine of the tasting

Reserve Speciale Viognier : $15

viognier

One of my favorite grapes, very aromatic, lots of white peach, apricot and white flowers, great value for money if you like Viognier.

Reserve Speciale Pinot Noir : $12

GB pinot noir

I always have my doubts about warm climate Pinots, they tend to be overly jammy for my taste, not this one. Apparently the grapes are grown on the highest part of the vineyards where the temperatures are a bit cooler which preserve enough acidity for the wine to function. You still get ripe fruit but not overwhelmingly so, very enjoyable, a twist on regular Pinot Noir that will not make my Burgundian ancestors roll in their graves.

Grand Terroir Pic Saint-Loup : $17

gb pic st loup

I actually wrote a full review of this wine a few months ago. I stand by it, it’s easy to drink and I would still call it a slut of a wine, but I use the term affectionately. It’s a classic GSM wine (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

Grand Terroir Tautavel : $13

tautavel

This one comes from the appellation Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel. Another solid red wine. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Lots of ripe red fruits with a little bit of spice. Nice body and tannins.

All the wines have decent value for money, except for the Picpoul which I didn’t care for. It seems that Gerard Bertand is focusing quite a bit on the US market so most of these would be available stateside. Gerard Betrand has a lot of different wines, what is listed there is but a small sample. Sound off in the comments if you had some of his other products.

Violets and leather : Guigal Crozes-Hermitage AOC

Guigal, Crozes-Hermitage 2009

Region: Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone Valley, France

Grape: 100% Syrah

Price: around 15 euros / $20

crozes hermitage

I couldn’t spend a mo0nth in France and not have some Crozes-Hermitage. It’s one of my two or three go to wines when at a restaurant because, there is always some on the wine list and it’s usually affordable. Another great reason is that it goes really well with most food. Crozes-Hermitage shares half a name with Hermitage, a top-tier other AOC of the Northern Rhone. It was named this way to indicate that, to some critics, wines from this area tasted close to those from Hermitage. Crozes-Hermitage is however a much larger AOC (almost accounting for half of the Northern Rhone region) and its wines sell for way less than those of the Hermitage AOC.

It’s a cheaper but not cheap alternative to Hermitage wines. The same variety rules apply for both appellations, helping reinforce the taste similarities between them. In both AOCs Syrah is the only red grape allowed, winemakers can however use white varieties, Marsanne and/or Roussanne up to 15%,

Picture : Wikipedia Commons

Picture : Wikipedia Commons

Eye: Deep ruby

Nose: Clean, intense nose, violet, plums and prunes with something meatier alongside, leather comes to mind to describe it.

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium + body, intense tannins, medium + finish.

Violets and red fruits like plums, candied and dried fruits like prunes with meaty undertones and definitely some oak. The finish is quite long with the wood notes lingering for a while. Tannins are quite present, a little harsh at times. The wine feels balanced but I would mostly have it with food, it’s not a sit around and drink it kind of wine. I felt like it was a good example of what Syrah tastes like, since this Crozes-Hermitage is straight Syrah. The violet tones and meaty side I expected were definitely there, I like it when my expectations are met!

Food pairings: This wine would work with most meats dishes, I had it with a pork cutlet and it was awesome. It will go well with any hearty fare; pizza and pasta come to mind actually.

Overall opinion: A solid, reasonably priced Northern Rhone wine that goes well with a lot of dishes, brings a little sun into a cold winter and displays all characteristics of a “pure” Syrah wine.

A few quick hits

Just a quick post today as my Clark Kent job is pretty hectic.

I got myself a late Christmas present by registering wine-ramblings as a domain name. I don’t know, it felt right. It might be an unwarranted indulgence but it still felt good !

Talking about indulgences and getting myself presents, I suddenly crave Cotes du Rhone. I think the minute I get off work, I’m going to visit a lovely Parisian wine shop and buy a Northern Rhone bottle. I haven’t particularly deserved it yet, but I want it, it seems reason enough ! Do you ever suddenly want a particular wine for no specific reason you can think of ?

That’s it for tonight, I have to run, more wine ramblings tomorrow !

Tasting Notes : Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic St-Loup 2010

Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic St-Loup 2010

Region: Pic St-Loup, Languedoc, France

Grape: blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache

Price: around $20

PSL

I had my friend who works in the wine industry over for dinner the other night and, since I didn’t have any dessert ready, we decided to have wine as dessert instead. My stock of red wines was limited and I chose the Pic St-Loup because I thought it would be a good conversation wine. Pic St-Loup is a specific sub-region of the vast Languedoc region in Southern France. Languedoc is traditionally known for producing a lot of simple, cheap, easy to drink wines even if recently the overall quality has been rising and smaller sub regions like Pic St-Loup have been established. The region produces mostly red wine and the varieties are centered on the GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) trilogy.

Eye: very deep ruby

Nose: Clean, intense. Well, hello jammy fruit! Plums, prunes and blackberry, I also detected a hint of thyme, very Southern France flavors

Palate: medium acidity, medium body, low tannins, short finish

I’m going to start by saying a very snobby thing, but I promise, if you bear with me, I will explain and it won’t sound as bad once I’m done. Deal? Ok here it goes. This producer exports a significant part of his production to the US, and you can tell he caters to a perception of what Americans expect from a wine. This Pic St-Loup is a very easy to drink, very enjoyable and ultimately very forgettable wine. It has very little tannins, very little structure and almost no staying power at all. From the first sip on, it’s pure fruit, very well rounded, very simple and, I think, very efficient. Languedoc wines can be a little harsh with high alcohol but this wine is very well rounded and goes down easily. A third of the wine is aged 9 months in oaked while the rest is kept in vats and the two parts are then mixed together to produce a smooth, fruity result. By design, this wine is easy to drink.

Food pairings: As I said, this wine was my dessert. I think it would work well with dishes that include herbes de Provence. Lamb chops grilled with thyme come to mind for some reason.

Overall opinion: My friend called it a slut of a wine. It gives you everything right away without making you work for it. Instant gratification that ultimately leaves you not totally satisfied. This Pic St-Loup is enjoyable, but it is not interesting.

 I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, sometimes easy to drink and accessible is what you’re looking for. Ultimately that’s what it comes down to: what are you looking for? If you want a wine that will change your life, challenge you and make you see God, then this is not your wine. If you want to sit back, relax and just have a glass of wine then, by all means, have some of this Pic St-Loup.