More news on WBW, plus a failed theme of my own called "When chard turns to sherry": Laroche Les Pierres 2002 and Alvear Carlos VII Montilla Moriles

Lenn Thompson's Wine Blogging Wednesday legacy continues to inspire. This month in particular, I've found that I've been posting multiple WBW entries, even though WBW comes but once a month.

With the latest WBW news, I'm certainly not stopping the flow of WBW posts now -- so March continues to be a month full of interesting WBW developments and I'm on a roll posting about them.

Lenn, who runs LennDevours, should be very proud of an announcement made yesterday that Gary Vaynerchuk is the next host of WBW 44 on April 2 (AKA the 33rd of March).

The theme set by Gary for WBW 44 is French Cabernet Franc, which in itself is fantastic, but it's so much more than that. Gary's Wine Library TV makes WBW 44 the first edition to be hosted by a video blog (or so I believe). Plus Gary is a force, on a totally different level than any other blogger (a testament to this is how many non-wino, non-blogging friends of mine have tried to point me to Gary's site over the years). Gary has obviously had crossover success. He's penetrated the genre of online wine criticism, branded his own unique take on wine talk, and reached out and touched the great unwashed, for lack of a better term. And, by the way, it's worth noting the influence he has. WBW 44 participants are supposed to link their blog's entry by using the comments attached to Gary's announcement, which was officially made in Episode 426 -- well, in less than one day, Episode 426 has already received 315 comments and the blogging event is still weeks away. Now that's some reach!


Last Wednesday, I found myself reaching. Except unlike Gary, when I'm reaching, I'm usually over-reaching. Anyway, there I was, sitting around mid-month and bored. No sign of the next WBW, and WBW 43 was already over and successfully wrapped up.

I was desperate for some theme action.

So I walked into a wine shop and instantly created a theme for my purchase: Discounted wine. Yes, discounted wine. See the receipt pictured at right -- I not only saved $2.50 or 10% off a $25 bottle, I also saved 5 cents more as I brought my own reusable bag for my purchase. $2.55 in my pocket! Yay, discount wine theme!

Gentle reader, you do note the irony here.

Discounted wine is a dangerous topic and even more dangerous as a theme for a blogging event. How many of you have bought marked down bottles only to uncork them and find that there was good reason for their being priced to clear?

I was entirely optimistic at the time though.

Les Pierres means "the rocks" in French, plus since 2002 was such a great year for cold-climate French wine, I figured I was on solid ground with this find.

So I went ahead and rescued that last 2002 Chablis languishing on the shelf from among a bunch of 2004s. The 2002 had a stained label (see photo at left for its good side, photo below for its bad side).

More than that the 2002 sported a different cuvée name than the 04s (they were also marked down but christened "Saint-Martin," not "Les Pierres" as the 2002 was -- yet they all shared the same product code and that same alluring discounted price.)

In fact, I bought this wine before. I recall enjoying the 2002 Chablis from Domaine Laroche a couple of years ago. I even noted it here. It was not called "Les Pierres" at that time either, which now leads me to think that this discounted bottle was a mix-up. Perhaps a remainder from an old shipment destined for some other market where Laroche wanted a less saintly, more rock-solid image. Who knows whose hands touched it. Or didn't touch it as the case may be, leaving it to oxidize and taint in warm rooms hit by direct sunlight.

But to the consumer who sees the 10% promise attached around the neck of this bottle, only that stained label is apparent. And so the smart consumer buys it, thinking that it's what's inside that counts.

Well, here's what's inside...

Domaine Laroche "Les Pierres" Chablis 2002

Eyes: An intense amber colour.

Nose: Very oxidized, tragically so -- acrid, rotting vegetables.

Mouth: Piercing on the palate, beyond vinegary. This is fermented.

Stomach: Puke-inducing.

Michel Laroche, Chablis, France. 12.5%.

But all was not lost. The theme of my impromptu event was changing before my very eyes. Friends had a bottle of sherry to open, which was a serendipitous turn. It was a non-vintage Amontillado from the Montilla Moriles appellation from Andalusia region of Spain.

So we opened it to see whether our volatile Chablis was actually on its way to sherry glory. And maybe in that sense cut it some slack.

First, I should say that this Amontillado produced by Alvear is more on the Fino sherry side than Oloroso. Typically, Amontillados are in between the two -- darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso -- but I thought this bottle was quite reminiscent of some Finos I've had. Dry and deftly penetrating. An aperitif-type drink to enjoy before the food arrives.

Here now are the comparative notes...

Alvear Carlos VII Amontillado Montilla Moriles

Eyes: Slightly less opulent in colour but more viscous.

Nose: Oxidation but with great complexity -- nut purees, apricot confits, allspice and other stunning spicy notes.

Mouth: Wet bandages and almond shells, alcoholic but stylish and drying.

Stomach: Aperitif, ideal with dry-roasted nutmeats.

Córdoba, Andalucía, Espagne. 19%.

Conclusions! Old Chablis does not a sherry make; Caveat emptor, especially on older wines that are discounted.


Serial title abusers beware: Is there a doctor in the house wine recommendation?

Well it's a good thing that I didn't jet off to Germany over the weekend because I totally missed the news from Friday.

Drs. Vino and Debs, and the Winedoctor too, you all might want to read this carefully.

. . . researchers in Germany have faced criminal probes in recent months for using the title "Dr." on their business cards, Web sites and resumes . . .

Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use "Dr." as a courtesy title.

. . .

Violators can face a year behind bars. (!!)

And then it gets worse, after it seems to get better.

Last week, state education ministers met in Berlin and recommended that the law be modified so anyone holding a doctorate or medical degree from America could be addressed as "Dr." without running afoul of the police.

Anyone with a PhD from Canada, Japan or the rest of the non-European world would still be excluded.

Okay, so maybe all the doctors I mentioned above might not need to worry much longer, but I may need to seriously think about mothballing this site before I ever visit Cologne.

Read the whole story in last week's Washington Post.


Another WBW update: Attems Cicinis Bianco 2005

You've heard about the impossibility of a month of Sundays, but how about a month of WBWs? It's not impossible!

March is shaping up to be a month of Wine Blogging Wednesdays around here. WBW 43 wraps up with a rundown on comfort wines (click to Wine Life Today to figure out what that means -- Joel Vincent did a thorough write-up). Meanwhile, I'm finally publishing notes I wrote up with the idea of posting them to WBW 41, which was on the theme of Friuli-Venezia Giulia white wines.

Please bare with me and my misgivings on the blogging event front. I'm not participating as much as I would like to. And then when I do, I go and code 42 into the URL for WBW 43 or decide to contribute two months too late. Whoops!

Blogging like wine tasting is a fallible undertaking. Remember that.

In any case, here's some information you can take at face value: Friuli-Venezia Giulia is an expansive region in northern Italy, and way back in January, Jack and Joanne hosted a vast array of helpful resources for both the beginner and the devotee. Check it out at Fork & Bottle.

Attems Cicinis Collio Bianco 2005

The name of the winery is Attems, the name of the cuvée is Cicinis, and the name of the appellation is Collio. Bianco, of course, means white.

Attems is run under the ownership of the giant wine producer Marchesi de Frescobaldi società agricola, based in Tuscany. For the estate of Conti Attems, the producers stray far from the typical terroir and output of Chianti. The Cicinis cuvée is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai Friuliano, and Pinot Bianco. But its manufacture with heavy wood and an oxidative note may end up frustrating amateurs looking for a real sense of what Collio -- an official Italian D.O.C. designation -- is all about. It was priced immodestly at over $25 when I bought it.

Here's what I recorded for it.

Eyes: Deeply pigmented from a white wine.

Nose: Wet bandages and vanilla combining in a silky smooth way. Also notes of honeycomb.

Mouth: Caramelized on the palate. There are flowers but a strong oxidized note makes this wine very distinct. It seems a bit distilled.

Stomach: I think chocolate is your safest bet for this kind of wine because it resembles the booze in some desserts like icewine truffles or fruitcake. Otherwise pair it with a very rich and mouthfilling dinner and accept my best wishes for good luck.

Conti Attems, Lucinico, Gorizia, Italia. 13%.


WBW #43 Comfort Wines: Grenache blends like the Château de la Gardine 2004

My first post of March is March's Wine Blogging Wednesday event -- WBW comes early in March! This one clearly snuck up on me, but I was not unprepared.

Thanks to Joel at Wine Life Today for getting me motivated to finally get some of my wine tasting notes up.

Joel's timing for March's event -- called "comfort wines" -- seems perfect. This week I've been popping corks on some very soul-sustaining, get-me-through-the-winter wines. March is usually severe and wintry during this year of La Nina. Comfort wines are exactly what I've been calling for lately, and likely will until some signs of spring arrive.

The definition of a comfort wine may be highly personal. Joel offers guidance as host, but in the most general definition I have in my mind, I would expect that people thinking of their favourite comfort wines would think of red wines that are somewhat rich and substantive -- a bottle that puts meat on your bones so you can settle in for a long winter's nap. When your hibernation's over you'll awake with fond memories of that nourishing and generous wine!

So to recap, my idea of a comfort wine is one this a) red, b) ripe and c) with potentially high extraction. Above all, it is d) not a wine that you would serve with a green salad. It should feature a strong flavour profile and admirable texture, though not necessarily supplied by heavy tannin. It should be lusty, savoury and long in the mouth.

In other words, it should be a classy cuvée that involves some Grenache grapes.


Grenache, or Granacha in Spanish, is the go-to grape for Spain's D.O. Montsant red wines and France's A.O.C. Faugères red blends. I mention them because I sampled one of each this week.

Both the Mas Collet Montsant 2004 and the Les Premières Faugères 2005 satisfy a definition of "comfort wine" I subscribe to.

The Mas Collet brings in an attractive level of oak and Cabernet Sauvignon to the comforting affect this wine has. Overall though this is an exemplary Grenache blend after so-so recent vintages: the 2004 is far from flabby and it possesses a nice, if light structure, for all of $15. See this recent review from a Quebec wine critic and blogger Rémy Charest and click its bottle image above for its descriptive file and local availability.

Jean-Michel Alquier's Faugères, out of the Languedoc region of the Midi, is so beautifully balanced and long in mouth, it's simply remarkable this is an under $25 wine (it's only a shade above $20 not including the tax). It has such a lengthy finish that this is a wine that fully does taste $10 more than the Spaniard. I enjoyed it immensely, to the detriment of my better note-taking. Here instead are notes from a glowing 1855.com review (written in French), complete with a top score from the 1855 people, so much so that I bet they are effectively forgetting the Bordeaux touchstone of their namesake. Click on its bottle image above for more details.

As my grandmother used to say, it's nice to be able to live life comfortably. After grandpa got that job as a foreman steelworker, her idea of comfort was all about being able to spend the extra dollars to occasionally pamper yourself. Like with a $30+ bottle of wine. That's living comfortably!


And for some this comfort wine. It's got that Grenache goodness too.

With that in mind my first and foremost comfort wine is the Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001. This is the wine I celebrated my promotion with last year. We're talking crazy candied orange peels in a classically-styled and hearty wine that approaches the depth and savoriness of vintage port wine. Or at least that is what I recall. (When drinking the best comfort wines, it's best not to talk notes.)

So I only have notes on the current vintage, the Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2004, which is less exciting (less comforting too). Still nice though. The 2005 version is already replacing previous stock; it is getting more favourable reviews. (In any case, I tasted the 2004 recently after seeing it discounted to under $30 and I think it was worth it at that kind of price.)

Eyes: Light fuschia with dull red brick tone to it.

Nose: Alcohol aroma overlying meaty and juicy notes. The meat is more charred than fatty. Mineral component too -- could be ash -- but as a non-smoker this is all a strangely alluring bouquet for me.

Mouth: Bright and rasping with creamy notes. Sports a sunniness to it -- there's enough acid to make it a good Grenache in my books. Baked berries with pits. Typical Midi really with its developing fruit. But it's also zesty in both texture and flavour, kind of like a root beer with influences of star anise and sweet spice supported by the savoury edge on the acid and a medium body. Long finish and nice tannins.

Stomach: This style of wine seems to become even more luscious at the dinner table because it's otherwise a young and upfront wine that can use a little time mellowing. Right now, this wine can be great with couscous and garlicky merguez sausage. It's like the best cherry cola you've ever had with dinner.