Wine Events Calender at TOG!

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News and Events

I’ve just added an events calendar to the website for tracking the wine education and tasting events in our local area.  If you have any events that the world should know about, send it to me and I’ll post it to the calendar.  As I find time, I’ll start to expand the calendar to include events outside the Milwaukee area.


L’Ecole No.41 – 2007 Columbia Valley Chardonnay

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Tasting Note

You’ll find the L’Ecole No.41 Winery in a restored schoolhouse in the historic Walla Walla community of Frenchtown.  L’Ecole No.41 is a family run operation started by Jean and Baker Ferguson.  It now belongs to their daughter, Megan and her husband Martin Clubb.

The winery may be in Walla Walla, but the fruit for L’Ecole No.41′s Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($19) comes from several vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley appellation.  This part of the state lies near the 46th parallel giving it a similar amount of sunlight to the French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Combine the climate and volcanic soils with good drainage and poor nutrients, and you have ideal conditions for growing grapes.  The French winemaking traditions brought by French-Canadian pioneers that settled this region are echoed in this Burgundian-style chardonnay.

Tasting Notes

Barrel fermented with a backbone of nevry acidity and complex mineral notes, this wine reminded me of the fine white burgundies from Meursault. Pronounced aromas of apple and pear are layered with the slightest hints of pineapple.  Seven month of sur lie aging in French oak barrels gives this elegant wine a rich creamy texture and a long nutty finish.

We paired this one with a great recipe Sue found in Real Simple Magazine.  This chardonnay with the Potato, Leek and Feta Tart is fantastic!

Varietal Voyage No.18 – 2007 Terra Andina Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

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

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Maison Alain Soutiran – Brut Perle Noire N.V.

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Tasting Note

The Soutiran family has made Champagne since the late 1950′s.  Based in Ambonnay, one of the seventeen grand cru villages in the Champagne district, Maison Alain Soutiran produces a variety of fine Champagnes including their Vintage Cuvée, Brut Grand Cru, Brut Blanc de Blanc, Cuvée Alexandre and last but not least, their Brut Perle Noire.

The quality of Ambonnay’s pinot noir is the reason that it was granted grand cru status, making Soutiran’s Brut Perle Noire ($60), a blanc de noir made from 100% pinot noir, all that more special.

What makes it even more special is that I was lucky to pick up several bottles at Grapes and Grain’s closing sale last year.  And to make things even better, I got them at 60% off the retail price!  Who says you can’t drink well in a down economy?

Tasting Notes:

Perle Noire’s rich golden hue has a wonderfully expressive bouquet of strawberries and tart cherries with mild earthy aromas.  The flavors are full-bodied flavors with a delicate structure that only pinot noir can give.  The yeasty character of fresh brioche adds further complexity to the cuvée.  The fine mousse and crisp acidity keep the intense flavors alive and dancing on your palate.  The dry finish is refined and long-lasting making this sparkler perfect for rich seafood like lobster or scallops.

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 8

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Midwest Wine School Experience

The final class of the WSET Intermediate Level course was this past Wednesday.  After a short review of the past seven week’s, Jessica Bell led a lively discussion on the topic of fortified wines and spirits.

Fortified wines and spirits represent an extremely wide range of products so we could only cover a very small subset of this genre.  Jessica put together a variety of sherries, ports and spirits, including a French Armagnac and a Scottish whiskey to give us a broad base for comparison.

Fortified wines like sherries and ports are made by adding neutral grape spirits to the wine either before or after the wines fermentation is complete.  In the case of sherry, grape spirits are added after fermentation as stopped, so the wines are usually dry, but there are also numerous sweet versions.  Ports, on the other hand, are always sweet because the fermentation process is stopped before all of the sugar is converted to alcohol.  The grape spirits kill the yeast and boost the alcohol to around 20%.

Sherries are produced in the Spain, primarily in the regions of Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  The processes used to create this wines are deliberately oxidative, exposing the wine to air, giving the wines are wonderful nutty character.

Traditionally and legally, Ports must come from Portugal, around the city of Oporto.  However there are numerous examples being produced around the world in a similar manner.  Many of these fortified wines are called “port” so it can be a little confusing when navigating through your local wine shop.  To make matters more confusing, there are numerous types of port raging from ruby to tawny, vintage to late bottled vintage (LBV), traditional late bottled vintage to modern late bottled vintage.  Each of these wines has a very different flavor profile and should be served differently.

Spirits are completely different than fortified wines and are made in most parts of the world.  They are distilled rather than fermented and can be made from almost anything that contains sugar, so grapes are not necessary (except in the case of grape-based spirits like Cognac and Armagnac, to name a few).  Spirits have a higher alcohol content, usually in the range of 40%.  There are so many types of spirits that it would be impossible to list or discuss them all here.  The Armagnac that Jessica selected was a good example of a grape-based spirit from France made from grape varieties like ugni blanc, colombard, folle blanche, and baco.  The single malt scotch whiskey was an excellent example of a grain-based (barley) spirit from the Scottish highlands of Speyside.

Admittedly this was a very short introduction to fortified wines and spirits, but it gave us a good foundation for future study.

This brings us to the end of this course.  It was a great experience that reinforced many of the things I already new, but opened my eyes to how much more there is to learn!  If you want to learn about wine and and taste many examples from around the world, I would definitely recommend this course.  Our final exam is next week.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Wines and Spirits Tasted (Class 8):

  1. Pedro Romero Fino Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
  2. Lustau Dry Amontillado Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
  3. Smith Woodhouse 10-Year Tawny Port (Oporto, Portugal)
  4. Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (Southeast Australia)
  5. Château du Tariquet VSOP Armagnac (Armagnac, France)
  6. Balvenie Doublewood 12-Year Single Malt Scotch (Speyside, Highlands)

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 7

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Rendell Thomas led the seventh class of the WSET Intermediate Level course,   The topic for this session – Sparkling wines and sweet dessert wines!  Admittedly, I have a weak spot for Champagne and sparkling wine so this was a particularly fun class for me.  The addition of the sweet dessert wines made for a fun night!

Rendell started the evening with a brief rundown on the history of sparkling wine and its origin, now believed to be from southern France (What? It wasn’t invented in Champagne?!). We also received a primer on the proper terminology with regards to sparkling wine and its production.

Many times we hear the terms Champagne and sparkling wine used interchangeably.  This has always been a point of contention, especially for the French who guard the term Champagne like it was their first born child, and rightfully so.  For centuries, France has pioneered and perfected the methods used to make Champagne.  From the vineyard to the cellar, painstaking and labor intensive process are used to make the so called “drink of kings.” They have the right to protect what they have worked so hard for.  Just to be clear, if it’s not from the Champagne region of France it is a sparkling wine.  There are many alternate terms used around the world.  In Spain, they call it Cava.  In Germany they call it Deutscher Sekt (or just plain Sekt in rest of the European Union).  In Italy you’ll hear it called Proseco or Asti. Within France it’s called Crémant when it comes from outside of the Champagne region.  In the US and most of the English speaking countries it’s called sparkling wine with just a few legal exceptions.

The primary grapes used to make sparkling wines are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, especially in France.  However there are variations, such as, muscat, riesling, macabeo or shiraz, just to name a few.

The labor intensive process used to make Champagne and top quality sparkling wines is called the méthode champenoise (“Champagne method”) or méthode traditionnelle (“traditional method”). Even this terminology is closely protected by the French AOC laws and can only be used sparingly.  There are other processes that are less labor intensive, such as the tank method or transfer method, that create lower quality sparkling wines, but the upside is that they are more affordable for the average consumer.

The last part of the evening was spent discovering sweet wines, such as Eiswein and Sauternes, just to name a few.  There are so many different types of sweet wines (and I’m not talking about white zinfandel) it’s hard to describe them all.  To make things simple, Rendell broke them down into three broad categories:

  • Interrupting the fermentation process (Vin Doux Naturels, etc.)
  • Adding a sweet component to the blend like unfermented grape juice (Oloroso sherries, etc.)
  • Concentrate the sugars in the grapes, either through drying or noble rot (Tokaji Aszú, Sauternes, etc.).

The styles vary greatly but you can guarantee they are all very rich and decadent.  Like Champagne, the processes used to create many of these liquid treasures are laborious and expensive.  Luckily many sweet wines, like late harvest rieslings and gewürztraminers, are affordable and easy to enjoy as or with any number of desserts.

Jessica Bell returns next week for our final class…Fortified wines & spirits!

Wines Tasted (Class 7):

  1. Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV (New Mexico)
  2. Jaillance Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Burgundy, France)
  3. Marqués de Gelida Cave (Catalunya, Spain)
  4. Taittinger Brut NV (Champagne, France)
  5. Robertson Winery Special Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2008 (Breede River Valley, South Africa)
  6. Château Haut Mayne Sauternes 2006 (Bordeaux, France)

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 6

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Class 6 of the WSET Intermediate Level course, led by Jessica Bell, was a foray into the world of Rhone-style wines and the varieties that make them so delicious including grenache and syrah/shiraz.  In addition, we spent a short time delving into the riesling variety, discussing where it grows best and the remarkable styles of wine it creates.

Grenache and syrah (or shiraz in Australia) are very different grapes that winemakers have been using for centuries to make single varietal wines or blended wines using variations of the two (or more) varieties.

Grenache, a large thin-skinned grape that originated in Spain (where it’s called garnacha).  It loves hot climates and does well in warm places like Spain and France’s southern Rhône Valley.  It has made its way around the world and can be found anywhere that syrah thrives.  On it’s own, grenache makes full-bodied wines with lots of ripe red fruit and spice, but it gets better when it is blended with other varieties that add some more complexity.  Syrah is just one example.

Syrah is a dark, tannic grape that makes full-bodied wines with dark fruit flavors and complex animal and vegetal chracteristics.  Like grenache, it also does well in warm regions and is usually found in a blend.  Wines from the northern part of the Rhône Valley are made primarily from syrah with grenache and many others filling out the rest of the blend.  Examples of syrah can be found in warm places around the world, inlucding the United States and Australia.  Shiraz, as it is known in Australia, is made into bold, spicy, fruit-forward wines with intense black fruit and sweet spice.

Riesling, on the other hand, is the polar opposite to grenache and syrah.  Riesling is at home in cool regions like Germany, Alsace and Austria.  It can even be found in the cooler regions of the United States, Australia and New Zealand.  But Germany is by far the premier location for riesling.  The Germans have mastered the art of coaxing this grape into ripening under some of the most challenging growing conditions in the world.  The cold northern latitude force the winemakers to leave their grapes on the vine longer so they can fully ripen (if at all).  Steep rocky vineyards along rivers like the Rhine, with their east facing slopes, are difficult to manage but necessary to capture the warm sunlight needed to ripen the grapes. Dry riesling wines can have floral aromas, white fruit and bright citrus flavors with bracing acidity and steely mineral notes.  Riesling can also be made into delicious sweet dessert wines such as beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and eiswein.

Rendell Thomas will present sparkling and sweet wines later this week

Wines Tasted (Class 6):

  1. Perrin et Fils Reserve 2006 (Côtes du Rhône, France)
  2. Domaine la Clotte-Fontane 2006 (Languedoc, France)
  3. Calcareous Tre Violet 2005 (Paso Robles, California)
  4. Layer Cake Shiraz 2008 (South Australia)
  5. Weingut Johann Peter Mertes Riesling 2006 (Saar, Germany)
  6. Buried Cane Riesling 2006 (Washington State)

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 5

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Jaclyn Stuart, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine & Food Pairing, led our fifth class of the WSET Intermediate Level course.  This session was devoted to the wines of Italy, Spain and Portugal.  We spent the majority of the class discussing the wine producing regions of Italy.  The smaller, but no less important regions of Spain and Portugal were covered in much less detail.

Italy’s rich history of winemaking rivals that of France. Regions like Tuscany and Piemonte (among the many others) have been making distinctive wines for centuries.  Italy’s location shape give it many different climate zones where numerous types of white and red grape varieties thrive.  It would be easy to spend the entire course talking about nothing other than Italian wines.

Spain, though much larger than Italy in geographic area, has much fewer wine producing regions and even fewer grape varieties.  Regions such as Rioja and Ribera del Duero make the majority of the quality Spanish wines.  Tempranillo and garnacha (grenache) are the top red varieties, while international varieties, like chardonnay, make up the majority whites.

We spent the last part of the evening discussing the wines of Portugal.  The Duoro region topped the discussion with its high tannin, high acid red wines.  We also spent a short time reviewing Vinho Verde, the slightly fizzy, light bodied white wine that is becoming more popular in the US.

Jessica Bell returns next week to give us the low-down on grenache, syrah and riesling.

Wines Tasted (Class 5):

  1. Camp du Rouss 2005 Barbera d’Asti (Piemonte, Italy)
  2. Poggio Vignoso 2008 (Chianti, Italy)
  3. Levantino 2006 Primitivo (Salento, Italy)
  4. Compania de Telmo Rodriguez “LZ” 2007 (Rioja, Spain)
  5. Bodegas Navarro-Lopéz Laguna de la Nava 1999 Gran Reserva (Valdapeñas, Spain)
  6. Castillo Real Monastrell 2006 (Bullas, Spain)

Dashe Cellars – 2004 Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Zinfandel

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Tasting Note

Dashe Cellars has done it again with their 2004 Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Zinfandel ($29) , adding yet another powerful and sensuous zinfandel to their award winning portfolio!

Michael and Anne Dashe get the fruit for this rich wine from the Todd Brothers Ranch located  just north of Geyserville.  Gnarly, fifty year old zinfandel vines planted on steep, rocky slopes produce a very small amount of intensely flavored fruit. The unusual 2004 growing season, with its heavy spring rains reduced the vineyard’s yield even further making the zinfandel even more intense and complex.  Ultimately there was only enough fruit to make 466 cases of the 2004 vintage!

Tasting Notes:

It’s dark ruby and garnet color radiates with rich aromas of wild blackberries laden with cloves and allspice. Dashe’s carefully crafted blend of 98% zinfandel and 2% petite sirah reveals the opulent dark fruit flavors unique to the Todd Brothers Ranch vineyard.  The full-bodied, velvety flavors are further enhanced by the soft spicy character provided by fourteen months in french oak barrels.  Balanced acidity keeps the fruit flavors alive  through the sensuous and long-lasting finish.  Enjoy it now or hang on to it for awhile.  This succulent wine should continue to develop in the bottle for the next several years.  

Click here for more information from Dashe Cellars.

Varietal Voyage No.17 – 2005 Chateau Grand Destieu

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Varietal Voyage

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

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…