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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Dinner with an old Concannon petite sirah

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Concannon petite sirahThese days, Concannon Vineyard is just another part of multi-billion dollar The Wine Group and its wine is mostly ordinary grocery store stuff. A couple of decades ago, though, Concannon made some of world’s best petite sirah, a red grape that is little known and perhaps even less respected. I was lucky enough to have a taste of those days when I had dinner with an old Concannon petite sirah.

My pal John Bratcher brought the wine, the 1997 reserve petite sirah; I made sausage parmigiana with my mom’s red sauce; and Lynne Kleinpeter added her keen palate and quick wit.

The Concannon petite sirah, which cost just $25 when it was released in 2001, did not disappoint. That this wine, made in the supposedly less prestigious Livermore Valley from what is supposed to be a lesser grape, aged for almost 20 years with such grace speaks to how silly we are when we assume that something not anointed by the Winestream Media isn’t worth drinking.

The wine’s color was just starting to brown and the cork didn’t come out cleanly. Other than that and a bit of sediment, this was a wine that had aged exquisitely — soft but still delicious dark plum fruit, a hint of spice and earth, supple tannins, and a balance and integration that you can only hope for when a wine ages this long. We took our time with it, making sure it lasted the entire dinner. This was not an experience to be rushed.

John told us that the Concannon family, whom he had worked with, made reserve from a vineyard so old that the grape juice was actually dark and powerful enough to use as ink. This partly explains why the wine aged so well, but it’s also a testament to the Concannons, who wanted to make a wine that would, literally, stand the test of time. Which it did.

Sadly, this Concannon petite sirah isn’t available unless you know someone who was smart enough to save a bottle. And, ordinarily, I don’t write about wine that you can’t buy. But this was such a moment in my wine drinking life that I wanted to share it. My only regret? That this post is the only way most of you will get to taste it.

Photo courtesy of Splash, using a Creative Commons license

Wine of the week: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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Kenwood Sauvignon BlancBig Wine’s increasing domination of the marketplace brings with it the idea that brands don’t matter the way they used to. If a brand doesn’t perform the way its owner thinks it should, it gets dumped or sold or ignored, and Kenwood is a prime example. It started as an independent, was bought by the same $100 million company that owns Korbel sparkling wine, and then sold to the $9 billion Pernod Ricard conglomerate a couple of years ago.

Along the way, and especially after Korbel bought it, quality suffered. Production was almost doubled and what had been a decent grocery store brand became the kind of wine I write cranky things about. Fortunately, Pernod Richard saw something that Korbel didn’t, and this vintage of the Kenwood sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) shows progress toward returning the brand to cheap wine quality.

The Kenwood sauvignon blanc tastes like it should, which I didn’t expect. Look for California grassiness, some citrus and tropical fruit, and a finish that is almost unpleasant but that ends so quickly that it doesn’t get in the way. Hopefully, more improvement will follow, and Kenwood will once again become the kind of wine you can buy in a grocery store without a second thought. It should also be around $10 in most supermarkets, another bonus.

One sign, though, that Big Wine will always be Big Wine: The back label suggests pairing the Kenwood sauvignon blanc with “spring roasted vegetable salad and herb-roasted fish.” My question? If I’m buying $10 wine in the grocery store, will I roast vegetables or fish (and especially fish)? I realize those pairings are there to give a cheap wine an upmarket cache, but do they really think they’re fooling anyone?

Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

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affordable red BordeauxThe Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to teach the world to ignore French wine. It’s not just that so much Bordeaux is overpriced and underwhelming, but that the Bordelais are in such denial about it. We just need a new marketing company!

That’s why I was so excited last week, during a Bordeaux tasting in Dallas organized by the Spec’s retail chain, to find a handful of $15 to $20 wines that were worth buying. Granted, that’s still more than I wish they cost, and those at the $20 end were pushing the price/value barrier, but it’s a start. That’s because the couple of times I mentioned price to producers at the event, they looked at me as if I was crazy. They truly don’t understand that they have priced themselves out of the reach of almost all U.S. wine drinkers, and I guess no one noticed that only 9 of the 60 or wines at the tasting cost less than $30.

The best affordable wine at the event, and perhaps the best under $20 red Bordeaux I have tasted in years, was the 2011 Chateau Ampelia ($17, sample, 13.5%), made by from the seventh generation Despagne winemaking family. It’s a blend of 95 percent merlot and five percent cabernet franc, and tastes not only like it’s worth that much money, but is honest in its approach. That means it doesn’t tart up the fruit to appeal to U.S. drinkers, so that the merlot tastes like merlot, the cabernet franc adds a little heft, and it’s not a too fruity malbec. Look for red fruit, a bit of spice, and a wine that will age for a couple of more years. Highly recommended.

Also worth trying: the Chateau Croix Mouton ($17, sample, 13.5%), not quite as impressive as the Ampelia, but with ripe fruit and French style; and the Chateau Puygueraud ($20, sample, 14%), an old standby with fresh fruit and an almost herbal aroma — would that it cost a couple of bucks less.

Finally, to be fair, the quality of almost all the wines was tremendous, Bordeaux as it should be — incredible fruit, top-notch winemaking, and everything that is wonderful about French wine. The 2011 Chateau Clinet was earthy, peppery, deep, and full, all I could have hoped for. That it costs $90 was the only problem.

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