For the love of (ruby) Port…

During these damp and chilly winter months, Port is a good beverage to enjoy while sitting in front of a roaring fire or to pair with a course of Stilton Cheese and almonds after dinner or ‘just because.’  It is one of my favorite fortified wines and crafted in varying styles and quality.  

The grapes are grown in steep vineyards that wind along the Douro River in Northern Portugal all the way East toward the Spanish border.  The soils are stony shist that split vertically (rather than the typical horizontal orientation) which enable the roots to reach deep in search of water (irrigation is only allowed in exceptional circumstances).   The slopes are incredibly steep (more than 30 per cent), which makes vineyard layout challenging, and are further limited by granite bedrock which is impenetrable. Granite surrounds the vineyards planted in the stony soil creating a natural barrier and preventing expansion.

Traditionally, the vines were grown on narrow terraces held in place by walls of dry rock.  Much labor is needed to maintain these walls and hand harvesting is necessary and expensive.  Most are now protected by UNESCO and cannot be converted to other layouts.  It is a beautiful sight to gaze upon these terraced vineyards from a patio along the Douro.  In the right light, the view is absolutely stunning with the reflections from the river.

3,423 Douro Valley Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

There are also terraces supported by steep earthen ramps that allow for small tractors, but erosion and growth of weeds on the ramps is problematic.  As these ramps are narrow and follow the contour of the hillsides along the winding Douro, a change in direction or dip in the hillside, can create different microclimates resulting in uneven ripening.

Vines can also be planted in vertical rows up the hillsides but are limited as hillsides above a 40% incline cannot support mechanization.  In Portugal today, it is difficult to find labor to be able to maintain the vineyards and for harvest.

While there are more than 100 grape varietals permitted in the production of Port, the focus is generally on five main grapes:

  • Touriga Franca – the most grown varietal
  • Touriga National – used for premium, long aged wines
  • Tinta Roriz – the Tempranillo grape in Spain (think Rioja)
  • Tinta Barroca – high yielding and earthy
  • Tinto Cao – high acidity and ability to age

Port is made by blending different varieties, vineyards, and field blends (vines of different varieties planted in a vineyard and fermented together).  Fruit from old vines is used in premium wines but some can be crafted from all old vine grapes.

Once the grapes are harvested, they are taken to the winery, placed in Lagares (large, shallow tanks generally made of granite) for fermenting and extraction.  The process of extraction is accomplished by various methods including:

  • Traditional foot treading (preferred as human feet do not split the seeds allowing bitter phenolics into the must)
  • Mechanical Lagares with silicon ‘feet’
  • Pumping over (a method to keep the ‘cap’ wet but not as effective at extraction as foot treading – human or mechanical)
  • Punching down the ‘cap’ with stainless steel pistons
  • Auto vinification in stainless steel (like pumping over mechanically but electricity not required; less effective and generally used for lighter color and lighter bodied wines)

The wine is then drained off the skins and fortified to 19 – 22% abv which stops fermentation (yeast cannot live above 16.5% alcohol).  The spirit used for fortification is aguardente which can add character and flavor to the wine.

Maturation begins in the Douro where the wine spends its first year.  Historically, the maturing wine was sent to Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Oporto for further ageing; however, with the increase in tourism, some producers have built well insulated, humidity-controlled lodges in the vineyard areas.

While a ruby port can become a tawny, a tawny port can never be a ruby!  Therefore, we will explore red wine, or unoxidized wine employing protective winemaking practices, on its journey to becoming Port wine. 

Grape growing is just a form of farming and dependent upon the weather during the growing season, the canopy management techniques employed and the final ripeness of the grapes.  The quality of base wine and the form of maturation will ultimately determine the style, quality, and price of the finished wine. 

  • Ruby Port – is produced using protective winemaking techniques to retain the primary fruit flavors in the wine.  It is medium bodied, has medium tannins, red and black fruit characteristics, and is aged for a maximum of three years.   It is a blend of more than one year (non-vintage) and has a consistent taste from year to year.  The wines generally have simple fruits aromas/flavors and may exhibit a slightly harsh alcohol character.  Some examples of ruby ports are Cockburn’s Fine Ruby, Graham’s Fine Ruby Port, Porto Valdouro Ruby Port, and Fonseca Bin 27.
  • Reserve Ruby Port – higher quality than Ruby Port and must be tasted and approved by the IVDP’s tasting panel.  They are generally more concentrated and of higher quality and price than a basic Ruby Port.  Some examples of Reserve Ruby Ports are: Sandeman Founders Reserve Port, Quinta Das Carvalhas Ruby Port Reserva, and Croft Reserve Ruby Port.
  • Crusted Port – this is a non-vintage wine that has been aged in wood for two years before bottling.  The wine is not fined or filtered and thus leaves a ‘crust’ to form in the bottle over time.  This was created to provide a full-bodied, traditional style that emulates vintage port but at a lower price point.  It does need to be decanted before serving.  The bottling date must appear on the label and while it can be released any time after bottling, after three years of bottle age it can include the term ‘bottle matured’ on the label.  Some examples of Crusted Port are Dow’s Crusted Port, Smith Woodhouse Crusted Port and Niepoort Porto Crusted.
  • Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) – produced from a single year which must be bottled between four to six years after harvest.  While a vintage product, it is not the same quality as a Vintage Port.  LBV ports have been aged and bottled ready to drink, are filtered and can be drunk without decanting.  Some examples of LBV ports are Quinta das Carvalhas and Taylor Fladgate.
  • Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) ‘Unfiltered’ – while an extension of the LBV, these wines are not filtered before bottling and tend to be fuller bodied. It will state ‘unfiltered’ on the label.  Additionally, if bottled after four to five years and then held for at least three years in bottle before release, the bottle will be labeled with ‘bottle matured.’ These are a step up from LBV and can taste similar in style to young vintage port.  Some examples are: Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port Bottle Matured and Niepoort LBV 2015 Unfiltered.
  • Single Quinta Port – when the weather has not been suitable to produce grapes of sufficient quality, a producer will not make a vintage Port.  Instead, they may choose to produce a Single Quinta Port, which is wine from one vintage, grown on the Port house’s finest single vineyard estate (quinta).  Some examples of Single Quinta Port are: Sandeman Quinta do Seixo Port Cima Corgo 2013 and Symington Family Estates Quinta do Vesuvio Port 2003.
  • Vintage Port – wines from one ‘declared’ vintage where grapes and resulting wine are of exceptional quality.  Producers must register their intention to release a vintage port in the second year after harvest and the wine must be approved by the IVDP tasting panel.   In their youth, they are deep in color and full bodied with high levels of tannins and pronounced intensity of black fruits and floral notes.  Over time, the wines develop flavors of dried fruits, nuts, and the alcohol and tannins integrate.  Some examples of Vintage Port are Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2014, Ramos Pinto Vintage Port 2017, and Graham’s Stone Terraces Vintage Port 2017.

So many wonderful Port style wines to try!  You can taste the progression of flavors and intensity from Ruby to Vintage, and there is something for everyone to enjoy no matter your style preference or the size of your purse.  Ruby style ports will not last more than a couple of days once opened and a bit longer if you put them into the refrigerator.  While a 750ml bottle may be a bit too much to consume quickly, why not try a ‘split’ (375ml) if you are thinking LBV or Vintage.  It is a great way to enjoy that Port in front of a roaring fire or after dinner.

What sweet, fortified wine are you serving with Christmas dessert?

As I am a first generation American with Hungarian heritage, I generally serve the highly sought after Tokaji wine, famous for its sweet, fruity, and acidic character.  It is such an interesting grape!  It is thick skinned but, as it ripens, the skins stretch and thin allowing the sunlight to penetrate, increasing the concentration of sugar.  The sweetness level can vary depending upon how much residual sugar the winemaker decides to leave in the wine, how botrytized the grapes become and how the wine is ultimately blended.  The sweetness is measured in ‘Puttonyos’ on a scale from 1 to 6 which is noted on the label.  The most common is 5 Puttonyos.

Now, when I say ‘sweet’, I do not want you to think of sweet as in cloying, grocery store, birthday cake icing.  It is a sweet wine, for sure, but with a backbone of acidity that makes the wine bright and lively on the palate with a hint of minerality.  The elevated acidity is the key to a wine with great balance.

Stylistically, Tokaji shows apricot, orange zest and honey on a core of earth and minerality. I love to serve this with an Almond Tart topped with Mascarpone.  It is a true gift from the vineyard.  The Royal Tokaji Wine Company makes a splendid product, generally found in 500 ml bottles (vs. the standard 750 ml size), and the price ranges from $45 to $70 depending upon vintage.

Sauternes is another excellent choice.  It too is a sweet wine, rich and honeyed on the palate and shows a bit more fruit than the Tokaji wine. Foggy condition in the region (Sauternes is south of the city of Bordeaux along the Garonne River) can create the perfect conditions for the growth of Botrytis, a mold that pulls water from the grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine (think raisins) and gives the wine its signature richness.  The grapes have concentrated sugars and flavors which result in sweet, intensely flavored wines.

Stylistically, Sauternes have notes of apricots, honey, and peaches but with a slightly nutty element.  Foie gras is a classic match for these beautiful wines.  While the most famous producer is Chateau Y’quem (price point of $200+ at the least expensive), Chateau Suduiraut is a favorite of mine and more modestly priced (generally in the $50 to $75 range depending upon vintage) and always seem to please.

Port is another all-time favorite and probably better recognized in the mainstream wine drinking community.  It is crafted in varying styles and quality.  The grapes are grown in steep vineyards that wind along the Douro River in Northern Portugal all the way East toward the Spanish border.  Once the grapes are harvested, they are taken to the winery, placed in Lagares (large, shallow tanks made of granite) for fermenting and extraction.   This is accomplished by the traditional process of ‘foot treading’ which extracts color, tannin, and flavors from the grapes.  Using the human foot prevents the breaking of seeds which can impart bitter tannins into the must.  This practice is still used by some premium and super premium port producers, although modern lagares have been created that use silicon feet to replicate the traditional human foot treading.

The wine is fortified which stops fermentation and it spends its first year in the Douro.  The maturing wine is transported (once upon a time in boats on the Douro) to Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Oporto for further ageing.  Many styles of port are crafted from a simple Ruby or Tawny port (no vintage or age indication on the label) to high quality Vintage/Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) ports to Tawny Ports/Colheita with an indication of age and celebrating their oxidative life in the barrel. 

This year, we will be enjoying a 20 Year Graham’s Tawny Port with our Christmas dessert.  This tawny wine was aged in neutral wooden barrels called ‘pipes’ which allows controlled exposure to oxygen for a period of time so the alcohol integrates. The once fresh fruit aromas and flavors take on dried fruit characteristics and oxidative aromas, bringing enticing aromas and flavors of caramel and nuts to the wine.  

While the bottle is labeled as aged for 20 years, this does not mean the minimum age of the wine in the blend is at least 20 years old.  A 20 Year Tawny Port is made up of wines younger and older than the specified age.  In reality, the wine is tasted by a panel within the IVDP (the governing body that supervises wine producers in the region) and this organization does a taste test to ensure the wine has characteristics indicative of a wine that age to be labeled as such.

Because I could not wait, I decided to taste the wine before serving at Christmas and as anticipated, this is a particularly good wine.  Although port has high alcohol, the generous primary stone fruit aromas/flavors of plum and apricot and the tertiary elements of caramel, raisins, nuts, orange peel with a hint of cinnamon, are expressive and show incredibly good balance and an elevated palate intensity just short of pronounced.  The acidity is juicy and complements the soft tannins ending in a complex ripe/dried fruit and smooth finish.  I know this is going to be a very tasty accompaniment to the homemade Rum Bundt Cake! 

Whatever you choose to serve at your Christmas dinner (and there are Sherry, Madeira, and Vin Doux Natural wines out there that I have not touched upon), have some fun in choosing, be adventuresome, and celebrate good food, family, and friends. 

Here is to a wonderful and COVID-19-free 2021.

Merry Christmas!

Everyone loves a puppy…

It is no secret that charities are hurting in 2020 with no ability to host their typical fundraising events.  Near and dear to my heart is the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe at https://hstt.org who lovingly care for homeless pets and make finding them forever homes their mission.  The annual Black Tie and Tails gala, their main annual income generating event, had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.  A real blow to an organization that depends upon donation dollars.

Not only do we love supporting this worthwhile organization, but the gala was sorely missed by our ‘bubble’ of friends, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.  Crafting an evening of wine, food and friends, where everyone dressed to the nines, cooked a fabulous dish to share and provided appropriate wines to pair, we celebrated the Humane Society’s efforts with a bit of a catch.  Each attendee was asked to donate a minimum amount per person (in addition to their food and wine contributions for the evening) and some gave much more, sweetening the pot by finding ‘matching’ contributions from their employers. 

While our dinner group was small and in a private home, those that could not attend generously donated to sweeten the pot.  In the end, we managed to have a mid-November celebration of food, friends (both furry and human) and were safe inside our ‘social bubble.’   And yes, as a group of wine and food lovers, it was a fabulous night of wonderful food and delicious wines!

I won’t disclose the names of these ‘angels’ or the amounts contributed, but our small gathering provided a nice contribution of $ 6,100 which was then combined with generous corporate matches totaling $ 2,850 for a grand total of $ 8,950.

 I will put out the challenge to have some fun being an organization’s ‘angel’ in these dark times.  While currently we are all under the SIP order once again, Zoom is still out there and we are all looking for some fun and distraction.  Be creative and generous in any way you can.   Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for a return to normal in 2021.

Cheers!

Virtual tasting via Zoom….what’s in your glass?

With SIP and not being able to wander the wine aisles, what are you buying and what are you drinking?

Personally, I love strolling the aisles in the ‘candy store’ (AKA wine shop) and touching the merchandise. It’s frustrating not being able to do so as I do a lot of reading and I always feel as if I hit the jackpot when I stumble upon a wine I have been reading about.  It’s the thrill of a treasure hunt with an unexpected silver lining. 

By using Zoom as a way of sharing a glass of wine (or a cocktail), we have been labeling our chats as a ‘virtual wine tasting.’  That puts the pressure on me to try and choose a wine to ‘share’ that will be agreeable to a broad range of palates while not losing sight of the fact that there will not be a meal to accompany the offering.  And, oh by the way, we are really using this time to ‘catch up’ with each other and actually see a human.

I could list many producers that are crafting very nice wines, and can do so over time, but today I want to introduce you to Chateau de Saint Cosme.  This is a winery in the Southern Rhone area of France that makes many different wines from various AOPs.

Imagine…an ancient estate purchased in 1570 with grape vines already on the property.  A chateau is soon constructed over the existing cellars which contained perfectly preserved Gallo-Roman fermentation vats.  The Barruol family and their ancestors have been vignerons at the property for 14 generations.

The actual property is in Gigondas with the beautiful Dentelles de Montmirail as a backdrop.  While the vines from the property surrounding the Chateau are used for their Gigondas wine, the Chateau also produces wines from Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Châteauneuf-Du- Pape, to name just a few of their offerings.

As with many producers, the Barruol family wear many producer hats.  First, as an Estate where they grow the grapes and produce the wine.  However, they also source grapes from other growers and produce wine under the Saint Cosme (vs. the Chateau de Saint Cosme) label. 

The Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone 2018 is an affordable and accessible offering that hits all the ‘good quality’ targets.  While it is labeled as a Cotes du Rhone wine (which generally would mean it is a GSM blend = Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), this wine is 100% Syrah.  That is very appealing to me as generally, to get a 100% Syrah wine, you need to move up into the Northern Rhone at a much higher price point.  The grapes for this bottling were sourced from the right bank of the Rhone in the Gard area as well as the left bank in Vinsobres from a higher elevation.

The core of the wine is purple with aromas of violets, black cherry, black pepper and black olives.  It is medium plus in body with well-integrated, silky tannins and a very long finish.  I found it pleasant for quaffing but know how wonderful this wine is with lamb chops with rosemary and garlic mashed potatoes.

For you ‘score hounds’, the critic community agrees.  Robert Parker 90 points, Wine Enthusiast 91 points and James Suckling 91 points.

I purchased for $15 and have seen it priced in the $14 – 20 range.

While I have spotlighted just one offering from this Chateau and at the accessible rung of the marketing ladder, they are producing quality wines in all areas.  The point I am hoping to make = find a quality producer and try various wines across that brand.  Some will be accessible as this Cotes du Rhone, some with be in a stretch category that you might purchase only for special occasions and others you may never buy because of the price point.  However, in a good vintage year, you can often find wines from these producers that over-deliver quality at a reasonable price.  It is also fun to have a story to tell about the wine and winery.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tasting…stay safe out there!

Santé

Sudsy

While ‘sheltering in’, how about cleaning out your wine cellar?

I make the analogy of going to the wine shop like a kid going to a candy store.  I want one of everything and have a habit of buying several bottles of each so I can taste and evaluate them over time.  Now, while the cellar is organized and I use an Excel spreadsheet to categorize my treasures, there are usually some bottles that are overlooked and may still be awesome or may be past their prime.

Earlier this year, in the spirit of cleaning things out, our wine tasting group hosted a ‘Decade Party’ where we tasted all wines from the 2010 vintage.  The selections were from all around the world and ultimately from our cellar(s) so we knew they had been stored properly.  Making a list of the 2010 wines on hand, I then made pairs of similar wines (by varietal, region or by food pairing options).  With a dozen attendees, we split up the list of wines and dishes were prepared to showcase the wine(s).

As with any ‘over the hill’ wine tasting, you end up learning a lot.  Just for fun, here is the list of the wines we enjoyed:

Chateau Saint Cosme Gigondas  $55  WS 95 (corked)

Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres  $20  WS 91

Solaria Patrizia Cencioni Brunello di Montalcino  $45  JS 95

Linio Sassetti ‘Pertimali” Brunello di Montalcino $170 JS 100 (exceptional)

Monte Del Fra Valpolicella Classico Ripasso  $24  WS 89 (corked)

McLaren Vale Grenache Australia – Chapel Hill  $28  WS 89

Prado Enea Grand Reserva Muga Rioja  $60  JS 99 (exceptional)

Dogliani Barolo – Axidena Agricola La Fusina  $49  WE 93 (exceptional)

Robert Giraud Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Superior  $48  WS 87

Saint-Estephe Lafon-Rochet  $69  WS 89

Pine Ridge ‘Tessitura’ Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend  $46  WS 89

Steven Kent  Merlot   $ unknown  Not Rated (corked)

Of the 12 wines, 3 were corked (fault = TCA) which is 25% of the wines tasted.  While professionals vary in opinion as to the percentage of corked bottles normally encountered, it is generally in the 3 – 8% range.  If a wine is defective due to the cork, the problem took place the moment the cork was inserted into the bottle. Our sample size with the large percentage of corked bottles is simply an outlier.  TCA does not happen with time; it immediately affects the wine.  Since the TCA presented itself from slightly corked to awful, it gave the group practice in identifying the TCA flaw and how it can vary.

There were three wines that were still in the ‘hold or ready-to-drink’ category, exhibiting classic markers for the varietal and lovely on the palate.  I have noted ‘exceptional’ by these wines.  Please note that price is not necessarily a factor in determining if a wine will last for an extended period.  The ability of a wine to age is influenced by many factors which include the grape variety, vintage, viticulture practices, acidity, tannins, wine region, winemaking style, etc.  For these 3 wines, Barolo (Italy), Brunello (Italy) and Tempranillo (Rioja, Spain), they all normally exhibit medium plus to high levels of tannins and medium plus to high levels of acidity, which in my opinion, the acidity being the ‘fountain of youth’ of wine.

Of the remaining 6 wines, some presented a bit of an ‘over the hill’ character but most were drinkable, enjoyable and a nice pairing to the accompanying dish.  This is where personal preference comes into the equation and the ability to compare, contrast and evaluate teaches you by experience about the life of a wine.  There are very few wines, in my humble opinion, that are still grand at the end of the extended period some professionals tout wine will last. 

The Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres from the Rhone Valley of France was a $20 purchase that still rocked 10 years later.  While the 2010 vintage was an exceptional one, the terroir of Vinsobres is particularly suitable for Syrah as it preserves the finesse which is often lost in more southern, warmer climates. It develops notes of violet, smoked meat and blackberries. Grenache is also suited to this terroir, full bodied and not heavy, with notes of chocolate, cherry and typical Garrigue aromas.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, this was a lovely wine.

The Sainte-Estephe Lafon-Rochet, a Fourth Growth Bordeaux, at $69 was a bit of a disappointment.  It was very dark and intense in color, exhibited muted fruit, but on the palate, we encountered a gritty, chalky character that felt like the phenolics in the wine precipitating out of solution.  I have other bottles of this wine and will have to re-evaluate at another time.  This wine definitely did not rock my world.

I could continue, but it’s time for you to take a good look at your cellar and pick out wines that you believe you may have held too long.   Make a list of the vintage, country, region, producer and hopefully, that list is not too terribly long.  Make a second list of the remaining wines so you know what you still have and are wines you believe can wait a while to be consumed.  For the ‘over the hill’ wines, place them into groupings.  I would suggest:

Vintage

Country

Region

You can then approach your tasting a couple of different ways.  Gather all like wines (varietal or country/region or vintage) and begin to taste!  For our tasting, we focused on 4 elements:

Visual – Anything floating, wine cloudy? Color correct for the varietal?

Nose – Fruit present? Fresh? Dried? Dessicated/Moldy?

Wood – Oak? What kind?    Floral – What kind?

Earth – Wet? Dried? None?

Balance – Acid, Sugar, Tannin – balanced or does one overpower?

Finish – how long? For a long finish, usually 20 to 30 seconds.

I know it would be so much more fun to do this with friends; however, take notes, take a wine each night (or every so many nights) and do your evaluation.  Taking notes will help you compare and contrast and figure out which wines you think are still good and which are over the hill.  You will learn a lot about the wines, your particular tastes as you may find you really don’t like wines from certain areas or you no longer like Zinfandel, etc., and the bonus is you will have a cleaned out cellar!  Enjoy the journey…then, on to that coat closet…

If you want to tell us about your experience in cleaning out your cellar, I invite you to share your comments with us or ask questions to help you along on your journey!

Santé

Sudsy

2016 Domaine Grand Veneur “Champauvins” Cotes du Rhone-Villages

I had the pleasure of tasting this bottling from Alain Jaume at an event the other night, coming back around the room and sampling it twice just to make sure. 

Hailing from the Southern Rhone, this wine is a Cotes du Rhone Villages, a step up from the generic Cotes du Rhone wines. These bottlings of ‘Villages’ are frequently found here in the US as they can represent some of the best values in the market and are priced less than a Gigondas or a Chateauneuf du Pape wine.  However, as with all wines, producers do matter and Alain Jaume delivers quality.

Visually, the wine was dark ruby in color with a solid core.  On the nose, a good dose of black cherry, blackberry, lavender, and tobacco leaf with a bit of peppery spice presented. On the palate, the wine was full bodied and concentrated with good red and black fruits and that Southern Rhone garrique element…lavender, spice and sun kissed rocks.  There are tannins present with medium acidity which helps to bring all the elements together.  The finish lingers.  A very tasty wine!

This is a GSM blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre.  I found it locally at these sellers:

K&L Wine Merchants      $ 19.99

The Wine Steward       $ 25.99  (discount given on case sales)

Total Wine     $ 23.99  (discount given on purchase of 6 wines)

If you are looking for a rock-solid wine for the Holidays, this will deliver a lot of flavor and body at a modest price. 

Established in the northern part of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the commune of Orange, the Jaume family has been dedicated to the art of wine growing since 1826. Founded by Mathieu Jaume, the Domaine is now run by the 5th and 6th generations of Jaumes: Alain Jaume & his children Christophe, Sébastien, and Hélène.

Sante!

Sudsy

Does ‘vintage’ matter?

I thoroughly enjoyed this 2009 Tronquoy-Lalande last evening.  The wine was inky in color thanks to the addition of Petit Verdot in this St. Estephe Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight at first, the nose opened up to black cherries, dark berries, tobacco with a hint of French roasted coffee and minerality.  The oak structure was present but soft and the oak was well integrated in the wine.  On the palate, it still had primary fruit flavors with good structure and soft tannins. The finish was long and all the elements described were evident in the finale.  A really good bottle of Left Bank Bordeaux!

The media touted 2009 as a great vintage just to turn around in 2010 and claim it as the better of the two.  The 2009 vintage had almost perfect weather and growing conditions producing wines that are a bit softer in tannin and more approachable in their youth.  The 2009 Tronquoy-Lalande from St. Estephe (at 10 years of age) was a good representation of the deliciousness of this vintage.  As for the 2010 vintage, the conditions were somewhat variable and although it is considered a classic vintage as well, the 2010 wines are more tannic and will take more time to soften and integrate.  I suspect some may lose their fruit before the transformation occurs.

So, does vintage matter?  Yes!  Maybe not if you are purchasing ‘Wednesday wines’ to enjoy with your pizza tonight, but certainly if you are investing your money in wines to hold for a while.  I consider ‘Wednesday wines’ to be good quality wine, ready to drink now and not intended to age.  For the cellar, I purchase classic examples of wines of good quality, not ready to drink now but to hold as these should improve with age…hopefully.

To borrow (and tweak) a line from Forrest Gump, ‘Wine is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.”  It’s the journey that really counts and you can be sure you will always learn something and enjoy yourself along the way!

Santé

Sudsy

What are you serving with your Thanksgiving fare?

For a great start with appetizers, soup and salad, I’ll serve the La Petite Marquise Crémant de Loire Brut ($12.99 from K&L Wine Merchants).  It’s a sparkling wine made like champagne, but it sits light and fresh on the palate without the yeasty taste or a big price.  It is crafted from a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

Going a bit out of the box, I picked up two Darcy Kent wines from Livermore after attending a Darcy Kent Vineyards pairing dinner at the Thunderbird Lodge in Lake Tahoe: a 2017 Gruner Veltliner from Rava Blackjack Vineyard in Monterey and a 2018 Victories Rose Malbec from the San Francisco Bay.  The Gruner is dry but flavorful with white peach, pepper and a bit of lime. The Malbec rose is lush as it was crafted with a slight bit of residual sugar which makes the wine creamy on the palate.  Both these wines will sparkle with the herbal flavors of the meal and the roasted butternut squash as a side.  Note: these selections are both low in alcohol as well.

For red wines, I am offering the Pardon & Fils Les Mouilles Julienas 2017 at $17.99 and the Domaine Pardon Cuvee Hugo Fleurie 2017 at $19.99, both from Total Wine.  Yes, this is Gamay from Beaujolais.  I love Gamay.  Not the market driven swill released in November which was nothing but a ploy to get rid of a lot of wine they could not otherwise sell.  The southern half of Beaujolais makes that inferior wine.  The northern half of Beaujolais has different soil, has slopes and the area has 10 ‘Cru’s’ which, in a fantastic year, can be hard to tell apart from a true Burgundy wine.  The two wines I have chosen are from Cru vineyards: Fleurie and Julienas. 

I will open the wines and explain what we have to our guests. I will encourage them to take small tastes of each wine before dinner. Then, all the bottles will go on the dinner table for them to revisit with the meal. It becomes an empowering game for our guests to be able to evaluate the wines and usually makes for some lively conversation because, of course, no one ever has an opinion!

For dessert, I will be serving a 2004 Château Tirecul la Gravière “Cuvée Chateau” Monbazillac. It’s 500 ml and it’s priced at $19.99 from K&L. It has some age on it and will be lucious with some Marscapone on top of that pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!