Domaine De Remont Julienas Vielles Vignes 2009

Domiane Du Dumont Vielles Vignes 2009

Domiane Du Dumont Vielles Vignes 2009

Warm summer days like this one seem like a great match for a nice Beaujolais. It’s been a while since I had one and while perusing the wine shop last weekend I stumbled across this nice Julienas from Domaine De Remont. Julienas is one of the 10 Crus of Beaujolais, which are named after the village, not the vineyard like in Burgundy or Alsace. They also tend to leave “Beaujolais” off the label entirely, as their wines sell based on the name and reputation of the Cru. This one’s name comes from Julius Ceasar, as the Romans were the first to cultivate the region. No Beaujolais Nouveau are allowed to be produced in the Crus. Julienas is one of the northernmost villages of Beaujolais and one of the two northernmost Beaujolais Crus, just south of Macon in Burgundy. And in the north there are more slopes which provide extra sunshine, and granite and schist soils which produce more complex wines — hence the Crus all being in the northern part of the region. The wines in the southern part tend to be lighter and fruitier as the soil is more clay and sandstone. This is where you will get most of the basic Beaujolais AOC wines and Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais-Villages are in the north surrounding the Cru and have better growing conditions than those in the south, but have less reputable results and usually blend between them — though sometimes you will see some individually named. Technically, Beaujolais is administratively part of Burgundy, but is known in its own right as a wine region due to these fruity and delicious wines. The region’s red wines are completely Gamay-based whether just a Beaujolais, mid-level Beaujolais-Villages, or a Beaujolais Cru. Though like other AOC’s, you won’t find the varietal on the label. You also won’t find much more than 1% of white wine being made in Beaujolais.

Gamay is a cross of Pinot Noir and and Gouais, an ancient white variety. But unlike Pinot Noir, it’s is easy to grow, and has been grown here since the 14th century at least.  It ripens early and grows in abundance in the region, as well as in cooler regions like the Loire where it can also be used for rosé. So while it is a smaller region than Burgundy, its output can be greater in some vintages. The Massive Central to the west and the Mediterranean to the south moderate what would otherwise be a hotter Mediterranean climate, so the grapes ripen reliably.

While Beaujolais Nouveau are a popular light and fruity red wine with little to offer in the way of complexity and intended for immediate drinking (as well as its share of scandal), the Beaujolais Crus are generally considered the best wines of Beaujolais. The Crus tend to be made more like the Pinot Noir just north in Burgundy, with oak aging and intended to wait a few years until drinking.  Though they still have the acidity and fruitiness Gamay is known for, they will have more tannin and deeper color as they will undergo traditional fermentation after any carbonic maceration time that they may see. Though generally speaking, all Beaujolais are known for being a refreshing easy-drinking wine with not much tannin.

This wine had a deep ruby hue with a nose full of bright red raspberry fruit, baking spice, soil (I was thrilled that I found such a perfect example of soil) and wildflowers. I could say I smelled those rolling fields and wild berries in the glass. At $17, it was a great value for a top-billed Beaujolais. I paired it with a Ceasar salad, which seems very appropriate not just because it’s a great match, but because this village was named after the man himself!

Dry Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2006

Dry Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley 2006 Chardonnay

Dry Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley 2006 Chardonnay

Russian River Valley AVA in California makes up about 1/6 of Sonoma County. While producing a fairly large amount of wine, it is also among the most prestigious AVAs, and manages to attain a level of quality that is known the world around. Some are more expensive cult wines, but many are affordable while still being excellent wines. I am a big fan of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and the cool temperatures along the coastal region of this AVA and its fog make for nice whites too. The cool temperatures ensure a long ripening season. I just picked up a Paul Hobbs 2010 Pinot Noir which I will lay down for a while and keep for a special occasion. Dry Creek Valley AVA, where this winery is located, is part of the larger Russian River Valley region though technically not that AVA itself, which is its neighbor directly to its south. This caused me a good amount of confusion but I can understand the appeal of using the name Russian River Valley where possible due to its reputation. And to be fair the winery is just 5 miles north of the Russian River Valley AVA so the climate is about as close as you can get. Here the climate is the main factor, not the soil. So whereas in Burgundy or Bordeaux you might argue that the soil could be different enough to make a different wine, I don’t think that applies here.

And either way they have a lot to be proud of. The winery started in 1972 and was the first to be built in this valley after prohibition. They initiated the Dry Creek Valley AVA in 1983 and were the first to label a bottle with the new appelation. With their family’s passion for sailing, they have been connected to the sailing world since their beginning, including a special “Regatta” label in honor of sailor Brad Van Liew with some proceeds going to US Sailing. They also made a wine specifically for the 2000 America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand called “America’s Cup Reserve.”

This wine differs from a heavily oaked Napa Chardonnay in that while still having body, it had plenty of acidity. This wine was barrel-fermented in French oak on the lees for 9 months, which also explains its richness. It had the creamy, buttery and vanilla and smoke accents you expect in a California Chardonnay but without all the weight.  Lush pineapple and tropical notes permeate the nose and the palate as well as wet soil and earth hints. While most might have drunk this already, it was given to me as a gift just this week and given the high acidity, oak aging and prominent fruit, I wasn’t too worried it would be bad.

As I mentioned earlier, this great Chardonnay is very affordable, at only $16. It got 88 points from both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator and the vineyard has gotten nods from Robert Parker for its ‘elegant, classy efforts’. A great value. I paired it with a homemade Carbonara – it was a perfect pairing.

Visit them at  http://www.drycreekvineyard.com/

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto (and a brief primer on Port styles)

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto

Lately there has been a lot of Port in my life. This is a good thing. I went to a Portuguese wine tasting about a week and a half ago. One of those wines was a nice 20-year-old Tawny Port, and I ended up leaving with one of those bottles, which I am reviewing here today. Then, our company wine tasting at work last week was all about Port. We had a Ruby, a Late Bottle Vintage (LBV), a Tawny Port with indication of age (also a twenty-year-old) and a Vintage Port.

Here are some basics on Port. Port wine is a fortified wine that is made by the addition of a grape spirit or Brandy (in this case 77% abv) to a red wine blend that is fermented to about 7-8% abv. This kills the remaining yeast and stops the fermentation, leaving residual sugar as well as preserving the wine. The British began importing Port by that name by ship in 1678. This process originally began to protect the wine from the long hot voyages by ship however it was an afterthought and the method known today of fortifying it during fermentation has only existed since the 1800s. The source wines are made inland in the Douro river region of Portugal and then brought downstream to Vila Nova de Gaia (originally by boats) where it is then aged, blended and bottled in loges (warehouses) and then exported. The wine takes its name from Oporto, on the other side of the river, from where it was originally exported. Now of course there are modern methods of exporting the wine directly from the Douro region (since 1986).

The Douro became the first legally demarcated wine region in the 1750s though wine has been made here for two thousand years. And while Port-type wines are made elsewhere, none replicate the unique terroir or expression of Port, nor can it be legally called Port. The source wine is usually a blend of local stars Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão, but there are almost thirty types of grapes used in making it. They are all thick-skinned small berries that produce the rich, concentrated must needed to make a fine Port. The son of the founder of Taylor’s was one of the pioneers of the Port trade, and they’ve excelled at it ever since. Taylor’s actually still crushes (treads) the grapes by foot for richer results.

There are several types of Port with various methods of production. The winemakers will decide with each harvest which must is best suited to which type of Port. Your standard Ruby Ports are not aged beyond 2-3 years in oak casks and are then bottled ready to drink, whereas Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) Ports are from a single vintage, aged for four years in oak and sometimes an additional three in bottle. These are therefore richer than Ruby as they improve with bottle age, like a Vintage Port does. And like a Vintage Port, decanting will usually be necessary. Reserve Ruby Ports are aged five years and are the finest blend of vintages, with richer fruit. Then come Late Bottle Vintage Modern Ports which are aged 6 years and are fined and filtered and ready to drink. All of these Ports are darker in color, have more berry and blackcurrant flavors than tawny or vintage ports and are traditionally enjoyed younger.

Map of Duoro/Port region. Photo Credit - My WSET Level 3 textbook

Map of Duoro/Port region. Photo Credit – My WSET Level 3 advanced textbook

In the Tawny category you have basic Tawny which are aged 2-3 years and are paler than Ruby Ports due to longer cask oxidative aging. Reserve Tawny Ports are matured 7 years in wood and are smooth blends with nice complexity. Colheita Ports are Tawny Ports that are aged around 8 years and are from a single vintage so they will have a bottling date on the label too. Then you have the Tawny Ports with indication of age that I drank last night. These are the finest of the Tawny Ports, and some are aged over 40 years, with the price increasing based on the age.  These are smoother with more nutty and raisin flavors and aromas due to the prolonged time in oak casks and longer exposure to oxygen. This is an average age and will have the bottling date on the label.

White Ports are made from classic regional white varities, aged 2-3 years and can be made in drier or sweeter styles.

Vintage Ports are intended for aging in bottle though they do spend about 2 years in oak first. They are a blend of the finest wines of a vintage. They are not made every vintage but the years they are made is usually a collective decision on the part of all the Port houses to promote a great year. They require decanting, as do single Quinta Vintage Ports which means they are from a single vineyard. There are also Crusted Ports which are produced the same way as Vintage Ports but are from several vintages as opposed to one. They get their name from a crust of natural sediment which develops in the bottle and requires decanting. With all this variety of styles and flavors, there are endless pairing possibilities.

Last night I was looking for a nice after-dinner cordial to pair with my delicious rich chocolate father’s day cake, and so I opened up the Port I had bought at the tasting. This is a fine example, with the expected nutty, chocolate, coffee and oxididative aromas on the nose with the addition of a nice acidity on the palate. There really couldn’t have been a better pairing in my opinion. Wine Enthusiast gave this 90 points, Wine Spectator 92 points and The Wine Advocate also 92 points. Smooth and honeyed, it is delicious and reminds me why I bought it after tasting it. Another great thing about Port is you can enjoy it for weeks without it spoiling. If it lasts that long without being enjoyed, that is.

Said Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate on Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Ports:

“It is my opinion that Taylor’s tawny ports are the best of their type. When tasted against other tawnys, they all exhibit more aromatic personalities, greater fruit and ripeness, and a wonderful sweetness and length. Although I find the Thirty Year Old Tawny admirable, I prefer the richer, more vibrant Twenty Year Old Tawny.”

This fine Port cost $47.99 which is the average price for this brand, age and style of Port.

Big Names in California Wine, Part 4: Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir 2011

Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir 2011

Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir 2011

Over the weekend, I opened up the last bottle for my classic California series – a 2011 Chalone Monterey County Pinot Noir. All I can say is, wow. This wine was so much more than I expected. This isn’t even their top-of-the-line Pinot Noir. But seeing as how Chardonnay from Chalone, along with Chateau Montelena, surround a Mersault Charmes Roulot in the Top 3 whites at the infamous upset the Judgement of Paris, I kinda figured I’d be pleased by the quality. Rent “Bottle Shock” if you want to see an entertaining take on that event.

If you don’t know this about me, I’m also a sucker for Pinot Noir. It is my favorite grape. I’m a bit of a Pinot elitest and I don’t just grant any Pinot a ‘wow’ designation. I’ve had a lot. This is a seriously good Pinot Noir. I excitedly shared a small glass with my sister-in-law and father-in-law, the one who introduced me to my favorite grape. But only a small glass mind you. I wanted this one all for myself. I moved on later to a Super Tuscan – another favorite – so I could save the last glass of this for dinner tonight. But I did manage to put down a tasting note before plowing through a large percentage of the contents smacking my lips at every sip. It was the perfect marriage for my BBQ chicken kebabs and couscous.

Savory black and red cherry and raspberry on the nose and palate are beautifully integrated with a peppery edge, medium body and some baking spice hints from the French oak aging of its Burgundian counterparts. Some say tobacco but I wasn’t picking that out. An incredibly supple mouthfeel and a perfect reminder of why I love Pinot Noir so much. When it is done right it is done RIGHT. Usually I’m drinking Willamette, Russian River Valley, Carneros or of course Burgundy. This is my first Monterey County Pinot. Chalone is the oldest running vineyard in the county, with vineyards high up on Chalone peak from which it derives its name as does the AVA in which the vineyards lie. They are also the only vineyard in the Chalone appellation, one of many smaller ones in the larger Central Coast AVA. The name for the peak and hence the vineyard is Native American, named after the local tribe that first inhabited the region, the “Chollen”.

With Pinot this good and award-winning Chardonnay, its not surprising that the first vineyard on this land was begun by a Burgundian winemaker, Charles L. Tamm in the turn of the last century. The limestone and calcium and granite soil were just like those of his homeland and he sought them out for this very reason. When the new owners aquired it in the 1960’s, additional lower vineyards and varietals were added. This purchase and the Chalone label as it is now known began with former Harvard music grad and Naval officer – Dick Graff and his family. He was so impressed by the results he tasted at this vineyard he was working at after his service, that he took oenology classes at UC Davis and bought the vineyard with a family loan. With the help of his brothers he set out to make a Burgundy-style top Chardonnay, among other great wines. In 1976, they made good.

In the process of making their fantastic new wines,  he also helped spread the technique of malolactic fermentation and the fermentation of white wine in small oak barrels as they do in Burgundy, around California. He also was one of the first to import and sell Burgundian oak barrels in the state. Their modern wine group now owns other vineyards in California as well as partly owning Chateau Duhart-Milon in France, while they themselves are owned by wine giant Diageo. Dick Graff passed away in 1998 when he crashed piloting his single engine plane. But not without leaving a legacy behind him. He also founded the American Institute of Wine and Food with Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

They also have an estate-grown heritage Pinot Noir (higher-priced at $45) I plan to go right out and try, as well as their Chardonnays for obvious reasons. I’d give this around 90 points. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2010 88 points and Cellar Tracker 87 points. So I’m in good company there.

At an average price of $15-$20 this is a steal and can go up against far more expensive examples without a doubt. Nice to know I’ve found a Pinot Noir that won’t cost me $35+ every time I want a good one.

Visit them at chalonevineyard.com