Tasting notes: Le Clos Jordanne, Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2006 chardonnay and pinot noir, Twenty Mile Bench

I’ve been a fan of Le Clos Jordanne wines since their first release, the 2004 vintage, two years ago. Made from young vines, they may not have had the depth of great wines, but they certainly showed the promise. It was terrific to taste pinot noir that from the Niagara that had such a clear sense of place and such a remarkable balance and restraint.

This certainly has a lot to do with…

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Pinot chocolat? Won’t those New Zealanders stop at anything?

For a guy like me who loves the most natural wines, New Zealand is often a disappointment, with wines that are pure products of modern oenology.

But I never thought the doctoring would go as far as this: Kim Crawford’s Pinot Chocolat, for which cocoa bean extract was added to the tank at the moment of fermentation. That, for me, completely takes the cake. I mean, what is wine coming to?

The only thing I don’t get about this whole operation, is why Kim Crawford didn’t think of using the USBWine network to allow us to taste the Pinot Chocolat. Instead, they’ve used a virtual tasting system that is clearly not as effective. 

The pinot chocolat, released on April 1, is a great match for a traditional English dessert called a… fool.

If you find a bottle, let me know.

And in the meantime, if you’d like a wine that’s less of a joke, why not try the 2007 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay, a modern wine, yes, but one where citrus flavors, peach notes and a little caramel on the nose combine in a fresh, quaffable drink. A very decent bottle, and a good match with grilled fish or hard cheeses. 

Full disclosure: I received the chardonnay as a press sample. But not the pinot chocolat.

WBW 55 Trial Run: North vs South in Radio-Coteau pinots

Periodically, I’m grabbed by the urge to pull a bottle out of the cellar, unplanned and by itself, not for a meal or special occasion. That’s how I wound up pulling out a 2005 Savoy pinot noir by Radio-Coteau, Eric Sussman‘s winemaking operation in Forestville, California.

Sussman, who started Radio-Coteau in 2002, learned the trade in Washington State before heading to Bordeaux and especially to Burgundy in the mid-1990s. After four years at Dehlinger, he started collecting 90+ scores from just about every wine writer of influence. Descriptions got me so excited that I even ordered a case for myself all the way out to Quebec. A costly proposition, just counting the import taxes. But it was worth it, especially for the La Neblina, which remains one of the finest, most subtle and well-focused California  pinots I’ve had.

Beyond providing a satisfying drink, the Savoy, sourced from a vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, also provided a clear example of what I’m aiming for with the theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South.

The Neblina and the Savoy I’ve had are two wines from the same vintage, same variety and the same producer, the only difference being vineyard location – and perhaps the farming practices in each vineyard – single vineyard for the Savoy, two different ones for the Neblina, one in Annapolis, and the other one along Gravenstein Highway, west of Sebastopol.

A quick look at a map (more…)

Tasting Note: 1996 Carneros Pinot Noir, Saintsbury

The one advantage to having been held at home for the day by today’s snowstorm, instead of flying to join my family in Switzerland for the Christmas holidays, is that I got to eat dinner with my parents. A nice, quiet dinner, where we got to talk and talk, and catch up on a lot of things. Blessings in disguise.

I took the opportunity to pull a bottle out of the cellar, and knowing we were having braised veal, I figured an older wine would do nicely with the delicate flavors of the meat. When I pulled a 1996 Carneros Pinot Noir from Saintsbury out of the rack, I pretty much knew that I had my wine.

Now, if you think that a 12-year old pinot is going to be tired, think again: this wine had an incredible amount of fruit, still dominating the aromas, right after decanting. Very nice, ripe cherry, with a little bit of well-integrated, toasted oak flavors, over a silky smooth mouthfeel. Remarkably fresh, with restrained alcohol and still just enough acidity to give the wine some lift.

It went very well with the veal, and handled the more intense flavors of the parsnip and celeriac extremely well. The mix of flavors of the dish and the wine was very smooth and fine.

I tasted the wine again, at the end of the evening, and the extra hours of decanting had helped the wine develop more complex aromas, with a bit of leather, some floral components (a bit of violet), spicier notes, a touch of tobacco and some mushroomy, woodland flavors. All that with the cherry still showing well too. A bit of caramel, on tasting, and fine, fine tannins. Not incredibly deep, but obviously, a lot of fun and dimension there.

I haven’t bought any Saintsbury pinots, in recent years, but seeing that the alcohol levels are still reasonable (13.5% on the 2006 Carneros pinot noir) and that the use of wood is careful and moderate (9 months in French oak, 30% new, again for the 2006), I’d be enclined to give this wine another go. And to keep it for several years, no doubt.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 12:25 am  Comments (4)  
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Tasting Note: Calera Reed Vineyard 1998 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir

The very first wine that got me thinking more seriously about what wine actually could be, how interesting and complex it could taste, was a 1987 Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir. I don’t remember exactly how it tasted – I certainly had no detailed aromatic vocabulary, back then, and I wasnt’t the worst for it. However, I do remember the impression of having opened up a new doorway and stepped into a larger, more spacious and luxurious room.

This was also the beginning of my love for California pinot noir and pinot noir in general – although it took me quite a bit longer to hit something comparable in Burgundy, in terms of fireworks, of tasting impressions.

In California, my next big thunderbolt kind of moment was tasting Josh Jensen’s Calera pinot noirs. Maybe I shouldn’t say thunderbolt, though, since the wines are so much more characterized by (more…)

Published in: on October 12, 2007 at 5:55 pm  Comments (1)  

How much alc./vol. is too much alc./vol.?

With better viticultural techniques and riper fruit comes, in an almost inescapable logic, wines with higher alcohol content. With big New World syrahs, grenaches and zinfandels reaching towards 16% alcohol by volume, and chardonnays and viogniers going for broke at 15%, a question almost inescapably comes to mind: how much is too much?

My definite, absolute answer on the subject? It depends.

I had an awful time, a few days ago, with a Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003. The nose was dominated by alcohol, as well as the mouth feel, and though there was a bit of jammy fruit and a touch of tannin in there, it was quickly rounded off by, well, more alcohol. I remember tasting a fantastic 1995 from that Domaine, several years ago, and it was quite full of character. A 1996 vintage, also quite well-built, even felt a little austere, compared to a Cigare Volant 1996 from Randall Grahm, tasted side-by-side over a lovely leg of lamb.

Of course, 2003 was the year of the mother of all heat waves in France, which threw a lot of winemakers off their game. In this particular case, you get the feeling that the winemaker was caught off guard by grapes that had ripened too quickly, and probably stalled under the August heat. Ripening too quickly raises the sugars but does nothing for tannins and phenolics – in other words for what gives the wine structure, complexity, etc. Clearly, here, a 15% alcohol level was an indication that things went just too quickly and got out of hand.

Yet just around the same time I faced this Solitude disappointment, I also tasted a big syrah from Barrel 27, whose wines  I actually collaborate on importing into Quebec through Insolite Importation. The alcohol level on the beast of a wine called the Head Honcho, their top cuvée, is well over 15%, yet it’s nowhere near disappointing. It’s quite a mouthful, with loads of jammy fruit, generous tannins, lots of substance. Same grape, lots of heat, just like the Domaine de la Solitude, but yet, the alcohol is balanced out by the fleshy, generous fruit of long-ripened grapes. Barrel 27 favors long hang times on the grape, often harvesting very late in the fall, and it does seem to give the grapes time to round themselves out.

Believe it or not, I also had a similar experience with an Oregon pinot noir from La Bête, which was well over 15% alcohol but didn’t feel like that at all. Somehow, there was enough flesh there too, even with the much more delicate pinot noir, to round things out and make the wines very pleasant. La Bête pinot noirs always feel balanced and complex, with very typical aromas of cherries and good acidity. They are sometimes unusual, but they never feel over the top.

Zinfandel is also another example, with vines often reaching over 16% alcohol, yet never feeling thin or being dominated by the alcohol in the wine. There’s just a lot of everything going on.

The one things the high alcohol wines will not provide, however, is freshness. Balance is possible, obviously, but not freshness. High alcohol means very ripe grapes, which can very rarely correspond to good acidity levels. And even if there is a decent level of acidity, it gets covered up by the alcohol. And without acidity, there can be no refreshing feeling to any wine.

Often, I do find the big wines pleasant and fun, even serious and complex in certain cases. But in the end, they’re just not quite as fun to drink as the lighter styles (and I’m not even getting into the problem of brettanomyces that high alcohol favors in wines). A single glass of a big syrah or a big cab will make you feel full rather quickly. As a general rule, comparatively lighter, fresher wines leave you wanting more. And I’d rather finish a bottle feeling thirsty than put the cork back on because I just can’t take any more.