Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ruminating on the Rhone

Cooler temperatures lead to thoughts of the next rich, spicy red on the horizon. Look to the Rhone Valley of France. Here you'll find bargains and blockbusters. Northern Rhone reds are made entirely of Syrah. Southern Rhone reds are blends, usually including Grenache, Syrah, and possibly several other varieties such as Mourvèdre, Cinsault (san-so), Carignan and Counoise. The familiar designation Côtes-du-Rhone is a good one to look for. Even better are Côtes-du-Rhone Villages, which refer to about 95 sub-regions of the Southern Rhone and reflect more focused wine production. And better still, are the named villages. There are currently 18 of these and the one that has jumped to the head of the line for me is Cairanne.

A recent Rhone tasting featuring over a dozen wines included the captivating Coteaux des Travers Côtes-du-Rhone-Villages Cairanne 2007. The aromas jumped from the glass with intense raspberry and cherry pie filling. The tannins were present yet artfully cloaked by the flavors of strawberry, cinnamon and an intriguing smoky finish. I found myself thinking about this wine long after the day's end.
Today brought the much anticipated Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Maximilien Cairanne 2007. Domaine Les Grands Bois has several wines, including a powerhouse wine from Rasteau, another named village, and their Trois Soeurs, so named for the owners' 3 daughters. These are complex, well-crafted wines that reflect the owners passion and attention to detail. But I wanted to open their Cairanne and be just as captivated as I was by the Coteaux des Travers.

And I was. First there's an aromatic blast of fresh cinnamon stick. Morello cherry jam follows, and then gradually an undercurrent of smoky bacon. That last bit was surprising. Bacon fat is something I associate with Northern Rhone Syrah. And this wine has only a touch of Syrah, 5%. It's a little over half Grenache and about a third Mourvèdre plus only 5% Carignan. The flavors are leathery cassis and lavender, briars and dried cranberries. Robert Parker gives this wine a 93 and describes it as "...sauteed porcini mushrooms intermixed with notes of spring flowers and damp earth..." It's a stellar fall accompaniment to hearty soups, crumbly aged cheeses and crusty bread. Bring on the frost.
Cairanne is currently lobbying for inclusion as one of the Rhone Valley Crus, a more select designation than the Villages label. There are 8 in the Northern Rhone and 7 in the Southern. I wish them well and believe they deserve the elevation. And the Rhone wines are such great values that even if they achieve their goal, the wines will most likely still be very affordable.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why We Spit - Even When We Don't Want To

If you've ever attended one of those big wine tastings with dump buckets all over the place and people looking like they're standing over their bathroom sinks gargling, you will be able to appreciate the following; When you are tasting more than 4 wines you cannot drink it and not begin to act stupidly! They are called wine tastings for a reason. They are not wine drinkings. You do that afterwards at the nearest wine bar with your buddies. If you don't have a comfortable spit-zone then by all means, drink it! But do not feel compelled to drink all of it and please, please do not ask for more. This is just wine tasting etiquette folks. Having said that...

The photo with this blog is called "The Last of the Cos." There's another that goes with it called "When Spitting is just Wrong." We did a comparison study of important Bordeaux and their "second label" wine. For example, Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, a Second Growth or Deuxieme Cru Bordeaux has a less pricey second label wine called Clos du Marquis. The point was for our speaker to convince us that A: the current ranking of Bordeaux wines is bogus and B: that so-called "second labels" are no reflection of their ranked big-deal siblings. Point A remained under furious debate. Point B didn't work out quite the way he planned either. For the most part the second labels reflected the style and quality of the primary labels. And the star of the show was the 2006 Cos d'Estournel and it's little sibling 2006 Les Pagodes de Cos. These are from the St. Estephe region of Bordeaux, an area usually associated with dense, rustic, tannic Cabernet monsters. But even in spite of their extreme youth, both of these wines were elegant, rich, thoroughly sophisticated gems. Here are the truncated notes while tasting along at a furious clip:

Les Pagodes '06 - Med. ruby, aromas of sweet tea, violets, cherry, spice, flavors of dark chocolate, cassis, black cherries and tobacco. Pervasive tannins.

Cos -06 - Deep ruby, pronounced aromas of plum, cassis, chocolate, flavors of bitter chocolate, espresso, dark cherry, very tannic but with some air should be perfect.

And as I sat staring at that generous pour of Cos I was given...I just couldn't bring myself to pour it all out.

Friday, October 2, 2009

There's Pinot and then there's PINOT

Pinot Noir is possibly the most capricious of grapes. It's difficult to find a really good one at modest prices. And it's inconsistent. Vintage matters. It's a finicky grape. It's hard to grow, delicate, thin-skinned, prone to rot, really something of a drama queen. Oregon and Burgundy (Bourgogne, France) have absolutely aced Pinot. And be prepared to pay for it. California is covering all the bases with affordable, quaffable stuff like Poppy Pinot and ramping it up with silky, rich examples that can damage your wallet.
Tonight's treat is Red Car Trolley from the Sonoma Coast. Have you ever smelled a clove cigarette? That's Red Car. Clove cigarettes and your mama's cherry pie. The tannins are perfectly balanced with the fruit. It is worth lingering. And their website is fun to view. These people are dedicated to pure, balanced Pinot without fining or filtering. Just the grape as Mother Nature intended it to be. Having said that, their production is not huge so don't go to your local vendor and expect to find it. This is when you need to develop a relationship with your local wine store and let them know what you like. I only managed to get my hands on one bottle. If you're in with the in crowd you've got a better chance of getting your hands on the good stuff.