Archive for the ‘Review dessert wines’ Category

Tasting a Treasure: Chateau d’Yquem 1989

yquemI don’t drink a lot of $1,000 wines.

It’s just not in my budget.

So I was thrilled when our good friends, Chris Holcombe Cotanch and Bruce Cotanch, invited us to join them to taste their bottle of 1989 Chateau d’Yquem Lur-Saluces.

What?? You mean the Yquem from an outstanding vintage that scored 97 points from the Wine God Robert Parker Jr? Yes, I’ll be honored…

So just in case you don’t know why Yquem, and Yquem in this vintage, is such a treat, let me give you some history.

“History” is the key word. Chateau d’Yquem is a French wine and winery that dates back to 1593. Yes, that’s more than four centuries ago. Here in the Americas, we weren’t even growing subsistence crops, let alone a luxury item like wine.

And in the Chateau d’Yquem vineyards in southeast Bordeaux, the dessert wine made from the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that they planted in the 16th century earned them an international reputation. By the late 1700′s, our own Thomas Jefferson wanted to visit this prestigious winery, and he loved the wine so much that he bought 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage and some extra for George Washington. Wow! The 1784 vintage?? It kinda blows my mind.

So last weekend we were sitting down to taste the 1989 vintage. I was keenly aware of the history that preceeded us, and I’d done my research so that I could taste knowledgeably. Here’s what I learned: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dan Berger Hasn’t Really Discovered Sweet Muscat Wine

moscatoWe’ve been selling Moscato for years. We sell it to all those folks who don’t like dry wines, and there are many of those. Usually they’re at the beginning of the wine learning curve, and after drinking sweet stuff for a while, they decide they want to try less-sweet stuff.

So let’s link to Dan Berger’s article in the that claims that Barefoot Cellars has done wine drinkers a favor by producing a California “Muscat” at around $7. I’ve talked to many people who’ve tasted this wine, and let me be clear: it’s not good wine. My sweet-loving customers have told me it tastes like lighter fluid compared to good Italian or California Moscatos. It may be the same grape, or a derivative of it, but whatever they do to it at the Gallo wine factory takes all the wonderful flavor out of it.

The best Moscato’s are the ones from Italy, because that’s where the grape originated. In Italy’s Asti region, they make wonderful wines from the Moscato grape: they’re sweet, but not with added sugar, and have some natural spritz and nice acid on the finish to keep them from being cloying. The Italians  manage the fermentation process so that fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is consumed, which means there’s a lower level of alcohol but luscious natural sweet, peachy flavors. Some people drink them as table wines and some as dessert wines: either way, they are the best affordable sweet wines on the market (priced in the low to high $teens).

There are also some very good California Moscatos that have been around for some time. St. Supery makes one in the high $teens and Martin & Weyrich Moscato Allegro is in the low $teens (this was one of our best-selling wines more than 10 years ago). And if price is the object, you can buy a good quality Australian Moscato from Banrock Station for about the price of the Barefoot.

I don’t want anyone, including Dan Berger, to drink bad Moscato. In fact, I’d be happy to send him a bottle of really good Moscato. Once he’s tried it, he’ll understand…





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Letting Sherry Out of The Closet

sherryIf you have a friend named Sherry, I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about the fortified wine from Jerez, Spain.

Sherry isn’t something I think about much in my drinking life, but I bumped into it when a friend sent me a very cool article from the Wall Street Journal online. You can read the whole article for yourself, or get the Reader’s Digest version here.

The gist of the article is really very simple:

a – While we all have a vague idea that Sherry is a classy beverage that the “cultured” folk enjoy, 99% of the drinking public doesn’t think they like it, even though they’ve never tried it.

b – The average (wine) bar go-er has only a foggy idea of what it is, and according to the WSJ article, can’t even be persuaded to drink it for free!

Apparently, in 21st century America, only wine geeks — i.e. Frazier and his brother and those of us who work in the business — actually buy it. And the article explains why: there is a dizzying array of styles and sweetness levels, and the only Sherry that’s been popularized is “sticky sweet,” i.e. fit only for your Great Aunt Ethel. The average wine shopper isn’t about to take the time to ferret out the kind of Sherry he/she might actually enjoy, so they walk right past the Sherry section and head for the Ports. Read the rest of this entry »

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Canadians World Leaders in Ice Wine — and Very Large Wine Glasses

ice wineThe Canadians are at it again. This time they’ve grabbed the attention of the wine world by setting a Guinness World Record for the Largest Filled Wine Flute. Yes, as the kick-off to the 2011 Niagara Icewine Festival, “38 Ontario ice wine makers and winery proprietors gathered to pour seventy 375 ml bottles and six 200 ml bottles” into a giant flute designed by world-renowned stemware manufacturer Riedel.

Now that’s a lot of icewine. The article said it totaled 18 liters, which by my calculation represents about $3000 worth of icewine. “Wow,” I thought: “That’s one expensive publicity stunt.” But the good news is that the alcohol didn’t go to waste: it was sipped and enjoyed by all in attendance.

Canada’s Niagara Peninsula has earned a great reputation for its icewine. It’s the world’s largest exporter of the stuff, most of it going to Japan and the Far East.

It wasn’t always so. Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo of Inniskillin Winery got the idea to make icewine around 1975. “When we poured the first icewine in 1984,” says Kaiser, “people were drinking junk like Black Nun and Blue Tower.” After that, he says, people got into cheap French wine, and then because of their previous experiences with the sweet Old World wines, they were hesitant to try icewine. But that all changed in 1991, when Inniskillin’s Vidal Icewine won a Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo in Bordeaux. “The world took note,” he smiles.”

The folks in Ontario know how to have fun with their icewine. Every winter they stage a bang-up icewine festival, most of it “al fresco” in Ontario’s sub-zero (Celsius) winter. In the pictures I saw, everyone’s bundled up from head to toe, they’re all clutching glasses of golden icewine, and they’re all grinning like crazy. I guess the alcohol cranks up the old internal thermostat…

So once again, Go Canada! Here’s to ice, wine, and adventurous Canadians. Cheers!

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Good Sweet Wine

malvasiaThere are lots of people who like sweet wines. And there’s no need to turn up your nose at them. In fact, if you look at the entire U.S. wine drinking population, you’ll probably find that there are more sweet lovers than dry lovers.  I have absolutely no statistics to back up this assertion, but I know that White Zinfandel was for several years the country’s best-selling wine. And I know that lots of folks come into  my store looking for something that’s “not bitter.” That’s why I’ve made a point of finding good sweet wines. And yes, there are many good sweet wines.

By “good,” I mean wines that are naturally sweet and naturally made, instead of the drek you find in the grocery store that’s made with added sugar, artificial flavors, and God knows what. The Italians are responsible for the world’s best collection of naturally sweet wines. Moscato, a white wine, is right at the top of the list, and there are some reds that are also light-bodied and delicately sweet.  These wines usually say “Dessert Wine” on the back, but that’s too limiting. Folks who don’t have a palate for dry wines will love these before dinner, or even during dinner. It’s way too sweet for us dry wine lovers, but hey — whatever floats your boat!

The one I’m writing about today is San Giulio Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco. Malvasia is the name of the grape, and it’s made in the traditional style for these wines: fermented only until about 6% alcohol is reached, and then hit with cold temperatures that bring it down close to freezing. This kills the yeast and stops fermentation. After a period of cold storage, it’s warmed just enough to restart fermentation in a sealed vessel. This produces a slight spritz, along with the natural sweetness. Read the rest of this entry »

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Port For The X Gen, or Y Gen, or Whatever

novalThe wine rep  who brought Noval Black to me introduced it by saying, “This is Port for younger wine drinkers.” I thought to myself, “Just how young are we talking?” With that “Must Be 21″ thing, they can’t be all that young. He must be talking about 20-somethings or 30-somethings: and is there a reason they can’t drink the Port that’s good enough for the rest of us? And why would this venerable Port house, that’s been making tawnies and vintage character port since 1715, see the need to launch a product for youngsters now?

I couldn’t wait to crack this bottle and answer  these questions. We set it up properly, serving it after a good  dinner with some killer fudge brownies and fresh raspberries. When the Noval Black hit the table, the first thing we noticed was the sleek, racy look of the bottle. It doesn’t look like your father’s Port: there are no clumsy stenciled letters or squatty, frumpy bottle. And there’s almost no punt underneath the bottle — you know, that deep indentation in the bottom that’s designed to hold sediment as the Port ages and sediment falls out. Hmmmm…

When we popped the (traditional) cork and  poured a glass, we noted that the color was typical of a ruby port:  nice deep garnet. The nose gave a good rush of berry fruit, and the first sip rewarded us with nice, deep, sweet black cherry flavors.The finish had the bite you want from a 19.5% alcohol wine, but didn’t linger long in the mouth. It was pleasant, and it reminded me of lots of other ruby or vintage-character ports that I’ve tasted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ice Wine Review – King Estates

frozen grapesYes, we make Ice Wine here in the U S of A. But some purists might argue that it’s not “real” Ice Wine. Why? Because in the very cool climate regions that specialize in Ice Wine, such as Germany and Canada’s Niagara Peninsula, the grapes are frozen on the vine by Mother Nature’s sub-freezing temperatures. Vineyard workers (and volunteer wine fanatics) go into the vineyards before sun-up to harvest the frozen grape berries. But in the case of this King Estate’s Oregon Ice Wine, the grapes are artificially frozen after harvest. Is this cheating?

Who cares. If the proof is in the glass, then King Estates’ Vin Glace 2007 is as authentic as it needs to be. This dessert wine is made in Oregon from Pinot Gris grapes that have been left to hang until their brix (sugar content) tops 32 degrees (or %). That’s a lot of natural sweetness. After freezing, the grapes are pressed, releasing concentrated juice and leaving ice crystals behind. (If you’ve wondered why Ice Wines are so expensive, this is it — it takes a whole lot of grapes to produce enough juice for a bottle of wine.) During fermentation, the process is stopped before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, leaving the residual sugar you taste.

So what’s it taste like? I’d say “divine”… Now, I’m not a sweet wine drinker — a little usually goes a long way for me. But what works about King Estates Vin Glace is the bright acid on the finish that keeps it from being syrupy. The palate sets you up with rich apricot and honey, and a lingering tangerine flavor. Then the finish gives up a hint of spice as it lingers with that lush fruit and bright, crisp acid.

And here’s the best part: this dessert wine comes in at about half the price of many Ice Wines. At $20 or under for a half bottle, it beats the pants off the usual $40 for a 375ml bottle. I’m dying to try this with some Creme Brulee, Cheesecake, or other decadent rich dessert. After all, what are dessert wines for??

$22.99 King Estate Vin Glace 2007 375ml

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