Learning more about Mourvèdre: a sampling of varietal wines from around the world

It recently occurred to me that I hardly ever drink mourvèdre. Or more accurately, I probably do without knowing it, as it’s often used as a blending grape that comprises a tiny percentage in a lot of wines, mixed in with other Rhone varieties like grenache, syrah and cinsault. I realized that, after all my years of tasting and learning about wines, that I couldn’t tell you what mourvèdre on its own tastes like.

Another factor complicating matters is that mourvèdre is like a secret agent among wine grapes – not just often appearing undercover, but also under many names. In parts of Spain like Jumilla, mourvèdre is known as monastrell. Some producers in Australia call it mataro. So, when it came time to choose a theme for the next tasting for one of my wine groups, naturally I chose mourvèdre.

I’ve had some good luck with monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain in the past. In my early years of wine drinking, the Altos de Luzon bottling from Bodegas Luzon tarantas monastrellhas ranged from good to fantastic depending on the vintage – though that wine is only 50% monastrell, blended with tempranillo and cab.

Last night, I got a look at the 2011 Tarantas Monastrell, also from Jumilla. A wine of deep and rich reddish-purple color, the Tarantas gives forth aromas of dusty plums. On the palate, the fruit tastes more like slightly medicinal red and dark cherries, with plummy acidity and a slightly herby brambly edge on the finish to lend some interest. At $12 retail, this is a nice bargain-priced wine from 100% organically grown monastrell grapes and a good first glimpse into the character of this variety.

Next up, we had a French entrant, a 2010 Bandol called Le Galantin. 95% mourvèdre with a splash of grenache thrown in, this wine tastes true to its place of origin, with lavender and other Provençal herbs adding a floral edge to this rustic country wine.

Two New World takes on the variety took us to a slightly higher price range, with the 2007 D’Arenberg The Twentyeight Road mourvèdre at $31 and the 2010 Carlisle Two Acres, a California blend of mostly mourvèdre with small amounts of petite syrah, mourvedre 2syrah, peloursin, alicante bouschet and carignane. The D’Arenberg immediately justifies its higher price tag, with a perfumey nose that’s instantly appealing. To be fair, this is a bit older than the other wines, and has had time to become wine, as opposed to tasting like very primary grape juice. Ripe fruit and judicious oak have played their roles perfectly here, resulting in a slightly redder-fruited wine than the others, and it’s delicious.

The Carlisle shows a slightly meaty edge that the other wines didn’t. If we had had this double blind, I might have guessed from the nose that this was from the Rhone Valley, but the palate is classic Carlisle – dark, brooding but recognizably New World with its powerful, fruity style. The D’Arenberg wins wine of the night honors for me, but perhaps with the same amount of age on it, this Carlisle might be equally deserving.

So, after tasting these wines, what is mourvèdre like? My take is that the grape produces richly colored wines, and has a wild, brambly edge that feels part bushy, part peppery. There’s a thread of racy acidity that seems to come naturally to each of the wines tasted tonight, producing starkly flavorful and aromatic wines without forbidding tannins, even in youth. Fans of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel/ primitivo might do well to check out mourvèdre/monastrell/mataro, in all of its guises. -Alan

The Tarantas Monastrell was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from its distributor.

How to recognize a wine geek

Has someone you know become obsessed with wine? (Admit it, it’s not “a friend” -it’s probably you if you are reading wine blogs like this one).  Anyway, here are some signs you can look for to diagnose a severe case of wine geekery in your, um, friend.

-Hand them a glass with a stem, but filled with water. See if they swirl the liquid in the glass anyway.

-Have they started rating fruit and giving tasting notes?  “This Macintosh could use some more acidity and the tannins in the skin are just a shade too bitter.  They’re not as good as the ones from ’05.  Remember those?  Now those were outstanding apples.”

-Do they say wine-related things in contexts that have nothing to do with wine?  “This park bench is corked.  The wood definitely smells of TCA.”

If you recognize all of these signs, don’t worry, as long as drinking in moderation is not an issue.  Just enjoy the ride, you’ll probably get to partake in lots of good wine!

In the meanwhile, here are notes on some bottles recently enjoyed by someone who may or may not have exhibited some of the signs described above.

  • 2009 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (11/20/2011)
    Really enjoyable – has the elements I want in a CA pinot – light, silky texture, appealing fruit, fresh acidity. The fruit is quite sweet and has a bit of sap to it. My only quibble is that on the finish, the sweetness to the fruit reminds me slightly of saccharine. With extended air, floral notes and a touch of anise come out on the nose. Some might find this a bit thin, but I find it properly delicate for a pinot. 92, seriously pushing 93 at times – an irresistable wine, and surprisingly approachable now. (92 points)
  • 2005 Château Lascombes – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux (11/15/2011)
    Not as modern as I expected given the reputation of recent vintages of Lascombes. Tight for the first three nights, on day four this opened up to show luscious fruit, a touch of peppery and herby spice, and hints of mineral. At least for this vintage, I believe that criticisms that this property has lost all Margaux typicity will be unfounded in the long run. Nice wine. (93 points)
  • 2009 Carlisle Two Acres – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (11/15/2011)
    Tasted briefly but this had aromatic red and dark fruits, together with some herby spice, on the nose. Palate was tasty and expressive, and was a group favorite among a strong weekend lineup. Did not take enough notes to rate this, but this is a strong performer at this stage.
  • 2004 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (11/13/2011)
    Winning bottle in our wine group’s big annual double blind contest. At first I thought this might be a burg or even a classy CA pinot from the nose, but the palate didnt match. Then on second sniff I got that it was either barolo or barbaresco. On the palate this feels young now but smooth, with bright red fruits. Lovely stuff, 94 with a + for the future. (94 points)
  • 2006 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Brunet Maison Champy – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru (11/11/2011)
    Very solid Beaune 1er cru, has lots of flavor and material. Not a light styled Burg, but showed very smooth on the palate – Volnay and Chambolle fans might be pleasantly surprised. A good deal at $40ish. Some transparency here, revealing earthy notes underpinning the fruit, which is midway between tart and sweet. (91 points)
  • 2008 Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune 1er Cru (11/6/2011)
    A very solid Beaune 1er – this delivers a lot of typicity and good quality for the reasonable price. It’s still early for this, as you feel the structure upfront, but if you give it a little time to mellow this delivers a solid burg experience that’s very reflective of ’08. I wished for a touch more sweetness to the fruit, but given the level of this bottling and the vintage this gives everything that can be expected. I do see more than the usual upside potential here – one senses a bit of sappy flavor waiting to get out from under the tannin in a few years, and this could turn out to be beautiful. For now, an enjoyable burg with smoothness and transparency, an enjoyable 89 points, with a ++ for lots of potential improvement. (89 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

Learning blind tasting from NYC’s top sommeliers, for a good cause!

Recently I attended a fantastically fun wine event, Glass by Glass-NYC, which was essentially a blind tasting workshop where participants got instruction and tips from a cadre of NYC’s top sommeliers while having a fantastic lunch at Picholine.  Even better, the event was a fundraiser for a nobler purpose – support of the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU, which cultivates talented students putting their energies into changing the world.  The event’s keynote speaker, Susan Davis of BRAC, observed that the recipients of Reynolds scholarships and Fellowships are like young wines – bright, with outstanding qualities, and most of all, with the potential to achieve great things if given proper nurturing.  You can read more about the program’s Changemakers here, detailing achievements that vary from fighting human trafficking, to using modern business methods to create wealth and fight poverty, to supporting fair trade fashion.

And what about the wine tasting part?  I had an amazing time, learning a lot from great somms from top eateries including Jean Georges, Tribeca Grill, ‘inoteca and many more.  One great tip:  to help you determine the level of a wine’s dryness or sweetness, lick your gums after tasting – you may find telltale residual sugar there.  Another: when checking the rim of a red wine, if the color of the meniscus is neon bright, there’s a good chance it’s malbec, which I’ve otherwise found notoriously difficult to pick out in double blind tastings.

As with any good blind wine foray, I had moments of encouraging success, and others filled with confidence-shattering missteps.  My biggest triumph:  correctly identifying a Greek assyrtiko.  The low point?  Loudly declaring in front of two somms from Per Se that if the wine I was tasting then was not a Napa cab, I would leave.  Of course, the wine was a Chilean carmenere.  Did I mention that blind tasting is a humbling experience?  Per Se sommelier Michel Couvreux was nice enough to let me stay, and Jordan Salcito from The Lion was nice enough to assure me that my error wasn’t that bad because Bordeaux grapes have a lot of overlap.  I think she was being charitable.  What nice people these sommeliers were, and not snooty at all, contrary to popular misperception.  Thanks also to others like Sean Kerby from Tom Colicchio’s new Riverpark, for sharing their secrets to blind tasting, and most of all, organizers Evan Lambert and Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer.

If you get the chance to attend future installments of Glass by Glass, jump at the chance – it’s such a great time, awesome wines (my faves included Bessards Delas Hermitage, a Jadot Pommard Grand Epenots, a Markus Molitor Wehlener Sonnenuhr kabinett, a Marc Morey Chassagne Montrachet, the 2005 Reserve de la Comtesse, a Pio Cesare barbaresco, and a Phillipe Melka cab) and people, and a chance to do some good for society as well.  Most of all, I’m thankful that the event opened my eyes to the whole social entrepreneurship movement – the Reynolds Fellows who were in attendance certainly convinced me that your $$ supporting these kinds of ventures will pay dividends throughout our society for many years to come.  Please check out these links below and support what you can!

Here’s a listing of a number of social entrepreneurship links: http://www.nyu.edu/reynolds/news_events_resources/links.html


Your next mailing list winery?

A few nights ago I had the chance to taste the wines of a number of wineries from Washington at the Taste Walla Walla event in New York.  One winery there was a new discovery to me – Reynvaan Family Vineyards (pronounced “Rine-van”, I was told).  I tasted three of their syrahs and I felt compelled to write quickly about them as a winery who sells primarily through mailing list that syrah aficionados may want to sign up for before the mailing list closes and becomes a wait list. One reason for concern that the mailing list will fill up quickly is a connection to Cayuse, which has a multiyear wait currently – Cayuse owner and winemaker Christophe Baron is a vineyard and winemaking consultant for Reynvaan.  So, people looking for the closest thing to Cayuse may be looking to Reynvaan.

So, are the wines like those of Cayuse?  Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, as I’ve never tasted any of Cayuse’s wines.  But that’s just as well, because the wines of Reynvaan deserve to be discussed on their own merits without being saddled by comparisons to another wines of another producer.

I tasted three of Reynvaan’s syrah/syrah blends.  They all exhibited a house style that felt refreshingly original – while a lot of Washington syrahs I have tasted display a very safe, rounded but pedestrian style, the Reynvaan wines show edgy cool-climate flavor profiles characterized by floral and herby aromas and flavors and other hallmarks of syrah like peppery spice, roast meat or nut tinges, and sage/underbrush.   These wines call to my mind cool-climate efforts  like recent vintages of Copain in California, but also many wines from the Rhone, Languedoc Roussillon, and Provence regions of France.  While it does feel like a New World syrah when you know its origins, you might be able to have some fun sneaking this into a blind tasting for that snooty Francophile winegeek friend that you’ve been dying to stump and watching them bounce between guesses of Chapoutier, Thierry Allemand, perhaps some interesting Minervois or Bandol or some small natural wine producer like Axel Prufer in the Savio Soares portfolio.

One thing I especially like about what winemaker Matt Reynvaan is doing is a willingness to experiment.  These syrahs are all co-fermented with some grape varieties traditionally used to make white wines – including viognier, which is not unusual to find used in syrahs from the Rhone Valley or from Australia, and in an interesting twist, marsanne, which is used in In the Rocks and The Contender.  I asked Matt how they came to the idea of using marsanne, and he told me about how their philosophy includes the freedom to experiment.  While I have heard before that viognier can add lift and sheen to a syrah blend, Matt explained that the marsanne lends an oily viscosity to the wine, as well as minerality.  The results showed in the wines I tasted, which had very vivid aromatics, minerality, savory elements and loads of terroir showing.

The last time I recommended that readers join a mailing list was this post about Bedrock Wine Company back in 2009, and as I guessed, word got out in various channels about how great the wines were and the winery has blown up in popularity.  This time, my recommendation is as strong but narrower – the Reynvaan wines are more avant-garde than the Bedrock wines.  They are not for everybody, as you have to be willing to follow wines that explore the floral side of syrah, with herbier and more mineral palate flavors than you find from most New World offerings.  They are so vivid, they will walk you through the fields, have you stop and smell the lavender, maybe chew on some leaves, and sample some crushed stones. I can’t promise that you’ll like every part of it.  But you will definitely have an interesting time.

Both winemaker Matt Reynvaan and the terroir that he is using to make his wines seem to be off to a great start, and perhaps more importantly, have great potential for the future.  I look forward to seeing what these syrahs are like in a few years, to see how the flowers have bloomed among the stones – and Matt himself seems like a very earnest, engaged and thoughtful winemaker so I’m interested to follow his maturation as a vigneron as well. I have rated the wines somewhat conservatively but in some cases I have added two + signs, denoting my belief that these wines may well merit a significantly higher rating after gaining some time in bottle.  The Contender 2008 is sold out at the winery, but seems to be available at some retail outlets; the other two syrahs can be bought directly from Reynvaan, and they are also taking futures orders for the 2009 vintage, with slightly expanded syrah offerings.  It appears that there is still room on the mailing list; I was able to sign up yesterday.  My tasting notes are below.

  • 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah The Unnamed – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (2/1/2011)Lavender, soapy Provencal herbs on the nose, with an interesting sweet floral note too. On the palate, perhaps a bit too cool-climate in feel for me – a bit on the herbal side. A wine with great interest but perhaps more interesting than enjoyable at this point. 87+ (87 points)
  • 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah In the Rocks – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (2/1/2011)Again, a very interesting wine, showing lots of herbal character. Floral nose, with a sweet note in there, and more pleasing fruit ripeness showing here than in The Unnamed. A slight roast nut aspect that reminds me of some Chateauneuf-du-Papes makes a cameo here as well. Like this a lot. 91-92++, more potential for upside than most wines.
  • 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah The Contender – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (2/1/2011)Syrah with 4% marsanne and 2% viognier. This wine seems the most dialed in for my palate among the Reynvaan ’08s; just a bit more accessible and pleasing. Smooth on the palate, with a bit of rounding sweetness to the fruit. Nonetheless, plenty of terroir showing, as well as the same floral lavender, including a slight soapy note on the finish; a really pretty wine. Lots of upside potential. 91-92++(denotes the potential for significant improvement with bottle age) (92 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

A wine for winter

Greetings amateur winos, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Today’s post is a brief one – a nifty little find for winter. As the weather turns cold, we often turn to comfort food – like the turkey that many of us will have today or on Christmas, or hearty stews, or robust meat dishes with a bit of gaminess, like beef or lamb. Foods like these make me reach for wines that match, and often, red wines made from Rhone varieties fit the bill.

Today’s red is just such a wine. It’s a Cotes du Rhone from the Rhone Valley in France; Cotes du Rhones are modestly priced, usually between $10-18 and often have deep fruits imbued with peppery spice, making for a wine that can stand up up to the heartiest of foods. And, it’s not just any Cotes du Rhone, but one made by a famous winemaker, Louis Barruol. Monsieur Barruol is perhaps best known for his wines made under the label of his winery, Chateau de St. Cosme – and his Cotes du Rhones (including the terrific “Les Deux Albion”) are always among the best, and can disappear quickly from shelves because a lot of people know this.

For those of you who, like me, have sometimes had trouble finding the St. Cosme wines, I’ve got good news for you. A lot of people don’t know that today’s wine – the 2005 Oriel Courant Cotes du Rhone, is also made by Louis Barruol. Oriel is an interesting outfit – unlike the usual wine producer that farms grapes on its own estate, they source grapes and commission winemakers from all over the world to sell under one common brand. I don’t see their wines in a lot of retail stores, but you can find them here and there, and also on their website.

I tasted the Courant this week, and I’m pleased to report that it shares a lot of the same elements that are great about the Cotes du Rhones from Chateau de St. Cosme – tasty rustic fruit, peppery spice that punch up the wines, and nice Old World accents of leather, game and barnyard that add complexity but don’t dominate the wine. At $15, the Oriel Courant is moderately priced, and perhaps the best part is, the 2005 bottling is still available, and having a Cotes du Rhone with a little age on it is a real treat, as many CdRs are consumed in its first few years before they have a chance to evolve. Check this one out and you’ll get to see the work of one of the Rhone’s top winemakers for a bargain price, and get a sense of what Cotes du Rhones are like with a little maturation time. With the right food on a cold winter’s night, this wine, made from 100% syrah grapes, will warm you right up. :) Enjoy!

This wine was reviewed from a review sample bottle received free of charge.

A blind tasting for the ages!

I love blind tastings. I’m not particularly good at them- especially when they are done double blind (meaning you know have no idea what the bottles are at all – they could be any grape(s), from anywhere in the world). But they’re always fun to me, and a huge learning experience. I’m a member of two tasting groups that do blind tastings, so I do my fair share. But then, every now and then, you have a wine-drinking experience that completely resets your world, wine-wise. Last night was one of those nights for me.

A double blind tasting at Blue Streak Wines

In my last post, I wrote about a blind tasting that my friend Shaun and I did together. After
hearing about it, our mutual friend Chris in California surprised us with a gift/challenge: he was going to send us a box of wines that he wanted us to taste blind – the only condition was we had to make a guess at each wine and share our thoughts with him.

This immediately set Shaun and I into a frenzy of intrigue. Chris has got a dizzying amount of wine knowledge, so we knew the wines would be cleverly chosen, and a real challenge.

A date was set, and the players chosen: Shaun (a pro in the wine trade, also young like Chris with a similarly encyclopedic range of knowledge and impressively strong blind tasting skills, very much a mentor to me in my drive to learn more about wine every day), Val (another trade pro who used to work with the guys, with an excellent palate and WSET training), myself, my filmmaker friend and colleague Jen, Stephen and Rhoda (owners of the store that Shaun manages that hosted the tasting, Blue Streak Wines, located in a charming neighborhood of Long Island City), myself and my wife Plee, who’s not drinking tonight but is kind enough to film footage of the night, which I will post later when it’s edited. The offer to join is thrown out to a handful of other trade veterans and a community of wine geeks, but ultimately, no one else makes it to the tasting. Most importantly, Chris is in attendance, through videoconference on Skype.

Chris sent us 10 wines, blinded already, which are bagged and decanted by James, Shaun’s Continue reading

The generosity of winos, and paying it forward

Bottles from our blind tasting: '06 Tignanello, '99 Niebaum Coppola Estate cab franc, and '00 Ch. Cap de Faugeres bordeaux

Just a brief post today, a quick anecdote. This past week a wine-loving friend came over to have dinner, and we each wrapped up a few bottles for each other to taste blind. One wine had me stumped – I got that it was Bordeaux grapes, and I was sure it was from California – it had such ripe fruit and a strong oak signature – but I was told it was not CA. After guessing Washington and other New World bordeaux blends, I gave up and unwrapped the bottle. I was blown away! It was the 2006 Tignanello, one of the reknowned Super Tuscans that I had never tasted before. My buddy Shaun had remembered that I once said that I’d never tried the Tig, and brought it for me to taste! As some of you may know, it’s an expensive bottle of wine, so I was touched not only by the generosity, but also by the thoughtfulness that my friend showed in remembering a bottle that was on my ‘would love to try someday’ wishlist. Needless, to say, this is one favor I’m looking forward to repaying.

So, the moral of the story today is just an encouragement to give the gift of wine to someone who’ll enjoy it – in my experience it leads to more friendships and good times. I’ve given several bottles of burgundy and bordeaux to various friends recently, and it felt great. I’ve been lucky to have been on the receiving end of a lot of generosity from fellow wine lovers (most notably my friend Chris, whose full story of generosity and random kindness will be told on this blog someday when the story is ripe) and I’m excited by every opportunity I get to pay it back, and forward. Thank you Shaun, Chris, and everyone who has been generous about sharing wines and more importantly, their friendship, with me!

So let’s hear about the best wine gift you ever received or gave! Cheers,