Monthly Archives: August 2009

Blending Cabernet across vintages?

I did make it to one winery while out in California – Porter Family Vineyards.

Vineyard 1

The vines (mostly Cab, some Syrah, Merlot, Malbec and Cab Franc) range in age from 3-20 years

Terraced Vineyard

The property is 20 acres, with 13 under vine - check out those terraced plantings

The Porter Family vineyards are at 600 ft.

The Porter Family vineyards are at 600 ft.

Specifically, the winery is in Coombsville region of Napa Valley and the Porter Family is among those lobbying for the area to receive its own AVA – American Viticultural Area – designation.  The soils are old and volcanic. 

While digging their cave, the Porter Family came across a piece of sandstone covered in volcanic ash with fossilized sandpiper prints that is over 20 million years old (they had it tested).  It made sense, then, that we were greeted with their 2008 “Sandpiper” Rosé – 100% Syrah with lots of red fruits and bright acidity. 

The creation of their cave was covered in a 2006 episode of "Dirty Jobs"

The creation of their cave was covered in a 2006 episode of "Dirty Jobs"

Ken Burns, consulting winemaker, describing the winemaking equipment

Ken Burns, consulting winemaker, describing the winemaking equipment

Throughout the evening, we also tried their 2006 Sandpiper red – a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that had distinct elements of both varietals – the currant and cedar from the Cab and the plummy softness from the Merlot, their 2006 Syrah, which was also varietally classic – white pepper, violets and berries and their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon – full and chewy with vanilla and coffee on top of the berries.  The two special treats were a barrel sample of the 2008 Syrah (similar notes to the 2006, just not as integrated yet) and the Cabernet Sauvignon Blend across 3 vintages – 2005, 2006 and 2007. 

In theory, it’s an interesting idea – the bold, bright fruit of a young Cab and the more developed flavors of a Cab that’s had some time to age in the barrel.  It’s like getting the best of both worlds in one bottle of wine. 

They don’t yet have a scheduled release date nor would they tell us the name they plan on using (proprietary and not yet registered), but I hope they give the wine more time, as the flavors didn’t seem pulled together quite yet. 

Champagne and Sherry notwithstanding, most vintage-dated wines are superior to non-vintage wines, but perhaps the Porter Family’s looking to change that.  If you know of anyone else doing similar experiments, please leave a comment.

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More bubbly

Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan

JetBlue, you’re currently 0 for 2; 3 hours on the tarmac at JFK on the way out and straight up cancelled on the way back – Northeast weather advisory or was it simply an undersold flight?

Luckily, I had Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan (of Wine for Dummies fame among a myriad of other wine-related accomplishments) and 8 Tête de Cuvée Champagnes to take my mind off air travel.

Tête de Cuvée is also referred to as Prestige Cuvée and in layman’s terms, it’s the pride and joy of the Champagne house that made it.  The best grapes from the best vineyard sites (almost always Grand and Premier Cru) spend more time on their lees (dead yeast cells – recall the magic of the second fermentation) and while no minimum aging laws exist, most have spent at least 5 years in the bottle prior to release.

All of this yields a complex Champagne, with a fine mousse (bubbles) and developed aromas (think mushrooms in a good way), with an ability to age that most other Champagnes on the market lack.  What’s not to love?  I can think of two things – they’re difficult to come by and they don’t come cheap.  I’ve listed the average retail price after each bottle, as given by the instructors.

This was by far the most impressive line-up I’ve tasted and shame on the organizers for making this a morning session because it was terribly difficult to spit.

  1. Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, 2002 $210-250.  The third oldest house in Champagne, these guys have been at it since 1834.  This was a blanc de blanc (100% Chardonnay) with very crisp acidity, a lemony nose and a palate with peach, coffee and mocha notes.
  2. Perrier-Jouet, Fleur de Champagne Rosé 2002 $300.  According to Ed, rosés don’t last as long as other vintage Champagnes (this was news to me) and can also seem sweeter because they often have more Pinot Noir (more fruit-forward).  Just so you know, the “t” is pronounced and pair-e-yay-jew-et is a pretty Champange with stewed strawberry and mushroom notes.
  3. Pommery Cuvée Louis, 1998 $190-200.  This was earthy, yeasty, yet delicate and ready to drink.
  4. Gosset, Celebris, 1998 $130-150.  Pronounced “go-say”, this is produced by another branch of the Cointreau Family.  It was rich and concentrated with floral, honey and butter notes.
  5. Mumm, Rene Lalou, 1998 $140-150.  This is the first vintage released by this house since the 1980s (they faced various difficulties, including being purchased by Seagram’s).  This Champagne was elegant and harmonious, not showing much age, even though it was over 10 years old.
  6. Deutz, Cuvée William Deutz, 1998 $145-150.  Believe it or not, the company pronounces it “duhtz”.  Lots of dulce de leche notes, this Champagne was ready to drink.
  7. Charles Heidsieck, Blanc de Millenaires, 1995 $115.  Notes of truffles and brioche, this was the best value of the line up.
  8. Henriot, Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, 1995 $145-165.  Believe it or not, this is their current release and it tastes young.   It’s mouth-watering and dry, with notes of almonds on the nose.

Needless to say, this was a good day.


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It didn’t make me crazy

Here’s a recent tasting I did:

10 from around the world

10 absinthes from around the world

The colors are like easter eggs

The colors are like easter eggs

Thirsty yet?

Thirsty yet?

As you can see from the photos, we didn’t quite have the sexy presentation like you might find in an absinthe bar; a special, slotted spoon for the sugar and an attractive water dispenser to appreciate the impact of each drop on the color and opalescence of the absinthe, but I plan to report on that next month when I visit Barcelona (thanks for the tip, Trin). For an animated version of what I’m talking about, click here

I’ve briefly touched on absinthe before. So, why all the fuss over this once-banned spirit?

For one, the principle flavoring ingredient, Artemesia absinthium or Grand Wormwood, contains thujone, considered a carcinogen and/or a hallucinogen at very high concentrations. Secondly, its high alcohol content was often mishandled. Producers have always recommended diluting absinthe with water, but this advice was often ignored.  Third, absinthe’s historically been made with cheap base alcohol and even cheaper dyes, some of which were toxic. To top it off, the anti-alcohol groups were exerting pressure to have it banned and that’s just what happened in 1912 in the United States.

We have the French to thank for absinthe’s return to the market. Turns out that while France had banned the sale of absinthe, it had never bothered to ban its production – they were ready to go with product once the ban was lifted. This little tidbit combined with the work of George Rowley (of La Fée Absinthe Parisienne), who convinced the EU that absinthe has less than 10 ppm of thujone has allowed us once again to dance with the green fairy.

Sure, Pernod may have similar anise notes, but as our instructor noted, it’s simply a “training bra” for real absinthe.

For standardization purposes, all of the absinthes we tried were diluted 5 parts water to 1 part absinthe, even when producers may have recommended a different ratio. We also didn’t use any sugar. Here’s what we tried:

  1. Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure, Pennsylvania, 120˚ – this is the first one to come from the East Coast and it’s from the same folks who brought us Bluecoat gin. It was overdiluted (they recommend 3:1), but I got anise and carrot notes.
  2. St. George Absinthe Vert, California, 120˚ – most absinthes are made with a grain neutral spirit base (often sugar beets), but these guys use a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – it could be the power of suggestion, but it did seem to have a creamier mouthfeel than some of the others. Olive green in color with notes of hyssop, basil and pine.
  3. Kubler Swiss Absinthe Superieur, Switzerland, 106˚ – the only white one in the bunch (how Swiss!). This producer doesn’t add any additional spices following distillation; an anomaly in this group. Spicy and earthy, with cardamom as a standout.
  4. Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian, Austria, 120˚ – they claim no added color and their spirit was a beautiful mother-of-pearl that smelled like cinnamon chewing gum.
  5. Le Tourment Vert, France, 100˚ – you’ll notice the lower proof on this one and the company says they created this absinthe for making cocktails. Don’t you want higher proof spirits for cocktails to help the inevitable dilution? It’s freakish (yet beautiful) teal color has been getting flack, too, so they may change it back to the green family. I got Listerine, pine, pepper and juniper notes.
  6. La Fée Absinthe Parisienne, France, 136˚- the first one in France, this absinthe was emerald green and earthier as opposed to spicy, with lots of anise on the finish.
  7. La Muse Vert Absinthe Traditionnelle, France, 136˚ – this producer claims to be the only one using fresh cut grand wormwood – it happens to grow on their property. They also use a black bottle to protect their spirit from light. It was mellow and floral, with chamomile and dandelion notes and a bitter finish (in a good way).
  8. Pernod Aus Plantes d’Absinthe Superieur, France, 136˚ – light lime in color, this absinthe struck a nice balance between earth and spice. The sugar they added was noticeable, but pleasant.
  9. Grande Absente Absinthe Originale, France, 138˚ – the sweetest of the lot, their herbs hail from the Alps. It tasted of blackjack chewing gum with a bite on the finish.
  10. Versinthe, France, 90˚ – jade in color and boasting over 20 plants and herbs, this was light and elegant with notes of fennel.

You may have noticed that we didn’t taste in order of alcoholic strength. The instructor wanted to highlight the different regional styles, so we tasted the Americans (very different from one another and the others), then the Swiss (so clean!), followed by the Austrian (Bohemian!) and finished with the French (several claiming the “original recipe” – go figure).


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