20071130

Drying stands and the dryer-resistent decanter: How do you dry your wine carafe?


Who has got tips on decanter dryers?

Normally I find a drying stand ideal. The water drips out on its own with a little help from gravity.

But the skewed angle at which the curvier decanters hang off the stand can still allow draining water to pool in recessed areas and small depressions in the side of the carafe. Once it begins to form a puddle you know you're in trouble. The water will never evaporate. Those stubborn puddles of moisture that linger in the hard-to-reach areas of your wine decenter are even more stubborn as wintertime approaches.

So drying stands: not so easy after all.

I bought this pipe-cleaner at a restaurant supply store. I don't remember what the device was actually designed for, but as soon as I saw the pliable stem, soft scratch-free bristles on a long handle, I knew it would come in handy for the strange microclimates that habitually form in my carafe.

Here I am depicted struggling with this the other day. I had to go it again and again before the droplets of water finally receded.




You need more than to graze them with an absorbent surface. I think this concept for drying is the best idea but have never heard any testimonials as to whether it really works.

20071127

Château Saint-Brice Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 1999


Does this look good enough?


Good enough for this?


I could hardly be sure: This is my first grand cru. A fairly well-reviewed wine described as an expensive but not overpriced product from one of the celebrated châteaux operated by the Moueix family. I found this bottle -- the "second wine" of Château Magdelaine -- at a steep discount of 25% off after it had done some cellaring but was still very much before it's best-before date. Click on the image above for the SAQ's descriptive file on the current vintage.



Eyes:

Nose:

Mouth:

Stomach:

Sorry, no notes on this one. I really wanted to enjoy it, let it wash over me without an expressly critical approach, and see how it would change me.

What has changed? I have to say, not much, so perhaps that says it all. But if anyone wants more details or has a specific question you can email me.

20071126

Anytime wine: O'Terra (formerly Opus Terra) Les Vignerons des Tourelles Merlot Syrah 2005


O'Terra is short for Opus Terra, but you can't really say that since some Californian heavyweights in the wine world have taken over official ownership of the word Opus since the mid-eighties.

When the Vignerons des Tourelles in Languedoc-Rousillon created this cuvée in the nineties, its label (which happens to be the one on the bottle shown above) was considered as infringing on the copyright of the winery, which is Opus One. As an outcome of the legal dustup, Tourelles had to settle for naming their wine O'Terra.

In Quebec, there is no Opus One wine currently for sale. When there was, it was priced at $264. The "opus" of a cuvée that the Vignerons des Tourelles make is $251 cheaper. No wonder Opus One was worried!

I've never tasted any wine carrying the Opus One brand -- I'm sure it'd be hard to compare it to O'Terra Vin de Pays d'Oc 2005, but I think it goes without saying that this bottle here is the anytime wine that Opus One is not.

Anytime wine is a great thing. It's the wine I described in the last post. Only the most difficult-to-pair dish would not be done justice by this savoury, oak-free, fruit-driven red wine. It's not meant to age however, so when I say it's anytime wine I mean anytime this year or next.

O'Terra is 60% Merlot and 40% Syrah. This balance is perfect. It renders tannic values to an exceptably low level for lighter fish dishes; it adds complexity to a flavour profile that is expressive enough to come across whether it served with steak or duck.

What else can I say? I most often think of opening a Loire red for my favourite dinners. But the times in between special dining occasions are more than well-served by this fantastic $13 bottle.

Eyes: A clear red with medium depth.

Nose: Fairly aromatic. It suggested cherry pie to me. Some yeasty notes with alluring red berry aromas.

Mouth: Crisp and refreshing attack with plums in a savoury spice. Tremendous brightness with a dry and light-to-medium body. Intense flavours supported by some round tannin. The finish is somewhat weaker than the attack. Simple but so expressive.

Stomach: A food-friendly package has been delivered to you. I had this with tuna casserole one night, red meat the next. Pork, poultry, salmon, why not? Lamb might not be the perfect match, but it would work.

You also might take Michel Phaneuf's word on this wine since it's been given high praise for a number of consecutive years, even in the troublesome 2002 vintage.

I particularly appreciate Malcolm Anderson's review despite being for a vintage that has long passed. I last tasted this version four to five years ago, yet it still sounds pleasantly familiar:

I really liked this wine’s blend of merlot and syrah. It had a leathery, animal, earthy nose and delightful blackberry fruit on the palate with a complexity rarely seen in a wine of this price. The wine has no oak aging - you taste what the grapes and the winemaker gave you. the wine has enough tannins to add interest to the palate but they are the softer grape tannins imparted by the skin and are easy to handle. If you are lucky enough to have any remaining turkey leftovers at this date, defrost them for this excellent wine. Wine of the week ****

Malcom Anderson - The Gazette - Jan. 11, 2003

Beaucaire, Gard, France. 14%.

20071123

What bottle of wine backs up your meal?


How many people have asked the question: What wine do I serve with dinner? The photo above always comes to my mind when I hear this question. In fact, I should mount this photo onto a flash card and hand it out to anyone who asks. That's because it so perfectly demonstrates the answer to the question (and also because this photo literally depicts a wine bottle hidden behind the food -- you can only see the bottle neck peeking out).

So what bottle of wine backs up this meal? What wine is behind the dish? In order to answer, you've first got to determine what it is you're eating.

Well, that's easy. It's grilled salmon.



Fish = white wine. Problem solved. Push aside the red wine. Let's eat.

But wait! It's not actually fish -- that's really a chicken breast.



So slide the red wine over back over. Roasted chicken = red wine. Dig in!

And suddenly, the gustatory experience of your dinner has been reduced to easy visuals rather than tastebuds and mouthfeel. Any black-and-white answer to the pairing wine with dinner question becomes, at best, a dubious conclusion. My flash card has no clear answer written on the back. Because grilled salmon goes with red wine and white wine; roasted chicken goes with red wine and white wine.

KILLING THIS NEW WINE TREND BEFORE IT IS BORN

Around Halloweentime, Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 spoke out, unearthing a spooky post. Very spooky!

In it, the wine bottles we typically see at our shops are talked about as if they're in perpetual disguise -- like their labels are masks and wine shoppers who come across them couldn't guess what's behind that mask until they open it, pour it out during dinner, and shockingly find [cue thunder and lightning bolts] that it doesn't complement your food!

Therefore, one proposed solution to this horror scene is a line of wines that have no labels at all, just the image of the food you should serve them with, as illustrated by the bottles above. How clever this is!

If only it worked. Dr. Debs explains the problem well. Kudos to the doctor -- check out the full post.

The way I see it, the problem is that the food you make is dressed up every night of the year, not just on Halloween, or on Thanksgiving. Surely no one prepares the same food the same way every night of year.

Take a look again at the flash-card photo of the dinner I recently made. At first, I couldn't even tell if it was chicken or fish I made that night -- mostly because my grilling preparation method with fresh herbs and bold flavours suits both chicken breast and salmon.

One ends up tasting like salmon and one ends up tasting like chicken. The accompanying flavours and textures always support a good food-friendly red wine. Personally, I think nine times out of 10, I'd reach for red wine after grilling no-matter-what, fish included. That's because the preparation supports flavours and textures that nine red out of ten would handle better than a typical white.

So yes, red wine with fish!

Now that's spooky for a lot of people. But to me, it's the truth. Spooky, but true.

But I'm not going to say that on average reds better suit grilled salmon without serving up readers a good example. Nine reds out of 10 may not totally convince you that red wine and fish match.

Stay tuned for the versatile, food-friendly wine I serve with almost anything -- that'll be the next post. I'll give you a hint: It's not Saumur-Champigny or anything remotely close to the Loire.

20071121

New rock's "Hot Earth": Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes 2005


I'm not sure why I went out to try and buy the entire Thierry Germain catalogue. Actually I do know why.

After admiring Joe's donation to our Cabernet Franc tasting -- La Marginale -- I realized that BrooklynGuy recommends other cuvées from Thierry Germain. Germain, the wine maker at Domaine des Roches Neuves, also produces L'Insolite, Terres Chaudes (the clickable bottle image shown above), as well as a self-titled domaine cuvée, their entry-level wine. I couldn't find L'Insolite, but managed to bag the other two.

I liked the Terres Chaudes 2005 quite a bit. (I preferred it to the cheaper Cuvée Thierry Germain 2004 -- coincidentally if you swap vintages you can get BrooklynGuy's take on these two, as he tasted the Terres Chaudes 04 and Cuvée Thierry Germain 05.)

Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes 2005

Eyes: Dark purple hue with a fuschia rim. Exhibits tears and a lot of viscosity in the glass. Inky depth of colour. NOTE: Sediment is in this wine -- quite a bit -- so it needs a thorough decant.

Nose: Low intensity nose. I thought this would develop more but even on the next night is was subdued. Some licorice and, I think, alcohol.

Mouth: Sour cherry evolving to darker red berries. A rootiness suggestive of star anise takes over to make this Cabernet Franc an interesting specimen that is neither distinctly fruity nor vegetal. Some green pepper and mineral with a lovely creamy note. Drying, crispy and with a solid body and sound tannin. A fine finish with great length. Style very much similar to the 2003 La Marginale, yet I'd encourage people to treat it much more like a "drink now" wine despite the fact that it's in its youthful stage. It's good like this!

Stomach: I've read that you should grill food with this wine but my braised rôti de boeuf (a bas palette or bottom blade roast slow cooked with turnip or carrots and garlic was totally delicious as an accompaniment. Saumur-Champigny earns its title as the food-friendliest appellation of France so you could serve it with almost anything. Since this wine is more substantial fare than most bistro bottles, I would advise you try something richly textured, slightly fatty, somewhat rustic and intensely flavoured. Rôti de bas palette garni, it is!

BAS PALETTE ON PARADE



Varrains, France. 13%.

20071119

One good turn of the page deserves another: A wine tasting notebook for your wine buying guidebook

steve de long company wine tasting notebook
A great bottle of wine deserves a great tasting note.

Think of that today as the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2007 comes out. It's that time of year when wine lovers will be given heaps of wine recommendations. My last post is an example -- Phaneuf's Quebec wine consumer guide that just appeared on Montreal shelves. No doubt that it is the ultimate stocking stuffer for the Québécois wino you love.

But the year-end roundups, ratings and rankings make for rather obvious, somewhat clichéed gifts. Leave them for the unfashionable to give. If I was getting myself a little gift during the upcoming holiday season, it would be the Wine Tasting Notebook, pictured above, from Steve De Long of De Long Wine Info.

This Wine Tasting Notebook, which is newly available on Steve's site (click through via the linked image above, or check my Blogroll for De Long Wine Moment), is comprised of a 60-page notebook and a fold-out spill-proof quick reference guide to wine tasting terms that flips over to reveal a step-by-step how-to instruction on taking tasting notes.

My first official wine tasting note -- way back in the day when this blog was still a baby -- was with Steve's guidance. But what can I say? You don't need to be a beginner to benefit from his clear and complete wine notes package. I love the design, the useful cheat sheets and the conciseness of his guidelines. I used them then and I use them now, with my Vistorta review from a few days ago being wine note #1 in the book he sent me.

In fact, forget beginners. This notebook arrived to save me just at the time when I was floundering amid dead soldiers (empty wine bottles are only a decorative touch until they outnumber the volumes on your bookshelf). I remember looking deep into the abyss of my cork drawer, wondering why I had all these corks and no notes to immortalize the wine they once stoppered. I was becoming a virtual black hole for wine. Taking tasting notes is the healthy way out, or at least that's the way I see it.

But most importantly, with Steve's terminology and how-to guides, your note taking won't flounder before your wine glass while your dinner sits there getting cold. He presents a painless solution. The pre-printed note pages are laid out to allow you to quickly circle, fill in the blanks and jot down your most salient thoughts. Most people don't realize that you don't need to write a book for these things (unless you are lucky enough to come across one of those wines that totally illuminate you, and in turn, your pen as it fills the entire page).

FRESH NEW DUDS TO KEEP THE WINO BEYOND REPROACH

Steve was kind enough to comp me a "Your Brain on Wine" T-shirt that was exactly my colour. It was a nice shade that Steve calls pencil shavings, which is wine tasting lingo for copper-grey.

My first time wearing it was at work. I had a dress shirt with check print over top of it. I remember I was meeting with the person who was previously my boss's boss. Like many of the people I work with, my ex-boss's boss knew about my wineblog after the local newspaper printed my full name and a URL.

It's not exactly fame though. To tell you the truth, I don't think anyone in the office actually follows my posts at all. They tend to try and track my hobby in another way. They study my clothes for traces of wine stains. Yes, this is the civilized society we live in. I believe it's most precisely called Schadenfreude.

So anyway I wasn't surprised when my ex-boss's boss paid me a back-handed compliment about my shirt as we exited the meeting room, saying that it suited me very much "...and you don't even see any marks from the wine..." [laughter].

At which point I did a Clark-Kent-in-a-phone-booth and graciously, yet somewhat indignantly, stuck out my unbuttoned chest to reveal my "Brain on Wine" T-shirt. And by way of correction, I replied: "Look -- the mark of wine is always there," gesturing with hand over heart. I think anyone watching from a distance would've wanted to have me committed. On second thought, those in my immediate midst too.

No matter. Problem solved. I don't think my coworkers will be searching me for wine stains anymore. Thanks to Steve.

20071116

Phaneuf makes many changes in new guidebook on wine buying

What seems at first like a subtle change is nothing short of a revolution: The 2008 Phaneuf Le Guide du Vin has become a wine guide for SAQ specialty products.

In Quebec, the government agency SAQ regulates all wine distribution. At its most simple, it owns a catalog of products for retail sale that is divided in two: wine spécialités, harder to locate and stocked in lower numbers, and wine of the répertoire générale, which is cheaper, more generally distributed bottles that one can easily locate throughout the province.

(To give you a practical sense of this, it's the specialties from the SAQ I most often blog about, that Joe from Joe's Wine blogs about, and that Bill Zacharkiw of the Gazette most often writes about.)

For this 28th edition of his guide, which appeared in stores midweek, Phaneuf explains the new approach. The new focus on specialty wine serves to help the wine buyer navigate a more elaborate and far-ranging part of the SAQ catalog. That makes sense. But I think he's stopping short of saying it all -- he's not mentioning the huge amount of mostly pedestrian wine criticism (mine, example) oozing out from everywhere and that perhaps he wants to "specialize."

Or could Phaneuf actually be saying that the ubiquitous, often characterless cheap wine of the general repertory is just not worth reviewing? With many of the these bottles around the $10 mark and going down in price, does a consumer guide that costs three times that price really add much value to your buying power? Ten dollars in a liquor store is simply dispensable for most people and a three-star review is generally not required to try out a wine with that kind of price tag.

Not that Phaneuf is never reviewing cheap wine anymore. He picks his very favourite items from the general stock -- the bottles signaling the greatest value and the most accomplished wines with a budget price. Yet clearly, he is also announcing (without actually saying it) that the really interesting wine values are not in the general repertory but in the range of wines typically hovering around $15 to $30. This is not surprising. Jancis Robinson and many other have said the same thing.

But never before has Phaneuf so purposely focused outside the general repertory. Ultimately I think this has to make a difference in Quebeckers' buying habits. People who use this guide will slowly start raising the amount they spend on a bottle. As a result, they will buy more specialties. The SAQ will respond by listing more specialties their catalog, achieving greater depth and selection. Better wines will be more readily available in Quebec.

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN THE NEW PHANEUF

Stemming from the new attention to far-ranging wine selection, Le Guide du Vin now has space uniquely devoted to:

  • Austria

  • British Columbia

  • Corsica
These are good things! Just looking at the breadth and comprehensiveness now present in the guide makes me want to go to my calendar and assign each week in 2008 a different wine region. (I wrote that in hyperbole but now that it's out there I think I might really try that.)

Axed is a half-hearted and rarely updated section on wine and food pairings. In its place are expanded listings of wine-friendly restaurants in Montreal and beyond, which I like.

Also a nice move, a major change was made to the problematic page design adopted in last year's edition. In this update, designers appear to have taken all of my criticisms to heart: Inset wine labels feature wraparound text and the type itself is a huge improvement. The silly oversized font from 2007 has been relegated to the index, where its cartoon-ish size may actually be helpful since you're skimming for a lot of foreign names and long strings of numbers in their product codes. Improved typesetting throughout the book adds an extra line per page and around six extra characters per line, all while being highly legible. At about thirty pages more than last year's (and I like the new page stock) it's clear the 2008 guide has a lot more words. More words means more wine reviews and that means more consumer guidance and bang for your buck.

Perhaps Phaneuf is picking up the pace a bit because of the increased competition in the wine-expert industry. With those factors looming, he now introduces a collaborator, Nadia Fournier, to whom he seems to be passing the torch, or at least grooming for a hand-over.

I would love to be an intern working on the production of the Phaneuf book -- this thought came to me last year after criticizing it -- so it seems Ms. Fournier is now my official nemesis at six years my junior.

With that in mind, I now offer my very own published critiques of wines which now turn out to have been given top marks in 2008 (the famed Phaneuf Grappe d'Or rating). Remember, these are glowing reviews that I wrote up myself before the guide pronounced upon them:So you know Nadia, it's not rocket science.

20071114

WBW #39 Silver Burgundy: Domaine François Lumpp Crausot 2004


Today it's BrooklynGuy's turn to host Wine Blogging Wednesday. With it comes a theme that brings bloggers a piece of him.

What makes BrooklynGuy tick may be a question you've asked yourself if you've ever followed the ongoing and always intriguing blogging going on at BrooklynGuy's Wine and Food Blog.

It's fairly obvious to the casual reader that BG is big fan of Burgundies. But when I met him he told me that these were the wines that turned him a true wine lover beyond the point of return. He admitted that these were expensive wines. With a newly arrived BrooklynBaby on the scene (and those BrooklynRents aren't going down either you know), BrooklynGuy's need to find greater value wines from storied French wine regions grew more urgent.

Hence WBW 33, hosted by me, which... whoops, wrong WBW! But like the WBW 33 Languedoc-Roussillon value wines I did in May, BrooklynGuy has asked participants to look to other wines -- the lesser knowns and the humbler reputations (in this case, Burgundy's Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais) -- to find some quality bottles at a more affordable, everyday price. Hear hear!

Hence Silver Burgundy. There's no need to always try to go for the gold. In the world of wine, I couldn't agree with this sentiment more.

I have a feeling the bottle I picked up for WBW 39 is too expensive, despite all this. I knew I wanted a red, and since I already had experienced a couple of great Mercureys (both the Michel Juillot and the Marquis de Jouennes would've been perfect entries for WBW 39), it was the Givry region I was perusing. In the end, they were very alluring to me and perhaps I put more weight on the appellation part than the getting a bargain part.

I picked up the Domaine François Lumpp Givry Premier Cru Crausot 2004 -- the Crausot in the name being the precise plot of land in Givry that Monsieur Lumpp uses. This bottle is priced in the mid-thirties in Quebec (see its online descriptive record here). That's because it's not only just any old Givry -- Givry being situated in the heart of the Chalonnaise region -- but because it's also a Givry Premier Cru -- my first Burgundy cru, or classed growth. So apparently that Crausot vineyard is hot stuff. Not sure if crus are what Silver Burgundy is all about, but went for it anyway.

I was very interested in seeing how this would pan out. So, of course, I would be disappointed. I think maybe I should've taken baby steps. BrooklynGuy seemed to want to ease fellow bloggers into this one and I may have dived in head first. Here's what I found.

Eyes: Flashy, intensely coloured and bright ruby in the glass.

Nose: In terms of aroma, I thought it smelled like barn on fire that contained a whole lot of freshly picked mushrooms and was subsequently doused with vats of cherry kirsh. Over time, this sense seems to wane. Maybe I got used it? Not sure. But I see that Jane MacQuitty endorsed this wine -- perhaps because it so vanilla-ish overall.

Mouth: This is a very overt wine. Also very smoky with strong cherry verging on cherry medicine by virtue of the heavy extraction. There's also some interesting earthiness and pinch of cacao, but mostly it reminds me of concentrated jello. A squelch of acid is followed by a much simpler finish than I was hoping for a wine of this calibre.

Stomach: Fairly demanding with food, I have to say. I had to re-season my meal, midstream. The chicken breast encrusted in Gran Padano and mustard-celery seeds was a lively match that stood up to this hulking Pinot. It brought out the spice and verve that lies at this Givry cru's centre. However, my simply prepared mushrooms did nothing for the wine and I really had to enhance them to continue. More flavourful were roasted red and yellow peppers. They had an intensity that paired fairly well because its strong ovenroasted notes complemented the wine's.

A LUMPPY RIDE SMOOTHES OUT OVER TIME

On the second night, this Lumpp cuvée was showing off a fruity licorice profile that I quite enjoyed and by this time the length seems quite spectacular to me but I still would not buy it again -- even if a thorough decant could get me to this point again.

My conclusions on this wine don't beat around the bush. This is a heavily extracted wine that possesses little intrigue and too much oak. Not a lot of complexity or anything that really flags my interest. This is exactly what I'd call a boring though technically sound wine. Other than the nose I'm fairly sure all aspects of this wine could be found in a Mondavi wine of half its price. In a word: Lumpp-ish.

Grade: 2 Lumpps (out of five)

Like it or lumpp it, this was a great chance to discover a region I don't usually explore and also to find out a little more about one of the palates I most respect in the blogosphere: that of the BrooklynGuy. I eagerly await the remaining entries and of course the full WBW 39 roundup. I'm staying tuned!

François Lumpp, Le Pied du Clos, Givry, France. 13%.

20071112

My dinner with Conte Brandolini d'Adda Vistorta 2004



This is a wine that figures more prominently in the mind than it does in the cellar -- I think about it more than I drink it. And I refer to it more than I review it.

In fact, this is the first real tasting note I've done for this cuvée, and only the third bottle of it that I've ever opened. So reverence coloured my note-taking, which in my books means harsher judgment and tougher evaluation rather than the reverse.

But that always happens when your first experience with a certain wine lights up your circuits. That was the 2000 Vistorta, which I mentioned in this site's first review of a New World varietal (I also alluded to it in a comparison of mass-produced Merlots and again recently during Wine Label Week #1). The way I see it, that 2000 vintage far outshone the 1999, and laid the groundwork to earning the 2003 a coveted five-star review from Michel Phaneuf (his latest release Le Guide du Vin 2008 should be out this week -- will it honour the 2004 in similar fashion?).

A NOTE ON THE SOIL TYPE

I love trying to trump Phaneuf, but before I attempt to predict his evaluation of the current Visorta vintage in stores, here is a note on the type -- soil type.

The Grave in the large Italian appellation of Grave del Friuli, northeast of Venice, might conjure up Bordeaux by way of Graves, if not Pomerol. This is appropriate as both the Italian and the French Grave designations come from the same root word which signifies the gravel that generously blankets both regions. But here's where the suggestive name that makes up a wine's designation can fool you.

Vistorta's vines do not sprout up from gravelly soil. Further afield from the central lowlands of Friuli, which have plenty of gravel, Vistorta's estates in Sacile border on Piave and feature soil types that are limestone and clay.

Winemakers says that this, not gravel, is "an ideal base ... with the same characteristics found in the Bordeaux and Médoc wine-producing areas, where the clay soils and hot and dry summers favour Merlot allowing it to express itself at its best."

Hmmm... That's a bait-and-switch, isn't it? Storied Bordeaux Merlot is more right bank than left, and Merlot ripens early so how is a long hot summer going to help? It seems to me the Vistorta people don't have the Grave-Graves connection that would align them more closely with Pomerol and they are trying to sidestep their way to Claret. I am being too cynical?

MY NOTES ON THE CURRENT VINTAGE

This wine does not need convincing -- I guess that is ultimately what I am trying to get at. But many Friuli wines still carry a reputation for a thin bitter body, so I suppose Vistorta is one winery that wants to throw down its claim to convince the first-time buyer before the corks pop, at which point the convincing really begins.

I'm not a first-time buyer, but here's what happened when my most recent Vistorta cork popped...

Conte Brandolini d'Adda Vistorta Grave del Friuli Merlot 2004

Eyes: Medium ruby in colour, exhibiting clarity and little tinge around the rim.

Nose: No shortage of aromatics, yet it still suggests itself as a developing wine. Candied rinds, spices and a sweetish component. Youthfulness on the nose wears off with some time and soon in my glass I'm getting cotton candy, pomegranate, honeycomb and some very well-integrated vanilla.

Mouth: Not a lot of surprises here after spending so much time nosing this wine. It's typical of a Merlot varietal -- damson plum and flowers. (Though the flowers convey some greenness, I still think they are violets.) Quite dry and sporting a lively acidity, this is still on the incline with no doubt several years in it once it peaks. Right now, the tannins are thoroughly drying and there's only a moderate flavour intensity with a medium-to-full body. It's not reaching the heights of the 2000, or at least not yet anyway. Clearly, this is a great expression and a superb wine nonetheless.

Stomach: Some tasting notes -- usually the concluding ones -- aren't rendered until I actively decide what dinner will complement the wine I've got. I find often it's the food you're eating that will help you nail down the essence of a bottle. In this context, food is not only pleasurable, it's quite instructive too. So for the remaining wine I saved for the next night, I made a rich, heavily caramelly meal. This was drawn up as a match for the blackened fruit and caramel tones the Vistorta possesses -- that's my overall sense of the wine that I didn't even note. I prepared carbonized carrots with caramelized onions, broccoli roasted in the oven until the florets started to singe, and my old standby of Parmesan-breaded chicken breast fried in brown (burnt) butter.

Azienda Agricola Vistorta, Brandino Brandolini d'Adda, Friuli (DOC) Grave, Italia. 13%.

20071108

My cork drawer overfloweth


Which I suppose might mean that my cup doth overflow as well... But are too many corks translating into too few posts?

It may be time to do an audit on the corks I keep in my kitchen drawer. Have I been keeping up with all that I have been uncorking and enjoying?

I don't keep every cork, just the ones that stopper really great wines or are exceptional corks in and of themselves.

Corks with cork taint, thought they might be "exceptional," are not included. I prefer to keep the nice exceptions -- corks with intricate designs and memorable vintages etched into their sides or corks with deeply pigmented colour leeched into their ends.

Sometimes I keep plastic and Diam corks, but I tend to separate tehm because, for the most part, they make for useful household implements rather than souvenirs. One of these stabilizes my clothesline, for instance.

Oh, and I love the reusability of those corks that have those black plastic twist tops that often come out of Pineau des Charentes or LBV Port bottles. They earn a special place.

But no, I won't be starting a screwcap drawer any time soon.

20071105

Cab Franc table talk: Château Gaillard Vieilles Vignes 2000, Charles Joguet Clos du Chêne Vert 2002, Thierry Germain La Marginale 2003, Steltzner 2004


It was a huge pleasure to partake is this substantial (and revealing) tasting of some fine Cabernet Franc wines.

By teaming up with fellow blogger Joe, I was able to stage a worthwhile look at this varietal in two New World and three Old World examples: from Napa Valley's Stags Leap District, from Niagara Peninsula's Glenlake Vineyard and three from Loire appellations, including Thierry Germain's Domaine des Roches Neuves cuvée La Marginale, which sadly is no longer available for sale in Quebec.

Thanks to Joe for extracting that bottle from his cellar. He also brought the Napa Cab produced by Steltzner Vineyards. I provided the Chinon and Niagara wines, plus a unique Loire red blend from Vincent Girault at Château Gaillard in Mesland, just to get our tasting hats on. Here's how I saw it all go down.

Château Gaillard Vieilles Vignes Touraine-Mesland 2000

This wine was not tasted blind. It was, as I mentioned, our warm-up wine. From the 2000 vintage, this has got to be the cheapest oldest wine you can buy at the SAQ. Adding to the intrigue was a percentage Gamay that the winemaker claimed to blend into this seven-year-old version of Cabernet Franc. How would this taste? A lot like Malbec actually, and that's of course because Côt was the third blending grape involved, perhaps the primary one. The Gamay provided a squelch of fruity tartness, the Cabernet seemed to add some rich cocoa notes. But it mostly seemed to be an expression most characteristic of Malbec or Gamay than Cabernet. (Several nights later this wine is still hanging on nicely with some zip). For $19, this bottle from 2000 is a rather odd delivery of an otherwise friendly and fun quaffer.

Château Gaillard: Certified organic and biodynamic. Vincent Girault, Mesland, Loir et Cher, France. 12%.

Charles Joguet Clos du Chêne Vert Chinon 2002

To me this was tell-tale Chinon, and the easiest to separate from the rest of the wines. It was decanted and definitely needs it. Even after a half-hour, it was still settling in. On the nose I first got cassis and cream. It seemed one-note on the palate, but that was still changing in the glass. On the palate it became less strict, offering luscious notes of tomato and green pepper. It is a typically vegetal wine with strong earthy/mineral elements so it's not surprising it goes so well with food. When I served beef tenderloin, seasoned potatoes wedges and garlic-steamed broccoli (which, perhaps unfortunately, only occurred after the wines were revealed), this Cabernet really showed its stuff. It ushered in the meal like none of the others, a perfect partner for steak and frites or for simmered beef and fresh vegetables. (I think that only food with really spicy or sweet elements would prevent this wine from shining as bright -- this wine definitely has a style shared with the ultimate dining wines.)

Clos du Chêne Vert: Charles Joguet, Sazilly, France. 12.5%.

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves La Marginale Saumur Champigny 2003

This was the first wine we decanted and the first wine I tasted blind. By the time I stopped taking notes it was still baffling me, especially as to its true potential. This wine was so solid with so much depth that I felt the best reading on what this wine really amounts to could only come years down the road. It had a sharp nose rendering a complex bouquet. On the palate it was equally complex and powerful. The finish delivers admirably huge tannins -- definitely an aspect worth revisiting in the future. If it was a bit tight in the early stages, a palpable acidity was shown so I see no reason why it wouldn't last a decade or more. The fruit reminded me of Saumur fruit and terroir, though with many times the body and many times the lift. Ultimately, this convinced me that it was the other French wine, though clearly more New World-ish than the Chinon. A revelation -- but it manhandled my meal a bit. If only I could save my dinner and then reheat it with this wine ten years from now.

La Marginale: Thierry Germain, Varrains, France. 13%.

Steltzner Vineyards Stags Leap District Napa Valley 2004

Here is where I lost my way. The nose of this wine presented grenadine and spices and a somewhat understated aroma of leather. This was soft and alluring and was channeling the French wines I drink almost every night. On the palate, it was sweetish and offered less intrigue than the nose. It was more heavily oaked and yet much lighter than the Marginale -- which is a far from ideal combination. Especially with food, it ends up generating vanilla and so it comes off cloying. You might sense that it has peaked and is already receding. So my guess was that this was the 2000 Niagara wine rather than the Napa three-year-old. I was wrong. Surprise! I really could not tell at all that this was an over-alcoholized American wine of 15%. Credit to Steltzner, though as the night went on and I revisited it after dessert the alcohol was suddenly unmasked. The Napa zap! But too late -- I was fooled. To me this was the most demure and attractive nose of the bunch but it took me spiraling downhill from there. If I had it again, I wouldn't decant.

Steltzner: Napa, California, U.S.A. 15%.

Hillebrand Estates Glenlake Vineyards Showcase Niagara Peninsula 2000

Alcoholized and highly evolved in the glass, despite not decanting this bottle. This wine is oxidized and was rebottled for return.

This post mirrors what Joe already published over on Joe's Wine. But unlike Joe, I am not including my notes for the Niagara bottle (and I instead mentioned the Gaillard, even though it was not tasted blind). I'm taking the Niagara wine back. This is my decision. Joe wrote me that he "didn't find it to be something that needs returning," but he understood my feelings. The fact is I had tasted the Niagara wine earlier this year and wrote glowing notes on it here. But it showed up at our tasting showing seriously aged fruit and oxidation and this was merely a matter of weeks after purchase from the winery. How disappointing.

MY LESSONS LEARNED

But I think my real disappointment was that during our tasting's blind phase, I didn't guess correctly. I observed yet I let a favourable memory of the Niagara bottle and a distaste of American wine dictate my guesses. This was because I mistook the strength of oxidizing elements on the nose for the presence of high levels of alcohol. I was shocked to see this actually revealed as Niagara. It made prefect sense to the neutral bystander, and in hindsight. This wine was much older, and had my observations been interpreted correctly, I was there. But I was swayed despite -- perhaps paradoxically because of -- the fact that we were doing them blind.

Lesson 1: Blind tastings are best performed on bottles that you have not tasted before or you'll be tempted to outsmart your own blind observations with memory and personal response, which is quite disappointing because it defeats the whole purpose.

Or rather, in blind testings, it's best to forget the past. I think my tasting partner Joe had a firm handle on this aspect. He had tasted the Steltzner before. Experience is knowledge but it's synthesized knowledge -- be advised to leave out individual bottles experiences!

"No need to be disappointed," said Joe in the postmortem. "It shows that the blind worked, and you correctly separated the old world from the new." [It's true I did ID this and the other French wines correctly].

"The Canuck wine was a bit tired -- Cab Franc, probably from younger vines than all of the others, is not going to keep forever... note that the bottle to bottle variability probably increases over time. Your previous experience was eight months ago at the end of a wine's life -- perhaps not that much of a surprise they were quite different?" surmised Joe.

OTHER LESSON LEARNED

Lesson 2: Is it hard to keep track of wine consumption at a blind tasting while it is happening! I don't think I'll ever figure out a way to better keep track when there's so much set before me. Perhaps proper tasting glasses would help?

Lesson 3: Blind tastings with "table talk" can sway evaluation as much as "drinking the label" does in non-blind tastings. Joe and I had some table talk, but not much. We didn't discuss conclusions until the end. And besides, what little table talk there was had almost no effect since the wines were positioned blind as well as tasted blind. This prevented a shared order of wines between to the two of us so table talk comments could not be attributed to a particular wine and therefore sway tasting opinions.

Lesson 4: I did not assess colour in the tasting because I thought it would too easily reveal the wine, given the broad four-year gap in cuvée vintages. The lighting was also poor so I let Joe turn up the house lights while I put the final touches on dinner (see Joe's notes for proper scoring). But the fact is that the wines' colour didn't reveal much at all, no matter how hard I tried to read them.

20071102

Wine blog and day job, Apollo and Dionysius, rhythm and melody?

Seeing the future from a bottle and the lines are increasingly blurred blurry

My experience wineblogging will occasionally assist my real job, but rarely has my day job ever directly helped out my wineblogging.

But then: this. This morning, a wine article called Music to drink wine by: Vintner insists music can change wine's flavors came right into my inbox at work.

It came to me not because of its stated relationship to wine -- not at all because of that, though in fact several of my colleagues now officially know I'm a wino. Rather, the news story came to me by virtue of it coincidentally mentioning my employer, which really has little to do with the actual story.

And thank goodness for that. Let's just sweep that association under the rug because this is either some whacked-out story about an eccentric winemaker named Clark Smith (pictured below) or the dawn of a new wine trend that's really going to make my head hurt.

Thinking about and taking tasting notes for the wine I drink usually hurts my head enough as it is. You try to keep wine appreciation honest by accurately deciphering aroma and flavour, length and weight and then food pairings come into the equation. All that is quite hard enough without factoring in and figuring out the various cerebral synapses firing that alter your perceptions when drinking. What this report suggests is that you've got to postulate whether a musical selection is going to hurt or hinder your ability to appreciate a particular wine. Well, can't my personal experience just be kept personal and leave it at that?

Not according to this. I won't even try to re-encapsulate it myself...

MUSIC TO DRINK WINE BY
A McGill study is cited in this San Francisco Chronicle article about whether wine tasting requires the same logical processing areas of the brain as listening to music. Research by Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre of McGill in 2001 showed that when subjects listen to music they enjoy, they activate pleasure centers of the brain.

"Smith's premise is that different music makes some wines taste better and others taste worse, and the great majority of tasters will agree with the "right" and "wrong" pairings regardless of their taste in wine or music. Moreover, it's not possible to record a generic "music to drink wine by" CD because a song that might make Pinot Noir taste great can make Cabernet Sauvignon taste awful. You have to pay attention to individual music and wine pairings.

He's only getting started, but he already has made some surprising, counterintuitive discoveries in an area of wine taste-testing that didn't even exist until he created it.
[Hmmm... is this last line delivered with skepticism or celebration?]

(Blood and Zatorre did not respond to a request for comment on Smith's theories.)"
I wonder why the scientists aren't rushing to comment?

I was. I commented before I even could post this entry, which offers the unique opportunity to blockquote myself:
Although Smith makes some attractive ideas salable here (many people, including myself, have likened a wine's elements to musicality), I still felt strangely uncomfortable while reading this. Uncomfortable, until I realized there was a voice of reason at the end of this article that was easy to latch onto: Kermit Lynch's. I don't think I want my brain to know about my brain, especially when I drink wine to kick back and relax!
So the question is: Are the lines that Smith has drawn blurred because of the converging forces affecting the minutiae of our lives which he then tries to scientifically explain away or are those lines just blurry because the guy has drunk himself off his rocker? I ask you.