Monday, January 7, 2008

Wine Tasting Notes - 12/21 to 1/6/08

Happy New Year to Everyone.....

I spent the holidays in St. Maarten with my family, celebrating X-Mas, Boxing Day and my birthday....all good reasons to have some fun and some wine, in my opinion!

In SXM, the drink of choice is beer...mostly Carib or Presidente beer. Since SXM is a Dutch and French island, the wine choices are mostly French or Aussie as their wine is easily imported cheaply into the islands. There are actually a couple of really good wine shops in SXM, two of which are located in the Marigot Marina area. Marigot is the French capitol of the island and is a major commercial center of this side of the island.

I am not a big lover of French wines, mostly for my skewed political opinions and not for flavor or likability. I have actually steered away from French wines, arguing that there are excellent wines from other places in the world that I don't need to try French wines. I have rationalized not drinking wines from France for so long, and now I was faced with a wine list at a French bistro in SXM with nothing BUT French wines! It was time to break convention and take down the prejudices and select a wine from France that would appeal to us at this dinner!

Even though I do not drink French wines, does not mean that I don't know anything about them. To the contrary, I have learned a lot about the wines of France by reading various wine magazines, industry publications, books and websites. Almost ALL wines from around the world have roots in France. Cabernet blends from Napa Valley can be traced to Bordeaux Chateaus in that region of the country. The same can be said for Cali Chardonnay and their older cousins in Burgundy. Some of the most popular wines like Pinot Noir or Merlot have family in France and are clones of vines grown in France and around the world.

I decided to try a St. Emillion which is a Merlot-based wine and selected a bottle of the 2001 Clos du Menuts Grand Cru, which was recommended as a good wine by the bartender. It was very, very good. In fact, I found the austerity of the wine to be more to my liking than some of the other Merlot that I count among my favorite Merlot wines, like: Tamarack, Stag's Leap Wine Co. and Macrostie. Upon returning to the States, I researched the wine to find that there is very little information about the wine. The wine was smooth, with plum and black fruit flavors. The wine had some muted oak flavor with leather on the finish. The nose was very subtle, not overwhelming, and the wine followed the aroma in its mild presence. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and if not for the bloated price, I would have gone for another!

Back home, we had a few opportunities to drink some wines, but none as much fun as the night we celebrated my brother Eric's birthday by cracking open some great wines.

Dinner was planned at brother Glen's house with all of the family (less Mom, who just returned from SXM herself the night before!) in attendance. I brought two wines with me, the 1996 Clos du Bois Marlstone Vineyard I received for my birthday and the 2004 Jardin Cabernet which I tasted at an industry tasting last year and bought a case of to sit in the basement for some ageing.

Glen supplied some great wine which he had decanted earlier in the night, a 2006 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Pinot Noir, which we had all had before, but not this most-recent vintage. The Ken Wright was very closed down upon trying the wine. The point was driven home when I smelled the wine and then tasted it, commenting on how the wine's taste did not match well with its nose, which is a problem for me.... This wine developed during the night to display rich plum and spice notes, not usual Pinot Noir flavors, but really really nice to us all. The wine will be a stunner in about 5 years, and Glen promised to stash some away till then!

However, the special guest of the night was a bottle of 1999 Dominus wine which Eric had received as a holiday gift in a fruit basket. He said the wine was buried on the bottom of the basket and he realized it after emptying the fruit!

The 1999 Dominus Propeietary Red (a Bordeaux-style blend) wine lists at about $110 online and was Wine Spectators #11 wine of the year in 2002, the year it was released. He knew he had a winner and wanted to share it with us on his birthday.....what a guy! We cracked the Dominus and gave it a taste...the wine was HUGE, bringing black cherries, tobacco and some sweet spices, like cinnamon and cardamon, with lots of tannins and well-integrated alcohol. It was a really well-made version of New World Cabernet Sauvignon and what hit me the most was how tannic the wine still was 6 years after release. This wine could cellar for another 10 years and still be amazing. No wonder Wine Spectator gave it a 95 pt. rating! The wine was a winner for me, as it reminded me of some of the other hugely popular, expensive cult wines that I have tasted in various events. The Dominus left us all wanting more wine and we opened the Marlstone Vineyard at dinner.

The 1996 Clos du Bois Marlstone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was a gift I received for my recent birthday. The wine is from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma, the site of some treasured wines in my drinking portfolio, like the Silver Oaks, the Mt. Veeders and the Estancia wines. This wine comes from a producer who is famous for delivering good wines in the $15-$22 price range, a great place for up-and-coming wine aficionados to taste varietally-correct, well-crafted wines without breaking the bank. If you have ever contacted me for recommendations, I consistently find this price range to be a source of really excellent wines. Clos du Bois' Marlstone Vineyard designate wine is an exception, because this is a single-vineyard, estate wine which comes from some of the best grapes in the Clos du Bois portfolio. The current release of Marlstone lists at $65, so I knew I was going to get a great wine to share with my family. The Marlstone was slightly off-color, not surpising for a wine that was made 10+ years ago. However, it was much lighter in color than the 1999 Dominus, so I was a little hesitant. The wine's nose was extremely pleasant, with floral notes and rich dark cherry and some leather. The wine was so full of fruit, but not the extracted fruit of the Dominus, the fruit was forward but not false or trying to impress. This wine has typical black cherry flavor, but also some cocoa and coffee flavors leading to a full mouthfeel and long silky finish. This wine was also much loved and set us up for the surprise taste of the night....the 2004 Jardin Cabernet.

The last wine we opened was the 2004 Jardin Cabernet, which was a cellar selection for me, as I have not had it since the tasting last year, and I know that the Wine Enthusiast, another wine rating service rated at a whopping 93 points! The Jardin Cabernet was produced by Gary and Kathy Jordan of Stellenbosch, South Africa. I have profiled them before so I won't get into details again. Upon opening the wine and decanting it, Glen was first to taste, without getting ANY background on the wine from me. He was quiet about his opinion, but I could tell he was interested in the wine by his expression. I sniffed......and said, "Vegetal!" On the nose of the wine, I got green pepper and asparagus! The nose also had secondary flavors of spice and cherry, not black cherries, but ripe red bing cherries. I hoped....and hoped that the flavor of the wine would match the nose, because this wine's nose was intriguing and different from the usual Cabernet Sauvignon that is produced here in the States. First taste did not disappoint...this wine was a killer! The vegetal taste was there, but it was complemented by coffee notes, bright cherry, and currant flavors. It was complex, with well-integrated tannins that made the wine POP with flavor. Here's the best part.......$16US at Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library.

Gary, I know you will read this, and I suggest you invite me to the laid-back Friday couch and let's do a tasting of this special wine! It's worth the risk of having me take over the Thunder Show...(

Happy Birthday, Bro....hope you had as much fun tasting and discussing the wines on your birthday as I did!

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