Browsing the archives for the Varietal Voyage category

Varietal Voyage No.22 – 2006 Rosenblum Cellars Pickett Road Petite Sirah

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Varietal Voyage

VV22 marks the final leg of the Varietal Voyage where Sue and I will explore the last grape variety on our tick-list…petite sirah!

Petite sirah is often mistaken for other varieties and has a rich and interesting history.  Petite sirah is actually a synonym for a variety called Durif, a cross between peloursin and syrah, discovered by a French botantist, Francois Durif, in 1880.  The word ‘petite‘ comes from the fact that the berries are very small giving a higher ratio of grape skins to juice.  The result is anything but petite, yielding powerful, inky wines with an aggressive tannic structure.

The 2006 Pickett Road Petite Sirah is the second wine from Rosenblum Cellars we have tasted on this journey.  The first was the 2008 vintage of Kathy’s Cuvée (viognier) tasted for VV10.  The Pickett Road Petite Sirah is one of Rosenblum’s seventeen “Vineyard Designates”, wines produced from distinct vineyards intended to showcase the uniqueness of their terroir.  As the name suggests, the fruit for this wine comes from the Kenefick Ranch, just off Pickett Road, near Calistoga. Of the 125 acres at the Kenefick Ranch, a little over 10 precious hillside acres are planted with petite sirah specifically for Rosenblum Cellars.  Sheltered by the Palisades at the northern tip of Napa Valley, this vineyard’s warm weather and rocky, volcanic soils are well-suited for petite sirah.

This is probably the second or third petite sirah that I have tasted in my lifetime, but this is the first that I have given any real attention.  Knowing from past experience that these wines are quite tannic, I opened the bottle several hours ahead of time to help soften it a bit (decanting wouldn’t hurt either).  This vintage has an extremely dark, almost opaque ruby hue with intense dark berries aromas and layers of musky spice.  The full-bodied flavors are chewy and echo the aromas with the addition of some dark cherry and vanilla.  But this wine isn’t just about the fruit.  There is plenty of acid to stand up to the ripe fruit and the round tannins build up as it fades off into a soft chocolaty finish.  Over the course of the evening, the tannins continued to soften, allowing more of the peppery spice to show through.

Just a few words of warning. If you are on a first date, do not order this wine unless you think your significant other can deal with stained lips, teeth, and tongue!  Fortunately Sue and I have been married long enough that something like purple teeth only elicits the occasional awkward snicker!

2006 Rosenblum Cellars Pickett Road Petite Sirah ($30)

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Varietal Voyage No.21 – 2007 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage

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The final syrah on the journey takes us back to France and the northern valleys of the Côtes du Rhône.

Crozes-Hermitage is the northern Rhône’s largest appellation covering almost 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of rolling hillsides surrounding Hermitage. The names may be similar, but Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage produce very different wines.  Hermitage produces some of the most sought after wines in the world, often long-lived, very tannic, and worthy of cellaring. On the other hand, the producers in Crozes-Hermitage create wines that are known for their consistent quality and approachability and intended to be consumed early.  The proximity to the Rhône River has given this region a wide range of soil types (loess, clay, alluvial sands and gravel) which vary dramatically depending if you are in the valley or on the hillsides.

For generations the Pochon family has farmed vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage, selling grapes to the local cooperative in Tain l’Hermitage.  In 1988 that all changed when Etienne Pochon began managing the domaine and started producing wine with the family’s own fruit.  Domaine Pochon produces wines that are painstakingly crafted, reflecting the terroir of Crozes-Hermitage. Unlike many producers in the region that focus on quantity over quality, Domaine Pochon creates separate wines from the best hillside plots and carefully blends them together to create this juicy and earthy syrah.

The first things we noticed about this wine were the heady aromas of blackcurrants, cherries and faint hints of earthy tobacco.  Its youthful ruby color carries prominent black and red fruit flavors with some prickly spice and the classic gamey or meaty signature of syrah.  Full-bodied and silky on the palate, it has young, aggressive tannins that build up through the lingering finish.  If you have a decanter (even a water pitcher will do), make sure to use it.  This wine will benefit from some exposure to oxygen to soften its tannic aspects.

2007 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage ($22)

  • 100% syrah
  • Crozes-Hermitage, Côtes du Rhône, France

Stay tuned for the final variety on the voyage…petite sirah!

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Varietal Voyage No.20 – 2007 d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viogner

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Our second syrah is an Australian shiraz.  Yes, syrah and shiraz are the the same grape.  Even though there are many theories, nobody really knows where the name shiraz (rhymes with pizazz) came from.  So, in the Aussie spirit (and for the sake of simplicity) we’ll stick with shiraz for this post!  When in Rome…

d’Arenberg has made wine in Australia for almost one hundred years.  The winery was founded by Joseph Osborn in 1912, but the d’Arenberg name didn’t come about until Francis d’Arenberg Osborn created his own label in 1959 to honor his mother, Frances Helena d’Arenberg.  Now, in the fourth generation of family ownership, they are guided by Francis’ son, Chester d’Arenberg Osborn as chief winemaker and viticulturist.

The 2007 Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viognier ($20) comes from d’Arenberg’s Osborn Estate in the heart of South Australia’s McLaren Vale.  Brought to Australia in the 1830′s it has become the most popular grape down under.  McLaren Vale has a warm, Mediterranean climate, perfect conditions for heat-loving shiraz.  The soils in this area are a mixed bag of terra rosa, chalk, with sandy or clay loam depending where you are in the valley. Viognier, a white grape that also thrives in this climate, is a variety that has made its way from the Rhône valley and is growing in popularity around the world.  Viognier, with its peachy tropical fruit aromas,  is often added to the wine to boost the aromatics of the shiraz/syrah.

In the glass this young shiraz has a lovely ruby color with intense aromas of stone fruits, blackberries and black cherries.  After a short time, tobacco and cedary cigar box aromas unveiled themselves.  Spicy, dark cherry flavors and subtle amounts of blueberries and plums are balanced with mouthwatering acidity.  This medium-bodied shiraz has a soft, tannic edge that finishes off quickly and cleanly so it won’t overpower your palate.  We paired this with a hearty pizza and the Italian spices really helped accentuate the soft tannins in the wine.  I can see this going really well with a grilled burger or steak.

2007 d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viogner ($20)

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Varietal Voyage No.19 – 2005 J.L. Giguiere Matchbook Syrah

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The first syrah and the nineteenth wine on the Varietal Voyage is the 2005 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Syrah ($19) made by John Giguiere and the crew at CREW Wines.

You might not recognize the Giguiere name but you’ll probably recognize many of the wines this family has made.  Before starting the CREW Wine Company in 2004, John Giguiere, his wife Lane, and brother Karl owned and operated the R.H. Phillips Winery (sold in 2000 and closed it’s doors last year) and produced well-known brands like Toasted Head and EXP.  With the addition of Dan Cederquist as partner and winemaker, CREW Wine Company produces several brands including: Chasing Venus, Mossback, Sawbuck, and of course, Matchbook.  From New Zealand to California, each brand focuses on the best wines that each region has to offer.

The Matchbook vineyard was planted in 2002 in the Dunnigan Hills region of northwest Yolo County.  Located about 35 miles northeast of Napa County in the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains, this area encompasses about 90,000 acres and is warmer and dryer than most grape growing regions. Fertile alluvial soils combined with well-managed pruning and irrigation help make this a suitable region for syrah.  Unlike R.H. Phillips which produced upwards of 750,000 cases per vintage, John and Dan are focused on reducing yields and increasing the overall quality of their wines.  As an example, the Matchbook vineyard yielded a little over 4,700 cases of syrah in 2005.  The Matchbook vineyard is young and still maturing, so it will be interesting to see how the fruit and wines develop with future vintages.

This was a very enjoyable wine and at $19 you can’t go wrong.  The Matchbook Syrah has a pleasant medium body with intense aromas of spicy ripe blackberries with maybe just a little vanilla and tobacco mixed in for good measure.  Normally syrah is a little on the tannic side and requires some aging, but the addition of some cabernet sauvignon (11%) adds some complexity and helps soften the wine making it quite delicious and approachable now.

2005 J.L. Giguiere Matchbook Syrah ($19)

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Varietal Voyage No.18 – 2007 Terra Andina Merlot

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Wow!  It’s been a long time since I posted something new on the Varietal Voyage.  Things have been crazy at home and work making it difficult to find time to write.  Rest assured, we are back on our journey.

The last wine we tasted on the Varietal Voyage was Château Grand Destieu, a merlot from St. Emilion.  This week’s wine is the last merlot on our list: Terra Andina’s  2007 Merlot.

Terra Andina, a subsidiary of the Claro Group, is one of Chile’s largest wine producers making a wide variety of wines from vineyards across Chile’s diverse geography and climates.  Chief winemaker, Oscar Salas, took the reigns from his mentor Stefano Gandolini in 2008.  Trained in California and in some of Chile’s most famous wineries, Oscar is well versed in New World winemaking techniques and technologies. But his approach to winemaking is decidedly Old World with a focus on balance and finesse allowing natural flavors and aromas to shine through.

The 2007 Merlot is from Terra Andina’s Varietals collection, an affordable line of wines highlighting the character and expression of not only merlot, but other international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, carmenère, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

On the label you’ll notice the Denominación de Origen, or DO on the label says that this wine comes from Chile’s Central Valley, a large region containing the sub-regions of the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, and Maule Valleys (Terra Andina has a handy map identifying these regions as well as many others).  This label means that the grapes in this wine can come from anywhere within the Central Valley.  This allows the winemakers to chose the best fruit from a wide selection of terroirs, which is fairly common with affordable wines like this one.   Normally this is done to keeps costs down, but it also helps the winemaker to keep a consistent flavor profile from vintage to vintage.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because this wine is affordable ($9) that it is somehow less than delicious.  Chile is known for making quality wines at very low prices and 2007 Merlot is no exception.  It’s dark ruby color is deep and rich.  Fragrant aromas of ripe blackberries and plums are enhanced by peppery spice.  The medium-bodies flavors of blackcurrant and cocoa are bold and straightforward with faint hints of creamy vanilla lurking in the background.  The finish is somewhat short and clean but pleasing nonetheless.

2007 Terra Andina Merlot ($9)

  • Approx. 85% merlot, 15% mystery grape (my guess is cabernet sauvignon or possibly carménère)
  • Central Valley, Chile
  • Producer’s Fact Sheet

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Varietal Voyage No.17 – 2005 Chateau Grand Destieu

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The second merlot (in this case a merlot blend) on our journey comes from Saint Émilion on Bordeaux’s “right bank.” Château Grand Destieu is made by Jonathan Maltus, who also owns Château Teyssier, another highly regarded estate in Saint Emilion.  Maltus also has wineries and vineyards in Australia (Colonial Estate, Barossa Valley) and the U.S. (World’s End, Napa Valley) making a number of other top-rated wines.

This is the first time we have ventured into this part of France.  Saint Émilion, north of the Dordogne River, is roughly twenty-five miles (as the crow flies) from the city of Bordeaux.  Château Grand Destieu was established near the town of Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens over a century ago.  Jonathan Maltus acquired the property shortly after he took over the aging Château Teyssier in 1993.  This part of Saint Émilion is known for its gravelly, iron-rich soils known as crasse de fer.  The unique terroir and Maltus’ unique methods in the vineyards and in the winery have come together to create many highly rated and award winning wines, including Château Grand Destieu.

Click here to listen to a interview with Jonathan Maltus.

Unlike “left bank” wines where cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape in the blend with a handful of other grape varieties (merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot), “right bank” wines, like those from Saint Émilion are made mostly from merlot. Merlot based wines tend to be softer and rounder with more emphasis on fruit flavors, than their hard-edged cousins made from cabernet sauvignon. Château Grand Destieu is no exception with a blend of 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc.

The 2005 vintage of Château Grand Destieu is beautiful example of what the “right bank” has to offer.  This young Bordeaux blend has jewel tones of ruby and amethyst with aromas that remind you of  ripe blackberries and raspberries interlaced with fresh herbs.  It’s medium body is packed with ripe black fruit and spicy minerality.  Lively acidity keeps the flavor alive and dancing on the palate and well-rounded tannins with hints of licorice and bell pepper carry on through a medium length finish.  If you get a chance to pick up a bottle, do so.  But let it lay down for a few years to truly enjoy its full potential.


2005 Château Grand Destieu ($42)

  • Approx. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc
  • Saint Émilion, France

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Varietal Voyage No.16 – 2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot

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Varietal Voyage No.16 represents the sixteenth wine on our journey and the first wine made primarily from merlot. Charles Krug’s 2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($16) seemed like the perfect choice to represent the American leg of our voyage.

Charles Krug founded Napa Valley’s first winery in 1861. As a young winemaker, he quickly became a leading figure in the development of California wines. His foresight in viticulture and technological skill laid the groundwork for America’s budding young wine industry.  After his death in 1892, Krug’s winery was sold to James Moffitt who carried it successfully though the turbluent years of Prohibition.  Moffitt would later pass the winery to Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, the parents of Robert and Peter Mondavi, in 1943.  Eventually the two brothers, Robert and Peter, would have their turn running the winery.  After their father’s death in 1959, Rosa became president and assigned Robert as the general manager and gave Peter the position as vice president.  The relationship between the two brothers was always a little stormy, and in 1965 Robert would leave Charles Krug to start his own winery.  Today, Peter, along with his two sons, Peter, Jr. and Marc Mondavi continue with the same innovative spirit started by Charles Krug almost 150 years earlier.

The Charles Krug Winery is located in St. Helena, in the northern portion of Napa Valley. The grapes used in the 2006 Napa Valley Merlot come from several of the Mondavi family’s vineyards located within the region.  The climate in Napa Valley is a little warmer and drier than its neighbor, Sonoma County, to the east.  The Mayacamas Mountains separate the two regions, preventing some of the rain and cool, Pacific ocean breezes from reaching Napa’s vineyards.  The southern areas, near Carneros, tend to be cooler than the northern parts of the valley because of the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay.  Cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape grown here, but merlot runs a close second. The red wines made here have rich, intense fruit flavors with riper, fuller tannins as you move further up the valley.

This definitely is not a “wimpy” merlot.  This deep ruby colored wine is full of intense black cherry and currant flavors wrapped in fragrant aromas of blackberries and boysenberries with the subtle spicy character of pepper and anise.  The addition of cabernet sauvignon, bolsters supple tannins and supports the spiciness resulting in a rich, velvety texture.  A light, but lively level of acidity keeps the flavors alive and nuanced hints of vanilla and spice linger on through a long finish.

2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($16)

  •  93% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, o.5% Petit Verdot, o.5% Cabernet Franc (you can really taste CF ;))
  • Napa Valley, California
  • Charles Krug Information Sheet

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Varietal Voyage No.15 – 2005 Château Bernadotte

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The fifteenth wine on our journey and the last cabernet sauvignon comes from the Haut-Medoc, on Bordeaux’s “Left Bank.”  Château Bernadotte is in the commune of Saint Sauveur, close to the western edge of the Pauillac appellation.  Even though Château Bernadotte lies within the borders of the Haut-Medoc (map) , it is only a few miles from prestigious neighbors like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour, in the region of Pauillac.

Like the majority of producers in Bordeaux, Château Bernadotte has a long history, going back as far as 1645.  In the early 1800′s, The château recieved the name, Bernadotte, in honor of  Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a field marshal under Napolean I.  Attracted by the favorable climate and soils and its proximity to other classified growths in Pauillac, Château Bernadotte was acquired by Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in 1997.   In 2007, May Eliane de Lencquesaing, the owner of  Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande sold the majority interest of both properties to the Champagne house of Louis Roederer.

The vineyards of Château Bernadotte are blessed with similar soils to the classified properties closer to the Gironde River.  The sandy gravel promotes good drainage and a layer of clay helps the vines resist draught while the grapes mature.  Like most producers in Bordeaux, they have planted cabernet sauvigon, merlot, with smaller amounts of cabernet franc and petit verdot which are blended together create the final wine.  Because weather conditions in Bordeaux can vary dramatically from year to year, the proportion of grapes in the blend can change to adapt to the variations of each growing season.  The 2005 vintage is a blend of 49% cabernet sauvignon, 48% merlot, and 3% cabernet france.  Petit verdot was omitted from the blend in 2005.

The 2005 Château Bernadotte is well crafted with many of the qualities expected from a good Bordeaux.  This medium-bodied wine has a deep red color with fragrant aromas of plums, black currants and layers of earthy green herbs. Flavors of  juicy black currants and raspberries dominate the palate with overtones of mint and woody spice.  Bright acidity balances the ripe fruit as the aggressive grip of young tannins builds thoughout a long toasty, vanilla laced finish.  Unless you like dry, tannic wines, I recommend using a decanter or just letting is rest a few more years in order to soften the young tannins.  This will be great one to revisit in five or ten years.

2005 Château Bernadotte ($33)

  • 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
  • Haut-Medoc, France

This was the last cabernet sauvignon on the voyage.  Merlot is the next variety we’ll explore, which will bring us back to Bordeaux sometime in the next few weeks.

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Varietal Voyage No.14 – 2005 Carlos Pulenta “Tomero” Cabernet Sauvignon

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Varietal Voyage No. 14 is another selection from the Thief Wine Shop.  This time we’re exploring an affordable cabernet sauvignon from the high-altitude vineyards of Argentina. The 2005 Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon is just one of the many offerings from Carlos Pulenta Wines.   If you get a chance, try their Vistalba wines, blends of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and a grape called “bonarda.”

Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon gets its start in the upper Uco Valley, 80 miles southeast of Mendoza, in a vineyard called Finca Los Alamos. Carlos Pulenta and his family have been growing grapes here for over thirty years.  This location is excellent for growing cabernet.  The high altitude (1,200 meters above sea level), long sun exposures, sandy/rocky soils, and constant mountain breezes work together to create concentrated wines with intense flavors.  One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in this tough environment is getting access to water.  The only real source of water is the snow and ice that falls in the Andes mountains.  As  the ice melts, it eventually makes its way down into the valleys below.  During the 1800′s, as farms and vineyards grew larger, there became a need to control the limited supply of water.  The tomero or “water supplier” was the person in charge of  regulating the precious supply of water by opening and closing flood gates that fed the fields.  Even though technology has taken control over most of the irrigation process, the tomero still stands as a symbol of Argentina’s agricultural history.

That’s enough history!  All in all, this is another good, affordable cabernet.  It has many of the characteristics of an Argentine malbec, with its medium body and ample amounts of ripe fruit and jammy flavors.  The nose shows spicy aromas of blackberries, currants, with juicy flavors of black cherries, followed up by layers of pepper and cedar.  The tannins were soft, almost non-existent; something I didn’t expect from such a young cabernet.  The finish is quick and clean leaving you with the faintest hints of cocoa.

2005 Carlos Pulenta “Tomero” Cabernet Sauvignon ($13)

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Varietal Voyage No.13 – 2007 “337″ Cabernet Sauvignon

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Over the past few months we’ve tasted twelve white wines from around the world.   The next wine represents the beginning of the second half of our journey. For the next three months we’ll explore the world of red wines, starting with cabernet sauvignon.

337 Cabernet Sauvignon is made by, ironically, 337 Wines, one of the many brands owned by Delicato Family Vineyards,  “337″ is more than a catchy brand name strategy, it is the name of a special clone of cabernet sauvignon that originated in Bordeaux, France. The winemakers at 337 cultivate this clone in the fertile, but rocky soils of Clay Station Vineyard, north of Lodi, at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The climate here is well suited to this clone, where hot, dry days force the vines to struggle for water and cool nights allow the grapes to rest, slowing the ripening process and concentrating the fruit flavors.

Over the years I’ve gotten used to the idea that if you wanted drink a good California cabernet you had to endure some sticker shock – not so with 337. This one came as a pleasant surprise to the palate and the wallet!  Since this is such a young wine, the color is very intense with a captivating reddish purple hue that is nearly opaque (Don’t spill it on anything you can’t afford to throw out).  Being that it is so young, I expected lots of aggressive tannins.  Again I was surprised.  337 has well balanced tannins with juicy flavors of black cherries and currants and fruity aromas that seam to jump out of the glass. These rich flavors are followed up by layers of vanilla and black pepper toward the finish.  Enjoy this one with your next grilled steak or as a guilty (but affordable) pleasure!

2007 “337″ Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)

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