Archive | May, 2011

Wine and Birthdays

23 May
Originally appeared  on Wine – The View from Orlando – where I was a regular contributor.

 

Birthdays often make wine drinkers out of folks who don’t normally drink wine, and can make normal wine drinkers consume bottles they were saving for special occasions. Bring together a group of wine hoarders (nee collectors) and the results (and bottle count) can be spectacular.

I attended such an occasion for the birthday of my friend Marshall. Marshall has been a collector and connoisseur in the Orlando area for many years, and has hosted many tastings, several that have raised money for local charities.

Marshall called me on a Wednesday and told me that he was having his birthday gathering at the Wine Room, a posh local wine bar. I asked if I could bring anything, and he noted that he would be opening some bottles, but we all would gladly sip through whatever anyone brought. I selected a bottle of red and a bottle of white as Friday evening approached.

When I arrived, Marshall had already opened his warm-up wine – a 1996 Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet. The wine was stunning, and, tasted blind, could have easily been mistaken for a wine 10 years younger. There was no hint of color change or oxidative aromas, just pure fruit and mineral aromas and flavors.

The next salvo was a 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Hudson Vineyard in Carneros. We had high hopes for the wine, but it appeared that the Kistler may have been “the portrait of Dorian Gray” for the Bouchard, as the wine was deeply colored and oxidized and well past it’s prime.

As I had a brought a white from that era, I gamely produced my 1997 Stony Hill Chardonnay. What a relief… The wine was well-preserved and showing years younger than its chronological age, although nowhere near the class of the Bouchard. It showed just a hint of color, and is beginning to develop some of the butterscotch type aromas and flavors to complement the green apple and stone fruit.

Having three whites open, it was time for reds. Marshall went to his cellar and reappeared with a “starter” red, a 1997 Harlan ‘The Maiden.’ I have always wanted to like the wines from Harlan but, having tasted them dozens of times, have only been WOWed once or twice, so the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) does not thrill me. The Maiden was drinking well and starting to show some mature edges, but still did not really knock my socks off.

My socks were knocked of by the next wine to appear, a 1976 Camus Mazoyeres Chambertin. The aromatics on this Burg were just stunning, with flavors to match. Typically earth, leather, tobacco aromas, but also red fruit and white flowers. Amazingly youthful fruit flavors and a fair amount of tannin and acid as well. I am constantly amazed that so much nuance is packed into a wine you can read the New York Times through.

Next to appear was a Germano Barolo Riserva from Marshall’s birth year of 1958. The wine still had scents of rose petals, cinnamon, and cloves, with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry.

After this point, several people showed up to celebrate with Marshall, and the tasting fragmented as some folks moved to more comfortable accommodations in a seating area, leaving my friend Russell and me at the original table with the open bottles. Marshall would appear from time to time to make sure that Russell and I were getting to try each of the new wines as they were opened.

In order to make sure Russell and I had something tasty on hand, I popped the red that I had brought – a 1998 Pichon Lalande. The wine was stunningly rich relative to the other wines opened to that time. Deep dark red and black fruits, earth, leather, and cedar on the nose and palate.

In quick succession two classic Bordeaux appeared for us to sample – a 1982 Chateau Montrose and a 1995 Chateau Haut Brion. Both of these wines showed the power and longevity that wine lovers hope for – deep rich flavors, firm tannins, and a good level of acidity. It was a good thing that Russell and I were between the cellar and the main group, as Marshall poured us some from each bottle in succession as he came by. By the time I had sampled and assessed the wine and went to find another pour, each of the bottles were empty.

The evening ended with a Porto – a 1963 from Cockburn’s. The wine showed a lot of alcohol on the nose, as well as caramel and some cooked red fruits. The palate was rich and full of red cherry, berries, caramel, and almost a hint of milk chocolate. All in all, a fabulous evening celebrating life, wine, and friendship. I look forward to many more years of helping Marshall enjoy his wine!

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Wines of Luc Morlet and Carte Blanche

21 May
Originally appeared  on Wine – The View from Orlando – where I was a regular contributor.
 
I recently had the opportunity to attend a tasting of the wines of Morlet Family Vineyards (Luc Morlet) and Carte Blanche.Luc Morlet comes from a Champagne producing family (Pierre Morlet & Fils, in Avenay-Val-d’Or) that spans five generations in the business. Luc earned his Viticulture degree from Ecole Viticole de Champagne, a Masters degree in Enology from Reims University, France, and an MBA in Wine Business from Dijon Business School, Burgundy. He interned throughout Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne, with stops at Champagne house Duval-Leroy during graduate school, and then Val d’Or Champagne Cellars and Chateau Dauzac in Bordeaux. He replaced an assistant winemaker in St. Helena, California for a year in 1993; while there, he met a woman (Jodie) who he would subsequently marry.As the eldest son in a French family, he would have been expected to assume control of the family business. But instead, he followed his heart to California. He started at Newton Vineyards where he replaced John Kongsgaard as Driector of Enology. He was responsible for the fabulous “Unfiltered Chardonnay” in the late ’90s, and collaborated with Michel Rolland on Bordeaux blends .

In spring 2001, Luc joined the staff of the Peter Michael Winery as winemaker, and then in early 2005, joined the staff at Staglin Family Winery. A year later, Luc and Jodie began producing wines under the Morlet Family Vineyards (MFV) label.

 We tasted through six (6) selections:2008 MFV ‘La Proportion Doree’
2009 MFV ‘Ma Princesse’ Chardonnay
2009 MFV ‘Ma Douce’ Chardonnay
2008 MFV ‘Coteaux Nobles’ Pinot Noir
2008 MFV ‘Mon Chevalier’ Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 MFV ‘Passionnement’ Cabernet SauvignonThe ‘La Proportion Doree’ is inspired by the Bordeaux Blanc wines of Pessac-Leognan (more on this later), and is composed of a “golden blend” of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. The wine is actually golden in color, with a profusely floral and lemony nose. The wine is full-bodied on the palate with flavors that tend towards ripe apricot, white peach, and quince.The two Chardonnays we sampled come from the cooler areas of Sonoma – the ‘Ma Douce’ coming from Sonoma Coast vineyards and the ‘Ma Princesse’ from the Russian River Valley. Both are Burgundian in style, with the ‘Ma Douce’ showing aromas of candied lemon, panna cotta, and orange peel, with wet stone and fresh hazelnut. The wine is full, rich and creamy on the palate, with a long, mineral-driven finish. The ‘Ma Princesse’, from cuttings of the Old Wente clone, shows more green apple to accompany the lemon candy aromas, and this wine is equal to its sister in richness, body, and minerality.The Coteaux Nobles comes from the Noble family vineyard along the Sonoma Coast. This wine, although also made in a Burgundian (and feminine) style, shows the exuberance of California fruit in big raspberry and cherry flavors and aromas, almost tending to the point of liqueurs. There was also a pencil-lead-like minerality that I typically sense from Cabernet-based Bordeaux.

Luc and Jodie make three Cabernet-based wines, two of which are terroir driven. The Coeur de Vallee (which we did not get to try) is made wholly from Beckstoffer To-Kalon fruit – 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc.

The ‘Mon Chevalier’ is from the Knights Valley AVA in Sonoma, and is a blend of the five typical red Bordeaux grapes. The wine is intensely aromatic, yielding scents of dark red and black fruit, a hint of barrel spice, flowers, tobacco, and earth. The wine is full, rich, and intense with a very long finish.

The ‘Passionnement’ is a barrel select wine made from only the best barrels produced from each vintage, regardless of the vineyard. This wine reminded me of the early Garagiste wines from Bordeaux. It was dark purple to the point of opacity, with intense aromas of blackberry, blueberry, black currant, cigar box, and a hint of earth. This wine, for all of its intensity, is much more approachable right now than its sister. Luc dedicates this wine to his wife, and considers it the ne plus ultra of his wine portfolio.

 
The other winery at the tasting was Carte Blanche, for whom Luc Morlet is also the winemaker. Carte Blanche is an apropos moniker for this enterprise once you learn its background. The proprieter is an unassuming-looking young gentleman named Nick Allen who, in passing, will tell you that his family has been in the wine industry for 75 years or so. He also casually mentions while you are trying his Proprietary White Wine (a blend of 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Semillon) that the blend his family produces in France from these grapes utilizes a slightly different proportion. It isn’t until you delve deeper that you discover that Nick is the great-grandson of Clarence Dillon, and the white wine his family produces in France is Chateau Haut Brion Blanc from the Pessac Leognan commune in Bordeaux (I told you we would come back to it). The family also owns La Mission Haut Brion.The stars of the Carte Blanche portfolio are the red wines. We started with the 2008 Carte Blanche Proprietary Red Wine. Luc explained that it is called this because it is “too French to be Meritage,” the term developed in California for Bordeaux-style blends. The grapes come from a variety of elite vinyards in Napa – 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper vineyard in Oakville, 20% Cabernet Franc from the Beckstoffer To-Kalon vineyard in Oakville, and 40% Merlot from the Newton vineyard on Spring Mountain. The wine is deep purple in color, with aromas of baked cherries, cassis, tobacco, dark chocolate, and a hint of tar. The palate follows through with currant, plum, cedar, espresso, and mocha. The tannins are very fine, and contribute to a very long finish.The 2008 Carte Blanche Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper vineyard in Oakville, the McBride vineyard in Calistoga, and the Link vineyard in Knights Valley, with 4% Petite Verdot (also from the McBride vineyard) and 1% Malbec from the Knights Valley. This wine is is more fruit-driven than the Proprietary Red, with blackberry and currant aromas and flavors, accompanied by hints of mocha, black pepper, and black cherry. The tannins are also fine-grained in this wine, and the wine appears to have the structure for some cellar aging.All of these wines come from people whose families have a long and storied tradition in the wine industry, but who are making their own marks and doing things their own way. Production levels are small – from 125 to 300 cases for Carte Blanche, and from 150 to 500 cases for Morlet Family – but worth seeking out.

Brief Wine Notes – 2007 and 2008 Brick House Chardonnay

19 May

2007 Brick House Chardonnay– from a half bottle – it’s a school night (or at least that was the original plan…)

Beautiful nose of honeycrisp apple, tropical fruit, and wet stone.  Aromas follow through on the palate… crisp acidity, wonderful balance, and the wine seems to gain depth and a hint of sweetness with additional air and a bit of warming from cellar temperature. 

Split the wine with the missus over dinner, but there was just not enough wine so…

2008 Brick House Chardonnay (full 750) – the same aroma and flavor profile as the 2007, but seemingly more full bodied, rounder, and more plush, while still retaining the crisp acidity. 

When I had these a year ago side-by-side at the winery, the 2007 was my clear favorite (I thought the 2008 was flabby by comparison to the sleek racy acidity of the 2007, but the 2008 had only recently been bottled).  Now with another year of age and some time to settle down, the 2008 may turn out to be my current favorite.

Brief Wine Note – 2005 Pali Wine Co. Pinot Noir-Shea Vineyard

15 May

A wine with an identity crisis.  A California winery and California winemaker (Brian Loring at that time) making a Pinot with Oregon fruit.  And not just any Oregon fruit – Shea fruit.

The wine has the California feel in terms of depth and extraction, the Oregon profile in terms of ripeness and density, and a Burgundian vibe with a level of earthiness  and mushroom character that I don’t typically see in most California or Oregon Pinots.

Ripe red and dark cherry aromas and flavors, with hints of tobacco, porcini mushrooms, white pepper, and a mere touch of oaky vanilla (although I think this wine saw 100% new barrels).

Brief Wine Note – 1998 Chateau Clos de L’Oratoire

15 May

I am a sucker for a good wine from St. Emilion.  There is something about Cab Franc & Merlot that, when its right, is unbeatable.

Right off the bat this wine showed fabulous aromatics; not just the earthy smell that most people associate with Bordeaux, but also dark cherry fruit, spicebox, and a hint of chocolate.  The level and ripeness of the fruit would have almost suggested California, but the earthiness and structure of the wine on the palate spoke of Old World origin.  The quality of the wine persisted over a period of several hours. 

This wine is just hitting its stride…

Brief Wine Note – 2002 Drinkward Peschon “Entre Deux Meres”

15 May

Popped and poured.  Is the date on the label correct?  This wine looks, smells, and tastes like it could be a current release. Not the grapeiness that you get on truly new wines, but just so intense as to belie its true age.  Huge aromatics… Black fruit, blueberry, cola, incense, and a hint of licorice.  Intense flavors on the palate – blackberry, dark cherry, cassis, and the subtlest hint of oak. 

Great purity, silky mouthfeel, perfect balance, long finish….it doesn’t get much better than this for me.  Certainly in its prime, and should remain here for several years.

Ignorance or Apathy – Florida Direct Shipping Legislation

13 May

The old joke goes that someone is asked the difference between ignorance and apathy and they respond “I don’t know and I don’t  care.”

That seems to be the case among a large number of otherwise savvy wine consumers here in Florida.  No one seemed to know about, or care, that the wine and liquor wholesalers were yet again attempting to have legislation passed that would severely limit their ability to purchase wine directly from an out-of-state winery. 

One of the highlights (lowlights) of the proposed bills included the limit at twelve (12) cases of wine per “household address and the household’s business address.”  The bills were very particular that the limits would be tied to the address of the home, not an individual’s name.  That immediately begged the question of how then it could be tied to the household’s business address.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that my house gets up and goes to work after I leave in the morning.

Seriously, 12 cases of wine is a lot of wine in anyone’s book, until you think about folks that ship to a common location.  I have several buddies that all ship to one’s office; under the proposed legislation they would all have to share that 12-case cap.

Further, there was no system suggested to track how many cases were shipped to a particular address, or if it were tracked, how these data would be promulgated back to the wineries.  Given the severe penalties proposed for exceeding the limit, and no way to track what has come before, all of the wineries would err on the side of caution and not ship for fear of being the 13th case.

There were also requirements for detailed monthly and annual reporting.  Many of the wineries I buy from are “mom & pop” or even one-man shows, and the prospect of having yet another layer of paperwork may be enough for them to “just say no.”

I corresponded with several state Senators and Representatives and actually received personalized responses from a few.  One had the audacity to tell me that “the current system unfairly discriminates against Florida-based companies to the advantage of out-of-state ones.”  I do not know of one Florida winery that was unfairly discriminated against by me having the unrestricted right to buy wine directly from a winery in California, Oregon, North Carolina, or any other state. 

The state may not have collected sales and excise taxes for the sale, but that is another issue.

Apparently the state legislature had bigger fish to fry towards the end of this year’s session than sticking it to Florida’s wine consumers, so the bills never fully made it out of committee.

The gentleman who introduced the bill in the House (Chris Dorworth of Heathrow) is slated to be the Speaker of the House for the 2011-2012 legislative session.  I think Florida’s wine consumers need to know and care early in order to preserve at least some portion of their rights under the Interstate Commerce clause of the US Constitution, because I don’t think the wholesalers and their desire to limit or prevent direct sales from wineries will be going away anytime soon.