Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2005 Rolf Binder/Veritas Halliwell

Cross-posted from 2 Days per Bottle. This wine received an "89" from Harvey Steinman at Wine Spectator. He said:

Bright and juicy, with lively acidity to balance the fresh berry and spice flavors, which linger effectively on the generous finish. Drink now through 2009. 3,000 cases imported. Score: 89. —Harvey Steiman, October 15, 2006.

Curiously, Robert Parker gave it a "92":

Wine Advocate- A sexy, knock-out effort for drinking over the next 5-7 years is the 2005 Shiraz/Grenache Halliwell. This aromatic blend of 60% Shiraz and 40% Grenache offers up notes of blueberries, raspberries, cherries, earth, spice, and a hint of oak. It is full-bodied with juicy, concentrated flavors, supple tannins, and a velvety, opulent finish. Score: 92. —Robert Parker, October 2006.

and Joe Czerwinski gave it a "91":

Wine Enthusiast This is 60% Shiraz and 40% Grenache, with the Grenache providing some volume and roundness while the Shiraz provides the more assertive flavor notes. It’s a heady blend of sweet—cola—and savory—black olive and coffee—notes, with a long, supple finish. Drink now–2015. Score: 91. —Joe Czerwinski, November 01, 2007.

I love reviews. Read those three, then mine, and tell me if any of us tried the same wine. That said, I think in this case Czerwinski and Parker are a lot closer. Really, I can't imagine any reason this just got an "89" other than a price south of $20.00.

Type Red
Producer Rolf Binder/Veritas
Variety 60% Shiraz 40% Grenache
Designation Halliwell
Country Australia
Region South Australia
SubRegion Barossa
Appellation Barossa Valley
Price $19.49

The Little Wooden Guy signals "TOUCHDOWN!" This is startlingly good stuff for the dollar. Heck, it's just good stuff.

Night One

The color is very dark, turning to purple-tinged scarlet at the edges.

The nose starts with a bit of barnyard must and earthiness, probably from the grenache. It also has plenty of fruit, starting with creamy blueberries, plus the dusty, fruity smell of a bag of dried strawberries. There is also a touch of fennel.

The palate is deep and rich, with a very smooth full mouth feel. Blueberries and blackberries in cream, plus a hint of licorice, open the attack. Some tart red fruit shows up on the mid-palate. Toward the finish, add vanilla and pepper. The finish is long. This is very nice, well balanced with fruit and sweet silky tannins.

Night Two

The nose of Night Two is still fruity, but darker than on Night One, adding blackberries and elderberries to the creamy blueberries. The pepper shows up earlier on Night Two, on the attack rather than toward the finish. The fennel is still there.

The attack is very prickly peppery plus loads of black fruit, especially blackberry and elderberry. Vanilla, ample and espresso glow on the mid-palate. Tannins are very smooth and sweet. Finish is long.

This is very good. When you factor in a price under $20, it is terrific. Grenache tempers the jammy fruitiness of Barossa Valley shiraz.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twitter Taste Live - The 89 Project Round-Up

This review is just of Night Two from the weekend's Twitter Taste Live, sponsored by The 89 Project. For Night One with all the Wine Twitters, watch the video, courtesy of 1 Wide Dude:



The Wooden Guys had a good time, but the consensus was that the Rivola was not in the same league as the rest of the wines.

2007 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes

Type White
Producer Jean-Marc Brocard
Variety Chardonnay
Designation Vieilles Vignes
Vineyard Domaine Sainte Claire
Country France
Region Burgundy
SubRegion Chablis
Appellation Chablis

Night Two

The nose has tart apple, lime, and some minerality. From Night One to Night Two this lost a lot of fruit on the palate. It is tart and stony. There is some apple there, but it is the tart and green. Butter makes an appearance at the very end of the mid-palate and echoes lightly on the finish.

2005 Abadia Retuerta Vino de la Tierra Castilla y León Rívola

Type Red
Producer Abadia Retuerta
Variety Tempranillo Blend
Designation Rívola
Vineyard n/a
Country Spain
Region Castilla y León
SubRegion Sardon de Duero
Appellation Vino de la Tierra Castilla y León

Night Two

Oak-city on roller skates. Oh wait a second, there's a single teaspoon of blackcurrant jelly there. Unfortunately, it was crushed when the lighting struck and felled the oak tree. The lighting gave it that toasty smell.

Okay, let's take a sip, shall we? Blackberries, lots of blackberries, some cedar, and lots of vanilla. It devolves into a brown sugar/vanilla mess. The finish is short and sudden.

Honestly, I have no idea how anybody ever rated this 89.

2006 Clos La Coutale Cahors

Type Red
Producer Clos La Coutale
Variety Malbec Blend
Designation n/a
Vineyard n/a
Country France
Region Southwest France
SubRegion n/a
Appellation Cahors

Night Two

The nose has nutty, meaty smells underlying some dark fruit. Hiding behind it is a small hint of cherry, probably from the little bit of Merlot blended in. On the palate, black fruit dominates, but there is a lot more there. There is a meaty flavor like a crisp end-piece of prime rib, beefy and smoky. There is also a bit of vegetal taste, tobacco, like whole leaves hanging in a cigar shop on Calle Ocho. Tannins and acid are well balanced and pronounced, suggesting some more cellar time might be possible. Tannins are not quite smooth. "Dusty" would be a better description.

2006 Kilikanoon Shiraz The Lackey

Type Red
Producer Kilikanoon
Variety Shiraz
Designation The Lackey
Vineyard n/a
Country Australia
Region South Australia

Night Two

Bright red fruit, plums, spices, pepper and a touch of cedar all are on the nose. The palate has dark fruit, pepper, and some meatiness. At first, it was reminiscent of bacon, but a better comparison is actually Bresaola, Italian dried beef. It has the same nutty cured dried meaty flavor, especially at the back side-edges of the tongue. Tannins are smooth and sweet. Finish is long. This is nice, quite nice.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The 89 Project on Twitter Taste Live!

Since tonight (8PM ET) is the first 89 Project appearance on Twitter Taste Live, I thought I'd post the CoverItLive stream that I'll be following (and contributing to) for the event. Enjoy!




Thursday, December 11, 2008

Seleccion Especial

The Abadia Retuerta, Estate Grown in Rioja, Sardon De Duero 2003, 14% alc. In the glass a thin violet colored rim that segued to an opaque velvet curtain core. This wonderful wine is a blend expressing Tempranillo’s richness at 75%, Merlot’s roundness at 5% and Cabernet Sauvignon’s aromatic elegance coming in at 20%. Which for my palate made like a visit to a tobacco store humidor, breathing in all the wonderful aromas deeply and a lithe compote of dark fruits and well worn saddle leather, followed my a long palate coating finish. In a word yum!

Mr. Parker rated this wine 89 Pt's. I would say it requires a least hedonistic 91 Pt's. This is huge wine for the price. It is selling for $19.99 @ Bevmo and was a wine I tasted in my wine class @ ISG. This could be a everyday drinker and just happened to pair ever so nicely with some smoked beef sausage one of my classmates most graciously provided. My recommendation is purchase a six pack if you can and if storage is not an issue or buy one for an upcoming holiday party or gift giving occasion to show off your epicurean taste! Until next time Cheers!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'05 Waterbrook Melange, Washington This wine was given an 89 rating by the Wine Specatator (reviewer(s) unknown) in 2007. Waterbrook Melange 2005 is made by Eric Rindal and the Waterbrook Winery is located in Touchet, Washington in the Columbia Valley AVA. It is called Melange because it is a blend of 5 varietals including 40% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah.
Color: deep garnet with a light magenta rim.
Nose: every sniff carried a different aroma: 1st:chalk 2nd: spicy oak 3rd: black fruit ie; black plum, blackberry, black cherry cola 4th: leather 5th: Dr. Pepper!
This is how all of the aromas come together... nice complexity...

Mouthfeel: cherry/pomegranate/leather finish with a medium plus linger. What is this wine lacking that the Wine Spectator could only bestow an 89 upon it? It has balance, acidity, supple tannins. It is not an oaky fruit bomb (thank god). It is more subtle and smooth. Does it not represent the terroir of the Columbia Valley? Are the 5 varietals not as well-blended as they could be? I am looking forward to addressing these and other issues in rating a wine during our blind tasting of 89 point wines in the Twitter Taste Live event coming up on December 13th www.twittertastelive.com For a better idea of how this will work visit www.lusciouslushes.com This is one of the best under $10 wines I have reviewed. It is lovely and satisfying. Well, I am giving it a 90 so there, WS! -BrixChick Xandria

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

'06 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand

'06 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand ($16.29). The nicest thing about tracking down 89 point wines that I love is that usually they are priced attractively,. This was no exception,. At only $16.29, this compared favorably with examples costing more than twice as much. It was suggested that this be opened six hours before service to let the complexity of flavors and aromas build. I was only able to open it 2 hours ahead of time, but I found that my trusty Vinturi http://www.vinturi.com/home.html improved the wine. The nose on this was spicy---redolent of pepper and plums. While it initially had a slightly bitter grapefruitish flavor, the Vinturi smoothed out the flavors to a Burgundian plummy taste, still redolent with tasty spice. A delicious example of a rare creature: a value Pinot Noir!

Monday, December 1, 2008

'05 Wishing Tree Shiraz, Australia

'05 Wishing Tree Shiraz, Australia ($12.29). At $12.29, this wine was a bargain. Beautiful dark Shiraz color, balanced acidity with aromas of cinnamon roll, licorice and smoked meat. I enjoyed the fruit forward nature of it, especially combined with its dryness. That, along with the tannins made it a very food friendly wine. A tasty wine and a great bargain! At my 89 project party, we tasted it against '05 Jim Barry The Lodge Shiraz ($19.99). Once again, I pinned the 89 on the wrong wine. This example was similar, but had a little less robustness of fruit in the flavors along with an almost brandy-like and licorice-y aromas. Still both were inky dark examples with lots of red and black fruit flavors and nice spice. When planning the party, it was kind of hard to track down "89 point" wines. One thing that was helpful, was http://www.wine.com/. One of the fields they let you search by is "ratings". So, try this at home, but be careful. While it's fun and interesting to track down wine by ratings as an experiment, experiential evidence is a much more rewarding way to find fun, interesting wines.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

'06 MacRostie Chardonnay

Another 89 point wine. '06 MacRostie Chardonnay ($23.99) I had this a few weeks ago at a party I threw to take a look at the differences between wines rated 89 points and as similar as I could find 90 point versions to find out if I could spot the differences. Since I found a few examples, I thought it would be fun to hear what others had to say, so I invited such luminaries as Luscious Lush Thea, Dr. Xeno (Ward) and Tom from San Jose along with , of course, the other Brix Chick, Xandria. Six people---Seven bottles of wine (with a little absinthe chaser) Good times! And material for more than one post of course. So I'll start with my notes on the chardonnays. Normally I rate wines 1 - 10 based on how much I like them. But I fudged a little on this one and just attempted to hang the "89" on the right bottle. I found the MacRostie to have a richer hue and a "better" taste. It had a slightly citrusy taste and hints of more recognizeable (to me) flavors of apples and pears. It had some oak on it, which seemed to produce an almost spicy taste. So I rated it higher.

I was wrong.

When we peeled back the wrappings on the bottle, the '06 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay ($12.29) was the actual 90 point "winner". Although the color wasn't as nice and the initial nose was of gasoline, this wine took its time opening up and then eventually had a more floral quality to its aromas. It was more food friendly than the MacRostie chardonnay. My fellow wineaux totally had it pegged. In several cases, they like the MacRostie better, but indicated that they thought it was the 89 point wine. Since both the wines were agreeable examples of local chardonnays, I felt like we were all winners. Tasting them blind was a super fun exercise and let me stop and focus on #3 vs. #4 without the influence of labels, price or reputation. Interesting...
More on the other matchups later...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't forget the Pinot Blanc

I can just hear this wine saying, "Marsha. Marsha! MARSHA!". First, It's a pinot blanc, not noir. Then, it got an 89 while it's more illustrious sibling snagged a 90. Still, I was fortunate enough to get to try it at a recent outing to Solano Cellars in Albany, CA.

2007 Ponzi Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley ($17) The color was a very clear, very pale yellow. It had a medium +body. It displayed aromas of savory fruit. I particularly liked the sweetly citrus scent and and fragrance of exotic fruit. Because the nose was sweet, I expected the wine to be as well, but it was dry. Dry and fruity with flavors of coconut and lemongrass. The finish was exotic citrus. This wine made us want to go out and find more Thai food. http://www.ponziwines.com/wines/pinot-blanc.asp

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

89 Point wine wins Wine of the Week!

Okay, so it won in Baltimore. Nevertheless, we applaud the achivement of this '06 Rosenblum Heritage Clones Petite Sirah I had been lucky enough to have this wine at a fun Italian restaraunt in Cupertino, Fontana's. My table found it to be a great companion to the hearty Italian fare, but also smooth and complex enough to be enjoyed by our guest who was watching his girlish figure and opted for a salad. The wine had flavors of berries, chocolate and coffee. Still, with its 14.8% alcohol and balanced acidity, it was food friendly and stood up nicely to Fontana's delicious sauces. The black fruit flavor came forward and made it a wine we could enjoy while waiting, as well as a bottle that we found enjoyable throughout the meal. The mocha finish even made it compatible with the chocolate dessert we somehow managed to squeeze in. Aged in American and French oak, the vines go back 80-100 years, representing a long tradition of Petite Sirah in the area near San Francisco, Contra Costa county. Petite Sirah is a dark wine guaranteed to stain your teeth Wine lover's purple. After the long two days of meetings we endured, we were happy for the giggles. So even though Wine Spectator only gave it an 89, the Baltimore Sun singled it out for wine of the week, And more importantly, our server suggested it as a great option for us. Despite its ignominious ranking, its quality and,Rosenblum's leadership in good value petite sirah is carrying this little gem along. However, I noticed that the online wine list at Fontana's does not list this! So I called to make sure a) it was still available and b)I was not hallucinating. Funny! The menu does call out those offerings that received 91 points or more. If you do find yourself in Cupertino and need a place for dinner, try Fontana's http://www.fontanasitalian.com/index.htm. And while you're at it, give an 89 point wine a chance. You won't be sorry

Kicking it at Kick Ranch

On Day 1 of the Wine Blogger Conference, if you arrived early enough before the first “official” event, you had the opportunity to head out to Kick Ranch Vineyard for lunch and a tasting. The tasting consisted of 12 wineries who source grapes from Kick Ranch pouring some of their current selections. I originally thought this would be an event where each winery would pour the Syrah they make from Kick Ranch grapes, for example, but instead, the wineries seemed to be pouring lots of stuff from both Kick Ranch and from other vineyards. The owners of Kick Ranch provided a delicious lunch for us, which I went straight for, having not eaten a thing but 2 slices of toast when I left Murphys way earlier in the day! I only managed to taste my way through what 8 of the wineries had to offer, I ran out of time and needed to head back to Santa Rosa in time for the “speed dating” tasting, which I already wrote about here.

As it turns out, and as dhonig kindly pointed out, four of the wines I tasted garnered 89 points from various wine media folks! So I've cross posted those 4 wines here, and you can read about the whole Kick Ranch experience here.

2006 Pax Cuvee Christine: Syrah. Bright red fruit, flowers, berries, vanilla, toast, violets, slight chocoalte, spice, pepper, dark, tannic.

2006 Lynmar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Smoke, leather, earth, strawberry, raspberry, nice red fruit.

2006 Enkidu Kick Ranch Syrah: Black cherry, floral, spice, toasted oak, brown sugar, tannins earth.

2005 Enkidu Fazekas Petite Sirah: Dark chocolate, black fruit, vanilla, dark, slight red fruit on the edges, tannic. I loved this wine!

Of these, my favorite was the Enkidu Fazekas Petite Sirah. I can't believe this only got an 89, I found it to be gorgeous, and if they were selling it there, I would have easily tucked some into my take home cases. Then again, we all know I adore Petite Sirah, so that may just be my bias showing through! ;)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Twitter Taste Live #8

The 89 Project is hosting Twitter Taste Live: The 89 Project. It will be TTL's very first BLIND tasting. Every participant will receive four bagged bottles (no cheating, don't look at the cork), and we will all discuss what it is, where it's from, and why we think it got an 89 score. Not just that, but you might be able to get that four-pack free:

The 89 Project and Twitter Taste Live are delighted to announce a contest for Twitter Taste Live #8, December 13 at 8 Eastern. This TTL is sponsored by The 89 Project, will be TTL's first blind tasting, and will feature four 89-rated wines from around the world. The contest winner will receive the blind four-pack free, including shipping. The contest rules are simple. The joint member of TTL and The 89 Project who puts up the most new posts over at The 89 Project from right now through December 3 wins. Don't cheat. The posting has to be for a wine rated 89 by ommercial media. That is it. Pretty simple, really. So go find yourself some 89-rated wines and get drinking (that's the easy part), then get posting. Ties will be broken by lot. Even if you don't win, all joint members of Twitter Taste Live and The 89 Project members will receive an additional 10% discount off the usual TTL 20% discount from regular retail price. So if you haven't signed up yet, get to it. We will see you at TTL#8.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sanchez Romate Marismeño

Hola! David has asked me to cross-post. The Sanchez Romate Marismeño below got 89 from Wine Spectator on 31st October 2005. I'm not sure why, perhaps they thought it was a oxidised. It is rounder than most Finos. Being a European I don't really get the points thing, but I guess it can mean make or break for anyone trying to get into the US market. I think both theses sherries are worth more than 89!

It's very windy in Jerez today, the "levante" is blowing. Nothing better than to retreat indoors and try some sherry. Two finos from medium-sized bodegas: Alvaro Domecq "La Janda" and Sanchez Romate "Marismeño".

Romate remains in the ownership of local families, and have not joined the trend of cashing in and moving out of the centre of town. They must be sitting on some valuable real estate! Alvaro Domecq are less central but also in town. Control of Alvaro Domecq was recently gained by Manuel Jove, a spanish billionaire.

The Alvaro Domecq "La Janda" has a typical pale golden colour, the Sanchez Romate "Marismeño" also pale and golden but with perhaps a touch more colour than the La Janda.".

On the nose they are very different. The La Janda seems light for a fino, and has clean, green, stalky aromas. The Marismeño is not pronounced either and has a sweet, fruity nose which reminds me of grated ripe apple.

The La Janda is light, clean and crisp in the mouth. A bit like biting into a Granny Smith. There is a flavour of flor, which did not come through so strongly on the nose. There is a more rounded, fuller feel to the Marismeño and the flavour is of ripe apple.".

I think the La Janda would go very well with salty, grilled prawns and the Marismeño, ice cold, on its own as an aperitif.".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hofer Gruner Veltiner 2007

(cross-posted by the delightful Gretchen Roberts from Everyday Wine.

If you're not familiar with this wine, there are a couple of things you should know about Gruner Veltliner:

1. It’s the hot new wine of sommeliers and chefs around the country, so if you drink it you’re in the know.

2. Gru-Vee, as it’s sometimes called, absolutely deserves its celeb status, as it’s one of the most food-friendly wines around.

I found the most interesting bottle of Gruner Veltliner at the wine store; it was in a dark green liter bottle (larger than a standard wine bottle by 250 mL, or almost 2 extra glasses) with a bottle cap lid. Cheap, or great find? I wondered. Then I turned the bottle over and saw the winning words: “A Terry Theise Estate Selection” (see page 34 of the catalog for his wonderful description).

Terry Theise is arguably the best cool-climate white wine importer around; if you see his name on a bottle of German or Austrian wine or Champagne, you can snap it up and be assured of its quality, complexity, finesse, and charm. Wine geeks read his catalogs for entertainment because, though he’s in the sales business, his lovely prose reflects his passion for the growers and vineyards he works with.

The Hofer was just $15.99, and with the extra ounces an excellent deal. I’m pretty decent at reading wine labels, even those super-confusing French and German bottles, but I have to admit this one had me stumped. It was just a jumble of Austrian words, and I had to turn to good old Google to help me solve the riddle. Turns out the producer is Hofer, the grapes were grown in Auersthal, and the estate is certified organic. I checked it out on Wine Enthusiast's free ratings, and though the '07 wasn't rated, the '05 got an 89. Bingo: time for an 89 Project cross-post.

The Gru-Vee, true to its cool-climate roots, was fresh and acidic, not unlike cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc. Also like Sauv Blanc, GV has a grapefruity varietal character and is extremely food-friendly. But that’s where the similarities end: while Sauvignon Blanc often tastes herbal and grassy, Gruner Veltliner has what’s often referred to as “peppery” notes, as in black pepper. It sounds strange for a white wine, but it’s absolutely true, and that’s probably part of the reason it’s so great with food. Just don’t gulp it alone, because the acidity that makes food sing will turn your stomach inside out alone.

Price: $15.99 (about prices)

Rating: Great Value (about ratings)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

1999 Clos Fourtet, St. Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux ($50)

This wine got RP 89-91 in 2000, 89-91 in 2001, and 88 in 2000. Poor thing, it's kind of like Anglo-Saxon law. Few people care to study it or, in the case of this wine, drink it because it sounds "too mature" (RP) and "superficial" (RP), read "boring." Yet if they gave it a chance, they would find that it is a hidden treasure of exciting flavors.


Wine Reviews at Chateau Petrogasm

Friday, November 14, 2008

Malbec: Old Vines vs. New Vines

Malbec, known as one of the six red grapes allowed in a bottle of Bordeaux, has been found mostly in the Cahors region of Southwestern France. This dark and inky juiced grape was later introduced to Argentina in 1868. Often referred to as Côt in France, lost it's popularity in the 1950's when a frost devastated about 75% of the vineyards. However, Malbec remained the premier grape in Argentina and eventually found it's way to California and Washington and especially in Walla Walla, Washington.

If you have been keeping up with the 89 Project blog, I blogged an earlier article regarding aMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005. aMaurice is a winery from the Walla Walla Valley and I actually craved this wine after the first sip at the winery. It was "s_w_o_o_n" worthy! I rationed my first bottle for three evenings and every evening it became more interesting. The color was an inky plum color and the nose wafted out dark fruit - reminding me of a treasured family recipe of huckleberry coffee cake made from the berries we picked during our summers in Montana. The other nice surprise was the finish - graham crackers! The second evening it was if the flavors built up and became even more intense but with dark deep cocoa added. The third evening, the intense flavors remained but with a pleasant bit of spice in the finish.

So as Teddy Roosevelt once said over a cup of coffee served to him in Nashville, Tennessee - - "it was good to the last drop." And unfortunately Dr. Jay Miller never asked my opinion about the wine, because Parker pointed it an 89 - only 89.

Last week, we celebrated the evening of the election with another Malbec - - one from Mendoza, Argentina. And to make this even more interesting, the Malbec fruit was hand picked from vines that were over 90 years old.

Gourlart Grand Vin Malbec was also a 2005 vintage like the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars. The color was a deep red. There wasn't quite an inkiness going on, but definite shades of violet came through in the color. At first I thought it had an extemely complex nose - it was almost difficult to define. Perhaps due to terroir that was not directly familiar to me? But later notes of ripe dark berries, chocolate and spice came out of the glass. The tannins were balanced and the acids were "juicy." I also picked up a familiar spiciness that was heavy on the oak - - in fact this wine had spent 14 months in 100% new French oak. I also noticed that in another year or six-months this wine would be needing some decanting - which is not a bad thing.

How did I feel about this particular Malbec from Argentina? It wasn't quite "s_w_o_o_n" worthy of the local Malbec, but it was definitely "crush" worthy (And remember, my "crush"worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy may be different than your idea of "crush" worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy). One very important thing: at first sip, I knew it was not of familiar terroir and would have almost guessed this Malbec to be a French wine.

While both wines are Malbecs and of the same vintage, it is very difficult to say which one is the better wine. It's all about taste and style - each wine bringing something different to the person savoring the liquid. Comparing the two wines could also depend on how you pair them with particular foods. The Goulart Grand Vin definitely screamed for some spicy foods such as Tex-Mex and Cajun influenced food. The aMaurice Cellars would be accented wonderfully with a charcuterie and/or cheese plate, or an herbal induced rich beef stew, beef stroganoff or even a tomato sauce enhanced pasta dish.

And when it came to points how did the Goulart Grand Vin - 2005 from Mendoza, Argentina with fruit picked from 90 year old vines compare with the aMaurice Cellars - 2005 from Walla Walla, WA picked from relatively newer vines? Well, the Wine Spectator gave the Goulart Grand Vin - - drum roll - - 89 points.

Now this is where you will allow me to jump up on my soap box. As we know, 89 points can kill the sale of a very delicious and well-made wine. Personally, I feel that those who over look a wine because it received an 89 are really missing out on some well-made and interesting wines. And for argument's sake, let's say if the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars received 90 or 91 points, some "narrow-pointed minded" people might over look the Goulart Grand Vin because of it's mere 89 points. Or if the Goulart Grand Vin received a 90 or 91, the aMaurice Cellars Malbec with it's 89 points could also be forsaken. The point is that the crushworthy wine was an excellent wine, but missing a component that I personally enjoy in a wine that the swoonworthy wine had. So, if the crushworthy wine received a 91 and I forsake the swoonworthy wine because of the 89 points - I am the one losing out. Me - the consumer. And isn't that (forgive me here) the point of the points? My taste buds and Dr. Jay Miller's are not the same! How can you pit each wine against each other - it's like the flaw of the Oscars. How do you give an Oscar to the best movie of the year when your choices are a comedy, romance, western and a sci-fi? To sum it up - -

To choose one of these Malbecs over the other - - it can't be done because missing out on either wine - - well, you are just missing out - - period.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #51 (Baked Goods) gets some 89s

Following is a re-post of this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday from 1WineDude.com. Our fearless 89 Project leader pointed out there there are 2 wines in my write-up that are 89-pointers (I'd not checked any scores before obtaining the wines that I reviewed):

"Wine Spectator - December 23, 2005

BLANDY'S Sercial Madeira 5 Year Old NV (89 points, $21)
Dried apricot, golden raisin and smoky flavors fill this fresh and lively Madiera. Balanced, and edged with lush spicy notes, which linger on the creamy finish. Try on ice as an aperitif. Drink now through 2010.

-Kim Marcus

Blandy's Malmsey 10 Year

KM Wine Spectator 12/31/05

These wines (especially the Malmsey) were very good, and certainly worthy of attention (no matter what the WS score...). Enjoy!

Welcome to Wine Blogging Wednesday #51(WineDude)!
Dude here is hosting the 51st edition of the venerable WBW, and today's theme is "Baked Goods" - reviews of wines that are deliberately heated (aka "Madeirized"), and we're also allowing reviews of sweet Fortified wines to be included. For the scoop on how Wine Blogging Wednesday works, check out the WBW site. More details on the background of the theme can be found here.

Now... let's get this funk started!

I love Madeira. Love is a strong word. And I love Madeira.

It's often sweet, incredibly tasty, high in refreshing acidity, and because it's already been exposed to oxygen and heat (which would utterly destroy normal wines), it's virtually indestructible.

A Madeira wine from 1935 will pretty much taste the same today as it did in 1935, even if opened and enjoyed tablespoon by luscious tablespoon from then until now. Not only is it tasty, indestructible, and food-friendly, it also boasts an abv of 19% or more. It's a bad-ass wine!

Normally, I'd expound on the storied history of Madeira, and give you background on the traditional styles of Madeira, food pairings, etc.


Rather than take you through the history of Madeira wine - which I figured might be covered by one or more of the other fine WBW participants anyway (and if not can easily be found in detailed play-by-play on the web) - I thought I'd instead show you, by way of comparison, just how bad-ass Madeira actually is.

Let's compare kick-ass, indestructible Madeira to the so-called "Invincible" IRON MAN:

"Invincible" IRON MAN

Totally Kick-Ass
Indestructible Madeira


Superhuman strength, Repulsor-ray technology, Genius-level intellect

Intense aroma

, Mouth-watering acidity

, Ass-kicking 19%+ abv
Edge: Madeira


Bullet-proof, temperature-resistant armor - TIE

Impervious to hot ovens, attic temperatures, and long, perilous sea voyages



Stan Lee

The Dutch Armada

Edge: Madeira

The Mandarin
, Alcoholism
, Soft spot for Pepper Pots
, Very large magnets


Cork Taint

Tastes Like

Metal alloy

Nuts, caramel, dried figs. -
Edge: Madeira

Result of



Characteristics of nuts and honey

Edge: Madeira

No contest: Madeira totally trumps IRON MAN, 5-2.

Anyway, traditional Madeira comes in four flavors of grapes, each chosen to highlight a particular style of the wine, examples of which I tasted in comparison (witness below).

Notice how the color of each wine gets darker? This is a key to the style, which range from dry and nutty to lusciously sweet and caramely (is that a word...?):

Blandy's Dry Sercial (Aged 5 Years in oak): Made from the Sercial grape, grown in the cooler high-altitude regions of the Madeira island. Sherry-like, nutty (almonds, baby!) with searing acidity. Pass the hors d'oeuvres!

Blandy's 5 Year Vedelho: Made from Verdelho (also grown in the cooler Northern part of the island) - Sherry-like, but this time its darker and more 'Oloroso-ish'; the oak is more pronounced, and there's touch of sweetness balancing the acidity.

Cossart Gordon Medium Rich Bual (15 years): From the Bual grape (probably my favorite) from the warmer southern portion of Madeira, it ripens to higher levels so it can be made into a sweeter style. And sweet it is - as in sweet fig, vanilla, and hazelnut, with a long nutty finish.

Blandy's Malmsey 10 Year: Malmsey is the malvasia grape, grown in the warmest and lowest-altitude regions of Madeira. These wines can become ultra-indestructible and typically have a near-perfect balance between acidity and sweetness. In this case, the wine is bursting with burnt caramel, rum, honey, and smoke, with a smooth, luscious mouthfeel.

Now do you see why I use the word "love" when I'm talking Madeira?

Just don't tell Mrs. Dudette... she might get jealous...

(images: 1winedude.com, malone.blogs.com, historyguy.com, wikimedia.org, sahistory.org.za, d210.tv, wilsoncrfeekwinery.com, fruitsstar.com, purplemissues.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Campbells Rutherglen Muscat NV

Hello, 89 Project readers. The following post is taken from the Wine Blogging Wednesday #51 post on my blog Bloviatrix. As stated in my post, this wine received a rating of 91/100 from Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar (actually in summer of 2006), but also received a more recent rating of 88/100 from the Wine Spectator, which averages to 89.5. I have also noticed it receiving a 92/100 from the Wine Spectator in a different recent vintage (blend). Despite the efforts at Campbells winery to maintain consistency from year to year in this Solera-process blended dessert wine, perhaps there has been variation from year to year. The only reason I could think that this wine would rate an 88 or 89/100 is that while delectable and very well-made, it perhaps lacks some complexity that would set as a truly top-tier fortified muscat. My post is following.

This month's Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is hosted by 1 Wine Dude blogger Joe Roberts. This fun theme is "baked goods", literally wines that have been maderized (or heated) such as Madeira. The theme has been extended to include wines that have been fortified as well. I have chosen this month the Campbells Rutherglen Muscat, which is a dessert wine made from the Muscat grape (fortified with grape spirits). Rutherglen is an area in Northeast Victoria, southeast Australia that is famous for distinctive fortified Muscat and Tokay dessert wines. Campbells has been in the winemaking business since 1870, which is impressive.

Campbells Rutherglen Muscat FrontCampbells Rutherglen Muscat Back

I purchased this 375ml bottle a few months ago at a New Hampshire State Liquor Store in Nashua for about $15. Was I attracted to the fine old Scottish name on the bottle? Perhaps. Was I lured in by the big Decanter Gold Medal label on the front? Sure. Do I appreciate a delicious fortified sticky? Absolutely.

According to the Campbells web site, the wine is made using the Solera system, that is, from a blend of wines from several vintages, hence there is no vintage on the label. The alcohol by volume (ABV) is a relatively modest 17%. This wine recently received a 91of 100 from tough wine critic Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar, which says to me it must have some special qualities.

I have to be honest- I only had a small glass of this before a guest quaffed the whole thing. It just really tastes good, especially if you have any kind of sweet tooth. I'm always happy to be a good host :-). But I did take down some tasting notes. The nose reminded me right off the bat of plum pudding and hard sauce that I used to have sometimes on holidays as a child. It's so funny that on Campbells web page describing the wine they state that it pairs well with plum pudding and hard sauce. That made me chuckle. Also prominent on the nose are candied raisin and burnt caramel. I sensed also on the nose something that reminded me of cognac, but more unctuous. The finish is good and very pleasant. I'll probably try to round up another bottle of this at some point!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2007 Sportoletti Assisi Rosso

This wine hits both of the honig nails on the head. It tastes great after one night open on the counter (see 2daysperbottle), and it’s rated 89 points in the Wine Advocate (see the 89project).

It’s the 2007 Sportoletti Assisi Rosso, wherein Assisi Rosso is a DOC. One that does not appear in the Oxford Companion to Wine, the text for all WSET students. This wine has a record of 90-point reviews — in ‘01, ‘04, ‘05 and ‘06 — and it is delicious and affordable, priced under $20.

The DOC is centered around the Umbrian city of Assisi, famous for its saint, Francis, and applied to a rosso, a bianco, a rosato and a novello. The DOC calls for the rosso to be at least 50 to 70 percent sangiovese; this wine is 50 percent of that variety blended with 30 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon.The consultant is Riccardo Cotarella, who in 1998 was dubbed by Parker as the Michel Rolland of Italy. It’s a medium-deep bright ruby with purple highlilghts and youthful aromas of milk chocolate, plum, vanilla and cloves. It’s dry with a high alcohol content (a surprising 14 percent) that is balanced by lively acid, light tannins and clear fruit flavors of sour cherries, red fruit and some spice. It’s not too complex, but has a medium to long finish that stretches back on the palate. Get some.

As to why this wine gets an 89 rather than a 90, I think the fame of the winemaker, who consults all over Italy and in France, regularly attracts the 90 points. It's probably not going to get much more because it's made to be drunk young and simple and sell for less than $20. 2007 was a little too hot in Umbria and the wine shows it in the high alcohol. It obviously still works, but the other vintages showed better balance.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I think I am the first to review a sparkler on this site, yet regardless, one of the best-drinking sparklers out of California is Taittinger’s Domaine Carneros Brut, which year-in-and-year-out, proves to be a phenomenal wine for the price. Especially these days, if you want sparklers, most of us need to look for something domestic (unless you’re thinking Cava).

The press, which fluctuates on sparklers (reviewing them only every so often – some producers go two or three years between reviews) is usually quite exemplary for Domaine Carneros, with the Brut Carneros usually scoring well. On the 2004, the interesting thing is that it gleaned an 89 from Wine Spectator and an 85 from Wine Enthusiast.

Spectator’s description goes like this: “Appealing aromas of Gala apple, toasted almond and vanilla lead to focused, creamy Asian pear and spice flavors that finish with a vibrant crispness. Drink now through 2012.” Sounds good, right?

Enthusiast doesn’t seem as convinced: “The vintage was a very ripe one, and the heat shows. It’s very forward, almost jammy, in sweet strawberry and peach flavors. This robs the wine of some elegance, but it’s still an attractive sipper.” Okay, so -4 points for just being a 2004? Or there was too much alcohol poking through?

My take on this wine goes something like this: aside from Roederer Estate Brut NV from Anderson Valley, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better sparkler from California. Light-to-medium-bodied, with creamy stone fruit, toast and nuttiness buoyed by lively effervescence and acidity, this wine gives you long-lasting pleasure on the palate, making it perfect for anything celebratory, like an Obama victory, right?

89 rated wines around the blogosphere

As hard as it is to believe, there are still a few wine bloggers that have yet to join The 89 Project. I will try to bring you their reviews of 89-rated wines when I find them, to link to them and to encourage them to join the project, as well as to increase the visibility of these wines.

The first one today comes from Confessions of a Wino, and its review of Château Durfort-Vivens 2003. I won't steal the whole reveiw, but in summary:

Very impressive wine, though, and I would always choose a Margaux if I had more than two sous to rub together.

Go on over, give the review a look, and don't forget to leave comments encouraging him to join The 89 Project.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cline Small Berry Mourvedre (WE 89)

I had the Cline Small Berry Mourvedre, most recently, last Thursday night. I confess, I adore this wine and used to visit a restaurant that carried it just so that I could drink it on a weekly basis. But, I moved away from that city about a year ago, and had completely forgotten about this little gem of a wine. Until last Thursday. When I saw it on the wine list, I knew we had to revisit it.

When you first open the Small Berry, you get tons of tobacco and leather on the nose. Really heady stuff, so give it a good 30 minutes to decant before proceeding. Then the palate is very cigar box and spicy jam, some raisin and prune hide in there too. The tannins are satiny and elegant, with just enough linger to let you know that you just had something really good.

We had this wine with ostrich and elk and it was fabulous. It really stood up to the gamey flavors of our dishes while not overpowering them. It also went really well with the salty bleu cheeses we had proceeding the meal.

I have only seen this wine in restaurants so far, but I know you can order it from on-line retailers. Every time I check, it is around $30, and well worth it. This wine is easily an 89, every time I have had it, it doesn't disappoint. I think that it is varietal-y correct, consistent and worth a try.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chateau Haute-Bailly 2001

This wine got an 89 rating from Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, May/June 2004, Issue #114

from 2 Days per Bottle.

Grand Cru Classe' de Graves
$45.98 in Indianapolis, Indiana
12.5% alcohol by volume
imported by USA Wine Imports, New York, NY

This bottle of wine is a floral delight. On Night One it seems promise years of cellar growth to come, but we will know more about that on Night Two.

Night One

Purple flowers, lavendar and lilac, just float out of the glass, along with some dark plum and plum skins. On the palate the same flowers take center stage. There is fruit there, too, but it is hidden behind strong tannins that scream out for more years in the cellar. Plums, nee plum skins, are the primary fruit, but more will surely come out of hiding on Night Two. I hope you will join me to see if my prediction comes true.

Night Two

Floral aromas once again lead the nose on Night Two, but the additional time with some air brought out black fruit, more blackberry than blackcurrant, but both were there. The palate has more to offer than on Night One, but the overall impression is that this could use more time. Pencil lead, cassis, and tart plum skins are slowly wrapped in firm tannins as it moves from initial attack to mid-palate, where a hint of unsweetened chocolate makes a quick appearance. Acids and tannins are both pwoerful, but well-balanced. The finish is long.

This is pretty good but still young. The sense of it is that it is just waking up now, just starting to come out of a closed phase. It might well be much better in as little as a year or two. There is plenty of backbone, acid and tannins, to give it time to grow and knit together.

Is this an 89? No, perhaps not. To me an 89 is something that is technically perfect but just barely missing "that certain something," or having "that certain something" while also having an obvious but minor flaw. This wine is good, but not technically perfect. It also doesn't really have anything particularly special about it. It is certainly a more than competent wine, but it is not borderline great.

Friday, October 24, 2008

88 - The Number of The Beast?

Another ditty for The 89 Project has me tasting a devil of a wine that good ol' Wine Enthusiast dubbed a "Best Buy" and gave 88 points (hey, it's not technically an 89, but it's close enough for government work, right?): Concha y Toro's 2007 "Casillero del Diablo" Chardonnay Reserve (Casablanca Valley, Chile).

Speak of the Devil. And just in time for Halloween, too.

You know how for some lower-budget wines, you read the tasting descriptor on the back of the bottle and it sort of, but not really, describes how the wine tastes to you; or worse, seems to be describing a completely different wine than the one that you're drinking?

This is not one of those times. The descriptor on the back of the Casillero del Diablo bottle is frighteningly (get it?) accurate:
"A crisp [editor's note: i.e., it's got decent acidity] Chardonnay [well, duh] packed with tropical fruit flavors [there is definately some grapefruit and melon going down in this puppy] "and subtle hints of vanilla [the oak doesn't skewer your nostrils like a wooden pitchfork]. Medium bodied with good balance [it's not a booze-hound from hell] and a fresh finish [i.e., the finish is short but it's good]."
Color me impressed. Especially for a wine this cheap (about $10 USD).

Normally the 89-point range is the Number of the Beast, the veritable wine kiss o' death. But Concha y Toro ought to be very pleased with this rating at this price point. If anything, it's a testament to how well poised Chile is to rule the wine world at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Sure, the CdD Reserve is far from complex. But it's got the Fire. It has the Force. It has the power to make it's evil take it's course!

[Insert trademark Bruce Dickinson awesome butt-kicking heavy metal scream here].

images: (1winedude.com, ironmaidenwallpaper.com)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From the grave yard of 89 point wines

I have been delinquent in my posting to the 89 Project so this is my first post. I usually don’t buy wines for their rating but happened to have this wine at a wine bar the other day. I used my handy dandy Wine Spectator mobile app on the iPhone and checked the rating of the wine and low and behold it was 89 points.

The wine I picked up is the 2005 Esporao Red Reserve from Portugal. The Esporao winery is located in the Alentejo (DOC) region of Portugal, 180 Km east of Lisbon, in Reguengos de Monsaraz. The 2005 Red is comprised of 40% Aragonês , 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Trincadeira. The vineyards for the grapes lie on primarily granit and loamy clay soil and the vines are trained on a Double Guyot style system. This wine has the added benefit of giving me two new wines to add toward my Wine Century Club list.

My Tasting Notes-

Nose – Raisin, prune, grilled meat, wood
Taste – Blueberry, pomegranate, strawberry shortcake and raspberry
Mouthfeel – medium body, fairly high acidity and firm tannins
Finish – long length, fuzzy from the tannins and nice red fruit flavors

This was a great wine that regardless of rating and I would purchase it again. It was 18.99 from Whole Foods here in Richmond which I think is a good price for the quality of the wine. We had the wine with a cheesy, veggie, noodley casserole and it paired great, very nice for a chilly fall evening. In addition to the notes I put above, the nose was slightly reminiscent of a good Port, go figure!


Monday, October 13, 2008

An 89-Point Merlot from Umbria That Even Miles Would Like

Merlot has really been kicked around the block since Sideways. In spite of the fact that Miles downs a considerable amount of Merlot in a fast food restaurant at the end of the film, large numbers of people now refuse to drink Merlot on general principle.

This is good news for you and me. Because Merlot can be fabulous. Not everybody makes their Merlot grapes into blackberry jam. Some actually make it into wine. And because of the dip in demand, there is some great Merlot out there in the market that is priced to sell.

I just had an Umbrian example of Merlot, and it was fantastic--and it in no way resembled a simple, over-oaked fruit bomb or a breakfast spread. Instead, the 2004 Falesco Pesano Merlot was an excellent QPR steal for just under $12. I purchased the bottle back before this blog was born in early July 2006 for $11.99 at Costco. A quick search on Vinquire revealed that if you want a bottle of the stuff now, you can expect to pay $25.99 at the one retailer who sells it online. More recent vintages can be had for between $11.99 and $16.99 in case you want to try your luck.

What did I experience when I pulled the cork? The first thing I smelled was fresh-ground coffee. Yes, not a breakfast spread, but a breakfast drink. This was followed by another breakfast smell: bacon fat. The combination was enticing and mouth-watering. In the flavors, I tasted cherry, blackberry, and more coffee bean. There was a smoky aftertaste that was quite distinctive. This was a lot of wine for $12 and I think that it probably benefited from the 2+ years that it received in my various storage spaces. We had it with meatloaf and potatoes, which was a perfect pairing for the meaty and smoky flavors in the wine, but you could just as easily pair this with a roast or stew. Yes, you could have it with an In 'n Out Burger if you must be like Miles.

One of the wine mags gave this an 89, which in my opinion is just plain silliness--just as it was just plain silliness to give the Falesco Vitiano reviewed by Katie P below an 89. This wine was distinctive, widely available when it was released, and worth every penny that it cost and then some. If the more recent versions of this wine are anywhere near this good (and CellarTracker reviews of the 2005 vintage suggest it is) then you should grab this if you see it. You're in for a real treat.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


One of the great unexpected values in Zinfandel has always been the Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2005, though you wouldn’t quite know it from the reviews. This is all that all California Zin fan wants – medium-bodied, smooth mouthfeel, notes of brambly raspberries and chocolate-covered cherries, well-balanced, and juicy all the way through – yet it seems there is some inherent bias against Zin in recent years. Not sure if the reviewers just besmirch a Zin simply because it was produced in an “off” vintage, but here’s another good, solid Zin value offered up to the 89-point boneyard.

Two of the arguably lesser-used wine mags in the business, Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine and Wine Enthusiast, both award this tasty Zin 89 points.

Connoisseur’s Guide reviews it this way: “Well-concentrated blackberry aromas take a decided turn towards cabernet and dried fruits without giving up their attractiveness, and the full-bodied fleshy, slightly-soft palate impressions that follow bring along flavors that are both dense and tannin-impacted. Time is on its side if you care to put some in your cellar, but service with savory meats like garlicky leg of lamb will help it show well now.”

As for Wine Enthusiast: “Gallo did a great job with this wine, producing 31,000 cases, and yet making the wine smooth, balanced and delicious. It’s quintessential Sonoma Zin, with briary flavors of wild cherries and raspberries, and coatings of chocolate, anisette, bacon and spices.”

Neither of these reviews possesses anything negative, other than Connoisseur’s mentioning that its aromas “take a decided turn towards cabernet” inferring that it is not necessarily varietally correct. Aside from that allusion, you’d think that this wine deserves at least a 90. By the definition of the Parker scale, the score is probably correct, but the line between an 89 and a 90 point rating is as vast as the Sahara, and shaded completely gray. Perhaps the QPR is a bit askew, but I didn’t think that that was part of the criteria in reviewing, given that these folks are supposed to be tasting blind (aren’t they?).

Nevertheless, this wine deserves a try. Scores be damned!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Marquis Philips S2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Marquis Philips S2Wine rating systems are imperfect, but often useful. To get the most out of them it helps to be familiar with the reviewer’s palate — if he or she consistently likes the same sort of things you do and has similar criticisms of those you don’t, then you can give their opinions a higher degree of credence.

Consider, then, the Marquis Philips S2 Cabernet Sauvignon. Since its first vintage in 2001 through the 2005, Robert Parker’s newsletter, The Wine Advocate, has rated it in the 90s. Parker really liked the ’05 vintage and awarded it 94 points, making it a really good deal at about $35 per bottle. And that vintage is indeed a Parker-style wine — big, jammy and highly extracted, with lots of fruit and complexity.

Then came the ’06, and the Advocate gave the S2 an 89-point score and a vague review. But it wasn’t a Parker review; it was written by Jay Miller. Regardless of who actually wrote the review, the effect was the same: Now S2 was perceived as an expensive 89-point wine.

So, the ’06 didn’t sell as well as previous vintages. The result: If you look around, you can find it on sale for a lot less than $35 (I got mine for $19.99). And for twenty bucks, it’s a helluva wine!

This is an Aussie Cab that a Californian could love, with cedar on the nose and blackberries and cassis on the palate. Its tannins provide structure without pucker, and its finish is long and dry. It’s a big wine but a refined one, less jammy and more elegant. And it carries its 15.9 percent charge of alcohol gracefully, with no hints of bitterness or heat.

It benefits from half an hour in a decanter, and continues to open and develop in the glass. Short-term cellaring would achieve the same thing — this would be a good wine to buy a case of and revisit every six months. And I’ll bet that even if you paid full price, you wouldn’t be sorry.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze...”

If you’re standing in the aisle of a local wine shop, browsing the shelf talkers in the Italian section, and you find 2 bottles standing next to each other, one that costs about $10 and was rated 89 by Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, and the other also costing $10 which was rated 90, which would you more likely pick up? What the hell exactly is the difference between an 89 and a 90 rating for a bottle of wine? Apparently, the difference is sales. Given a level playing field (same varietal, similar pricing, etc.), the wine that gets to go home with consumers is almost always the higher rated wine, even if it’s a one point difference. These 89-rated wines, lovingly called the redheaded stepchildren of the wine industry, often get the shitty end of the stick when it comes to shelf presence and sales because they miss the 90-point hurdle by an inch or two—according to the wine reviewers that steer the market, that is.

89 seems to be the kiss of death—so close and yet so far—but in an almost arbitrary way. What is it that keeps a bottle from hitting the elusive 90 milestone? Is it well made, structured and nicely priced but just doesn’t soak your shorts? Or is it the one that’s priced at a point that you expect a lot from, and it fails to deliver the goods? How, in the name of all that is holy, do you taste a friggin’ one point difference in wines? It’s a stigma, and it’s bull crap. So in the name of giving 89-point wines a second chance, in hopes that someone won’t give them a cold shoulder next time they see them on a shelf, let’s dig for gold…

Falesco Vitiano 2006 – A red blend from Umbria containing cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese. Over the last few years, this wine has teetered between 88s and 89s in the big rags. The Spectator’s most recent review? “The 2006 Vitiano Rosso is another intense, deeply flavored wine. This powerful effort bursts from the glass with an array of jammy plums, cherries, cassis, graphite and minerals. It will offer much pleasure now and over the next few years and is a terrific value for the money.” It was even listed among the WS’s Top 53 Wines of Value in Italy. It generally sells for about 10 bucks.

Here were my tasting notes from a while back: “13% alcohol. Dark garnet. Smoke and violets on the nose, with a little earthiness and minerality. Lots of plum. Very spicy finish, mellow tannins. Good acidity—can sit for a couple of years.

89? 90? Do we really give a crap? It’s a great wine with an even better QPR. Stop thinking that the one sitting next to it is somehow substantially better because of one point, will you please? Give the underdog a chance once in a while, cuz he may just be your next best friend.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pineau d'Aunis: the 89-Point Grape

When I read the wine magazines--and yes, I do read them--there are times when I see an 89-point review and it seems like a travesty, based on what I think a wine delivers in terms of flavor and bang for the buck. Then there are are times when an 89-point review seems like over-inflated hype, for exactly the same reasons.

And then there are the times when I wonder if a wine has received an 89-point review from a major magazine because somebody lost their nerve on the way to a 90+ rating and settled for something a little more safe. It often happens when the grape is weird, or unfashionable, or both. It can even happen when the winemaker or region is weird and/or unfashionable.

Today I'm reviewing just such a wine: the 2004 Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Le Rouge-Gorge. ($14.99, K & L Wines; the 2005 vintage is available from other merchants for $17-$25) It received an 89 from Spectator, and try as I might I wasn't able to find any Pineau d'Aunis that had ever received more than an 89 from the magazine. (I could be wrong on this point, but I spent 3 hours looking through the database before I gave up. If I am wrong, I'm sure that someone from WS headquarters will be by to correct me.) This 89-point and below niche for Pineau d'Aunis is surprising, given the fact that the wines are often described as exhibiting textbook varietal characteristics. So what's the deal?

I'm not the only person asking this kind of question regarding wine scores. If you want to see what other writers are wondering about wine scores, check out dhonig's collaborative 89 Project blog. For those of you who aren't familiar with this effort, dhonig gathered up a bunch of interested folks and asked them to be on the lookout for wines that received 89-point ratings from the major wine critics. 89-point wines are, in the words of dhonig, "the red-headed step children of the wine world." The 89 Project gives us a chance to take a second look at some overlooked wines and, in doing so, discover some truly interesting and often affordable treasures that those who are slavish to shelftalkers will see right through at the store.

Treasures just like Pineau d'Aunis. Domaine de Bellivière is a family-owned winery in the Loire that specializes in making wine from two of the region's traditional grapes: Chenin Blanc and Pineau d'Aunis. While Chenin Blanc has gained some traction among American wine drinkrs, Pineau d'Aunis is a relative rarity over here. And it's not likely to become any more widely accepted, given the fact that the wine normally scores below 90 points with most wine critics.

One of the reasons for these scores may be that Pineau d'Aunis will simply not be to everyone's taste. It's a grape that actually seems to try to make you wrinkle up your face and wonder what you're drinking. The defining character of Pineau d'Aunis is often "pine"--a slightly resinous, green, and herbal quality to the wine that some people react to as if you'd just poured Pine-Sol into their Pinot Noir.

So what was my reaction to the 2004 Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Le Rouge-Gorge? At first I was reminded of a gamay from the Beaujolais by its dark ruby color and the light-medium body of the wine. The aromas of topsoil and forest floor were also not unlike Beaujolais, which I often find has a wonderful earthiness. The flavors of cherry, earth, and spice were strong and definite, which will make some people love it,and others hate it. Pineau d'Aunis is at its best--like many wines--with food. This is not really a stand-alone wine unless you are wanting to come to terms with it on an intellectual level. This is only going to work with food, and then think about something earthy like mushrooms, truffles, beans, and charcuterie.

This is not a big fruitbomb: fat and sassy and easy to love. What it is, however, is textbook Pineau d'Aunis. And for under $15, it is certainly a very good QPR choice if you are looking for a traditional bottling of a very special grape. As such, shouldn't it get more than a B+? I sure think so, and so does Parker who didn't lose his nerve and gave it a 90 instead of an 89. Are there other grapes that routinely get consigned to the under-90 bin? If so, let me know what they are because I'd love to try some more of them. If they're as interesting as Pineau d'Aunis, they'll spice up my evening glass of wine for years to come.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A wine by any other point, tastes as sweet...

Or does it?

Last night, I attended the first of what I hope will be many Project 89 parties, with The Brix Chicks Liza & Xandria, Ward Kadel of WineLog and others. During our tasting, we tasted matched pairs of American Chardonnay, New Zealand Pinot Noir, and Australian Shiraz. One wine was given an 89 rating and one was given a 90 or above rating by one of the major critics. As we tasted these wines blind, we didn't know as we were drinking them, which was the "better" wine and which was not. I asked our team to give them our own ratings first and then reveal the "expert" opinions afterwards, to see if we agreed.

All wines were purchased from Wine.com and can be found at various sources for less (click the link to search on Vinquire!)

First up, Chardonnay from North America.
Medium golden lemon color, with a nose of butterscotch, oak and straw.
I found tons of lemon, custard, and a zingy lemon zest flavor followed by flinty mineral flavors with a bit of chalk and vanilla finish. I did see a little bit of a musty aftertaste, but over all really enjoyed this wine.

I gave it 88 points. Wine Spectator gave it 90.

Even though I'm not typically a chard person, I would buy this wine for it's ease of drinking, particularly for a party.
The MacRostie was again, a very pale yellow color which I love in a Chard. It signals to me that it will not be an overoaked, over malolactic fermentation Sundial type wine. Thank god for that! On the nose, again there were tons of lemon and lemon zest aromas, with a hint of caramel & sandlewood.

This wine had a lot of spritz to it, and was almost bitter with it's citrus flavor. I thought it tasted a lot like flat 7-Up. And not in a good way, since there was a sharp aftertaste on the long finish.

I gave it an 86, primary because of the funky finish, although it was much better with food than without.

Wine Spectator gives it an 89.

Next, the Pinots. Both were from New Zealand, but each from a distinct area known for Piont Noir. Now I love me a NZ Pinot, so I was really excited about this pair.
The Amisfield was a gorgeous garnet red color, with earth, cherry kir, ceder and a slight mint nose.

When I first tasted this wine, there was massive bright red fruit; it was definately a lighter more traditional style of Pinot Noir, and it's juicy cranberry, straweberry and cherry flavors really pop out. There was a long fruit finish, that kept my mouth watering after the wine was gone.

Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a 91, Wine Spectator gave it a 90.

I gave this wine an 89.
The Te Kairanga was the first wine that brought out the Venturi, a handy dandy aeration device that forces a wine to act like it has been decanted and opens it up. Before we used the Venturi however, I noticed that this wine had a cloudy deep ruby color, much different from the first Pinot we tasted.

There were strong cherry cola flavors, with dried cherries and strong earth with musty leaves.
On the first taste, I really did not like this wine at all, and gave it an 84. After running it through the Venturi twice, I still found it to be lacking and had a strange finish, although I did increase my score to 85.

Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator both gave it an 88.

Finally, we threw in two big boys from Australia to really pack a punch.
This was a deep dark and brooding wine. On the nose, I found dark red fruits, and smoked meat.

It was lighter than I expected for the color and style, but was very pleasant with the cherry, raspberry and juicy fruit flavors.

I gave this wine an 89.

Wine Spectator also gave it an 89, while Wine Enthusiast gave it a lowly 86.
The deep blood red color of the Lodge smelled like dusty blackberries.
It was full bodied, but tasted slightly sour to me.

Even after running it through the Venturi, I still didn't care for this Shiraz, and only gave it an 87.

Robert Parker gave it a 90, as did Wine Spectator.

My question is, given that the Amisfield Pinot was $39.99, and the Te Kairanga was $19.79, is one point really worth a 200% price increase? I don't think so. If the Te Kairanga was given a 90 instead of an 89 would it be priced at $39? Probably. Are there other $20 wines that are undervalued? You bet.

I hope to do another 89 Project Party soon to taste more pairs!

The power of points is in marketing, not in enjoyment. So I say, points be damned and go out and drink what you like!

Happy Drinking!