2000 Sella&Mosca Marchese-Di-Villamarina Cabernet Sauvignon

     Not all wine can age forever.  Most white wines should be enjoyed when they are young and fresh, or within about four years maximum.  They lack the tannic structure for long cellar aging, though there are exceptions, especially with high acid whites.  Red wines generally can age better, some up to twenty or more years.  Robust tannins and structure make this possible, but think of some delicate red varietals like Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, and their aging range isn’t as long as some wines from Bordeaux or hearty, acidic Italian wines.  Most wines will lose their vibrant fruit and seem a little lackluster in the mouth when the expiration date has been reached.  I had a feeling this Sardinian Cabernet might be reaching the end of its bottle time.  What better time to open a bottle of exotic Italian wine than before a trip to the country of origin?!

I was a little concerned about the sediment in a twelve-year old bottle of wine, but more wary of the decanting process destroying the fruit profile and flavor.  The sommelier gently decanted the wine for us, and the first sip assured me that the wine’s fruit and integrity had definitely remained intact.  And there was little sediment left in the bottle.  When I bought this wine several years ago it was so striking in its originality.  I had never experienced a Cabernet like this: bucket loads of black olives, wild Mediterranean herbs, black tar, and hints of sea air salinity.  Now, some years later, still lots of black, inky fruit, but less black olive and more black cherry and currants.

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petite sirah

2006 Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers”
Petite Sirah

I spent the last several weeks preparing myself for the next version of my life.  This meant moving and storing my life’s possessions, giving away those objects that are no longer beautiful and functional, recycling, downsizing and and throwing that excess weight of material things away.  Today I am spending my afternoon in the sunny streets of Bozeman, Montana.  I drove over yesterday after my last round of errands.  I was feeling a little bleak after a late night out, and needed to rebalance myself with lots of coconut water, tea and kombucha.  I also ran into several lovely friends that I needed to spend time with.  Slowing down after my frantic move was just what I needed.  Having tea with Chelci and a big salad with Marion was the kind of medicine I craved, especially with the run-down sensation that verges on almost-getting sick.  I had that thick feeling in my throat as if I had been smoking cigarettes and sipping whiskey. (Which I haven’t been.)  That feeling is gone today, but I am still dosing with herbal tinctures and pro-biotics.   The last thing I want to happen before I leave the country is to get sick! Part of my hydration process was also to prepare for some serious wine sharing upon my arrival in Bozeman.  I had several bottles of wine in my collection that are nearing the expiration dates for maximum enjoyment.   My hosts Mr. and Mrs. Courtney and Heidi Bowman had been hitting the wine pretty hard in the days before I got there, so the mellow feeling and the need to relax was mutual Continue reading

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L’Ecole No. 41: 2007 Apogee

Apogee and perigee are two $5 words that could serve you well in the future.  Both carry astronomical connotations referring to a satellite’s orbit, usually the moon’s, in relation to the distance from the earth’s center.  Apogee is the furthest point that the moon extends, while perigee marks the moon’s closest, most intimate gravitational pull towards the earth.  The metaphors here are endless.  (I love these words!  Assignment:  use these words in your next poem.  Consider distance, perspective, the furthest you are from me now, lover.)

The 2007 Apogee from L’Ecole No. 41 “reflects all that we were trying to accomplish with the wine, reaching the ultimate in quality.”  Sourced  from lots grown at the Pepperbridge Vineyard with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot,  4% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec, this wine exudes ripe black and blueberries, then dried cherries covered in chocolate and kept in a leather box.  Lots of chalky earth complement the dark fruits, and echo the glacier sediments and geological riches known in this valley giving these wines some of the most interesting mineral-driven New World terroir I’ve tasted.  Dusty cocoa, espresso and baking spices warm up the wine just right with some presence of oak.  Continue reading

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L’Ecole No. 41: 2009 Estate Perigee

From the Old World to the New!  The heart of the rolling Palouse hills of south-central Washington, home to Walla Walla and the Columbia River Valley, has in the past two decades or so become a venerable wine destination.  Driving over Idaho into the fertile pastures of Washington all you see for miles and miles are dry-farmed wheat operations.  Only in the valley floor do vineyards start skirting the field fringes with lavender shrubs, sweet onions,  and wheat producers.  Water is scarce, politics are interesting, and the landscape isn’t exactly the Mediterranean pastoral or even the Napa Valley vision of wine country, but it is here, that some really great wines are being made.

   This particular vintage is sourced from grapes grown in the Seven Hills Vineyard–one of the oldest and best in the valley.  Since 1993, L’Ecole No. 41 has managed its blocks for this particular release.  A true Bordeaux-style wine with all five red varietals reperesented:  64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, 4% Malbec, and 4% Petite Verdot.  Continue reading

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Bordeaux: 2002 Chateau d’Almailhac

The third in our BYOBordeaux line-up this past week was this Pauillac stunner.  I always remember Pauillac rhymes with Cadillac, which denotes its high end wines–three of the five first-growths come from this Medoc appellation.  Actually Chateau d’Almailhac  is called a “lieutenant” wine of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild, the first-growth added to the list of five in 1973.  Baron Philippe Rothschild company and family has a huge presence in Bordeaux, buying this Chateau, a fifth growth in 1933.  It is located next to Ch. Mouton Rothschild.  I don’t know what the price point is for this bottle of wine, but if you can try a fifth-growth like this, cultivated and produced in much the same way as a first-growth from adjoining properties, then go for it!  First-growth wines are expensive.  Really expensive.  Investors wager on their futures.

This tasting really presented lots of variation in flavor profiles, expressions of terroir and vintage variability.  The 2002 Chateau d’Armailhac was the hefty, masculine wine of the evening.  It was like Gerard Depardieu came through the door with wet leather boots smoking a clove cigarette.  Loads of dark brooding fruit–cherry, currants, cassis–mingle with smoky earth and herbaceous textures like mint and menthol.  In the complexity, there is also a hint of what I call “band-aid” bouquet.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, I kind of like that essence of organic shift that reminds me of barnyard floor and animal.  (I did grow up on a cattle ranch.  Smell is the strongest invoker of memories.)  Continue reading

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Bordeaux: 2005 Chateau Reignac

This is the bottle of wine that brought friends together.  I was waiting tables one night and my regular customers, Kyle and Erica, came in for dinner.  They ordered wine, something French, and they pointed in the general direction on the page to make me think they wanted the 2005 Chateau Reignac.   Now we don’t even remember what bottle they really wanted, but they drank the Reignac with gusto.  When I brought them the bill, though, something was amiss.  They had ordered a different bottle, about half the price of the Reignac which was about $60 on our list.   My mistake.  Always, always double check the wine order!  But it all worked out–Kyle went the next day and ordered a case of this vintage on wineconnection.com–they loved the wine that much!

This fall when I was studying for my sommelier exam I would watch youtube videos about decanting or wine service to give me a break from memorizing the twelve appellations of Beaujolais, or the Third Growths of Bordeaux.  I came across this blind tasting video uploaded in 2009 featuring the best of Bordeaux.  How revealing the blind tastes can be when you don’t have a dollar sign prancing about announcing how special it must be to drink this bottle.  I suggest watching the video: 

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Bordeaux: 2009 Chateau Plince (Pomerol)

After nearly four weeks without drinking wine, I am sorry to admit that yesterday I was so hungover for most the day that I couldn’t write about Wine Club.  On Monday night we had BYOBordeaux, which showcased an amazing range of Bordeaux wines and New World interpretations on the Old World French blends.  An ample food spread, great friends, vintages and distinctive regions made for a great night, and a bad next morning.  Such is the way of wine.

Bordeaux is a large wine producing region near the Atlantic coast of France, that produces some of the world’s best wine.  The region is a geography lover’s paradise–wines are noted by appellation, and the blends and percentages vary between properties and producers.  You will be hard pressed to find out the exact percentages of grape varietals, very few producers list them on the bottle.  New World wine makers are more revealing, and will usually say on the label how much of each grape are contained within.  The ranking classification system of Bordeaux differs from Burgundy wine laws, too, but let’s not get lost in the confusion of France’s AOC restrictions.  Those five cru rankings took place in 1855–a bit archaic at this point?   And for this region and wine, Pomerol was never ranked at all.  (I just packed away my copy of the Wine Bible by Karen McNeil.  If you want more information and a great reference, buy yourself a copy.  This will help answer those pesky questions about Bordeaux wine classifications.)

The best and simplest way for me to distinguish Bordeaux wines is like this:  Red Bordeaux is usually a blend of five grapes:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  White Bordeaux is blended Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  Continue reading

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2009 Cantina Zaccagnini il vino “del tralcetto” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Don’t confuse this grape with the village of Montepulciano where the high-end sangiovese clone, brunello, thrives.  Here the region is Abruzzi on the Adriatic  coast, and the grape itself is called montepulciano.    Conditions in Abruzzi are favorable for wine growing, and the region proves there is potential in innovation and investments, but the area is rural and definitely less economically inclined than regions just north of it.  The wine focus has been more on quantity not quality.  Let’s hope that changes.  The regional cuisine is vivid and interesting enough that needs a good wine pairing to go with it.   The montepulciano d’Abruzzo red wine stands out in the region as a great value and delicious decision.   The Cantina Zaccagnini il vino “del tralcetto” comes off at first as robust and a little rustic, but surprises with its generous fruit and tannic structure, giving the wine body and presence.  Elegant, also,  in the way of subdued fruit and easy acidity that make for a velvety texture without a sharp edge.  Medium-bodied and dark garnet, this wine has loads of black fruit–berries and cherry that come off a whiff of smokiness.  Continue reading

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2008 Primitivo dei Feudi di San Gregorio

We’re still in the heel of Italy in Puglia, this time in the Fragagnano section of the commune of Manduria.  Usually Feudi di San Gregorio is associated with their innovation and advancement in the Campania region of Italy, not far from Puglia.  They are taking the region’s potential to new heights.  Check out any of their wines and you will not be disappointed.

This is 100% Primitivo.  Through DNA testing, Primitivo has been traced back to Croatia as its indigenous home.  And you may recognize Primitivo by another, more New World moniker:  zinfandel.  Actually zinfandel arrived first in California in the 1800s before it was brought to Italy.  (MacNeil)

In the Feudi di San Gregorio version, the wine explodes with fruity complexity.  Lots of layers, mostly bright red and black fruit that include tart cherry, currants, fig, even a hint of prune.   More fruit forward than some other Old World styles, this wine has lively acidity to keep things fresh.  You may call this wine “bright.”  Obvious fruit and acidity create great zip in the mouth, great for pairing with real hearty fare like meat and rich risotto.   Tannins are light leaving a silky lingering finish with hits of mocha and clove.   Try this at your next dinner party next to a California Zinfandel and see how the grape expresses itself from different soils.  Some suggestions:  Dashe Dry Creek, Robert Craig, Biale Black Chicken.  One of my favorites is the Green and Red Zinfandel from the Chiles Canyon vineyard.

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Masseria Li Veli Passamante 2010 Salice Salentino DOC

In graduate school in Mississippi a lot of preoccupation centered around “southern” studies, and by extension, the meaning of the “global” south.  How interesting that across the globe you can see the split between wealthy, industrialized northern provinces and the poor, oppressed southern regions.  This happens, too, in Italy.  Without going into politics, you can see (or taste) the changes simply in wine production and style.  A lot of southern Italy wineries still struggle with antique equipment, outdated technology and lack financial resources to make better wine investments.  Their wines have a rustic flair, abrupt tannic edges and a certain comforting quality, which, for me, has something to do with its subtle barnyard nuance.  It calls me back home, to the memories of cattle and sheep.  But moreover, once these wines open up and breathe, they seem to sing.

I really like wines like this.  Big, rustic country cousins compared to the cosmopolitan Barolos of Piedmont, or the time-consuming processes of drying the recioto style wines of the Veneto, these wines have a charm of their own.   I think for me and my romantic tendencies, I prefer the desolate, scrubby landscape of southern Italy.  The widows in black, the silence at mid-day.  I imagine herds of sheep and wild caches of honey high in the rocky hills where you can look and still see the ocean.

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