Saturday, January 22, 2011

Of Pinot and Port

In light of my upcoming relocation to the west coast, and Lisa's strong appreciation for certain fortified wines from Portugal, we decided to give this AOC gathering a dual theme - wines from Oregon, and Port.

In my evite I mentioned that we didn't want to end up with nothing but Pinot Noir for the Oregon portion of things, so folks should think about bringing one of the other varietals or blends that is common to Oregon. Well, this crowd knows how to follow instructions - perhaps too well. This became apparent as guest after guest arrived bearing bottles of Pinot Gris! We joked about this turning out to be a de facto Pinot Gris tasting, but I think we all enjoyed tasting the different styles. In addition to the four Pinot Gris represented, we ended up with three Pinot Noirs and three Ports. Michelle did bring two additional Pinot Noirs to the game a bit later in the evening, but I don't think that the majority of the attendees were still around to taste them.

We had some nice food to accompany our wines, including a roast and some baked brie with pumpkin butter and roasted nuts, a potato/root vegetable salad, homemade bread and our favorite chocolate cake from Eastern Market.

Below is a list of the wines we tasted. I don't think there was a bad wine in the bunch, although we each had our own likes and dislikes. My personal favorites were two of the Pinot Gris - Wine by Joe and The Pines - and the Warres Otima 20 Year Tawny Port. I was somewhat disappointed by my own contribution, the Cristom Pinot Noir. It came highly recommended to me by one of the staff at Calvert Woodley, and I think it would have been a perfectly lovely wine for about 2/3 of what I paid for it. It just didn't feel very balanced, and although I enjoyed the woody, peppery, and mushroomy aromas/flavors, I didn't feel like they integrated well. I also don't feel like I can adequately analyze the Pinot Noirs that Michelle brought, because we had them very late in the evening and after Port. Most of the descriptions are directly from the winery websites, as are the prices. Where I couldn't find the info the website, I used descriptions from various critics and prices from, DC stores.

Wine by Joe Pinot Gris 2009: aromas of fresh cut pears, green apples and hints of vanilla and cream, this Pinot Gris will not disappoint you. The light clean flavors in the mouth encompass citrus and green apple well-balanced by refreshing and flinty acidity for a perfect and lively finish with lingering hints of citrus rind. $14

R. Stuart & Co. Big Fire Pinot Gris 2009: A daydream -a mountain-top -a cooling breeze -the almost hush of a waterfall all in a glass. Truly. The 2009 Big Fire Pinot Gris is glorious. It is being on that mountain. Sunlight shimmering on snow all around you. It is succulent, just ripe, Anjou pear, moist, tender lychee fruit. It is a memory of cool green grapes. It is bracing, beautiful — it will lift you up. Whether your dream (or your dinner) is from a far-off, exotic locale – or just locally exotic – Big Fire Pinot Gris will be right there. $14

The Great Oregon Wine Company Rascal Pinot Gris 2009: I was unable to find the winemaker's website, but this stuff is showing up all over internet wine forums and the geeks have really good things to say about it! The winemaker herself, Linda, seems active on a lot of these forums and is really good about replying to people's comments and sharing a lot of technical info with everyone. $10.99

The Pines 1952 Pinot Gris 2008: Our 2008 vintage is a classic Alsacian-style. Almost bone-dry, displaying characteristics of green apple and meyer lemon with a hint of pear with aromas of pineapple and citrus. $18

Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir 2008: On the palate it displays medium body, sweet fruit, plenty of spice and enough ripe tannin to evolve for 1-2 years. However, it can be approached now and over the next 6-8 years. $30

Yamhill Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007: A wine of finesse and delicacy produced by a "typical" year of Oregon weather. A cool spring, a normal summer and cool fall led to the fruit that was less concentrated than we have come to expect at this site. Enjoy the elegance now and save the bigger vintages for more aging. Pair it with baked salmon for a lighter meal or maybe a beef stew that is light on spices. This wine is great for people starting to get into reds, many white lovers rave about this wine because it is delicate on their palates. $9

Firesteed Pinot Noir 2008: Ruby red in color with aromas of strawberries, cedar and spice, the wine's luscious flavors of vanilla bean and cherry tart are well supported by its surprising structure. $19

Fonseca 10 Year Tawny Port (750ml): Of an average cask age of 10 years, it is a young port of russet color with brilliant crimson highlights and a fragrant, ripe fruit bouquet. Its smooth, silky texture and subtle oak nuances are balanced by a fresh acidity and tannic grip that culminate in a long, elegant finish. $30

Warres Otima 20 Year Tawny Port (500ml): An outstanding wine that epitomizes everything that is great about a superbly balanced Twenty Year Old Tawny; the translucent copper colored tone of the wine is matched by the beautiful soft nutty aromas gained by a full twenty years ageing in seasoned oak casks. Otima 20 Years is rich and delicate, but never cloying; the tannins and acidity ensure balance and perfect length. $43

Cockburn's 2000 Vintage Port: The description on the company website talked more about the weather conditions surrounding the vintage; however, they posted these reviews from Robert Parker and from The Wine Spectator, respectively: "Potentially one of the most compelling wines of the vintage, should drink well between 2010 - 2035" and "Nicely made, very subtle aromas of crushed berries, roses and lavender. Full bodied, lightly sweet with big, juicy tannins and a long, fruity finish". $66

There were some questions asked throughout the evening regarding it is made, what the differences are between the various styles, etc. Unfortunately I was completely unequipped to answer these questions, but good old wikipedia has this to say, for anyone who is interested:

I want to thank everyone who participated in this all did a great job with your selections and picked out some very quality, solid and interesting wines. In particular I'd like to thank Amy & Ted and Katie & Chul for their Port contributions (Warres Otima 20 Year Tawny and the Cockburn's Vintage 2000). These were not inexpensive wines and we really appreciated the opportunity to taste something that most of us wouldn't be likely to fork out the cash for just for ourselves!

I'll be cross-posting this on my new blog:

As this will probably be my last AOC for some time, I just want to say that I've had a great time with all of you and hope that you will keep things going! If you take pictures and/or notes, I'll be happy to post them here if you send them to me. Santé!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obscure Varietals

Thanks to Lisa's suggested theme - obscure grape varietals - our annual holiday AOC gathering was even more fun than usual. Attendance was great, and everyone seemed to really put some effort into their wine selections this time. The result was a number of interesting and enjoyable wines that most of us would not otherwise end up seeking out or tasting.

As usual, I didn't take detailed notes on each wine (seems like that practice died out about half-way through our first season...I will blame the members of the wine club for being too engaging and fun and for making me not want to sit there geeking out with paper and pen while everyone else is socializing). But I did manage to take pictures and look up the wines online, and I'll include notes from what I found as well as any that I recall first-hand.

Thanks also to Christine, who made us all really sweet little personalized glass tags so that we were not continually wandering around trying to find the glass that we set down, attempting to tell ours from the others by smudgy fingerprints or lipstick (I'm pretty sure no one in our group wears lipstick, so perhaps that's not a good example). This, in addition to the interesting wines, some very nice food contributions, good participation in the White Elephant gift exchange, and some new faces made this one of the best AOC gatherings we've had, in my opinion! Thanks to everyone who participated, below are the notes on the wines.

Don Manuel Villafane Estate Torrentes 2010 (varietal: Torrentes): As I was typing this, it struck me that this may be the first 2010 wine I've tasted. I'm often underwhelmed by Torrentes, but not this one. It was well balanced and fresh with notes of peach up front followed by citrus. Although I was familiar with this varietal, I had not tried this producer and I will definitely keep them in mind for the future, especially at this price point. ($11)

Hugo Gruner Veltliner: Not sure about the vintage here (the photo I took doesn't show it) but I'm assuming it was relatively recent. I don't have any recollections on this one, but the general characteristics of this varietal include fresh, bright, slightly vegetal scents with notes of flowers and white pepper accenting the green berry fruits. Funny enough, the following Saturday I was out to dinner with friends, and the person seated next to me was considering a Gruner Veltliner from the menu but had never heard of the varietal before. She ordered it, and liked it! ($10)

Domaine Philem'On Croix d'Azal Gaillac 2008: From southwest France, the varietal here is Braucol, also known as Fer Servadou, and Pinenc. The name supposedly refers to the iron-hard woodiness of the vine, and the variety is used to impart color, intensity and aroma to regional wines. This wine is comprised entirely of Braucol, which is rare. I would say that this definitely qualifies for the title of unusual variety! (???)

Prazo de Roriz Duoro 2007: This was my contribution, and although the blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Touriga Barroca are typical in the making of Duoro reds, I was banking on most us not being familiar with them. ($16)

Costalago Rosso Veronese (year?): From the Veneto region in Italy, the primary grape here is Corvina, which goes into the making of other well-known wines from this region such as Valpolicella and Amarone. The thick skins enable it to raisin without rotting, allowing it to impart the deep, rich flavors associated with Amarone. I think Gary brought this one...good job Gman! ($13)

Writer's Block Counoise (year?): This contribution came from Leonore, who was with us for the first time. She runs the wine department at the Social Safeway and has many years in the industry. Counoise is one of the varietals from the Rhone that is permitted in the making of Chateauneuf du Pape, and that the Wall Street Journal once joked about the obscurity of the varietal in an article on blends demonstrates that this was a great choice for this tasting. What makes it doubly interesting is that someone else also brought a Counoise... ($15)

Domaine Monpertuis Vignoble de la Ramiere Vin du Pays Gard Cuvee Counoise 2007: Jancis Robinson described this wine as follows: rustic and earthy, a jumble of dark plum, fragrant pepper, "green" herbaceousness and tart, mouth-watering acidity, it's a real wine-geek's wine, good for studying a range of Old World descriptors. Or building up your life list of grapes tasted. ($17)

Chateau Bouissel Fronton Classic 2006: This is a blend comprised mainly of Negrette, which according to Snooth "produces a light-bodied, pale red wine with an enticing gamey aroma with hints of violet backed by notes of ripe plums, licorice and fresh strawberry." A reviewer on Snooth described this particular vintage as "made in a hearty, rustic fashion...this is full of black, earth-driven fruit with rosemary and violets." This totally sounds like my kind of wine. Unfortunately, this particular bottle had some TCA (cork taint) going on, so I'm going to have to pick up a bottle and give it another try. And I plan to do that soon! ($12)

D'Uva Tintillia 2004: This might win the title of most obscure, since it is ridiculously difficult to find anything about it online! I came across a couple of sources who say that this grape is indigenous to Spain (the Canary Islands) but others that purport that it is native to Molise in Italy. At any rate, I'd like to find another bottle of this because it was well into the evening when we finally opened this (we were going youngest to oldest on the reds since we really didn't know anything about most of the varietals) and my recollection of it is hazy at best. One of the above referenced sources describes it as "full-bodied and colorful with an intense smell and flavor". Not very detailed. I don't recall where Kim said she got this, and nothing comes up on I suppose it's fitting that the most obscure wine of the evening would be difficult to track down!

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Feudi di San Gregorio 2009: Another player from Italy, this time from around Naples. The grapes are Coda di Volpe and Falanghina. This was a very fruity yet crisp and minerally white wine, and was well-liked by everyone in attendance. ($13)

Fiano di Avellino Dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2008: By the same producer of the previous wine. Again, from Snooth: "Fiano is a grape from Southern Italy that produces rather rich white wines that age well. They are naturally endowed with notes of honey and hazelnuts that gain intensity with aging. The aromas can be both smoky and waxy and help to frame the core of apple and pear fruit. It is not considered to be a particularly fruity wine but can be quite complex." In addition to appreciating the wines from this producer, I love the artwork on the bottles! ($15)

Willm Vin d'Alsace Pinot Blanc 2007: My first thought when I began typing this is that Pinot Blanc isn't necessarily a grape that I would think of as obscure; however, I realized that although I know I've tasted it before, I wasn't immediately familiar with its characteristics. Which led me to Google this particular wine, which led me to the following article on Pinot Blanc that I found extremely well-written and interesting. So I now know a good bit more about Pinot Blanc, have added another "must visit" destination to my list (Alsace), and am motivated to explore this grape further. ($10)

The overall impression that I took away from this tasting is that the obscurity of some of these varietals means that they are, on the whole, being produced in smaller quantities and as a result are far more interesting than a lot of the stuff we see on the shelves each day. And although I was unable to find pricing on each wine, those that I did find seem to be very well priced in relation to their quality.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The New District Liquors

I stopped by District Liquors last night to see my friend Jeff Harrison and several of his colleagues as they celebrated the completion of District's renovations with a wine tasting for the public. As the consultant on the renovations and inventory improvements, Jeff has been busy working the same magic that he applied when he converted Modern Liquors from a rundown liquor store into an upscale, reputable neighborhood establishment. While there are still a couple of odd improvements pending at District, the transformation has been remarkable and I congratulate Jeff on another successful endeavor.

There were 12 wines offered at the tasting - three whites, three reds, three ports and three dessert wines. All high quality, all well-priced.

I took home three from this group and three miscellaneous bottles that I found on the store's shelves:

From the Tasting

Domaine Gerard Neumeyer 2008 Vin d'Alsace Gewurztraminer
- This will accompany Thanksgiving dinner.

Daniel Gehrs 2007 Central Coast Syrah - I don't typically turn to Cali for my wines, but this was definitely Rhone-esque and immensely enjoyable, so it came home with me.

Bouchaine 2009 Napa/Carneros Bouche d'Or Chardonnay (late harvest) - Well, look at this - another one from California, and a dessert wine at that! The nose on this is amazing, with lots of bright fruit followed by a very nice, non-cloying palette. Not sure exactly when I'll have a good opportunity to open this, but I hope it comes sooner rather than later.

The three miscellaneous selections were a 2009 Skouras Moscofilero, a 2007 Skouras St. George Nemea Aghiorgitiko, and a 2010 Oracle Pinotage. These were all priced at under $12, and I'm looking forward to trying each of them for the first time. Jeff swears by Oracle, and the two Skouras selections are the best priced Greek wines I've yet seen in the US.

District is located at 11th & M Streets northwest in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

$10 and Under

Our gathering last Sunday was a lot of fun, but I unfortunately fell down on the job and didn't take notes on ANY of the wines, nor did I take very good photos.

I'll just recap what I recall from the event, and promise to be more diligent next time!

It was nice to have some new faces in the group, and we hope that Michelle, Renee and Betsy will become regulars going forward.

Lisa did a bang up job in the kitchen, cooking up not only our three varieties of sliders on her Foreman Grill (lamb, grass-fed beef, and buffalo) but a number of very nice side dishes to include sweet potato fries, spinach dip, and apple crisp. Thanks to everyone who helped with the prep work, there was quite a bit involved and I think we did a spectacular job in getting it all out there. I was happy when Lisa was finally able to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine and some food.

I think that the wines were probably along the lines of what we would expect for a $10 and under tasting. I don't know that any of us were blown away by any of what we tasted, although I do recall that Ted and Aimee's contribution seemed to garner the most appreciation. It was an '07 Tempranillo, and the age seemed to lend it some complexity and nice tertiary aromas and flavors. I was also pleased to be able to try my first rose from Portugal, courtesy of Katie and Chul, who also brought a Malbec that paired surprisingly well with the apple crisp! Who'da thunk it?!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Yellowtail Reserve, A Blind Tasting

Last Friday evening, I and six fellow wine bloggers joined Laurent Guinand of Giramondo Wine in his offices in Wheaton to participate in a blind tasting of four reserve wines.

The event was hosted by John Casella of Yellowtail, and Doug Frost, a wine writer/consultant who is one of only three individuals in the world to hold both a Master of Wine and a Master Sommelier designation.

Our DC group was one of 20 from around the country, and while we gathered around the TV in Giramondo's conference room, we sampled two white Yellowtail reserve varietals (Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay) and hors d'oeuvres while we waited for the event to begin.

The purpose behind the event was to see how we would evaluate these wines without the bias of knowing what brand we were drinking (this is, of course, the purpose behind any blind tasting). Participants were asked to "tweet" their thoughts as they tasted, and it was interesting to read the various comments popping up on the television screen while we watched and listened to Doug Frost guide his group, along with the rest of us, through the tasting.

I am happy to say that I accurately guessed which wine was the Yellowtail Reserve. I am a little less happy to report that my opinion on Australian Shiraz has not changed any. I've never been a fan of Aussie wines overall, and this event reinforced my bias. There was one exception - the 2006 Dead Arm from McLaren Vale - which I actually enjoyed. But with a retail sticker of approximately $65, I think I'll stick to something from Northern Rhone.

Despite being less than enthusiastic about the actual wines tasted, this was a really fun, informative event and I thank Laurent for including me in it!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Happened???

It seems that somewhere along the line, I became lazy about posting about our AOC events. Or maybe it was that year that I went missing....

Anyway, I'm back in DC for a little while and the AOC is working on getting going again, and I plan to post not only about our official AOC gatherings, but about other wine-related "stuff" here.

I'm currently doing part-time wine consulting, and although business has been pretty slow, I've been hanging out with some really great people in the industry who are taking me to cool trade-tastings so why the hell not put a positive spin on things!?

Stay tuned for some posts in the next couple of weeks: Wine at Church, Dry Tastings, Something Brewing in DC, Interesting Wines for Under $10 and a surprise blind-tasting for wine bloggers that I'm not sure I can talk about yet.

See you soon!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Zealand

Unfortunately I wasn't present when you all gathered to taste various offerings from New Zealand, but Lisa has forwarded the notes that you all took and I just thought I'd reprint them here:

Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Marlborough): pleasant sweet mineral peach

Allen Scott Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Marlborough): grapefruit notes, grassy - we are a fan.

Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2007 (Marlborough): papaya and oak
Pinot Noir 2003 (Marlborough) toffee and raisin

Hatton Estate Gimett Gravel Bordeaux style blend 2003 - amaretto forward metallic finish

Matua 2008 Pinot Noir (Marlborough): raisiny in a bad way

Oyster Bay Merlot Hawkes Bay 2006 - nose is interesting with adhesive and wet moss or sweaty sock. Palatte is lame with nothing going on.
It's like a bait and switch. Peppery and dry on the finish.

Grove Mill Reisling 2007 (Marlborough): We aren't a fan but tried out of order.