Wine bottles…Why bigger IS better!

2005_OakvilleRanch_6L Recently I was fortunate enough to try wine from a pretty large bottle. The wine was a 6L (holds 8 bottles) 2005 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was bursting of red/black fruit, especially cassis, had an excellent mid-palate and a long ROUND finish. I couldn’t believe how soft this wine tasted. I then asked the owner how long the bottle had been open. “Two days”, he replied “and it is finally drinking really well”. “Very tannic when we first opened it”.

So what is it with BIG bottles of wine? They are very hard to store. They are generally difficult to find. They almost ALWAYS cost more than if you had bought the single bottles, separately.

There are obvious fun factors– they are cool to break out at parties and it is entertaining to watch someone pour from the really large ones. However there are some very important reasons to go big…

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Around the World QPR Chardonnay+ a Ringer

Memorial Day Blind Wine Tasting

chardonnay_roundtheworld

There is a term “ABC”- short for Anything But Chardonnay. But when it comes to Chardonnay it is not about the grape but rather the style of wine.  Chardonnay is a chameleon, not very distinctive on it’s own, but easily changed by soil composition, growing conditions (hot or cold), use of barrels (none, medium, overdone) and  other winemaking techniques (stirring up dead yeast cells, use of Malolactic fermentation, etc.)

Chardonnay is an acidic grape, one of the qualities it brings when it is used in Champagne which makes an excellent palate cleanser.
Acid is also what allows a white wine to age (higher acid= better ability to age)

BurlapChalkBagsWhat makes Chardonnays different?

Difference between warm and cool climates…

Wines that are further from the equator (cool climates) get less sun are usually more acidic, lower in sugar and lower in alcohol. Dominant fruits are citrus (lemon, limes) apples, pears.

Wines that are closer to the equator (warmer climates) get more sun and heat so the fruit is higher in sugar and usually riper. Dominant fruits can be more tropical and sweeter in flavor (papaya, mango, pineapple, peaches)

Use of barrels…

Chardonnay can be greatly influenced by the decision to use oak in fermenting and/or aging and how much is used.
No aging– stainless- wine is lean, acidic, light in body and color
Medium oak– low oak influence can make the wine rounder in body, darker in color
Heavy oak– for a brief time, California winemakers were using a heavy hand with oak. Oak can be used to mask flaws but many say (myself included) that using too much oak hides many of the good fruit flavors found in Chardonnay.

The use of barrels are responsible for some of these flavors found in Chardonnay: vanilla, toast, smoke, spices, as well as some sweetness.

thespreadWinemaker methods…

There are many but 2 commonly used methods found in Chardonnay are:

1.    Malolactic Fermentation– also called “ML” this is a second (non alcoholic) fermentation using a specific type of bacteria that turns sharp (malic) acids into lactic (smooth/creamy) acids. The difference between granny smith apples and milk.

ML is responsible for some of these flavors in Chardonnay: butter, butterscotch, caramel, cream, toffee, lemon curd (yoghurt).

2 . Contact with Yeast? To make alcohol you add yeast to grape juice (which is mostly sugar). The yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. When it consumes as much sugar as it can, the yeast eventually dies. Some winemakers remove the yeast cells immediately, some leave them in the tank/barrel and even stir them (called battonage) continuously for more flavor in the wine.
Presence of yeast cells produce toasty or doughy flavors (especially in Champagne)

Soil…
Much too complicated to go into this time,  but it can be responsible for all non-fruit flavors such as mineral (wet stones), chalk, sea spray, some floral qualities

THE WINES/THE RESULTS

For our annual Memorial Day wine tasting I decided to pick my favorite mother-in-laws, favorite wine, Chardonnay. We tasted the wines blind, the only thing that tasters knew was that one of the wines was VERY expensive. What they did not know is that one was very common and inexpensive. After everyone sampled the wines I then let them know which country the wines were from and some brief “professional” descriptions, listed below, to see if it would help identify them, before the “reveal”.

AuBonClimat#1. 2010 Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara California– $20
Burgundian in sensibility, but with California style, is one way of describing Jim Clendenen’s chardonnays. In the glass, buttery brioche marries with tropical fruits in an irresistible elixir.

Tasters said: This is good, I like this! Probably the highest ranked wine.

MarquesCasaConcha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2. 2010 Marques de Casa Concha– Concha y Toro, Limarí Valley, Northern Chile– $22
A fresh, harmonious white, featuring pineapple, citrus and spice notes backed by juicy acidity and creamy texture. Well-integrated, with a lingering aftertaste of fruit and chalk.

Tasters said: “This is good but not my favorite”.

HamiltonRussell#3. 2011 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa– $26
This white cuts a bold swath, delivering flavors of dried Jonagold apple, fig, creamed pear, hazelnut and persimmon. Creamy and lush, held together by a finely beaded spine of acidity, with strong minerality kicking in on the lengthy finish.

Leflaive_LesSetilles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4. 2010 Olivier Leflaive les Sétilles, Burgundy France- $15

Fine balance sets the stage for the apple, lemon and mineral flavors in this white. Stays focused, with the vibrant structure framing the finish.

This is not just any Bourgogne Blanc, this is Olivier Leflaive’s closely guarded secret blend. The resulting wine is the perfect progeny, melding seamlessly Meursault’s fleshy fruit, plump fresh nuts and creamy textures with the driving minerally energy and jasmine scent of Puligny.

Tasters said: “This is lean, acidic…I don’t smell much…I don’t like this one, it is probably French.” BINGO !

YellowTail#5. Yellow Tail Chardonnay- South Eastern Australia– $7
Rich tropical fruits with a creamy finish. This wine is soft yet fresh with balanced acidity and lingering melon flavors on the tongue.

Tasters said: “I really like this wine.” but others, “This is the only wine so far that I don’t like, actually I can’t drink it”. The most polarizing wine of the day and one that really shows the difference between personal preferences.

2006Latour_GrandCru

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6. 2006 Domaine Louis Latour Corton-Charlamagne Grand Cru, Burgundy, France. $150 retail.
Latour’s estate-bottled 2006 Corton Charlemagne displays lime peel, resin, and chalk dust in the nose; its sappy, pit- and citrus-fruit dominated palate resists the wine’s 100% new wood well; and it finishes invigoratingly with an extended reprise of citrus, resin, and chalk.

Tasters said: “This is probably an expensive wine. It definitely needs food.”

Try this yourself sometime and please share your favorite Chardonnays with me !!

In Pursuit of Balance Wines 2013

I virtually “attended” In Pursuit of Balance Wines which was held in San Francisco.
Basically this is a group of California winegrowers who aim to produce great wines (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir only, for now) in the vineyard and in the cellar by keeping all of the components of a wine (acidity, alcohol, fruit) in balance.

When a wine is in balance it pairs well with food and is very easy to drink.
If you had some bad experiences with poorly made California wine (too buttery, oaky, alcoholic fruit bomb) then you might consider trying some of the wines on this list.
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Pre-2000 Bordeaux Blind tasting

Bordeaux Pre-2000,
Blind Tasting Dinner

Restaurant 42, White Plains
December 17, 2012

Starter wines:

2011 Hamilton Russel Vineyards Chardonnay, South Africa.
Stony, Mineral, yet with full ripe citrus fruit

1991 Havens Chardonnay,
California (Magnum).

Deep golden color with no browning, good acid with flavors of caramel, almonds. An amazing non Reserve California Chardonnay, still drinking well, after 20+ years.

 

Flight 1

1982 Chateau-Lascombes, Margaux, France.
At first aromas of iron, earth but lacking in fruit continued to open and evolve with
very strong tobacco leaf with building fruit profile. Perfectly integrated tannins.
Drinking beautifully… probably the WINE OF THE NIGHT.

1983 Chateau Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, France.
Detected aromas of mint (eucalyptus?) or cedar also drinking very well. As it sat in glass it continued to change with flavors of grilled meat and tobacco.

1989 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, St. Julien, France.
Compared to first wines, very youthful and slightly tannic- will be a beautiful wine
(has PLENTY ) of life left.

Not sure the next wines can be any better… Continue reading

Silver Oak vertical tasting…Does vintage matter?

Silver Oak Napa Valley- 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004

The year, or vintage, listed on a the wine label is the year that the grapes were harvested. It is a snapshot of the entire year, in a bottle, (the weather in the region, the weather in the vineyard, and it’s effect on the fruit.)

In wine regions with cooler climates, like Germany or France, there is wider variation in the growing conditions so it is more difficult to consistently get fully ripe fruit. Experts say vintage is VERY important with these wines.

In hotter wine regions like California, the conditions are much more reliable and therefore the wines vary less from vintage to vintage. Let’s see if this is true.

The best way to taste the TRUE difference vintage makes, in a wine, is to drink them side by side, in a vertical tasting. Basically drinking many glasses of the same wine, from different vintages. I know…I know, it sounds like work, but someone has to do it.

I was invited to a vertical tasting, by friends from #Westchester Wine Meetup, of a classic California Cabernet, Silver Oak. My wife and I biked around Napa several years ago and tasted wines at Silver Oak so I know a little about them.

Silver Oak Vineyard- Napa

• They produce full bodied wine, yet they make it ready to drink upon release.

They use 100% American Oak, which gives the wine a spicy quality.

• Silver Oak Cabernet vines are HUGE and are actually a part of the Tolerant Taster web page header above.

• They started out making one wine that contained only 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Now they produce two wines:

1. Silver Oak Alexander Valley- still 100% Cab blended from several of their vineyards.

2. Silver Oak Napa Valley- a Bordeaux style Blend that is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (around 80%). See my tasting notes for actuals.

Now…can I tell the difference from one year to another…

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My Super Bowl picks (wine and recipes)

 

Ticket created at CupCake Cards

Looking forward to Superbowl XLV? I am.

Pittsburgh and Green Bay are “old school” football teams. This is the first title game with 2 teams more than 75 years old. Combined, these two teams account for 9 Super Bowl titles.

Football, at it’s best, is testosterone-fueled, hard hitting action. To compete with this level of intensity we need BIG, BOLD, teeth-staining wine.

Keep reading for a couple of my favorite “gridiron greats”- hearty recipes and wines for the big game.

ARE……YOU…..READY???!!!

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Gone to California-Part 1

I have to admit it, before my first trip to Napa & Sonoma, California wines were not my favorite. My experience with the whites (mostly Chardonnay) was that they were either too oaky, or too buttery. The reds (Cabernet and Cabernet blends) were too tannic and too high in alcohol.

That trip changed my thinking

It began when my wife surprised me with a special birthday present- a biking trip of Napa & Sonoma (Napa Valley Bike Tours).  It was a perfect way to experience the vineyards and the wines. Each day we would bike to several smaller, family owned or operated, vineyards. This gave us privileged access to tour and taste with the owners and/or the winemakers.

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