21 Dec 2011
It is rare that you taste through a lineup of wine where every wine showcases quality and stunning depth. This is my second run through of wines from the Wagner family, makers of Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Meiomi, Belle Glos and Caymus. For the second time, I am blown away. Previous scores for these wines ranged from 3+ to 4+. The 2008 Belle Glos Pinot Noir was my #2 wine of 2010 and my bench mark for Pinot.
For this review, I’m embarrassed to share that I drank SIX bottles of Wagner wines…all by myself. Before you schedule an intervention, let me mention that each bottle was a mere 50ml (less than 2 ounces).
For your reading ease, I’ve broken them down into Wagner Whites and Wagner Reds (coming next week). SPOILER ALERT: Any of these six wines would be worthy of gracing your table for the holidays…or any day ending in “y” for that matter.
2009 Mer Soleil Silver
Characterized by a soft fruit nose and a crisp stony mouth feel, the 100% Chardonnay is fermented in cement tanks and bottled in lined ceramic bottles. The wine boasts a well structured balance of fruit and mineral with subtle tones of grapefuit and baked apples. I really enjoyed the 2008 vintage and the 2009 continues the tradition of an excellent Chardonnay. The Silver has a crispness that reminds me of a Sauv Blanc while maintaining the approachable character of a Chardonnay. At $22, most wine lovers will enjoy this wine – 3+/5
2008 Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented
I say Chardonnay, you say _______? This statement often polarizes wine drinkers. Many have a hate for the grape and others drink ONLY oaked Chardonnay (ala Kendall Jackson). The Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay provides a very good balance with the oak seeming very light handed. Definitely a thicker viscosity in the mouth feel with great aroma of banana peel, pencil lead, popcorn. Rarely would I spend $32 on a Chardonnay but this is one of the few that has enough variety in the flavor profile that would cause me to part with my cash. 4/5
The Conundrum wine is a proprietary blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Semillon, and Viognier. The wine has a moderate gold tone in the glass leaning more toward a golden wheat color. Immediately the floral and tropical aromas jump out of the glass causing me to think Viognier and Muscat Canelli. At first sniff, the thoughts of sweet syrup cross my mind but a subtle interwoven aroma of lemon and guava save the day. In the mouth the wine is slightly flabby but very full of flavor. The sweetness indicated on the nose is not overwhelming in the mouth. A hint of honey quickly gives way to smooth guava and butter. I would venture to guess that the predominate wines in this blend are Chardonnay (oaked), Muscat Canelli, and Semillon (also oaked). The white flowers definitely come from the Viognier. The wine lacks in a strong acidity which may lend itself more to a sipping wine than a food wine but the layers of flavor are very intriguing. Pair this with summer, bikinis, and some fresh shrimp fettuccini pasta or even a fresh cheese plate. The wine can be purchased for $17-$20. 3+/5
25 May 2011
Chardonnay is one of the world’s most planted wine grapes (second to Spanish grape Airen). A major component in Champagne (and other sparkling wine), Chardonnay is known as a winemakers grape because of the ability for the winemaker to impart their stamp on the overall outcome. Chardonnay is crisp and clean in Chablis and has a reputation for being thick and buttery in California, although many wineries are moving away from this trend.
In Washington, Chardonnay is still king with nearly 6,000 planted acres (Cabernet Sauvignon is a very close second). While producing predominately red wine, a handful of Spokane wineries showcase the best qualities of Washington Chardonnay.
2010 Arbor Crest Chardonnay
Sourced from two quality vineyards (Connor Lee and Bacchus) the 2010 Chardonnay sees moderate time in new and used French oak. The malolactic fermentation gives a nice full round mouth feel that is accompanied by hints of oak and honey. Light aroma and moderate acidity make this a good Chardonnay for the price. At $14 retail 3+/5
2009 Arbor Crest Connor Lee Chardonnay
Sourced from Conner Lee vineyards this premium Chardonnay is barrel fermented in new French oak with malolactic fermentation. Enjoy big flavors of apple cinnamon crisp and toasted walnuts. The touch of sweet honey and good acidity are reminiscent of many traditional American Chardonnay. $20 retail 4/5
This nearly naked Chardonnay is 75% stainless steel and 25% eastern European oak providing a great balance of crisp and clean with a hint of toasted almonds. Enjoy the green apple and pear flavors with smoked salmon or fruit salad on a summer day. $15 retail
100% Preston Vineyards fruit. The wine spends six months in 50% new French oak. Very impressive with thick juicy flavors. A subtle effervescence greats the tip of your tongue and then gives way to an abundance of fruit. Lots of subtle layers in this full bodied white wine with honey, crisp pear, vanilla, and peaches. The finish on the wine has moderate acid and dissipates quickly. At only $12 this wine outperforms many at twice the price. This is a strong recommend and a definite re-buy for any food appropriate dinner or Chardonnay lover. 4/5
Fruit from Conner Lee Vineyards; full malolactic fermentation and 2 months in French oak. Mild nose with hints of pear and honey. Big and rich butter, vanilla and pear. No oak to speak of. Felt thick and meaty. Finished with a beautiful acidity that washed across the back of my mouth. At a retail price of $12, this is a very well made Chardonnay. I score it a 4+. So far this is one of the best “value” Chardonnay’s that I’ve had. Kudo’s, Mike!
“Sweet lemons, pineapple, & Golden Delcious apple aromas. The entry is exotic and hedonistic with more apple, banana, & lemon custard flavors, balanced by a remarkable tartness that targets your cheeks.”-WinePressNW 2010
This stainless steel fermented and lightly oak aged wine has scents of lemon, pear, honey-dew melon with a hint of cinnamon and flavors of baked Granny Smith apples sprinkled with nutmeg and a squeeze of lemon. $9.99
2011 Chardonnay Day
Celebrate the second annual Chardonnay day (May 26) with any of these fantastic Spokane Chardonnays. Join the conversation by tweeting about your experience. Add the hashtag #chardonnay and do a Twitter search and you can see the tweets from thousands of people worldwide. For tips on how to participate, visit here.
Nectar Tasting Room is joining the celebration. Stop by all day for ½ price glasses of Chardonnay from Terra Blanca and Northwest Cellars. Order a full bottle and get your appetizer plate ½ price (open 2-8pm).
19 May 2011
“Once you go Gamay you’ll want it no other way.” This might be a good slogan for the Beaujolais region of France (www.discoverbeaujolais.com). Or, “Beaujolais, a little fruity, but there is nothing wrong with that.” Beaujolais is in the east central area of France and predominately produces wine from the grape Gamay Noir. Chardonnay and Alitoge make up the bulk of the remaining 2%. Many of you may be familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau which is a wine released shortly after harvest in conjunction with Thanksgiving. Beaujolais Nouveau tend to be very light, grapy, and tart; showing their obvious lack of age.
Beaujolais is made up of 12 growing regions (AOC), and are classified in the following tiers, Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Villages AOC, Cru Beaujolais (divided into 10 distinct types), and Beaujolais’ Blanc and Rose. The wine tends to be light in color (similar to a Pinot Noir) and lower in alcohol, 9-13%. About 1/3 of the wine produced in the area is sold under the Beaujolais Nouveau label.
Having limited experience with Beaujolais, I went into this tasting with very little preconceptions. I knew, from reading, that the wine would be light, slightly fruity, low in alcohol, and moderately acidic. The wine was tasted during an online wine tasting hosted by Discover Beaujolais (@discoverbojo on Twitter).
2009 Beaujolais Blanc, Chateau du Chatelard
This 100% Chardonnay comes from Vieilles Vignes (old vines) up to 95 years old. The color of the wine is very pale and light with moderate tones of wheat. The aromas in the glass are distinctly fresh linen and ocean breeze with hints of lemon. A very pleasing profile that makes me pause to think of reading a good book on the Oregon coast. The sip gives way to an slightly viscous oily texture with pear and citrus acid on the palate. The price point is good ($15) but the flavor profile lacks anything significant to make it overwhelmingly memorable (not that all wines need to be). Solid 3/5
2009 Beaujolais Blanc, Terres Dorees, Jean Peal Brun
100% Chardonnay is slightly golden in the glass with aroma buttered bread and an apple orchard (think of that smell when there are several apples on the ground, everything is ripening and has that overripe sweet earthiness to it). In the mouth the wine seems to lose its focus and gets slightly disjointed in flavor from front to back. The fruit comes across as slightly watered down and light and a strong rocky mineral flavor jumps out on the back end. At $15, 3-/5
2009 Beaujolais-Villages, Christophe Pacalet
100% Gamay, made in the traditional carbonic maceration style using whole cluster native yeast fermentation; unfined and unfiltered. This is a truly beautiful wine to look at in the glass with shimmering garnet jewel tones and bright purple colors; moderately translucent. A sweet raspberry candy, flowers and anise (yes the spice). In the mouth the wine is tart (like a raspberry or cranberry) and slightly thin on flavor. There is an undercurrent of banana peel and rocky minerality as well. At the price of $12, this is not a sipping wine but certainly would pair well with a lot of food choices ranging from fish to game and veal. Nicely done combination of playfulness and tartness. 3/5
100% Gamay, medium to full bodied tones of ruby and plum in the glass. Tangy strawberry jolly rancher aroma mixed with a little dirt on the nose. The wine is much more full bodied in the mouth than previous Gamay wines I’ve tasted. An elegant front palate with darker cherry and blackberry fruit provides a nice preview to the pencil lead and medium tannin on the finish. Very well made and enjoyable wine. Never would consider pairing Beaujolais with steak or pork, but this wine certainly would deliver the goods and provide a nice contrast in flavor as well. At $19, very deserving of a taste or try. 3+/5
Interested in the whole Twitter conversation with the opinions of over a dozen wine writers and tasters? Check out the Discover Beaujolais web site for a replay of the tasting.
Smith-Madrone winery has been making estate grown and bottled wine for 40 years! Founded in 1971 by brothers Stu and Charles Smith, Smith-Madrone makes about 4000 cases per year farmed from their 200 acre ranch in St Helena California. A visit to the winery will always be accompanied by a tour from one of the Smith brothers.
In 2010, Stu Smith became somewhat of a wine world personality with the launching of his www.biodynamicsisahoax.com web site. From the opening paragraph of the web site:
“I challenge any Biodynamic farmer or supporter to defend the writings of Rudolf Steiner. I submit that if you believe in science you cannot believe in Biodynamics, and the corollary is just as true, if you believe in Biodynamics you cannot believe in science. As you can tell by the title I believe that Biodynamics is a hoax and deserves the same level of respect the scientific community has for witchcraft, voodoo and astrology.”
I’m a fan of sustainable and responsible growing and distribution of wine and do not claim to be an expert on the subject but the practices of bull horns and cow manure don’t seem to have any bearing on quality grapes. So, this post isn’t about biodynamics…It’s about two Smith-Madrone wines. If you want to know more about biodynamics (and Stu’s view) click the video from Cork’d.
- The Stuff: 100% estate grown Riesling. The 2009 growing season resulted in the lowest Riesling yield in Smith-Madrone history. With only 302 cases produced the bone dry Riesling comes in at 12.9%ABV
- The Swirl: Very light in the glass, almost colorless with just hints of golden straw
- The Sniff: Amazingly vibrant nose that explodes with aromas of apple, pear and a nice minerality. This wine makes my mouth water with ever sniff.
- The Sip: Quality Riesling through and through. A wonderful kiss of sweet Asian pear graces the front of the tongue accompanied by a balanced tart citrus on the mid palate. Wonderful flavor profile with outstanding acidity and a balanced finish.
- The Score: At $27, this is more than I would spend without having had some experience or strong recommendation for this wine. So, here it is…if you’re a Riesling lover, you will like this wine. 4/5
- The Stuff: 100% big bold and bombastic Napa Valley Chardonnay. Aged for 11 months in 70% new French oak. 14.4% ABV, 790 cases produced
- The Swirl: Very light in the glass, lacks the traditional yellow gold color one comes to expect from Chardonnay.
- The Sniff: Immediately get a blast of cedar, smoke and earth. The nose has to really dig deep to catch a whiff of the granny smith apple. A nice minerality starts to present itself upon a second visit.
- The Sip: I’m a fan of slightly oaked Chardonnay and this one delivers on that front. The fruit seems to be a little more hidden than I would have initially liked. After the video review I enjoyed this wine with an Indian Curry based dish and it really came alive. The mouth feel was thick without being overly exaggerated. The presentation of the mineral acidity on the finish was a nice touch.
- The Score: At $30, I enjoyed the wine, but I preferred the 2007 vintage. Give this one a try in the tasting room if you think you’ll be on the fence at that price. 3/5
More from Smith-Madrone Winery
30 Dec 2010
Folie à Deux, French for shared fantasies; I can think of a few shared fantasies I’d like to have, but they may be a little more than PG-13 for this blog. Folie à Deux is an Oakville California winery focused on creating wines that deliver a memorable shared experience. Many know Folie à Deux from their racier little sister label, Ménage à Trois (lower cost red and white blends). The Folie à Deux label offers varietal focused wines at a good price point.
- The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from Napa Valley vineyards in Oak Knoll, Oakville, and Atlas Peak. 6 months on 65% new French and American oak. ½ the juice was fermented in stainless steel and ½ in small oak barrels. 14.2% ABV; 25,000 cases made.
- The Swirl: In the glass the wine presents a muted golden color.
- The Sniff: The Chardonnay features typical chardonnay characteristics of apple juice and buttered toast. Not a lot dynamic aromas here, but still very nice.
- The Sip: I really enjoyed the flavor profile on this wine. More is happening on the palate than on the nose. A soft apple flavor gives way to a gentle coconut and almond. There are also interwoven characteristics of citrus fruit. The finish provides a slightly disjointed burnt flavor and the acidity seems relatively mild.
- The Score: At $18 retail (typically $15 in stores), a lot of people will enjoy this wine. The flavor characteristics are typical of what chardonnay lovers enjoy. For me, I was mostly pleased with the structure but didn’t care for the finish of the wine. 3/5
Cellar Tracker score of 87 points with 2 reviews
- The Stuff: 86% Napa Valley Merlot and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7 months of barrel aging in a combination of American and French oak; 14.5% ABV, 7,750 cases made
- The Swirl: A thin plum color defines the center of the wine but the edges are slightly watery.
- The Sniff: Pleasantly surprised by the pop of aroma on this Merlot. Very easily distinguishable as a smooth cherry and cocoa merlot. A nice hint of spice rounds out the nose.
- The Sip: The Folie a Duex Merlot has a soft initial attach but then opens up to a touch of sweet cherry on the mid palate. Good layers of flavor that evolve from cocoa to coffee and then a hint of spice on the finish. This is an easy drinking flavorful wine. The high alcohol slightly burns on the finish. At just $18 retail this is a great buy! 3+/5
Cellar Tracker score of 85 points with 2 reviews
- The Stuff: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah from Napa Valley vineyards. After fermentation the wine spent an additional 14 days on the skins (extended maceration) before being aged for 15 months in a combination of French and American oak; 14% ABV, 20,500 cases produced.
- The Swirl: In the glass the wine has an inky core with a cloudy plum color around the edges.
- The Sniff: Very muted nose with hints of dried plums and a very mellow cigar box aroma.
- The Sip: I expected more from this wine and maybe I am being too harsh on it but the aroma and flavor profile doesn’t seem overly complex. The wine offers a good initial flavor of plums but to me that’s all the wine has. The tannins are very well integrated making this a drink now, drink often wine.
- The Score: At $24 retail, I’m not too hot on this wine. Give it a go at the tasting room or sample a glass before committing to several bottles. For the money there are more interesting options for affordable Cabernet Sauvignon. 3/5