Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bloggergate, and what are reviews for, anyway?

We just learned of a minor hullabaloo regarding publicity for Rodney Strong's new high-end wine, Rockaway. It appears that Rodney Strong sent samples of the wine to bloggers--no, we were not among them--many of whom went on to trumpet the wine's praises in their blogs. A further, irrelevant dimension of the "scandal" is that many in the blogosphere wrote very similar reviews of the wine, probably parroting the promotional material accompanying the bottle.

Rockaway is expected to retail for about $75. As far as we can tell, Rodney Strong is attempting to create a "cult" or at least "cultish" wine through the not exactly proven techniques of generating buzz and implying scarcity.

We here at WftP do not concern ourselves with such wines. (NB: WE ARE VERY HAPPY TO RECEIVE SAMPLES.) (NB2: we have yet to receive any samples.) But why does anyone? We know full well that many very expensive wines that are not worth the glass they are bottled in. Let alone the price of the blemish-free, 2-inch cork they are invariably stoppered with. And some of course are heavenly. But really, if some vaguely anonymous souls on the web advised that the $150 bottle of Chateau X was a great wine, would you care? Wouldn't you assume that the wine would be special to someone, even if you did not know whether you shared their taste? And unless you know your blogger very well, how do you know you share their taste?

Description, we imagine. And we suppose that descriptions that impart information beyond "gobs of fruit, TNT-levels of glycerin, and soft, supple tannins with a finish that lasts into the 23rd century" are why faithful readers are such. But still.

How often do you, our faithful readers, spend that kind of money on wine? And whose advice, if anyone's do you seek out before you shell out?

We stand by our opinion that helping you find the pearl in a sea of low-priced plonk is a more valuable service, but we ask these questions in earnest. If you advise that you would like our opinions on more high-falutin' bottles, we will do our best to provide them. Of course, it will help if the samples start coming our way.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quickie bubbles--Cremant D'Alsace Rose

We had this fabulous wine at Ubuntu in Napa. It was the perfect start to an outrageously good meal. About $46 on the Ubuntu list, this wine can be found for about $18 in stores, including the ever-popular San Francisco Wine Trading Company.

The Allimant-Laugner Cremant D'Alsace Rose Brut NV was everything we hoped for: acidity in balance, bone dry, delightful pale pink color, restrained strawberry fruit with a pleasing toasty yeastiness. Perfect with all our appetizers, especially the lavender-duster Marcona almonds, it also was delicious with our main courses. And by the way, the watermelon-coconut soup was to die for. Cheers!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another quickie--Contra Costa Mourvedre

We got this wine in a mixed case when Diageo took over Rosenblum (pause for reflection). A brief websearch does not reveal its real cost, but in the mixed case it was about $15. Because Rhone wines are so ungodly cheap compared to wines from anywhere else in France, an American wine has to be pretty darn special to merit a nod from us. Why spend more money for an imitation Rhone when you can get the real deal for less? Well, actually there are a few answers to that question, which you will find in subsequent posts. For now, suffice it to say that this wine is a bargain even when a decent Cotes-du-Rhone is still available for $12 or less, and that is because of the singular nature of Mourvedre.

Mourvedre, like so many Rhone varieties, hails from Spain, where it is known as Monastrell, among other names, and is most widely available in the US from the region of Jumilla. Wrongo Dongo is exactly the wrong choice for someone curious about this grape. In France it is best known as a blender in the southern Rhone, but it shines on its own or as the dominant grape in wines from Bandol. In both Spain and France Mourvedre is known for its gaminess. THIS IS NOT BRETTANOMYCES, although that may certainly be present as well.

This wine is without question a clean, new-world version of Mourvedre. But it remains varietally true so if you have any curiosity about the grape, or if you already know European Mourvedre but want to know what's happening in the US with it, this is a great wine to check out. It's a little bit on the simple side, and the vanilla from new oak is both overwhelming and surprising in what we assume is an inexpensive wine, but it is nonetheless a true Mourvedre, and mighty tasty for it, too.

A short note! White bordeaux

Here's a respite from our multipage rants:

2007 Chateau Lamothe de Haux
Grand Vin de Bordeaux

New world-inflected nose with gooseberry and cat pee. The mouth is less intense and concentrated than the nose would leave you to believe, but it is full with a nice weight. The finish isn't too long, but isn't abrupt either. We laugh at those who declare that wines taste minerally -- who except our dog eats rocks?--but we are willing to call this wine pebbly without actually tasting the pebbles to see what they taste like. Keeps a long, languorous, relaxing Sunday spinning on forever, and goes well with Kettle chips after a nap. This white Bordeaux offers much more complexity than you have a right to expect with an $8 wine. Why didn't we buy more while we could? (Note: the San Francisco Wine Trading Company claims to charge $13 for this wine, but we swear we pulled it out of a $7.99 discount bin. Even at $13 the wine is pretty darn good.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bubbles, Bubbles, Random Bubbles

A recent tasting exposed us to 12 sparkling wines. Only one was cheap, but none were any more than $40 (maybe). Not bad for actual Champagne given the state of the Euro. So how were they?

The 12 wines represented a wide range of styles, regions and countries of origin. We tasted blind, but we weren't looking for Champagne, or Cava, or California; we were looking for wines that we liked.

To spare you the verbiage below, our recommendations are as follows:
Look for Roederer Estate Brut NV ($18) and Domaine de Margalleau 2005 Vouvray ($18). The splurge for the Veuve a Devaux Cuvee D ($43) could be well worth it, depending on your taste, while the $10 Cava from Codorniu would serve fine, especially absent other competition. There's one more recommendation, but you'll have to read for it (hint: last wine of flight 2). Not bad, recommending 5 wines out of 12.

Flight 1
The first wine, a Californian from Domaine Carneros (2004 Brut, $20) had all the right flavors, but some of the wrong ones, too. The requisite yeastiness came across as a bit funky. And the bubbles were so vigorous as to be almost frightening. This has long been the house sparkler for many in attendance, and while they continue to enjoy the wine, none of them recognized it.

The next wine was a Non-Vintage (NV) Grand Cru Champagne from Louis de Sacy ($26.)
---Begin Champagne Primer---
Just so we are all on the same page. Here's a rundown of the terms on a Champagne bottle. At least the ones that are relevant here.

NV, or Non-Vintage, indicates that the wine is a blend of multiple vintages. Such blending allows Champagne houses to produce a consistent product at each release, regardless of the conditions in the most immediate vintage. Most sparkling wines throughout the world are non-vintage for the sake of consistency, if nothing else.

Brut, Sec, Demi-Sec, etc., all refer to sweetness, which is determined by the amount of sugar added in the dosage prior to the final corking. All are underestimates. To wit, Brut contains an amount of sugar (at least 7 grams per liter) that would be quite noticeably sweet in any other wine. Sec, or "dry," does taste sweet, and Demi-Sec is usually paired with desserts. The sugar is added because the Champagne climate is marginal, and grapes hardly ripen, so they come in with a lot of acid. The sugar balances the acid, making the wine palatable, or such is the general wisdom. Lately we have seen bottles labeled Brut Sauvage, Brut Extreme, Brut Natural, etc., all of which indicate that no sugar was added. We are intrigued, but have yet to try such a wine.

Aside. The question of why California grapes destined for sparkling wine are intentionally picked underripe, and then given added sugar at dosage in mimicry of the French model, rather than allowed to ripen naturally and not given sugar at dosage, is a good one. Alert us to your interest and we will endeavor to determine the answer, if any exist aside from the mad desire to emulate the French in anything vinous, no matter one's climate. End aside.

Blanc de X, indicates the grapes the wine was made from. In Champagne the only legal grapes are Pinots Noir and Meunier, and Chardonnay. Most of the rest of the sparkling wine world similarly restricts itself, but not all, as you shall see below. In Champagne, a Blanc de Blancs is produced only from Chardonnay, and a Blanc de Noirs only from the Pinots (and usually, or so it seems, only from Pinot Noir).

Premier or Grand Cru. The Champagne vineyard is classified--this is France after all. A wine made only from Premier Cru sites or higher can call itself Premier Cru; a wine from Grand Cru sites Grand Cru. The sites can be from all over the Champagne region, so this is supposed to be more an indication of quality than of terroir.

Everything else on a Champagne label should be straightforward, but feel free to point out anything I overlooked. End of the Champagne label primer.
----End Champagne primer; return to regularly scheduled post--

So, we were talking about wine 2 (of 12! Will this post ever end?), the Louis de Sacy Grand NV Brut Grand Cru ($26). Well, after all that, there is not much to say. The nose had some biologically-derived off odors, and otherwise smelled of straw and ethyl acetate (nail polish remover). With hints of citrus and peach. Yum! There may be a reason this is so well-priced a Grand Cru Champagne.

Wine 3 surprised the group. It was French, but not Champagne. The wine was a Domaine de Margalleau 2005 Vouvray ($18). Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, the wine has none of the grapes (legally) included in Champagne, and yet no one picked it out as unusual. All the hallmarks of great sparkling wine were here. It was rich and creamy, with a distinct aroma of roasted hazelnuts. Yum. Our fave of the first flight. Given that our inexpensive bubbling standbys of old have crept up so much in price, and in some sad cases (did someone say Chandon?) sunk so low in quality, this is definitely one to look for when you look for bubbles. Highly recommended.

Wine 4 happened to be another of the groups' house wines, and again it was not recognized. The Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV Champagne($33) came across as slightly oxidized. The palate was lively and dynamic, both in terms of fruit flavor and bubble action, but the notes of oxidation (stale pear or apple) were too pronounced to ignore.

Next came a Cava, the only one of the night. Spanish Cava has long been a great alternative to pricier Champagne, but this wine, the Codorniu Brut "Original" ($10) was our least favorite of the flight. Which does not mean it was bad, just that the $8 separating it from the Vouvray would be well spent. The wine was faulted for a distinct rubber aroma.

The last wine of flight 1 was also, perhaps, the fanciest: Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut NV ($33). The Grand has no legal meaning, as far as we know. This wine added nuance to the rubber note of the Cava in the form of staling milk. Mm.

Flight 1 recap: 6 wines, ranging from $10 to $33. 3 Champagnes, 1 Vouvray, 1 Californian and 1 Spanish. The Vouvray at $18 took top honors; all of the Champagnes were described as funky in some way.

Flight 2
We are embarrassed to admit we did not recognize this first wine, our own house sparkler. It was our favorite of this flight, and of the night: Roederer Estate Brut NV (California, $18). A perfect balance of yeastiness, acidity and creaminess, and lacking any hint of a defect. The wine is just delicious. How RE continues to produce such great wine as their production soars is one of the mysteries of the ages, and we are quite happy not to look behind the curtain.

The second wine allowed us to revisit the first flight. Yes, sadly, the GH Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge (Champagne, $30) smacked of rubber, however slightly, although it was otherwise tasty.

Wine 3 was another Champagne: Deutz Brut Classic ($32). Lovely color and bubbles, tasty yeasty flavors, but a bit too far into the dairy to be perfect.

Wine 4 was a puzzler. While other wines had tasted oxidized but not old, the Veuve a Devaux Champagne NV "D de Devaux" ($43 was the lowest price we found, though in theory all the wines cost less than $40) tasted generally old, in a good way for those who like older wines. With NV one can (almost) never tell how long a wine has been sitting on a shelf. It may also be that this wine has a higher percentage of older vintages in the mix than is typical for NV bubbles. Or perhaps we imagined things. In any event, those who like a little age on their bubbles may find a good shortcut in this wine. It was exquisite and delicate, rich from age (or so it seemed) and serious, while stunning.

Next up was a ringer. Two of the most celebrated Champagnes (Salon, Krug--no, we have never had either) are produced from the Le Mesnil vineyard on the Cote des Blancs. This wine, produced from the same vineyard by the Rare Wine Company (Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Le Mesnil, $35) was sure to astound. The Rare Wine Co. is best known for reproducing the signature Madeira formulas made popular in various US cities in the late 1700s. This wine was tasty, but not the show-stopper we had expected. Lovely toasted nut character mixed with whiffs of ethyl acetate. Hm.

We ended the tasting with a treat. The Renardat-Fache Vin de Bugey-Cerdon Rose Demi-Sec (Jura, $20) is remarkable. The wine weighs in at a mere 7.5% alcohol, and it is sweet without being cloying. A curious blend of Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais) and Poulsard (a grape rarely seen outside the Jura), the wine smelled so strongly of strawberry we thought it might be a Freisa, from Italy's Piedmont. Nope. The wine was hardly "serious", and at the price we would prefer a little more stuffing. Or perhaps we should say that we loved the wine but thought it should be closer to $10. We are not sure more stuffing would suit it. This is not the wine for everyone or for every sparkling occasion, but it is an exciting find and one sure to throw everyone for a loop, if that turns you on.

Flight 2 recap: 6 wines, ranging from $18 to $43(?). 4 Champagnes, 1 Jura, and 1 Californian. The Roederer at $18 deserves to be everyone's house bubbles. The Veuve Devaux had an intriguing character of an older wine, and the Bugey-Cerdon was an off-the wall treat.

Despite the weak dollar there are tasty bubbles to be found from everywhere. The most delight seems to be found farther from the tried-and-true houses (Mumm, Perrier-Jouet, Nicolas Feuillatte), although California's Roederer Estate may give lie to this claim.
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