An Office Celebration: We Drank Wine. Surprised?

This week was a bit of a treat. Instead of the usual one-or-two wines, our tasting included three varied wines: a Prosecco, a Port-style Zinfandel, and an Alsatian Riesling. What was the occasion? Does one need an occasion to celebrate life?

Port Sippers Wine Glass

Luna Argenta ProseccoWe started with the non-vintage Luna Argenta Prosecco, a prime example of its style. The color was a very pale straw, and the carbonation appeared to be fine if a bit aggressive. The nose was very aromatic, detectable from a yard away directly after its pour. Apple, citrus, and a light floral scent all cobbled together in a fairly standard bubbly scent. The flavors were a bit different, with pineapple, a bitter berry, and pear all making appearances. It was dry, and the flavor was weak when compared to the aroma. Still, not a disappointing sparkling, especially for one that usually sells for just over $10. This was the clear favorite in the tasting, as the bottle was drained soon after the tasting was over. Compare that to the last wine, which, among the nine of us usually eager wine-consumers, had a half of a bottle leftover that we used to clean our drains.

Evenus Port-Style ZinfandelA bit of a surprise was the 2006 Evenus Port-style Zinfandel. Hailing from Paso Robles in California for just under $10 at Trader Joe’s, this wine was a big change from the Prosecco. We decided to give our Porto Sippers a workout for this one, as we hadn’t had the opportunity in our tastings thus far. The Port sippers will direct and splash Port wine directly onto your tongue, resulting in a unique tasting experience that, admittedly, we hadn’t tried in quite a while. This certainly disappoint, highlighting the flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and baking spices in this wine. We also tried it with dark chocolate, and it paired sublimely.

2004 Kuentz Bas RieslingWe finished with the 2004 Kuentz Bas Alsatian Riesling.  The Riesling was by far (and surprisingly) the worst of the group. The aroma was that of spiced fruit and dark floral, but it seemed slightly spoiled. The flavor wasn’t much better, with orchard fruit and citrus tempered by a floral flavor, though the whole experience was marred by some rotten-sweet characteristic. The texture was lifeless, lame, and the finish was disappointingly short. I wrote and underlined FLACCID on the sheet. The balance was just awful, with no acid activity whatsoever. As the most anticipated wine in our line up, it was a complete let-down.

It was so bad that Ashley decided to see if she could improve its characteristics by drinking it from a coffee mug. Not surprisingly, her plot was foiled.

Wine from a Coffee Mug

A Friday Afternoon Indulgence and an Odd New Accessory

Ken Forrester Pinotage and the Moltes GewurztraminerThe tasting this week was a study in contrast: the whimsical, airy notions suggested by an Alsatian Gewurztraminer and the dirty, heavy-handed character of a South African Pinotage. The Gewurz, a 2008 from Moltes, is a $15.00 gem from Alsace, the eastern-most region of France that borders north of Switzerland and west of Germany. The Pinotage, a 2009 Ken Forrester wine from the Stellenbosch valley in southwestern South Africa, offers a hybrid grape from a terroir nearly 6000 miles away from the cradle of its ancestors in Languedoc and Burgundy.

The Gewurztraminer came highly recommended by Jen, the manager of the Hillsborough Wine Company, one of my favorite local spots to get my wine. I was initially dazzled by the depth of the wine,  with golds and yellows and greens all swirling about depending on where the light caught. The nose was fairly typical for a Gewurztraminer, with floral, tropical, and very slightly grape-y scents. The flavors, though, were unexpectedly complex. Orange zest, lavender, passion fruit, pineapple, and, again, a light grape make an appearance on the palate, with the pineapple overtaking on the finish.

I’m not a Gewurztraminer fan, but when they’re done right, whoo boy, they don’t disappoint.

The Pinotage was received much more coolly. I can definitely understand the lack of enthusiasm; it was simply too young. We gave it a pass through this Menu decanting system, designed to decant and aerate the wine then pour back into the bottle. Maybe we can’t age it in a hurry, but ideally we can at least let it open up to its potential.

What we got from this wine was a consensus of wrong wine, wrong time. This was a very smoky, very sour, albeit very smooth, experience, with aggressive tannins and a heavy-handed flavor. We found it very savory, making it an ideal pairing for barbecue ribs, something that will take the edge off the smoky flavor and allow the red fruits to shine through. The nose gave us a suggestion of what the flavor could become, with a bright cherry shining through the meatiness. Because I neglected to bring in some food for the tasting, however, the world may never know.

At least the Menu decanter was a rousing success. A good, even cascade, solid seal that held a 750ml bottle firmly in place, and a gasket that didn’t spill a single drop while pouring either into the bottle or out. Though one might question the wisdom of decanting a bottle then refilling it, at least from an aesthetic point, the convenience of pouring from a bottle rather than a decanter cannot be overstated.

What do you think? Is this product’s feature a solid idea or merely a gimmick? Would you rather be serving a decanted wine from a decanter, or is the bottle the preferred vessel for when you’re entertaining?

Organic, Delicious, and from Washington State

Yesterday, Josh Wade at Drink Nectar lamented, to an extent, the growing pains of the wine industry in Washington. Among his highlights, he noted that Washington’s QPR is generally extremely agreeable, albeit more select, and that Washington State’s boutique wineries would have a hard time matching the production and pricing of California, as selling under $30 would necessarily cut into their profits necessary to survive. He also laments the lack of Washington wine available across the country. Lower volumes attract less interest in larger distributors, leaving the massive of the massive in California to take over the world. Shops have to actually put in some effort to invest in Washington wines.

Per Josh, Washington's production pales in comparison to California's, 150,000 tons annually to 4 million tons

Lucky for you and me both, some of Washington’s wines still make it across the country, although it’s typically the lower-end fare. Regardless, finding Washington State is always a fun challenge, and if you can find a palatable wine, such as Badger Mountain‘s Organic Riesling, for the typical California-level bargain prices, well, it just gives me hope for the future of the region.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a fairly deep straw color and a fairly full viscosity.

The nose of the wine is an orchard-like blend of flowers, pear, and citrus, accompanied by a very light minerality and baking spices scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is very smooth and tangy, with a delightfully active acidity that dances on the tongue.

The flavor of the wine is not quite as full as the nose would suggest, with underripe clementines, tart pear, and green apple on the finish. There’s a hint of minerality, and it comes with a delightful baking spice that really matches the light fruit flavors extremely well. Very dry, and everything about this wine is crisp and pure. When paired with havarti cheese, the fruit flavors intensify and the sweetness comes forward even more.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a good entry-level wine if you’re trying to explore the Pacific Northwest. Different from the Finger Lakes and California, this Riesling has a more Alsatian style, offering very little sweetness, and instead being bolder and more nuanced. Don’t expect a dessert wine, I guess is what I’m saying. Pair with light seafood or chicken dishes… spice will overwhelm this, and heavier meats will utterly clash with the flavors.

Conclusion:

At a price of $11, this wine is definitely worth a try. It’s not representative of the best that Washington has to offer… not even close… but you’d be hard-pressed to find many wines of this quality at this price. Oh, and it’s organic, which is certainly a plus! 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: N-S-A Organic Columbia Valley Riesling

Producer: Badger Mountain Vineyards / Powers Winery

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington, United States

Varietal(s): 100% Riesling

Vintage: 2008

Residual Sugar: 1.7 g/l

Alcohol: 13%

pH: 3.08

Price: $11

Purchased at: Weaver Street Market, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Gewurztraminer: Yes, I Enjoyed This One

The Back Story:

Gewurztraminer GrapesSometimes a wine has to be forced onto me for me to have to try it. That doesn’t mean that someone is holding me down and forcing me to sip from a glass, of course, just that I wouldn’t have ever spent the money on it myself.

Gewurztraminer is one like that. From the first time I was ever burned by a flabby, rotten, saccharine-sweet Gewurz, sitting so innocently, so golden-deliciously pretty in its glass, I’ve been wary of its devilish charms. It really is like the succubus of the wine world, if there were occasionally good-hearted succubi (or whatever fan-fiction plot twist there exists that would make this metaphor come together in a non-M. Night Shyamalan sense).

Fortunately, I have people around me who take the risks with this grape, weeding out the delightful from the gut-churning and rewarding me with the fruits of their labor. The Durkheimer Feuerberg Gewurztraminer Kabinett is one such wine. From Vier Jahreszeiten, which, from what I can gather on the Google, is more famous as a hotel than a winery, this Gewurztraminer that managed to intrigue me is, of course, from the heart of Germany.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a deep gold, though it has a very light green tint at its depth. Swirl suggests a medium viscosity.

The nose of the wine is almost exclusively floral with notes of jasmine and rose. There is a very slight apricot as well as a citrus scent. The alcohol is basically nonexistent on the nose.

The mouth feel of the wine is somewhat full and creamy, though the acidity feels just a bit low.

The flavor of the wine is fairly typical, albeit more intense, for a Gewürztraminer. It has an exclusively floral attack, giving way to overripe tropical fruits on the mid-palate. The finish is a fantastically bright lavender. There’s a minor sweetness to this wine, and it almost tastes like it needs a bit higher acidity to counter it. The alcohol, at 11.5%, supports the flavor very well.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is one of those sweeter whites that really suits a beginner’s palate. It’s got a beautiful floral characteristic as well as ripe fruits combined with just enough residual sugar to give the whole thing a full, pungent flavor. If you’ve got a friend who’s more into red wines, this won’t please their palate, but anyone who is a fan of off-dry whites and dessert wines should enjoy this, at least unless Gewurztraminer simply isn’t your thing.

The Conclusion:

If you were ready to write off Gewurztraminer as a hopeless grape destined for the White Zin crowd, this one might keep you around a bit longer. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: Durkheimer Feuerberg Gewurztraminer Kabinett

Producer: Vier Jahreszeiten

Region: Pfalz, Germany

Varietal(s): 100% Gewurztraminer

Vintage: 2007

Residual Sugar: unknown

Alcohol: 11.5%

pH: unknown

Price: $17

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Exploring an Utter Mystery in the Yadkin Valley

From the first moment that I saw the name of the winery, “Cellar 4201,” on the North Carolina map, I was intrigued. The name reminded me, strangely, of the vaults from Fallout, and I half-expected to come across some sort of bomb-shelteresque hole in the ground a la Vault 101:

Fallout Vault 101 Door

Instead, you’re greeted by an elegant wooden door surrounded by sub-tropical plants and set in a cottage-like tasting room that seems yanked directly from Italy’s Piedmont countryside:

Cellar 4201 Entrance

Words cannot convey how intrigued I was by this winery simply because of the name. Mysterious, entirely non-descriptive, and surrounded geographically by quirky names like Divine Llama and Rag Apple Lassie and old standbys like Shelton Vineyards and Flint Hill, Cellar 4201 provoked every curious bone I had in my body (206 I believe is the current scientific count). Looking at the pictures from their website only made me even more intrigued.

Oh, and by the way, that pour they put in the montage on the home page? That’s actually about the pour you get if you pay for a glass of wine. All their wines are only $5 by the glass, and you get to keep the glass as a souvenir every single glass you buy. They, uh, they take care of their customers.

The owner, Greg, was out straightening up the patio when we arrived; he gave us a friendly welcoming, and we started conversing. He gave us a rundown of the history of the vineyard, about how he and his wife, Donna, developed their passion for wine through traveling and decided to bring their favorite varietals from France and Italy to North Carolina. While they’ve been growing the grapes since 2003, their tasting room has only been open for a year. They took plenty of time to ensure their wines were top quality before they invited the public in. He also explained the name and the label; rather than gussy up the winery’s name, they wanted to quite simply describe what they were, a wine cellar located at 4201 Apperson Road. All their labels feature an arrowhead, an homage to Donna’s Cherokee heritage. The vibrant orange that runs through their label, their logo, and the flora on-site stems from Donna’s affinity for that color.

The expansive lawn of Cellar 4201 (yes that's a cornhole set out there)

While we talked, Greg began to pour a tasting for us. He described the intent behind each wine, each vintage, explaining why things tasted the way they did. Far from a hands-off owner, Greg planted himself firmly in the winemaking, though he defers to the knowledge of Sean McRitchie, a second-generation winemaker from McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, whom he recruited to lead the process.

Halfway through the tasting, Greg had to leave to attend to his other business, but his tasting room partner and best friend Aaron continued the customer service. With a sleeveless shirt, tribal bicep tattoo, and a deep tan, Aaron struck me more as a rugged, outdoorsy type than a tasting room attendant, but he quickly demonstrated his passion for and knowledge of Cellar 4201′s wares as he poured the last wines. Aaron described how, after a long friendship spanning decades (“We’ve never had cross words for each other,” he proudly told us), Greg recruited him to help follow his dream and create the vineyard. They attended classes together, conducted blind tastings, and otherwise educated themselves on the varieties they planted. Now, they harvest the grapes, make the wine, and pour the wines together as a seamless duo.

Gotta stop before I write too much again. How about the wines? None are over $15, and all are absolutely fantastic. Small lots are maintained from 5 total acres of vines, and their wines are 100% estate-grown, meaning all the wine gets plenty of attention throughout the process.

Cellar 4201 is a winery after my girlfriend’s heart. She’s a big red drinker, lover of Bordeaux, and very particular about her white wines. Completely flying in the face of the typical North Carolinian palate, Cellar 4201 offers only two whites (neither of them sweet), and the rest of their wines are classic left-bank Bordeaux reds and an Italian red and off-dry Rosé, both single varietal Sangiovese.

09 Stainless Steel Chardonnay – Offers a bright nose of citrus, primarily pineapple, with a surprisingly full flavor of citrus and tropical notes and a very light perceived sweetness balanced by a superb, soft acidity. Finish is medium-long and tastes like lemons. 7/10

06 Barrel-aged Chardonnay - Spent 9 months in older French and American oak, imparting a very light oak on the nose and flavor. Tropical notes still come through on the nose, and the flavor introduces a slightly buttery characteristic as well as tropical and spices. The wine has a beautiful mouth-soaking texture, incredibly smooth and firm. 7/10

Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

NV Sangiovese – A quick note about the non-vintageness of this wine, straight from Greg: in 2007, frost killed almost all of their Sangiovese, leaving them with just 100 gallons after winemaking. Rather than bottle this as is, Greg decided to barrel-age the whole lot for an additional year, 2 years total, blending it with the 2008 Sangiovese after it had aged for a year.

The result is, in my opinion, the best wine they currently offer. A deep reddish-purple color like the skin of a black cherry, offering a light pepper and smoke that gives way to a rich black cherry flavor. The oak provides an incredibly nuanced, velvety texture while hardly encroaching on the pure flavor of the grapes. The tannins are chalky and delicate, offering a surprisingly smooth red wine that was perfect for sipping out in the sun. 8/10

Also, why Sangiovese? From the about us section: “After traveling to Italy, Donna developed a passion for Sangiovese. While admitting it is difficult to grow, it is currently our signature wine.” Simple.

2006 Merlot - With a nose of brisk cherry and black pepper, the Merlot hardly exhibits the 10 months it spent in French oak. It has a great structure, perhaps a bit lighter than a typical Merlot, but the flavors and texture are simply delightful. 7/10

2006 Reserve Merlot - With their Merlot, they split the vintage, oaking one twice as long as the other. Thus, the Reserve Merlot has all the characteristics of its purer brother, but with a palpable, pleasant oak characteristic. The flavor is fuller, darker, with cherries and pepper just bursting onto the palate. The texture is fuller as well, coating the mouth very nicely. Both styles are equally delicious and affordable, so choosing a Merlot is as simple as figuring out how full you prefer your reds to be. 7/10

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Very smoky nose. Complex flavor of dark fruits, tobacco, and wood with a smoky finish. Beautiful full flavor and texture. 10 months in French oak softened it without masking the flavor. 7/10

2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - With a fuller dark fruit flavor, light oak on the nose and palate, remnants of the smoky and woody character of its lighter brother, and a raisin quality on the finish, the 2006 Reserve Cabernet takes 20 months in French oak in stride. Great texture on this one. 7/10

2006 Sweet Native - The one concession Cellar 4201 has made to the sweet-drinking crowd, the Sweet Native is an off-dry Rosé from 100% Sangiovese with 3% sugar. The flavor is an array of citrus and red fruits, with a pleasantly crisp acidity and a decidedly non-syrupy texture. As Mr. Drink Pink, I approve. 7/10

This post accompanied by a bottle of the Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I made it almost 4 days without opening it.

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