Monday, April 23, 2007

Back to classics: 1998 Clos de l'Oratoire

Sometimes, you don't need a fancy meal to enjoy a good bottle of wine. Take our last Friday dinner for instance. We had a simple home cooked dinner of grilled steak, oven roasted potatoes, and green salad. But the steak was screaming for a nice bottle of Bordeaux so I opened a 1998 Clos de l'Oratoire.

Clos de L'Oratoire is a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru currently owned by the aristocratic Count Stephan von Neipperg of Château Canon La Gaffelière. It is a 10.32 hectare estate located on Saint-Emilion's northeast slope. The soil consists of limestone, sand, and a clay subsoil, conditions that are particularly favorable to the Merlot grape (90% of the blend, the rest being equally divided between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon). The wine is aged in oak barrels, mostly new, for up to 18 months and is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

In the glass, this 9 year old wine had a dark garnet color showing no sign of age. The nose had wonderful gamey aromas with sweet berry notes in the background. The palate offered a rich layered array of flavors, a nice balance between tannins and acidity and a persistent earthy/mocha finish.

It's funny how quickly we forget how rewarding simple pleasures are, like a juicy grilled steak and a glass of good Bordeaux.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Try Sicily for a change

Have you tried any wine from Sicily recently? And do you know that Sicily is one of Europe's fastest growing wine regions?

Although a great majority of Sicilian wines is still produced by cooperatives, there is an increasing number of private estates that put a new emphasis on quality over quantity. Moreover, some of Sicily's most interesting wines come from native varieties unique to the area, including the red grapes Nero d'Avola and Nerello Mascalese, and the white Inzolia.

So this weekend we tasted an excellent Sicilian wine, the 2002 Vini Biondi Etna Rosso Outis. Etna is one of Sicily's finest DOC although vines planted on Mount Etna desert-like slopes are not easy to cultivate: the volcano has frequent eruptions and the soil has extremely fine volcanic ash and sand that can damage the vines and the farm equipment.

Outis (nessuno in Italian, nobody in English) is the name that Ulysses gave to Polyfemous the Cyclops on the foothills of Mount Etna. The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, Etna's main grape varieties, that are planted on an east facing vineyard at 620 meters above sea level.

The wine had a medium red, slightly brown color, and a fragrant nose of sweet cherry liqueur and coffee. On the palate, it had a dry, tannic attack and a nice mix of aromatic herbs and vanilla on the finish. It is a distinctive wine that you should try with a Fennel and Sausage Pasta dish.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

WBW #32: Reserve or not Reserve?

Reserve or not Reserve? That is the question asked by The Wine Cask Blog for the 32nd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday. This month, we need to determine whether Reserve wines are really better than their regular counterparts. What a great question! And are they worth the price, can they age better?

For this experiment, I chose to compare (blind) two wines from Merryvale Vineyards: the 1999 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon bought $20.80 at the time, and the 1999 Merryvale Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that costed me $30.20. Both are from the Napa Valley, from the same vintage, and both have some amount of Merlot in the blend.

In the glass, the two wines had a similar deep garnet color, the Reserve being slightly darker. The regular Cabernet had a bright, spicy, and smoky nose whereas the Reserve had a denser nose with black fruit and cherry liqueur aromas, and some smoky notes. On the palate, the regular Cabernet was medium-bodied, slightly lean on the mid palate with some acidity on the finish. In comparison, the Reserve had a fuller and more complex body, with a more tannic finish.

At the end, it was easy to identify the two wines. The regular Cabernet was a fine wine that had aged pretty well but it didn't have the complexity of the Reserve. Does that mean that the Reserve was worth the price? I think so.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Nuits d'Ivresse

I have to admit that I bought this wine because of its name. Nuits d'Ivresse is a great wine name. It means Drunken Nights, although I think that ivresse is more than just being drunk. Ivresse can also be caused by happiness, the happiness of drinking a good wine.

The wine is produced by the Domaine Catherine & Pierre Breton. Catherine & Pierre Breton practice organic viticulture and vinify most of the wines in stainless-steel vats so that the wines can express their terroir and vintage. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered and only a minimal dosage of sulfur is used.

The cuvée Nuits d'Ivresse is a Bourgueil, an appellation located in the Loire Valley. It is made from old Cabernet Franc vines growing on clay and limestone soils. The wine has a deep garnet color and a nose of forest berry fruit and violent scents. The palate is firm and spicy with a fresh finish. It is wonderfully food-friendly. Try it with a roast chicken and a Spring Risotto.

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