Monday, September 22, 2014

My wines of August

People who say "you can never be too rich or too thin" have never read Stephen King. I'm here to tell you that you can also have too many wines.

For about a year, I got out of the habit of reviewing wines at home. If you read this blog, you know that wine reviews in a vacuum aren't my raison d'être. I like telling stories, and if I can tell a story about a bottle, I like to do it. I don't really like just posting tasting notes.

However, people don't strike you from their mailing lists for wine samples just because you don't post tasting notes for a while. During my year of not-really-reviewing wines, I probably averaged opening 50 wine samples a month at home, but that was just searching for something to drink. This was not a fast enough pace. By early August, the ocean of wine in the small apartment I share with my wife consumed three wine refrigerators, two closets and much of a hallway. I realized I had to start opening more than 100 bottles a month, just to make headway.

I haven't been very professional with my tasting notes for the last year. I got samples, I opened them, I drank them and maybe I tweeted about them if I loved them. That's how I like to drink wine: I'd rather have one bottle of wine I really love and drink it all the way through. Yet every night I did this, I felt guilty.

In August the guilt got to me, and I decided I needed to start clearing some of my backlog of samples. So I opened more wine and took more tasting notes. And then I had another conundrum: What to do with them? Because the problem is, when I post tasting notes, I'll get more samples. It's like Disney's Fantasia: I'll never keep up.

So with these notes, I send a plea to producers and importers: I'm not looking for more wine samples (unless I ask for a specific story, like this one.)  I'm not organized in how I taste, and I might never open your bottle. It's probably a waste of money to send it to me. I'm posting these this month, but I'm not planning to post any notes next month.

But I don't have the stories of these wines, and they were my favorites. And I do want to tell you some wines I loved, so ...

Peñalolen Casablanca Valley Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18 on Wine Searcher)
14.3% alcohol. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers
Very Franc-y, with fresh herb notes and red plum. Not as lean as a Loire version, but that should make it more appealing to a wider audience without losing the integrity of the variety. With food, this Chilean wine is a real winner: well-balanced, good freshness, and the herb note adds interest. I loved this more the more I drank it, and it was excellent 2 days later. One of my favorite wines of the month, and a great value. 93 points
I was surprised to find the 2009 in the New York Times Wine Club.

Stéphane Aviron Beaujolais-Villages 2012 ($13 on Wine Searcher)
13% alcohol. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons
There's a mini-story here: I tasted three 2012 Beaujolais-Villages and liked all three, which I don't usually do. So maybe it was a great vintage for entry-level Beaujolais, but I can't say after just three wines. This was my favorite: Fresh red plum flavor with more length and body than some in this category. The savoriness and freshness really shine with food. 91 points.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2012 ($10 on Wine Searcher)
12.5% alcohol. Imported by Kobrand
Nice freshness, good cranberry fruit, lively. An excellent representation of entry-level Beaujolais: it's red, and will go with anything; it's fruity; it's light-bodied but not without substance. Not a lot of complexity, but that's not what one seeks here. Bravo for delivering what the appellation promises. 90 points

Next, the holy Grail, cheap Pinot Noir ...

Apaltagua Reserva "Tricao Valley Estate Grown" Curico Valley Pinot Noir 2013 ($12)
14% alcohol. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers
These wines from a cool region in Chile are among the best Pinots I've had recently in this price range. Lean body, cranberry fruit. Some mushroom notes in the aroma. Very good value at this price; compares favorably to $25-$30 California or Burgundy Pinots. 88 points

Apaltagua Reserva "Tricao Valley Estate Grown" Curico Valley Pinot Noir 2012 ($12)
14% alcohol. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers
Cranberry fruit, a little riper than the 2013, but good balance. Some mushroom notes in the aroma. Nice freshness. This has to be one of the best Pinot Noirs in the world at this price. 88 points

RouteStock Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011 ($16 on Wine Searcher)
12.68% alcohol. Made at Ponzi. Grapes include 5% "other"
People who say we can't make good cheap Pinot Noir in America need to try this. Light-bodied yet with substance, with an earthy, complex aroma, spicy intial flavor and a chewy raspberry finish. Really nice for an entry-level Pinot. 90 points

Undone Rheinhessen Pinot Noir 2012 ($9 on Wine Searcher)
12% alcohol. Unoaked. Imported by Valckenburg Intl.
I liked this wine a lot, and it's even cheaper than the Apaltagua. My wife hated it, and you might too. Interesting wine, intense aromatically and not as light as you'd think on the palate. Quite floral, with raspberry notes and a hint of licorice. Intensity without power, great in a Pinot and especially at this price range. But not for everyone. 90 points

Chateau de Campuget "Tradition de Campuget" Costières de Nîmes rosé 2013 ($10 on Wine Searcher)
13% alcohol. Imported by Dreyfus Ashby. 70% Syrah 30% Grenache
My timing is exquisite to write about rosés. On the east coast, where they drink a lot of it, everybody has put away their white shoes and they're done with pink wine for the summer. On the west coast, French rosés just haven't caught on as they have elsewhere. But I love them, and the little care package I got of completely unrelated French rosés made me as happy as any sample box I got all summer. This was my favorite in the box: Pretty light pink color, and a light strawberry flavor with a hint of smokiness. Very pleasant and well-balanced, fruit-driven and lively, and what a great value. 92 points

Laurent Miquel Père et Fils IGP Pays d'Oc Cinsault Syrah rosé 2012 ($10 on Wine Searcher)
12.5% alcohol. Imported by Miquel et Fils, Manhasset, NY Cinsault 80% Syrah 20%
A pretty pale orange color. Lively, refreshing rosé with light raspberry flavor. Fruity on the finish. Easy wine to enjoy. 91 points.

Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel (rosé) 2013 ($16 on Wine Searcher)
13.5% alcohol. Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant
A dark pink for a French rosé; almost a light red wine in color. Completely dry, with more of a floral/fresh herb character than fruit, though there is raspberry on the finish. A good hot-weather rosé, robust but refreshing. 89 points

Rick Longoria with Sashi Moorman's daughter Juliet in 2012
Longoria Block N Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012 ($45 from winery)
14.4% alcohol.
I really should do an interview with Rick Longoria, who's been making balanced Pinot Noirs on a small scale in Santa Barbara County for years. I've even been to dinner with him and took the photo. It's thoughts like these, honestly, that hold me up from posting tasting notes -- "I should do more with this." But I loved this wine. Light in color for Bien Nacido. Spicy aroma, with dark cherry fruit beneath. More fruit-driven on the palate than you expect, with somewhat thick tannins, particularly on the finish. Needs air to bring out the spice on the palate, but when it does, it's a complex wine, rich and fruit-driven but spicy, and the thick tannins help. 95 points

Longoria "Lovely Rita" Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2012 ($30 on Wine Searcher)
13.8% alcohol
Light raspberry-driven wine with good freshness. Nice structure and balance. Very fruit-driven and hard not to like, even if you're not named Rita. Good value from this region. 92 points

Michel Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon blanc 2013 ($12 on Wine Searcher)
13.5% alcohol. Imported by HB Wine Merchants NY
Michel won't like this description, but the bright apple flavor and juiciness remind me of cider. And I don't mean that as an insult. Fresh initially, it seems like it's going to be lean but the juiciness comes in on the finish. A cider-drinker's wine. 90 points.

Adelaida "Version" Paso Robles 2012 ($32 on Wine Searcher)
14.8% alcohol. Grenache Blanc 33%, Picpoul Blanc 25%, Viognier 25%, Roussanne 17%. 950 cases
Rich and full-bodied, filling the mouth with golden apple but with sufficient acidity, giving it a sumptuous mouthfeel that's still refreshing. 91 points

Weingut Schloss Wallhausen "Prinzsalm" Berg Roxheim Riesling Spätlese 2012 (can't find it online)
V.D.P. Grosse Lage 7.5% alcohol.
Most people think of Riesling as a summer wine, but I like it more with the flavors of autumn. When I get back from holiday (I'm in Papua New Guinea as you read this), I'll open more Rieslings. This is the kind of wine where you don't have to be Gerard Depardieu to drink the whole bottle. Minerally on the nose, with flavors of apricot and white peach. Not overly sweet; well-balanced. 90 points

To find and purchase any of these wines, you should go to Wine-Searcher, which gives links to stores that will ship them. You should go to Wine Searcher every friggin' day anyway, because I'm the California Editor and I do a lot of my best stories there (like this one, just to pick a recent example).

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Mark said...

Blake, thank you for posting these tasting notes. I love reading your stories and have followed your blog for several years. However, it's nice to have "bulk" tasting notes as well since it gives me more opportunites to find the wines you're writing about and compare. So, even though it's not your favorite thing to do, I find it helpful. Thanks again.

Gary & Alison Dyer said...

I love your definition of Holy Grail...

Bill Monahan said...

These are some high scores... I'm a little puzzled, in fact, especially as you have pointed out things like score inflation, publications extorting (so to speak) producers for scores - and then throwing around 90+ at wines that are solid values but certainly not 8 points from perfection, Campuget, for example. Not an attack, I've just never seen "scored" wine reviews from you before, expected a much lower baseline.

W. Blake Gray said...

Bill: Campuget is a delightful wine that is a pleasure to drink and goes well with many foods. If that's not 92 points, I don't know what is. Most publications overrate power and underrate balance.

Bill Monahan said...

Agreed, I've had the wine many times myself, a strong value although I find it a little rough around the edges... A pleasure to drink and goes well with many foods could describe an ocean of wine, however. I suppose this is the difficulty with placing a numeric on something so subjective.