Friday, April 27, 2012

Fleur de California Pinot Noir "Carneros" 2009

When I'm moonlighting in my local store around the end of the year holidays, I notice a fair amount of people asking me for tasty, lighter styled red wines. Good Pinot Noir can certainly fit into that category and when you think about, at the price points I'm writing about, it definitely should. In fact, if your entry level Pinot Noir tastes "jammy", then the grapes that went into it were probably a bit too ripe at harvest time. This is a cool climate grape that ripens late and needs hang time. But when left too long on the vine in the warmth of California, the sugar rises and the acidity goes down. Then you have a flabby, sweet example that for my money, doesn't pair well with food.

That brings me to tonight's entry. Fleur de California is a winery that has been making delicate, balanced Pinot Noir for a long time, and the 2009 is a fine rendition. This is Carneros fruit, a cool micro-climate that straddles both Napa and Sonoma. Coming in at a very balanced 13.8% alcohol, this wine has all the bright cherry aromas you expect along with spicy cinnamon notes. It's got wonderful light bodied, light berry flavors, good balancing acidity, and a very smooth finish that has almost no drying tannins. At a cost of $14.99, it's a good value for a grape that is very hard to work with. It pairs well with the more meaty fishes, like salmon, tuna and the roasted monkfish in a saffron flavored tomato sauce that we enjoyed tonight. It's a nice package too. Cheers to one and all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vibrant Rioja NY Tasting - Thursday April 19

Thursday night found us in NY at a Spanish wine and tapas tasting put on by Vibrant Rioja, an arm of the DOC devoted to promoting the wines of the region. And although the food was good if not plentiful enough, the wines were outstanding. We started with a couple of roses. one from Cune which is a 100% Tempranillo cuvee, and one from Bodegas Carlos Serres called "Serres", a 50-50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. The Cune was my favorite of the two, with bright, light red berry aromas of strawberry and raspberry along with complicating floral notes. I'm a huge rose fan, especially as we move into the warmer months and this is one bottling I'll be looking for. The Serres had a beautiful ruby color and was also tasty though not nearly as aromatic as the Cune. Both were from the 2011 vintage. The Cune should cost around $12.99 and the Serres around $9.99.

We also tasted a fantastic Rioja Crianza from a producer I was not familiar with. The 2008 from Dinastia Vivanco featured beautiful smoky cherry aromas with distinct earth notes, great medium bodied dark berry and plum flavors and excellent balance and length. This Crianza is fermented in French oak and aged for 16 months in French and American oak followed by another 6 months in bottle before being released. You should be able to find this bottling for around $12.99.

We also got to taste two of Mugas top bottlings, the Torre Muga and the Prado Enea. Muga is one of the oldest and best Rioja producers. I got the end of the last bottle of Prado Enea which sells for around $45 and didn't really get enough of it. The 2005 Torre Muga though was other wordly. This is a $65 dollar bottling comprised of 75% Tempranillo, with the rest of the blend made up of Mazuela and Graciano. Aged for 18 months in new French oak followed by a year in bottle prior to release, this wine has all you expect from a top bottling. Really complex aromas of plum and cassis, coffee, smoke, earth and brown spices. It's got very large scaled, full bodied flavors and a really long finish.

As I mentioned, the food was really lacking in quantity. There were supposed to be tapas like "Cappuccino of scallops, cauliflower and squid ash" and "Pears and red wine foam" but we didn't see any of these. We basically snacked on Spanish salamis, olives and almonds. We did spy a sever with a tray of the beef sliders toward the end of the tasting and we practically attacked her for her wares. Still, at $25 each for the cost of the tasting, this was a good value. At tastings like these, you have to taste the expensive wines first because everybody wants them and they run out early. Cheers.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone 2009

 Kermit Lynch is an importer who in no small way has helped bring about the world wide quality revolution in wine. He was one of the first importers to travel the back roads of France seeking small quantity, high quality producers doing things the natural way. Although now in his 60's, Mr. Lynch is still traveling those back roads. His 1988 book, "Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France", was extremely influential. Nowadays, many of the small importers that I've written up have the same philosophy as Mr. Lynch - that small production wineries making wine in the most natural way possible will produce wines that express the soil that the grapes are grown in. Eric Asimov of the NY Times wrote a brief profile of Mr. Lynch in 2007.

The private label Cotes du Rhone that bears Mr. Lynch's name is a perfect example of everything that he stands for in an inexpensive everyday format. 2009 was a wonderful vintage in southern France and here beautiful aromas of black cherry and pepper are complicated by floral notes. It's got great concentration and balance with bold berry flavors and a distinct earthiness that keeps you coming back for more. This beauty finishes long and lightly tannic with good acidity and firm structure. At $12..99, this is a bottle I could easily pick to be my house wine. Cheers.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ermita de Nieve Rueda 2010

    The Rueda DO of Spain is one of those out of the way places that not many folks know about but which produces wonderful white wines that won't blow your budget. It's a rocky region in northwestern Spain dominated by plateaus and adjacent to Ribera del Duero, where very hot summers are followed by cold winters. The winemakers here began experimenting with Verdejo in the 70's. It's a grape that makes very aromatic, crisp, clean whites that have a lot of similarities with Sauvignon Blanc, especially the New Zealand versions. This version, produced by Vinedos de Nieve and imported by C & P Wines, went perfectly with some stewed calamari with tomatoes, escarole and chili flakes that my lovely wife cooked up. Like Sauvignon Blanc, the aromas are dominated by grapefruit and lime zest along with a dusty minerality. In the mouth you get medium-bodied citrus and melon flavors and distinct grassy notes, another quality usually associated with Sauvignon Blanc. As we move toward warmer weather, it's also a great wine for sniffing and sipping on the deck while waiting for the grill to heat up....and it cost me a miserly $8.99. Cheers to one and all.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Olivares "Altos de la Hoya" 2009

   This really tasty everyday red is almost always a good bet, regardless of vintage. Yes, it's a hot climate red that's always very ripe, but there's always a bit more than fruit going on here. This wine is from the Jumilla DO in Southeastern Spain and it's produced mainly from very old vines Monastrell, which in France is called Mourvedre. These vines predate the late 19th century Phylloxera epidemic that devastated vines throughout Europe and led to grafting and replanting on American root stock, which proved resistant to the vine louse. In addition, these vines live at an altitude of 2700 ft., an altitude that helps offset the extreme summer heat in this part of Spain.

 You still get large-scaled aromas of chocolatey cherry and blueberry, with notes of roasted coffee and iron. With 2009 being such a good vintage, the mouth filling plum and dark berry flavors are balanced by good acidity. It finishes lightly tannic and long with spice and floral notes. Imported by The Rare Wine Company, this beauty sells for a mere $9.99. Drink it up!