Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NV Graham's "Six Grapes", Reserve Porto

Terry post:

After tasting the epic 2007 Graham's Vintage Porto a few weeks ago I was eager to taste another, less expensive, example.

A trip to the local Giant Supermarket revealed four shelves of Porto's and Ports ranging from $5.99 to just under $30 per bottle. After reviewing a few labels I settled on another Graham's product, "Six Grapes" - a non-vintage blend - and a Porto none-the-less.

Returning home I poured a glass and settled onto my porch to watch an approaching thunderstorm. As the wind kicked up and the skies darkened, I sipped, poured and re-poured several glasses returning inside only when the rain reached me.

My impression: Red (dark) when at rest in the glass with the hue lightening to purple with long leggy strands when swirled (20% alcohol). Grapes, raisins and prunes on the nose. Rich and full in the mouth. Long warming finish with overt sweetness complementing muscular tannins. Recommended.

Graham's describes "Six Grapes" as being, "...the everyday Port for the Vintage Port drinker..." and I tend to agree with them. My recently tasted 2007 vintage revealed a sensational Porto and at $80 per bottle a sensation to be enjoyed only on occasion. At less than $20 per bottle, the "Six Grapes" provides the Porto drinker a tasty compromise - and a compromise without disappointment.

$18.99 at Giant Supermarket

~ Terry

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tasting Notes: Syrah

Brad Post:

I’ll be the first person to admit I lack sophistication when it comes to wine appreciation. Nine weeks ago when I began my wine sensory analysis odyssey, part of my enology certificate from Des Moines Area Community College; I was better able to detect a wine flaw (e.g., volatile acidity, cork taint, acetaldehyde and other nasties) than to describe the renowned “cat pee” odor in a Sauvignon Blanc. Since then, guided via online lectures and through experiential learning, my wine appreciation lexicon and abilities to detect aromas/flavor and describe them have improved significantly.

In contrast to my brother’s write-ups, whose tasting notes originate from years of experience as a restaurant wine director, his informative and often poetic prose bridge the gustatory gap between good wine and real-world food-pairings. My wine training evolved from making wine to learning about appreciation under the tutelage of a professional winemaker, sensory analysis instructor (first level sommelier), and wine competition organizer and judge. So, it would be fair to say my training leans more toward the scientific (a step-by-step evaluation procedure) but, in the process, I also hope to infuse a bit of “brad” in the writings as to keep them less academic.

Nearly 30 wines later, we are introduced to three new red wines, one from California, another from Washington, and the final from Colorado – each wine is 100% Syrah. Whether you’re from Australia and call it “Shiraz” or from the southern part of France and simply know it as a “Rhone” valley wine (i.e., Côtes du Rhône) we are talking about the same grape! Big and bold, Syrah, is typically a heavily extracted and powerful red wine. Here are my notes from the Syrah tasting, in the order sampled:

1. Cline (2007) Sonoma County, Syrah (CA). (Alc. 13.5%, Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$10).
Deeply intense purple wine whose initial blackberry and cherry fruit essence was pleasant to smell. Bright and lively almost to the point of puckering, this tart blackberry imbued wine brought with it light astringency, moderate tannins, and just the right amount of oak. Tart. The up-front acidity and lively fruit gave way to a bit of heat mid-palate and post swallow. More watery than I expected. Moderately long and fruity finish but tends to smell better than it tastes. Good.

2. Snoqualmie (2003) Columbia Valley, Syrah (WA). (Alc. 13.5%, Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$9).
This slightly browning Syrah suggested her advancing age immediately. Right away I noted there is “a lot going on” in this glass! First off, notes of buttery goodness and some caramel, toasted nuts, earthy loam, and do I get “barnyard?” – not sure, but something farmish; cooked dark fruit and jam, and finally just a trace of chocolate. Wow! My mouth was happy to accept the full, creamy, rich, whole milk-like coating first with black cherries, and then smooth lightly burned toast, some oak and a wonderfully pleasant smoky finish. BIG! SMOOTH! SEDUCTIVE! Cherries persist on the palate for a long, long time. Buy it now and drink it today or yesterday – time is running out for this hidden, bottom shelf wine. Surprised.

3. Canyon Wind (2006) Grand Valley, Syrah (CO). (Alc. 13.6%, Sources: Winery, Cost: ~$18).
Initial scents of something akin to “pee” gave way to dusty, musty, rich earth and spicy pepper qualities and oak smoke. No fruit but very fascinating. The flavor profile of this wine had me scribbling like mad: “Rich, tart, cherry, blackberry, spice, black pepper.” HOLY COW! “light astringency, moderate tannins, lingering spiciness, persistent cherry.” RICH. THICK. First impressions are wrong – this wine is delicious. Seriously COMPLEX. Such a great, long lasting finish laced with cherries and black pepper (and smoke) kept me wanting more and imagining ways I could steal away with the contents! Look out California – Colorado is in the house!!!

Post Tasting Notes: What a great tasting! Our favorites were the Canyon Wind (3 picked) and the Snoqualmie (1 picked). Upon the reveal we were surprised to find the Cline at the bottom of our favorite list; and thrilled to see Colorado at the top followed closely by the Washington wine! Cheers to Colorado whose wines are really gaining traction. The full-bodied style crafted by the two favorites seem to be indicative of the traditional Rhone style, big and bold! Take home message: Watch out for Colorado wines (buy some too) and get your hands on the quickly fading, yet wonderful, Snoqualmie Syrah. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2005 Eagle Eye, Muscat Canelli, Napa Valley, California

Terry post:

Brand matters. The quality of the product, its price and how it is represented to the public - when bundled up equals brand. Think about the great brands: Coke-a-Cola, Apple, Disney and Caterpillar: each has a well-defined brand image w
hich they closely control to ensure a consistent unambiguous message to the consumer. A good brand is easily identified. So too is a less
than good brand.

So. Why a short discussion about "brand" when this is a blog site about wine? Well, the answer to that can be found in the labeling of the 2005 Eagle Eye, Muscat Canelli. This is not the label of a serious winery and it send entirely the wrong message to the buying public. In a competitive wine market the last thing a wine producer wants is to be is above average in price and below average in brand.

My impressions: Flowers perfume the nose. Overwhelming - pleasantly so - dose of lychee with a moderate finish. Nicely balanced for a Muscat. My immediate though when sipping the wine was that it would be great with hot Thai or Indian curries. This is far-and-away the most appealing Muscat I've ever enjoyed and not just for sipping poolside. Recommended.

Second thoughts: Of course, wine labeling does not need to be overly serious. Australian critter wines have proven that a light-hearted take on wine can be successful. But in those cases, the wines were aimed squarely at the younger wine buyers for whom the playfulness of the brand was an asset.

Eagle Eye makes some fine wine. I was impressed with this Muscat and have also been impressed with their red blend, "Voluptuous". It is sad then when I all-too-often see bottles of Eagle Eye in the discount bin at the wine shops - customers unsure what to make of the brand.

Maybe I am making too much of a fuss about their branding choices. But ask yourself after visiting their web site: Is this a brand that you'd invest $20 to $40 to sample their product?

$21.99 from the winery. Less in the discount bins.

100% Muscat.

~ Terry

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tasting Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Brad Post:

Now that my surprising Pinot Noir tasting was behind me (and I say "surprising" because I had yet to realize the magnitude of deliciousness that awaited me) my enological anticipation was growing as the Cabernet Sauvignon sampling was at hand. This tasting night, four of us gathered around my dining room table with white sensory evaluation note sheets in front of us, ink pens at the ready, and three wine glasses partly filled with wines from California, Washington and Australia. Here are my notes in the order tasted:

1. Columbia Crest (2007), Horse Heaven Hills (H3) Cabernet Sauvignon (WA). (14.5% alc., Source: HyVee, Cost; ~$13).
All the wines were attractive and lined up next to each other in front of us. This first wine was a deeply ruby-hued medium intensity elixir possessing bold and syrupy thick legs that endured for minutes. The aromatics of this Cabernet easily released a wonderful complex of light smoke, black pepper, black berries, some cedar, and just a smidgen of dark chocolate. Nice. At first sip the wine elicited a rather acidic sensation followed quickly by a blast of blackberry that evolved giving rise to spicy qualities of black pepper, moderate tannins, and leaving the back of my throat somewhat hot post-swallow. Pleasantly full bodied. The aftertaste didn’t last as long as I’d hoped for but did leave an enjoyable peppery sensation. Wonderful wine at a good price!

2. Dancing Bull (2006) Winemakers Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon (CA). (13.5% alc., Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$10).
Richly saturated, ruby tinted wine thrust aromas of raspberries and something reminiscent of cellulose (reminded me of the smell of a paper mill town). Initially this aromatic compound was not terribly pleasing but tended to mellow, and improve, over the next few moments. A thin, watery yet good wine provided flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and even gave a hint of chocolate at first sip. Slightly drying. A pleasant berry aftertaste enhanced the initial questionable odor. Uncomplicated. Good and fruity. Unpretentious.

3. Mitolo (2006) Jester, McLaren Vale, Cabernet Sauvignon (AUS). (14.5% alc., Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$18).
Almost black in appearance, this deeply saturated Australian wine suggested its high alcohol content by showing off long-lasting legs. Aromas of clove along with red and black berries were quite pleasant. Enjoyable long lasting flavors of raspberry, black pepper, earthy – forest floor, light wafts of smoke, and a hint of vanilla competed with aggressive tannins. A keeper. Keep it in the cellar and hope the tannins tame a bit!

Post Tasting Notes: Going into this tasting we all (the four of us) were optimistic and eager; however, unlike the terrific Pinot Noir tasting the three Cabernet’s left us puzzled and unable to agree upon a favorite. All the wines were okay – even the one that initially reminded me of a pulp-mill town – but none of the Cab’s invigorated us like the Pinot’s did. I’ll have to re-taste the Columbia Crest (H3) again because only a few weeks ago I was absolutely thrilled with a bottle I sampled.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Iowa Wine Grower Conference

Brad Post:

My wife and I took a road trip to Des Moines for the Iowa Wine Growers Association annual conference and spent the next couple of days hanging out with wine makers, wine growers, and industry sales folks.

On Friday night the IWGA held an enjoyable meet and greet wine tasting in the open gathering area of the event center.  Several Iowa wineries were on hand dispensing their products to colleagues and industry insiders.  We tasted some very good wines and met many owners/winemakers who could conceivably become next Gallo or Mondavi.  (Don't be too quick to dismiss the Midwestern wine industry as one only needs to be reminded of California wines 40 years ago!). 

I thought it might be fun to share some photos from our Friday night wine tasting:
Fireside Winery owners, Bill and Rona Wyant (Left), pose for a picture before the tasting begins. In three years their production has increased from around 2,500 gallons to nearly 15,000!
Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari (Left), Iowa State University enology professor and Director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Institute stands next to Fireside Winery winemaker, Zach Bott (right), while I snap a picture.  Zach's Hearthstone, a blend of Chambourcin and Chancellor, won the coveted Dick Peterson Award at the Mid-American Wine Competition.
Dr. Paul Tabor, owner and winemaker (right), of Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery pours samples and discusses his wines with Ron and Pam Lemming, wine growers from south-central Iowa.  

Paul Tabor and Ron Mark of Summerset Winery (not pictured) played pivotal roles in the establishment of the Iowa wine industry by starting two of the first wineries in Iowa.  Paul Tabor also played a crucial role in helping create the first AVA in Iowa (the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA).

Dorothy O'Brien of Wide River Winery, located in Clinton, IA (UMRV AVA) shared some delicious wines with us and posed for this picture.  We sampled several of their wines and were pleasantly surprised to taste a "sherry" that left me wanting more!  (Read my earlier tasting notes on Sherry).

John Larson (right), owner and winemaker, of Snus Hill Winery (Madrid, IA) suggests one of his well-crafted red wines to conference tasters.  His latest Frontenac, not yet released, was a big hit offering soft tannins and delicious fruit and perfect acidity (not easy to do with a Frontenac).  Nice!

Enology instructor, Paul Gospodarczyk (DMACC) with student and gardening writer Susan Appleget Hurst.  Paul teaches enology and wine appreciation (for culinary students and others who desire advanced training working toward Sommelier certification).  Additionally, he is the founding organizer of the the Mid-American Wine Competition.

And lastly, I thought I'd throw in a picture of me and Jill for fun.  We had a terrific time meeting so many nice wine-folks, tasting wines, and learning more about the wine business. We're already looking forward to next years conference!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tasting Notes: Pinot Noir

Brad Post:

The 2004 film “Sideways” brought a tremendous amount of attention to the varietal known as Pinot Noir. Famed in the Burgundy region of France, Pinot Noir is known for its particularities and temperamental nature frequently cited as being difficult to grow and fussy in the cellar. However, this thin-skinned wine grape has the potential to produce extraordinarily good wine when the stars align. And fortunately for us, during this tasting, a singular season in 2007 brought those stars together over California. For this tasting, we sampled three wines, one from Oregon and two from California. Just a reminder, each of the three wines were served “blind”.

1. Erath (2007) Pinot Noir (OR). (13% Alc., Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$15).
Of the three wines, side-by-side, this one possessed the least intense color and trended south of garnet. Moving toward brown. Light earthy notes reminiscent of forest floor followed quickly by wood smoke predominated the nose. A thin, almost watery, heavily oak-infused smoke-fest intercepted my taste buds and finished rather quickly. Simple. The rainy 2007 Oregon harvest season is evident in this thin wine and no amount of oak can hide the fact this Pinot is just “okay”.

2. Fetzer (2007) Valley Oaks Pinot Noir (CA). (12.5% alc., Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$7).
A gorgeously ruby hued, deeply intense, Pinot Noir quickly captured my attention at first sight. Syrupy long legs. Blackberry, cherry, fig, and black pepper unfolded as I took successive whiffs holding back the urge to taste. Amazing! On the palate this bottom shelf wine intrigued all of my senses first with a wonderfully complex array of blackberry, cherry, jam, black pepper, near perfect amount of smoke, and just enough tannin to bring it home! “Taste bud ADD”. There is a lot going on in this wine! Rich, full-bodied with a long lasting and very pleasurable finish. Great value!

3. Concannon (2007) Central Coast Pinot Noir (CA). (13.5% alc., Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$22).
Deep and intense ruby tinted Pinot with a satin-like viscosity suggested something delicious in my glass. Initially shy, giving a brief glimpse of the impending complexity, this 2007 Central Coast Pinot Noir first offered up a round of bell pepper and dark fruit. Captivating. Deliciously layered, first with bright black cherry and garden raspberry; followed momentarily later by rounds of campfire smoke, vanilla, tobacco and black pepper. Each sip elicited a more complex and fascinating olfactory sensation. Perfectly balanced tannins and an extraordinarily wonderful finish. Delish!

Post Tasting Notes: Prior to the tasting I had only cursory knowledge of the 2007 growing and harvest season, basically I understood 2007 to be a great year for Pinot Noir. I also was aware that Oregon was making some extraordinary wines. What I didn’t put together was how significantly different the growing/harvest season was between Oregon and California. In Oregon, the 2007 year was cloudy, wet and particularly rainy at harvest (and as you might suspect, rain at harvest time means sugar levels in the grapes tend to reduce and increase water – not a good thing for high quality wines); while in California, it was a near-perfect season. Same year vastly different outcomes! We enjoyed all three wines but the 2007 California Pinot Noirs were spectacular!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2006 Yalumba, Shiraz-Viognier, Barossa Valley, Australia

Terry post:

Yalumba is a very-well established Australian brand of which most of you have never heard.

While Australia has been foisting “critter wines” featuring cute animals on the label to the wine buying public - certain winemakers have continued to hone and perfect their craft. This is where Yalumba comes in.

Yalumba is a hand-crafted wine and has been such for over 160 years producing a wide variety of reserves, single vineyards, and interesting blends. I first became aware of the brand a few years ago when one of our wine reps brought in a bottle to sample. I’d never heard of Yalumba at the time and didn’t know quite what to expect - what I sampled was one of the Yalumba blends (not sure which one) which nocked my socks off. The brand has remained on the wine list since that first tasting.

My impressions: Dark purple in the glass with an expansive nose of raspberries. Busy, in a good way, with crushed red fruit giving way to a certain earthy wet-rockiness reminiscent of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The earthiness grows as the wine opens up. Strawberries arrive late. Medium-long finish with soft tannins reaching the stage just as the curtain falls - a pleasant ending. Highly recommended.

While there is a significant amount of fruit in this wine it also has sufficient tannic structure to stand up well with food - and you know that I think that is crucial. It is not fat, nor flabby: it is a food-friendly Shiraz which I’d recommend with the typical pairs for medium reds: would be PERFECT with rack of lamb.

95% Shiraz and 5% Viognier - co-fermented (!).

$19.99 at The Wine Seller, Herndon, VA.

~ Terry

Sunday, March 14, 2010

2007 Graham's Vintage Porto

Terry post:


It was some weeks ago that the braver Johnson brother endured several low-priced port wine offerings to disastrous results. I recall that he had to open another bottle of wine to clear the long lingering effects of the overly-sweet drain cleaner which he'd sampled.

Truth be told: many low-priced port offerings are nothing but bulk wine which has been fortified with a little additional alcohol and sweetener. So, I offer my respects to Brad for his personal sacrifice, and taking one for the team.
So imagine my surprise when I stopped by Restaurant 213 last Friday. Chef Hughes says, "You gotta try this!" In his hands was a bottle of the Graham's 2007 Vintage Porto. He pulled a couple
red wine glasses from the bar and poured a short serving in each glass: one for him and one for me.

My impressions: Nearly black in color as it ever-so-slowly pours from the bottle. Raisins, cocoa, prunes and ripe fruit on the nose. Intense fruit perfectly balanced - not too sweet - with the tannins for an other-worldy sensation in the mouth. Extraordinarily mouth-filling. Long, long, long finish whose warmth stayed with me for HOURS afterwards. Epic.

This wine is being handled carefully by it's distributors with maximum allocations going to even the finest restaurants. It is available now and if you want to know what a perfect porto tastes like, be prepared to pay upwards of $80 for the privilege (available here). Buy it. You'll thank me later.

Perhaps the best wine I have ever tasted.

~ Terry

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

2008 Domaine de Bernier, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, France

Terry post:

I am not going to lie and tell you that this wine is of the caliber of a Puligny-Montrachet. Besides, no one would believe it. What I will tell you is that Domaine du Bernier continues to deliver outstanding value with their Chardonnay wines.

I know it isn't much of a review when the reviewer starts gushing over the wine in the first paragraph. Sorry.

My impression: Oak and flowers on the nose when first poured with the flowers fading as the wine warmed in the glass. Citris with crisp, mineral-like, qualities reminiscent of a French Chablis but minus the cold steeliness. Long crisp finish. Wonderful.

I would drink this with typical Chardonnay pairings of cream and butter sauced meats. I would also drink this with cooked shellfish: steamed clams comes immediately to mind.

100% Chardonnay. $7.99 to $9.00 retail. This budget priced French white packs a lot of enjoyment into a very reasonable price. Highly recommended.

~ Terry

Monday, March 8, 2010

2008 Callaway Cellar Selection, Cabernet Sauvignon, California

Terry post:

It would have been sometime around 1987 or 1988 when I was still living in San Diego that my wife and I drove up to Temecula to spend a long weekend at a Bed & Breakfast. While In Temecula we visited several small wineries including Callaway.

At the time, Callaway was a boutique winery producing somewhere in the range of 15,000 to 20,000 per year. A nice size to be sure, but nowhere near the production of the giants in Napa and Sonoma.

I have very fond memories of the weekend there and my two enduring memories of our get away weekend there were the fabulous Callaway on-site restaurant and their spectacular wines.

Time and corporate acquisitions have diluted the Callaway brand. Between then and now the company was acquired by a multi-national beverage company and production increased ten-fold. Several years ago the winery was reacquired by local interests and they are working to decrease production and increase quality. I wish them every success.

My impressions. Lovely purple hue in the glass. Uncharacteristic (for a Cab) muddled fruit on the nose and across the tongue. The label is mute on the point, but this cannot be a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon - and I suspect there is a healthy dose of Merlot in there to round-out (overly so) the edges. Profoundly fruit forward with virtually no backbone. Brief finish.

Your appreciation for this wine will be determined by how you choose to use it. If you want an fruity, easy to drink Cab (blend) for a reasonable price - this is a very good selection. If you want a hearty Cab to serve with food - you'll be less pleased: the fruit will overwhelm almost any dish with which it was paired.

~ Terry

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Midwest Wine Tasting: A Holy Grail?

Brad Post:
The Two Wine Brothers were invited to Tassel Ridge Winery, located near Pella in central Iowa about an hour southeast of Des Moines, for a program touted as a “Red Wine Lovers” event.  A gorgeously sunny day followed us as we drove for 90 minutes through a landscape of gently rolling farm fields enshrouded in brilliant snow white.  Acres of vineyard announced our arrival as we neared the winery, and snow drifts piled roof-top high encircled us as we drove into the visitor friendly parking lot.
We were warmly greeted by the Tassel Ridge staff, including owner (Bob Wersen), winemaker (Rhonda Taylor) and vineyard manager (Steve Richardson) and after an impromptu tasting at the expansive tasting bar we were whisked away to the cellar for the program.  Modeled after premium California wineries, Tassel Ridge Winery created an impressive and impeccable winery sparing no expense.  Upon exiting the main Tasting Room level we were offered a brief glimpse of the winery below as we made our way down the stairs.  Immediately upon entering the chilly cellar floor area you could tell this winery is poised for success.  In front of me were two large format oak barrels (containing several hundred gallons of Marquette wine each), to my left an automated Bottling Line, to my right several two-thousand gallons stainless steel tanks filled with aging wine. And next to the large format barrels a mini-tasting bar and interspersed with samplings of food for our wine-food paring.
The “Red Wine Lovers Event” purpose was to provide a level of education for those of us with a deep interest (some would say passion) for red wines.  In addition to providing an education of red wine making given by the winemaker, the vineyard manager (also a wine educator) provided insight into food-wine pairings and answered any wine growing questions to the 30+ visitors on hand.  A lively and interactive red wine making tutorial was presented by the head winemaker who stood teasingly in front of the large oak barrels.  Two red wines, Marquette and Merlot, were on tap for barrel sampling, a process where the winemaker using a “wine thief” retrieves a small sample from a barrel and gives all in attendance a tantalizingly small portion to taste.  (Times like these I have to remind myself it is a tasting, it is a tasting, it is a tasting – not a drinking).
In our large semi-circle, wine glass in hand, swirling, sniffing, looking, and sipping the Tassel Ridge staff guided us through a casual tasting asking us to describe the wine as best we could.  Throughout the process questions about fermentation and wine treatment were asked and answered. The two grape varietals for the tasting represent very different wine grapes. The Merlot, a “noble” or traditional vinifera grape of France and California fame is brought to Tassel Ridge via refrigerator trucks, from CA, in bins of whole grapes and processed on site.  The Marquette, a new hybrid grape created by the University of Minnesota, was developed to survive and thrive in cold-climates like Iowa.  Marquette is related to the regionally familiar Frontenac and internationally recognized Pinot Noir and is grown and processed by the winery.
As an advocate and vocal supporter of non-vinifera grapes, namely cold-hardy grapes grown in the Midwest, I was most interested in the new Marquette wine.  New being the key!  This grape, for the most part, has only been in the ground for about 4 years and this vintage represents one of the first plantings and harvests in Iowa. Heartland wine growers continue to seek the “holy-grail” of red wine grapes (i.e., fully ripens, good sugar, manageable acidity and pH, and no funky off-flavors) and much hype and hope rests on the inky purple shoulders of this new grape varietal.  In the vineyard, according to the wine grower, Marquette is a pleasure to work with ripening to an amazing 28° Brix (that’s 28% sugar – huge for Iowa!) and harvested at 11.5 g/L total acidity (bright and lively but manageable), and 3.3-3.4 pH (perfect).  On the downside the birds really love them; so much, in fact, that nearly half of the anticipated 21 tons were eaten by the grape-loving birds. Total harvest: 10.5 tons.
Fermentation: The Marquette was crushed-destemmed and left to cold-soak (e.g., to aid in color extraction without fermentation taking place) before being pumped into the new, large-format French oak barrels.  The macerated Marquette was warmed to appropriate temperatures and transferred to the oak barrels where fermentation was allowed to occur for nearly a week. Twice a day pump-over’s took place and Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) was started midway through alcoholic fermentation.  Then the wine was pressed and filtered and returned to the clean large French oak barrels for aging. Projected barrel contact time: 2-2.5 years.
Tasting Notes:  The wine thief delivered a small sample to my glass, yet it was obvious, at first impression, Marquette is a penetratingly attractive garnet hued, medium intensity wine.  After a couple of gentle swirls around my chalice, fascinating aromas of black cherries, spice, fig and a hint of leather suggested something interesting was awaiting me. Hopeful but wary of disappointment I took my first sip.  Hopeful. My taste buds were happy to first encounter black raspberry, then underneath a subtle buttery signature of secondary fermentation, smidgeon of vanilla, and a light smoky quality.  Tasty.  The family tree (i.e., Pinot Noir and Frontenac) is well represented with bright acidity and modest body, evocative of a young Pinot Noir. Impressive.  Marquette, very youthful (about 5-6 months old) and exciting, will benefit from extended maturity and barrel time.  
Post Tasting Notes:  This was the fourth Marquette wine I have tasted over the past year – all have been extraordinary.  On the vine it is delicious and now, it appears, in the glass equally sublime.  Not to oversell or overstate the importance of the grape program at the University of Minnesota or the potential of this cold-hardy grape varietal, but Marquette could quite possibly become the signature red wine of Iowa (and the Midwest) if these samplings are any indication.  Any grape capable of surviving at -35F and make wine like this deserves acknowledgement.  Lastly, the staff and owner of Tassel Ridge Winery were incredibly hospitable and friendly and special thanks to Derek for the invitation and the sample of the 2006 St. Croix.  Tassel Ridge Winery is a state of the art, modern winery with a big vision – tremendous production increases are on the way.
Whether Marquette will ultimately become the signature red of Iowa (or the Midwest) or fulfill an almost prophetic position as the “holy-grail” there can be little doubt great wines are being made in Iowa now!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fun Facts to Know and Tell

Terry post:

Retail sales by channel 2008:

49.9%: On premise consumption
21.9% Liquor store, wine shop, wine speciality
18.2% Supermarket
8.4% Club stores and other mass merchandisers
1.6% Drug stores

Retail sales by channel CHANGE for the period 2002-2008:

On premise consumption +19.5%
Liquor store, wine shop, wine specialty - 4.7%
Supermarket +18.9%
Clubs stores and other mass merchandisers +21.4%
Drug stores +6.5%

Overall, the market for wine increased by 13%

~ Terry

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tank vs. Bottle - Sparkling Wine

Brad Post:

For this tasting we chose two sparklers, one made using the Traditional Method (i.e., Méthode Champenoise) and the other using a less labor intensive production process (i.e., stainless steel pressurized tanks) known as the Charmat Method. For the first time during the course of this semester there were only two of us tasting. Here are my notes:

Barefoot Bubbly. Brut Cuvee (Sparkling California Champagne). (Source: Fareway, Cost: $8.99, Alc. 11.5%). - Charmat Method
This bottle did not want to give up its cork! After fighting with the heavy bottle for about 5 minutes I was finally victorious and was awarded with a lovely light, golden hued effervescent tulip glass of “bubbly”. Attractive aromatics welcomed me with a subtle touch of apples, grapefruit, hint of yeast, and what can best be described as apple blossoms. Nice and unexpected. On the palate this California Sparkler was bright, lively, dry, and slightly acidic. Food friendly. Mostly pleasant lingering aftertaste with just a bit of bitterness. There was a trace of grapefruit pithiness after swallowing but overall, a very nice and affordable sparkling wine. Very drinkable.

Korbel, Brut California Champagne. (Source: Target, Cost: $12.99, Alc., 12%) - Méthode Champenoise
Richly saturated with gold, this traditionally styled California Champagne sparkled with delight as I took my first sniff. The bouquet announced something special as I delved in deeper to a complex of apple orchard blossoms, fermentation tank, and yeast notes. The complexity grew as I transitioned from olfactory to gustatory appreciation, with rich layers of lively yeast, creamy caramel, eliciting round earthiness reminiscent of mushroom. Intriguing. Full and interesting. What makes this wine truly remarkable is the long and incredibly fascinating finish. An amazing finish that lasted and evolved, first with satisfying creamy textures and then transforming into sweet strawberry fruitiness. Delicious.

Post Tasting Notes: what a pleasant tasting! We had two very different exemplars of sparkling wine, one (Barefoot) that emphasized the fruity character (aromatically-driven) and the other (Korbel) highlighting winemaking techniques (bouquet-driven). If I had to pick a favorite it would have to be the Korbel…but, the Barefoot Bubbly is a close-second!