February 24, 2008

2003 Rotllan Torra "Amadis" D.O.Q. Priorat Red Wine

When people ask me where to find the best values in wine, one of the first regions that come to mind is usually Spain. You can still get an unbelievable wine for under $20, and when compared to other major wine regions, that's no easy feat. Many Spanish wines have shot up in price and popularity, but you can still find delicious wines for a fraction of the price you'd pay for an equal wine produced in say, Oregon. Some might argue that with all the attention Spain has received in the past few years, the style has been incresingly leaning towards the "new world," with jammy, alcoholic fruit bombs. I think for every fruit bomb there's another Spanish wine that still carries the charm and elegance that drew outsiders to the regions different wines in the first place…

I won't pretend I dislike over the top and powerful wines. I do, and they make up a good chunk of my cellar, but I also love and seek out wines packed with subtlety, nuance, and even more important- a sense of place. For instance, I don't think anyone can argue that one of the hottest Spanish reds (El Nido Clio) is a bit over the top and a monster of the wine at the moment. But it's done so well, and it's a great wine at a lower price than many of it's peers. Rotllan Torra does an excellent job of straddling the line, achieving wines that meld power, grace, and tradition. The result is intoxicating wines with bold aromas and flavors that are shockingly silky on the tongue.

Located in the heart of Torroja del Priorat, Rotllan Torra is a family run winery that began in 1984 but never released it’s wine until 1995, an outstanding vintage in Spain. Many of the vines are about a century old, planted in soils composed primarily of slate, as well as younger vineyards with a number of different grapes including Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Noir. The winery is an old farmhouse turned winery by monks back in the 16th century, now updated with modern equipment while still preserving much of the original d├ęcor. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and wines are aged in French and American oak barrels, depending on the wine.

Amadis takes it's name from a noble knight, and is a blend of Carignane, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. Most of the grapes are harvested from 100-year-old vines and aged in French oak. Each bottle is hand numbered prior to release and aged 10 months in French oak. Along with Amadis, Rotllan Torra releases a number of other blends, as well as various dessert wines, some of which look very intriguing. This is a wine I'd like to revisit each year for the next decade or so, and see how it changes over time. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, it's drinking great right now but will only get better and more complex with time.

Tasting Notes:
Almost as dark as black coffee with a ruby tinge to the rim, the nose attacks your senses with chocolate, coffee, dark sour cherries and a juicy kiss of oak. Red berry and currant flavors coat the mouth with well integrated tannins and just the right amount of acidity. Hedonistic but restrained, Amadis evolves very well over time in the glass. I think this wine will appeal to those who enjoy fat and opulent wines that can still be paired with food and really shine.

Price: $55

Score: 89-93

14% Alcohol
25% Grenache, 25% Carignane
25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, and 10% Merlot
Aged 10 Months in French oak
About 2,300 cases produced


February 19, 2008

2004 Realm Cellars "The Tempest" Red Wine

This blessed plot. This earth. This realm. This.... Wine? When Shakespeare wrote this, I wonder if he ever thought the passage would appear on the side of a bottle of wine from Napa Valley? Probably not, but I’m sure if he was able to drink wine of this quality back in those times instead of Malmsey and Canary, he might have penned even more compelling plays and poetry. Either way, with only a few vintages under their belts, Realm Cellars is a relative newcomer to Napa Valley, but the wines certainly seem to be blessed.

Juan Mercado, Wendell Laidley, and winemaker Mike Hirby started Realm Cellars with the 2002 vintage. Back in the 90's, Juan was overtaken by his passion for wine, and soon enough decided to move up to Napa. He started working in a wine store, where he met Wendell and Mike Hirby, and between the three of them, Realm Cellars was born. The trio set out with the mission of producing handcrafted Bordeaux styled wines with fruit sourced from some of the most prestigious Napa Valley vineyards. So far, the results have been nothing short of excellent. The debut 2002 vintage received high marks all around, scoring in the 90's, and things looked fantastic for the 2003 vintage, until it was destroyed in a warehouse fire.

I don't know how I'd feel if I worked on something so hard for over a year to only have it destroyed in a blaze of fire. I imagine it would be a mixture of shock, sadness and disbelief. Back in 2005, Realm Cellars, along with numerous other wineries and private collectors, had thousands of bottles of wine destroyed in a three-alarm fire at Wine Central, a storage warehouse in Vallejo, California. Before being used for wine storage, Wine Central was actually used by the military to hold torpedoes and possibly bombs, thus making it quite fortified, as well as very difficult to fight fires in. I believe the entire 2003 vintage was destroyed, along with the remaining reserves of 2002. That's just about any wineries/ winemakers/ owner’s nightmare, especially after hand crafting wines that they were proud of.

Fortunately, they were able to put that behind them, and continued to produce exceptional wines with the 2004 vintage. I really enjoyed these wines, and the wines of 2005 look to be even better. For any Angeleno's interested, there will be a release party for the 2005 wines held on Feb 27th, at Craft, a restaurant near Century City. With a low cover charge of $20, it’s a great chance for anyone interested in Realm Cellars to taste some of the wines they might not be able to find at retail.

Tasting Notes:
An opaque maroon, inklike color in the glass, this wine is very concentrated and big. Aromas of ripe raspberry and cherry mix with a little leather and mocha. After some airtime in the glass, the alcohol is apparent. On the nose and in the mouth, this wine moves around slightly like a clumsy youngster. Bold and a little brash, there are attractive plummy, cherry flavors with traces of chocolate. Medium length finish that is slightly hot with soft tannins.



15.4% Alcohol
60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
524 Cases Produced


February 15, 2008

Los Angeles Wine Tasting Feb. 15th & 16th

If you're anything like I am, you'll jump at the chance to partake in a tasting that includes wines such as Colgin, Araujo, Phelp's Insignia. These are just a few of the wines being poured at a tasting in Glendale tonight at local wine shop, Red Carpet. I've been to quite a few tastings here and they're definitely a good time. Very nice people, great atmosphere, and plenty of good wine to go around. Friday nights can be a bit rowdier and more crowded than Saturday, so if you plan to go tonight I'd advise getting there a bit early. It should be a great time at a very reasonable price...


2003 Napa Valley Cabs
Taste all 6 for $60
Clark Claudon
Colgin Herb Lamb

California Grenache
Taste all 6 for $14
2005 Koehler
2005 Harrison Clarke
2005 Andrew Murray
2004 Mathis
2005 T-Vine
2004 Ojai Thompson Vyd

New Releases & Staff Favorites
Taste all 6 for $12
NV Il Conte d’Alba Stella Rosa
2006 Mulderbosch Rose South Africa
2006 Grand Veneur
2004 Bailly-Lapierre Rose
2006 Kali Hart Pinot Noir
2005 Valdicava Rosso

Red Carpet Wine: www.redcarpetwine.com

Friday, Feb 15th - 4:30pm to 8:30pm
Saturday, Feb 16th - 3pm to 8pm

Red Carpet Wine & Spirits
400 E Glenoaks Blvd
Glendale, CA 91207


February 10, 2008

1999 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon

There are plenty of wines that I pass up for no particular reason other than the fact there are too many out there and it's impossible to try them all. I think if I was able to, I’d sure have a much bigger problem that choosing which ones to drink. When I walked into my local store with the plan of finding something actually fairly mature to drink with dinner I never thought I'd walk out with a bottle of Snowden. But, that's exactly what happened and I'm very happy it did. It's yet another reminder that I, like many people drink wines far too young and deny themselves the pleasures that come with time in the bottle.

Snowden Vineyards is a winery that has a rich history dating back to 1955. I've had a few on occasion, at a dinner party here and there, but never really took the initiative to collect the wines and try various vintages. After having this wine, I now feel a bit foolish and think I might have cheated myself of some great vinous experiences over the years by neglecting these wines. I suppose I can always play catch up, right? If the current vintages are drinking anywhere remotely similar to the 99, then I have plenty of time.

Located on the ridgeline where St. Helena and Rutherford come together, the vineyards are planted primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Wayne and Virginia Snowden purchased the property back in 1955 and sold the grapes to local wineries (Stag's Leap among one of them), never actually bottling wine under their own label until 1993 when John Gibson became winemaker, and the first vintage of Snowden wine was released. Over the years they've sold grapes to various people, including Silver Oak among others, but now reserve all the fruit to bottle under the Snowden name.

The current vintage of has received some great reviews, while maintaining an affordable price. In a place where $100 price tags are slapped on bottles seemingly without thinking twice, it’s refreshing to see a winery that’s been around for many years still offering great wine at a good price. Snowden Vineyards currently produces two estate grown claret style wines as well as a Sauvignon Blanc.

Tasting Notes:
This wine must have been a monster upon release. Inky black in the glass with a dark garnet rim. There's still tons of life left in this Cabernet. Aromas of dusty tobacco, espresso and milk chocolate mixed with pencil lead eventually relent to reveal layers of red currant mixed with herbs I can't quite pinpoint. In the mouth, tannins are still alive and kicking, but deftly balanced with acidity and fruit. Incredibly concentrated, black cherries, tobacco, hints of leather on the palate. Nice vanilla oak nuances that are apparent, but not obnoxious. A real pleasure to drink.

Price: Around $50

Score: 90-93


February 7, 2008

2005 Tyler Pinot Noir - Dierberg Vineyard

Lately I've been watching a lot of young, creative assistant winemakers branch out to begin making their own wines with some stunning results. One thing that excites me so much about this is the chance to enjoy the wines from the beginning, and watch how they evolve over time. This is only the first vintage from Tyler Winery, and a very impressive debut...

Founder and winemaker Justin Willett honed his chops working as assistant winemaker at Arcadian, as well as holding the position of wine director at Sevilla, a restaurant in Santa Barabra. He left both to pursue this project and has succeeded in making some very distinctive, high quality Pinot Noir that carries a remarkable sense of place, unique profile, and will age nicely for years to come. After tasting the wines of the premier release (2005) I can't wait to see what the upcoming vintage has to offer.

Justin's aim is to produce delicate wines with structure and nuance, which is a nice change from the overextracted, alcoholic jammy fruit bombs that have become very common throughout California. It's a bit more Burgundian than the average Cali Pinot but still has the stamp of a central California wine done right. The fruit is sourced from the Dierberg vineyard, located in the Santa Maria Valley, a vineyard rife with sandy loam soils and a healthy western exposure. The Dierberg will definitely improve with some time in the decanter and will only get better if you choose to cellar it for a few years to come. I can see this wine becoming just stunning years from now. It has the structure, balance and backbone to age gracefully and although it's very nice and drinkable now, I'd advise some patience. Decanting helps, but time is the only thing that will reveal the true colors of this wine. With the small production so far, this is one mailing list I'm excited to be on and will continue to watch out for the upcoming 2006 vintage.

Tasting Notes:
Dark ruby in the glass, the nose on this wine is what I'm captivated by. Very expressive with tons of earth and tinges of funk wrapped up tight in a blanket of spice, ripe dark cherry, raspberry, and orange citrus. 14.2% alcohol and it's no where to be found. After some air time, there is some lovely subtle and tasteful oak that makes an appearance as well. With a mouthfeel of velvet and silk, flavors of tart black cherry and black currant effortlessly transition into earthy notes on the mid palate, with finely grained tannins and a nice, long finish.

Price: $50

Score: 89-93

14.2% Alcohol
60% New French Oak
56 Cases Produced