Friday, February 29, 2008

2002 Franciscan Oakville Estate Merlot

Region: Napa Valley
Country: U.S.A
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: €19,95 (on sale from 39.00)
Closure: Cork

Since the movie Sideways, merlot has certainly come across some tough times (especially in the U.S.A). Miles, one of the major characters in the movie Sideways, gives wines produced from the grape an extremely hard time. "If anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any fucking merlot." was probably his most famous line in the film. As a result merlot sales plummeted (mostly in the U.S.A I might add).

There is not doubt that there is plenty of poor to average merlot being produced (as per wine from pretty much any other grape variety). However, it should be noted that some of the worlds most sort-after, and costly wines are also made from the varietal. One only needs to think of the great wines from the Pomerol in Bordeaux such as Chateau Petrus and Chateau Le Pin. I just wish more people would trust their own palate rather than follow a trend started by a bleeding movie.

Anyway, this wine is a merlot and is produced by the Franciscan Winery which was founded in 1972 by a group of lawyers and doctors from San Francisco who decided to try turning their passion for wine into a business. The wine is a blend of 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. Here is my note:

Dark, dark red/purple in colour moving more to brick-red at the edges. Powerful nose initially quite funky sweet medicinal though it settles down nicely to reveal plenty of ripe, sweet cherry and black berry fruit. Good mouth-feel with plenty of intense curranty, black berry / cherry fruit. Initially little evidence of oak, but the finish shows a lot of drying, chalky tannins that really dominate the finish way too much which in my view ruins the wine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2006 Vina Errazuriz Pinot Noir Wild Ferment

Region: Casablanca Valley
Country: Chile
Alcohol: 14.5%
Price: €15,95
Closure: Screwcap

This Pinot Noir is part of the Speciality Range from Vina Errazuriz. This range is produced by using the natural grape yeast present on the grape skins at the time of harvest. Francisco Baettig, winemaker at Vina Errazuriz, believes that wines vinified using natural yeast have more complexity and flavour. So each year a small portion of the premium grape production is fermented in this fashion.

I must admit I don't have much tasting experience with Pinot Noir, and quite often I haven't really enjoyed them all that much. Anyhow, lets see what I think of this one:

Dark red in colour; a lot darker than I would have expected. Nose is a little restrained but shows some berry fruit; maybe a little cherry and strawberry. The palate is very smooth, almost silky, with plenty of red cherry and berry fruit along with some hints of creamy, well-integrated vanillan oak and good tannins. Good complexity. The finish has reasonable length, though does have a little heat. Lovely wine.

Monday, February 25, 2008

2004 Chateau Livran

Region: Medoc
Country: France
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: €6,50
Closure: Cork

Chateau Livran has a very long history with vintages dating back to 1310. During this time the chateau has been owned by a number of famous names including chevalier Arnaud Gargie de Goth (brother of Pope Clement V), Comte d’Armagnac, the De Bordeaux family and the Du Perrier de Larsan family.

The chateau, now owned by the Godfrin family, has some 52 hectares under vine with an average age of around thirty years. I read in another source that the varieties planted in the vineyard are made of merlot (50%), cabernet (35%), and cabernet franc (15%). This is atypical Medoc as the norm would be wines dominated by the cabernet variety. Whether this is totally correct or not I am not sure.

Here is my tasting note:

Ruby red in colour; very clear. The nose is attractive with cherry, smokey bacon and some hints of barnyard. Cherry and some plums along with hints of caramel on a palate that is also quite earthy. After a good start the finish is where this wine lets itself down badly as it just disappears into nothing; some bitter, spicey fruit maybe but very little indeed. Disappointing.

Friday, February 22, 2008

2006 Chateau de Luc Cuvee Cecile

Region: Corbieres
Country: France
Alcohol: 13%
Price: €3,99
Closure: Cork

Corbieres is located in the Languedoc region one of France largest wine regions producing a quarter of all French wine. In general it is a largely underrated region producing primarily red wines (around 90% are in fact red wines). The region has a history of producing wines that could best be decribed as quite rustic. However, over the past 5-10 years many producers in this region have been focusing on inproving the quality of the wines, and improving the sense of place (or terroir) in the wines.

The region has around 4285 ha. under vine with the allowed grapes for red and rose: carignan, grenache, mourvedre, syrah, cinsaut and for the whites: clairette, grenache blanc, bourboulenc, ugni blanc, roussanne, rolle, maccabéo and marsanne. The maximum production is 60 hl. per ha.

This wine is the Cuvee Cecile which is a blend of Carigan (45%), Syrah (20%), Grenache (20%) and Cinsault (20%). This is quite typical of Corbieres where the majority of the grapes grown (around 50%) are in fact Carignan. Here is my tasting note:

Purple almost maroon in colour. A very attractive nose with cherry and bramble. Full, round and soft on the palate with good mouthfeel. Ripe red berry fruit; cherries and red berries with a little caramel-like oak influence. Some spice in there too. The tannins are very soft and well integrated. An elegant, and very nice quaffer especially if you consider the price.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2006 Domaine de la Pigeade Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

Country: France
Region: Southern Rhone Valley
Alcohol: 15%
Price: €1.99 (severely discounted)
Closure: Cork

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a sweet muscat-based Vins Doux Naturel produced in the Cötes de Rhöne. Vins Doux Naturel is basically a fortified wine produced in a similar fashion to port where the fermentation is stopped by the addition of neutral grape spirit which kills the yeast. Whereas ports reach alcohol levels around the 19-20% mark a typical Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is normally fortified to just over 15%.

There are currently 489 hectares under vine in this AOC producing Muscat blanc à petits grains (small berried Muscat), also known as ‘Muscat de Frontignan’. The grapes must have a sugar content of at least 252 g/l and the mutage (or stopping of 95 proof. The wines must contain 110g/l of sugar and have a minimum alcohol percentage of 15%.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise has a long history with sources mentioning a muscat-based being produced here in the 1st century A.D. (Pliny the Elder descried the Muscat of this region as this lively and fruity wine, long cultivated at Balme in his natural history). Later, in the fourteenth century, Pope Clement V, had a 70 hectare muscat vineyard planted on the slopes of the Beaumes-de-Venise. In 1945 the decree dedicating the title of A.O.C., backdated to 1943, was awarded to Beaumes-de-Venise Vin Doux Naturel Muscat.

Thierry Vaute is the name behind Domaine de la Pigeade, a family domaine located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain ridge in Southern Rhone. Thierry's family vineyard was formerly part of the local village co-operative until he took over the domaine in 1996. He decided to go it alone and has spent the past seven years improving the vineyards, renovating the winery buildings, reducing the yields and increasing the quality of his wines. It certainly appears to be paying dividends as my tasting note will attest:

The colour is a very pale gold in colour; almost straw-like. On the nose it is powerful with absolutely gorgeous honey and apricot tones. Very smooth, sweet honey and apricot fruit on a palate that is more about finesse and elegance than power. Acid balances the sweetness beautifully. Reasonable length completes an elegant wine that was an absolute steal.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2005 Douglas Green Reserve Selection Chardonnay

Country: South Africa
Region: Western Cape
Alcohol: 14.5%
Price: €9.95
Closure: Cork

This chardonnay has been produced by Douglas Green Wines a part of the DGB group South Africa's largest independent wine and spirit producer and distributor. DGB was formally established in 1991 following a merger between Douglas Green (founded in 1938) and Union wine (founded in 1946).

Here is my tasting note:

Pale green/gold in colour. Typical tropical chardonnay nose of pineapple and apple with some citrus. While there is upfront fruit the palate is kind of tight with some melon and apples along with some hints of creamy oak. The kiwi fruit gives the wine a nice zingy, citrusy finish - certainly nothing flabby here. A pretty decent chardonnay for the price.

2005 Guidalberto Tenuta San Guido

Country: Italy
Region: Toscana
Alcohol: 14%
Price: €25.00
Closure: Cork

Tenuta San Guido is the winery behind the production of this wine. The winery was started in the mid-1950's by Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who dreamed of producing a great, noble wine in Italy. Strongly influenced by Bordeaux he experimented with a number of French varieties before settling for Cabernet Sauvignon, as it produced wines with the "bouquet he was looking for". The resulting wine was the Sassicaia.

The wine, however, was not well recieved by the local consumers who were used to the lighter wines produced from the more traditional Tuscan and Piedmontese varietals of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. As a result the first twelve vintages of the new wine were consumed at the estate with the first commercial release occurring in 1968. Over time the wine has been elevated to the status of super tuscan, was the first Italian wine that established itself abroad, and is now a highly sought-after wine.

This is not the Sassicaia, however, but the second wine for the winery, the Guidalberto Tenuta San Guido. Named after Guidalberto della Gherardesca, a maternal ancestor of Incisa who cultivated vines in Bolgheri in the 19th century, it is also a wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon (55%) though it also consists of an almost equal portion of Merlot (40%) and a tiny percentage of Sangiovese (5%). The wine has spent 14 months in American and French oak of which 1/3 is new oak.

Here is my tasting note:

Dense purple and red in colour. Nose is quite closed but is elegant and exhibits some fruity plum and mineral characters. Intense fruit on the palate with plenty of plum, prunes, spice and some earthy mineral characters along with some caramel-like oak. Fruit carries the 14% alcohol very well indeed to the extent it is not noticible. Tannins are quite prominent and provide good grip on a powdery chalk-like finish. This is a serious wine with good structure that needs some cellaring time in order to settle down and mature. Superb now but will be even better over a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WBW#42 Just Seven Words

Country: Italy
Region: Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Sicily)
Alcohol: 13%
Price: €14.95
Closure: Cork

This weeks wine blogging wednesday theme, hosted by the guys at Spittoon, is to describe an Italian red in seven words. Considering I am a wordy bastard that's quite a challenge. Anyway first a little about the wine, the varieties it was made from and region in which it was made.

The wine I will review is the 2006 Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria. Planeta is a family business started by three members of the Sicilian Planeta family - Alessio, Francesca and Santi - in the mid 1980's. They produce 11 wines and 3 Extra Virgin Olive Oils from the 350 hectares of vineyard and 75 hectares of olive grove that they own throughout Sicily.

The wine is made from Nero d'Avola (60%) and Frappato (40%) both grape varieties indigenous to Italy and both very important in Sicilian wine production. The vines producing this wine are around ten years old and the wine produced has seen no oak treatment.

Here are my seven words: like your mother-in-law; spicey, tart and sweet.

Monday, February 04, 2008

1995 Henriques and Henriques Single Harvest Fine Rich Madiera

Country: Portugal
Region: Madeira
Alcohol: 19%
Price: €18.00

Portugal's great claim to fame in the wine world is undoubtedly the great ports produced in the Douro valley. Lesser known, and certainly far underrated, are its other great fortifieds produced on the tiny, volcanic island of Madeira. The wine, also called Madeira, is one of the most amazing and unique wines produced in the world.

Between the 16th to the 18th century Madeira built up a reputation as wines of quality. Madeira's strategic position in the Atlantic meant that it became an important port in the trade routes between Portugal and the West African coast. Along with with sugar (cane), wine was also one of the products traded from Madeira. Pipes of Madeira (around 600 litres each) were often used as ballast in the ships. Like port, Madeira was initially a strong, unfortified wine. However, the wines were unstable and deteriorated before arriving at their destination. Merchants who knew about Port wine’s fortification with brandy decided to apply the same technique, since there was enough molasses from sugar cane plantations to ferment and distill. With the addition of the distillates madeira became stable and as many voyages proceeded through the tropics it was found that the hot weather improved the wine even further.

The mid 19th century, however, saw things change very rapidly. First, the discovery of powdery mildew in 1851 severely reduced production for around three years. Just as recovery was beginning came the phylloxera epidemic that had plagued most of the European wine regions. By the end of the 19th century, there was only 500 hectares of vineyard left as most of the island's vineyards had been ripped up and were converted to sugar cane production. In addition many vineyards that did replant choose to use American rootstock as Europe had done, as well as using hydrid varieties such as Cunningham and Jacquet which were prohibited in Madeira production.

Over this time period Madeira Madeira lost it's market share and, as quality also dropped, struggled to regain it. The wine industry in Madeira has certainly suffered with only six winemakers left from over sixty once in existence. The tide, however, is slowly turning with wine producers set on improving wine quality, and with some replanting of the noble four. Interest from the public is also slowly returning.

This wine is the single harvest from Henriques & Henriques produced from 100% Tinta Negra Mole. Tinta Negra Mole is the workhorse grape in Madeira and makes up roughly 85% of total vines planted. A cross between Grenache and Pinot Noir it is said that this grape does not produce Madeira of the same quality as that produced from the four nobles Malvasia, Sercial, Verdelho and Bual.

Here is what I thought of it:

Deep honey, gold, almost marmalade-like in colour. The nose is quite piercing with sweet toffee and caramel. On the palate its all honey, toffee, caramel along with some hints of apple. Some citrus-like freshness balances the sweetness beautifully. The finish is a little bitter burnt orange and completes with considerable heat. I have very little experience with Madeira but I found this a nice entry-level Madeira that I really enjoyed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

2005 Casa Mayor Carmenere Reserva

Country: Chile
Region: Central Valley
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: €9.95 (30% discounted)
Closure: Cork

Carmenere, the sixth grape variety of Bordeaux, is now almost impossible to find there as there are only a few hundred acres left. It was once an important and prized grape variety in Medoc offering colour and flavour to wines from other varieties. Known at the time as Grosse Vidure or Grand Vidure, the variety was dying out until the mid 1990's when a large percentage of the Merlot (brought in from France in the mid-1800's) growing in Chile was found to be Carmenere.

The grape joins three other French varieties - tannat in Uruguay, malbec in Argentina, and durif in Australia / US - that have performed far better in their adopted countries, then in the country of origin. While some espouse the view that Carmenere is a variety that is better for blending with other varieties than for producing a high quality single varietal, Chilean producers obviously believe that this variety has enough to go it alone.

This wine is a 100% Carmenere. Here is my tasting note:

Really good colour; intense red / purple. Lovely nose of spicey black fruit with some hints of toasty, cedary oak. Once the wine opened up it showed very soft, smooth and round on the palate with plenty of plummy, jammy fruit and soft, round tannins. Reasonable length on a dry, spicey finish. Not a top wine, but a good value, varietally correct wine made for immediate pleasure.

Friday, February 01, 2008

2002 Hess Cabernet Sauvignon

Country: U.S.A.
Region: Napa Valley
Alcohol: 14.5%
Price: €11.99 (50% discount)

Hess Estate was established by Donald Hess in 1985. Hess inherited his Swiss families beer business in his 20's which he set about converting into a water business. Looking to further expand his water business, Donald arrived in the Napa valley and was immediately impressed by the quality of the wines produced.

Donald then proceded to procure his first vineyards on Mount Veeder called Veeder Hills. Over the corresponding eight years more vineyards at Mt Veeder, Veeder Crest, Veeder Summit and La Salle were purchased.

From the very beginning Donald Hess was looking to produce a product of high quality. A quote from the website illustrates this:

"From the beginning, my philosophy for new business development has been to deal only in natural products. Over the past twenty-three years of the Hess Collection's existance, I patiently stuck to this belief and strove to offer great value at the paragon of quality."

Hess has built up a reputation for high quality, good value wines across all product lines going a long to achieving this paragon of quality. Here is my tasting note:

Fantastic deep red, purple in colour. Typical Cabernet nose with plenty of dark cherry fruit and hints of mint and french oak. Open, generous new world style with upfront dark berry fruit and some vanilla. Well balanced despite the massive 14.5% alcohol with fine, grippy tannins and good acid. While quite chunky its not huge or over-the-top though it does lack a little on the finish. All-in-all an impressive wine.