Thursday, May 31, 2007

Reds to Keep you Warm on those Cold Summer Nights

Although debateable whether he actually said it, Mark Twain's attributed statement remains true: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
I just started studying for the bar exam, so I stocked up to help me through the summer. Here are some warm reds to fend off the fog:

2003 Ruston Cuvee Lorraine, St. Helena, Napa: A Bordeaux blend of cab sauv, merlot, cab franc, and petit verdot, but obviously Californian. Initially loud and spicy, it quickly settles down into something more supple and velvety. BUY IT NOW before it's too late. $9.99 at Trader Joes.

2004 Nicolas Potel, Savigny-Les-Beaune, Burgundy: This wine is old school bourgogne. Soft, with black fruit, soil and minerality. The negociant shuns the spicy, syrupy American influence. Great Burgundy at a reasonable restaurant wine list price. I haven't found it anywhere else, but when I do, I will immediately post. $66 at Le Colonial.

2003 Chateau Bel-Air-Ouy, Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux: This is what happens when France tries too hard to market to Americans. Blunt, huge and utterly boring. This chateau shuns centuries of success in a failed attempt at galmour. It's like Paris Hilton without the sex-tape. $67 at Le Colonial (I will not immediately post if I find it elsewhere).

2001 Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon, Somona: This wine is tiny production and unheard of. The winemaker is not. Robert Kamen wrote The Karate Kid, The 5th Element, The Transporter, and A Walk in the Clouds. I grew up on these movies. As for the wine, it is tight and refined for a Napa/Sonoma cabernet (his vinyards are on the border on Mt. Veeder). Although this bottle was no crane kick, it had some potential. Let's see if his wine making career can mirror his time in Hollywood. $70 at the vineyard.

Popping the Cork!

I graduated law school a little over a week ago. This meant Champagne... lots of Champagne. Although the wines that I got to try all cost approximately the same, this experience reminded me that there is notable diversity in the region. (Note: I drank each one twice to avoid any undue influence from the celebratory circumstances)

Laurent-Perrier Brut NV: My top pick. Light, tangy and fruity with good body. I walked out of my last final exam ever and blasted this cork over 50 feet (a personal record). If I could keep a bottle of bubbly in my fridge at all times, this would be it. $37 at Bev Mo.

Perrier-Jouet Brut NV: Bigger and yeastier than its cousin. Great bubbles and body, but not as bright and refreshing as I would like. I popped this bottle right after graduation and it will always have a special place in my heart/gut (depends on what you think of law school). $35 at Safeway.

Veuve Clicquot Brut NV: The bright yellow/orange label is to Champagne what the turquoise box is to jewelry. Veuve has blown up over the past few years.... and for good reason. The fruitiest of the bunch with great acidity. My only slight is that it showed less body than the other two. Proof that strategic advertising can do great things. Anchors away. $38 at Zains Liquor.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Interesting Wines Around $20

Relationship issues aside, I offer my take on 5 bottles that have crossed my path recently:

2005 Qupe Syrah, Central Coast: First things first... Yellowtail makes "shiraz", Qupe makes "syrah". Same grape, yes, but have you ever seen the movie "Twins" with Arnold and Danny Devito? If you did, you will get it. Not to suggest that Qupe is a 6'2" muscleman, but, just like Arnie's character Julius Benedict, this bottle is painfully unaware of its potential. A majority of the syrahs out there dart off the line with a quick mouthfull of red/black fruit, but leave you wanting a second level of flavor. Qupe, on the other hand, eases onto the throttle initially, revs up and begs you to upshift into second and even third gear. $18 at all the usual suspects.

2005 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County: French in simplicity/elegance, Californian at heart. This may be the best bottle of California Pinot that I have had this year. It shrugs off the emerging California trend of syrup and red fruits in favor of balance and minerality. But Santa Barbara is no Burgundy, so the winemaker is not afraid to pave his own Cote d'Or. $19 most everwhere (for the next 6 months or so... just wait because it is sure to go the way of La Crema pinots).

2005 Au Bon Climate Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc, Santa Barbara County: 70% Pinot Gris, 30% Pinot Blanc. This is a white with attitude. Less bright acidity than a sauv blanc, more body with a hit of apples with an underpinning of light oak. It just doesn't have the muscle of competing California chardonnays. But maybe, in the words of Pulp Fiction's Jules Winnfield, chardonnay, "ain't the same fuckin' ballpark, it ain't the same league, it ain't even the same fuckin' sport." The question remains: can Alsatian whites play ball in California? $17 at Blue Fog market (with a new SF location at California and Divis).

2006 New Gerwurz, North Coast of California: For the price, this bottle really made an impression. Gewurtztraminer will do that to you. Spicy, floral, with some Welch's white grape juice. You don't suggest this bottle to all your friends because they just won't get it. It's wierd and funky and its got a personality. It's like the cute friend of yours whose got a strong personality. You would never set her up on a blind date with one of your buddies, because chances are, it's just not going to click. But if you really think about it, you know someone will fall for her big time. And she is monumentally undervalued. $9 on sale at Molly Stones.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV, Champagne: I cheated on my local regulars: Gloria, Chandon, Sofia and Piper. She was French and ready-to-go, so I upped the ante about $7 in hopes of a novel romp. Passable, yeasty, with some good bubbles. But she just didn't work for it. Honestly, she may as well have stolen my wallet off the nightstand the next morning. $23 at D+M.