Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Blind Tasting in the New Era

The world changed since the last tasting. The Great Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020 ensued just days later. Chatter on the text lines immediately turned to virtual tasting and since everyone's schedule is remarkably (unfortunately) free these days we met on a Saturday night and because we were gathering online, our friend Jorge was able to join us from Napa.

Everyone would have their turn describing the characteristics of the wine, then everyone would try to deduct and identify the wine. For an added wrinkle a spouse or significant other would pull a wine so the it would be blind to the taster as well. Sounds like fun!

The date was set. A copy of the Deductive Tasting Grid used by the Court of Master Sommeliers was distributed to aid the tasters. The software was tested. Saturday night came and we were ready to go.

I chose a selection  of wines from which Susan chose one She opened and decanted the wine and put the bottle in a brown bag. I know John used a similar method. Jorge went all out and let Kristina have total access.

Without a lot of fanfare, we cut quickly to the chase.

Jorge was first up and gave a textbook example of how to use and follow the grid. From the physical appearance we knew the wine was hazy with no gas, there was a slight stain to the tears. The wine showed a purple core changing to a ruby rim with a wide, clear rim around the edge.

Aromas showed the wine to be clean with medium intensity and notes of slightly overripe cranberries and cherries with herbal suggestions of eucalyptus and sage. Some evidence of oak, but not new.

On the palate the wine was dry with overripe cranberries and cherries and flowers. It was gamey with blood and animal notes, no new oak with medium tannins, medium plus acidity, round texture and medium complexity.

Putting all those factors together his final conclusion was that it was a Syrah from Napa. I questioned his call, asking about the spiciness and suggesting that the game and blood indicated Mourvedre.
The wine was a 2012 Lirac from the Southern Rhone, a traditional blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Domaine Marcoux I believe was the producer.

Scott went next, describing a light red wine of indeterminate age that had been open for three hours. Aromas of crushed cranberries and rose petals led to dry wine with bursting flavors of cranberries and cherries that dissipated rapidly on the palate. No evidence of new oak. Pinot Noir was ruled out immediately. Jorge asked several questions about tannins and acidity.

Sepi kept talking about a bottle of Neyers Rossi Ranch Grenache I once sold him. And it turns out he was pretty much correct. Aaron Pott, 2012 Grenache. Would loved to have had a taste! Mr. Pott is a remarkable winemaker.

I went next and managed a credible run through of the grid. I realized how out of practice I was. Looking back over the blogposts, the last blind tasting of my study group was in 2015! Jeez! I still think of it as being just a couple of years ago! It takes practice to run the grid as smoothly as Jorge had done to start us off. And it takes discipline to listen to what the grid is telling you rather just leaping to mnemonic conclusions.

A clear red wine of medium concentration. A purple shifting to a garnet tinge at the edge, medium plus menicus, no staining of the tears, no gas. The nose was clean and of medium plus intensity with ripe aromas of blueberries and huckleberries with suggetions of forest floor, mushrooms and hints of new French Oak.

Flavors were confirmed on the dry palate with no evident flaws. Fruits were ripe with medium extraction. Soft integrated tannins, gentle finishing acidity, medium plus body with round, velvety textures and a long finish of medium plus complexity. Even though I knew the selection of wines that I had pulled for Susan to pull from, this wine stood out for me as unmistakably Pinot Noir. I left it for the group to take it home.

Group think went immediately to New World and specifically to California. After a round of questions the call was Carneros Pinot Noir. I kept trying to bring up the blue fruit dominance which to me almost always points to Oregon and that's what it was. Another 2012! Evening Land's 'la Source' Pinot from the highest block in their Seven Springs Vineyard. Side Note #1: First time Dave brings a Pinot? Side Note#2: Kept developing, putting on weight and oomph. Even better the next day. Pretty nice stuff.

Sepi was up next. I kept sipping my wine. And my note taking skills started diminishing. Rapidly. But I remember him describing a big ass wine. "Something John would like," I believe he said. Big extracted black fruits. Spicy integrated tannins on the long finsh. Sepi was liking this wine. A lot. I was wishing I had some.

Everyone was comfortable placing the wine in the new world, in California.

Didn't sound like Cab. Zin? Rhone? Not Cab.

Paso? Napa? Not Santa Barbara.

Epoch 2011 Veracity (?) Paso Robles. Great producers. They sell a lot of Fruit to Saxum and their wines are like baby Saxums at half the price.

John, our host, brought us home and did a credible job following the grid for the first time. He described a dark wine, purple to the rim with massive stained legs and a wide, clear meniscus; no gas and alcohol. (A big boy!) Very ripe extracted black fruits with toasty vanilla graham crackers on the long finish. Definitely new world, seemingly definitely Napa Cab. Nope, not Cab, but Merlot. Behrens and Hitchcock. I can't remember the specific label or vintage. Going to their website, it appears that they are now producing under the Behrens Family Winery label.

All in all a great success, everyone is looking forward to our next tasting Thursday of white wines.  I can't remember who said it but this quote sums up the evening.

"Wow. We've been talking for two hours with not one mention of Coronavirus!"

A nice relief indeed.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Last Tasting

The tasting happened on one of the last days before the world changed. Despite the usual flurry of New Year resolutions to get together more often it hadn't happened.

As the world teetered on the precipice trips were cancelled and commitments were made. As the date approached the numbers dropped to a bare quorum of three who gathered on a Thursday night at Epheses to have a quick meal and "to not make too big a night of it."

Even with advance planning I was a few minutes late getting out of the store. I arrived to find two compadres tucking into a bottle of white wine and a platter of hummus and baba ghanoush. #4 poured me a glass. I took a big sniff and a taste and looked up. 

"Where's Scottie?" I asked. The big rich wine showed heady aromas of hazelnut, vanilla, white flowers and poached citrus and stone fruits followed on the palate by a rich silky melange of minerals extended by surprising acidity. Delicious. Obviously Chardonnay. Seemingly new world, RRV, Sonoma Coast? No. Not Burgundian. Surprise! Italian. 
Antinori Cervaro della Sara Chardonnay, 2016.

All notions of a less than serious evening were being quickly dispelled. 

The second wine was another white. Aromas filled the table as soon as the cork was popped. 

 "Wow! Another blue cheese wine!" exclaimed #4. A powerful mineral funk gradually transformed into a heady perfume emanating from the viscous yellow gold wine. Big flavors of white peaches, dried apricot and marzipan coalesced into long mineral inflected finish. Not Chardonnay. Viognier? A little. It's a blend. Mainly Chenin Blanc.
Mullineux, Old Vines White, 2014, Swartland, South Africa.

We ordered our meals. a double order of lamb chops and lamb gyro and turned our attention to the red wine.

John briefly left the table so I tried to channel my my old blind tasting study group days. Dark ruby core starting to brick on the edge. Clear but thin miniscus, pointing to an older wine, possibly old world. Aromas of baking spices and fresh and dried red fruits. Notes of cedar herbs tucked under the fruit. All notes confirmed on the palate, supported by gentle acidity and soft integrated tannins. Flavor notes point to Bordeaux varieties. Weight and texture point to Bordeaux. Acid and tannins point to the Medoc, St Julien? Most great Bordeaux vintages after 2000 are all power wines so maybe 95 or 96? Close.
Chateau Haut Marbuzet, 1995 Saint Estephe. Nice.

Any remaining notions of a lightweight evening are dashed.

The next wine was much darker in the glass with broody dark cherry, smoky cedar and spicy herbs. Flavors were confirmed on the palate with a darker espresso-like concentration. #4 went quickly to Syrah, his go-to variety. Correct, only it's just half the blend. Discussion ensued with a big nod to Bordeaux varietals. Correct again. Cab Franc. But from where. Guesses jumped around the wine world. Old World? Very. Mountain Grown, Extremely low yields: 11 hl/ha.
Chateau Belle-Vue le Chateau, 2011, Lebanon.

The lamb chops really sang with this wine.

Explosive aromas flooded the table as John opened the next wine. A BOMB!!!  Massive fresh and dried red fruits burst out in all directions. Big silky flavors that didn't end. I think we were all stunned. Rhone varieties? Yes. Grenache? Yes. Too flashy to be an old vine CDP Grenache bomb. Can't think of a Cali producer. Wait a minute does he still have some of that left? Why yes, evidently! Old Vine Aussie Grenache made by Chris Ringland and brought in by Dan Phillips in his glory days. Wow it's holding up beautifully. Some of Dan's wines fell apart but these selections from some of the greatest vineyards in Australia show that yes, VINES MATTER!!!
Chateau Chateau Island, 2006 Grenache, Ebenezer Vineyard, Barossa.

We did the only sensible thing we could do at this point. We ordered an insanely rich chocolate desert and opened another bottle of wine.

Not to be outdone, Bradley pulls a stunner from his deep bag of tricks. Another big boy. Spicy black fruits intertwine with espresso in a seamless sensation of flavor and texture. My thoughts immediately go to a big-ass Right Bank Bordeaux, but no. Thoughts flirt with a top end Malbec from Mendoza, but evidently that's not the case. Merlot? Yes. The wine is beautifully integrated with suggestivw hints of fine tannins structually keeping the wine alive. Napa? Yes. Spring Mountain.
Paloma Merlot, 2013. Napa Valley.

Just three guys on a workday Thursday night.

But wait. What's that bottle on the far right? Where did it come from?

We knew there was one other table of wine drinkers in the restaurant as there was last time we met here. And both times the table was hosted by Dallas's own MW Dilek Caner! So of course we shared bottles and conversation. The real star of their table was a magnum of Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet 1981 that stunning with baking spices, vanilla and dried cherries in a silky texture with the barest hint of inflected tannin. Wow. A treat.

The 2005 Pichon Lalande Comtessa seemed muted and closed in comparison to the other wines of the evening, though it showed hints of its true self. Definitely needs a lot more time. I took the unfinished bottle home and finished it a week later. Maybe it was the lack of other wines, but it showed great. Big and rich. Dark and complex. I've seen it happen a number of times with big powerful middle aged Bordeaux. Sometimes they just don't sing well with others and need to sing solo. Maybe it just needed 10 days of air.

And that was the last tasting.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Perfectly Peachy Pairing

The Lurton Family Wine Dinner last week was a heartwarming affair for longtime fans of Sevy's Grill. Sevy's is no stranger to wine dinners. In his opening remarks Jim 'Sevy' Severson, owner and chef claimed that it was his 160th and no one doubted him. BUT it was the first time in my sixteen years that Sigel's has hosted a Bordeaux Dinner at Sevy's. They tend more toward the French side of the cookbooks.

The food was delicious, paired perfectly with the wines but the food remained Sevy's through and through. The Duck Confit was rich and filling, the Waygu Porterhouse had just that sweet touch of smoke.

But the knockout punch was the Peach Cobbler with Ham Orchard Peach Ice Cream and what made it great was the seamless transition to the spectacular 2005 Chateau Climens Barsac. The wine's rich flavors of roasted pineapple and baked peaches made it difficult to tell where the flavor of the dessert ended and the wine began. Truly glorious. So much so that most diners drank most of their wine. Which is rare. Usually glasses of Sauternes remain untouched. Dallas does not like sweet wine.

And that's the end of the post. Almost. About the wine:

Although the two appellations are neighbors, Barsac wines tend to be a little fresher and less creamy than Sauternes  due in large part to the silt soils. The 2005 Climens was just beginning to transition from its primary flavors to its mature secondary flavors which are caused by the slow aging and oxidation of the wine. Vivid flavors of pure perfumed fruits and sugars begin to take on the flavors of baked, roasted or dried fruits, the sugars begin to caramelize and the wine becomes richer and more complex. The  color changes as well darkening from yellow gold to rich burnished tones.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Still Buzzin 1.0: Tequila with David Suro-Pinero

My head's still buzzin' after the three and a half hour master seminar/tasting with the legendary David Suro-Pinero the other day. It was a small knowledgeable group and David was able to use his Tequila 101 slides but go way beyond the basics. Way beyond. Rather than me summarize, I found this recording of a training class he did a year or so ago. Take the time, if possible have a spot of Tequila and enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LG1MISYiiI

written May 2016, never posted.

What's Buzzin' in My Head: Tequila

No, it's not that. I did not sample a few too many last night. Though I did mean to have a spot of something but I fell asleep instead.

No, I attended a tasting, well it was more like a seminar on artisanal Agave distillates with the legendary Tequila producer and advocate David Suro. David is from Jalisco but wound up opening a Mexican restaurant twenty years ago in Philadelphia that he ambitiously named Tequilas, although at the time he could only source five major label Tequilas from the state controlled liquor stores in Pennsylvania. For the last twenty years David has pursued the highest quality Tequilas with a passionate intensity, becoming not only a producer with his own labels, but a major voice in the industry.

And make no mistake, David loves to share his passion for all things Agave. I could go on, but go to You Tube and search David Suro Tequila and spend some time. Here's a link to a presentation he did a couple of years ago. He starts at the basics and expands. Take some time, have a glass of Tequila and enjoy.

David Suro-Pinero Presents Siembra Azul

If you want a deeper discussion read Divided Spirits by Sarah Bowen. Available from Amazon.

Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal and the Politics of Production

Oh, we did taste.

Written May 2016, never posted.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Great Moments in Retail 1.10: Appreciation of Service

I helped a gentleman at the register today. He bought half a case of wine, liquor, gin and a couple six packs of beer. As I loaded the boxes into the back of his SUV I thanked him as I always do.

"There you go sir and thank you for shopping with us, we always appreciate your business."

"No, thank YOU," he said. " It's an honor to shop here. Everyone is so courteous and helpful. Those other places are just so large and cold people and unresponsive. It's always a pleasure to shop here."

And away he went.

We work hard at being aggressively friendly and helpful. It's nice to know that it's appreciated!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Great Moments in Retail 1.09: Still the Standard of Service.

One of my first jobs, fifty years ago or so, I worked as a package boy in the local Grocery Store. While I went through an application process, but the real reason I got my job was because my mother was on a first name basis with the store manager (of course.) She could be a demanding lady.

I quickly learned to throw a mean sack of groceries and which customers would tip a quarter for carrying them out to the car. But the truth was that we were expected to carry out anyone's groceries if it was anything but a small sack. THAT was the standard of service.

Flash forward thirty five years and I took my first job in my new career as Wine Consultant for the old family run chain of Red Coleman stores. I quickly found out that the job was not so glamorous as it sounded. Mr. Coleman used to sit outside the store in his car waiting for a customer, preferably a lady, to push a basket to her car. Then he would come inside and woe be unto the staff on duty behind the registers. THAT was the standard of service.

Today is a beautiful day, clear and crisp and not hot, more like Dallas January than May. As I helped a lady to her car and loaded her purchases, I thought of that first job.

Back then I had no idea that fifty years later I would still be carrying out packages. But, that's STILL the standard of service.