Friday, December 21, 2007

"Which are your favourite wine books?"

Decanter magazine wants to know. Check out their poll of the "The All-Time 25 Great Wine Books" and vote for your fave wine book. Mine is "Adventures on the Wine Route" (1988) by Kermit Lynch.

Decanter lists the following 25 Top Sellers on in 2007:

The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson
Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book by Hugh Johnson
MICHAEL BROADBENT''S POCKET VINTAGE WINE COMPANION: Over Fifty Years of Tasting Over Three Centuries of Wine by Michael Broadbent
Oz Clarke 250 Best Wines: Wine Buying Guide 2008 by Oz Clarke
Wine Report 2008 by Tom Stevenson
The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson
The Best Wines in the Supermarkets: My Top Wines Selected for Character and Style by Ned Halley
Wine For Dummies® (For Dummies) by Ed McCarthy and Mary EwingMulligan
Oz Clarke's Pocket Wine Book 2008 by Oz Clarke
The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia: The Classic Reference to the Wines of the World by Tom Stevenson
Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure by Oz Clarke and James May
I Don't Know Much About Wine, But I Know What I Like by Simon Woods
The Wine and Food Lover's Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter
Oz Clarke Wine Atlas: Wines and Wine Regions of the World by Oz Clarke
French Wine (Eyewitness Companion) by Robert Joseph
The Juice 2008: 100 Wines You Should Be Drinking by Matt Skinner
Wine and War: The French, the Nazis and France's Greatest Treasure by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup
The Wine Diet by Roger Corder
Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine (Larousse) by Christopher Foulkes and Michael Broadbent
Wine Behind the Label 2008: The Ultimate Guide to the Worlds Leading Wine Providers and Their Wine by David Moore and Philip Williamson
Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide by Robert Parker
Wine Travel Guide to the World (Footprint Travel Guide) by Robert Joseph
Food, Wine and Friends by Fiona Beckett
Bordeaux (Mitchell Beazley Wine Library) by Stephen Brook
The Emperor of Wine: The Story of the Remarkable Rise and Reign of Robert Parker by Elin McCoy

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Gifts: Wine Report 2008


Bar none, the best pocketbook wine guide today is Tom Stevenson's Wine Report. I find it remarkable that such a handy book can cram information on vintages, producers, and individual wines of 38 separate wine regions of the world. And each region is reported by an expert in the field, including the likes of David Peppercorn MW on Bordeaux, Clive Coates MW on Burgundy, Nicolas Belfrage and Franco Ziliani on Italy, John Radford on Spain, Dan Berger on California, and, of course, Tom Stevenson on Champagne and Alsace.

Published each year, the 2008 edition just came out in time for your holiday reading and gift giving. I purchased a copy at Borders for $15.00.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Airline Food and Whine

An interesting New York Times blog I was reading this morning triggered a thought in my head about trends in air travel. The Jet Lagged blog written by Elliott Hester (a flight attendant who apparently writes on his spare time or a writer who flight attends on his spare time) is on the disappearing complimentary in-flight food service. Rather than lament this change, Hester suggests that airline commuters should rejoice that they have finally won the nagging battle against bad airline food.

I totally agree. And it’s not only bad airline food that should be abandoned—I say in-flight wines should be thrown out the window. The choice of wines, if there is any, in airlines is usually atrocious that I never even bother to check what they have. Ah, I wish a BYOB could be possible.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day Break Café Menu 23rd November 2007

Chef Patrick Farjas has come up with a strong menu day after Thanksgiving. Very hard to resist venison, especially this time of the year.

Full French Dinner

“Le Puy” French Lentill Soup with Basil

Lobster Tail Thermidor $48.00

Venison Medaillions Grand Veneur, Chestnut, Red Currant, Green Peppercorn $48.00

Seared Duck Breast Chanterelles Mushrooms and Persimom Sauce $42.00

Salad of the Season, and Cheese

Pineapple Creme Brulee

Flourless Chocolate Decadence Cake

Assorted Fruit Plate

Reservation Only 6:00PM and 7:30PM
650 343 0907
136 N. San Mateo Drive
San Mateo, CA 94401

Friday, November 16, 2007

BNO California Cabernet Sauvignon: the Definitive Collector’s Edition

No wine has to constantly prove its worth more than California Cabernet Sauvignon. Since its production became firmly established in California in the 1960s, Cabernet Sauvignon has been the most collected California wine, yet its quality, value, and place among the world’s greatest wines are repeatedly questioned by wine enthusiasts.

Why there is so much doubt about California Cabernet Sauvignon, despite the hype, seems inexplicable…. or maybe not.

Our BNO (boys’ night out) wine group never gets tired of summoning California Cabernet Sauvignons to the table. We have done so an inordinate number of times, almost at a drop of a hat, and many of the California Cabs we’d drunk are so-called “cults” and “legends”. But in our most recent get-together we were determined to put the age-old question to rest: what is the big deal with California Cabernet Sauvignons?

Before I give you the blow-by-blow I must say that I’m in awe with the generosity of everyone in our group. We depleted our cellars with some of our prized bottles. Many of the wines we opened are scarce, and even the wineries may no longer possess some of the vintages. But, as usual with our BNO, in the true spirit of Bacchus, we never take ourselves too seriously; it’s all about drinking and having fun. We passed the bottles around and sipped the wines in between animated conversation and serious eating. Nothing too studious or clinical. We do try to rate each of the wines, but this is arbitrary as the consensus score could slide up or down depending on how a wine changes over the course of the evening. And to be honest, it’s hard to get everyone to focus on scoring, especially once you get in the conviviality. Heck, who wants to bother with something as boring as scoring a wine anyway?

We did invite a wine journalist to join us, Jon Bonné, who is Wine Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. We thought this BNO was special enough that we won’t embarrass ourselves by inviting a wine media representative with gravitas. I’m sure Jon gets a ton of invites to come to tastings, so we felt elated he chose to come to ours. For Jon the get-together was more work than play, as he was quite stoic the whole night, clearly on a mission to document each of the wines opened as well as all the goings-on. We queried him frequently, curious to get his professional opinion on the wines. If he does report this event someday in the Chron’s wine pages, I hope to God he would leave out Matt’s reference to some of the wines as coming from an “old bitch’s cellar”!

The night we held this wine dinner was perfect—it was one of those rare summer nights in the Bay Area when the air was still and it was warm enough to dine al fresco out in the patio. And for once no one in the group had to do any cooking because we had French Master Chef Patrick Farjas, doing the catering and joining us for the tasting. I mean, how cool is that?

Deviled eggs and Wrap.JPG

Patrick prepared a mouthwatering array of appetizers and courses to pair with the Cabernets. Hands down the best food to pair with these California Cabernets was the "Greek 'Dolmales', grape leaves, rice and ground lamb". No less than an authority on this traditional grapeleaf dish, Kevin, commented: "Patrick's food--my God--the grapeleaves were stunning, the exceptionally dark, firm green leaves, the mostly lamb Greek/Armenian style, the white wine/lemon prep I have never had anything quite like it before and frankly, the most enjoyable I have ever had."

Waiting for the other guys to arrive from their carpooling expedition, Steve and I cracked the 1982 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Georges de Latour Private Reserve”, Beaulieu Vineyard. The bottle fill was neck-high, the cork was like new, and the color showed no signs of fading. Yet the nose was oxidative and the fruit was, too. We waited for signs of recovery. The wine did get somewhat fresher (or was it just my imagination?), with the cedary, cassis flavors getting brighter, but the oxidation was strong. What a disappointment. Something was puzzling and very wrong with this bottle.


By this time the rest of the guys finally showed up. We stood all the wines on a dining table to get consensus on the flights. The first flight consisted of the oldies, mainly 1970s, though it started with the supremely elegant, well-preserved 1967 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Martha’s Vineyard”, Heitz Cellars. “Surprisingly rich” was the general comment. Still deeply colored, very cassis flavored, and infused with the eucalyptus/mint character that Martha’s is known for. The wine was efficiently pure, without any excess fat or density. Perfectly proportioned and focused. This is a wine of great finesse. I would keep recalling my experience of this wine all night, and even days later it never ceased to haunt me. 3-3 ½ puffs.

67 Heitz Martha's.JPG

The next two wines did not leave me with the same indelible memory as the ’67 Martha’s yet they towered. The 1974 California Cabernet Sauvignon “Monte Bello”, Ridge is a tour de force, a wine-of-the-night on any scoring card. Dark and very rich, its flavors are well-concentrated, with deep cassis fruit laced with mint, black pepper, and dried spices. Possessing a dense mid-palate with long, smooth tannins that firmed up the opulent flavors, this wine became more powerful and seemingly more youthful as it opened up. On this night, it seemed like this Monte Bello could last forever. Wow! 3 ½ - 4 puffs.


A truly lovely wine was the 1977 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Mayacamas Vineyards. Mayacamas Cabernets age very slowly, so it’s rare to actually drink one that is fully ready. Velvety tannins accompanied the sweet, ripe blackberry fruit with slight mint and earthy flavors. The wine expanded deliciously on the mid-palate offering excellent depth of flavors without a hint of harshness. Though lacking the class and precision of the ’67 Heitz Martha’s, its charm is its mountain character that offers uncomplicated pleasure. 3 ½ puffs.

We were back to Heitz with the 1970 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvingon “Martha’s Vineyard”, Heitz Cellars. The familiar eucalyptus/mint flavor surfaced once again, but this one was almost dried out. Though it offered some of the attractive, complex flavors of its terroir, it lacked sumptuousness, hence it did not take long for the fruit to “drop fast” after some minutes of being poured in the glass. A “wine of passion” said one. That is a good way to put it. Some of us relished its fleeting beauty. 2 ½ - 3 ½ puffs.

So on we go to the 1980s. Unfortunately, the 1984 Napa Valley Red “Christian Moueix”, Dominus Estate suffered a worse fate. Though attractive berry flavors opened up soon after the wine was poured, these faded fast. Oxidation set in after just several minutes. 2 ½ puffs.


And this flight goes from bad to worse. The 1985 Napa Valley Red “Insignia”, Joseph Phelps Vineyards was flawed mainly with volatile acidity. There was just no life here. Flabby, grapey, and flat. 2 ¾ puffs (why even bother?)

Finally, the last of the 1980s flight, the 1986 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Montelena. Smelling of rusty nails, “grandma’s coin purse” said Matt, this was oxidizing fast. 2 ½ puffs.

Ah, a relief to be finally be done with those disappointing 1980s… but wait a minute! The next flight, the decade of the 1990s, led off with another flawed wine, a 1992 California Red “Monte Bello”, Ridge Vineyards. This is one of the supposedly great Monte Bellos and the bottle we had was impeccably cellared, yet it showed signs oxidation on the nose as well as volatile acidity. The oxidation got stronger and we just gave up on it.

California winemaking took a marked change in the 1990s favoring riper, plusher, and bigger wines. As a result, the top Cabernet players had changed. Old guards like Heitz, BV, Mayacamas, and Ridge started to be eclipsed by newer labels such as Araujo, Dalla Valle, Abreu, and Peter Michael. These boutique wineries differ not just in their style of wines but also in their tiny production quantities and audaciously high prices. They shunned traditional distribution channels and went direct to consumers, transforming the “mailing list” into the most powerful marketing tool of the California wine trade.

Spottswoode seems to straddle the old and new styles of California Cabernet. The 1991 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Spottswoode offered rich, concentrated layers of ripe cassis, raspberry, and aromatic herbs. Bright and elegantly structured, with a modest alcohol level of 12.5%, this packs terrific energy. Certainly, an outstanding wine that is sure to provide pleasure for many more years. 3 puffs. We didn’t finish the bottle and Steve drank what’s left two days later and his notes echo what I meant about this wine straddling the old and new styles: “Soft, lush full fruits. Not overripe or raisin, more like the fruits is a dark red fruit tart, without the sugar. Most of the tannins and acid were either gone or integrated, but smooth, medium rich and a very pleasant quaff—many of the qualities of the 97 Peter Michael (which I love) but on mute, rather than full volume.”

91 Spottswoode.JPG

A most remarkable 1990s Cabernet and one that I would be interested in how it evolves further is the 1994 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Eisele Vineyard”, Araujo. This wine’s combination of richness and polish is breathtaking, with a depth of flavor that is expressive and individual. The nose showed cassis and gravel. Very ripe, rich fruit flavors with good delineation and elegance. This somewhat reminded me of a young Haut Brion.


The 1997 Napa Red “Maya”, Dalla Valle was drenched in luxury. It recalled plush leather, spicy Havana cigar, and imperial tea. What sheer opulence in its dense, lush, spicy blackberry flavors! Its richness was like dark chocolate melting in the mouth. The finish is very long with an interesting minerality. Perhaps, the most sensual wine of the evening. How would aging this for another ten years be like?

In contrast, the 1997 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Madrona Ranch”, Abreu was over-the-top blockbuster. Port-like, jammy, very dense, and overly concentrated. This was hard to drink. However, two days later Steve finished the remnants and had this to say: “WOW!!!!!!! Deep bouquet of leather (new car porsche or ferrari, as opposed to old bomber jacket) violets, lavender, chocolate (yes chocolate) and dark red pitted fruits. Incredible mouth experience, subtle and elegant on the front palate, when it hits the mid palate, it blossoms (like a peacock tail) into a round rich opulent explosion of fruit, grip, sandalwood, and graphite. Incredibly balanced and layered, with a finish that lingers for 45 seconds or more. Unbelievable!!!!!”

The 1997 California (Knights Valley) “Les Pavots”, Peter Michael Winery (79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc) that Steve referred to above delivered unmitigated, gorgeous, solid, opulent blackberry/spice/chocolate flavors. This is why we love California Cabs! Not complex but polished and, most of all, utterly sexy. This went down “like butter”.

I was keen about spotlighting Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in our dinner. This historic winery’s distinctive terroir in Stags Leap of Napa Valley achieves its best expression in the winery’s Cask 23 bottling. The last two bottles we opened were two of the most famous vintages of Cask 23. Despite being impressed by the famous cult wines of the 1990s, the awesome 1978 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Stags Leap Vineyard Cask 23”, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was in a league of its own. A monumental wine that is well evolved, yet showed no signs of fading; offering minty cassis in the nose, with hints of gravel and underbrush. The palate exploded with layers of sweet blackberries and unfolded with game and roasted meat. Still wrapped in youthful tannins, this muscular Cabernet powered on without showing any weakness even after several minutes in the glass—relaxed and fluid in the gentle style of Stags Leap Cabernets. What a profound Cabernet experience! 4 puffs.

The 1985 Napa Valley Red “Cask 23”, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (by this time the wine has become so famous, even iconic, that the varietal name was fashionably dropped and Warren Winiarski’s signature now appeared on the label) was a far different wine from the 1978 as it didn’t have the grandeur of the latter and was a more demanding wine to appreciate. After an initial explosion of black fruits, the freshness was gone and the flavors were dominated by a “funky” and “botanical” character. A controversial wine and I wished we had more time to ponder it.

So was this the definitive Cabernet night? I think all these wines just deepened our thirst and curiosity for California Cabernets. I feel that the late 1960s and the decade of the 1970s represented a time of important discovery and evolution in California Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking. The fathers of modern California winemaking had their most significant contribution during this era. Influenced by Frank Schoonmaker and André Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Warren Winiarski, Joseph Heitz, Mike Grgich, and Paul Draper set out to find the best terroir in California for planting the most noble European grape varietals, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. Their efforts paid off as they discovered some of the greatest vineyard sites for California Cabernet Sauvignon, including: To-Kalon, Monte Bello, Martha’s Vineyard, and Stag’s Leap Vineyard (S.L.V.).

But in 1976 the celebrated “Judgment of Paris” changed everything. This event is both a blessing and a curse. It accelerated consumer acceptance and eventually led to the huge market success of California Cabernets, but it also established a dependency on hype and marketing by California wine producers during the critically formative time in California wine development. Producers shifted their attention more towards selling and marketing and they were rewarded by increased demand and escalating prices. Consequently, the wine media, led by wine critics, began to play the most important role in promoting California wines.

As the market power of the wine media grew, the critics became more influential in determining the style and quality of the wines and their tastes started to replace the expertise of the producers themselves as the basis for consumer wine education. One can say this is akin to replacing the actual quarterback with the armchair quarterback!

To a developing and immature consumer wine market the impact of this trend was deadly. A newbie passionate about wine would rather peruse reviews and scores than listen to what a Joe Heitz or a Paul Draper had to say, literally and figuratively, through the wines they made. Thus, the discoveries and development instigated by pioneering California winemakers during the 1960s and 1970s were cut short as they now have to please the marketplace first and foremost. Imagine if Bordeaux or Burgundy were subjected to the same trend centuries ago during their regions’ early years in the 18th and 19th centuries. Would they have had a chance to develop the greatness in their wines as we know it today?

The proof as they say is in the glass, the wine glass that is. Clearly in this tasting the wines made during the 1980s, post-“Judgment of Paris”, underwent a marked change in quality. They were darkly colored and looked more concentrated, but after decades of aging faded fast and were oxidizing quickly. Bottom line, the 1980s Cabernets were easily beaten up by the Cabernets from the 1960s and 1970s, which are still going strong.

What about the 1990s? The 1990s Cabernets show more commonalities with the 1980s Cabernets than with the 1960s/1970s. But the volume is turned up even more, meaning these wines are bigger, riper, and sweeter in their youth. The main difference, I think, is that whereas the 1980s Cabernets are big and concentrated, they also exhibited harder tannins when they were young compared to these 1990s Cabernets. How do I know that? Fortunately, I still kept some notes of 1980s Cabernets I tasted soon after their release and again a few years later.

California winemaking changed further in the 1990s. The biggest change was hang time. Cabernet grapes were harvested much later and much riper than before to concentrate the flavor, raise the sugar, reduce acidity, and soften the tannins. In the winery or cellar, efforts were made to even heighten the effects of these changes. The end result is that winemaking had the effect of almost replacing the aging or cellaring period of a wine!

Since the 1990s California Cabernet winemakers hand it to you on a platter, that’s why they get the big bucks. Instead of aging your Cabernet 15-20 years or more, you can now enjoy them on release or wait just a few years. And boy, these 1990s Cabernets are much more pleasant to drink young than those of the 1980s.

Yet, the jury is still out on how these 1990s Cabernets would fare over the long term, say after 20 years. But why wait? I remember a rare interview of Helen Turley, the high priestess of 1990s California winemaking, wherein she refers to aged wine as “mummified”. Joe Heitz must be turning in his grave.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Year in Burgundy: Part 1 Picking Decisions

I'm honored to introduce to you our guest blogger, Eric Lecours, a dear friend and a person whose passion and palate for wine, particularly Burgundy, I admire.

Eric is in Burgundy studying oenology at the prestigious Lycée Viticole in Beaune. Part of this intensive study involves actual work in the vineyards and cellars and apprenticing with established vignerons. I asked him to share his personal experience and his reflections in this forum as I value his thoughts very much. This started out as a casual communication among friends, hence I probably caught him off-guard when I asked him to contribute his notes to this blog! Yet, the spontaneity of it all is what makes his notes so honest and brilliant.

In his debut post, Eric gives us insights into the 2007 vintage and he describes the unique winemaking approach of the highly regarded vigneron, Etienne Grivot of Domaine Jean Grivot in Vosne-Romanée. As an aside, I mentioned to Eric that for winemakers like Grivot once they learn the rules of winegrowing they throw them out the window!

Picking Decisions

I thought I'd shoot off a quick note to you, as thoughts are still fresh in my mind. I met with Etienne Grivot this morning at 10 am to discuss his approach in general. One thing that is truly remarkable to me is he uses no analysis whatsoever of his fruit in deciding when to harvest. I must have asked him two or three times. He is convinced that you can't take samples that are representative of a vineyard. The only way you could truly do this is to sample from each vine, which is practically speaking impossible. His general marker is the date of flowering. Harvest is roughly 100 days later. There are a number of factors but basically he tastes through the vineyards, chews the skins, seeds, looks at how the skins color his saliva. He watches the barometer, temperature. Observes the health of the grapes.

He tries to pick during the waning moon. 100 days landed around August 24th. He waited to start picking until the 4th. Many started picking on the 25th or 26th, Saturday and Sunday. He chose to start on the 4th to ripen the grapes further and to pick with the waning moon. Further, he chose to start picking on a Tuesday to prepare the team, the cuverie, etc. on Monday. He doesn't like to start on the weekend as each year there is a learning curve. It is better to start slow and steady. The order of picking is generally the order of quality of the parcels. Thus he starts with the white, then the bourgogne red, the village, etc. Richebourg was picked on the last day, September 10. It was perfect. It hung to achieve 13.4% potential alcohol and a pH of 3.3. There is a general order of picking as I noted but if clouds were on the horizon, the order would shift with the Grand Crus coming in first. Regarding the picking date, he doesn't want to hear what his neighbors are doing. His decision is made by him and him alone. (This reminds me of wine tasting. I can't truly evaluate a wine if I hear what others are thinking about it first.) The last day of picking quality wines was September 10. There was a new moon on the 11th. He finished with some Gamay he sells in bulk.

Regarding 2007, this is a vintage of the vigneron. In 2005, everyone in Vosne made great wine. In 2007 if you farmed right, picked right, there is no reason why you couldn't have had long hang time, physiological and phenolic ripeness. In fact, without the overripeness found in some of the very hot years, the wines can truly represent their terroir with no lack of density. After exhausting him with questions, we tasted through the 2007's and the 2006's gc's. The Richebourg and Clos Vougeot are so different. The Richebourg is truly aristocratic while the Vougeot shows its GC power and Vougeot spicy chartacter. It's hard not to like the wine. The Suchot is a stand out as well, wow.

We finished off with a lunch in Chambolle and ran into Bernard Gros there. We had the 02 Echezeaux. Etienne asked me what I thought. I answered, that I thought the food was great. He was referring to the wine!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day Break Café Menu 19th October 2007

Full French Dinner

Homemade Raviolo with Cream Cheese, Smoked Salmon and Herbs

Baked Artic Char with Coconut Milk Sauce And Caviar $38.00

Filet of Beef Wellington with truffle Sauce $44.00

Duck Legs Confit on a Bed of French Lentill from “Le Puy” $39.00

Salad of the Season, and Cheese


Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Individual Pecan Pie

Assorted Fruit Plate

Dana’s Chocolate Brownies with French Vanilla Ice Cream

By Reservation Only 6:00PM and 7:30PM
136 N. San Mateo Drive
San Mateo, CA 94401

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day Break Café Menu 12th October 2007

Full French Dinner

Spicy Avocado Soup with Fried Tortillas

Fillet of Sole Veronique, Gewurztraminer wine Sauce and Pelled Fresh Grapes $39.00

Lean New York Steak, Black Pepper and Cognac Cream Sauce $42.00

Chicken Breast Roulade, Port Wine and Mushroom Sauce $36.00

Salad of the Season, and Cheese

Banana Flambee Creme Brulee

Dana’s Famous Carrot Cake with Creme Chantilly

Assorted Fruit Plate

Spicy Purple Ginger and Dried Apple Ice Cream

Reservation Only 6:00PM and 7:30PMDAY
136 N. San Mateo Drive, San Mateo, CA 94401

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Day Break Café Menu 5th October 2007

Full French Dinner

Baby Octopus on a bed of Linguine and Seaweed

Grilled Veal Chop with Hedgehog Mushrooms $42.00

Crispy Skin Striped Bass with a Saffron Risotto served with a Tomato Coulis $38.00

Grilled Lamb Loin & Chop, Honeydew Melon and Mint Chutney $41.00

Salad of the Season, and Cheese

Strawberry Creme Brulee

Seasonal Berries in a Orange Liquor Sabayon

Assorted Fruit Plate

Chocolate Mousse Tresor Chest

Reservation Only 6:00PM and 7:30PM
136 N. San Mateo Drive, San Mateo, 94401,
650 343 0907

Friday, September 28, 2007

BNO White Burgundy-Chardonnay: The Sizzle of the Lambs!

An invitation to Gary’s and Dolores' house means a lamb feast. Never mind that our recent GBNO (girls’ and boys’ night out) theme is White Burgundy-Chardonnay. At Gary’s, lamb is always on the menu. And to no one’s surprise his grilled rack of lamb was simply divine with the Chardonnays.

cheese spread.JPG
No gathering should be without a good cheese plate. Yumm...

We got down to business well before the lamb was served. A pair of Littorai Chardonnays appeared. Ted Lemon started Littoria over ten years ago after years of study and training in Burgundy. He was the first American winemaker for a Burgundy estate, Domaine Roulot in Meursault, right in the heart of Chardonnay country. Upon his return to California he established Littorai, which focused on wines grown in the coastal vineyards of Sonoma and Mendocino. The 2004 Sonoma Coast “Charles Heintz Vineyard”, Littorai was luscious, opulent, and very ripe tasting. A mouthful of honeyed grapefruit sorbet. Its older cousin, the 1999 Sonoma Coast “Thieriot Vineyard”, Littorai was even fatter, richer, and probably just as ripe, yet more exotic, with flavors of poached pear and soft pineapples. A good time to be opening this before the wine starts to become mushy.


As the final glimmer of daylight faded in the sky, the vibe got more animated. Gary fired up the outdoor grill for the sacrificial lamb. In the kitchen, Kevin and Steve pulled out corks of some venerable white Burgundies. The 1978 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières, Joseph Drouhin, from a great vintage for white Burgundy, showed no signs of fatigue after nearly three decades—a convincing show of Chardonnay longevity. Smokey, toasty aromas and the exotic Folatières tropical fruit flavors emerged from the glass. This had a lovely, penetrating intensity. After several minutes it gained more substance without losing elegance. An incredibly powerful wine, this seems to draw from deep reserves. My white Burgundy of the night.


The 1989 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Le Clavoillon, Domaine Leflaive was reticent at the outset. My favorite vintage for Leflaive is 1989. Over fifteen years ago, when there was lesser demand for white Burgundy I’d try to buy any 1989 Leflaive I find languishing on a shelf as prices were still within reach then. I could even afford a bottle or two of Chevalier and Batard when there’s a sale at Beltramo’s (one of the few stores in the Bay Area to stock an extensive selection of white Burgundies during that time). Now, of course, Leflaive is very big bucks. I was happy to be drinking an old friend. This one seemed rustic. But after about an hour it offered juicy apple flavors up front, with layers of dried fruit, earthy mushrooms, and mineral in the background. One can spend a night plumbing the depths of this wine.


We closed the Burgundy hat trick by drinking an unbelievably durable 1971 Meursault Premier Cru Poruzots, Remoissenet Pere & Fils. This tastes like a crunchy Asian pear, still fresh, fat, and juicy. Though lacking in firmness, its wonderful layer of spice gives it a nice grip, especially as it finished. I couldn’t ask for more for a Chardonnay approaching its fourth decade.


Up next was a pair of two great California Chardonnays. The 2001 Napa Chardonnay, Stony Hill Vineyard. Stony Hill has a proven track record for Chardonnays that age for decades, miraculous by California standards. This one is simply too young, but what great potential! Very tight, yet the nose gives away delicious scents of fresh fruit and minerals. Richly concentrated, crisp, and very elegant. It would be a treat to follow this Chardonnay’s evolution.


The Chardonnay of the night was undoubtedly the 1975 Sonoma Chardonnay, Hanzell Vineyards. Chardonnay vines at Hanzell originated with cuttings taken from Stony Hill vines; therefore it’s not surprising that these wines age for decades as well. This pre-1990 Chardonnay was so stunning, especially given the age, prompting Kevin (he-who-doesn’t-own-California-wines-post-1980s) to hail it: “best California Chardonnay I’ve ever had”. I feel the same way. The bouquet was powerful and complex with autumnal scents of earth, leaves, undergrowth, and smoke. Round, intense, and minerally in the mouth, the flavors were youthful and bright without a trace of oxidation. For such a powerful, long-lasting California wine the label showed 13.8% Alcohol. And this is not a low-acid wine; in fact the acid level is quite high that’s why it tasted so crisp and vibrant.

Nearly everything about Stony Hill and Hanzell Chardonnays seem to fly against the trend in California Chardonnays for the past few decades. Moderate alcohol. Dry. Natural acid balance. Modest ripeness. Elegant. Sadly, these qualities are found in a minority of top California Chardonnays. Have California winemaking and consumers’ wine palates progressed much after California wine’s boom and hype of the 1990s? One thing’s for sure though, prices have outpaced everything else.

Al fresco dining on a clear summer night, what could be better?

Well, bless the souls of Matt, Gary, and Eric for allowing a few red interlopers to crash the party. The 1985 Barbaresco, Produttori del Barbaresco was soft, elegant, and kissed with earth and cherries. I saved a few bites of my lamb for that beauty. This was soon followed by the 1995 Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru “Les Vaucrains, Bertrand Ambroise. Ambroise makes beefy red Burgundies, and this one was still very tight though Gary’s lamb, which by now was nowhere to be found on the food table, made it seem luscious.



Once you start opening up these reds one thing leads to another. Excited about our next BNO theme, three high-profile California Cabernet Sauvignons were dispatched. The 1998 Napa “Maya”, Dalla Valle was classy, showing a nice harmony of sweet cassis, herbal, and earthy flavors. Rounded, fleshy, and well-structured, with very good acid balance and sweet tannins, I would expect this to age well over the next ten years. If you like elegant, understated Napa reds this Maya is beautiful.


What a contrast to the 1999 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon “Hillside Select”, Shafer Vineyards, which was opulent, concentrated, and tannic. A big wine with powerful, upfront fruit that is very showy.


After a decade the 1997 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Etude Vineyards was tender, juicy, with a good core fruit, but is now too soft and lacks grip . Drink up.

Finally, the Sauternes was uncorked. Medium-bodied, soft, and filled with flavors of poached pear, caramel, and minerals, the 1983 Sauternes Premier Cru Classé, Château Sigalas-Rabaud was alluring, yet losing freshness after some time in the glass.


We survived another memorable bacchanalian night. What a perfect evening to enjoy these great wines! I went home with a few lessons learned. California wine producers can make Chardonnays as long-lived as White Burgundies if they would strive for quality, instead of being led by consumers and wine critics. After all, the great producers of White Burgundies have been making their wines well before there was a wine critic or a mass market for their wines. Imagine how deprived the world would be had Van Gogh only painted pretty pictures that the public wanted during his time.

That Chardonnay or White Burgundy pairs brilliantly with lamb provided Gary prepared the lamb. That the thought of drinking all white wines in a gathering sends fear to some people—red wines need to be opened if only to cure the shakes.

Eric's cigar.JPG
Only try this with an El Rey del Mundo, Habanos of course

A toast to another memorable get-together

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Drink More White Wines!

If anyone should ask me what my two favorite types of wines are, my quick answer would be Riesling and white Burgundy. These are my desert island wines, and they would drink heavenly with the scrumptious seafood nearby.

Jancis Robinson, the foremost wine writer of today, wrote a brilliant piece for the San Francisco Chronicle on the virtues of white wines. She convincingly argues that white wines should be staple: “Most of us are eating lighter foods, much more fish, more vegetables and salads, and more spicy dishes, none of which is a natural partner for the full-bodied, tannic red wines that command so much attention from wine writers and wine lovers. Meanwhile, more and more authorities are recommending white and not red wine with cheese.”

Insecurity, rather than taste, is why people can’t let go of red wine even for a moment. One of the guys in our recent BNO (boys’ night out) tasting of Chardonnays-White Burgundy remarked all those white wines looked “scary” and asked someone to bring a red. Why the insecurity? I think it's simply habit and ignorance.

Drink more white wines! They’re exciting, interesting, and tasty, not to mention, good for the health, especially with the food we love to eat these days.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Striking Back at the Emperor of Wine

A spontaneous open rebellion by incensed readers against wine critic Robert Parker erupted this week at Parker’s own cyber château, the Mark Squires’ Wine Bulletin Board. What sparked the uproar was an apparent mocking review by Parker of the wines of Berkeley-based winery Edmunds St. John and the restrained winemaking style of its winemaker, Steve Edmunds.

The rebellious thread quickly gained momentum, growing into a chorus of boos over Parker’s seemingly oppressive review, with some posters going so far as to suggest a hidden agenda against Steve Edmunds. On the 100th post, the board's head honcho, Mark Squires, finally stepped in to padlock the thread and quell the mounting insurrection.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Left Bank's Monday Special

I had a great time with friends last Monday night at Left Bank in San Mateo. Is it just my imagination or is this French restaurant, planted in the middle of a strip shopping center off Highway 101 in San Mateo, taking on some patina of a Parisian brasserie over the years?

We were there to take advantage of the restaurant’s brilliant Monday half-price wine list, plus August’s Provence dinner special prix fixe ($23.00 per) of Bourride des Pêcheurs (a bouillabaisse-type dish with rockfish, mussels, clams, crab, prawns, sliced potatoes, celery, leeks and fennel, thickened with cream) and a cheese plate of Banon (a robust, creamy Provençal cheese dipped in eau-de-vie and wrapped in chestnut leaves). The bourride was better than I expected, while the cheese was oozingly soft and well-ripened. Altogether, a terrific dinner menu for the price.

Bourride des Pêcheurs

The wines? Well, we did bring a few bottles of our own, but from the list we ordered a 2004 Pouilly-Fumé “La Moynerie”, Michel Redde et Fils (half-price off the listed $43) that was aromatic, crisp, ripe, juicy, and vibrant—a stunning pairing with the dozen Fanny Bay oysters we ordered.


We ordered another bottle, also a Loire, from the famous biodynamic producer, Nicolas Joly, which is his 2002 Savennières “Les Clos Sacrés”—an excellent wine, though still very, very young and quite sharp. But with the creamy and somewhat pungent bourride, this powerful Chenin paired very nicely. At half price the normal list of $59, this Nicolas Joly was a steal.


At the end of the meal, we kicked in $50 per person, including a healthy tip for our enthusiastic waiter, David. For sure, I will be dining at the Left Bank again soon on another Monday!

Left Bank San Mateo
1100 Park Place
San Mateo CA 94403

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tasting Panel: Aug. 14-16 Schweiger of Spring Mountain


Schweiger Vineyards lie near the summit of Napa's Spring Mountain at an elevation of 2,000 feet. The vineyards were planted in 1981 and for the first ten years the estate's owners were solely grape growers. They started producing their own wines with the 1994 vintage. The wines undergo extended barrel aging.

1. Spring Mountain (Napa) Chardonnay, Schweiger Vineyards 2005 ($30 suggested)
100% Chardonnay. Picked at 26.2 Brix through mid-October. Aged in 100% French oak on its lees for 9 months. 3.51 pH. 0.64 g/100ml Total Acidity. 15.3% Alcohol.

2. Spring Mountain (Napa) Merlot, Schweiger Vineyards 2002 ($38.00 suggested)
100% Merlot. Aged 22 months in a mix of new and old American and French oak. 13.7% Alcohol.

3. Spring Mountain (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon, Schweiger Vineyards 2002 ($48.00 suggested)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 32 months in a combination of new and old American and French oak. 14.5% Alcohol.

4. Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc “Uboldi Vineyards”, Schweiger Vineyards 2005 ($20.00 suggested)
100% Sauvignon Blanc from purchased fruit grown in a vineyard in Kenwood planted with 12-year-old vines. Barrel-fermented in 3-5 year-old French oak. Malolactic was blocked. Aged 4 months on the lees, with bi-weekly lees stirring. 13.8% Alcohol

5. Spring Mountain (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon “Port VI”, Schweiger Vineyards NV 375ml ($50 suggested)
The sixth release of this unique 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Port-style wine. From 11-19 year-old vines planted in estate vineyards in Spring Mountain at 2,000 feet elevation. Harvested at 27.5 Brix. During fermentation at about 12 Brix a traditional alambic brandy of Pinot Noir/Chenin Blanc is added in to stop fermentation. The Port-style wines produced over the past several years are aged in barrels solera style and different vintages are blended for each release. Five barrels were produced for this release. 19.5% Alcohol.

Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc “Uboldi Vineyards”, Schweiger Vineyards 2005
Thumbs Up: 57%
Thumbs Down: 43%
Pros: Nice fruit, clean, citrus, good acidity, decent value
Cons: Lean, too herbal

Spring Mountain (Napa) Chardonnay, Schweiger Vineyards 2005
Thumbs Up: 45%
Thumbs Down: 55%
Pros: Delicate, smooth, tangy, good balance, full, refreshing, mineral
Cons: High acid, tart, bit alcoholic

Spring Mountain (Napa) Merlot, Schweiger Vineyards 2002
Thumbs Up: 50%
Thumbs Down: 50%
Pros: Good aroma, good balance, full-bodied, smooth, rich, good fruit, balance, very nice Merlot
Cons: Not a lot fruit, tannic, thin, too dry, flat

Spring Mountain (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon, Schweiger Vineyards 2002
Thumbs Up: 45%
Thumbs Down: 55%
Pros: Good balance, good color
Cons: Not much fruit, not good value, hard, too oaky, cheap vanilla

Spring Mountain (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon “Port VI”, Schweiger Vineyards NV
Thumbs Up: 71%
Thumbs Down: 29%
Pros: Delicious sweetness
Cons: Bitter, not balance, not complex

1. This tasting panel drew a good and enthusiastic crowd apparently due to the high reputation of Spring Mountain wines and the extended range of wines to be evaluated in the tasting.

2. The tasting panel results show no clear consensus, hence this was a difficult tasting panel to assess.

3. In general, the expectations for Schweiger's wines were high as shown by the enthusiastic turnout. Thus, it's somewhat of a disappointment for the wines to elicit just about a 50-50 response between pros and cons.

4. Schweiger's location and history at the top of Spring Mountain in Napa make it an elite wine estate. However, the wines evaluated clearly were not representative of the estate's excellent potential. Surely, the estate has produced much better quality, particularly in terms of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

BNO Merlot: How the Moueix was Won

“I’m a superstitious man”, declared Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Funny how I can relate to this after our latest BNO (boys’ night out). The BNO theme this time was “Merlots of the World”, which was decided about the end of June. A week later we celebrated Steve’s birthday and he treated us to another bottle of the superb 1991 Dominus. Back in BNO California Cabernet Sauvignon I thought this was the best wine of the night, so I was elated to be enjoying it again especially because this particular bottle was drinking even better.

Dominus, of course, is based in Napa and is owned and run by Christian Moueix of Pomerol in Bordeaux. Known as “Mr. Merlot”, Moueix heads up his family’s negociant company that has long represented the most revered estates of Pomerol—Trotanoy, Lafleur, Lafleur-Pétrus, and Pétrus—where Merlot is the predominant grape.

On the night of the BNO, though "Merlots of the world" was the supposed theme, nearly all the wines we opened turned out to be Pomerol, and save for one, all the Pomerol were from the Moueix stable. So to backtrack, the Moueix connection to this affair was unplanned and a bit uncanny given all the related events that occurred in the buildup to this BNO. First there was the Merlot theme, then the 1991 Dominus encore, and finally the Moueix Pomerols we ended up drinking. As if this Moueix preoccupation wasn’t enough, just a few weeks before the BNO, Steve happened to lunch at Redds in Napa where he accidentally bumped into, guess who? Christian Moueix. Drinking, guess what? Yes, 1991 Dominus. How these things happen, it’s hard to explain, but somehow we were channeling Mr. Merlot himself, Christian Moueix, during the whole month of July!


Lenny prepared a most amazing food pairing for the wines. The mushroom polenta tart—a medley of cremini, Portobello, and shitake on a crust of polenta—was a revelation, as it brought out the lovely earthy quality of Merlot. Take a bite of this before blindtasting side-by-side a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon and you will nail the Merlot.


But the dish that really summoned Merlot’s savory, meaty character and accented its fruitiness was the duck in cherry sauce. In fact, it summoned apparently something more primal in Kevin and Gary, the way both of them fiercely demolished that dish. Lenny, who was still jetlagged from a long overseas trip, exhibited unreal discernment in selecting this genius pairing, and the execution was perfection. Bravo, Lenny!


The designated “glasscoater” was a 1976 Pomerol, Château Lafleur. Lafleur is a tiny estate even by Pomerol standards and is unique because of the high percentage of Cabernet Franc (50%) planted courtesy of a gravelly patch. This much Cabernet Franc gives the wine a perfumy bouquet which is evident in this bottle. Sweet plums, cedar, and minerals show nicely in the nose. We’re fortunate to have this fresh, well-aged bottle. The wine still packs energy, with a potent attack that veers on harsh and hot, but thankfully blunted by its fleshy sweetness. Steve aptly described the flavor as “roasted meat”. 2 ½ puffs was the group’s score.


Pretty Trotanoys in a row

A mini-vertical of Château Trotanoy followed interrupted by other goodies. The 1971 Pomerol, Château Trotanoy exuded all sorts of leafy aromas—raked leaves, tea leaves, tobacco leaves. Matt swore he was in Havana inside Castro’s palace “standing 20 feet away from his humidor”. There were also scents of asphalt, rubber, and dried berries. On the palate it’s sexier and nothing short of stunning. Splendid lush, velvety deep black cherry flavors with a delicious sweet raisiny note. I like the edginess of this wine, and with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s screeching guitar riffs in “Reelin’ in the Years” piping in the background, we all rocked together with it. 3 ½ puffs.


Well, we were certainly reeling in the years with the Trotanoys. Next up was the 1978 Pomerol, Château Trotanoy, which lacked the concentration of the previous wine and is a bit too herbal. Definitely past its prime, yet it still has sumptuous red fruits to offer. Helped by Lenny’s magical duck in cherry sauce this proved to be soulful. 2 ¾ puffs.


As a variation from what has turned out to be another Bordeaux affair, I suggested we break out the lone California Merlot, the 1990 Napa Merlot “Three Palms Vineyard”, Duckhorn Vineyard. Certainly the odd wine in this crowd of heavyweight Pomerols, I may have been the only one impressed by this Duckhorn’s good fruit concentration and richness of tannins. A solid Napa Merlot, without any hint of flaws after nearly two decades of aging—only bright, juicy, spicy cassis flavors. After a bit of lobbying on my part, the group finally got charitable, initially rating it 2 ½ puffs but finally knocking it down to 2 puffs.


Another Pomerol break was the 1989 St.-Emilion Grand Cru, Château Grand-Mayne (now a Grand Cru Classé). Michel Rolland was the lead winemaker for this vintage. A blend of mostly Merlot (about 75%) and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this offered tarry, chocolatey aromas. “A Willy Wonka/Scharffenberger chocolate factory” described Matt. The group found it merely a “pleasant wine to quaff”, but I thought it had very good youthful concentration and layers of complexity. What it lacked was finesse. We shall see in another five years or so. 3 puffs.


We resumed our Pomerol adventure in a huge way with what I thought was the wine of the evening, the 1982 Pomerol, Château La Conseillante. This is an opulent and seamless wine that’s perfectly integrated, with a texture like a mouthful of cashmere gliding on the palate. Beautiful refined flavors of blackberries, taro root, infused tea, chocolate, and espresso with a touch of cumin and cinnamon. As the lushness fades towards the end it offers a lovely austerity in the earthy, gravelly finish. One of the great 1982s that is still drinking prime. 4 puffs.


In contrast, the 1995 Pomerol, Château Trotanoy was packed with aggressive concentration. Coiled, rough, powerful, and roaring wildly off the gates. This has tremendous energy, very extracted, but muddled and in need of being focused. Perhaps, more aging would tame this beast. 3 puffs.


Initially some of us thought the 1985 Pomerol, Château Trotanoy could be a 1971 in the making. But we were wrong. For me, this was the least successful wine of the evening. I’m sure it has seen better days. I waited for something to happen in the glass, but the wine took a downward spiral. The fruit lacked freshness and was pretty much flat, while the earthiness got too pronounced. No one made a noteworthy comment and I hardly scribbled any notes. How this received a group score of 3 puffs I don't know why.


That was it, the last Merlot of the evening. We were about to head out to the garden to enjoy the Sauternes but Kevin quietly slipped back to the kitchen then came back with a bottle that he casually placed on the dinner table. It was a pristine-looking 1980 Pomerol, Pétrus. We stared at it with delight and total disbelief. No one saw this coming. Kevin’s gesture was immeasurable—the surprise was to honor the two recent birthday boys, Matt and Steve. We were all blown away.


In short, the Pétrus lived up to its hallowed name. 1980 was not a great, hyped-up vintage; yet later, it proved to be a good classic year, like a 2001 or 2004, for medium-term drinking. But always the mark of a great wine is to overachieve and, boy, this Pétrus at nearly 30-years-old is drinking prime. Soft and silky in the mouth like chocolate and cream, with an earthy, gravelly nose that opened up to cherries. The flavors tasted fresh, with a graceful energy that wasn’t forceful; it was so easy and pleasurable to drink. We all felt fortunate to have this Pétrus experience.


Finally, in the cool comfort of the garden under the stars we enjoyed a refreshing glass of Cordier’s 1983 Sauternes, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey. Though from one of the greatest, richest vintages in Sauternes, this Lafaurie-Peyraguey exude sheer elegance—flowery, medium-bodied, vibrant, and very pure—atypical of the vintage for its medium botrytis, delicacy, and great acidity. What a tease, as this makes you come back for more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tasting Panel: Aug. 7-8 Mix Reds


Here is a mix of three full-bodied red wines from three interesting producers.

1. Vin de Pays d'OC Red Cabernet Sauvignon "Mediterranée", Jean-Claude Boisset 2001 ($20 suggested)
From the Languedoc region in southern France. 13% Alcohol.

2. La Mancha Crianza "Torre de Gazate", Vinicola de Tomelloso 2002 ($18.00 suggested)
60% Tempranillo and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% Alcohol.

3. Carneros Syrah "Las Madres Vineyard", Connor Brennan Cellars 2005 ($30.00 suggested)

100% Syrah from the 300 clone. 14.5% Alcohol.


Vin de Pays d'OC Red Cabernet Sauvignon "Mediterranée", Jean-Claude Boisset 2001
Thumbs Up: 56%
Thumbs Down: 44%
Pros: Smooth, good balance, nice acid, good food wine
Cons: So-so value

La Mancha Crianza "Torre de Gazate", Vinicola de Tomelloso 2002
Thumbs Up: 78%
Thumbs Down: 22%
Pros: Very drinkable, nice complexity, good mouthfeel, nice balance, smooth
Cons: Not big enough

Carneros Syrah "Las Madres Vineyard", Connor Brennan Cellars 2005
Thumbs Up: 89%
Thumbs Down: 11%
Pros: Fine example of Syrah, soft and smooth, long finish
Cons: Thin

1. Most drinkers enjoyed all the three red wines featured.

2. The Cabernet Sauvignon surprised many drinkers because of its significant acidity and lighter body.

3. The overwhelming favorites were the Spanish Crianza and the Carneros Syrah, particularly the latter for its overall high quality.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tasting Panel: July 31-Aug. 1 Cool Climate Grapes in Hot Zones


Cool climate grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot are now planted in some of the warmest winegrowing regions in the world. So how good do they turn out? Here are three new releases from of cool climate grape varietals from producers in warm climate areas.

1. Mendocino Chardonnay "Francine's Selection", Toad Hollow 2006 ($15.00 suggested)

Vinified in stainless steel, no wood. Full malolactic fermentation and aged on its lees for 8 months. 13.9% Alcohol.

2. Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, 337 Wine Cellars 2005 ($16.00 suggested)

Made from the 337 clone, a type of Cabernet Sauvignon that ripens early and does not develop herbal flavors. This grower has been a pioneer of this clone and has supplied fruit to many wineries. The grapes were cold-soaked for 24-36 hours before fermentation. The wine was aged in a mix of French and American oak. 14.5% Alcohol.

3. Barossa Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot "Clancy's", Peter Lehmann 2004 ($21.00 suggested)

A blend of 43% Shiraz, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Merlot. 14.5% Alcohol.


Mendocino Chardonnay "Francine's Selection", Toad Hollow 2006
Thumbs Up: 80%
Thumbs Down: 20%
Pros: Fresh and smooth, citrusy, good acid
Cons: Too fruity

Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, 337 Wine Cellars 2005
Thumbs Up: 60%
Thumbs Down: 40%
Pros: Good midweek wine, starts impressive but flattens out, smooth
Cons: Too fruity and extracted, too vegetal

Barossa Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot "Clancy's", Peter Lehmann 2004
Thumbs Up: 80%
Thumbs Down: 20%
Pros: Classy, complex, smooth
Cons: none

1. Cool climate grape varietals planted in warm climate areas result in fruity wines that have wide appeal among today's drinkers.

2. In addition, even more drinkers prefer those fruity wines that show interesting layers of flavors.

3. Peter Lehmann's Clancy was the overall winner in this series. The wine's blend of different grape varietals resulted in an interesting and complex flavor profile that appealed to most drinkers.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tasting Panel: July 24-25 New California Reds


Unlike other wine growing regions, California does not focus on any particularly grape varietal, but instead produces every major grape varietal on the planet. Here are threewines, each one from a different grape varietal and grown in different winegrowing regions in California.

1. Russian River Pinot Noir "Amber Ridge Vineyard", Connor Brennan Cellars 2005 ($26.00 suggested)

Small-lot production from a single vineyard that is highly regarded source of Pinot Noir in Russian River and is planted with the 777 clone. 14.5% Alcohol.

2. Dry Creek Valley Syrah, VJB Vineyards 2003 ($34.00 suggested)
Barrel-aged for 18 months in neutral American oak. 14.5% Alcohol.

3. El Dorado Zinfandel, VJB Vineyards 2003 ($34.00 suggested)
Aged for 18 months in 100% American oak. 15.5% Alcohol.

Russian River Pinot Noir "Amber Ridge Vineyard", Connor Brennan Cellars 2005
Thumbs Up: 67%
Thumbs Down: 33%
Pros: Nice fruit, smooth finish, yummy, big, brawny, good value, big for a Russian River Pinot, a bit sweet
Cons: Very light, acidic, somewhat one-dimensional

Dry Creek Valley Syrah, VJB Vineyards 2003 ($34.00 suggested)
Thumbs Up: 40%
Thumbs Down: 60%
Pros: Good body, forward, decadent, smooth tannins, good balance
Cons: Not much going on, harsh, overpriced

El Dorado Zinfandel, VJB Vineyards 2003 ($34.00 suggested)
Thumbs Up: 40%
Thumbs Down: 60%
Pros: Big, nice flavors, highly extracted
Cons: Hot, vegetal, no nose, overpriced

1. Both the Syrah and Zinfandel from VJB Vineyards were deemed pricey by most drinkers for the quality they offer.

2. Despite the thumbs down votes, many still found the big, extracted, high alcohol, style of the Syrah and Zinfandel attractive. Had the price been significantly less, say close to half, it is likely that many would find these a good purchase.

3. The Pinot Noir from Russian River was well-liked by most drinkers mainly for its forward fruit and fuller style.

4. However, a good number of drinkers dissented on the taste of the Pinot Noir, finding its taste too light, which is surprising considering its big, full-bodied style. One suspects that, popular as Pinot Noir is today, many palates still prefer the big bruisers, like Syrahs and Zinfandels.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Randy Dunn Speaks On High Alcohol Wines

Folks in the wine trade are increasingly speaking out against high alcohol wines, particularly California wines. Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards today released the following statement to the media:

"It is time for the average wine consumers, as opposed to tasters, to speak up. The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop. Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 -16. +% alcohol. They are, in fact, hot and very difficult to enjoy with a meal. About the only dish that seems to put them in their place is a good hot, spicy dish.

I don’t believe the average person is so insensitive to flavors and aromas that they must have a 15% Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir to get the aromas and flavors. Influential members of the wine press have lead the score chasing winemakers/owners up the alcohol curve and now I hope that it soon will lead them down.

Winemaking is not really much different than cooking. The end product should be enjoyable to consume - not just to taste. Hopefully most who read this don’t think it’s a novel concept that we should be making wines to consume. Would you want to sample a soup, meat dish or other course that is so overpowering that you cannot enjoyably finish what is in front of you? These new wines are made to taste and spit – not to drink.

This is all linked to my views on the ever evasive and vanishing terroir; the subtleties of terroir in wines have been melted together in a huge pot called “overripe” or the vogue “physiologically mature” grape. Gone are the individualities of specific regions, replaced by sameness – high alcohol, raisiny, pruney, flabby wines. Likewise, the descriptor “herbaceous” was often used in a positive sense when describing Cabernets. Now it is the kiss of death. Voluptuous – I do remember seeing that only occasionally, but not on the aroma/flavor wheel.

So I would like the consumers to take the lead for a change, rather than being led. Ask for wines that are below 14% when you are out to dinner. The reactions are fun, but the results are not good for United States wines. The sommelier usually comes back with a French or New Zealand wine. On the restaurant level, high alcohol wines have reduced the number of bottles sold. It is very simple arithmetic; % alcohol times volume equals satisfaction. If % alcohol goes up, volume must go down for satisfaction to stay the same – or else we all get plastered.

Consumers – wake up and get active. Reviewers -please at least include the labeled alcohol percentage in all your reviews, and try to remember that not everyone is spitting."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tasting Panel: July 17-18 Avalon Winery's Wines for the People


Here are three different wines from Sonoma-based wine producer, Purple Wine Company. This producer owns Avalon Winery label where it focuses on producing value Cabernet Sauvignon. A new label in its portfolio is Blue Jean.

1. California Red Wine, Blue Jean Winery NV ($11.00 suggested)
A new label from the Purple Wine Company of Sonoma. Most likely Cabernet Sauvignon-based. 13.5% Alcohol.

2. California Cabernet Sauvignon, Avalon Winery 2004 ($11.00 suggested)

The blend consists of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Tempranillo mainly from vineyards in the Central Coast (Monterey, Santa Barbara) and from Mendocino and Napa. 13.7% Alcohol. 3.66 pH. 5.5 grams total acidity.

3. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Avalon Winery 2005 ($18.00 suggested)
A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Syrah, 6% Merlot, and 1% Petite Sirah. Aged in a combination of French and American oak. 13.9% Alcohol. 3.89 pH. 7.5 grams total acidity.


California Red Wine, Blue Jean Winery NV
Thumbs Up: 89%
Thumbs Down: 11%
Pros: Fruity, good everyday wine, good label, balanced, rich, fun, easy
Cons: Bitter

California Cabernet Sauvignon, Avalon Winery 2004
Thumbs Up: 67%
Thumbs Down: 33%
Pros: Structured, more sophisticated than Blue Jean, smooth, smoky
Cons: Off-taste

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Avalon Winery 2005
Thumbs Up: 56%
Thumbs Down: 44%
Pros: More interesting, bold flavors, good fruit and tannins
Cons: Pricey, tart, good but not worth the extra bucks


1. From the good turnout and positive overall response to these wines, it is clear that drinkers of fine wines now find low-priced California wines attractive. One can't this was the case just five years ago.

2. The lowest-priced, non-vintage red "Blue Jean" was the overwhelming favorite. Drinkers found it fruity but balanced and a good value everyday wine. Further, the blue jean label contributed to a hip, fun image which drinkers found attractive.

3. The two Cabernet Sauvignons, while well-liked did not particularly excite drinkers. They were seemingly perceived as somewhat stodgy, typical California Cabs.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tasting Panel: July 10-11 Martin Ranch Story

Martin Ranch.jpg

A new challenge for the discerning tastes of our tasting panel. Here are four different wines from a well-established Santa Cruz Mountains wine producer called Martin Ranch. This producer makes both estate wines under the "Therese Vineyards" label and negociant wines under the "J.D. Hurley" label. The winemaking approach is interesting as it involves a long elevage and aging in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak before bottling and release.

1. Santa Clara Valley Merlot "J.D. Hurley", Martin Ranch 2004 ($22.00 suggested)
From Santa Clara Valley vineyards on the eastern side of Santa Cruz Mountains. 100% Merlot. Aged 21 months in 50% new and 50% neutral French, Hungarian, and American oak barrels. 600 cases produced 15.6% Alcohol.

2. Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon "J.D. Hurley", Martin Ranch 2003 ($26.00 suggested)
97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. From a combination of 60% Santa Clara Valley vineyards and 40% estate-grown Santa Cruz Mountain grapes. The first release of this wine. Aged 32 months in a combination of new, 2-year-old, and neutral French, Hungarian, and American oak barrels. 800 cases produced 13.9% Alcohol.

3. Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon "Thérèse Vineyard Reserve", Martin Ranch 2003 ($40.00 suggested)

Made from estate-grown grapes in the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc aged for 28 months in a combination of new, one-year-old, and neutral French oak barrel. 200 cases produced 14% Alcohol.

4. Santa Clara Valley Syrah "Thérèse Vineyard", Martin Ranch 2004 ($30.00 suggested)

100% Syrah from two vineyard sources. Aged 21 months in 50% new and 50% neutral French and Hungarian oak. 400 cases produced 14.7% Alcohol.


Santa Clara Valley Merlot "J.D. Hurley", Martin Ranch 2004
Thumbs Up: 60%
Thumbs Down: 30%
Pros: "Fruity yet firm... plenty of extract... good power... nice for the price... good oak... alcohol is not obvious... good nose"
Cons: "Hot, alcoholic... disappointing taste... didn't taste like Merlot"

Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon "J.D. Hurley", Martin Ranch 2003
Thumbs Up: 60%
Thumbs Down: 40%
Pros: "Good nose... good balance... not too strong, decent"
Cons: "Light... not enough fruit... not bold... bitter finish"

Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon "Thérèse Vineyard Reserve", Martin Ranch 2003
Thumbs Up: 80%
Thumbs Down: 10%
Pros: "Fruity... good tannins... reserved but good fruit and tannins... soft and nice fruit... good finish... complex, aging potential... good structure"
Cons: "Too reserved.. pricey"

Santa Clara Valley Syrah "Thérèse Vineyard", Martin Ranch 2004
Thumbs Up: 100%
Thumbs Down: 0%
Pros: "Fruity spicy, good personality... great Syrah flavors... good aromatics and flavors... good length... drinkable... aging potential... well balanced"
Cons: none

1. Very enthusiastic turnout for this tasting, mostly likely because of the attraction of a new Santa Cruz-based wine producer.

2. The aggressive, robust style of the J.D. Hurley Merlot surprised drinkers, especially those who don't usually drink Merlot, and the style appealed to most of them.

3. The smoother, softer, somewhat light style of the J.D. Hurley Cabernet Sauvignon was unexpected, especially coming after the Merlot. This style also pleased many drinkers.

4. The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon though popular was seen as being a bit pricey.

5. The overall favorite was the Syrah. This wine's flavors and price point appealed to most drinkers.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Rarest Rosé


The commune of Riceys in the southern portion of the Champagne region has been producing for centuries tiny quantitites of the world's most rare rosé. Said to be the favorite of Louis XIV, this rosé is so rare that even in Champagne, let alone in France, few have heard of it. To my knowledge none is exported.

I was visiting Champagne last March and I took my buddy Robert with me. He decided to stay around a little longer after I've finished my appointments to do some R & R and hunt down this rare Rosé de Riceys. He got lucky as he found one wine store that stocked a few bottles of it. The proprietor was quite impressed at Robert for even asking for it.

Robert lugged the bottle back home and when we decided to have a bite together one day before watching a Giants ballgame he brought the bottle of Rosé de Riceys with him. This was probably the only bottle of this rosé in the country.

We sat at the bar of Coco 500, Loretta Keller's newly renovated hotstpot in the south of Market. We dug in a couple of the small plates that were both superb. One was the COCOmole “taco” ($4.00), a refined take on mole made with braised beef cheeks on crisp taco shells. Every piece was delicious. The other plate was a version of the Provence standard, a brandade served with fennel crackers ($6.00). Another homerun!



Both small plates were superb with the particular taste of the Rosé de Riceys. Made of 100% Pinot Noir, this rosé is made by macerating the Pinot until the taste of Riceys is achieved, a procedure that requires not only a skilled winemaker but also one who knows the precise taste of Riceys.

The rosé has a deep cherry nose, very earthy and Pinot-like, it reminded me of the Pinot Noirs I've had from Alsace. The initial taste was of black cherries then layers fanned out revealing fresh herbs and lavender. Very delicate yet intense on the palate. Substantial for a rosé, hence the wine was a perfect accompaniment to our small plates.

500 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tasting Panel: June 26-27 Spanishin Regional Wines

Spanish Tasting.jpg

This time the following three regional Spanish wines were featured:

Rias Baixas Albariño, Olegario 2005 ($26.00 suggested)

From Spain's Galicia region in the northwest Atlantic coast. 100% Albariño grape. 12.5% Alcohol.

Navarra Rosado "Grand Feudo Rose Wine", Bodegas Julian Chivite 2005 ($19.00 suggested)

100% Grenache from estate-grown grapes in Navarra in north-central Spain above Rioja. 12.5% Alcohol. The grapes were macerated for 24 hours to allow the skin color to bleed prior to fermentation.

Castilla y Leon "Sardon de Duero Rivola", Abadia Retuerta 2003 ($20.00 suggested)

Made from estate-grown grapes in Sardon de Duero just outside Ribera del Duero in central Spain. 60% Tempranillo and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon aged fro 12 months in a combination of French and American oak. 13.5% Alcohol


Rias Baixas Albariño, Olegario 2005
Thumbs Up 88%
Thumbs Down 13%
Pros: Nice fruit, acidity but pricy, refreshing, good summer wine, good
balance, mineral finish
Cons: None

Navarra Rosado "Grand Feudo Rose Wine", Bodegas Julian Chivite 2005
Thumbs Up: 50%
Thumbs Down: 50%
Pros: Nice fruit, dry, interesting
Cons: Harsh, uninteresting, bland, tart, flat, simple

Castilla y Leon "Sardon de Duero Rivola", Abadia Retuerta 2003
Thumbs Up: 100%
Thumbs Down: 0%
Pros: Great balance, nice balance, complex. Bordeaux-like nose, easy drinking,
nice tannins, worth the price, smoky, robust, spicy, will age.
Cons: None

1. The Albariño was deemed wonderful but pricey at a suggested price of $26, an average price for a California Chardonnay. Drinkers appear to have an expectation that Spanish whites should be low priced regardless of potential quality. In contrast, the same can not be said of white wines from California or France.

2. The Rosado was the least favorite, apparently suffering from being too light, too dry, and somewhat pricey.

3. The Rivola was liked by everyone.