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

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?

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.

No, Seriously, North Carolina Wine Pt. 2: RayLen Vineyards

Though I would love to flesh out a detailed post on RayLen Vineyards this week, I feel like I have a lot more to learn about the winery and its owners. Instead, I’d like to highlight some of the wines that I tasted and hammer home the word of the day: “potential.” This winery is poised for some fantastic things, and it’s only a matter of time before these guys start getting national recognition.

Let’s start with the whites.

Fine, let’s.

2009 Chardonnay (naked): Very good acidity and dry flavors on this wine. Apple, pear, and a bit of tropical fruit make it a fairly conventional but wholly enjoyable Chardonnay that’s well worth its $13 price tag. 6/10

2008 Chardonnay (oaked): Very, very buttery. I underlined buttery, that’s how much butter there is. Absolutely beautiful, clear butterscotch flavor, very smooth. The oak is fairly obvious but not overwhelming. I honestly think winemakers in Virginia and North Carolina understand oak better than California right now. $14 gets you a serious winner. 7/10

2008 SMV Chardonnay (oaked): Grown in a more distant vineyard at an elevation of 1200-1500 feet, this Chardonnay offers a slightly different oak as well. A decent creamy texture, softer than the on-site Chardonnay, accompanies a buttery, toasty flavor. Definitely a different flavor, still very worth it at $15, though I prefer the other barrel Chardonnay. 6/10

2008 Yadkin Gold: A blend of Riesling, Viognier, and Pinot Grigio. A very subdued tropical nose and palate. Slightly sweet at .81% residual sugar, and it drinks beautifully at a bargain-level price tag of $13. 6/10

And now the Reds?

Sure, why not.

2007 Shiraz: Consider this the single biggest surprise of the trip. I did not like it at first, probably because I was a) not expecting much of anything from it and b) it’s not exactly a typical Shiraz. My second taste of it, though, I was convinced. This wine went down very smooth, with a beautiful blackberry flavor accompanied by an interesting mix of spices and herbs. This is definitely a red meat pairing waiting to happen. Oh, and it’s only $14. 7/10

2007 Cabernet Franc: From what I can tell, 2007 was a good year in a lot of places, both New World and Old (there’s a breaking statement for you). The difference between the 2006 and 2007 Cab Franc at RayLen is staggering… the 2007 is much, much smoother, with a beautiful coffee and black cherry flavor and a fantastic structure. For $14, this is a serious bargain. 7/10

2007 Category 5: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this wine packs a serious punch. Though the structure is just a tad harsh, the oak is just enough to tame the wine while not overwhelming a very good, bright cherry flavor. It’s $18, which is a bit more than their other basic reds, but still very reasonable. 6/10

NV Pale Red: A blush wine blended with about 2% Concord to give it a slightly sweet, grape-y flavor on top of the bright red fruits the rest of the blend provides. 2.78% residual sugar makes for a very interesting and not at all overwhelming off-dry red wine, and it’s only $10. 6/10

2006 Eagle’s Select: This wine, right here, is the mother of all reds at RayLen. A Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, with 18 months in oak, this takes all the best aspects of their various grapes and really showcases the winemaker’s skill. Black cherry, mint, and spice all provide a beautiful flavor accompanied by incredibly nuanced tannins. This wine is ready to drink now, but it could lay down for years, and I’d really be interested to see what it would do. Best of all, this finely crafted wine is only $25. 8/10

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Remember when I said the word of the day is “potential”? That’s exactly the case with this wine. While it is a delicious specimen now, with red fruits, cherry, slight spice, and a hint of tobacco, I feel like laying it down for 5 to 10 years would soften it into a truly sublime drinking experience. This wine is actually a pretty good metaphor for the rest of the winery… they’re on the cusp of great things. This might turn out to be a serious bargain down the road if purchased now, as it’s only $16. 6/10

And the sparkling?

Right, right.

NV Sparkling Wine: So, funny story… RayLen isn’t actually equipped to create sparkling wines. They have to send their product to Biltmore Estate in the far west of North Carolina for secondary fermentation. It’s definitely a worthy enterprise, though, because this actually surprised me. It’s very dry and crisp, with apple and lemon flavors. Though the flavor is fairly plain, it’s not at all disappointing. I would go so far as to say it’s almost worth the $24 price tag. Actually, considering the dreck that you would get charged $10 to $15 for at Food Lion , I’d say this is comparatively worth the cost. 6/10

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