The focus of a blind wine tasting is on the aromas, flavors and colors. Rather than blindfolding everyone, which gets very messy, all the bottles are brown bagged, numbered and corks removed before presenting to the tasting party.
Breezy, wet, chilly weather this time of year, dictate a hearty stew, crusty bread and a bottle of red wine.
I have an abundant fondness for Bordeaux, that wine region in western France where Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc rule. Bordeaux is the world’s largest producer of quality, age worthy wines, of which about 75% are dry red.
Bordeaux grapes are the Sauvignons, Cabernet and Blanc, and their traditional blending partners, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and for the whites, Sémillon and to a lesser degree, Muscadelle.
Bordeaux is part of the 1855 Classification System where Chateaux were categorized as First Growth, Second Growth and so on down to a Fifth Growth.
If a chateau wasn’t selected for one of those growths, they were classified as Bordeaux Appellation Contrôlée or AC. Bordeaux Cotes is the name for appellations on the outer fringes of the region. These wines tend to have more personality than Bordeaux AC and provide some of the best wine values from the region.
Highly recommended – Chateau Lagarosse, Premiers Cotes de Bordeaux 2009. It’s a blend of 80% Merlot, 10 Cab Franc and 10 Cabernet. It sells for under $10 and is imported by Canon Wines, SFO.
To keep my airline miles from expiring I recently had hundreds of magazines to choose from. The problem is I find I have no time to read magazines (just ask my husband, my growing stack of unread People’s is driving him nuts).
But while perusing the list there was one name that caught my eye: Wine Spectator. I thought “hey this is something I’d like to read for personal and professional reasons, and if I’m lucky the hubs will also want to read it and not get mad when the magazines start to accumulate around the house.”
So subscribe I did and a short number of days later our mailbox was filled with the oversized publication. The cover told us what we were in for: “Bordeaux at Its Best, 2010: A classic vintage; 450 at 90+”.
Washington winemakers produce some great Bordeaux blends and we’re starting to familiarize ourselves with those, but we decided we’d take the Wine Spectator opinion about the 2009 and 2010 vintages coming out of France (they’re calling them two of the best in recent history) and look for wines from the top-producing wine regions at our local grocer. The nice thing about France is you can often good wine from a region that is producing some of the world’s top wines, at an affordable price.
With a list of wine regions in his hand, my husband set out to try and find something in the $11 to $12 price range for us to compare. He came home with a 2010 Chateau Blouin from Bordeaux’s Right Bank and a 2010 Mouton Cadet, also from the Right Bank.
We decided to pour the two and try them against each other, and with our steak dinner, to decide which we preferred.
The Chateau Blouin is a blend of 8o percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet franc; the Cadet had a few more grapes, breaking down with 65 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent cab franc.
Both wines had good structure and were indicative of what you can expect of a Bordeaux — dark fruit flavors and berries with strong tannins, which made the wines a tight at first, but after some time in the glass they softened.
Our preference of the two with dinner was the Cadet. This wine had a beautiful ruby red robe, a great nose (I’m pretty sure that was thanks to the merlot) and a softer finish on the palate. I noted the finish was slightly lacking, which I think was a result of a minerality in the wine that kept it from opening across my palate.
The Chateau Blouin failed to impress me. It had the same beautiful robe with a stronger purple tint. The nose was musty, (although that might have been from my glass) and the finish was “tangy”. This wine had more earth flavors and was slightly vegetal.
After trying the wines with our steak dinner we decided we should probably see how they stood up to chocolate. So we paired them with dessert. The chocolate really seemed to bring out the flavors of the Cadet, while the Chateau Blouin remained closed. My husband felt that both wines did better with the chocolate than the steak, but part of that could also be that by the time we had them with chocolate they had time to breath and open up.
I’m not sure I’d buy them again, but then again for $11 and with enough time to open up in a decanter, I could probably be swayed to try the Cadet one more time.
If you’re interested in trying a similar comparison, look for some of these more affordable wines as recommended by James Molesworth of Wine Spectator (the name in parenthesis is the region where the grapes were grown):
- Chateau Montlabert, (St-Emilion) $20
- Chateau Bel Air, (Haut-Medoc) $23
- Chateau Belle-vue, (Haut-Medoc) $25
- Chateau de Carlmagnus, (Fronsac) $18
- Chateau Retout, (Haut-Medoc) $18
- Terra Burdigala, (Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux Chateau Manoir du Gravoux la Violette 2010) $20
- Chateau Paloumey, (Haut-Medoc) $17
This term should be on the tip of every Merlot lover’s tongue.
It describes the part of Bordeaux on the right or north side of the river Dordogne. This includes the appellations of Cotes de Castillon, St-Émilion, Pomerol, Lalande de Pomerol, Fronsac, Canon Fronsac, Bourg and Blaye. Here Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominate the landscape and Cabernet Sauvignon continues to rule the Left Bank.\
Unlike the Left Bank, Right Bank wines were not included in the 1855 classification. However, Right Bank wines are much sought after given the fact that a bottle of 2011 Petrus from Pomerol would set you back about $1,800.
Continuing with our highlights of Washington wine in honor of March being Washington Wine Month, this week we’re taking a look at Sparkman Cellars.
Voted a Top 100 Winery in the World by Wine and Spirits Magazine, Sparkman is a must-visit for anyone headed to Woodinville for a day of wine tasting. (Or if you’re headed to Taste Washington at the end of the month, it’s a winery that should make your “must taste” list).
Sparkman was the last stop on our Woodinville tour last month and what a great place to end the day. My friend Kyle’s husband Wes loves Sparkman’s chardonnay — so much so he bought a case while we were there.
While I enjoyed the Lumière Chardonnay — it had a nice balance of acidity with a slight hint of oak, giving some weight to the mouth — it was the Wilderness Red Blend that had my full attention.
I was already familiar with Sparkman’s Stella Mae and Ruby Leigh — named after winemaker Chris Sparkman’s daughters — which we tasted at last year’s Taste Washington event (Ruby Leigh made our “top sips list”). Stella Mae is Sparkman’s take on a left-bank Bordeaux, while Ruby Leigh is his take on the right-bank blend. They have become signature wines for the winery.
I don’t recall tasting the Wilderness last year, so it either wasn’t offered, or after tasting so many wines I just didn’t remember it by the end of the day.
Regardless, I had my chance to enjoy the wine last month at the Sparkman Cellars tasting room in Woodinville. My notes from the time included this about the wine: “smooth, approachable, oak noticeable.”
After reading the grapes that go into of this blended red wine, it’s easy to see why I loved it so much. The two dominant grape varieties are cab franc and syrah — two of my favorite grapes.
The cab added some spice and hints of black licorice to the wine, while the syrah added hints of dark berries and contributed with the cab to the darker side of this wine — think leather or cigar box.
Time spent on oak — 18 months — left the finish slightly sweet with hints of toasted vanilla. Seeing that I’m an oak lover, I found the finish especially pleasing.
Here’s what winemaker Chris Sparkman says about the wine (note: a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Wilderness Society):
A rich supple blend full of chocolately black fruit on the nose layered with licorice, violets, vanilla bean, cassis and cigar box. The palate is loaded with black cherry, Asian spices and sweet toasty oak.
Appellation: Columbia Valley
- 29 percent Cabernet Franc
- 27 percent Syrah
- 22 percent Merlot
- 13 percent Petit Verdot
- 9 percent Malbec
- La Coye
- Double Canyon
Barrel Aging: 18 months
Oak Composition: 45 percent new French Quintessence, Saury, LeGrand and Vicard
Alcohol: 14.8 percent
Production: 645 cases
Earlier this month I was invited to a surprise birthday party for my friend Kyle. Last year Kyle was 8 months pregnant for her birthday, so needless to say she didn’t feel much like celebrating the departure from her 20s to her 30s.
This year however her husband wanted to make sure she had a great day, so he organized an outing months in advance to make sure Kyle not only made up for missing her big 30th celebration, but also entered her 31st year in style.
We started the day by surprising Kyle on her doorstep and were whisked away by our own personal chauffeur — her husband — in a Cadillac rented for the day’s transportation. On our agenda for the day: lunch at The Purple Cafe and Wine Bar in Woodinville, followed by stops at some of Kyle’s favorite wineries.
First up was Mark Ryan Winery, a boutique winery located across the parking lot from the Hollywood Schoolhouse. Apparently everyone else who was in Woodinville to celebrate and taste wine also had Mark Ryan on their lists, because the cozy tasting room became packed shortly after we arrived. But that was fine with us, we were easily able to get through the five wines they poured and still enjoy great conversation.
While I wasn’t drinking, I did accept the pour, took two tiny sips then poured the rest of my glass into Kyle’s stemware.
Like I said, we tried five wines while there, but I’m only highlighting one of those today — don’t worry I’ll write about our absolute favorite wine tasted at Mark Ryan next time.
One of the wines that stood out to my palate was the 2009 Long Haul, winemaker Mike MacMorran’s take on a right bank Bordeaux blend. As we recently wrote, Merlot is the dominant grape along the right bank in Bordeaux. The breakdown of the 2009 Long Haul is 64 percent Merlot, 27 percent Cabernet Franc, 8 percent Malbec and 1percent Petit Verdot.
Here’s what the winery has to say about this wine:
Vineyard source: Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain; Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Red Mountain; Kiona Vineyard, Red Mountain
Tasting notes: Black cherry, Italian plum, clove and toasted oak. Non-fruit aromas of cracked black pepper, red meat, tomato leaf, brined olives and cigar box. The palate is lush, filled with vanilla and mocha. The texture is bold with impressive structure and great length.
Best 2012 through 2017.
The wine is priced at $48 (leave it to me to like the expensive stuff). Only 550 cases were produced.
At a recent tasting put on by a long time friend and collector, a bunch of us tasted a vertical of Clerc Milon, a wine from the Paulliac region of Bordeaux. The wines were from 1996 through 2000.
This commune produces four of the five first growth Bordeaux wines.
Vertical tastings are really enlightening. You are given the opportunity to taste the differences in wine made by the same winemaker from identical vineyards and with the same cellar techniques. The only difference you taste is what hand Mother Nature dealt each year.
To show my appreciation for the invite, I brought along a little gem from my cellar, another Bordeaux but very, very different in so many ways. First, it was white; second, it was in a half, or split, bottle; third, it was sweet.
In France, the labels for sweet white wines from this region are known as Sauternes. In other wine regions, notably the U.S., a sweet white wine would be known as sauterne without the “s” at the end and not capitalized. However, French being French, the pronunciations for both are the same: “saw turn.”
The wine I brought was a Chateau Coutet. This lies within Barsac, located southeast of the city of Bordeaux where most of the white grapes are cultivated. Barsac lies within the Sauternes commune and is entitled to use either name on its labels. Other communes that can only use their own name are Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac.
Grape varieties used in the region are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
My 15-year-old bottle had a lovely golden color and aromas of honey, ripe peach and apricots. And that indescribable aroma of botrytis cinerea. The flavors were dense, elegant and integrated with a weighty mouthfeel.
I loved the concentrated caramelized notes bouncing off the honeyed fruit flavors. The clean finish of mango and orange was long and luscious.
After tasting some delicious Bordeaux blends this weekend in Woodinville wine country, I decided it’s time to define this term.
Bordeaux is not only a type of wine, it’s first and foremost a region in France. But what people may not know is, Bordeaux has a left and a right bank and the wines that come from each side are made up of different dominant wine varietals.
Typically there are five grapes that go into Bordeaux blends, but it’s also not unusual to only see three of the five varietals in a wine. They include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.
Cabernet sauvignon and merlot are typically the more dominant role in Bordeaux blends while the remaining three varietals play a lesser role — but don’t discount their impact on a wine, they are responsible for adding the color, structure and body depending on how large of a percentage is used.
So how do you know if a wine is a right bank Bordeaux or a left bank Bordeaux? (The “bank” refers to the side of the Gironde River where the region sits.)
Here’s an easy tip: Wines that have cabernet sauvignon as the dominant varietal are from the Left Bank while those with merlot as the dominant grape are Right Bank wines.
Tonight Mary and I had the privilege of being invited to the private inaugural release party for Mosquito Fleet Winery.
We, along with more than 200 other wine lovers, filled the Belfair winery to get a taste of its three 2009 releases. Being that it was the first time the public was tasting the varietals, you can imagine how excited winery owners Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin were to showcase their hard work.
The three wines being poured were a Meritage Blend, Petersen’s take on a left bank Bordeaux-style wine; a 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon; and a barrel tasting of a 2010 Touriga Nacional Port.
We were impressed with everything we tried. Sourced from Pepper Bridge Vineyards, the Cab definitely carried the signature Pepper Bridge flavor profile. The nose on this wine was amazing. With each sip we uncovered more layers of flavor — this is definitely a complex wine. Being it was harvested in 2009, you can tell the wine is still quite young, so it’s one we’d recommend buying now and cellaring for a few years to let some of the flavors mellow.
In contrast the Meritage felt flat initially — in hindsight we should have tasted this first. After letting it sit on our palates and letting it breathe, we discovered this wine had a softer, rounder mouthfeel than the acidic Cab. There were hints of Carmel on the nose and with more exposure to the air, notes of cherry on the nose and the finish became much stronger. This wine, like the Cab, is one that should age well with time.
The last wine we had a chance to sample was the Touriga Nacional Port, which seeing that it came straight from the barrel, obviously was still quite young. Its characteristics were similar to the Cab in that there were layers of complexity. I noticed pomegranate on the nose and finish, while Mary experienced Carmel and herbal spices. Also like the cab, this wine needs more time to age, but all the components are there to make a truly excellent wine. The grapes for this wine are grown in Washington, but have Portuguese origins. This wine won’t be bottled until November, so for now they’re selling advance bottles.
Because this is the first release from the winery, quantities are limited. In fact they’re so limited — they only made 200 cases in 2009 — Petersen expects they’re likely to sell out after their grand opening Saturday. (Yes Saturday as in tomorrow). So if you’re interested in checking out the winery and trying their wines — which we highly recommend you do —you better make your way to Belfair between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. tomorrow. We’d recommend getting there earlier rather than later.
If you miss out tomorrow they will be offering their wines through the website but they won’t be opening the winery after Saturday for tastings until the next round of wines are ready for release. Which will be next year when the 2010 vintage is ready. And instead of 200 cases, there will be 1,000 cases up for grabs.
The winery is located at 21 Old Belfair Highway, across from the QFC in a warehouse space next door to Seabeck Pizza.
Finally, here’s a little blurb on the winery itself from its Facebook fan page:
Mosquito Fleet Winery is a relatively new winery going into it’s fourth year of production. We are located at the tip of Hood Canal in Belfair, Washington, only miles from the state’s first bonded winery, The St. Charles Winery of Stretch Island. We are a small winery that prides ourselves in developing Bordeaux-styled wines aged for 20-24 months in French oak barrels. With our 2011 crush behind us, we are now eagerly awaiting our first release of our ’09 Vintage in February of 2012. Cheers!!!
It’s true, a pint is probably the first beverage the English would reach for when searching for the perfect pairing for their well-loved pasties.
That’s because England is known for its pints. But the wine we have in mind for this dish is also a perfect match for these meat-filled pastry pies. And although it’s not homegrown, the area it comes from was once owned by England for almost 300 years.
As Ann Vogel mentioned at the end of her article, Cornish pasties originated in Cornwall, England — as she pointed out, the legend at the time was the Devil refused to cross the River Tamar into Cornwall because he heard the Cornish put anything into their pasties.
Well unlike the Devil, the English clearly had no problems crossing the river, or the English Channel for that matter, and that’s what we suggest you do to find the perfect wine for this dish.
We’re going to hop continents and head to France’s
Bordeaux region for our recommended pairing with
Vogel’s Cornish Pasties
As we stated earlier, England once owned Bordeaux thanks to the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Bordeaux was a part of the dowry that accompanied the enticingly rich beauty.
But beyond good looks, Eleanor was also an exceedingly smart businesswoman who came up with the idea to ship Bordeaux’s wine to England. This international trade made Bordeaux one of France’s richest cities during the 13th and 14th centuries. Today wine is still one of the region’s main exports.
The red grape varieties grown in Bordeaux also grow well in Washington. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc are the most common grapes blended to make red Bordeaux wine. Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere grapes are also used to a lesser degree.
While we recommend three Bordeaux wines, a Washington Bordeaux-style blend would also make a nice substitute — like Brynn’s favorite: Kiona Vineyards and Winery’s take on a Bordeaux blend.
Its Cabernet/Merlot is $12. If you prefer to dine like the English with your Cornish pasties and Claret (the English term for red Bordeaux) we suggest Château Brisson’s 2009 Château Baby for $10, a 2009 Château du Pin for $8 or Château Peyraud Premier Cote de Blaye for about $11.