Coral Mustang 2006 Tempranillo Rosé

When you’re ready to drink this rosé, pull it from the fridge about half an hour to an hour before you drink it.  You want it chilled, but not too cold or you’ll miss all the lovely complexities in the wine.

It’s light in color with a strawberry nose.  There are none of the herbs, leather or smoke that you normally associate with tempranillo.  That’s because those elements, along with the color, come from the skins of the grapes.  Red wines are red because they are initially fermented after the whole grape berry has been crushed to release some of the juice, but before that juice is pressed out of the grape. Roses are usually made from juice that’s been in contact with the grape skins for a short time before being bled off a larger red wine batch or pressed out of the skins.

Whe you taste the Coral Mustang rose, you should get dry lighter fruit with some acidity to cleanse the palate. Modest in alcohol, it’s an excellent summer sipper on its own or a best friend to a salad of any kind. This was one of the first Roses we tried and it still stands out as one of the best against French, Spanish and our own home made.

Coral Mustang 2005 Tempranillo

This is seriously yummy stuff.  Not to diss Kenneth Volk, because he makes some very, very good tempranillo, but the Coral Mustang Tempranillo is even better.  The deep ruby color sets you up for dark fruit and bramble fruit – think blackberries.  It’s extremely well balanced with the perfect acid/tannin/alcohol triumvirate.  It made Mike take a second long taste to see if he had missed some critical detail. Nope.  It’s just rich and satisfying.  It’s great on its own but would go well with any dish you want to take off the grill or even a nice little pan-fried steak with mushroom gravy.  Or chicken breast with blackberry and traditional beurre blanc.  Or whatever richly flavored meal you can think of.

Yosemite View 2005 Syrah

Like them or not, screw tops are showing up on wine bottles. No long tradition or ceremony in their extraction and no twenty-year studies on storage issues – yet. But do not let the top of the bottle distract you from the Yosemite View’s 2005 Syrah inside,  It’s ready to drink when you are.
The nose has raspberry and the sweet hint of oak with cherry underneath.
The deep red color delivers on the promise of red fruits like cherries and the aforementioned oak adds some tannins that dry the palate instead of coating it. The acids are there as well and cleanse the mouth. The finish is decent and drying. This is not a syrah meant to be kept but to be enjoyed young.  And if the big worry about screw caps is the ability to age the wines bottled with them, then it’s so not an issue here.
Any number of pasta dishes with tomato sauces or acid-based flavors would compliment the acids in the wine and the 14.5 percent alcohol should leave you able to enjoy the next bite and sip. And the next one after that.

Yosemite View 2007 California Caprice Rose

Yosemite View is Mariposa Wine Company’s “value” line, but it is a significant value, especially the 2007 Caprice Rose.

Roses are often blends and it’s not unusual to sip one and wonder what went into it.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wonder with the Caprice Rose, an exceptional wine, let alone rose.
The blend of juices is 30 percent cinsault, 60 percent zinfandel and 10 percent pinot grigio. which is different to be sure. Take away the cinsault’s structure and the pinot grigio’s acidity and you’re left with the usual syrupy sweet white zinfandel. But put together with some consideration, the result is a real treat of a wine.
Since roses almost never have any exposure to oak or long term storage, there should be nothing between your nose and the fruit.  The nose on the Yosemite View is a lovely combination of strawberry and passionfruit.
The first taste was a surprise and Mike took another right away to make sure he wasn’t missing something. The surprise was the balance of acids to tannins to what sweetness there was in the wine. No one component stood out but all were there. As a home winemaker, this is the rose that Mike wants to make for himself.
Needless to say, the Caprice is a terrific food wine for cool, summer salads or a nice ham sandwich or even hot dogs off the grill. The alcohol is a modest 11.9 percent. That means even the alcohol doesn’t get in the way of a second glass after dinner in the park on a summer’s night.

Carmichael Sur Le Pont 2005 Monterey County

surlepont_revised_chivalryWhile the Carmichael Sur le Pont is not technically an oddball bottle of wine.  The fact that it is made up of 80 percent syrah means it can be legally called a syrah, and that’s hardly oddball these days.  But that other 20 percent of lesser known grapes adds something really special to the final product. We promise tastings of grenaches, mouvedres and carignans in the future. But for now they are all present in the 2005 Carmichael Sur Le Pont, with 14 percent mouvedre, 5 percent carignan and 1 percent grenache.
These are all Rhone varietals, meaning they are largely grown in and inspired by the winemaking in the fertile valley surrounding the Rhone River in France. Unlike the five Bordeaux grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc), there are 22 grapes grown in the Rhone Valley, so you can just imagine all the possible blends. Where do we start? Right here!

The wine Sur le Pont is named after the French children’s tune “Sur le pont D’Avignon,” or On Avignon’s Bridge, Avignon being one of the primary cities in the Rhone (and also more infamously known as the base for a series of Roman Catholic popes/non-popes, who during the Middle Ages tried to take over).

The wine has the nose of blackberries and cola. The taste has some dry fruit, but it’s not jammy.  Instead the wine is lightweight in the mouth without being cloying or burning with excessive alcohol.  In fact, at 14.3 percent, it’s almost a lightweight compared to the hot (high in alcohol) syrahs that are often made today.  This makes it an excellent companion to meat off the summer grill or winter stews of lamb or beef. The acids keep the palate stimulated and can handle sauces that are not spicy or terribly sweet – a mushroom gravy comes to mind.

Carmichael 2007 Grigio e Bianco

courtesty Mariposa Wine Company
courtesty Mariposa Wine Company

Carmichael is Mariposa Wine Company’s mid-range label.  The fun thing is that the Grigio e Bianco is a lovely, very drinkable blend of pinto grigio, sauvignon blanc and a splash of chardonnay.

Pinot grigio is a hard grape to describe – the most obvious tag is that it’s not chardonnay. Sometimes considered to be of little value in some of its traditional French and Italian locations, it has been used as a filler in lesser bottlings of Friuli and some Burgundies. While some of the better examples are reputed to be in Oregon and the French Alsace, there are other places to find some good pinot grigios, including Monterey County, from whence Mariposa has sourced the fruit for this wine.
Since pinot grigio’s flavors tend to be more of the citrus variety, the nose of the Carmichael 2007 Pinot Grigio is noticeably different in its tropical fruitiness with almost a banana edge. The answer lies in the blend: 88 percent pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc fermented in steel (we couldn’t find how much of that 88 percent is pinto grigio and how much is sauv blanc) and 12% is chardonnay from neutral oak. The tropical nose tends to suggest warmer location and greater ripeness in the vineyard – a distinct possibility with all the microclimate options in California and in Monterey County for this specific wine.
But the nose is somewhat deceptive. The taste reveals the acid streak and lighter flavors of a ‘typical’ pinot grigio. There is no lingering sweetness and the overall effect is that palate cleanser we refer to. The finish holds some of that crispness, wonderful after taking that swallow on a warm afternoon or with a shrimp dish, roasted chicken or  a plate of mozerella, tomato and basil with just a hint of balsamic –  you don’t want to overpower the acids of the wine.   Just chill out with them.

Kenneth Volk Negrette – Tasty and Odd

Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Negrette is a true Oddball Grape if ever there was one. It’s not seen that much outside of France – or even within France.  It is a French grape, but if you’re going to find it, it will be in the southwest of France, in the Toulouse region.

Kenneth Volk’s negrette has the deep red, almost black, color of a syrah. The nose has cedar, earth and dark fruits similar to blackberries. This is a textbook example of that perfect balance of acids, tannins and alcohol that create a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. The finish lasted a good 15 seconds after we decided to swallow it.

The tannins were drying and could easily withstand a year in the cellar, in spite of negrette’s reputation as a wine best drunk young. The flavors can stand up to cheeses – we tried some yellow cheddar – and we can’t wait to enjoy it with Brie spread on a good baguette with some dried salami on the side. But a steak might be too much for it and it would be a shame to miss the fruit.
The negrette seems to be available in the Kenneth Volk tasting room but if you call the winery, they might ship it. It’s worth hunting for.

A Shrimp-Loving Verdelho

Label art courtesy Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Label art courtesy Kenneth Volk Vineyards

This wine deserves to be enjoyed at the drop of a shrimp fork.

Seriously.  There’s a strong core of minerals in the flavor that brings almost a briny character to the wine.

Verdelho is perhaps best known as a Portuguese varietal, mostly because it’s one of the components of Madeira and often used in that other Portuguese classic fortified wine Port.  In France, however, it is fermented into a crisp, dry white.

The Kenneth Volk version has a clear yellow color, and the honeysuckle in the nose (aroma) is delicate and not overpowering.

The flavor of citrus peel balances out the mineral flavors mentioned above, giving the wine a crisp, light cleansing feel in the mouth.  Which means serve it with light seafood.  Maybe some nice, big cocktail shrimp that have been steamed and chilled, or a big green salad with chunks of lobster or crab.

If you can’t find the verdelho at your local wine retailer and you can get wine shipped to you in your state, you can order it from the winery directly,  with bottles going for $24, plus shipping.

It’s Calibration Week! Start Your Bottles

The winery’s tasting notes called the smell in their wine “gaminess.”  Michael wrote down “barnyard.”  Anne just wrinkled her nose and said, “Ooo.  Ick.”  Someone could have said, “Wow, that’s great!”

All of us would be right.  Or correct.

Tasting wine is an inherently subjective process.  And Napa-centric snobs notwithstanding, any wine you like makes it a good wine.  True, there are certain characteristics that most people seem to agree make wine taste good.  And there are certain smells and tastes that distinguish different grapes (aka varietals).  But the way we might describe a basic cabernet sauvignon is not necessarily the way you would describe it.

So this week  we will be doing a calibration tasting.  We have purchased two wines that should be available around the U.S. (we got them at Target – although we recognize not every state in the Union allows wine to be sold there).  The first is a Fetzer Vineyards, Valley Oaks Chardonnay, 2008.  It should retail between $10 and $15,  unless you catch it on sale, like we did.  The second (coming in around the same price point) is a Blackstone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

You are invited to buy the same wines – or as close to them as you can get and taste along with us.  On Wednesday, we’ll post the chardonnay notes and you can compare what you tasted to what we tasted.  The idea is that if we say, “this chard has a nice pineapple tang,” and you tasted peach, then you’ll know that when we say pineapple about some other chardonnay, you’ll probably taste peach.  And if you like peach, then you’ll possibly like that wine.  And, of course, Friday, we’ll do the cab sauv.

Now, what if you taste the wine and you taste… wine.  It’s good, or possibly not.  But peach?  Pineapple?  Barnyard?  Bacon fat?  What in bloody tarnation are these wine geeks talking about?  It’s wine, for crying out loud.  Exactly, we say.  Seriously – the genius behind our tasting notes is Michael.  Anne can seldom taste all the more subtle flavors.  That doesn’t mean she can’t tell a good wine from a bad wine – or more importantly, that her impressions of a wine are any less valid.  It just means that she evaluates a wine in a different way.

So the first thing to remember is that tasting notes are supposed to be fun.  Unless you’re judging wines for a competition (something Michael has actually done many times), the only real reason for tasting notes is to communicate something – usually to yourself and/or life partner.

Maybe you just want to remember what it was about that syrah you tasted at your local wine bar that made you want to buy the bottle.  Maybe you want to pretend you’re Uber-critic Robert Parker.  And why not?  He is, in our not so humble opinion vastly over-rated.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you get to choose what words you use, your preferred short-hand, whatever.  Just write down your impressions.

Then we invite to post your comments so we can all share what we thought about the wine.  Just remember, no snarking on anybody else, because all of our impressions are valid.  And maybe we’ll come up with a new way to describe that soft, creamy feeling on the back of the palate as something besides buttery.

Slainte!

Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland

Ceja’s Vino de Casa, Not Your Ordinary Blend

The thing with Ceja’s 2005 Vino de Casa is that it’s a basic, food-friendly, delicious little red.  Nothing pretentious.  Even the name just means “house wine.”  Who’dathunk that it would come from 62% pinot noir and 38% Syrah?  It’s hard to imagine two more different grapes.
Pinot noir is, of course, the heartbreak grape.  Notoriously finicky, unless conditions are perfect in the vineyard and it’s treated with the right respect in the winery, you’re going to get crap.  And usually expensive crap at that.  Ask us how we know.  Syrah, on the other hand, is hardy and usually as a wine it’s slightly spicy – think black pepper, licorice, cloves instead of fruity character – and in your face.  As delicate and rich as the best pinots are, syrah is bold and almost overripe.  Blended together, the two make an intriguing combination.

With pinot noir (and since that’s the larger part of the blend, those characteristics will presumably dominate), the aromas – or nose – will generally include cherries, raspberries, violets as well as sassafras, mint, leather and mushrooms. The taste can be any of these and oak is almost always part of a winery program, as long as there isn’t too much.

In the Casa de Vino, the Syrah adds color and flavor to the blend.  There’s a nose of earth and some cedar/redwood. The medium weight mouthfeel contained pomegranate, some blueberry and dry red fruit. A good long finish lingered.  And it’s more food-friendly than a lot of other pinot-based wines. At 13.2% alcohol, it will go well with lighter meats like pork with a light pomegranate reduction glaze or even with a little bit of oak smoke from the grill with the glaze as a grilling sauce. Vegetarian options could be smoked tofu or a French-inspired salad of artichoke hearts, olives and tomatoes over baby greens sounds yummy especially if there’s good bread alongside.