Posts Tagged ‘California’

This is the first of the 15 wines of summer under $15 from Total Wine in Towson.

I don’t expect much from a $10.99 Pinot from California. Heck, I don’t expect much from a sub $25 Pinot from anywhere. This didn’t change my expectations.

Appellation: Sonoma

Notes: Just barely more than a rose in the glass. Not much on the nose, a little fruit, but more like smelling a glass of water. Fruit is muted, and that’s all that’s there. Thin, disjointed, a little heat at the end. I guess if you got a good chill on it and drank it with some BBQ you’d be happy. OK.

Price: $10.99 at Total Wine

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Just a stunner.

2008 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon – The Montelena Estate

Appellation: Napa

Notes:  Stunning.  Still a little young, but wonderful structure, fruit, and creaminess.  Like drinking velvet.  A very nice juxtaposition of California Cab and Bordeaux, it has the American cluster but settles down with a great deal of refinement, much like an AMG can smoke the tires, but still be a wonderful grand touring car. Delicious.

Price: $150 at North Charles Fine Wines and Spirits.

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Last weekend we hosted a small dinner party for 3 other couples.  For dinner, we served a spice crusted duck via Avec Eric (the base recipe can be found here, although I used very large breasts and grilled them, but the idea is the same).

Protip:  have your fire extinguisher handy when grilling duck on a gas grill.

Anyway, it was a bit of a celebratory weekend for us, so we decided to open a few bottles we’d been saving for just such an occasion.  Here’s how they were.

First, we opened our most prized bottle, a 2002 Silver Oak Napa Cabernet . (5/5. $100 when I got it, but now unavailable from the winery.)  We’ve been to Silver Oak in Napa twice, and I had tasted this wine at the winery. I bought the bottle locally a few years ago, and was a bit concerned that it hadn’t been stored well before I got it, but knowing how much we liked it and how special the wine is, we gave it a go.

We decanted it, but not for long, perhaps 15 minutes.  The main point was to make sure we didn’t have any sediment issues.  It was as expected – fantastic.  It was an excellent match with the duck, the spiciness and richness of the dish were complimented by the big bold Cabernet.  A wonderful wine and a great pairing.

After finishing that bottle, we opened a 2002 Chateau Langoa Barton (5/5, $50.)  From Saint Julien and bottled at the Chateau, this is predominately a Cab, but probably a similar blend to the Silver Oak.  Decanted it while we were finishing the Silver Oak, again, maybe 10-15 minutes.

This Bordeaux was also a stunner, more rounded, less bombastic than the Silver Oak.  An excellent wine, velvet in the mouth, with just the right balance of fruit, acid, and tannins.  A good time to drink it, in my opinion, although it certainly had the structure to keep for years.  Also a great match with the duck.

Comparing the two brought about some interesting conversation.  The Silver Oak was bigger and bolder, and tasted younger.  The Langoa Barton was more refined, less bold and more earthy.  There were clear differences in style of wines that were similar blends, and both were outstanding.

After the two big boys, I decided to open something I had just picked up at my local wine store (Chesapeake Wine).  The owner of the store and I have similar palates; if he likes it, I tend to like it.  He had raved about this 2010 Chateau Les Arromans (4/5, $14).  While I thought it might be a bit young, I picked up a bottle just to see.

Glad I did.

It was certainly different from the first two.  Not over the top, but far more fruit driven, with good structure, but the tannins weren’t in the way… this isn’t something I would hold on to for very long, but right now, it’s a fun wine.  Juicy, mouth watering, and screaming to be drunk with food.  Again, a pretty good match with the duck, although in a different way, picking up more on the spiciness than the richness.

All in all, a fun comparison, and a good meal with some great wine.

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Wine Express is a local wine tasting/retailing company.  They host regular tastings at Silo Point in Baltimore.  For a reasonable cost in an awesome setting, you can taste a number of wines and discuss both with the host (Rita Blackwell) and the other participants.

It’s a great concept, and they execute it well.

A couple of comments on that execution, then I’ll run down the wines.  The setting is outstanding.  Silo Point is a spectacular building, and the tastings are hosted in a warm space on the 19th floor.  The view is spectacular, and the space is large enough for the group, with plenty of seating options.

The folks running the tasting do a very nice job keeping things moving… I never waited more than a minute or so to get a pour of the next wine, and the wines were served at appropriate temperatures in appropriate glassware.  Everyone had some knowledge of the wines, and had clearly tasted them.  From a service perspective, the tasting is very well done.

Rita Blackwell, as the host, engages every guest.  She’s got an uncanny ability to recall people, she remembers small details that matter.  Clearly, she’s about service first.  That said, she provides background and educates in a manner that everyone can appreciate, from novice to the experienced oenophile.

Most striking is the diversity of the group.  I was really happy to see a varied group; instead of the wine tasting of your old perception (a bunch of wealthy white people over 40 with their pinkies in the air), this was a racially diverse group ranging from 20’s to 70’s.  Everyone was friendly, and we had a great time talking wine with each other.

Wine is fun, and this tasting made fun the focus.  I’m looking forward to attending more.

Now for the wines.  The tasting was “California Dreamin'”, and while the theme was one of summer, the wines really reminded me of Thanksgiving, a great variety of food friendly and crowd pleasers.  All of these wines would pair with the rich/diverse foods on your Thanksgiving table, and would make everyone happy.

Kali’s Heart Chardonnay (Monterey County)

A bit sweetish, unoaked, but retained the California fruit/richness.  Good drinking, would be a crowd pleaser.  Grew on me.

$23.  3/5

Qupe Marsanne (Santa Ynez Valley)

Great wine!  Food friendly, crisp minerality and acid.  Very old world, would have guessed it was from the Northern Rhone.  Extremely food friendly, made my mouth water.  My favorite of the tasting.

$24.  4/5

Paraiso Riesling (Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey)

Probably my least favorite, but still pretty darn good wine.  There’s a hint of risidual sugar, but nice fruit, and some crispness on the finish.  Another very food friendly wine, and a good turkey wine.

$18.  3/5

Fappiano Pinot Noir (Russian River, Sonoma)

Another easy drinker, and another crowd pleaser.  Funk and fruit, enough complexity to pique my interest, and plenty of fruit to keep the family happy.  Yet another match for roasted poultry.

$26.  3/5

Ancient Peaks Zinfandel  (Paso Robles)

A peppery nose belies the huge fruit on the palate.  Offsetting that fruit was a ton of acidity, another one to make your mouth water between bites of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry; but flexible enough to stand up to some meat off the grill.

$24.  3/5

Paradiso Syrah (Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey)

Another big fruit wine.  I think they were trying for a Northern Rhone style, but ended up closer to an Aussie Shiraz.  Along with the fruit, there is some beef jerky and spice; another wine you could put on your Thanksgiving table.  Probably my least favorite of the tasting, but still pretty good stuff.

$26.  3/5

You can find Wine Express on the web here.

They’re also on Facebook.


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