Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!




Friday, October 24, 2014

A Visit to Champagne Roger Coulon

“The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark upon. Maybe what matters is that we embark.” ― Barbara Hall

When I stepped off the plane in Paris, and headed over to the train station which is conveniently located in the airport, boarded the train to Reims, I knew I was in the right place. I was about to embark upon another wine discovery adventure, my destination laid just ahead of me. After getting my luggage situated above me, I sat down, across from a young lady, who spoke perfect English, she was from the area, she told me I was going to have a great time. She explained that she was a big fan of Champagne herself, but lamented that many of peers were not, but she was glad to hear of Americans interest in her favorite libation.

I was puzzled by her response, but then again, when you live in a country such as France, with a wine culture that spans the centuries, it's easy to take something even as wonderful as Champagne for granted. Perhaps there's a bit of rebellion running through their young minds, when they smirk at the ways of the older generation. I can easily recall, when I was a young boy, there was a plethora of items I turned my nose up at, foods that both my parents consumed with great enthusiasm. Now that I'm the "old-guy" those foods I once despised and took for granted as a child, I now hold dear and consume with great enthusiasm.

I love how the trip was structured, we met with the big guns, the well established houses, whose names are as familiar, as the blue sky above the vineyards and then we also met with grower producers like Eric Coulon who you see in the picture above. His wife Isabelle, who met us upon our arrival at the cellar door, her English was so much better than my French, which to be honest is pretty much non-existent. But she was a good sport, entertaining our questions and doing her best to answer until Sebastian, one of their employees showed up to give us a quick vineyard tour and who thankfully for us, had a superb grasp of english. But apparently he was a bit unfamiliar with Mrs. Coulon's vehicle, it took more than a few minutes to get it going. But eventually we headed up a few hills and dales until we landed at the spot you see above with the incredible sweeping views of their vineyards.

If you do visit, realize, they're quite far off the beaten path; when even Edward Champagne didn't recognize them immediately, you know you're on infrequently explored territory. When the group heard, they were represented by none other than Neal I. Rosenthal, we all thrilled for this opportunity to sample some very good champagnes. The tasting room, the show barrel room you see below, the offices, conference room, and a gorgeous B&B were all recently updated and modernized. Staying at their B&B is a great idea, a wonderful spot to get away from the drum-beat of everyday living and soak in the Champagne lifestyle.

Great sparkling wines come from all over the world, but only comes from Champagne, France

Our group [wine writers] was introduced to both Eric and Isabelle Coulon upon our arrival, who is the eighth generation of the Coulon family to be working as recoltant-manipulants [a grower who makes champagne from their own grapes] who produce Champagne from Vrigny and they also source some grapes from the surrounding village, some 7500 cases on average. You can find them located in the northwest corner of the Montagne de Reims.

One of the more unusual things to point out about Champagne Roger Coulon is the fact they actually have some 'old vine' vineyards of the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay which are used to produce some of their Grand Crus; I say unusual because in Champagne most vines rarely live longer than 25 years. This is something most folks in Champagne consider a curse, rather than a blessing. Continuing with that theme, at Roger Coulon they use something called selection massale to help maintain a consistent flavor profile. You can read more about that process here. I'm not sure we tasted them all, because we were short on time, but RC produces six cuvées of Champagne, the grapes are hand harvested, they rely solely upon indigenous yeast, and no herbicides are used to subdue vineyard pressures.



"So I waited with high hopes and she walked in the place, I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face, if you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain and dig the feel of the ocean and the taste of champagne" ~ Rupert Holmes

Champagne is a very interesting and different wine growing region than most of us are familiar with, especially folks who have grown up here in the states, understanding the basic wine making model. Here the wines are generally [meaning, yes there exceptions to the rule] produced by winemakers who own their own vineyards and make wine  from those grapes they harvest, bottle it, market it, and sell it. In Champagne, things are run quite a bit different. but there are some commonalities. 

Before my visit, I had not really given it much thought, but once there, I realized that in Champagne there something like, 19,000 growers [give or take] who serve a handful of houses. These 'growers' as they've come to be known are responsible for growing and selling grapes to the mega international brands we've all come to know and love, Champagnes like Veuve Clicquot for example, which is sold and wonderfully known around the world. But a few growers thought, hmm, I could cut myself in for a piece of that pie as well, and become not only a grower, but a producer. This is just a infinitesimally small summary of the story; so for those really interested there are many fabulous books on the subject, like this by Edward [Champagne] McCarthy, any dummy can easily find here. 

"A single glass of Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred, the wits become more nimble." ~ Winston Churchill

The tasting portion of our visit, was cut a bit short and I had to furiously taste, spit and make a few notes about these amazing Champagnes I was tasting. They were very bright and fresh, not even a hint of that funky monkey oxidation style which I'm not really a fan of too much. These wines were crisp, spoke of the place they came from eloquently and delicate, tasty fruit shined through wonderfully. As I tasted these wines, my first thought was, 'wow' now this is how you do it, and when I got back to the states, I immediately looked for a place to buy this amazing, well crafted Champagne.

Roger Coulon Réserve de l’Hommée Premier Cru: All three grapes were present in this amazing cuvée PN, PM and Chardonnay from the oldest part of their vineyards, aged five years on cork after disgorgement [date found on back label] and before release. The nose was magic, bright apples, vivid pear, a bit of tartness on the mid-palate, a blaze of zippy acidity, dense tight bubbles, a bit yeasty, more brioche, bright pear, layers of complexity and the finish is sumptuous, like you were drinking the stars. My score for this beauty: 94 points. 

Roger Coulon Brut Millésimé Blanc de Noirs: A gorgeous 50/50 blend of PN and PM, sourced from vines planted in 1953 not on American root-stock, so the production for this bottling is smaller by comparison and a bit more expensive as well. No malo what so ever and just 5 grams of RS dosage, extra Brut territory. This wine is a sharp, crisp golden color in the glass, orange rinds aromas hover above, light red berries, honey, spices and zippy minerality, the length is long and lasting, a very memorable wine. My score again 94 points, positively outstanding.


I truly was hoping to spend a bit more time with these folks, but as I said earlier, we were running late for our next appointment, but now that I know where I can find these wines, I'll be sure to secure a few more for further exploration and research. Until next folks have a great weekend, all the best to you on this Champagne Day, remember life is too short to only drink commodity wines and house Champagnes, explore, try new things; as always slurp long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wine of the Week: Caymus Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

"Life is an experience, a Cigar or a bottle of great wine or scotch is there to punctuate that experience." ~ Chuck Wagner.

Yes, the world wide celebration of Cabernet Sauvignon grape has come and gone once again and it's time to celebrate this beauty today on Wine Wednesday, as my wine of the week. Tasting this wine, got me thinking [dangerous I know] about the powerful examples of the artists whose canvas is something other than a closely woven fabric or a slab yet to be carved marble. If you think about it for just a moment, art can also be expressed in many ways, even in a fine bottle of vino; like the Caymus Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon you see in the picture above.

Consider if you would for just a moment, the comments from Mr. Chuck Wagner who offered up this comment about Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in an interview he did with Cigar Aficionado long ago, but his words still ring as true today, as they did then "We continue to look at Bordeaux [for inspiration], but we don't try to emulate what they do there; we try to make wine in our own style." and went on to say relating to topic at hand, "A good cigar is like a great wine; once you finish a glass, it calls you back for another." I couldn't agree more with the message he was attempting convey there,  Napa is Napa, Bordeaux is Bordeaux, get over the idea of two ever being the same.

This was my experience with the bottle of Caymus, which was opened the night before Cabernet Day. 
Just like a great painting or wonderfully composed piece of music, its artistry calls, no I say beckons you back again and again. It was that good, and I would love to see this same wine again in 2019 and 2029, if I live that long. Just a delightful media sample, shared with friends and fellow vinosapiens on a crusty, warm evening in San Diego, at a place I like to call Chez Vino.

The Caymus 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great representation of the power and elegance that a Napa Cab can deliver. Immediately after it was decanted the aromas escaping from the decanter thrilled me like the coming attraction of a summer block-buster movie. This wine is a velvet rope of ripe sophistication; seldom encountered in wines in lower price points [SRP $89 most places] dark ripe fruit, like blackberry, baked blueberry and a vein of black licorice.

The finish is long and penetrates deep down, to the core of your palate. Go-go Rutherford fruit, wow, wham-bam thank you ma'am, this is how you do it. Pure hedonism without apology, a wine to delight the senses and for those who simply like to indulge their passions for living large. 
It has the stuffing [great structure] to hang around for many years, but is immediately approachable after a bit of recommended decanting. This wine makes my point so much more eloquently than I could with my words; you can pay more, but you won't get more. My score on this wine is 96 points; what are you waiting for go get yourself a few bottles or better yet a case of this real "crowd-pleaser". 

Consider for a moment the statement above from Mr. Wagner; it reveals a salient point that I think SO many miss [flat out run by] when I hear some folks talk about old world vs. new world vino styles and how those differences define one style as being so much better than the other. But, I think what he's trying to say in wine terms is; stay true to yourself and don't try to be something you are not. He really brings the point home by quoting Gore Vidal who once said; "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

I'll raise a glass to that philosophy and also agree that when it comes to producing wine in the Napa Valley, yes, look to Bordeaux for"inspiration", but to emulation I say no. Until next time folks, remember life is short, don't settle for commodity wines, explore, taste and enjoy each moment you have, because you never know when it will be the last cork you pop, my hope for each one you is to sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dylan's Ghost: Darkly Complex Wines From Joseph Carr


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The idea for Dylan's Ghost wines grew from conversations between owner Joseph Carr and consultant winemaker Aaron Pott.  Exploring vineyards in the Stags Leap District, they were struck by the dark, rugged landscape prompting literary conversation and discussion of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who penned the appropriately dark poem "Do not go gentle into that good night".  As we approach haloween, it seems timely to explore this new wine mystery.

This is a completely new collection of wines to me, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to taste them. The wines are an expression of Pott's non-interventionist philosophy, and if you want me to cut to the chase. Here I tasted Hell Hollow and The Beast - Both wines are delicious, sell for $55 (from the winery) and are well worthy of exploration.


2010 Dylan's Ghost US Red Blend "Hell Hollow" is a “Meritage” blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc.  In the glass, it’s a wonderfully dense (but not opaque), rich ruby color. Effusive aromatics of boysenberry, cherry, coffee, cocoa, and oak-infused caramel spill from the glass. With time in the glass, great herbaceous notes begin to appear as the wine begins to unwind.   

The palate is intricately woven and complex and displays great focus on the attack. Immediately impressive, it progressively floods your senses. Spiraling layers of black fruit, cherry, toast and herbs spill across the palate.  The mid-palate retains a great density, with grippy tannin.  A wonderful acidic verve drives cleansing notes to the edge of your palate.  The finish rises with each sip, deepening and elongating.  With further airtime, this lovely blend begins to reveal notes of sage, eucalyptus and bell pepper.   

I love a wine appears to tell a story, adding detail with every visit to the glass. Here, the finish adds an echo, reverberating with a wonderful mounting minerality, across an earthy tannic spine.  For me, this readily warrants a 93+ point score.  I look forward to trying it again with 3-5 more years of bottle age. I expect it will evolve throughout this period and I expect it to drink well over the next 15 years. A simply wonderful effort!


2010 Dylan's Ghost US Red Blend "The Beast" – with nearly equal parts Cabernet Franc,  Merlot & Petit Syrah The Beast is densely colored, an inky, opaque purple. Sweet currant and cassis-laced nose with vanilla and mocha, the aromatics are given an edge by pepper and herb. 

 

Sweet blackcurrant-driven fruit dominates on an even palate.  The attack/mid-palate are broad and open, bathed in great swathes of black fruit and youthful dusty tannin.  To me, the mid-palate feels a little unfocused but the finish builds on ripe fruit tannin, pepper and earth, with a herby, bitter cherry pith kick and lovely minerality. Ample acidity, elevate this to provide a palate-cleansing food-friendly wine – think marbled rib-eye. 

 

Despite the obvious delicious factor, the wine seems a little off kilter to me.  I’m left a wanting a little more definition here.  Delicious if somewhat amorphous at this stage, I see it around a 91 point score, although this may improve after a few years of bottle age give it a chance to gain greater definition and complexity.






You can catch other bottle notes and pictures on my twitter account - please drop in and follow @BruisedGrape.  Your comments are always appreciated!
 
Disclosure:  Wine was provided as a Media Sample for the review process.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Are Wine Blogs Dead?

There is nothing more vapid than a philistine petty bourgeois existence with its farthings, victuals, vacuous conversations, and useless conventional virtue. ~ Anton Chekhov

Do you know what lazy wine-writers do? They look around for easy stories to write; a story which requires very little imagination or effort on their part to publish. But there’s one thing they do know, sensationalism sells, and titillating headlines get people to clicking and clicking means dollars. Writing stories like that are akin to the uber-sexy-model [mile high club] biting down on two pounds of obscene gluttony; it makes their advertisers very happy and it also makes their editor very happy as well, if they have one and provides new content in a snap of the fingers.

Why, human nature of course, it’s because folks will flock to any story to see the proverbial straw-man setup and then summarily knocked over again and again to great fanfare. The adoring fans of said writer, like a pack of obsequious zombies, prostrate themselves in their comment section and exclaim, “oh-my how great thou art” you had the courage and intestinal fortitude [insert hand-wringing, tortured anguish here] to declare that all wine blogs are dead.




Perhaps, these wine-writers are simply tired of maintaining an active blog, tired of writing notes, tired of the whole concept or they're flat out bored. It's way too easy to throw stones and mock, creation actually takes some sincere effort. After-all it's a wee bit of work to stay current, relevant and producing new weekly content. It can be a down-right chore to folks who may have lost their passion for this platform; it's far easier to mock others. Honestly, I don't really understand the motivation.

I took a look around the web [googled the search term, are fill in the blank dead] it seems wine writers are not the only folks guilty of this type of lazy journalism. it's rampant in the Food Blog community as well. Even the "Mommy Blogs' are guilty, but to a far less degree. Then I checked out Sports Blogs, and found virtually nothing, and the same for Political Blogs, they don't seem too interested in eating their own. The difference may possibly lie in the fact that a good many of these types of bloggers get paid and as we all know, that most [a majority] wine-bloggers, using this medium of expression it's not a paying-gig.

One of the possible reasons these stories are seemingly so prolific, is because there's some small kernel of truth to what is being proclaimed as evidence of the demise of wine blogging. The truth about the state of the wine blogging community was revealed during the Wine Bloggers Conference, far more wine-blogs are biting than the dust, than are being created and/or maintained; again we circle back to getting paid vs working for free.

Secondly, it's true that for far too many wanna-be wine-bloggers, once the squeaky new-shine has worn off the fancy, glitzy website, and reality settles in, the content monster comes a-calling [ouch]. At this point it becomes much easier to ditch it, shelve it, or what just flat forget about it. The truth is very few wine blogs have 6 or more years of continuous activity, like the one you're currently reading.


To those who write such articles; I say to you so what, and who really cares why you think wine blogging is on its way out, who made you the final arbiter and why pray-tell should we listen to you anyway? Every time I see one of these stories on twitter or Facebook, I attempt to shoot them down, point and even mock it openly and get no reply. To me these claims are nothing but a bunch of silly, inane balderdash masquerading as serious content. If you have nothing other than negativity to spout-off about, then why don't you just keep it to yourself, please shut the front door. No one wants to read you bemoan the demise of wine blogging again, and you know who you are, so again, please just stop. 


But back to these wild-eyed speculators of wine-blog doom and gloom; if these so-called prophets would spend more time writing about wine and less time belly-aching about this or that, they may actually see more samples, generate more traffic and have far less to wine-about. That said, it's my opinion that wine-blogs are far from dead. But when I do see more than a few blogs bite the dust, I simply chock it up to a mere thinning of the herd, many of the noisy-gongs and clanging symbols going by the wayside, it's just the natural order of the universe, something people use to call evolution. I hope I've been able to make the case for you here today, that wine blogging is far from dead, it's changing tho, hopefully getting better, evolving and yes while some even lie dormant, like a collapsed star; many still shine brightly in the night sky.

Well that's all I've got to say on the subject for now. See I didn't have to cuss once to make my point. But believe me I'm no "saint" and many of you who know me understand, I'll use colorful language when the situation calls for it. 
If I may ask dear reader the next time you see such an article, please don't give them the time of day, eventually they'll get the message that these types of article are nothing more than lazy writing masquerading as serious content [yes, I've said it again and in the same way, because it bears repeating].

As for me this is just a fun hobby, one which I really enjoy. I have had the privilege of tasting far more wines than I ever imagined I would have. I've been lucky enough to mingle with great producers, winemakers and other wine writers who I admire greatly, all from many corners of the wine world. I've been invited and taken on more than a few wine-finding pilgrimages many times; a fact for which I'm extremely grateful.

This blog has just turned 6 years old and to be honest folks I'm really just getting started. As this blog continues to grow, change and evolve, so do I and I believe that is a good thing. I don't write about the industry [I'm not an insider] nor do I write for other wine-bloggers, just so I can be seen as one of the cool-kids. Don't get me wrong, if another wine blogger desires to read my blog, great, and thank you. But that said my primary audience is for the average wine consumer who's tired of slugging down cheap, overpriced commodity wines, who are looking for alternatives. 
I think there are about ten readers or so who see the value of the content brought to the table here and I appreciate every one of them.

Until next time folks, remember it’s just wine, it’s nothing to wine about, but in the proper context it will enhance the "experiences" in this life, so sit back, relax and always remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bill Frick: The One Man Band [Part Two]

"Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze...country roads take me home, to the place I belong, Dry Creek Valley!" ~ John Denver

You never know who you'll meet on the wine road, it was just last month that I met Bill Frick for the first time. It's funny how I don't pick the places I'll end up going, it's all in destiny's hands. I'm not sure he knew what to make of me, as I peppered him with questions about his winery and his exclusive use of American Oak. But after taking the nickel tour, seeing his operation, crush-pad and combination barrel room, we moseyed over to the tasting room to pop some corks and that is where the fun, got started. I'm pretty sure I tasted every label he had, we even agreed a few needed to be tossed, bottles that were opened already, that had quietly expired, with only a recently pulled cork holding back the oxygen. 

That said, it was a great pleasure getting to know Mr. Frick, who was not as forthcoming as I would have hoped, but after tasting through a couple wines, and allowing a few, 'wows' loose, we starting to chat about his wine and the approach he takes to winemaking, as a one man band. If I had to sum it up all in one sentence, his approach is simple and timeless, no fooling around, take care of the vineyards, and just allow the grapes to speak for themselves, in each and every vintage. I like that approach, and I believe I can see it, smell it and taste it in every wine I sample and spit out. When wine is made like that, I just know it. 

Like a bloodhound on the scent of an escaped convict, I can pick a winner out of any group of wines; which is why I knew just a few minutes into to tasting Frick's wines I was in for a good tasting. Bill Frick is not about "winning" [Charlie Sheen style] or big wine scores, he just feels fortunate to be making wine and living the wine country lifestyle. As for me, I'm all about picking winners and bringing them to the attention of my readers, because when it comes to wine, I want everyone to drink well and prosper. 


You'll see this sign above pointing the way to the tasting room, once you exit your vehicle in the dirt parking lot, where you'll see some very old Garibaldi vines waiting to greet you. One of the interesting things, is that the tasting is free of charge, not a common practice in today's wine culture. If you plan to show up with a caravan of vinosapiens [more than six] or in a stretch limo of howling [twenty somethings] hens, this not the place for you. But as their website explains, Frick has a tiny tasting room [which I can vouch for] and they are glad to welcome groups of up to six at a time, and appointments are not offered, so please be sure to visit during the posted tasting room hours. You'll be so very glad you did. 


2012 Frick Viognier: In the picture you can see the year, you can also see the 14.9% abv, which is pretty heady for any white wine. A bouquet of floral aromas jump from the glass, honey, and a bourbon like perfume scenting the air above the glass. On the palate, it's fat and round, white flowers, crisp pear, decent acid and a nice finish. My score 86 points. 


2012 Frick Grenache Blanc:  On the nose plenty of fun floral notes and a drop of honey. It's a medium-bodied wine, with a mouth-filling profile on the palate. Rich, textured and with plenty of fruit, yet it manages to stay clean and light on the palate and is a downright fun wine to sample. My score 88 points. 

2012 Dry Rose Mourvedre: Dried rose petals, peach pits, plum skins, strawberries, the flesh of an almost ripe plum, vivid minerality, and a layered, long, dry finish. My Score: 87 points. 



2011 Frick Mourvedre, Owl Hill Vineyard: Bottled with no fining and/or filtering, as you can see from the ABV 12.5% that vintage variation has much to do with the high or low of the ABV. For anyone paying attention, 2011 was the year we [the west coast] had no summer and it rained often. It was the same for much of France, Spain, and Italy as well. So if you prefer wines with lower ABV, may I suggest you secure all the 2011 bottles you can get your hands on, and you're welcome. Now that said, this wine was quite good. I'm a big fan of Mourvedre, especially 100 percent. A very sexy perfumed nose, of earth, strawberries and meat. On the palate smoked strawberries, smoked meats, dried rich, recently broken earth and balanced fruit to acid balance. For fans of austerity in wine, this is your dream. My score 89 points. SRP: $26


2010 Frick Grenache Noir, Conley Vineyard: As you can see this wine has a bit of age on it, and it's also sporting a pretty hefty abv at 15.5% but I think time has softened those youthful indiscretions, seeing I found this wine pretty light, lean and rustic. It's not really as up in your face as the ABV may suggest it would be, so relax. Pop the cork on this bad-boy and here's what you'll find, orange rinds, toasted strawberries, cracked black peppercorns, and cedar. Medium body and finish. Again a lot less fruit driven than you'd expect, but still a tasty wine to enjoy with just about anything you could imagine. My score 86 points. SRP $26


2011 Frick Cinsaut: [Pronounced Sin-So] You just don't see much 100% Cinsault anywhere and this one is well worth your time and attention. This wine came to me as a sample. I tasted this wine while I there in the tasting room and again back at Chez Vino. Both times I was impressed, the tannins are silk, well integrated and it has the perfect acid to fruit balance so many talk about, but so few wines achieve. As you can see in the glass there, a dark ruby color, blackberries, broken earth and peppercorns fill the air above the glass. On the palate, meaty strawberries, roasted coffee beans, ripe blackberries, and a finish that just sails on and on. This wine was aged in 100% American Appalachian Oak, 3rd or 4th use, and procured from a local cooper. My score for this wine 91 points. SRP $26


2010 CÔTE-DU-Dry Creek: A delicious red blend composed of Syrah 40%, Grenache 40% Cinsaut 20%. I do love that name, I thought it was reminiscent of the Southern Rhone. I asked his if he registered that name and said, "yep, sure did" I told him, "that's a smart move" and he shrugged his shoulders, like "duh" of course. I told him he should sell it, so more folks could use it to sell Syrah to the unsuspecting masses. Folks, who for some reason don't like the name of the grape, but once it's in their mouths, they want more of it. Now that said, this wine is very good, well balanced and brimming with ripe fruit, blackberries, dark cherries, tobacco, vanilla, cracked black pepper, licorice and fun floral aromas. Nicely textured, slides across the palate like a gunboat on the Hudson. Don't let the high ABV scare you away, you barely even notice the minor heat. I think all the red wines sell for the same price, SRP $26. I gave this wine a score of 90 points, it's a keeper, enjoy.

Until next time folks remember life is short, so skip the same old commodity wines and you wine bloggers out there, feel free to skip a few helpings from the sample train now and then, sip long and prosper all cheers!

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