Belated Music Monday: An Oddly Delicate Cabernet Sauvignon

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

Happiness by the Kilowatt by City and Colour. It’s good music, period, and arguably better than when Alexisonfire plays it as a full band. City and Colour is a side project for Dallas Green, guitarist and vocalist for Alexisonfire, but he really shines when you put a piano in front of him and strip away the hardcore trappings.

The name of the band, City and Colour, is just a sly way of describing Dallas Green’s name, and this cracks me up immensely.

2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon

As for the wine, I popped the cork on an Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon. Specifically, I opened the 2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the high-altitude vineyards in the Mendoza region. All grapes are grown at least 1000 m.a.s.l.(meters above sea level), on flat, indistinguishable plateaus, offering a different sort of terroir from the rolling hills of France and Italy. The differences include an increase in both temperature swings (higher highs and lower lows) and direct UV ray contact, the effects of which are chronicled well here at Wine Anorak.

‘This is very important since this is an indicator of quality in relation to concentration. But most important is the type of tannins that we find in these grape skins, fewer monomeric tannins and proportionally higher concentration of polymeric tannins. This means that in our high altitude Malbecs we have high concentration and structure, with an incredible amount of total tannins but yet very soft and round wines. This is what makes Malbecs from high altitude vineyards so unique.’

This difference in tannins is one that I noticed in the Cabernet Sauvignon, as you’ll see below. I found it oddly appropriate: what’s better to pair with a toned-down, nuanced hardcore rocker than a softer Cabernet Sauvignon?

Onto the wine!

The wine has a bright garnet color with a deep black cherry hue at the center. It has a pure translucency and a full texture.

The nose consists primarily of red fruits with a light oak scent. Raspberry, cherry, cinnamon, and vanilla combine for a simple, appealing, dessert-like scent, like a baking pie. There is a very cool alcohol scent, noticeable but not detrimental to the nose.

The wine, however, does not live up to expectations of a big Cabernet. The wine offers a good balance, no alcohol heat, no bitter or sour taint from acidity. While the attack promises a full, chewy tannic experience, the tannins abruptly fade before they can fully develop in the mouth. The result is a soft, briefly intense mouthfeel. Flavors of red fruit and oak are pleasant but not full, with just a hint of spice, something slightly jarring like cumin, a touch of tobacco, and a medium finish of raspberry mocha.

The wine wasn’t quite up to the task of taking on a fully-seasoned steak, but a lighter beef dish would certainly suffice. Try something not too spicy. It also seems like it would be a fantastic pairing with a chocolate mousse.

It’s not a phenomenal wine, but it’s a value at $10. With its (comparatively) light body, simple, delicious flavors, and decent balance, it’ll please a crowd without breaking the bank. Make no mistake: this wine is ready to drink now and will not last more than a couple years on the shelf. If you need a wine right now, it’s a good option.  6/10

Wine: Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon

Producer: Gouguenheim Winery

Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Varieties: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price: $10 for 750ml

A Fruit Wine You Can Proudly Serve Your In-Laws

Twin Pomegranates Sparkling WineAt the office, we are nothing if not dedicated cooks. Holiday celebrations are an excuse for everyone to demonstrate their flair for kitchen artistry while getting the opportunity to nosh on a multitude of culinary delights. For our Thanksgiving feast, while most of us brought potluck dishes, I provided a few bottles of pomegranate wine as a “liquid cranberry sauce.” At least, that’s how I deemed it. It was more an excuse to serve alcohol in lieu of cooking.

The wines were part of a sample pack sent to me by Twin Pomegranates, a Pomegranate winemaker based in Madera, California. They provided me with a flat pomegranate wine, a sparkling pomegranate wine, and a pomegranate-Chardonnay blend, all grown and produced in California. For the feast, I opted for the sparkling and flat pomegranate wines, saving the blend for another occasion. The goal here was to see how these wines would fare as a holiday wine pairing, an unconventional addition to Christmas or New Years. Something a bit fruitier just strikes me as being festive.

The Wines

Twin Pomegranate Sparkling Wine PourBoth wines had a similar color: a dark brick-red and orange blend, turning a deep golden orange at the edge. Their translucency, like the last pomegranate wine I reviewed, is impeccable. The color, while unusual for a grape wine, is indicative of purity in a non-vinifera wine. Ever seen fresh juice pressed from a strawberry? It will have the exact same earthy gradient of color as the wines to the right.

The nose is not the best quality of these wines. Both have a slightly sour, lightly pungent pomegranate scent, not exactly off-putting but not as enticing as they could be either. It smells a bit dusty, dry, but the fruit scent you get is pure pomegranate. No alcohol heat, no imbalance is detectable in the nose.

The flavor of both wines is startlingly dry and crisp. With only 3% residual sugar, they offer a delightfully active texture, nothing too flabby or cloying. The alcohol (13.3% in the sparkling, 13.4% in the flat) provides an intense backbone  without adding even a hint of alcohol flavor. The flavor begins a little bit seedy, owing to the intense acidity and lack of sugar. Once the initial shock to the palate wears off, the flavor fades into a very cool, very pure pomegranate flavor that rides out a decent finish. The sparkling wine adds an extra powdery, bacterial dimension to the flavor, a complexity standard with sparkling wines.

As for pairing, this wine paired with a variety of dishes, with two caveats. Don’t pair it with very salty dishes, as the flavor gets overwhelmed and the alcohol becomes the primary flavor. Also, because of its lack of sugar and its delicate flavor, it handles spice very poorly. It’ll do quite nicely for your Christmas dinner, at least unless you plan on having a rib-eye. Turkey and chicken are immaculate pairings with this wine; ham handles the wine pretty well, but it’s better to go with a sweeter cure than a saltier one. Beef and pork will chainsaw right through this wine, so avoid pairing with those.

Both wines are prime examples of fruit wine. The sparkling was preferred over the flat wine, if only because of the added complexity that bubbly provides. The flat wine continued to drink well over the next 2 days, losing very little in the way of flavor even 48 hours later. The sparkling wine, properly stoppered, is good for about 24 hours. After that, it starts to lose its vibrancy.

So, for the record, both the sparkling and the flat wines are around $10, making them delightful bargains at their price point. 6/10 for the flat, 7/10 for the sparkling. Drink and be merry.

note: these wines were samples provided by the maker with the intent to review

Music Monday: Inappropriate for a Football Tailgate

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

While this album is not one that will make you run through a brick wall, it’s still recently become part of my pre-game football ritual. Perhaps because it hearkens back to my first years in college, when I really became a college football fan, maybe because deep down I’m just a huge softy, whatever the reason, The Anniversary’s “All Things Ordinary” is a great example of the gentler music I listened to when I wanted to “rock out.”

The Wine

This weekend was much more an exercise in quantity, not quality, as we had a nice gathering of friends for the Virginia Tech football game. Thus, the goal here was to furnish enough for a group of widely varying tastes with as little expense as possible.

The solution? Trader Joe’s, obviously.

While the beer-friendly crowd sipped on New Belgium’s 2° Below (and… sigh… Bud Select), a fantastic and affordable winter ale from Colorado, those who had wine on the brain opted for a Rosé. Trader Joe’s has a fair selection of Rosés, mostly in their $4 to $6 value price range, and we opted for the 2008 La Ferme Julien Rosé for $5.

La Ferme Julien bottleAccording to Wine Harlots, La Ferme Julien is “the Trader Joe’s private label of the La Vieille Ferme that gets passing marks in the major wine publications.” That’s a good sign, especially considering some of Trader Joe’s bargain wines can be traced back to faceless, mass-produced California schlock vineyards.

So what of the wine? It had a very pure light red color, with a medium viscosity. The aroma was almost candy-like in nature, with sweet citrus, strawberries, and cherries. The flavor, though very dry, tasted a bit canned, stale, citrus-forward, just a touch of yogurt and lemon, and a strawberry candy finish. The acidity might be a touch high, lending it a tangy, thin texture, but other than that it had a decent balance. It drank well over the following day, maybe tasting a bit more stale, but still holding its flavor fairly well. I wouldn’t give it more than 24 hours, though.

If you’re looking to please the pink-drinkers in the crowd without spending a lot, I’d say you’d do okay with this one. 5/10

Wine: La Ferme Julien Rosé

Vintage: 2008

Producer: La Vieille Ferme

Region: Cotes du Ventoux, Rhone, France

Varietals: Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah

Alcohol: 13%

Music Monday: Chardonnay and New Jersey Punk

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

This weekend, I reconnected with my college days with the band Hidden in Plain View. Yes, I was one for the weepy pop-punk brand of emotional bloodletting, and in some cases, I still am. Not exactly a world-beater in talent or popularity, they’re still a lot of fun for singing along to at an unnecessarily high volume in the car, screechingly-nasal falsetto highly recommended.

I can only imagine how much fun it would be to be their drummer… nothing fancy in his work, nothing intricate, just a straight-up 4/4 hard rock with ample room for fills. He really does drive the band; as often as they cut to him on chorus transitions just in time for a drumstick flourish or crash cymbal roll, his energy necessarily has to be infectious.

The Wine

2008 Concannon Conservancy ChardonnayThe wine for the weekend was a stalwart classic, the California-style Chardonnay. From Concannon Winery’s Conservancy vineyards in the Livermore Valley, the 2008 Conservancy Chardonnay brings every classic characteristic of the California Chardonnay with an ecological benefit: the vineyards were planted to protect land from urban development, and the production of wine is just an added bonus.

The wine has all the traditional notes on its nose: palpable oak, a touch of toast, a hint of butter, a good dose of vanilla, and just a bit of apple and lemon untouched by oak. The flavors match, with just a hint of citrus and tropical fruits that manage to overcome a significant oaking in French and American oak barrels.

Though the wine underwent malolactic fermentation and oak aging, the mouthfeel is not as round as you would expect, as the acidity is a little off. The alcohol, however, provides ample structure at 13.5% without bringing the heat.

Overall, I’d say it’s a serviceable Chardonnay, subtle enough to avoid becoming one of the many over-oaked monstrosities that originate in California, and at $15, it’s not going to put a hurt on your wallet to give it a try. 5/10.

Breaking out the Big Guns for a Rich, Ripe Rioja

Last week’s wine tasting was a special treat, as Greg broke out one of the cellaring bottles we have in the office. A Rioja bottled around the time of Y2K made an appearance, the cork popping just at the peak of its aging. Because we tend to go for the drink-now wines available at local shops, this was a great way to end the week.

1999 Pujanza RiojaThe 1999 Bodegas Pujanza Rioja is a classic Tempranillo blend from the city of Laguardia, Rioja, in Spain. It sports a deep cherry color with significant tanning at the ages, indicative of its decade spent in the bottle. There is a considerable amount of sediment in the wine, clouding the wine from its initial pour. If we’d had the time, we would have decanted this bottle in a decanter that featured a punt or using a funnel with a filter; as it was, we had to wait for the sediment to settle in our glasses, which also gave us time to let the wine breathe.

The nose of the wine featured a very rich and advanced bouquet, with notes of stewed prunes and olives buoyed by a smokey and spicy aroma. The overall impression was of a baked, savory dish, something classic with Mediterranean flair. The flavors matched, with a subtle minerality holding firm behind the prunes until a medium woody finish. An herbal savoriness also makes an appearance, most strongly reminding me of fresh-cut basil. It was medium-bodied, subtly, silkily textured, with a beautiful balance that offered very fine, powdery tannins. This wine was just on the edge of tired, so I’m glad we opened it up when we did. It’s certainly not a cheap wine, selling for around $60 to $65, but as a harmonious and rich experience, it’ll be well worth it if you manage to find a bottle of this extremely rare treat.

We had the opportunity to give two accessories a try this week: the Stiletto Cork Extractor and an in-bottle decanter. The Stiletto is a ridiculously heavy-duty opener requiring even less “elbow grease” than even the higher quality rabbits on the market. A customer of mine, when she called, told me how much she loved it, as her arthritis made it difficult to use traditional corkscrews and rabbits. The cylindrical style grips the bottle for you, and the intricate gear system helps take a lot of the effort out of the lever movement. We got a clean pull that was surprisingly both swift and gentle, with no crumbling or splitting on a 10 year old cork.

Oenophilia Stiletto Cork Extractor

The other accessory, the in-bottle decanter, is an awesome piece that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. The most well-known (and arguably most respected) model is the Soiree Decanter. Though the implementation is scary, turning the bottle completely upside down, it’s entirely worth it to get the cascading effect. The wine pours down the edges of the decanter, gently agitating and mixing with the air around it before it comes back together to pour neatly from the spout. It gets the job done, as bloggers will affirm.

In Bottle Decanter Model

Have you tried the Soiree or the Stiletto? What did you think? Are they worth a purchase, or are they more gimmicky replacements for traditional accessories?

Check Norcal Wingman, 1WineDude, and TypeAMom for the linked reviews and more!

The John Lennon Mini-Memorial Wine Tasting

John Lennon Memorial Wine Tasting

This week, we had two Reds from the Iberian peninsula; a varietal Garnacha from Spain and a red blend from Portugal. It really had no relation to our tasting theme, which was a celebration of John Lennon, who would have been 70 years old that day. It was more the idea to bring in wines a little bit different to honor one of the men responsible for much of today’s modern music. Whether intentionally or not, we succeeded, as these reds were just off-kilter enough to give everyone’s palate a nice little shock.

We toasted to his memory and his legacy while a Wings concert cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (yes, written by Harrison, we know, the mood was what’s important) crescendoed in the background.

Xiloca GarnachaThe fCabriz Colheita Seleccionadairst wine, 2008 Xiloca Garnacha by Vinae Mureri, was a deep, dark red wine that embodied all the characteristics of Ribera del Jiloca, the designation for Vino de la Terra from the Jiloca valley. Bold raspberry on the nose was tempered by a subtle earthiness and notes of tea and cinnamon.  The flavors were bright and pure, with an unexpected, but pleasant, mineral component on the attack. Raspberry was the primary flavor, though there were also earthy and woody qualities that gave way to a peppery finish. a The alcohol, at 14%, was subdued, and the tannins were supple. It paired phenomenally well with mild milano salami and parmesan cheese. For a sub $15 wine, this was a good one.

The second wine, 2008 Colheita Seleccionada by Quinta de Cabriz, hails from the Beiras in Portugal. It’s comprised of three grapes, Alfrocheiro, Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo), and Touriga-Nacional. The latter two are well known in the world, though Tempranillo isn’t as common in Portugal as Touriga. Alfrocheiro, however, is an interesting and fairly obscure grape. It was even more obscure before the Phylloxera pest devastated European vines, and it was brought in to some vineyards replace more susceptible varieties*. The result is a red blend which combines three fairly subdued varieties into an understated wine.

The appearance is a deep red with a slight peach tint at the edge. The aroma is jammy and sweet, not cloying, but it is a little off, with an earthy, spicy kind of cherry aroma. The flavor is very smooth, with astringent tannins on the finish and a fairly bland black cherry flavor. It’s fruity and dirty at the same time, with a sweet/sour characteristic almost like a Sweetart. It’s definitely got too much sweetness for such a subtle structure, and the flavors are a bit overwhelmed by it. I would say it’s drinkable at under $10, but it’s definitely not a leading option if you’re trying to impress someone who understands red wines.

All in all, this tasting was not one of the best. Though the Garnacha was a pleasant sipper, the Colheita Seleccionada was an underwhelming and bland experience. I had higher hopes for trying a new grape, but at the very least, I can add it to the list for the The Wine Century Club, an in the end, isn’t that what really matters? (no, no it isn’t)

*from Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand’s Grapes & Wines p. 35

Another Gruner and a Neat Little Bottle Accessory

Usually, when we have our office tastings, we get the entire group together for at least a couple wines. We only had 5 people left in the office this past Friday, late afternoon, making finishing two bottles and then negotiating rush hour traffic a baaad idea. Thus, we decided to make this tasting a good one and go with a single recommended selection from Wine Authorities. Coincidentally, it turned out to be from the same producer of one of my favorite frizzanté Rosés, one which I plan on writing up soon.

The wine we tasted this time was a 2009 Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner, a variety that, although still relatively unknown to wine consumers in the United States, is nevertheless making headway as a contender to Sauvignon Blanc as a go-to “wine with a bite.” Though capable of producing a variety of styles, including sparkling, Gruner Veltliner generally takes a food-friendly high-acidity, medium-to-full-body character. Its redolent notes and full flavor make it suitable for exotic, spicy cuisine such as curry and sushi.

If you’re tired of the grapefruit-and-cat-pee nature of Sauvignon Blanc, maybe it’s time to give Gruner Veltliner a try.

As for ours?

Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner 2009

The nose was surprisingly floral, the scent bright and thick. There were multiple fruit overtones, with green apple, lemon, and apricot all rather stark.  With these spring-like wilderness scents, it all came together in a nose that reminded me a lot of a pond or river out in a field, the perfume-y fruits and flowers blending with a palpable minerality.

The flavors were similarly pleasant, with light floral and citrus characteristics and a prime green apple taste that persisted from attack to finish. The finish itself, decently long, had a smoky characteristic suggested by the mineral-like scent on the nose but in a different realm of flavor. We agreed that it was very active, well, balanced, almost effervescent, and very full. Unlike past wines, it was unanimously revered, which is great for a group such as ours with varied tastes in wine.

Drop Stop Pourer in PackageWe also put to test the Drop Stop pourer, a unique accessory in that its construction allows for a really inexpensive way to get a paper-thin pouring surface. Anyone who’s poured from a wine bottle knows that the thick lip necessary from the glass causes wine to dribble down the side of the bottle at the end of the pour. The basic rule is the thinner the edge, the more precise the cut-off for the pour.

Anyway, the way it works is you roll up the mylar disc, stick it about halfway into the bottle, and let it expand. The mylar opens to form a tight seal, and because the edge is so thin, the wine can’t get any force behind it to push it out or leak around it, something that has happened to me with traditional acrylic or rubberized pourers. It worked like a charm; not a drop of wine spilled after 5 pours. It’s easier to clean than solid pourers as well, as it unfolds into a flat plane that’s easily rinsed and wiped rather than a narrow tube that you can barely get a Q-tip through.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the aesthetic appeal, aerating function, and durability of my Menu Pourer Vignon, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive, reusable pourer with minimal upkeep, the Drop Stop is a viable solution.

What do you think? Would you be okay with pouring from something that looked as basic as this at a party, or would you want something with the flair and functionality of a Menu pourer?

Drop Stop in Bottle

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