Friday, March 04, 2005

Winecology: Domaine Rijckaert - Vigne des Voises Vielles Vignes - Cotes de Jura, Burgundy - 2001

Burgundy is the traditional home of chardonnay. Jura, in the south of Burgundy, is where Domaine Rijckaert ("ray" - "cart") calls home. In 1998, dutchman Jean Rijckaert enjoyed the maiden vintage of his own label after seeking out affordable vineyard plots in and around Jura (just each of the much-pricier Beaune region of Burgundy). His wines are known for their exceptional value in one of France's most pricey neighborhoods.

Rich gold color in the glass. Presents rich aromas of lemon/lime rinds and minerals. On the palette the wine was steely, juicy and tart. Complex flavor profile of lemon/line fruit, hazelnuts and a touch of banana (?). Great texture and depth. Well balanced with a solid finish. The wine had even more depth and concentration on day 3. One of Burgundy's best QPR domaines and a great contrast/alternative to California chardonnay.

Rating - 9.0 out of 10
Price - $11 (a steal)

Master Sommelier Update

Monday, February 28, 2005

So You Want to be a Master Sommelier

Q. What wine society has only 118 members world-wide? And 60 in the U.S?
The Court of Master Sommeliers

Why would one join this elite fraternity?

  • Your affinity for wine, food, service and hospitality is beyond that of most mortals
  • You'd like the Master Sommelier Certification as a passport to notoriety and opportunities for wealth in the food and wine service industry

How can one become certifed? Its simple, really. Just a little three part certification - introductory, advanced and Master Sommelier Diploma - as follows:

Part 1: Introductory Certification
Topics covered include: world wine regions including appellation regulations, viticulture, wine/spirit production, food & wine pairing, wine service and wine tasting skills. Certification at this level requires passing a multiple choice exam with at least 60% of answers correct.

Prior to taking the next step, the Court warns that one should be able to,"recite from memory facts such as Grands Crus of the Cote de Nuits, the satellites of St. Emilion, the districts of Chianti, the AVAs of Sonoma County, or the Bereiche of the Rheinhessen".

Part II: Advanced Certification
Topics covered are the same as the introductory course, however in much more depth and detail. Certification is in three steps. First is the one hour, 82 question (20 multiple choice and 62 short answer) writtten exam.

Second, a blind tasting of six wines in front of two Master Sommeliers. The candidate has 25 minutes to identify all six wines and is evaluated on technique and accuracy.

Third and last, is an obstacle course in restaurant service. Master Sommolier examiners throw the kitchen sink at candidates as they run the gauntlet of opening, decanting and serving wines, spirts and cigars; pair wine with food; set tables; and manage the duties of practical service and salesmanship. Once again, 60% is required to pass on all three steps.

Part III: Master Sommelier Diploma
The format for the final Master Sommelier Diploma is the same as the Advanced Certification. At this stage, a score of 75% is required to pass. Testing is by invitation only and one must wait one year after Advanced Certification before attempting the Master Sommelier diploma.

The level of detail is excruciatingly difficult. For example, during the blind tasting, a candidate must identify grape varieties, country of origin, district of origin and vintages for the six wines tasted.

Over the 25+ year history of Master Sommelier Diploma, the pass rate for the final stage is around 3%. Good luck!

Mitch Albom on Wine

Detroit Free Press columnist and "Tuesday's With Morrie" author, Mitch Albom, rants on wine geekdom.

The article is amusing for what it's worth. But honestly, aren't there worse things than being an oenophile?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Winecology: Tenuta de Caparzo - Brunello di Montalcino - Italy 1995

Brunello is Italian for 'nice dark one'. And Montalcino is an ancient Tuscan village. Brunello di Montalcino, by deduction is a nice, dark wine made in Montalcino. It is a close to kin to the more familiar Chianti, only more austere. Montalcino also happens to be only 10% the size of the Chianti region. Accordingly supply and demand dictates that Brunello's tend to be more rare, sought after and expensive.

Both are made from Tuscany's sangiovese grape. However, whereas Chianti is often blended with other varietals to add depth and layering, Brunello de Montalcino is 100% sangiovese. It affords this non-blending luxury due to a warmer climate and the limestone soil where its grown. Additionally, Brunello di Montalcino must be aged for a minimum of four years (two in oak barrels) prior to release. These factors add up to what is generally considered Tuscany's most consistent high quality wine.

Tenuta de Caparzo is a picturesque 40 year old estate with a wide range of Brunello bottlings. This effort is their standard label, a far cry in price from their high-end "La Casa" bottling. Fear not though, even the standard label delivers the goods.

In the glass the wine showed opaque ruby red colors with hints of browning on the rim. The nose boasted ripe fruit aromas of strawberry, cassis, cherry. Once in the mouth more cassis fruit and candied cherries carried through the mid-palette. But this is definitely not a fruit bomb. Oak provides for a velvety mouthfeel and soft tannins provide structure. All the pieces were in place for this elegant wine. The finish was supple, but sadly only modest in length. A great showing.

Rating - 8.5/9.0 out of 10
Price - $40

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Winecology: Guardian Peak - Frontier - Namaqualand, South Africa - 2002

The sixth edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Cook Sister - a native of South Africa. Accordingly, her theme is South African reds. Not too long ago I had an outstanding experience with a South African syrah, so I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this blend from Guardian Peak.

Guardian Peak is the second label of the historic and well respected Rust en Vrede Wine Estate, which consistently puts out well acclaimed wines. Their Guardian Peak label proudly embraces the natural environment of South Africa. In particular the winery seeks to protect and preserve the neighboring Kalahari desert, or Kalahari lion. The lion is proudly featured on Guardian Peak's label.

The Frontier offering is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Shiraz and 15% Merlot. In the glass it has dark purple, inky colors that fade to the rim. Initially the nose was alcoholic, but that quickly blows off and aromas of dark black fruit and tar develop. The palette features ripe dark fruits layered with smoke, dark chocolate and even some cigar box. The finish has length, but is slightly bitter. While the flavors of this wine were complex and rich, I was distracted by its lack of balance. The full flavored profile wasn't supported with the necessary structure and tannin. It was kind of like having a beautifully fabricated Armani suit that was several sizes to big. Ultimately, things just didn't fit.

I'd pass on this one in the future.

Rating - 7.0 out of 10
Price - $11

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Influence of Blogs - Continued

Fellow oenoblogger, Tom from the top-notch Fermentations, responds to the question I posed in yesterday's post about bloggers forcing a top CNN executive to resign: "How long before oenobloggers make similar marks?"

Tom makes two very important and accurate assertions in answering this question.
  • The best mainstream wine jouranlists have many advantages over bloggers in that they: work full-time in writing about wine, have access to resources like editors and benefit from industry contacts that only come with experience and credibility.
  • Oenobloggers are still collectively trying to figure what they want to be when they grow up - how to build an audience, how to become relevant, etc.
Tom concludes and answers that he "wouldn't count on" wine bloggers making a similar mark.

First of all, what did I mean by making "similar marks?" I don't think any wine blogger is looking to force a resignation or cause harm. I believe making a mark would entail causing the mainstream wine media and their readers to take notice of this small, budding on-line wine community and the information/opinions it has to offer. Making a BIG mark might include actually persuading a change in how and what the mainstream wine media reports (e.g. style, frequency, mode).

Second, I think Tom is wrong to say he "wouldn't count on" oenobloggers making a mark. Will a wine blogger ever attain Parker or Spectator influence? Probably not, but 25 years ago Parker was an unknown, unqualified voice too. Is that oenoblogging great hope around today? Not yet, but I'm optimistic someone will step up.

Third and last, to further illustrate my point, consider a recent thread of on the e-Robert Parker discussion board. The thread took esteemed wine writer Michael Broadbent to task (rather ruthlessly) for some off-the-record comments he made at a London dinner regarding the globalization of wine (The full story is detailed by the thread's originator and oenoblogger, Jamie Goode, who had no ill intent in initiating his post). Discussion of Broadbent's comments reached a furious pace and brought in over 50 posters and hundreds of comments on both sides of the debate. Broadbent, not an internet user, was faxed pages upon pages of this commentary by his son, a discussion board member. Broadbent replied and defended himself and his comments on the discussion board. Certainly he wasn't forced to resign or retire from wine writing - not even close. But he's taken notice of this on-line wine community - it's opinions and reach.

Upon reflection, I can't really answer my own question as to "how long" before oenobloggers make a mark. But how about a new question, "will oenobloggers one day make a mark?"

I'd count on it.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Another Mainstream Journalist Falls Victim to Blogs

From the NYT: "Resignation at CNN Shows the Growing Influence of Blogs"

How long before oenobloggers make similar marks?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Winecology: Valentine's Dinner

Maya and I had some goodies yesterday celebrating an early Valentine's day at Spring.

Veuve Clicquot "Yellow Label" - Champagne, France - NV
This classic sparkler was a delicious apertif before dinner. Something about those fine bubbles set the mood just right. In the glass lots of tiny bubbles set in dark gold and light orange colors. The nose gave toasty yeast and notes of tree fruit. On the palette this wine was well balanced showing plenty of zip and fruits - apples and pears. Concentrated, full flavors with a clean finish of moderate length.
Rating - 8.5/9.0 out of 10
Price - $29

Palmina "Bianca" - Santa Barbara County, California - 2002
Palmina is having much success with indigenous Italian varietals in California. We enjoyed this unique blend of five white grapes - 35% Traminer, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Tocai Friulano, 15% Malvasia Bianca and 5% Pinot Grigio. It was a crisp, floral wine that paired great with the Oysters. Light straw, almost clear colors. An aromatic and heavily floral nose (a natural, upon reflection, since all five grapes utilized are floral at their core). In the mouth a racy and lively body. Very gewruz in nature. Plenty of white fruit and lychees. A substantial finish.
Rating - 8.5/9.0 out of 10
Price - $28 (retail price, $10 / glass at the restaurant)

Fonthill "Dust of Ages" - McLaren Vale, Australia - 2002
This 100% grenache, from Fonthill down under, was our main course wine. The wine had dark ruby colors that faded to a very light, nearly clear, pink on the rim. The aromatic nose breathed oodles of ripe strawberries and spice. On the palette is was luscious, round and had an ultra-velvety texture. Flavors of dark, red fruits at its core were very reminiscent of pinot noir. Secondary flavors of subtle earth and spice reminded me of typical Rhone valley wines. In one word, smooth. A best of both worlds wine that will have me seeking out more 100% Grenache.
Rating - 9.0 out of 10
Price - $24 (retail price, $65 / bottle at the restaurant)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Who Is Michel Rolland?

There is much ado about this Frenchman and his wines in the oenophile world lately. Who exactly is Michel Rolland? And why should you care?

The Facts:
  • Michel Rolland is the foremost wine consultant in the world
  • His Bordeaux-based consulting practice has over 100 clients across 12 countries
  • His client roster reads like an oenophile’s wish list of must-have wines
  • He is a steadfast advocate for using technological developments in viticulture and winemaking to raise the quality of wine
  • He built his expertise while managing several Pomerol properties which he owns
  • He imparts a particular style or common denominator to the wines on which he works – heavy on the fruit and oak influenced
  • He is the reluctant star of a new documentary, Mondovino, which is critical of the globalization of wine and at times portrays him as the root of this evil
  • Michel Rolland is a lighting rod in the wine industry who is as despised as he is sought after
The Opinions and Criticisms:
  • Rolland has influence that matches or exceeds that of any single individual in the wine world
  • Rolland is creating wines that satisfy the tastes of a mass global market
  • Rolland is driving out the individuality and local essence of wines (e.g. terroir)
  • Rolland makes wines that strive for excellence on the same dimensions resulting in global variations on the same theme (i.e. his wines are “Pomerolled” or “Napa-ized”)
  • Rolland consults for a property and it’s wines become immediately credible and usually expensive
  • And last but not least… Jonathan Nossiter, creator of the aforementioned Mondovino, had this to say, “In the wine world there’s a tremendous standardization and uniformization of taste, from Australia to Chile to France to the U.S., across the globe and at every price level, from a $5 wine to a $500 wine. The classic fraud of our time, which is what Wal-Mart wants us to believe, is that, hey, you’ve got lots of choice at a lower price. Well, you’ve got a lot of different labels on these bottles, but man, the taste sure is the fucking same.”
My Take:
Plain and simple, I like good wine. It’s inconceivable to me that across the entire planet and across hundreds of grape varietals, the vast threat of homogeneity is about to ‘kill’ wine as we know it. If Rolland has made wine as-a-whole better, then that’s a good thing.

It seems to me that Rolland worked hard in studying the history of how great wine comes to be. He wrestled with and figured out possible answers to some tough questions: How much sun? How long before harvesting the grapes? What kind of oak to use? How long to age in barrels? And so on.

Low and behold, Rolland now understands how to make average wine really, really good and even great at times. He has created insights, ideas and techniques that if applied correctly can produce some beautiful juice. There is no silver bullet, magic potion or secret formula to make all wine great. Let alone unvaryingly, Orwellianly equal and great.

Perhaps, Rolland himself put it best.
“What I bring is a range of experience and a span of reference that other people here, however talented they might be, do not have…A consultant cannot know everything. I am here to give advice with an open mind to the resident winemaker. So the personality of the people is an essential. It’s fundamental. If you have no contact with the people, it’s impossible. I’m no magician.”

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Winecology: Falset-Marca "Etim" - Montsant, Spain - 2002

This wine comes from Spanish cooperative Falset-Marca, located in the ancient and isolated Priorat region - a relatively new addition to the mainstream global wine map. Priorat's wines are predominantly high-octane extracted reds, loaded with tannin, concentrated fruit and alcohol. These generous wines are a product of painstaking viticulture due to notoriously low-yielding vines. Priorat's climate and mountainous environment are anything but friendly. Extreme temperatures - hot days and cool nights - combined with rocky and arid soil are the norm. Grenache, carignan, tempranillo and syrah are grown with much success in Priorat.

The 2002 version of Falset-Marca's Etim blends the above four Priorat grapes. Initially this wine was tough and tight - firmly expressing its youth. After a couple hours of decanting, the good stuff was unleashed. The wine had a dark, dark ruby red color with a pronounced light purple on the rim. The nose breathed dark cherry, red licorice and spice. On the palette, ripe red fruits were concentrated and syrupy. Lots of cherry and strawberry. Zippy acidity compliments and balances the fruit. Tannin offers bite in the moderate finish. A great value with aging potential from Spain's shooting star region.

Rating - 8.5 out of 10
Price - $10

Wine Deals on the Town in Chicago

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a nice piece on specials that various restaurants and bars have been running in the city. A few in particular are noteworthy for the wine deals to be had...

Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan

"5 for 5" a daily wine and cheese tasting menu for $25 at the dining room bar. A sampling of 5 artisan cheeses paired with 5 wines from one of the city's top restaurants.

Star Bar, 2934 N. Sheffield
Mondays - all sparkling wine bottles 1/2 off
Tuesdays - all wine by the glass $5
Wednesday - Veuve-Clicquot Yellow Label glasses $7

One SixtyBlue, 1400 W. Randolph
Monday & Thursday - bottles of wine greater than $40 are 1/2 off
Tuesdays - all wine by the glass 1/2 off

I'll be trying many of the above in the near future!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

French Wine Woes - Marketing Edition

Yeeesh. Is French winemaker Catherine Gachet too sexy? Have we stumbled upon the Bordeaux bible belt? What maniac approved these x-rated wine ads?

xUnacceptable - too risqué.

Oh no...don't put that glass so close to your mouth! Your eyes - noooo!
It's no wonder French winemakers need a $90 million aid package to recuscitate business.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Winecology: Georges Duboeuf Fleurie - Flower Label - Beaujolais 2003

2003 is truly a remarkable vintage for Beaujolais. The scorching heat wave of July and August that year created wines with depth and complexity not normally found in Beaujolais. This particular wine is from negociant Georges Duboeuf who is by most counts the king of Gamay - the primary varietal grown and produced in Beaujolais. Ten villages comprise the top 'Crus' of the Beaujolais region. These top Crus tend to create wines with more elegance than typical Beaujolais, which can be overtly fruity, generally simple and lacking complexity. Fleurie is one of those ten Cru.

This effort had light ruby colors that occasionally brought forward bluish purple hues. A fresh nose of fruity strawberry and cherry. Some floral notes developed over time as well. In the mouth, sharp tartness is well balanced by concentrated fruit. A velvety mouthfeel has more cherry and spice. The moderate length, smooth finish features strawberry creamsicle.

Rating - 8.5 out of 10
Price - $12

Edited to correct Gamay as the "primary" not "only" varietal growin in Beaujolais.

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival

Now that's what I call wine marketing - via Vinodiversity: