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Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Wines Rough Draft Edition

The week has been very slow to date, but for some reason, things have been frighteningly busy today, so you'll have to make do with a fast, virtually unedited, rough draft version. I'm gonna cut right to the chase:

White under $20

2004 Ironstone Vineyards Symphony Obsession ($8.79)
It's summer and I think wines with a sweet edge are perfect for hot weather drinking, provided they have three elements - great fruit, crisp texture and balance. Obsession has it all.

The aromas here are yellow apples, white peach and apricot. The nose is very clean and bright. In your mouth, you'll get the full flavor of the peach and apricot - what we call stone fruit - with some nectarine and a hint of lime. It's super light-bodied and so crisp you might cut your tongue. The wine will give you a fast shock of sweet on the tip of your tongue, but surprisingly, finishes dry.

Don't turn your nose up at this wine because it's sweet. It might start sweet but it's only 1.8% sugar. That's not much. In fact, if it were a sparkling wine or champagne, it'd be classified extra dry. Make sure you try it with some kind of spicy Asian food - Szechuan, Thai, Vietnamese or Cajun. With food, the sweet will recede (not disappear) but the fruit and crisp texture remain.

Red under $20

Non-vintage Moillard Grenache Fontagneret ($6.79)
OK, let's be clear here. I did just recommend a wine that is less than 7 dollars. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. There are some things you need to keep in mind while considering this wine.

1) It is a light-bodied wine. Don't expect every wine to be full and rich and tannic. Too many consumers expect all wines to be blockbusters. Don't be such a snob. Grrrrr.

2) Fontagneret is a non-vintage wine. That means it's not made from just one year. Some mistakenly believe this makes it an inferior wine. Bad idea. Some of the best wines you can buy are non-vintage wines. Champagne is a good example.

3) One of the best indicators for quality in wine is balance. There are a lot of flavors in wine and you shouldn't be able to distinguish different parts of the wine. It should be seamless, one smooth taste. You should get everything in a wine - fruit, acid, tannin, oak and alcohol - in an integrated, smooth way.

Enough wine jargon. What does $6.79 of your hard (or in my case, hardly-earned) money get you?

The nose is concentrated raspberry, with a touch of pepperiness. Lots of fruit here. In the mouth, look for balance - a little rasbperry-strawberry fruit, lighter body, smooth tannins and white pepper in the finish. Balance, balance, balance is the key characteristic to think about. You'll be be tempted to chill this, but don't. This wine doesn't need it - if you chill it, you'll kill the fruit in the wine.

There's a mini boycott of French wines going on. Fontagneret shows why that might be a mistake.

White over $20

2004 Domaine Drouhin Chardonnay Arthur Oregon ($26.99)
Balanced like a Burgundy, but with a firm foothold in Oregon, Domaine Drouhin chardonnay is my favorite style Chardonnay. It shows all the potential flavors you can get from the grape if you're careful. Bright tropical fruit like pineapple, melon and custard apple dominate, but look for crisp acidity and honey-vanilla oak, too. Not one of these things will overwhelm the other. Rather, they appear to be made of whole cloth, with each element of the wine intertwined with the other.

Watch out for Oregon Chardonnay. I attended Pinot Camp in Oregon two years ago and all the winemakers there were obsessed with it. They have good reason to be. They have more sunlight, cooler night and morning temperatures and less rainfall than California. All this means the wines will have better ripeness, better balance and more room for oak than in California. Mark my words, in 10 years, Oregon Chardonnay will be all the rage.

Red over $20

2003 Joanin Becot Cotes de Castillon ($29.99)
It'd be an understatement to say that I'm not fond of Merlot. Especially California Merlot. I'd come to that conclusion waaaay before Miles made his anti-Merlot polemic in the movie Sideways. In fact, I don't even like to be in the same room as Merlot. It's usually too tannic and acidic given the fruit in the wine. It lacks richness and finesse both in most bottles.

In a word, bleah.

There are exceptions - Merlot made in two Bordeaux regions, Pomerol and Saint Emilion. In Pomerol, the fruit is better balanced by big tannins and less intense acidity. In Saint Emilion, they blend it with Cabernet Franc, giving it a spicy green peppercorn flavor.

The trouble with these wines is that, being in the wine profession, I can't afford either. Luckily, there are other producers that make similar wines at better prices. Joanin Becot is one of them. It's a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. I first started drinking this wine in its inaugural vintage, 2001.

Black fruit waft up from the glass, especially black cherries and raspberries. There are secondary aromas of violet, soft, spicy oak and a hint of charcoal. This is complex juice. The palate is more black fruit, but heavier flavors of black cherry and blackberry on the palate than raspberry, interlaced with a fine minerality, sweet vanilla oak and a smattering of green peppercorn in the finish. This is a lush wine, with big fruit and superfine tannins. You can drink it over the next 6-8 years or so.

Gotta go! Customers waiting!



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