Friday, November 27, 2009

2008 Red Bicyclette French Rose

Terry post:

I don't expect much when I buy a bottle of Rose and am always pleasantly surprised when the bottle provides more pleasure than I expect.

Gallo owns the Red Bicyclette label and is using that brand to sell "vin ordinare" to US citizenry. I recently double-tasted a Red Bicyclette Chardonnay to disastrous results - it is simply un-drinkable. So, my expectations were very, very low when I cracked open a bottle of the 2008 Red Bicyclette Rose yesterday to be served at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table.

My impression: Strawberries and raspberries immediately and intensely upon the nose. There is good acidity which provided enough food-friendly structure for the wine to stand up pleasantly with my oyster-infused turkey dressing.

I expect the Gallo brand to provide reliable, unspectacular every-day wines at reasonable prices. The 2008 Red Bicyclette French Rose exceeds my expectations and is keeping with more pricy Rose (primarily from Australia) which I have sampled these past two years. Whereas their 2007 Chardonnay is un-drinkable, this 2008 French Rose is a food-friendly surprise and and at its very reasonable price point ($6.99 750 mL) a bargain.

~ Terry

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2004 Oriel Setena Terra Alta Red

Terry Post:

Perhaps I am a little jaded in favor of Oriel as I really like the basic idea behind the négociant brand created by entrepreneur John Hunt: "Rock Star" wine makers hand-craft small-batch wines with grapes from some of the world's most interesting wine regions.

Oriel’s is a different way for doing business as the majority of premium wine makers control the entire wine making process from owning the land upon which the grapes are grow, to crushing, blending, aging and (in some instances) distribution. In the U.S. this sort of closely-controlled arrangement is the norm for premium wines.

In France things are a little different with négociants having a well-established and well-appreciated place in the wine business. A négociant is a trader which buys wine products (from grapes to wine) and places his name on those products. Until quite recently négociants were the most common brands and the most common way for wine to reach the French retail market. Wikipedia has a nice write up on négociants here.

The important difference with the Oriel brand is that they employ well-respected wine makers who have made their mark with other premium brands to make their wine. The 2004 Oriel Setena Red's wine maker is Xavier Clua - a fourth generation winemaker. Clua is the current winemaker for Celler Xavier Clua which specializes in wines from the Terra Alta region of Spain. The Setena is a blend sourced from Terra Alta.

My impressions: Setena is a full-bodied, richly colored red wine with ripe cherries and spicebox on the nose. Plums and spice on the finish with moderate tannins. My immediate impression was that I was tasting a Châteauneuf du Pape with softer, more rounded edges. This shouldn't be too surprising as Setena is 40% Grenach – the workhorse grape of a Châteauneuf. The wine is more tannic, and less rustic, that you'd find with the typical Châteauneuf, and I think this is a likely positive outcome resulting from the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon used in the Red's blend.

This wine is engineered to be paired with foods of intense flavor such as bison, venison and rack of lamb. It would also pair very nicely with a dry-rubbed beef roast. Two summers ago I had a morel mushroom bisque served over foie gras at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. - This wine would have paired very well with that intense, flavorful bisque.

You can find Setena for about $18 (750 mL bottle) at retail and at that price it is a very good value and worthy of your consideration.

~ Terry

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lost at Sea

Brad Post:

I’m no slouch when it comes to wine. Well, perhaps I do possess certain slouch-like characteristics such as yesterday when I visited a local wine store. With some time to kill before I had to pick up my wife from work, I decided to gather some supplies at the grocery store and to poke my head into the wine department.

What began as a “poke” became an extended browse as I inched my way from Argentina to New Zeeland, around the corner to Cabernet Sauvignon and by-passing Chardonnay land, with a brief stop by Iowa wines to say hi, and slowly crept past my old friends: Zinfandel and Petit Syrah, and finally ending in a colorful foil enshrined and encapsulated sparkler section – a magical place.

The dizzying selection of wines captured my attention as my eyes darted from cute to sophisticated labels, checking out prices, and scanning for the occasional wine review and numerical evaluation assigned by some faraway wine snob. Without much else to go by the 91 (out of 100, I assume) seemed like a fair bet. Only once, while standing there in my slouch-like trance, did a wine store employee stop by to ask if I had a question. I must have mumbled something like, “well, I am just looking at the pretty labels” or words to that effect, and she promptly did an about-face, never to return. I was abandoned!

I was lost in a sea of choices! Just like the damn ice cream stores with their 83 varieties – what evil monster is behind this vast kaleidoscope of oenophile opportunities? For a second I looked over both shoulders to see if there was a curtain from which some master-mind orchestrated this wicked play. But alas, it was just me and the wine, and then looking down at my watch I realized I had overstayed my brief visit and it was time to go.

There are worse things than leaving a wine store empty handed. Right?

- - - - - - - -

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2008 Red Bicyclette Chardonnay - Vin De Pays D'Oc

Terry Post:

Last year I enjoyed a bottle of Red Bicyclette Merlot and on a recent trip to the wine store I saw a bottle of Red Bicyclette Chardonnay on the shelf for $8.99 and on a whim bought a bottle.

The Red Bicyclette brand is owned Gallo and they appear to be making market penetration selling jug wines wines from the South of France. These vin ordinare are dolled up in with a nice label and sold as a low-priced entry into French wine.

Slightly confusing, the Gallo brand masters have changed their familiar Frenchman on a bicycle on a yellow background for a simpler, less evocative, bicycle against a tan background. Who am I to argue with Gallo, but the older label seemed a better branding choice.

My impression: Lively vanilla and oak nose. Tart initially and tannic on the finish - tastes which I do not associate with Chardonnays. No fruit at all. Very difficult to drink with more than half of the bottle going down the drain. I suspect that I had a stale bottle which would explain the lack of fruit. My limited experience with oxidized wines is that they are very thin on the nose, so maybe I am off on the cause. The cork looked to be intact and the wine was a lovely straw color - as it should have been. All-in-all a very flawed wine. I will buy a second bottle from another retailer and see if I get the same results.

It wasn't that long ago that I opined that there has never been more high-quality wine hitting the market and that it was challenging for the consumer to find a bad wine. Well, I have hit two clunkers in a row. I hope to do better next time.

November 27th Update: Purchased another bottle this past week from a different retailer and opened it Thanksgiving Day. It displayed the same overwhelming tartness and lack of fruit which I experienced with my first bottle. It is a deeply flawed wine and not worth drinking at any price.

~ Terry

Monday, November 9, 2009

Best of the Best

Brad Post:

On Saturday morning, with my back cooking from the unusually warm November sunshine, I sat in a nondescript room in a conference hall with nine others waiting for the first pour. In front of me rest ten small empty wine glasses in an convex arc laid upside down upon white linen; one at a time during the next several hours (with replacements at the ready) wine was poured, slurped, sipped, tasted, evaluated and scored.

We slogged through the fruit wines, one at a time, and some were very good. Others were not so good. With each evaluation, I carefully tasted and made comments to the winemaker in hopes of providing a fair assessment of their wine – hopefully something one could use to improve a bit (at least that was my intent).

The group sitting opposite of ours was responsible for judging the wine (grape wine) and mead, while ours critically scored three dozen fruit (or country) wines. Tastings began with light and dry and eventually ascended or descended into a syrupy mêlée of 10% residual sugary wines.

For some wine judges inexperienced in judging fruit wines this can be a turn-off, chore or simply beneath them. In fact, I noticed at least two judges scurry away from my table once learning it was the fruit wine table. Of course who could blame them with the reputation of fruit wine as an overly sweetened nasty concoction crafted from grandma’s dandelions, elderberries, and God-knows what else? What are Elderberries, anyhow?

Common problems
: 1) Sediment in bottle, haze or cloudy plumes in bottle, 2) evidence of oxygen ingress (e.g., browning and orange-hued wines; acetaldehyde (sherry aroma); and way too much headspace between cork and wine) – probably the single most problematic issue and one so easy to remedy, 3) lack of fruit flavors.

Ultimately our group faced-off against the wine group to pick the best of the best. Theirs was a California wine-kit red wine, and mead, and ours an Elderberry wine. We tasted their wines and they tasted ours and we were all convinced “our” picks were best!

And in that warm, sunny room, on an unusually warm November day, we decided that we had already picked the best of the best – And the truth is that one cannot compare an Elderberry wine to a bold California wine, not to mention the Mead!

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Naked Wine Show: Revealing the Truth

Terry Post:

So. I was in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago and the hotel channel featured something called the, "Naked Wine Show". Intrigued, I watched a quick 60 second review of some sparking wine.

Like all good advertising there is some truth, but not all truth in the "Naked Wine Show". The host, Susan Sterling, does appear to be sans-clothing and due to the positioning of the camera, her wine glass and the wine bottle her nakedness is not shared outside of the studio wherein her quick summaries are taped. The appropriate name of the reviews might more appropriately be called the, "Naked Shoulders Wine Show".

Now to her reviews. After watching the first review it seems obvious that she is reading prepared notes and that the seeming spontaneity is just that: seeming. From personal experience when I taste a wine I slurp, swoosh, spit several times before I begin to get a sense of the wine: it takes time. Semi-naked Susan just pops open the wine, pour it into a glass and the comments flow like, well, like wine from a bottle.

She is easier on the eyes than I am. Her comments are rehearsed. Her shoulders are naked. All-in-all she is an interesting diversion from the dime-a-dozen wine reviewers such as - ahem - me.

~ Terry