Tag Archives: Petit Verdot

Cru Bourgeois

Cru Bourgeois: High Quality Wine from Bordeaux’s Left Bank

With the incredible number of châteaux producing wines in Bordeaux, how do you know how to select a good bottle?

Sure, you can pick one from one of the five growths of the 1855 Classification – a ranking of Bordeaux’s best wines as requested by Emperor Napoleon III for the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris.

However, a lot has changed since 1855. So you may want to opt for something that has kept up with the times (not to mention that is also a lot easier than pulling up the list of classified estates).

When selecting a Bordeaux wine, look for Cru Bourgeois.

Cru Bourgeois logoCru Bourgeois du Médoc wines have met the strict quality selection procedure of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois. This union was created in 1962 to study, defend and promote the interests of the owners and producers in the Médoc area. The term dates back to the 15th century, when the bourgeois (merchants) of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region.

“We use an external and independent verification body – Bureau Veritas – to supervise every stage of the process to ensure quality standards and impartiality at every stage,” explained Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Director Frederique de Lamothe via email.

“Since 2008, each vintage is tasted blind by external professionals and evaluated before being sold, making the ‘Cru Bourgeois’ quality approach unique and a benchmark for Bordeaux and the rest of France.”

Cru Bourgeois wines are easy to spot, thanks to an authentication sticker affixed to each bottle since the 2010 vintage.

Cru Bourgeois sticker

“This sticker not only guarantees quality, but also that the wine is representative of its specific terroir and appellation,” said Mr. de Lamothe. “The sticker also has a QR code that allows easy and immediate access to that particular château’s technical information on the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc website.”

The wines come from the famous sub-appellations on Bordeaux’s Left Bank: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis en Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. They’re made mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The wines in the Crus Bourgeois de Medoc offer variety, both in taste and price. Bottles range from $20 to $50, with the average price of a bottle currently at $25.50.

For more information on Crus Bourgeois du Medoc including member châteaux visit www.crus-bourgeois.com.

Patel wines

Patel: Small Winery with Big Taste

When Robert Parker awards your first wine a 95, you know you’ve made something special.

But don’t let that number bias you toward Patel Winery. It’s more of a treat if you taste the Napa wines without any preconceived notions. That’s how I came to meet owner Raj Patel, at last year’s High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction. His wines – a Cabernet Sauvignon and the Red Wine, a Bordeaux-style blend – were among my favorite discoveries at the event. When I found out that Raj was returning for this year’s auction, I couldn’t wait to meet with him and taste his current releases.

Patel winesRaj founded Patel Winery in 2006. He secured fruit and a custom crush facility in 2007, and made some wine in 2008. In 2009 he joined the Napa Valley Vintners Association and submitted his Cabernet for review with Robert Parker. More recently he brought on Luc Morlet, one of Napa’s top winemakers. Patel Winery sources its grapes from six vineyards and makes the wine at Luc’s winery.

I could go on for several paragraphs about how the Patel wines are intense yet elegant, with layers of fruit and earth notes that end in a long finish. But here’s all you need to know: Patel wines are really really good.

Over breakfast the morning of the 2015 High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction, Raj and I spoke about Patel Winery, what makes the wines unique and what’s next. Continue reading

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon

AG Pick: Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

The Faust of legend sold his soul for knowledge and worldly pleasures. Fortunately for us, there is no need to make a deal with the Devil to enjoy the Faust 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The man behind the California legend is Agustin Huneeus, best known for Quintessa. With a career in wine that has spanned 50 years and 15 countries, Agustin sought the thrill of a new endeavor – to renew his passion, much like Dr. Faust.

Faust Cabernet SauvignonWhereas Quintessa is a reflection of the vineyard, Faust is a reflection of the grape. It’s a tribute to Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, made with grapes from Agustin’s family vineyards in Rutherford and Coombsville. Small lots from nearby appellations round out the blend.

The 2011 wine is 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc. It spent 19 months aging in French oak, of which 30% was new.

Intensely aromatic, the Faust starts off big and bold with notes of juicy red and black fruit, tobacco and spice. Decant it or let it sit in your glass, and the wine will soften into an elegant and complex sip. Blackberry, cassis and ripe red cherry are layered with dark chocolate, black pepper, leather and cigar box. It’s velvety in the mouth, with a lingering spicy finish.

For more information visit www.faustwine.com.

$50, 14.2% alcohol by volume

Chimney Rock: Showcasing Stags Leap

Driving along the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, you can’t miss Chimney Rock’s bright white Cape Dutch-style estate. Though the building was influenced by architecture in South Africa (where the original owner worked as an executive at Pepsi Cola), the wine has always been true to place.

Chimney Rock“Our wine should paint a picture of the appellation,” said Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock’s winemaker. Elizabeth visited Atlanta in June and shared the winery’s history and a taste of their current releases.

Hack and Stella Wilson purchased what was then the Chimney Rock golf course in 1980. They dug up the first nine holes with the ideal of making small production, high quality estate-grown wine. Today Chimney Rock is owned by the Terlato family who, in partnership with the Wilsons in 2001, dug up the second nine holes to plant more vines. Elizabeth joined as winemaker in 2002.

Chimney Rock’s focus is on red wine, Bordeaux varieties in particular. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a small amount of Malbec are grown on their Stags Leap District estate. Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris are grown just north in Rutherford. The goal is to grow the best fruit possible. To achieve this Elizabeth is very active in the vineyards, pruning vines and monitoring the grapes’ growth.

Elizabeth’s passion for wine and winemaking is clear when she speaks about Chimney Rock. “I think about this as abstract art,” she said, “because it’s about shape, about texture.”

Chimney Rock winesThe artistry comes in once the grapes have been harvested – blending the grapes, stirring the lees and determining the use of oak – to produce high quality wines that capture the essence of the Stags Leap District.

“I think there’s an honesty to our wines. We want to be truthful to the vintage and place.”

With the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Elizabeth aimed to showcase the purity of the fruit. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, and did not spend time in oak or undergo malolactic fermentation. There was some stirring of the lees to give the wine a more creamy mouthfeel.

You won’t find grassy notes in this wine. The 2012 Chimney Rock Sauvignon Blanc is fresh and lively, with crisp flavors of stone fruit, white peach and golden pear.

Elevage BlancRich, lush and layered are the adjectives that come to mind when describing the 2010 Elevage Blanc. The Bordeaux-style white wine is a blend of 88% Sauvignon Blanc and 12% Sauvignon Gris. New and used French oak as well as lees stirring were used to enhance the flavors and texture.

The Elevage Blanc is wonderfully aromatic and velvety smooth. Mouth-filling flavors of white apricot, nectarine and lemon meringue are layered with white flowers, chamomile and a hint of vanilla. This is a wine that can age for an additional five to fifteen years.

Elizabeth’s objective with the 2009 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon was to show off Stags Leap District fruit. The wine spent 18 to 20 months in French oak barrels, and has a small percentage of Merlot.

The 2009 Chimney Rock Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon is intense yet refined. Aromas of black cherry introduce a palate of ripe dark fruit. Blackberry, cassis and plum mix with sweet cedar and vanilla. It’s smooth and supple in the mouth, and culminates in a satisfying finish with lingering berry notes.

ElevageWhile the Stags Leap District Cabernet is all about the fruit of the AVA, the 2010 Elevage is all about the texture, according to Elizabeth. The proprietary red is a blend of 56% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot (the percentages of grapes vary each year in both the Elevage and Elevage Blanc). The wine was aged in 100% new oak barrels from Burgundy, selected because they impart more elegance to the wine.

The 2010 Elevage is a wine to plan your meal around. Soft, velvety smooth and sophisticated, it’s the most feminine of Chimney Rock’s red wines. The Elevage has delicate flavors of cassis, blackberry and boysenberry, woven together with layers of black pepper, black tea and vanilla. Big tannins are balanced by the wine’s acidity. Ending with a long finish, the Elevage is a pleasure to sip. This wine can age for an additional 8 to 10 years.

For more information on Chimney Rock visit www.chimneyrock.com.

Bottle shots of Elevage and Elevage Blanc from Chimney Rock’s website

Surprising Lake County Wines

By Maxine Howard

What is so surprising about Lake County wines? The surprise is that they’re interesting, well-made, and reasonably priced.

Twenty-one wineries from Lake County (just north and east of Napa) showed off their recent vintages at a tasting in San Francisco in September. We only had a chance to sample about a third of the offerings, but came away with a desire to visit Lake County to explore others.

The whites had a light touch. Sauvignon Blancs predominated but there were some lightly oaked Chardonnays. The reds exhibited bold flavors and nuances created by some interesting variety combinations.

Langtry Estate and Vineyards had one of our favorite white wines. The 2011 Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc was made from the Musque clone, from the Loire Valley, so it had some characteristics of a Sancerre. It showed terrific fruit at the start, continued with hints of the minerality you would find in its French cousins, and finished with dry grapefruit notes. At $16 a bottle it seems like a great option.

Among the red wines offered, Rosa D’Oro had two interesting bottles. The 2010 Primitivo (Italian Zinfandel) was a full-bodied wine with ripe berry flavors and the peppery accent you would expect from a Zinfandel. It is priced at $20. The 2010 Aglianico (an Italian variety related to Cabernet) was a substantial mouthful. The fruit was well balanced, there was a bit of earthiness, and the firm tannins should allow it to age well. It costs $24 a bottle.

Steele Wines showed off an interesting blend called Outcast Red ($22), which included Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. The bold, dark fruits were balanced nicely by earthy tones for a spectacular taste.

Another fascinating blend was a joint production of Shannon Ridge Winery and Vigilance Winery. The 2010 Dalliance ($19.99) is a blend of Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Tempranillo and Grenache. It lures you with a spectacular deep color and aromas of blackberry and cherry. Here again, the blending of grapes with varying characteristics results in a complex, full-bodied wine with balanced fruit, a mellow taste and a dry finish.

Lake County wineries produce small quantities each year that are not as widely distributed as their better-known counterparts from Napa. But if you can find them you will discover they are well made and worth a taste.

For more information visit the Lake County Winery Association at www.lakecountywineries.org.

images from the Lake County Winery Association’s Facebook page

AG Pick: Newton The Puzzle 2008

Newton Vineyard’s The Puzzle 2008 is a red wine in which all the pieces fit perfectly together — both the blend of grapes and the balance of tannins, alcohol and acidity.

This Bordeaux-style blend has an elegance that is reminiscent of its French counterparts. It is rich yet soft, with layers of flavor that gently unfold in each sip.

Newton Vineyard is located on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. The winery was one of the early pioneers of Spring Mountain, and one of the first Napa Valley wineries to make unfiltered and naturally fermented wines.

The Puzzle 2008 is a blend of 42% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec, skillfully assembled like pieces of a puzzle by winemaker Chris Millard. The grapes came from Newton Vineyard’s 112 vineyard blocks, each with varying microclimates and rugged terrain. The wine spent 20 months aging in new French oak.

The Puzzle draws you in with aromas of ripe dark fruit, rose and vanilla. The expressive palate has concentrated flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plum woven in with cedar, cinnamon, white pepper and espresso.

Well-integrated tannins add a firm structure and give the wine a silky mouthfeel. The finish is long and satisfying with lingering mocha and black fruit.

This is a wine to add to your cellar now, to enjoy now and over the next ten years.

A bottle of Newton Vineyard The Puzzle 2008 costs approximately $80.

14.5% alcohol by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

It’s Time for Wine: Sonoma Valley Appellations

By Monty and Sara Preiser

Most oenophiles are aware of the Russian River, Chalk Hill and Carneros districts of Sonoma, but few others. As Sonoma county winemakers continue to refine their decisions as to what varieties grow best in what locations, the designation of the wine’s appellation will become more and more important.

In Sonoma County, as in other wine producing areas of this country, there are grape growing/producing regions that each possess characteristics approved as unique by the government, and, thus, are granted status as an American Viticultural Area (commonly referred to as “AVA” or “Appellation”). While memorizing these AVAs is not necessary, it will enhance your understanding and fun to have at least a general working knowledge of each one, and what you can expect from a wine that bears an Appellation name on its label.

Modern oenology allows the luxury of matching grape varieties with the locations that are best suited to grow them. Individual regions feature distinct meso or microclimates (functions of wind, rain, temperature, and time-in-the-sun) as well as terrain – hill, valley, foothills, type of soil, etc. When all of these factors, which obviously affect the grapes, are put together, they can be said to create a specific “terroir,” or, for lack of a better definition, “sense of place.”

Why is it important to know a wine’s AVA? For many reasons, most of which have to do with predicting how a wine should taste or be paired, before you actually taste or purchase it. Being cognizant of what an AVA brings to the bottle can help you select a wine to go with a particular dish, or decide whether a price is fair. For example, the Russian River AVA is well known for producing cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you saw a Zinfandel with a Russian River Appellation, you might have some doubts about ordering it before having the opportunity somewhere to taste it.

But the good thing about drinking wine is that once a bottle is opened and you actually taste the wine yourself, all bets are off. You can then make the call as to whether you like it and what foods you want to accompany it. If you are satisfied, that is all that matters. Let’s discuss the various Appellations below.

Sonoma County

Placing this first since all the other thirteen smaller appellations are a part of it, a winery might use this appellation if a bottle of its wine contained grapes from more than two viticultural areas other than those in the Northern Sonoma (see below) region. If it sounds like “Sonoma County” is a catch-all, it is. There is no unifying description of its characteristics.

Alexander Valley

Located in the northern part of the county, Alexander Valley includes both the flatlands and the hills to the east and west (22 miles long and from 2 to 7 miles wide). The diverse micro-climates support the growing of a number of grape types, though Cabernet Sauvignnon is the star.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, some Chardonnay.

Bennett Valley

This is a small AVA, but rising in stature all the time. It benefits tremendously by being bordered by three mountains which permit the cool early fog and winds to blow from the Pacific down the gap which is Bennett Valley. The extra hang time needed to obtain ripeness allows for very balanced wines.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel.

Carneros (formally “Los Carneros”)

Don’t be confused as this Appellation is partly in Napa as well (one of only 2 places in the U.S. of which we are aware where an Appellation crosses county lines). As Carneros is just off the San Pablo Bay in the county’s southernmost area, it is quite cool.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and recently some excellent Merlot.

Chalk Hill

This name comes from the soil of white, chalky, volcanic ash found in the mountains (actually there is no chalk – it is a mixture of quartzite, sand, and loam). The region, north of Santa Rosa, experiences plenty of sun and heat from a thermal belt that influences the temperatures.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Creek Valley

Named for Dry Creek, a tributary to the Russian River and irrigated by Lake Sonoma, this region is about 16 miles long and 2 miles wide and experiences warm late mornings and afternoons following morning fog from the Pacific. Wines are grown on the valley floor and hillsides above.

Best Varietals: Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, some Chardonnay.

Fort Ross – Seaview

The county’s newest appellation, approved by the TTB in late 2011, its 27,500 acres were carved out of the 480,000 acre Sonoma Coast, the latter of which actually extends somewhat inland. Truly located on the shoreline, this AVA was granted its distinct status because much of it is mountainous and thus above the fog line that often affects the rest of the older, larger appellation.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Green Valley (formally Green Valley of Russian River)

This small, beautiful area near Sebastopol is worth exploring on many levels (redwood forests, llama farms), but from a wine standpoint is is significant that it may be the coolest, foggiest region in Sonoma County – even cooler than the rest of the Russian River Valley.

Best Varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Knights Valley

Located next to Napa Valley and protected from the cool Pacific Ocean influences due to its geography, this region is the warmest in all of Sonoma County. Its warm days and cool nights provide the ideal weather for producing Bordeaux grapes of all kinds.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot.

Northern Sonoma

This region encompasses a half dozen other appellations (Chalk Hill and the Alexander, Dry Creek, Green, Knights, and Russian River Valleys) and was primarily championed by giant Gallo, which wanted a definitive umbrella appellation so it could make an “estate wine” at its winery in Dry Creek using grapes from the other aforementioned areas. Gallo is the only winery using this AVA designation, which is cooled by the Pacific rather than the San Pablo Bay, and has sedimentary rather than volcanic soils.

Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak

This is an interesting new (Fall of 2011) AVA, in that it includes part of northeastern Sonoma County and portions of Mendocino County. Only about 5% of its 4,600 acres are planted with just a bit more under development. The area is relatively fog free, so it has ample sunlight, and is cooler than the Alexander Valley, much of which stretches below.

Best Varietals: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, some Chardonnay.

Rockpile

This appellation’s name is quite descriptive of the hardscrabble soils and actual rocks in and around which the vines here must struggle to grow (survival of the fittest, as they say). Rockpile is also above the fog line, so, while ocean cooled, the evening mist is not a factor and sun is plentiful.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel.

Russian River Valley

Not really including the entire Russian River Valley, this region follows the river from Healdsburg south to Santa Rosa and then west to Occidental. It is remarkable for the fog that rolls down the river banks from the ocean and lasts until late morning, creating the perfect cool climate for world class wines.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, some Syrah.

Sonoma Coast

A huge geographical area abutting the Pacific coast (San Pablo Bay in the south all the way to the Mendocino border) belies the fact that it is sparsely planted. Cooler and wetter than most of Sonoma, the vineyards benefit from being above the fog line, and ultimately achieve great balance due to a long growing season.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Sonoma Mountain

East of the Sonoma Valley near the town of Glen Ellen, this region allows a number of varietals to be successfully grown because of its diverse micro climates created by mountain crevices and some rolling slopes. Primarily eastern facing and above the fog line, sunshine is abundant.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel.

Sonoma Valley

Running north/south between the town of Sonoma and Santa Rosa, this is also called “The Valley of the Moon.” The mountains on both sides protect the area from Pacific weather and so the southern part is cooled from the San Pablo Bay while the northern areas can become quite hot.

Best Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Semillon, Merlot.

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It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

Discover Temecula: Briar Rose Winery

Tucked away in a valley in southern California is Temecula, one of the state’s lesser known wine regions.  While it may not yet have the name recognition of Napa or Sonoma, Temecula is home to more than 30 wineries.  At just 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is waiting to be discovered.

Visitors to Temecula should bring an open mind and an open palate.  There you’ll find family-owned wineries that have fun with nontraditional blends and a wide variety of grapes.  Planted in Temecula are Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals like in Sonoma and Napa, Rhône and Mediterranean varietals like in California’s Central Coast, and a few other varietals from other parts of the world thrown in for good measure.

I started my tour of Temecula wine country at Briar Rose Winery.  The cottage that houses the tasting room is almost as charming as owner Dorian Linkogle.  Warm and welcoming, Dorian spoke about her wines with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but like them even before I took my first sip.

Briar Rose produces about 2,400 cases of wine.  All are unfiltered, with no added sugar.

We began with two white wines: the Estate Viognier and 2009 Gewurztraminer.  The Viognier had sweet citrus aromas with notes of grapefruit, honeysuckle and lemon zest on the palate.  If you could drink in the garden setting it would taste like Briar Rose’s Gewurztraminer, which had lovely off-dry flavors of apricot, lychee and rose petals.

As I was enjoying the wines Dorian explained the origin of our fairytale setting.  The original owner worked for Walt Disney and built a replica of Snow White’s cottage for his wife.  Dorian and her husband Les (Briar Rose’s winemaker), bought the property in the early 1990s.  After years of selling their grapes to neighboring wineries they opened up their own winery in 2007.  Briar Rose takes its name from another fairytale, the princess in Sleeping Beauty.

Before moving to the reds Dorian poured me a taste of the 2009 Fumé Rosé.  The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, a process that gives the wine its light pink color.  Light and refreshing it was a great sip on the hot day, with a mix of citrus flavors, dried cherries and not quite ripe strawberries.

From there I tasted a variety of reds: three vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon (2003, 2004 and 2007), the 2007 Katrina Estate Zinfandel, 2004 Petit Verdot and 2007 Cabernet Franc.

I particularly liked the Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  The first had big flavors of cherries, blackberries and plum with gripping tannins that gave the wine good texture.  The Cabernet Franc had a fragrant nose of red fruits and flavors of raspberries and black plum with a spicy finish of cloves and tobacco.

As we were enjoying the jammy red fruit flavors of the Katrina Estate Zinfandel, Les came into the tasting room with a barrel sample of the 2009 Zinfandel.  Cloudy purple-red in color, the wine had flavors of fresh raspberries that will only get better as the wine continues to age in oak.

After finishing with the traditional wines and curious to find out what exactly was a ‘wine lager,’ I asked for a taste of Briar Rose’s Talking Frog Hefe-N-Vine.  It was created by the winemaker as a mix between wine and beer — unusual, but quite tasty.  It’s made from 100% Viognier that was fermented with yeast used to make hefeweizen.  The wine lager had a head similar to beer, with small bubbles like a sparkling wine.  The sweet bread aromas and flavors of apple and honey made for a crisp and refreshing sip.

With its intimate and enchanting setting, along with a variety of enjoyable wines, Briar Rose is the perfect place to kick off an exploration of Temecula Valley.

Briar Rose Winery is located at 41720 Calle Cabrillo in Temecula, California.  Tastings are by reservation only and can be made by calling (951) 308-1098.

For more information on Temecula Valley wineries visit www.temeculawines.org.

Click here for Discover Temecula Part 2: Thornton, Wiens and Leonesse

It’s Time for Wine: Petit Verdot – The James Dean of Wine

Kind of dark. Brooding. Powerful without being overpowering. Perhaps not for everyone’s taste. Such are the descriptors used by entertainment writers over the years for a number of distinctive actors, but the one that comes most immediately to mind is James Dean (though in Rebel Without a Cause Sal Mineo was the darkest character – too dark). Dean, on the other hand, met the criteria above, and further, like a good wine, he could also show off range, style, and an ability to attract an ultra loyal fan base.

Every so often we do something at our home in South Florida that has not (as far as we can determine) been done before. In years past we have amassed almost all of the Charbonos and all of the Pinotages produced in California, and had them tasted by a qualified panel of judges. This week we did the same with the increasingly popular Petit Verdot, which possesses all the characteristics ascribed to James Dean (we just wish we had come up with the connection between the two, but that honor goes to Dine Magazine’s Patrick Sullivan).

Wine lovers are usually aware that Petit Verdot is one of the modern five red “Bordeaux Varietals,” just as they are aware that generally it is used in small amounts to blend in some power and structure to other wines, such as Merlot or Cabernet Franc. Truth be told, however, there are more than five Bordeaux varietals (Carmenère – a sixth – is making a comeback in the New World). Petit Verdot, currently out of favor in France due to its long ripening season coupled with France’s poor late season weather, is now being bottled as a single varietal in many areas of the western hemisphere and Australia.

The impetus behind Petit Verdot being bottled on its own, or having added to it a small quantity of Merlot or Cab, most certainly comes from the American psyche that includes creativity, invention and ingenuity, and an American way of life that declines to impose winemaking rules merely due to tradition. Winemakers here are rarely satisfied with the “status quo” and constantly search out the newest envelope pushing techniques and products. Thus came single varietal Petit Verdot not so many years ago, and, to the surprise of almost everyone you ask now, there are over 30 being made in California, over a half dozen in Virginia, and more in Australia, Canada, and other countries.

As mentioned, everyone knows a good Petit Verdot should be strong on tannins, deep purple in color, and possessed of some spices that will enhance whatever wine to which it is added. On its own, however, one might ascribe to the wine the following descriptors in varying combinations: blackberry, pencil shavings, tar, cedar or other woods, cigar box, vanilla, oak, and leather.

OK – to our Florida tasting of last week. Participants included four writers, a sommelier, the leading independent retailer in South Florida, two collectors with top palates, and a restaurateur who maintains an award winning wine list. Each wine was judged as to whether, hypothetically, a medal should be awarded, and, if so, which one. They were also ranked as they compared to each other in the minds of the judges, with each rank being worth designated points. Ultimately we ended up with a result that mirrored the comments of the judges pretty closely.

After the formal blind tasting and ranking, we then took the five wines with the top scores and for fun blindly tasted them again and ranked them next to each other. Kind of like the NCAA “March Madness” where teams have a ranking before the tournament, and then usually have a different ranking after head to head competition.

As far as we know, all wines made in California were included in this tasting except Mazzoco (declined to participate), Homewood (the vintner listened and never called back), Carmody-McKnight and Goosecross (these 2 did not even have the courtesy to answer 2 emails, 2 phone calls, and a fax), Martin-Weyrich (they actually sent a bottle but with their present troubles we did not include the wine), Ledson (they called 3 times to say they would participate but never sent anything), and James Cole (they donated, but the particular bottle we received was defective so we did not rate it – we will retaste and comment in a future article). Because of the relative few Petit Verdots being produced, we put all of them in side by side competition regardless of vintage.

General Conclusions:
-The vintage did not seem to matter when these wines were tasted next to each other. It may have been to a great degree because the panel was made up of professionals who could often identify whether the vintage was fresh or had been around a few years. Nevertheless, the wide range of vintages among the top ranked wines pretty much obviates this factor as a consideration when buying Petit Verdot.
-The location was clearly important insofar as imparting structure and complexity. This tasting was performed blindly by the entire panel, and so no undue subconscious influence can be charged. When one views the results, it really is no surprise that Napa would far and away lead the preferences for a Bordeaux varietal. Six of the seven Gold medal wines were from Napa, and the last five in line were from outside the Napa Valley.
-The price of the wines could be correlated to conclude that one does in fact need to spend more than a nominal sum to buy the better Petit Verdots. The upper echelon wines were all $45 and above, while the lowest scoring 10 wines all had price tags of $35 or less (except Lange Twins, which asks $45).
-Value, on the other hand was a completely different story. Reminding you that the judges on this day are all well familiar with wine prices, it was the general consensus that the prices being asked for many of these wines are more related to the present panache of the varietal than the actual quality of the wine. While almost everything we tasted was pleasant and enticing, almost all of them lacked the complexity one looks for in an expensive wine. To pay $125 (Anderson’s Conn Valley), or $105 (Briar Rose), or $75 (Frazier), or even $68 (Bourassa), one would have to find far more in the glass than did this panel, even though we appreciated all four of the wines enough to assign three gold medals and one silver, Clearly upon looking at the results, you can find top of the line Petit Verdots from $40 – $60, the range where our panel felt comfortable in recommending them if one was seeking quality and value.
-The biggest surprise was the showing of Briar Rose Winery from Temecula. We were stunned to see their Website, with wine prices as high as $1300 per bottle (this is, after, all Temecula), and the asking price for the Petit Verdot is way out of line at $105 in our opinion. However, when you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk, and this winery did exactly that in this tasting by garnering a Gold medal and high rankings.

Our special congratulations go to Stonegate and Bourassa for earning the most points to tie for first place in the tasting, and also to Trinchero Family for winning the head to head competition among the top five scorers.

Perhaps all that is left is to actually show you the full results. If we have missed a producer, please let us know. It is never too late to taste and at least write about what we find. Maybe a bottle that will remind us of this generation’s James Dean – Johnny Depp.

Rank and Hypothetical Medals from April 11, 2010, Petit Verdot Tasting at the home of Monty & Sara Preiser:

1.    2004 Stonegate ($60) – Gold (Napa)
1.    2005 Bourassa ($68) – Gold (Napa)
3.   2005 William Hill ($45) – Gold (Napa)
4.   2007 Trinchero Family Central Park West ($50) – Gold (Napa)
5.   2004 Briar Rose ($105) – Gold (Temecula)
6.   2006 St. Supery ($50) – Gold (Napa)
7.   2005 Ehlers Estate ($45) – Gold (Napa)
7.   2004 Frazier ($75) – Gold (Napa)
9.   2006 Jarvis ($44/375ml.) – Silver (Napa)
10. 2005 Sawyer ($54) – Silver (Napa)
10. 2006 Imagery ($39) – Silver (Sonoma)
10. 2007 Ferrari-Carano ($38) – Silver (Sonoma)
13. 2005 Trahan ($35) – Silver (Napa)
13. 2006 Stryker Rockpile ($45) – Silver (Sonoma)
15. 2005 Murphy-Goode ($28) – Silver (Sonoma)
16. 2006 Ballentine ($38) – Silver (Napa)
17. 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley ($125) – Silver (Napa)
18. 2005 Markham ($40) – Silver (Napa)
19. 2006 Heitz ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
20. 2005 Truchard ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
21. 2005 Rutherford Hill ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
22. 2006 Mietz ($30) – No Medal (Sonoma)
23. 2007 Grands Amis ($25) – No Medal (Lodi)
24. 2006 Lange Twins ($45) – No Medal (Lodi)
25. 2007 Linden ($28) – No Medal (Virginia)
26. 2007 Justin ($39) – No Medal (Paso Robles)
27. 2006 Crystal Basin ($28) – No Medal (El Dorado County)

“PLAY-OFF” OF THE TOP 5

1.   2007 Trinchero Family Central Park West ($50) – Napa
2.   2005 William Hill ($45) – Napa
2.   2004 Briar Rose ($105) – Temecula
4.   2004 Stonegate ($60) – Napa
5.   2005 Bourassa ($60) – Napa

It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November.  Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

AG Pick: 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso

With the many varieties and styles of Italian wine, it’s hard to know how to pick out a good bottle.  Fortunately I had some help finding the 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso.

I heard about this Italian red from Michael Bittel, wine connoisseur and owner of Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors in South Miami.  Michael, whose longtime passion for wine is evident in every story he shares about a bottle or tasting experience, made me thirsty for a sip of the Langhe Rosso with one vivid email.

Try to resist this description:

Langhe Rosso

“Like many wine lovers there are certain memorable wines that are benchmarks in our appreciation of the grape.  Unique moments that when experienced just snap back the head and make one simply think.. WOW!  This is what it’s all about!  These wines are rare and epiphany moments that are etched in our wine experiences forever.  I do not use the term loosely — I’ve had only a handful of such wines in my lifetime.

“1971 Von Simmerin Hochheimer Domdechaney Spatlese, 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc, 1996 Bryant Family Cabernet, 1983 DRC Montrachet are all included in this list.  The first, and usually only time, I had these wines the angels sang, the lights grew brighter and I was buzzed!  Not from the alcohol but from the ecstasy of the experience.  About two months ago it happened again.  To say I was surprised is a mild understatement, because it wasn’t an expensive wine.  So I drank it again.  It blew me away again!  Then I bought a case for my own cellar and drank it again!  I love this wine!  What’s more, every person whom we recommended the wine to has come back and said how extraordinary it is!”

Want to know more?  The 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso is from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy.  It’s a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Petit Verdot from hand selected estate-grown grapes from the family’s vineyards in Treiso, Neive and Barbaresco.

The wine is special because it’s really the first high quality wine from the Pier estate.  For years the winery had produced wines with mixed results, until skilled winemaker Dante Scaglione (formerly of Giacosa) came on as their enologist and consultant.  He saw a lot of potential in the estate’s terroir and tradition, and with hard work was able to produce this delicious wine.

This red has the delicacy and finesse of a fine Pinot Noir, with pleasant red fruit notes that are reminiscent of a good Merlot.  It has an intense, fruity bouquet and a warm soft touch on the palate with elegant flavors of cherries, raspberries, plum and a hint of spice on the lingering fruit finish.

Here is Michael’s take:

“If you are looking for big heavy over the top reds, this isn’t for you.  But if you are looking for the kind of power that can come from delicacy, from intensity of flavor, from uniqueness of complexity, this wine is overwhelming!  I love it!  It’s not from a famous estate, it hasn’t been reviewed, it has no points, but it has our unqualified recommendation.  And the truth is I almost hope you don’t buy it. I’ll drink it all myself!”

Michael is not only a great storyteller, he’s a great salesman — his pitch for the Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso certainly worked on me!  And now I’m passing along this wine, suggesting you give it a taste.

Sunset Corners sells the 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso for $29.99.  Michael guarantees that once word gets out about this wine it’ll cost much much more.  So buy a bottle to drink now and a couple to enjoy later!

Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors is located at 8701 SW 72nd Street in Miami.  For more information call (305) 271-8492.