Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2009 Pasqua Valpolicella Ripasso

So I was down in Atlanta for a few days for a conference and I made many new friends and overall it was a lovely time.  But since I came a day early for a special session, I was on my own the first night, so not surprisingly with a Trader Joe's nearby I stopped on the way back from dinner and picked up a bottle of wine to enjoy in my room (the hotel's selections were pretty bland).  So I picked up a bottle of 2009 Pasqua Valpolicalla Ripasso to enjoy (what better complement for my earlier Amarone selection?)

First a note to Trader Joe's - I've been a huge fan of yours since the early days when I shopped at the store in Beaverton, Ore. not far from my house in 1999, and followed you to Issaquah, Washington, then Chicago, and now various locations in Detroit/Ann Arbor, so no one can accuse me of being a fair weather fan.  But on this instance at your store in Buckhead, I bought the aforementioned bottle of wine, which had a price tag on the shelf of only $8.99, but unfortunately when the cashier scanned it, it rang up at $9.99.  Now I'm more than happy to contribute an extra dollar to your efforts if you ask, but I get a little peeved when prices don't agree (after all, in Michigan, we have a law that would have required you to start handing me cash if that happened here).  But what gets me more peeved is when one of your associates tells me that the price on the register is right and the shelf tag is wrong, like I have mobile access to your pricing mainframe or have psychic powers that enable me to pick which items in your store I'm about to be overcharged for - here's a hint, I have neither of those, but as a customer when you put a price on the shelf, that's the price - PERIOD.  Don't try to give me a song and dance because you can't update your shelf tags in a timely manner.  I've never had this sort of experience at any of your stores, and I can only hope this was an isolated incident.  Now back to the wine.

The Valpolicella Ripasso, is made from the same grapes as Amarone, which are partially dried to make the wonderfully concentrated flavors of Amarone, but in the end there is usually something left over, so on the second pressing (ripasso!) they make another wine which is somewhat of a baby Amarone which usually is available for less than half the price of an Amarone.  I drank this one over a couple days, and I'll admit it was a bit young, so it probably wasn't as expressive as it could have been.  It was relatively light, with a bright magenta color and a nose of cherries, currants, herbs and a somewhat floral note.  The wine was very fruit forward, as could be expected for such a young wine, with taste of grape jam and a bit of lavender mid palate, and unfortunately the finish was pretty flat.

Overall I would rate this one a solid 7, it was good for what it was, and a nice value at $9, but I think there are a number of better examples out there for not a lot more cash.

Monday, February 27, 2012

2006 Château Listran Médoc

So on my Atlanta junket, I had the pleasure of dining with 13 other conference attendees at a wonderful little French restaurant across the street from the hotel, called Bistro Niko, yes I know it sounds Greek, but I think that's because the owners of this chain of restaurants in the Buckhead area are Greek (they also own a Greek restaurant called Kyma which we dined at on Thursday).  At any rate, we had a chance to enjoy some wonderful French cuisine and some great wines as well (we only ordered 7 bottles between the 14 of us!).

Please excuse the crummy photo, but I took this at the table with my iPhone so it might not be as clear as it could be!  On this night, the wine was eclipsed by the food in my opinion, so I won't leave the delicious pairings until the end, but will give you a succinct play-by-play instead.  I hope you don't mind!

To start, I ordered a dozen escargots en croûte that I split with one of my new friends.  They were delicious!  The last time I was in Buckhead in 1994, we went to another French restaurant and that time I had escargot but they were in the shell.  These were served in garlic butter with a tiny puff pastry on top, and they were outstanding!  Then I ordered some wine for the table, if I recall, we had a bottle of the house Bordeaux, a couple bottles of Malbec, a bottle of house Pinot Gris, a bottle of house Sauvignon Blanc, and a couple bottles of the 2006 Château Listran Médoc.

Now this wine needed some time to open up, as my first taste was somewhat alarming with the nose of wet dog!  But after allowing the wine to breathe a bit, it really opened up nicely in the glass.  The wet dog evolved into some earthy aromas of oak and peat along with dried herbs.  The initial taste had very subdued fruit, with a hint of cassis, and at mid-palate there was a combination of aged tobacco and dark chocolate, yielding to an incessantly dry finish as only a nice Bordeaux can deliver.  Remarkably enough, I had this wine with seafood!  Specifically, with the
pâtes aux fruits des mer, which was a combination of sea scallops and calamari from Maine andMédoc stood as a near perfect contrast to the creamy richness of my dinner, so delicious!  We liked this wine enough to order a second bottle and at $36, I thought it might just be the best bargain on their wine list, and likely available outside the restaurant for under $20.  Overall, I would rate this one a solid 8, but remember to let it decant or breathe a bit in the glass to further your enjoyment!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

2008 Hahn Winery Meritage

Tonight I am enjoying the 2008 Hahn Winery Meritage, a bottle I picked up from a close out sale at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (they were selling some of the remaining wine from the old 1913 Room).  I must admit I have a weakness for any wine with the word "Meritage" in its name as I have a great love for interesting red blends, and this one was very interesting.

The 2008 Hahn Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (42%), Malbec (22%), Petit Verdot (22%), Cabernet Franc (10%) and Merlot (4%).  Now those of you who know me, know that I am not in any way a fan of Malbec, despite it's surge in popularity over the last few years.  I just find it too earthy for my taste, but in this blend it actually works pretty well (I've tried other blends where 6% Malbec ruins it!).

The wine itself is a dark ruby in the glass and has a nose of blueberry and grape jam with hints of cedar and oak.  The first taste is full of fruit, a mix of blackberry and cherry with some dried herbs.  Mid-palate gets a little shaky, with a somewhat medicine like taste, which I'll blame on the Malbec, but the finish is quite nice, dry and smooth which I'll credit to the Petit Verdot. 

This wine would pair well with a number of savory dishes, particularly spicy Italian foods, or a nice braised lamb.  Tonight I am having it with a crab stuffed flounder (thank you Trader Joe's) and some wild rice.  Overall, I would rate this wine a solid 7, it would probably go higher but for my own biases, and it was a pretty good value, buying it for just $12.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A night out at the wine bar!

Wow, what an incredibly inconsiderate slacker I've been!  Over three weeks without a single post!  I could point to the fact that I've been super busy with work, plus the Super Bowl and all those other social events going on, but those just seem like weak attempts to shirk the blame for leaving all my wine buds out in the cold in the middle of February.  So let me simply say I'm sorry!  Can we move on now?  Ok, good.

So before I get back into the swing of full blown wine reviews again, I thought we'd take a bit of a detour to the Reserve Wine Bar here in my home town.  Now I'll freely admit the first time I was there I was NOT impressed.  Granted, it was the first month they were open, and they had a big event next door so the place was packed, but there is no excuse for staff that know nothing of wine and bring back 3 cheeses on a plate when you ordered a flight of five (and then can't find the order ticket she made you fill out with the cheeses you wanted!).  Then there was the wine list, detailed and very impressive, but it was literally a phone book.  There were so many selections and so much detail, your head would spin before you even thought about what you want!  Granted that might be nice if you know you want to go there looking for tight niche wines, like a selection of Walla Walla reds, or Willamette Valley Pinots, but not if you just want to have a nice evening with friends enjoying wine.  It was clearly a disaster.

Well, thankfully I gave it a second chance (what choice did I have?  It's the only wine bar in town!) and it was outstanding the second time around.  The wine BOOK is gone, replaced by a single sheet, front and back with popular selections for a fun night with friends (I'm sure the list is still somewhere, just in case you want a night of wine geekdom).  So I went with several friends from work, and we dove into the wine, though we did order some olives and a flight of cheese (Stilton blue, Midnight Moon goat's milk from California, Beemster 18-month aged gouda and a Polkton Corner raw cow's milk cheese from Michigan) and proscuitto di parma!

For the wine, I started with the "Kameel's Killer Cabs" flight, a sampling of three outstanding Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.  I didn't take any tasting notes, so from memory here they are:

Merus 2006 Cabernet - this was a very nice, solid Napa cab, but clearly not my favorite of the three.  The next two were virtually tied for my favorite, but I kept going back and forth on which I preferred.

Shafer One Point Five 2009 Cabernet - this one was outstanding, and just about everything you could ask for a big Napa Cab, but I felt it was still too young, giving it a little too much sharpness which I think will become much more refined with some age.

Caymus 2008 Stag's Leap Napa Valley Cabernet - I think this was close to my favorite (again, back and forth, even from memory!), it was big and bold with a long, smooth finish, a good bit of fruit on the front end, lots of spice and earthiness mid-palate, just a really great Cab!

Finally, I finished the evening with a glass of Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture 2007, which I'd never had before, but it was on my list of Italian varietals that I have to try, to that was the night!  It was very nice, nothing like a standard Chianti, it was heavier and bolder, and a perfect wine transition from a swath of big Napa Cabs.  Nice fruit and well structured, but a bit rustic with a smooth, dry finish.  A variety I'll need to see more of!

So that was our evening, and you can see from the photo we had a wonderful time, enjoying some wine with good friends.  If you have a local wine bar, I highly recommend it!