December 27, 2007

2000 Tommasi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico

Amarone, one of Italy's treasured wines that has gained increasing popularity over the years is known for it's powerful, raisiny flavor and high alcohol content. To produce an Amarone wine is definitely a lengthly labor of love that takes quite some time. After the grapes are picked they are laid out on a straw mat and dried, resulting in a raisining of the grapes and concentrated sugars. Due to the time spent producing this wine it usually carries a hefty pricetag, up there with good Brunello and Barolo. Legend has it Amarone was originally created as a mistake. The story goes that cellar master Adelino Lucchese forgot about some Recioto that he had left in a fermentation barrel. When one of the Cantina's founders, Gaetano dall'Ora, tasted the wine, the sugar had been completely fermented, resulting in a much drier wine. In the wake of their "eureka" moment, they called the wine "Amarone Extra" (amarone, "very bitter," from the Italian amaro or "bitter"). The wine might be a bit of an aquired taste for some, but to sip a great glass of Amarone is truly one of lifes pleasures.

Tommasi is a family winery founded in 1902 by Giacomo Tommasi. Located in Pedemonte, in the heart of the historic Valpolicella Classico region the estate is run by the 4th generation of family operation, 6 members working together, each with his well defined area of responsibility. This wine is composed of the Corvina, Rodinella and Molinara grapes, aged for 3 years in oak before undergoing another year of aging in the bottle. Amarone is particulary a good pairing with gamey meats, and if I was to enjoy this with food I would pick something like a Venison stew, or enjoy it by itself. This bottle is drinking nicely now but in general most Amarone's from good vintages will benefit from at least 10 years in the cellar. I decanted this wine 2 hours before drinking.

Tasting Notes:
Deep garnet with a slight brown tint at the rim, the nose is a classic core of raisin with surrounding aromas of dried cherry, fig, some raspberry and shoe polish. In the mouth there are layers of flavor combining plum, cherry, tar, heavy raisin and a bit of old leather. Opens up nicely after decanting. Not the benchmark for Amarone but a good wine nonetheless.

Alcohol: 15%

Score: 89

Price: $65

December 26, 2007

2000 La Sirena Syrah

Anyone unfamiliar with the name Heidi Barrett has either been hiding under a rock or just not focusing on any of the top notch, California cult wines to come out in the past 20 years. Her client list is long and distinguished with names such as Screaming Eagle, Grace Family Vineyards, Paradigm and others that she's put on the map, in my opinion. Many of her wines are highly sought after by collectors and prices can fetch in the hundreds of thousands. In 2000, a 6-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle sold for $500,000. Many of us will never have that kind of money to throw around on overpriced Cab but that's okay, because the "Wine Dive of Napa Valley" (As named by TIME Magazine) still produces more affordable wine under different labels. The current one under review is La Sirena, Heidi's own label that focuses on three varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Muscat Canelli.

Heidi created La Sirena in 1994, and in the winemakers own words - "I was looking for a name for my wine which would be as magical as I think wine is. La Sirena which means "the Mermaid" in Italian and Spanish is a way of representing two of my great passions". While the Screagle Cab's release price is about $500, many of the La Sirena offerings are a highly overlooked value. I sort of stumbled upon this wine at a local shop and I was kind of stunned to not only find a few bottles of La Sirena Cab still there but a bottle of Syrah from 2000? While you can't find this wine just anywhere, it's still out there at a good price if you live in California. It might not be at it's peak, but this wine is drinking exceptionally well right now. One of the most drinkable wines I've had in quite some time. Some have said this wine is over the top but I think it just needed time to settle down. At 13.2% alcohol with soft fruit this wine is nowhere close to some of the over the top high alcohol fruit bombs coming out of California. This wine was an absolute pleasure to drink and reminds me that I drink far too many wines to soon and before their full potential. Anyone in CA should seek this out. 2000 was the first offering of Syrah from La Sirena and it spent 19 months in 100% French Oak (40% new) with a tiny production of only 252 cases.

Tasting Notes:
A wonderful ruby red color with slight copper at the rim, the nose is full of deep earth, reminding me of soil or as some would say, 'forest floor'. Hints of licorice, pepper, and cherry dance in the glass as well. In the mouth this wine shows elegance with a silky mouthfeel, flavors of dark cherry and meats with very soft tannins. Nice acidity and good balance. One of the more pleasurable Syrah's I've had in a year or two.

Score: 91

Price: $45

December 23, 2007

2004 Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

What I remember most about my trip to Pine Ridge winery is racing against the clock with the 'check engine' light of my car blinking trying to make a 12pm appointment for a winery tour and barrel tasting. My car didn't break down and we missed the cave tour and barrel tasting but we DID manage to visit the winery and spend some quality time at the winery drinking exceptional wine.. One of the staff that really stood out for us was Carl, an awesome person that spent a hour or so tasting wine and chatting with us about everything from the history of the winery to the changes the valley has gone through in recent years and even where the best places to dine in Los Angeles are. A few of the younger people working there were a bit snobby but we won't focus on that part of the trip.

Pine Ridge is located in the heart of the Stags Leap district in Napa Valley and focuses on producing wines which contain characteristics of the particular appellation the grapes are from. For instance the Howell Mountain Cab comes through with the robust tannins and black fruit the mountain is known for. Many of the wines I've had containing Howell Mountain fruit have been quite dense with syrupy components to them, and this is no exception. The whites are produced in high numbers - I think the Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay were both in the 10,000 case range but the real gems are the mid-priced Merlots, Cabs, and Bordeaux style blends. Many Pine Ridge wines have a green bell pepper characteristic to them that I really enjoy but sadly, it is missing in this wine. For any fans of bell pepper, check out their Cab Franc, which carries it in abundance (and is really good).

The Howell Mountain Cabernet is a blend of 89% Cab Sauv, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, 2% Merlot and 2% Tannat. The berries were hand sorted and aged for 17 months in French oak. This is not my favorite release from Pine Ridge and at the $85 price point I would probably opt for the Charmstone Merlot, Cabernet Franc, or the Rutherford Cab, all bottles about half the price with flavor profiles that I enjoy more. This is still a very good wine, not really my preference but something I would enjoy with a nice porterhouse steak and baked potato. I decanted this wine about 8 hours before drinking.

Tasting Notes:
Seductive scarlet/ maroon in the glass this wine had aromas of spice, currant, dark berry fruit and heavy molasses on the nose. After 8 hours in the decanter the nose was heavy with shoe polish, cherry, and molasses. Upon first pour there were some slightly unpleasant tea/ spice flavors going on which disappeared after 8 hours. This is a full bodied wine with some spice on the mid-palate that ends with blackberry and cherry flavors on the finish.

Score: 87

Price: $85

December 16, 2007

2004 Scherrer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

It's been a while since I've drank a Pinot Noir and for the life of me I don't know why it's been so long! Diversity is one of the things I love about wine. It's all fermented grape juice but the contrast between a Cabernet and a Pinot Noir can be so great at times it will make you shake your head in wonder. A few weeks back after tasting Napa Cab after Napa Cab I was DYING for something different so at dinner I ordered a plate of Fettucine and a bottle of a Sangiovese dominated Tuscan blend, something I would not normally do with so much fine dining in wine country. At this particular moment, if I had a glass of Cult Napa Cab in one hand, and the Tuscan in the other, I would have enjoyed the Tuscan by ten fold. Switching up what you drink now and then can be so beneficial to the experience and is something I try to do often. But now I'll probably be drinking nothing but Pinot for the next two weeks.

Scherrer Winery is located in Sebastopol and has been pumping out quality juice since 1991. It is owned by Fred Scherrer, a UC Davis graduate who is also the winemaker. Scherrer offers up bottlings from about 6 different varietals which are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Vin Gris (Rose). While I don't know a whole lot about the other varietals, I've heard numerous good things about the Pinot. And they weren't wrong. With 800 cases produced, the grapes in this particular bottle are sourced from the Russian River Valley, grown in the sandy Goldridge soils, and said to highlight the regions distinctive 'orange peel' aromas. This wine is a winner at the $35 dollar price point. It's not cheap but it's not outlandish either for a very good bottle of wine. I drank a glass then drank a few more with a nice block of Bes P'tit Basque that had me feeling sad when they both ran out. The earthy, subtle flavors complemented each other nicely.

Tasting Notes:
On the nose, this wine has a great bouquet, beginnning with cinnamon, clove, orange peel and oddly enough, apples. After some time these aromas morph into delicious red fruit heavy on the cherry and strawberry. A wonderful translucent ruby red in the glass, the wine opens up with mouth watering acidity, strawberry and dark cherry moving into a lengthly finish. Well balanced and a fine wine to enjoy young.

Score: 89

Price: $35

Alcohol: 14.5

December 1, 2007

2004 Vice Versa Cabernet Sauvignon

This was one of my prized purchases from a recent trip to North California, a superstar wine from Paul Hobbs that also held a high rating from RP. I hate to say that I was supremely disappointed but maybe my expectations were just too high. This is not a bad wine by any means, in fact it's very well balanced and good but just sort of simple and definitely not what I anticipated. In the land of the high alcohol Napa fruit bomb, I would have expected a bouquet that jumps out the glass and a stunning flavor profile. This wine was no Switchback, let me tell you. If you're holding any Vice Versa and plan to drink it anytime soon I'd advise some heavy decanting to let the aromatics find their way out. I'm almost hesitant to review this wine because I think it might just be a bit shy and scared, but will develop nicely over time. I would LOVE to hear others experiences with this vintage of Vice Versa. I think I need to revisit this wine at a later date and see what develops.

Tasting Notes:
Dense purple color in the glass, I found slight licorice and coffeebean aromas present with some black fruit. Nice acidity and mouthfeel with blackberry flavors, slight chocolate and soft tannins. Good structure with a nice, lingering finish.

Score: 88

Price: $100