Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wine #5: Crios de Susana Balbo 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

After making wine around the world for nearly three decades, Crios is Argentine Susana Balbo's first project as owner and winemaker. The three handprints on the label represent Susana and her two crios, or children.
Untwist the screwcap for a deep purple pour of plummy Cabernet Sauvignon that will only get better with some air or more time in the bottle. As you swirl it around in your glass, take in its heady black fruit aromas with cassis, cigar box and a whiff of violets. Richer and fuller-bodied than our Napa Valley Cab, the Crios is savory and finishes long with a kiss of espresso and fine, sweet tannins.
Argentina's success with Malbec helped catapult that country to fifth place in worldwide wine production. Like many of the country's stellar Malbecs, this Cabernet Sauvignon hails from Mendoza, Argentina's largest wine-producing region that spans an area about the size of Germany. Vineyards for this wine sit at more than 3,300 feet above sea level where grapes are said to have some of the longest hang-times on earth, that is, time allowed for grapes to stay on the vine and optimally ripen. In fact, the mouthfeel, layers, richness and balance of this wine might remind you of lusty Washington Cabernet more so than California-styled Cabs.

Higher altitudes are unfriendly to many pests, which makes it easier for Argentine winemakers to avoid herbicides. Vines planted in these loamy, well-drained soils fed by Andean snow melt produce lower grape yields that benefit from sunny days, cool air and cooler nights. Add a bit of winemaker magic, five months spent in seasoned French and American oak and the results are balanced wines with ripe and rich fruit flavors, good acidity, lower alcohol levels and smooth tannins.  Bottled unfined and unfiltered, you can give this wine a pass through your aerator or open it up ahead of serving time.  

You'd be hard pressed to find a better quality:price value in Cabernet Sauvignon from anywhere. With 25,000 cases produced, you stand a good chance of scoring this wine around town – just in time for Super Bowl too! Enjoy it with steaks, grilled or roasted meats, cumin chili dishes, black bean soup, empanadas and aged cheeses. Find it for about $11 at LA Wine Company in Palm Desert or Costco, if there's any left. 

I'd say that was an awesome tasting wouldn't you? Thanks to all and to The Girlfriend Factor for making it such a great time!

Coming this week: Super Bowl wines

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wine #4: Sean Minor 4 Bears 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

We closed out our tasting with two styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley led the way with Sean Minor 4 Bears 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Established in 2005, Four Bears Winery is named for the husband-and-wife founders' four children. Despite their new run on the winemaking scene, Sean Minor is turning out some excellent juice at price points so low, you'd do well to stock up on cases of the ones you like best.

Their 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet blends 83% Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The black-fruited beauty delivers the aromas and flavors of cassis and cedar that make Cabernet so irresistible. Unlike fruit-bomb Cabs, the medium-bodied Sean Minor delights with currants and blackberry fruit balanced by dusty earthiness, acidity and toasty oak.  There's enough grip in these tannins to suggest this wine will get even better in another year or two. 

But why wait? Enjoy this wine now with burgers, ribeyes off the grill, smoked mozzarella, roasted bitter vegetables such as radicchio or sautéed escarole. The release price was $17 but you'll find it for a few dollars less at LA Wine Company and Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert. If you get a chance to try the Sean Minor Pinot Noir or Chardonnay before we do, drop a comment to let us know what you think.

Last Up: Argentine Cabernet from Mendoza

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wine #3: Mulderbosch 2009 Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon

This charming South African wine bridges our tasting from two styles of Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the Mulderbosch 2009 rosé comes from the Coastal Region of South Africa's Stellenbosch district.
And what a pretty pour it is, all watermelon pink in the glass with aromas of wild strawberries and rose petals. The medium body floats a mouthful of fresh red fruits with a dash of nutmeg and peppery spice on the finish. Take this beauty with you to relax and recharge on the patio or serve it with salads, light fish, curry dishes, sushi or other Asian fare.

Rosé is too good to relegate to the warmer months alone. Snap open this screw-capped delight and treat yourself to a generous pour. You'll be a believer too, just as Eric Asimov wrote in this week's New York Times.

Coming next: Cabernet Closers

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wine #2: Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay

Our second wine comes from Washington, the second-largest wine-producing state in the nation. Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington's oldest winery and while they produce oceans of wine, CSM quality just keeps getting better.

The 2009 Columbia Valley Chardonnay is aged on its lees for more than six months and barreled in mostly older oak barrels to give the wine soft, integrated oak flavors and balanced richness. The final blend is juiced by 10% tank-fermented Chardonnay for a fresh lift that's still opulent.

Flavors of apple, pear and citrus meld beautifully with soft vanilla and spice. This lush wine will pair beautifully with crabcakes, richer salmon and shellfish dishes, white beans, polenta, white mushrooms, chicken tarragon and buttery or cream-sauced pastas.  

For an eye-opening experience, visit Chateau Ste. Michelle's white winemaking facility at their magnificent French-style chateau in Woodinville, a short drive from Seattle. You'll discover a new appreciation for Washington wines and Chateau Ste. Michelle's broad wine portfolio. Lovers of supple and rich red wines will want to seek out CSM's Indian Wells bottlings, named for the winery's Indian Wells vineyards rather than the namesake desert city. Even the Riesling-resistant will find they are powerless in the presence of Eroica and other racy Rieslings.

Find this terrific value at local grocers. If you make it on time to Albertson's wine sale, grab this great bargain at $7 or get your money's worth at their regular $12 price once the sale ends.  

Next up, Wine # 3: A rosier side of Cabernet Sauvignon

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wine Circle Tasting Wine #1 - Unoaked Chardonnay

Two grape varieties will be the focus of my first tasting party for The Girlfriend Factor's Wine Circle this week: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I don't usually divulge the names of the wines beforehand but I'll use this new blog space to count down the five wines over the next few days.

The first two wines are 100% Chardonnay – the first is unoaked and the second is an oaked variety that's still balanced and fresh. Try this at home with friends as a fun way to flesh out your own white wine palates. It's one way to pinpoint the flavors, textures, aromas and characteristics of wines you like (or don't like) and why. Best of all, this simple exercise will help you become a better-informed wine consumer.

Wine #1: Four Vines Naked Chardonnay

Thumbs up for the screwcap on this pale straw-colored 2009 Chardonnay from northern Santa Barbara County. Winemaker Christian Tietje is a self-proclaimed hedonist, as the bold reds he and Susan Mahler produce at Four Vines Winery attest. With Naked, however, Tietje sets the fruit free.

After hand-sorting, the grapes were gently pressed as whole clusters and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The wine was given extended contact with the lees, or spent yeast, to produce a balanced richness. No malolactic fermentation occurred, a process winemakers use to convert sharper malic acids that give apples their acidic zing into softer, rounder lactic acids found in milk and milk products.

Four Vines Naked has clean aromas of fresh peach, pear and apple with a touch of lemon-lime citrusy freshness on the palate. The long lees contact helps give the wine a medium body and balanced acidity. Naked finishes clean and refreshing with a stony edge. Besides the winemaker's food pairing suggestion of oysters, Naked partners well with grilled fish, salads and light appetizers with citrus notes, vegetarian dishes, herbed pastas and lighter meats.

The 13.9% alcohol is pretty typical for this region, and hovers close to this taster's upper limit for Chardonnay. Catch it on sale for just under $10 at Cost Plus World Imports in La Quinta or find it at Costco.

If you like this style of Chardonnay, you may also enjoy unoaked California Chardonnays by St. Supéry, Mer Soleil Silver, Layer Cake Virgin Central Coast and Oregon Chardonnay from A to Z Wineworks.

Coming next: Wine #2 – Oaked Chardonnay.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome to Write on Wines!

Wine is a pleasure that begs to be shared. Welcome to my new blog where I'll write on wines that thrill, elevate a dish or deliver great value. I'll also write on wines with back stories, wines made by vintners worth knowing about and wines from places turning out great juice across the New World. Ditto for the Old World. There will be travel and vacation wines, restaurant wines and party wines. I'll remember to write on easy-drinking wines, once-in-a-lifetime wines and a lot of everything in between.  I'll dig up some special-occasion wines, wines for one and wines that come in a box. As an equal-opportunity wine lover, I'll also be sure to write on red wines, white wines, rosé, bubbly and dessert wines - heck, maybe I'll learn enough about port and sherry to write on those wines as well. Have I missed any? If so, let me know and I'll write on those wines too. Thanks for dropping by!