Posts Tagged ‘Rhone’

Restaurant Wine: Le Saint Amour, Culver City

August 30, 2009


Friday night was one of those wonderful nights full of old and new friends, good food and good wine. Le Saint Amour in Culver City was our destination. Our party of seven was seated as we arrived. Our waiter – friendly and polite at first – practically became our eighth as the night progressed, and he was welcome to do so.

The starters were delicious. Escargots, an endive salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts and herring served with little potatoes on the side seemed to be the favorites.

After the waiter asked if we preferred bottled or tap water, one of us in a particularly jaunty mood piped up with, “I have no interest in water.” Which brings us to the wine.

We opened with a Rhone red, from Vacqueyras, Cristia Selection 2005. It was very smooth despite the tannins that seemed to heighten on the finish. A Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend that promises plenty of fruit on the nose, it delivers with tastes of dark fruit and some licorice. It was an interesting, medium bodied wine that started the evening in fine fashion.

Next up was our dinner wine, Savigny les Beaune Les Gollardes 2006 from Jacques Girardin. Rather light in color and loaded with a cherry flavor that melted into a smokey finish. It paired quite well with my whitefish, and I heard no complaints from those having mussels, duck or chicken.

Third on our wine journey of France was a Faugeres 2000 Mas Gabinele. I believe this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. I was struck by dark chocolate and minerals in a very smooth setting. It was definitely the most interesting wine of the evening. With seven people at the table – some already old friends, some getting to be new friends – it didn’t come as too much a shock that a fourth bottle was ordered.

On the advice of our waiter, we returned to California and selected a Santa Ynez Valley Grenache, Sorellina 2006. He promised this would be a good “non-food” wine, and the wine was good to his word. It’s a medium-bodied, dry red wine that showed off its oak first. A very oaky wine to the nose and the tongue, its spicy nose led to an earthy taste full of dark fruit and minerals.

After we paid – the bill came to about $65 each – we repaired to the sidewalk where our conversation continued longer into the warm night. Good friends having good conversation can make even a subpar restaurant experience seem not so bad. But when the restaurant complements the social setting the way Le Saint Amour did for our group, it really makes for an enjoyable evening.

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Tasting Notes: K&L Domestic Rhone Varietals

July 12, 2009

I have been meaning to get over to a tasting at K&L wines in Hollywood for what seems like ages. I finally made it over there today. As luck would have it, the topic of the day was domestic Rhone varietals. I like not only the wines produced using Rhone varietals, I also get a kick out of checking out the list of grapes that are used in the Rhone. I mean, if your restriction includes grapes like Bourboulenc and Piquepoul Blanc, why not just open the door and let ’em use anything? Seriously, it is interesting to find out how the 22 grapes of the Rhone are used by different winemakers. In California, of course, there are no restrictions on which grapes can be used. But there are plenty of winemakers who are ready to take up the challenge anyway.

There were 10 wines on the menu this afternoon. Prices ranged from $13 to $43, with a pretty even spread. Three of the wines were less than $20, three were in the $20 range, three were in the $30 range and only one was over $40.

Here are my notes:

Tablas Creek “Esprit de Beaucastel” Blanc 2007 (Paso Robles) – A classic Rhone-style blend to start with, this one was 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc and 10% Piquepoul Blanc. Light grass and citrus on the nose, the taste was fairly tart and earthy.

Stolpman Vineyards “L’Avion” Estate Santa Ynez White 2006 – Funky on the nose and palate, but I mean that in a good way. Very grassy and oaky nose. Lots of that oak on the palate, too, with minerals coming through strongly.

Beckman Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rose 2008 – Strawberry red with a somewhat obscured nose, to my nose, anyway. Dry with a nice acidity, this should do well with food. The minerals seemed to outweigh the fruit, but I like that.

Copain “L’Hiver” Mendocino County Syrah 2006 – Dark purple in color, the wine had an oaky nose with mushroom notes. Blackberry, pepper and clove are all over the palate.

Skylark North Coast “Red Belly” Red Blend 2007 – 47% Carignane, 47% Syrah and 6% Grenache. I liked this before I tasted it. It’s a darkly colored wine, with oak and dark berries on the nose. It had a very nice earthiness, but a little too much heat.

Owen Roe “Sinister Hand” Columbia Valley Rhone Blend 2007 – This one is 62% Grenache, with the remainder split between Syrah and Mourvedre. Somewhat lighter in color than the previous two, with a medium body and a spicy, dark flavor.

Four Vines “Peasant” Paso Robles Red Blend 2007 – The makeup on this one screams “Rhone”: 33% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 7% Counoise and 5% Tannat. That last one sneaked in somehow, even though it is not a Rhone varietal. When you get down to the fifth grape, who’s keeping score? A ruby color with a slightly obscured nose and huge tannins.

Margerum “M5” Santa Barbara County Rhone Blend 2006 – This is another 5-pack, with 52% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 9% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise and 4% Cinsault. The other 5% comes from several different cofermentations of the separate grapes. The wine was somewhat light in color, with a raspberry/cranberry/clove component making itself quite known. It’s very different – and very nice.

Prospect 772 Sierra Foothill “The Brawler” 2006 – From Calaveras County, this wine is 96% Syrah and 4% Viognier. Fruity and oaky on the nose and the palate, it had a very hot finish.

Ojai “Melville Vineyard” Santa Rita Hills Syrah 2004 – Very dark purple in color, the nose was full of blackberry and spices. A very smooth palate featured raspberry and red plums.

 

Tasting Room Notes: Curtis Winery

July 11, 2009

A visit by my family recently took us to the beautiful Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.  If you haven’t treated yourself to the beauty of those hills, you really should.  Just up the road from Los Olivos, the views along Foxen Canyon Road are sometimes breathtaking and the wines that are produced in the wineries along that road are sometimes spectacular.  Here’s what they were pouring at Curtis Winery on our visit.

The tastings were being poured in the big barrel room in the rear of the shop.  Large, cool and dark, the barrel room is a great place to taste.  Five huge kegs and several of a more moderate size gave a real “winery” feel to the tasting that you just don’t get in the retail shop that occupies the front of the store.

The Viognier 2006 had a very floral nose with honeysuckle predominant.  The taste offered clean and crisp flavors of lime and pineapple.  It was a really nice wine that begged for seafood or just a sunny porch.  They were giving a nice deal on this wine during the first weekend in May, a free bottle with the purchase of two.  It was $22.

For pink lovers, the Heritage Rose 2007 was bright and fresh, but it gave a little too much grapefruit for my taste, and the nose was highlighted by lemongrass.  I didn’t care for it too much, but you may like those qualities more than I do.  

We crossed over to the dark side with the Crossroad Grenache 2005.  It was quite earthy and dark, right in my wheelhouse.  The Grenache was joined by Syrah and Cinsault and the combination produced a very complex flavor range.  There was a blackberry profile adorned with a smokiness and a nutty angle.  It was quite interesting.

The Heritage Cuvee 2005 was also dark and musky but with a spiciness to the fruit-forward taste.  A gorgeous nose made me delay enjoying that taste while I sniffed…and sniffed.  This Rhone-style blend contained Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault.  It was my favorite of the day.

Another fine effort came with the Ambassador’s Vineyard Syrah 2005, which had a most intriguing nose which combined fresh, flowery notes with a darker side.  I detected black cherries with a long and enjoyable finish.

Lastly was the Rock Hollow Vineyard Syrah 2005, with a big fruit taste up front with nice tannins and chocolate at the end.  This was also a pleasure to smell as well as taste.

Tasting Room Notes: Locals Tasting Room

July 6, 2009

The Sonoma County town of Geyserville has more good wine being produced in and near it than most folks would think possible. There are so many wineries in the Alexander Valley that it works out to about one winery for every ten people who live in Geyserville. Visiting a winery’s tasting room is great, if the winery has one. Many of the wine producers in the Geyserville area are such small boutiques that they don’t have tasting rooms. That’s where Locals comes in.

Locals Tasting Room represents a collective of eleven Geyserville area wineries, and offers tastes of 75 different wines produced by them. Most of the wines on the tasting menu are sourced from Alexander Valley grapes.

The room is nice and large, with plenty of elbow room at the tasting bar. The staff is quite friendly and they know their stuff, too. Any questions I had about the wines or the wineries were answered right away.

Choosing a reasonable number of wines to taste is the hard part. To guide you in the right direction, Locals likes to pour varietal flights. When you line up six or seven Zinfandels, or a handful of Chardonnays, you can get a good idea of how each wine differs from the others. Or just jump around the menu and find specific wines that appeal to you. That’s what I did. With so many reds on the menu, I went with seven of the most likely looking candidates for my taste.

Atrea Old Soul Red 2005 – A Rhone-style blend of 46% Zinfandel, 34% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah and 9% Malbec, this rocks. A complex wine, there’s plenty of juicy fruit but there’s also pepper, and some sort of sweet notes that peek from around the corner.

Eris Ross Carignane 2006 – An old vine red from Lodi, this was medium-bodied and quite smooth.

Ramazotti Raffinto 2005 – A Super Tuscan style of 60% Sangiovese, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc – whew! – which shows lavender on the nose and plum on the palate. They say it has won a number of awards.

Laurel Glen ZaZin 2007 – Old Vine Lodi with currant and blackberry on the nose, currant and plums on the taste buds.

Dark Horse Treborce 2007 – This Zinfandel had an odd nose, with nice texture and flavors of plums and leather, a very earthy taste.

Peterson Sangiovese 2006 – This Dry Creek Valley entry is 100% Sangiovese. I found the nose and taste to be a bit lightweight, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. Should make for a nice pasta wine.

RH Wines Rowdy Red – This is a non-vintge blend that’s got a really nice toasty vanilla nose and spicy notes on the palate. It’s from Windsor, a little south of Geyservlle. A lively red that will pair well with a lot.