Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pissy Pinotage

Ha! Why do I do this? I read about a wine review in the local paper, get all excited coz they rate it highly (this one was called "superb" and was likened to a zin made in Madiran!@#$*!!), go out and get it and am DISAPPOINTED. Actually, I know why I do it - I love tasting different wines, especially from producers I've never experienced. So, it's gonna be hit and miss I guess.
The wine in question is the Hill & Dale, Pinotage 2003 from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Pinotage is not a grape I should like - it is a cross between pinot noir and cinsault (grapes that don't do much for me), but it is the signature grape of South Africa.
On the nose it smells like a combination of stale sweat and urine. But not in a bad way (believe it or not). On the palate it's a dense blueberry cola with a streak of beef bouillon. A bit of complexity for the price ($15), but this is just not very good (at any price). An "OK" wine. Definitively would not buy it again.
The Koko factor: it has that "thick, syrupy taste".
PS, don't leave it until the next day - it tasted like dirty tobacco.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Winter Wine?

Well, on the first day that winter blew in we thought it time to search out some beefy winter wines. First up we gave a pair of siblings a try - the Francis Coppola Blue Label Merlot, 2004 and Green Label Syrah-Shiraz, 2004.
The merlot has a light blueberry nose with a fleshy medium bodied plummy/blueberry palate. Silky, a good wine but not the beefy monster we're looking for and not worth the $25. I thought the Syrah was a shade less enjoyable but had more substance - bigger body with tougher tannins, but this comes with harshness. Also not worth the $25.
Ok, lets move on to Australia - these guys know how to make full bodied monsters. The Wolf-Blass, Grey Label Shiraz, 2004 has a very very promising nose - fantastic aromas of tar, spice and vanilla. Woo-hoo, this is gonna be fun. Full bodied, blackberry-cassis and oaky (in a nice way). A little tart on the finish, this actually helps it as a food wine. WOW. A little pricey at $35, but worth it.
A worthy foil was an old standby, the Rosemount Estate, Show Reserve Shiraz, 2001. What's it like? Take the Grey Label and pass it through a smoothing filter and you get the idea. This WOW wine is aging well.

Next up we try an interesting hybrid from Argentina - the Caro (Catena-Rothschild), Mendoza, 2003. A blend of new and old world, guess which style wins out? Hello Bordeaux!! Classy, elegant, refined, much more subtle than the Aussie efforts. Improved with time in the glass - this will age well. A "good" wine, but not worth the $38 it costs....
As an aside, I snuck a sip of the Coppola Syrah right after a glass of the Caro - the Syrah tasted fake afterwards....

Last up was a speculative effort - I was advised this might be a sleeper - the Wolf-Blass Yellow Label Merlot 2005 however just turned out to be an "OK" effort, it's only positive being that it is head and shoulders better than the last Yellow Label Cab we had. Not worth buying again at $18, though.


PS: If you want to try a good turkey wine at Christmas, try an Argentinian Malbec!! We had two this year at thanksgiving and they were perfect...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

High Ants

Strange name for a bodega - Altos Las Hormigas roughly translates into "high ants". I've seen this Mendoza vineyard (had lunch next door), and I don't remember any ants nor any hills (unless you count the Andes, but they are 30 miles away). Anyways, I digress. Their Malbec, 2006 has a tight nose but is a lively medium bodied spicy vibrant little number. It tastes like a cross between cranberries and blueberries sandwiched between leather. The finish fades fast.
A good entry level malbec, about right at $14 a pop.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Chilean Copy

Tonight's wine is a blend not normally seen from South America, but a blend more often seen emanating from around the world in Australia. But, my goodness, they do a good job!! The Carmen, Reserve, Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 is black in the glass with pungent cassis wafting out of the glass (the Koko factor: "smells like good wine"). Full bodied, chewy, blackberry-blueberry with hints of dark chocolate this one goes on and on. And it gets better as it airs out a little. It's only fault is that it misses the complexity of new oak integration but this is a minor quibble given it's $20 price point. Wow. Buy it all. Another thing I like - no fancy marketing on this one - a traditional label fronting a solid, honest wine. Take that, California and it's Joe Blow crappy plonk.
The Carmen wasn't the wine of the week, however - last night's Condada de Haza 2004 beat it out but I'll describe what we thought of that when we do a vertical of this soon. Who's in??

Friday, November 16, 2007


Gnarly 50 year old vines. 24 months in oak. Gold medal. This should be good....
But, the Van Ruiten, Old Vine, Zinfandel, Lodi 2004 disappoints. Chocolate and raisins on the nose, it yields stewed plums and dried figs on the palate but it has a thick, jammy consistency that is almost sweet and cloying. It's a smooth sipper, but too smooth. No edge, no complexity. It would have trouble matching to food, although it actually stood up to a chocolate almond brownie.
This wine will sell tons, but it's not my style. I give it an "OK", and would not buy it again. $19 a bottle.

Friday, November 09, 2007


15.5%. Fifteen freakin' point five percent. This is getting obscene.
The Water Wheel, 2005 Bendigo Shiraz was initially disappointing. Nick, whose nose I trust, rated it a bargain and gave it 96 points on the winespider scale. I greedily opened the screwcap and was greeted, nothing. No nose. "What's going on here?", I think. 30 minutes later after a bite of roasted cow flesh I think I begin to understand. Ah, this baby is a food wine. The acidic, tannic, puckering (but still medium bodied?*#!!) wine smooths right out. Actually becomes enjoyable.
2 hours later the nose starts jumping out of the glass - a combination of plums and trevelez ham. On the palate there's violets stewing with the plums. Now it's rich and full bodied with a medium long finish but marred by the heat of the alcohol. Now I think I really understand - this is a wine that needs to sit and open up before drinking. Or maybe wait a couple of years before opening it up.
So, I rate it a "good" wine, and interesting enough to be worth the $20 entry. I just wish they could lower the EtOH level a touch....

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Freedom is the liberty to drink anything you want. And this is something you may want to consider drinking. The Liberty School, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles 2004 has a lot to offer. Importantly, it is cheap (for California cab) at $18, and widely available. Perhaps more importantly, the overall quality of this wine appears to be improving yearly. My only beef with it is that there seems to be some bottle variation - this is the third bottle of this vintage that I have had and it is not quite as good as earlier quaffs.
A fruity nose bodes well but there was distinct lack of vanilla oak wafting out of the glass that I remember was present when I last tasted it. Full bodied blackberry cherry cola palate with moderate tannins is also a plus but I miss the seam of oakiness that I like and remember.
Moderately long finish.
All in all, a "good" wine, and again, worth the money.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Good Evening

Don't you just love those evenings where everyone brings a bottle or two, we open them all and turns out they're all good! No "wow" wines but a wide spectrum of flavours were on display. The best wine of the night was the first one opened, the Foley, Santa Rita Hills, Syrah, 2003 from California. A very aromatic nose (leather mixed with crushed berries) leads into a medium bodied, silky wine in a refined style. Yummy.
Next was the Kaiken, Ultra, Malbec, 2005 from Mendoza. Rich currants and cloves on the nose followed by that "je ne sais quoi" Malbec palate wrapped in a full bodied fruit jacket. Very smooth tannins. Serious stuff.
After that I amused myself by doing some head to head "taste-offs". Argentinian vs. California Cab was up next - the Finca Koch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tupungato, 2003 had a rather restrained nose, medium-full bodied, tannic, a serious style of Cab. The Justin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2004 was much fruitier in style both on the nose and palate. Both were equally enjoyable, but if you were sipping, choose the Justin, if you needed a food wine, then choose the Koch.
Drunk with the Filet Mignon it was the Domaine du Vieux Lazaret, Cuvee Exceptionnelle, Chateauneuf du Pape, 2003 vs. the Pocas, Coroa d'Ouro, Reserva 2000, Douro. No contest here really, the classic, full bodied Chateauneuf matched the meat best. A good meal accompaniment.
Sorry, no prices or value judgments tonight, as I don't know the retail of most of these wines.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Joe Crap

Okay, this bottle caught my eye in the shop but intially discounted buying it as I thought once again that this was a wine that was relying on it's packaging instead of what's in the bottle. Curiosity nevertheless forced me to turn the bottle over and read the back label (..."this wine is serious"). Well, maybe I'm wrong...perhaps there are some honest wineries out there that make a good product and use fun packaging.
So, I plunk down my $16.98 and take it home. Anxiously (as I love "serious" wine) I quickly pour it into a glass for a sniff and immediately know that I made a mistake on purchasing this stuff when I catch a whiff of bubblegum. Aaaargh!! Sweet, almost cola-like on the palate, this is a short wine with no depth. Not a tannin in sight. So, the Joe Blow Wine Cellars, Red, 2005, California is the ultimate plonk, built for soft-drink lovers. It should cost $6 at bottle (that translates into $2 at Trader Joe's for you who live in the USA!). My rating: CRAP.

Just for fun I pulled out a bottle of my Dad's last home made Shiraz and did a blind head-to-head taste-off. Guess which wine won? 3 of 3 tasters preferred the home made stuff. Enough said.

I HATE MARKETING (when it's dishonest...)!!!