Monday, February 17, 2014

Joseph Drouhin's La Foret Wines

A long time ago a nice, courteous PR professional pitched a blogger on some wines. These wines, French wines, were from a well known producer that many of us wine lovers hold in high esteem. What was particularly interesting about said wines was the pricing, much lower than this producers other offerings.

Maison Joseph Drouhin makes wines that cost $12 all the way to over $500. Here in Oregon, their Domaine Drouhin property is considered one of the states finest sites for great pinot noir and chardonnay. Winemaker Veronique Drouhin has redesigned the La Forets brand, more on that below.

As I read further into the pitch, I noted that these wines are designed for restaurants to pour by the glass. Perhaps the hottest category in on-premise wine programs, btg lists are fast becoming places not just to dump off cheap wines, but to also find unique, exciting, and delicious wines. American btg culture is changin, albeit slowly, into something far better than it was.

To taste these wines in approximately real world conditions, I took them to my fiancee's shop, Urban Decanter, and ate a meal with a glass of each wine. In between bites and sips, I took notes on what the wines were like. The food pairing was a meat and cheese plate to start, then one of Urban Decanter's famous paninis.

2012 Joseph Drouhin "La Foret" Bourgogne Chardonnay: Grass, butter, green apple, and fun! This just has a whimsical, happy element to it. When tasting, the word of the day is clean, clean, clean! It's so crisp and pure on the palate, with wonderful texture and a finish that's beautifully light and airy. For such an inexpensive chardonnay, this is firing on all cylinders. Recommended! $12.00 SRP.

2011 Joseph Drouhin "La Foret" Bourgogne Pinot Noir: Reminds me of macerated cherries, baking spice, wood, and tart strawberry. In other words, a perfectly normal set of aromas one finds in pinot noir from around the world. Soft and fruity on the palate, with a bit of acidity and tannin thrown in. Clean, easy-drinking, red Burgundy. Recommended! $12.00 SRP.

Wines like this on restaurant btg lists make a lot more sense than what is currently there. This goes doubly true for big chains like Landry's. If you're a wine lover and have ever looked at lists for places like McCormick's, El Gaucho, etc, you know that the list of high quality, unique wines is limited. It's mostly a bunch of boring stuff supplied by one of the mega distributors operating in the United States.

Ok, rant over.

These two wines are good and priced extremely well. If you see them on restaurant lists you can be assured they'll be food-friendly and of high quality. Should you see them on store shelves, I recommend considering each for that casual, Tuesday night bottle.

To find out more, visit the Drouhin La Forets website or the Maison Joseph Drouhin website.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paul Mas Estate, Languedoc-Roussillon

Continuing the series of "Wines Beau Was Sent A Long Time Ago", this time I am exploring a producer in the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France. Long a place associated with cheap, mediocre bulk wine, there have been rumblings over the past few years that a serious uptick in quality is taking place. Granted, there has also been a concerted push by the trade group(s) and producers of the region to showcase their wines on the world stage.

Earlier this year (a familiar refrain, no?) I was sent three wines from "rural luxury" wine company Domaines Paul Mas to taste and comment on. Time, as it seems to do, slipped away and while I fully intended to open and write about these wines for summer, now the Holiday Season is upon us. I was sent three wines from the Paul Mas Estate line, which appears to be their mid to high(ish) priced label.

Despite the lateness of the year, upon tasting these wines I found them to be very suitable for the cool/cold weather and am excited at the thought of how they could pair with your Holiday feasts.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux du Languedoc: Opens with lemons and oranges, grass, and hints of butter. Great acidity on the palate, which helps tame the ripeness, and provides a very food-friendly angle to this wine. I really enjoyed how interesting the wine was as it gradually warmed up, showing fleshier tropical and stone fruit flavors. $11 on the East Coast. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Chardonnay Saint Hilare Coteaux du Languedoc: Ripe notes of apple and lemon curd, rendered butter, and tart lime juice. I was struck at how balanced the aromas were. Good acidity, creating a beautifully cleansing effect on the palate. It highlights citrus and apple notes galore. Each sip left me with a smile, and the finish was nice and crisp, readying my palate for another bite. $13 nationally. Recommended.

2011 Paul Mas Estate GSM Coteau du Languedoc: My first thought was that smells like a GSM, which is a good thing. Licorice, blackberries, blueberries, and a pleasing meaty nature. The bouquet had me intrigued but unfortunately I just wasn't as excited about the palate. It's a bit soft and ripe, and could maybe use more acidity. I'm not sure if it's a function of this wine's youth or not, but this seems incomplete. That said, if you like soft, ripe, easy drinking red blends, I think will make you happy, especially at the price. $14 on the East Coast.

The two whites showed the best for me on the day I tasted them, and on the second day. They had lots of nice primary fruit, plenty of acidity, and are priced to compete. The red just wasn't that great, and I feel there are better options around the price point. One would be the 2011/2012 St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone, an incredible deal at around $15. Still, the GSM is a wine that will appeal to many palates and the crowd-pleasing style will certainly be a hit at any parties you bring a bottle to. Those whites though, they deserve some serious consideration as you plan your holiday meals.

The Paul Mas website isn't very good, but I was able to find out that this producer makes a lot of different wines from sources all over the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France. I think their packaging and message are very good and the wines are certainly of reasonable quality. Seeing the Languedoc-Roussillon area start to climb out of the shadows and more into the mainstream as a source for quality is exciting, I hope we all continue to get exposure to the wines.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

24 Knots Pinot Noir from Monterey County

Yes, just a single wine in this blog entry. I was sent this sample bottle from 24 Knots winery out of Greenfield, California.

The story behind the name goes like this: During the summer, winds come off of Monterey Bay and down the Salinas Valley at speeds of up to 24 knots. At that speed, they provide an essential cooling effect for the vines, allowing acids to stay higher while the sun still helps ripen the grapes. From what I understand, all the grapes come from Viento Vineyard, which of course is in Monterey County.

Ok, this is not going to be a long blog. One wine to taste and the desire to keep my notes concise and readable.

On opening this pinot has a funky aroma, so I tried to give it some time to blow off. While I don't think it did entirely blow off, after an hour I was able to smell things other than funk. I like the raspberry/strawberry scent, and it had an interesting pine thing going on too, along with typically-pinot aromas of baking spice. I think if the funky sulfurous aroma hadn't lain atop everything else like a wet beach towel, this could have been a really fun wine.

So I tried closing the screwcap and giving it the Dirty Sommelier, aka "shaking the ever living s&#@ out of the bottle", for about 30 seconds.

In an attempt to re-approach the wine, I retrieved a new, clean wine glass and poured another few ounces. Drat! The same thing! This time I went in for a taste, to see just how much the funk obscured. Ripe berries, wood smoke, peppery spices, and funk. It permeated everything and was nigh on impossible to ignore.

If the 24 Knots Pinot Noir didn't have the funk, it would be a damn good bottle of wine. It's pretty inexpensive too, something like $15 a bottle. So in conclusion, if you like your pinot noir on the funky side, I think you'll dig this. If you prefer clean, bright berry fruit, maybe pass on this one. I tend to prefer the latter, so I can't recommend this to you.

Of note, the winery sent two bottles and I tasted the second bottle about two months later, it exhibited basically the same characteristics. Both bottles were tasted over the course of about three days.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jacob's Creek Cabernet, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir

A quickie. I was sent some samples of Jacob's Creek wines to taste earlier this year and finally got around to opening during our hot summer here in Oregon. Without too much fluff, here are the tasting notes and my impressions on each of the three wines I was sent.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills: I wasn't a big fan of this one, but some might enjoy it. Smells a bit like eucalyptus mixed with cherry cough drops. Some dusty earth manifests too, but it's definitely muted. The pinot character clearly shines through in this, with bright cherries and cranberries, mixing with herbaceous flavors. As the evening progressed, I re-tasted this several more times and it seemed to just fall apart. The cough syrup notes take over and it becomes disjointed on the palate. Pinot Noir is  hard to do on the cheap though. Buyer beware. 13.6% abv. $10 nationally.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra: Smells dusty, dry, like the Outback. Notes of jalapeño pepper, green herb, dusty trail, and some red fruit. Drying on the palate, and rather soft for a young cabernet. Tart red fruits tend to dominate, but they're somewhat simple. I think this needs a cheeseburger to truly shine. After tasting this several more times through the evening, I concluded that it's a wine on the cusp of being tasty and fun, but it just doesn't get there. At the price point, you can find better.  13.9% abv. $10 nationally.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz Barossa: Smokey, Barossa-y, spicy shiraz. I like this, especially for the price. It's got a really solid balance between ripe fruit - think plums and black cherry - and drying, astringent tannin. Definitely a wine to have with big foods like barbecued ribs. Easy to find nationally, well made, and very much a wine to drink year-round. Recommended. 14.1% abv. $10 nationally.

If you bat .300 or greater during a baseball career, you're pretty much guaranteed a Hall of Fame selection. Jacob's Creek did just that with these three wines. The shiraz is clearly the superior wine of the bunch and worth your consideration. I can't put my recommendation on the other two though, because while they may be inexpensive and easy to find, they're simply not wines I want you to drink.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Monday, September 2, 2013

My First Night in Bordeaux, Chateau de Bel

Once the crew was suitably refreshed and rejuvenated, we piled back into the Mercedes van and sped off in the lazy afternoon light to Chateau de Bel, another old house located right on the banks of the river. We were met by Anne and Olivier Cazenave, owners of the Chateau. Also, we met Aurelie Dainieras of Chateau Penin. If those Chateaux sound familiar, it's because I've written about their wines before, from Planet Bordeaux virtual tastings.

The tidal bore races up the river, but not in this shot!
More snacks, both sweet and savory, and wine were had on a little dock perched upon the river. Olivier and I discussed surfing the tidal bore as it raced upriver each evening. One day I will return to Bordeaux and do just that. If they let me back in, that is.

Anyways. The dinner was prepped and served inside the house, so we all made our way inside, through doorways that seemed to have been designed for shorter people than modern-sized humans. That really gives you a sense the age of a place.

During the conversation, amid the laughter and smiles, the skies were beginning a slow churn. Eventually this would culminate in a blustery storm overnight. I'm getting ahead of myself though. We return to the house, at night, crowded into a dimly let room full of warmth and the smell of food. Bloggers and vignerons sitting side by side, discussing food and wine. The setting should sound just about perfect because it was. I recall a little of the food, it was beef, salad, and bread. The wines were red, white, and pink. Everything was delicious.

Suddenly my French started improving and my glass seemed to empty itself. Coincidence? Looking back, here's to hoping I didn't make too much of an ass of myself.

Various accounts of the French as arrogant and intolerant jerks seem to mainly stem from people who don't make an attempt at speaking the language. I felt our hosts were delighted that I even tried, and while my accent was solid, my lack of vocabulary was a glaring issue, at least in my mind.

One particularly memorable bottle was Oliviers non-vintage cabernet franc. He blends a few years together and if I recall, sells it around Bordeaux. Unfortunately we do not see it here in the United States. It was an incredibly good bottle of wine. This wine paired quite beautifully with the steaks we were enjoying.

Fast forward back out to that Mercedes van and the trip to our hotel for the night. By now the wind was whipping around like crazy, and every so often a few seconds of rain would beat down from the skies. We tired, jet-lagged bloggers quickly retrieved room keys and retired for what was hoped would be a cozy, restful night. I'm proud of myself for hydrating before bed, as the wakeup call came around 7am. Something about these blogger trips and early mornings. I don't get it!

Beau Carufel

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Two Riojas from Bodegas Franco-Espanolas

These were certainly some of the most unique samples I've been sent in the past year. I've always loved wines from Rioja and think the region has gotten a bad rap over the years. Sure, the wines can get distinctly "New World", with uber-ripe fruit and heavy doses of Americna oak, but there are always gems at great price points if you look hard. As always, I recommend chatting up your local wine shop owner. Chances are they've tasted through the available Riojas and can steer you in the right direction.

2011 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Royal Viura: A 100% viura is rare..unless you're in Rioja! This one has beautiful aromas of melon, subtle tropical fruits, and a zingy lemon-curd thing going on. I was really groovin' on the bouquet. Tasting it brought a smile to my face. So much crackling acidity mixed with ripe citrus and apple. Really an excellent example of viura. I swear this needs jamon iberico or some tomatoes rubbed on fresh bread. The finish lasts a while, with a minerally/saline note carrying it to the end. Highly recommend. 12% abv. $10 SRP.

2004 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Rioja Gran Reserva: A blend of 80% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. Opens with aromas of sun-dried tomato, barnyard, red cherry, and baking spices. There's definitely some oak in play but it integrates well. Smooth entry on the attack, with dried fruit and coconut flavors coming through, before it dries out with sundried tomato and tobacco. As it opens up, more barnyard and allspice notes come out, so drink it quickly! A nice, solid, drinkable Rioja for a very reasonable price. Firm tannins beg for some grilled meat. 13.5% abv. $20 SRP.

Who says you have to spend a bundle to get quality wines from Rioja? Both of these are perfectly serviceable, weeknight-type wines that you can be happy about serving to friends and family. I would suggest keeping an eye on vintages for the white Riojas though, because you want to buy the freshest you can. Viura can oxidize a bit and turn boring if it's not fresh.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Austria's Answer To Summer: Gruner Veltliner

Austria is another country known for cool, refreshing whites. From Gruner Veltliner to Riesling, the whites are renowned for bracing acidity, fresh flavors, and food-friendly natures. That first sentence alone should tell you I'm pretty excited about the country and wines they produce.

I was sent two samples from producer Laurenz V, both Gruner Veltiners, both under screwcap. The test was to see how these wines stacked up compared to other awesome summer whites from Alsace and Vinho Verde.

Let's quickly trace the history of this producer. Laurenz V (pronounced Laurenz Five) stands for five generations of the Laurenz Moser wine family. As of now, there are sixteen generations of history from this producer, according to my press materials. WOW. Also of note is the fact that Laurenz V. only produces Gruner Veltliner.

2010 Laurenz V. Charming Gruner Veltliner Kamptal: Gorgeous nose of orchard fruit, limestone, and lemon juice. Jazzy acid across the palate with flavors of citrus and stone fruit exploding all over the place. Very complex and layered, with minerality coming through across the finish, drying everything out and readying your palate for the next sip. Highly recommended. $29.99 SRP. 13.0% abv.

2011 Laurenz und Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner: Smokey flint and citrus open, with a ripe, sweet pear/apple aroma taking over. Similarly fruity and friendly on the palate, with ample ripeness yet less acidity than the Charming. This is perhaps less complex but in terms of sheer enjoyment and hedonistic goodness, maybe a better wine. Highly recommended. $15.99 SRP. 12.0% abv.

Hard to deny that these are two outstanding wines. The layers and complexity of the Charming bottling are impressive and surprising to me. On the other hand, the Singing is so fun and inviting, it may need the Charming name! I was impressed with the quality of these wines, and while $29.99 isn't cheap, a quick query showed prices between $17.99 and $25.99.

Go Austria!! A worthy challenge to Alsace and Vinho Verde, and further proof that cool, crisp whites are the perfect summer wines.

Thanks to Folio for sending the samples!

Beau Carufel

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pueblo Del Sol Tannat

This is another producer whose wines I've reviewed before. Last time I had the Pueblo del Sol was a few years ago and it was just the tannat, this time I have the rosé as well to taste. Also, last time I tasted it head to head versus an inexpensive California Cabernet in my Barbecue Showdown blog. This time it was tucked into a flight of mixed reds and whites and tasted multiple times over the course of several hours.

Pueblo del Sol is produced by Juanico winery of Uruguay. Down there, tannat is king! Here in the United States we don't have a lot of exposure to the grape, which has origins in southern France's Madiran region. Some people in California make one, as do a few in Oregon.

2011 Pueblo del Sol Tannat Rosé: Red cherry, albeit subtle, is the first thing I thought of. Bear in mind I don't have a lot of experience with Uruguayan tannat, especially in rosé form. Also, notes of melon. On the palate it's a bit sweet and a bit tart, nicely balanced. Be sure to serve this very cold so as to highlight the acidity though. By the way, it pairs well with a mozzarella, pesto, tomato, prosciutto, salami panini. Just saying. Recommended. $10 SRP. 13.% abv.

2010 Pueblo del Sol Tannat: Pours a dark, dark purple in the glass. Smells like purple fruit, think plums and cocoa dust. Nice minerally thing, like crushed up gravel. Juicy as all hell on the palate, with ripe plum and blackberry, tar, and well-integrated wood flavors. This is a delightful, fun, unique wine that should be enjoyed with food. I'd love one of those Argentine steaks and a big glass of Pueblo del Sol Tannat. $11 SRP. 12.5% abv. Highly Recommended.

These two wines qualify as QPR winners, and I'd suggest buying several bottles of each to have throughout the summer. They're versatile, food-friendly, and very wallet-friendly.

Thanks to the fine folks at TasteVino Selections for sending me more tannat samples! It's always fun to step away from the traditional grapes and explore something more unique.

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc

I've written about Paul Dolan Vineyards many times over the course of my blogging career. The wines are almost always excellent values while tasting freakin delicious! Certainly you could do a lot worse at their modest price points.

I confess though, that these wines have sat in the sample rack for damn near one year. It's my own fault so I feel bad. A big apology to Fineman PR for not getting to these sooner!

These wines are from Mendocino County, north of the more well-known Napa and Sonoma areas. Mendocino boasts conditions that are right for several different kinds of grapes, from pinot noir and syrah to sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. As far as I know, all of their vineyards are either organic or biodynamic, and they even produce certified biodynamic wines. No small feat in this age of fertilizers and chemicals.

2011 Paul Dolan Sauvignon Blanc Potter Valley: I picked up a lot of citrus and melon notes right away, all nicely balanced and in tune with each other. Lively acidity carries the citrus notes across the palate while the summer melon flavor helps give some body. All in all, a clean, simple sauvignon blanc that would pair beautifully with fish and chicken in the summer. $17.99 SRP. 13.5% abv.

2010 Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County: Lots of herbs, soil, wood, and cassis aromas. While this smells young, it also has impressive complexity for a $25 California Cabernet. I like the firm, drying tannin and how it balances the ripe blueberry/blackberry flavors. More of the dusty soil flavors come through too, as well as a bittersweet chocolate thing. Needs time to open up but once it does, I think this will be a QPR winner. $25.99 SRP. 14.5% abv.

I think the Cabernet is my preferred wine of the two, it's showing more complexity and depth, and it's got such a similar flavor profile to the Paul Dolan wines I've tasted in the past. This is one you might want to consider stocking up on, as it will continue to drink well for the next ten years or so.

These wines were samples for review.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alsatian Whites, The Perfect Summer Wines?

It's hot. Frankly, it's damn hot here in Oregon. Daytime highs are in the high 80's to low 90's. The weather is exhausting, and to rejuvenate my spirits, I turn to white wines. Not just any white wines either, in heat like this you need to drink white wines with high acidity and immense food friendliness.

Enter the white wines of Alsace. In this brief, I will explore examples of gewürztraminer and riesling that were sent as samples over the past few months.

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First though, let's discuss Alsace the place. We travel to France's far eastern border, tucked up against Germany. Historically this region has been part of a millennium-long tug-of-war between the two dominant powers on the Continent. Also historically, Alsace has made stunningly good wines, especially whites.

Focusing on those whites for our purposes, Alsace is known for riesling, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris. Also grown are sylvaner, chasselas, muscat, auxerrois, pinot blanc, chardonnay, and even savagnin. Unlike places such as Oregon or California, the Alsatian vignerons often blend their wines together, in the hopes of making a better finished wine.

Wine geeks might have noticed something by now, these whites are all grapes that do well in cooler climates. They thrive during warm days and cool nights, which allow naturally high levels of acidity. Most vineyards run along a narrow north-south strip of land that forms the lower part of the Vosges mountain range, at between 175-420 meters in height. There isn't a whole lot of rainfall either, and the soils are well drained, allowing good concentration of flavor and moderate amounts of vine stress.

With that brief primer on Alsace complete, let's taste the wines!

2011 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Vignoble d'E: Pretty aromas of citrus, oranges and tangerines. Stone fruit too, pear, perfumed floral tones. Very pretty. Very dry and crisp on the palate with ripe pear and citrus notes. The acidity was very nicely integrated, which helped showcase some delightful mineral/sandy loam component. Overall I liked this wine a lot, and highly recommend it. $25.

2011 Meyer-Fonne Riesling Reserve: A little muted on the nose, but shows nice sea air and fresh lemon. Subtle green apple but it seems to come and go with each sniff. On the palate I love this wine, it's textural because of the acid but packs a lot of flavor into a lean, mean frame. Absolutely outstanding wine, highly recommended. $20.

2010 Trimbach Riesling: Softer than the previous two wines, especially on the nose. Almost nothing going on. Shows a riper side of Alsace, with notes of petrol also manifesting after a vigorous swirl. The quality is evident on the palate though, with racy acidity framing apple and pear, stone fruit, and white flowers. $18.

2011 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvee Theo: This threw me for a curve, it was showing something akin to oak at first. On the other hand, it showed lots of green apple, tropical fruit, and notes of pear. It's very complex and textural on the palate, with lots of acidity but a richness from either malo-lactic or oak. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and would love to pair it with food. Recommended. $28.

2010 Domaine Bechtold Gewurztraminer Silberberg: Crazy aromas of lychee fruit and spices, just WOW. Explodes out of the glass. A great mix of sweet fruit flavors and minerality. A great note of ginger comes through on the finish. One of the most food friendly wines I have tasted in 2013. Highly recommended. $23.

2010 Domaine Bott Geyl Gewurztraminer Les Elements: Like smelling lychees soaking in a ginger infusion. Throw in some river rock and golden apple too, the bouquet is very nice. On the palate it's a bit softer than the Bechtold, and I do wish it had more acidity. The sweetness can get a bit cloying especially on the mid palate. Luckily it cleans up on the finish, with a burst of baking spices. Absolutely lovely. $20.

I think it's fair to say that I really enjoyed each of these wines. The original question was whether these are the perfect summer wines. We paired each wine with various sushi rolls, some crab, others krab, shrimp, and spicy tuna. The wines, all of them, paired exceptionally well with each different roll. I can only conclude that these are just about the perfect wines for hot summer evenings and fresh sushi rolls.

The pricing on these wines had me surprised (in a good way) too, because the wines drink like they are more expensive. At around $28, the Weinbach was the priciest, yet I found it available in the mid-20's around the country.

Alsace is a region we should pay more attention to, especially when looking for QPR winners. Please also excuse the horrid quality of the pictures, my iPhone 4 isn't doing the job anymore.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel