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Alright Mondavi, I See What Your Game Is

So, in spite of the so-so $17 bottle of wine-that-isn’t-impressing-anyone from last week, I’m after a merlot that soothes my deep-down need for a fruitbomb to go off in my mouth.

And folks, I think I’m as close as I’m going to get.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2007

This wine is everything you’d expect at a gay rights parade. It’s young, it’s hot, it’s a little spicy and it’s EXTRA fruity.

The nose really gives off a lot of blueberry and alcohol, but the mouth actually helps to tone the latter down. It’s blueberry, it’s blackberry, it’s all the black fruit you can imagine, but with very little sweetness. The oak is not overdone like you might find in those less expensive Mondavi wines, and everything balances together rather nicely.

This is not a structured Napa cabernet with lots of wood and barnyard; this is a fruit explosion in which the oak is meant to help remind you that you’re not drinking Welch’s grape juice, and the tannins are there to cover your tongue for a while so you aren’t gulping it down in sinful bliss.

From my experience, Mondavi (like a lot of the other big names in Napa) have their various wines on a tiered system: the “private selection” being near the bottom, and this “Napa Valley” likely being the next step up. I’m not sure which other levels their are in the middle, but I know that the top has one of what I like to call my “bucket list” wines (Opus One), which means I’ll likely encounter them on the way.

Hopefully soon my California red obsession will fade away, and I can start turning toward some of the more obscure (read: affordable) wines from around the world which don’t seem to ever get enough review.

The fruit and the fun of this wine make me want to give it a 90, but the high alcohol makes me want to take a point away leaving it at a very healthy (and happy) 89.

-Ryan

Merlot: The Cabernet for the Impatient

It’s fall, it’s on the chilly side, and the leaves are starting to change color… It’s now that I turn my attention to the deeper and darker reds that are built for this kind of weather.

This week’s treat? The Markham Vineyards 2007 Napa Valley merlot.

A deal, but not necessarily a steal

The more I get into these Napa wines, the more I am reminded that Napa is not and Eden in which all the fruits plucked from the trees turn into beautiful wines. In fact, there are some that turn out to be good, but not great. And the more I lean toward merlot, and merlot blends, the more I realize that the characteristic jammy-ness and ripe fruit this grape is so known for are really what I’m looking for in a Napa cab. Sadly, I don’t have the $60 to $80 to spend on a single bottle of cabernet, so I am trying to cheat and get my smooth, oaky fruit bombs I would love to see from a cab through a merlot instead.
My first thoughts about this merlot is that it’s big. Like, greyhound bus big. And like it says on the label, it for sure has the “dark ruby hues”, but the wine feels like it’s holding something back. Instead of a deep velvety jammy merlot, I’ve got a big, neutral and oaky one. The tannins are prominent, but not overwhelming, and the nose has strong notes of dark fruit and much lighter ones of white pepper.

Overall, however, this wine is just ok. It is not that inky black/red that I’m looking for in a big bold Napa merlot, but it’s not a feeble extra green merlot like we make here in Traverse City..

All in all, I’d give this wine maybe 88 or 89 points. It’s been done right, but I presume most people would enjoy drinking it, but completely forget it by the next day.

Next week, (if I can maybe sell a kidney or start dealing drugs) I will try to get a bottle of Duckhorn merlot so I can show you all (and myself) just exactly what this grape is all about.

One Rioja to Rule Them All

Well folks, it’s that time again.

It’s September, and Burritt’s is having its annual wine sale which means there are scores of great wines to be had and prices that even lowly college students with meager living accommodations can afford. This month’s wine to be?

The gold standard Rioja this side of the atlantic.

2007 Muga Rioja

Tempranillo and Garnacha have never been so good.

As you may well expect, this producer, being one of the more notable Rioja producers one can find in northern Michigan, has the ability to create consistently great Rioja year after year. Unofficially labeled as “the Bordeaux of Spain” Rioja does have a long-rooted (pun intended) history in the production of great red wine, including somewhat secretly (and scandalously) selling their wines to the French when it was a bad season up north. Curiously, most of the wines purchased by the French to blend into their less-superior grapes were Bordeaux.

It is precisely this reason why Rioja gets this notorious designation, and after you have your first glass, you can absolutely see why.

Deep red color, but no hints of any blue around the edges. The nose was initially very hot and loaded with cassis and inky blackberry, but after letting it settle down a bit in the glass, it had a chance to give off a slight hint of some kind of earth. Upon tasting, the tannins were very pronounced at first, but then settled down quickly and dissolved into the silky feel that continued all the way to the finish. Wine in mouth, it became easy to see those wonderful qualities of cedar and smoke which we’re all hoping to find in our structured red wines. The comparison to a Bordeaux  starts to make sense as the wine makes its way down, but with one very prominent distinction; the fruit in this wine is clearly of great importance to its producers, as the blackcurrant and blackberry stick with you all throughout the drinking experience, whereas with many Bordeaux, the fruit shies away before the finish, leaving you feeling like someone left a tongue depressor in your mouth.

After a few sips, (which eventually turned into joyful gulps) small little marks around my glass proved exactly what the tasting had shown; lots of extract and a lingering finish. It seems this wine is destined to impart flavor wherever it touches, even if that’s only touching the rim of your glass.

That’s all for today, hopefully sometime soon I will make my way back to Burritt’s to score a nice Napa cab, or a Russian River Valley pinot.

Don’t drop the soap…

Because apparently trying to bribe the handlers of greyhounds into testing out your new “vitamins” with a stipulation that they are not allowed to give said vitamins to any of the other dogs on the track that day, (while wearing a polo shirt with the words “TEAM KUJO” written in sharpie on the back) is considered “suspicious behavior”, my review of this 2008 Wanut City Wineworks pinot noir from the Willamette Valley may or may not be taking place in the local jail. How would this be possible, you might ask? Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in college, it’s how to train carrier pigeons to take notes to Malaysian children I keep locked in the basement working on my “secret project” of determining just exactly how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop.

They’re crunching numbers.

Get it?

Regardless, this little beauty is everything I could’ve hoped for in an Oregon pinot noir.

Now as many of you may know, part of Burgundy’s success with this particular grape over the centuries is due to the fact that Burgundy rests in a particular climate in France that is balanced on a knife-edge with regard to the grapes coming to their perfect ripeness. Much like any other fruit, when a grape is approaching overly ripe, it can have so much sugar that there is hardly any other distinguishable flavor present. (Imagine an extra-ripe strawberry). Oregon, it seems, has a way of mimicking this Burgundian quality of having a harvest that is almost always dangerously close to the time of year frost sets in over a vineyard, which means the grapes have a long time to sit on the vines and slowly come to maturation, but also that the entire crop could be lost to frost damage if the vineyard manager waits too long before harvesting.

Just as in Burgundy, the wines from truly great years will defy description, and can be counted among the best wines in the world, so is true of Oregon pinot noirs.

This 2008 pinot is a beautiful example of some of the classic burgundy characteristics, with its own little Oregon twist. Though a  bit more fruit-forward than your traditional AOC, the wonderful earthy qualities are by no means lost in this sinfully smooth red. Light in color, medium in body, with a touch of cedar spice and chocolate powder, this pinot is something worth living (or being incarcerated) for.

And as all great wine has a great food behind it, it’s not by any means difficult to imagine this elegant little red being poured with Oregon’s pinot-noir-food-of-choice: wild Alaskan salmon cooked over an open fire.

So ends my wine reviews for the evening.

Oh, and if you get a collect call from me, ACCEPT THE CHARGES.

Savage, at least in principle.

Well, it seems tonight is going to be a two-for.

As I apparently find myself continually crossing things like “flour”, “meat” and “sanitary drinking water” off my grocery list in place of wines I’ve always wanted to try, I’m currently sitting in my apartment with my very first bottle of Sancerre (one of the mainstays of the Loire Valley in France, and pretty much THE prime example of how the French feel sauvignon blanc should be made) and a bowl of boiled water with some ketchup in it for dinner.

Having had many different sauvignon blancs from around the world (mostly New Zealand, with a few Napa and Chilean sauv’s thrown in) I’ve seen everything from the “isn’t this chardonnay? It’s not, oh well let’s keep aging it in oak because well, that’s what we do with white wine here in California” to the passion-fruit-bomb-with-a-side-of-lawn examples coming out of the southern hemisphere.

This sauv, however, immediately strikes me as being a great example of what the word “sauvignon” originally meant, or at least where it originally came from: savage. This 2009 Domaine Daulny Etienne from the Loire is loaded with gunflint, and grass on the nose, with just the faintest hint of something I can only describe as the way a pumpkin smells when you first cut into it on halloween. Hauntingly high in acidity and tremendously dry, the mouthfeel of this wine is light and sharp, with the classic gooseberry, grass, gunflint and lime coming through after a few sips. The French, it seems, are doing with sauvignon blanc what they do best with all their wines; namely creating something that is by no means in your face or overbearing, but more a complex and subtle expression of the soil in which the grapes came from, and the climate of that year.

This particular Sancerre is fermented and aged entirely in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, from grapes that come from several of the 50 acres that Etienne Daulny owns throughout the eastern Loire valley.

With a plain loaf of bread and a soft but yet still bitter goat’s cheese this region is also known for, the savage can be tamed into a delightfully refreshing and simple experience without having to pad the walls of your living room.

First Post, First Pinot Gris. Hello Oregon!

Well well well,

It seems only fair that my first post be a wine that I’ve never had before. Surely this won’t be a recipe for failure!

Hold on a minute, I have to go get the wine key.

PSYCH!

This 2006 Adelsheim Pinot Gris is a twist-top, which has become an industry standard for wines from New Zealand and other new(ish) world producers. Oregon, it seems, has been under its own guise since the early 1960s, and is more than content continuing to do things just how it prefers to do them.

Now, it could be because this wine was purchased on the “CLOSEOUT, ABSOLUTELY MUST GO!” shelf of the local liquor store that it, at first, had a nose of “I can’t believe it’s not butter” and cooked pear. However, with a little time and a few swirls, the faux-butter settled down and the true fruit began to come through. Being that this particular winery will induce malolactic fermentation in certain lots of wine that end up being used in the final blend, and an even smaller portion is actually aged in older (read: mostly neutral) oak barrels, the soft oak characteristics will be present, but not overbearing. After a few sips, the pear characteristic comes out of its shell, followed by a nice apple finish. The diacetyl aspects settle down a bit too, which means (thankfully) instead of pears cooked in Country Crock, you get a nice fresh fruit flavor of crisp pear and apple with just a touch of butterscotch which in its own way can be reminiscent of applesauce or even caramel apples.

All in all, this wine is one of the very few examples I have seen thusfar that shows a delicate (and in this writer’s view, appropriate) amount of oak in a new world white wine.

Perhaps when I win the lottery or start feeding greyhounds steroids in their Kibbles ‘n Bits, I will do a summary of Oregon Pinot Noirs.