This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is hosted by 1 Wine Dude blogger Joe Roberts. This fun theme is “baked goods”, literally wines that have been maderized (or heated) such as Madeira. The theme has been extended to include wines that have been fortified as well. I have chosen this month the Campbells Rutherglen Muscat, which is a dessert wine made from the Muscat grape (fortified with grape spirits). Rutherglen is an area in Northeast Victoria, southeast Australia that is famous for distinctive fortified Muscat and Tokay dessert wines. Campbells has been in the winemaking business since 1870, which is impressive.
I purchased this 375ml bottle a few months ago at a New Hampshire State Liquor Store in Nashua for about $15. Was I attracted to the fine old Scottish name on the bottle? Perhaps. Was I lured in by the big Decanter Gold Medal label on the front? Sure. Do I appreciate a delicious fortified sticky? Absolutely.
According to the Campbells web site, the wine is made using the Solera system, that is, from a blend of wines from several vintages, hence there is no vintage on the label. The alcohol by volume (ABV) is a relatively modest 17%. This wine recently received a 91of 100 from tough wine critic Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar, which says to me it must have some special qualities.
I have to be honest- I only had a small glass of this before a guest quaffed the whole thing. It just really tastes good, especially if you have any kind of sweet tooth. I’m always happy to be a good host :-). But I did take down some tasting notes. The nose reminded me right off the bat of plum pudding and hard sauce that I used to have sometimes on holidays as a child. It’s so funny that on Campbells web page describing the wine they state that it pairs well with plum pudding and hard sauce. That made me chuckle. Also prominent on the nose are candied raisin and burnt caramel. I sensed also on the nose something that reminded me of cognac, but more unctuous. The finish is good and very pleasant. I’ll probably try to round up another bottle of this at some point!
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Dr. Debs over at Good Wine Under $20. The theme this month is summery white wine varietals generally associated with the Rhone Valley in France, to quote:
“The varieties that I think best exemplify summer are white varieties associated with the Rhone: Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, Picardin, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc, and Viognier.”
The varietals can be combined in a blend or not, and don’t need to actually be grown/vinified in the Rhone Valley. So this month on one of my recent trip to Gordon’s in Waltham (my wine class Mecca), I selected the 2006 Domaine Roger Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc for this month’s assignment. This is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Roussanne.
This wine is very pale yellow in color, and also is light-bodied and crisp. It is citrusy and simple. This would be excellent sitting on a deck outside with a nice lobster dinner. If I were a wine critic using a 100-point scale I’d probably give it an 86 for general competence, but for $23.96 it’s not the greatest QPR in the world.
A ‘New World’ wine with white Rhone varietals I had a few months ago that rocked my world a bit more was the 2006 The Black Chook VMR McLaren Vale & Langhorne Creek (Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne blend). This wine had quite a bit more going for it in terms of aromatics, fruitiness, finish, and overall deliciousness, and I agree with Stephen Tanzer’s 90 points on the 100-point scale. In fact, I recall in January when I opened this bottle I didn’t manage the sort of reasonable restraint a petite lady should strive to maintain when enjoying a potent potable :-).
Last night I attended a pleasurable tasting/class at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Culinary Center featuring winemaker/producer Olivier Humbrecht (pronounced oom-bresht) of very well regarded winery Domaine Zind-Humbrecht of Turckheim, Alsace, France. Gordon’s really is one of the neatest places in my area to attend a formal tasting, wine class, or culinary class (no, I don’t work there). It is so beautifully outfitted for the purpose. Here’s a photo showing the 2 overhead screens. I like this pic as it shows the old nag dragging the plow through one of the vineyards in the domaine:
Olivier Humbrecht is one very smart (and tall) French wine producer who can claim to be have passed the very difficult Master of Wine examination, the first French man to do so. His winery produces a really impressive range of classic Alsation white wines including generic varietal wines, village-level (5), vineyard-level, and 4 Grand Cru level. Varietal wines are made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat a Petit Grains, and Pinot Gris. There is also a wine called Pinot D’Alsace which is made from Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc.
The Domaine practices organic and biodynamic grape growing practices. It produces about 180,000 to 200,000 bottles per vintage and employs 25 people (not including more at harvest times). Alsation white wines are generally more spicy, aromatic, and rich than the German counterparts. He explained that his idea of terroir not only includes the land and growing conditions, but the people and culture who inhabit the land. As far as biodynamic practices, he does indeed pay attention to moon cycles, homeopathic practices, and maintaining biodiversity. I’m pretty sure he stated that they do the buried cow manure in the horn thing, and believes that plants communicate with each other in a natural system that is not totally understood. He believes in a lot of up-front effort in the vineyards, and the simplest most non-interventionist vinification possible after harvest. He stated that machine-harvesting of grapes is a completely heinous process (although 6x less expensive than hand-harvesting) which produces ‘pulpy wine mush’ which includes a lot of stems and extraneous stuff that then has to be dealt with by the winemaker (all Domaine Z-H wines are produced from hand-picked fruit).
I managed to, well, ingratiate myself to Olivier by asking if he implemented malolactic fermentation in his winemaking. This is a secondary fermentation process by which tart malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid and CO2 post alcohol fermentation. I thought the 2006 Pinot Gris varietal wine tasted kind of round and buttery. He wanted to know why I asked, and then explained that all the wines we tasted had undergone malo *except* for the Pinot Gris. Well, I knew it was SOMETHING about the Pinot Gris that was different! (I’m telling myself to feel better). There’s a cool presentation of the malolactic fermentation process from Ellen Butz of Purdue University Dept. of Food Science.
In a Q&A session, someone asked Mr. Humbrecht his opinion of Finger Lakes NY wines, and he thought the grapes were grown in the wrong plots of land – the grapes are planted where the potatoes should be and vice-versa. Someone else asked about global warming, and he stated a general trend towards earlier and earlier harvests at his Domaine. When asked about optimum grape ripeness, he stated that the grapes are fully ripe when the pips can grow more vines!
We tasted 10 wines that were all delicious and aromatically extremely exciting. My favorites were the generic 2006 Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot D’Alsace. I didn’t love the Pinot Gris, but was sitting near someone who thought that was the most outstanding, so of course everyone’s palate, opinions, and life experiences are different. The 2005 Riesling Gueberschwihr and Turckheim (2 village-level wines) were extremely delicious. The 2005 Riesling Herrenweg was extremely spicy and perfumed and had a super long finish. The 2005 Gewurztraminer Wintzenheim was so pungent and extracted it reminded us of a liquor, almost.
All in all it’s probably obvious I found this a very interesting and informative tasting. Also Gordon’s had some special pricing which was also quite nice and appreciated.
There are some reviews of some of these wines at the example issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar for those interested.
On April 26th I attended another big mass tasting of wines at The Vineyard in North Andover, MA. This is located on Rt. 114 very nearly across the street from my Alma Mater Merrimack College (where if I recall correctly the preferred potent potable was beer, LOTS of beer). I love these big mass tastings as it gives me, as a newly hatched wine enthusiast, a chance to expand my palate, as it were, and figure out what I like. Also I’ve decided to try to join the Wine Century Club. The WCC sends you a neat certificate if you have tasted at least 100 different grape varietals (compliance is by honor system, and they do email you a nice spreadsheet for keeping track). I’m up to 56 at last count, since last November – I must be some kind of wino.
There were 48 wines there at The Vineyard to be tasted from 6 different distributors. I scoped out the wines beforehand so as not to get my palate fatigued on the less worthy stuff. For instance, I noted that the Bogle Pinot Noir received a VaynerPAZZZZZZ from Gary Vaynerchuk so pazzzed on tasting that one. I also went to the table first with the potentially most interesting selections.
I found several nice wines that pleased my tasting apparatus and went home with a few. Firstly, the Morgon Chardonnay Metallico 2006, a really delicious & crisp Monterey CA chard that I can only describe as mouth watering. Also splurged on the Clayhouse Vineyard Estate Cuvée 2004 which is a really fine “Rhone blend” of Grenache, Petite Syrah, and Syrah. This received the following review from Stephen Tanzer/IWC Sept/Oct 06 review (from Clayhouse Vineyard website):
2004 Clayhouse Estate & Vineyard Estate Cuvee Paso Robles 85
($30; 43% syrah, 43% petite sirah, 14% grenache) Bright ruby-red. Raspberry liqueur, dark chocolate and pepper on the rather roasted, exotic nose. Sweet, dense and unrefined, with a somewhat gritty element of torrefaction and a saline quality. This is stuffed with dark berry and spice flavors but comes across as rather ungiving.
I thought this cuvee was the most giving thing I tasted at the Vineyard :-). Well, maybe a year in a half in bottle since this review has made it more generous. Tanzer liked the Clayhouse Hillside Cuvee 2004 much more (91) so I feel just obliged to try that out sometime as well. Next I found the overperforming Santa Ema Reserve Merlot 2004 from Maipo Valley in Chile. At about 10 bucks, this is a must buy. In fact, if I had a ‘house red’, this would probably be it. Lastly, I fell for the very fruity Pure Love Layer Cake Primitivo 2006. The Italian varietal Primitivo has been proven via DNA tests to equivalent to the CA varietal Zinfandel. This wine was jammy and aromatically reminded me of cake batter, which doesn’t bother me. We also picked up 2 really excellent Sauvignon Blancs – the Marlborough New Zealand Dryland Sauvignon Blanc 2007 which was just about the most varietally correct, crisp SB I’ve ever had, and the interestingly fizzy & zesty Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc 2006 from Sonoma.