Category Archives: wine tasting

My Bad Habit

While sharing a little post work drinking session with my fellow weekday warriors, I thumbed through the selection of wines at In Fine Spirits, ny new favorite watering hole. Being a few drinks in, I was at a loss for which direction I should take….cabernet sauvignon? viognier? barbera? I looked to my coworker who gave me a twisted smiley and offered to “take care of it.” In a moment I was handed a goblet of inky red goodness, with one sip I was hooked. It was a Petit Syrah blend from Napa called Bad Habit, aka Wendy Crack.  That’s right, its my new addiction. Since then I’ve returned to In Fine Spirits requesting glass after glass, regretting any substitutes. I even tracked down the vineyard and intended to take a detour during my trip to Napa, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. The owner was kind enough to send me a complimentary bottle of the new 2006 vintage. (YAY!!)  Needless to say this stuff is good. Amazing fruit with a raisiny depth and earthiness that lingers on the tongue. The nose matches giving you hints of the juicy grenache blended in. At about 30 bucks a bottle, this is pretty cheap Wendy crack.

The Search for Zinfandel

Having grown used to the bountiful selection of Zinfandels in the US, Janice and I were disappointed to find the striking scarcity of Zinfandel here in Singapore. A search of SEVEN, and I repeat, SEVEN wine stores turned up just six bottles of Zin. Most of the stores had just one label in stock, while a couple had two, and on average, the bottles cost around $70. Not cheap. 😦

Perplexed at the paucity, I asked a sales clerk in one of the stores, who explained that Zinfandel hasn’t quite caught on with the local palate. To top it off, most stores stock very few labels from the US anyway, and the if they do, these are invariably the Cabernet Sauvignons. Which is a pity, because I’ve grown to become quite fond of Zinfandel over the years. When I started out drinking, I hated the metallic tinge that seemed to be associated with it, but then that was because I was mainly swilling down the likes of Yellow Tail, Beringer, and Sutter Homes. I think Mike first opened my eyes to good Zinfandel, when he brought a bottle of Burford and Brown Zinfandel 2003 to Wendy and my new year’s party three years ago (wow).

In the end, we did manage to scrounge up the number of bottles we needed, though we quite extended our budget in the process. Oh well. These wines better be exciting! We did include a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel, which Janice thought might be fun to try, and hey, it was the cheapest bottle we got!

The wines:
1. Beringer White Zinfandel 2007
2. Collage (a Kendall-Jackson brand) Zinfandel-Shiraz 2004
3. Marr Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino County 2005 (I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one; it was one of the few old vines we could find. We found the other, a St. Francis Zin selling for $70 after a 30% discount, only after we’d already bought the Mendocino one)
4. Outpost Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2004 (I’ve read good things about Outpost, and Wine Spectator has pretty rave reviews of this wine, so I’m quite excited about this)
5. The Curse, Tscharke, Zinfandel, Barossa 2006 (Which seems to have garnered strong reviews from RP as well… neat)
6. Irvine Zinfandel, Barossa 2005

On the upside, I now know three more wine stores that I can hit up for future sprees. And despite my attempt to save, I walked away with three bottles for my personal stash: a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2008, a Mollydooker Two Left Feet Shiraz Merlot 2006 (because I’ve read so much about their top wines, and had to try this that was on 15% discount), and a Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003.

Wine: For value for your money, anything but French

In a tasting of five under $20 bottles this week, I concluded that I should stay away from cheaper French wines. Granted, only two out of the five bottles were French, and statistically speaking, that’s not a decent enough sample size to work with. Still, wine tasting is first and foremost a sensory experience and is not, and should not be, math, and why insist on the French route when there’s a whole other world of cheap but delicious wines to taste?

I should note too though, Sihao’s distinction that one cannot objectively judge French wines for their value; he is partial to French, and more broadly speaking, old world wines, for the more subtle and elegant taste. Nonetheless, since my limited pocketbook has the final say most of the time anyway, I will keep my money away from the cheaper French wines.

Tasting notes:
We washed down a sushi dinner on Tuesday with a bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006from New Zealand and a bottle of Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2006, a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. The SB was like I remembered it, light, lively, and fruity, and curiously I picked up some tomato garlic puree notes (think pizza) as well. In contrast, the vouvray was a little hard to swallow at first: it had the faint scent of cat pee that we would have thought to find in the NZ wine, and the body tasted like a boorish thick-set sort of fellow (kind of odd description I know, but that’s what comes to mind) with a somewhat harsh and bitter finish. None of the spritzy citrus-y aromas found in the SB, but lots of melon and minerally flavors. After sitting in the glass for a while, the Vouvray did mellow out somewhat, much to our relief.

domaine.jpg

For dessert, I broke out the half bottle of Cabernet Franc Port 2004 from Tabor Hill Winery, Michigan that I had been saving. Pauline had given me a bottle of it a while ago, when she had visited Singapore, Michigan on a weekend road trip. I’d shared that bottle with her, and marveled at how delicious it was. Last year, when I had visited Tabor Hill with some of the DGS folks on our Memorial Day road trip, I’d tried to buy another bottle, only to be informed that it was sold out. Happily, Pauline had bought more than one bottle on her road trip, and just before she left for the west coast last summer, she gave me another bottle. This we had on Tuesday, paired against a double chocolate gelato. Aged in French and American oak, it had aromas of plum with a touch of spice, maybe some sort of herbs. Sensuous and silky, it just slid down my throat and I lamented the fact that I had to restrain from refilling my glass since I still had to drive home. Oddly, the port recalled a description by the San Francisco Chronicle used to describe baritone Dimitriv Hvorostovsky’s voice: “…a gorgeously dark, burnished tone and a voice that moves freely and without strain through a broad range, [the result of which was exquisite].”

bot_port_cabernet_franc_lg.jpg

For dinner on Thursday, four of us ventured to a Columbian restaurant, and brought along with us two bottles of wine, a Ravenswood Zinfandel and a Bourgogne Appellation Bourgogne Controlee, Red Burgundy wine, from Domaine Digioia-Royer. The Zin, when we first opened, had the characteristic fruity notes of Californian wines and the slightest edge of a metallic finish in the body that I associate with zinfandels. I didn’t quite like the finish at first; it seemed a little hollow to me. But as it opened up through the dinner, it softened and became a lot fuller, and rounder, and was simply quite delicious and rich with our hearty dinners of skirt steak and pork rib tips. In marked contrast, the burgundy was a disappointment, especially all the more so since it came on the heels of the dozens of attractively priced wines that have blown my socks away in the recent weeks. The wine was weak and watery, and did not have any sort of distinctive nose. Not a wine to share in company, and not even a wine that I could enjoy on my own.

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

riff.jpg

2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

rex.jpg

2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

paraiso_pnoir.jpg

2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

licia.jpg

2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

atrea_choir_small.gif

2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvédre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 🙂

And then, I was done. 🙂

Great Leap Wines

Sihao, Bruce, and I stopped by WineStyles last night, ostensibly so that Sihao could pick up the bottle of wine he had bought on back order, but really so we could partake in the store’s “Great Leap Wines” tasting. The theme was entitled as such to take note of the rare leap year of course, but the wines in of themselves fitted the bill perfectly. Each of the four wines we tasted had gigantic noses that simply jumped out at you.

First up was the Allegrini La Grola Veneto, Italy 2004 ($28 at WineStyles, $24 at Sam’s): A blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 15% Rondinella, 10% Syrah and 5% Sangiovese, the wine was aged 16 months in French oak. Big nose – lots of earth, chalk, and some plum. Need to start paying more attention to these Veronese wines…

wine_702278.gif

Next up for the Punto Final Malbec Reserva 2005 ($25 at WineStyles – seems to retail online for ~$15): This wine was also fermented in French oak for 16 months (smell a trend here)… super dark color, almost violet. You could totally smell the oak on the nose. Quite a smooth finish – we debated for a while about picking up a bottle to go with Naples-styled pizza.

4391.gif

Third on the list, and my second favorite of the tasting, was the Nieto Senetiner Cabernet Shiraz 2004 ($18 at WineStyles, appears to retail elsewhere for about $10): The wine, yes, again, was aged in French oak, this time for about a year. Also a deep red. Big, almost gripping smell – first of aged cheese and some pepper. After a few minutes of talking, I sunk my nose back into the glass and was surprised to smell faint notes of citrus, then some herbal notes. Quite a delight.

45676.jpg

Last, and my favorite of the night is the rare Mio Amarone DOC 2004 ($66 at WineStyles; couldn’t find a price quote online): Made of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Molinara, the wine had a strong raisin-y smell, with just the slightest tinge of sweetness. I loved it – it was a big wine, with 14.7% alcohol, and very concentrated. It should go well with aged cheese at the end of a big meal, but I definitely wouldn’t eat it with my meal as it’s too overwhelming. I took but two tastings of it, and could feel my palate tiring from all the explosions of flavors.

A brief overview of the Amarone grape from the Wine Lovers Page:

Amarone
© by Tom Hyland

Amarone is one of Italy’s wine treasures that is loved by wine drinkers looking for ripe fruit, power, roundness and a sense of adventure in their red wine. Put a combination like that together and it should come as no surprise that Amarone is so popular these days.

Why is Amarone enjoying such renown and acceptance these days? Being a big – read 14 percent alcohol – wine doesn’t hurt and either does the name which most people can pronounce, unlike some Italian words. But it may be the singularity of this wine that makes it such a favorite.

Amarone is produced in the region of Veneto by estates that make Valpolicella, one of the most popular wines of this area in Northeastern Italy. The same grapes, primarily Corvina (usually the leading component in the blend) along with Rondinella and Molinara, are used to produce Amarone. But the difference between the two wines is usually striking; where Valpolicella is a medium-weight wine meant for consumption with lighter fare with in its first 3-5 years, Amarone is a much more robust wine that is perfect with game birds or other such sturdy fare over the course of 7 to 15 years.

The reason for the stylistic difference in these wines is in the winemaking. To produce an Amarone (properly known as Amarone della Valpolicella Classico), a winemaker will take the harvested grapes and lay them on a straw mat, often in an attic or other warm room. The grapes then dry over the course of several months creating a raisiny flavor that is a distinctive character of Amarone.

As Amarone comes from the Italian word amaro (“bitter”), most examples have a tartness or slightly astringent edge to them. Alternatively, you may notice a sweet edge to them that can be explained in the concentrated sugars the grapes pick up during the drying process. Certainly, the combination of raisiny and sweet black fruit can make Amarone an irresistible temptation.

That slightly sweet edge in the finish can also come from the fact that a particular Amarone may not be entirely dry. Amarone is actually a recent innovation, dating back only from the 1950s. Before that, the process of drying grapes in this fashion (known as appasimento) resulted in a sweet, super-rich wine known as Recioto. Legend has it that the first Amarone was a mistake, as a winemaker had let a barrel of wine ferment too long and the wine’s residual sugar had been eliminated. Recioto is still made today and its sweetness and richness make it a perfect choice at the end of a meal, often with powerful cheeses. (Many producers of Amarone also produce a Recioto – the official name is Recioto Della Valpolicella – with Masi and Tedeschi among the best.)

In the end, after many rounds about the store in search of the perfect pizza accompaniment, we settled on a bottle of Castellare di Castellina 2004, a Chianti Classico ($29 at WineStyles, seems to retail online for around $20 – BLEAH): I couldn’t find a picture of the 2004 label – the bird on the label changes every year (ala Mouton Rothschild with the paintings on the label commissioned to different artists every year). Supposedly, the winemaker is a bird lover and donates a portion of his proceeds to the conservation of the birds. Anyway, we thought this was the perfect example of a Chianti Classico after it’d opened up through the course of our meal (the truffle oil and pruciutto pizza, btw, was to die for). At first, I was a little surprised by how smooth and a little sweet the wine seemed, but after a bit, the tannins began to shine through.

img-display.jpg