Archive for May, 2011

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Memorial Weekend Tasting Notes

Amy, with a Hook & Ladder beer, taking a break from photographing the kids.

Here are my brief tasting notes from a handful of the wines.  I only wrote a few sentences worth of notes so they are more impressions.  With my Texan wine being a disaster it was nice to have the local Black Ankle wine and even more local Hook and Ladder beer.

Deborah and Amy discussing photography.

Once the sun lowered in the horizon it became less hot but even more humid.  The adults enjoyed cold white wines while others played on the grass.

Alice and Elliott, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

I opened a couple of Rieslings because I knew that Phil and Shane would enjoy them.  Phil has been to both of these estates.

2002 Carl Schmitt-Wagner, Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett,  Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
I was immediately drawn to the older, petroleum aromas and gave a slight nod to it over the Kerpen.  Phil thought this wine would go with food and prefered the Kerpen.  On the second night there were soft, petroleum flavors, that are rich and expansive.  There is a little lifted quality then midpalate the wine softens up and there is just enough acidity to keep it going.  ** Now-2015.

2006 Kerpen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
This wine was very nice the second night and I suspect even better than on the first.  There were slightly spritely floral notes.  At first the tropical fruits mix with some petroleum in the mouth.  Then the wine immediately starts to dance around with a fresh midpalate, good finish and slightly puckering aftertaste that carries on.  This is a good wine. *** 2015-2019.

Jim and Shane discussing the wine trade.

We did not have too many roses.  Actually, the Etude might have been the only bottle.

2009 Etude, Pinot Noir Rose, Carneros
I did not take any notes about this wine but last night I cracked open a bottle of the 2010.  In my recollection the 2009 was better with well-balanced, rich flavors, and structure.

Daniel contemplating his father's wine glass.

There were several red wines to try from.  Inspired by Julie’s Swiss posts I wanted to get some Swiss wine.  There was none at MacArthur’s so Phil had recommended some from Savoie.

2007 Jongieux, Mondeuse, Savoie
This wine was surprisingly good for $12-$13.  It is a bit winey with a light nose that is peppery.  There is good acidity that grabs the side of the mouth, lovely pepper notes are developed and it leaves the overall impression of being a nice wine.  I drank this cold and it did quite well. ** Now.

2009 Domaine du Vissoux, Pierre-Marie Chermette, Cuvee Traditionnelle, Beaujolais
This wine was a recent gift from Lou.  There were a lot of dark strawberries and red berries with light but nice weight.  A bit soft in the finish but a wine the drank well all night.  I can see why Lou likes this wine.  The one problem, though, is the $19 price tag.  ** Now.

Non-Vintage Delaney Vineyards, Texas Claret, Texas High Plains
Jenn and I had brought back a few bottles of Texan wine several years ago when we visited her grandmother in Fort Worth. We drank up and enjoyed the reds from Becker Vineyards. I recently discovered I had this bottle laying about. It was probably acquired four to five years ago. It smelled awfully like weed killer. Something must have been wrong to begin with.  Not Rated.

2006 Black Ankle Vineyards, Cosecha, Frederick County, Maryland
Phil had never tried a Black Ankle wine before. The owners of Black Ankle, Ed and Sarah, are friends of Denise and Shane and live in our neighborhood. Shane dashed off to his house to bring back this bottle he has had for one or two years. The color and the flavors show some bottle age. Phil and I guess there was Syrah in it but there was not. Instead it is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. It was a nice wine that drank well straight from the bottle. I would recommend drinking this within the next year.  ** Now-2014.

2009 Tensley, Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
Tensley can be quite nice and give hints of what is to come in its youth. This was very dark and inky. There are lifted flavors of Syrah, with fresh purple fruits, pepper, and lively acidity. There are light purple/blue fruits in the finish. Definitely a step up from the base Syrah this seems more approachable than the 2007 is right now. I would age this wine for several years.  *** 2015-2022.

2007 L’Argentier, Vieilles Vignes de Carignan
This wine is made from 100% Carignan planted in 1935.  There was a definite sulphur component so we decanted the wine.  It eventually blew off and because an intriguing wine.  I do not think Shane liked it but Phil and I did.  I will try it again in June.  Not Rated.

Amy, Jenn, Mark, Deborah, and Aaron

Memorial Weekend Barbeque with Wine

All good Memorial weekends should be filled with barbecue and pool parties. This weekend was no exception. It started off with Shane’s birthday pool party on Saturday. This was an early evening for us so I only tried the 2009 Deiss, Pinot Blanc, the 2010 Mordoree, Rose, Cotes du Rhone, and the 2010 Bastide St. Dominique, Rose, Cotes du Rhone. The Deiss was a lovely, rich Pinot Blanc. The Mordoree showed structured, easy to drink fruit and the Bastide was tasty but for a lack of verve.

Keeping the bottles chilled

Sunday afternoon we hosted a small gathering in our back yard. The heat was ratcheting up with a high around 90 Farenheit and a relative humidity of 80%!!! So all of the wines had to be chilled. Amy was kind enough to take pictures throughout the afternoon and evening. It is a treat to have some pictures of myself! I am including a selection of her images in my posts about the party. I have also included a link to her website under the Friends links.

Most people started off with some Sauvignon Blanc, including Dan, as the kids played on the lawn.


There were plenty of non-alcoholic bubbles to entertain those who did not drink.

Daniel, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

There was not enough space at on the deck so we had a second table.

Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

Deborah, my mother, and I explained all about the blog to Jim.

Deborah, Aaron, and Jim discussing the blog, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

While the adults chilled down with rose the children enjoyed Popsicles.

Mia and Lorelei keeping cool, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

Phil and Meriam, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

There was a wide variety of wine contributed by everyone. The bottles included:
Bottex, Bugey-Cerdon
2002 Carl-Schmitt-Wagner, Riesling Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
2006 Kerpen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
2009 Etude, Pinot Gris
2007 Jongieux, Monduse, Savoie
2009 Chermette, Beaujolais
2006 Black Ankle, Cosecha, Maryland
A non-vintage Texan wine
2009 Tensley, Colson Canyon Syrah
2009 l’Argentier, Carignan
2007 Rouge-Bleu, Cuvee Mistral
And others.

Texan wine lurking there, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

Everyone had fun!

Olivia, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

I will post more pictures and some short tasting notes tomorrow. Today we were too busy enjoying the swimming pool to keep cool in the 95 degree Farenheit weather.

Red wine, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

Although we sweated even as we sat there, it was a fun evening. A large amount of food was eaten and most of the wines were enjoyed by all.

Aaron and Phil, Picture by Amy Carmichael Smith

Swiss Mandement “Caves Ouvertes” Day a Winner

May 30, 2011 1 comment

The May 28, 2011 Swiss Mandement Open House Day , or “Caves Ouvertes” was fantastic. It was definitely a local affair in these ancient wine villages with people hovering about the stone “mas” or farmhouses, clustering around barrels or small tables in the makeshift tasting/bottling rooms and spilling out into the streets. Not checking any sources, I went straight for the town with my favorite vineyard walks and restaurant, Auberge d’Dardagny in—of course—Dardagny.

Looking down the main street of the village of Dardagny.

Now, I can’t really do this whole experience justice. In fact, I am trying to get ready for a trip to Florence, Italy in a couple days. So, I will just have to write a few quick notes and I’ll finish it off in a couple weeks after we get back from bella Italia. I have a lot of notes.

"Le Mandement"--the Swiss villages of Satigny, Russin, Dardagny and the many communes enclosed within.

Vines in Dardagny

Fancy chefs serving up some scrumptious sausages.

Other than the fact that the surroundings are beautiful vineyards and lush meadows, the calm, enthusiastic nature of the crowd was very pleasant. No, this was not the same drunken rambunctious crowd of the autumn harvest festival in neighboring Russin. There was the odd “oompa loompa” band here and there and ever-present at any Swiss fête. There were free shuttles running through the main villages of Satigny, Russin and Dardagny. There were traditional German/Italian/French Swiss food stands: bratwurst, polenta and sausage, Tartiflette. It was like sailing with a cool breeze on a clear sunny Genevois day.

Some of the music entertainment in Dardagny.

Free bus stop "Chasselas" in Dardagny.

Alison with the huge polenta skillet.

My friend Alison, and I went straight for the Domaine du Centaure that I had heard about from another friend. It was actually quite disappointing. In fact, I am not even going to mention any of the wines we tasted. We tried the oldies: Chasselas (watery)  and Gamay (very light) and then the new ones, Gamaret and Pinot Noir. I later found out that I should have tried the dessert wines…but I’ll have to do that another time. So we took a couple steps and went to the Clos du Pins (no website) which turned out to be a little better. Most of the wines were light and pleasant, but no major stars here as well.

Clos des Pins wall display that meets you before anything else. Photo by Alison Ball

The beautiful "mas" or farmhouse of Clos du Pins.

What I really want to write about is Domaine de la Planta. It was truly a wonderful experience and I will go back. The whites were good. First, we tried the Meridienne Blanche (Chasselas) 2010. It was definitely a summer drink but this Chasselas was not the usual watery white. This Chasselas was definitely fresh and fruity and also had some pleasant lemony hints. The Sauvignon Blanc 2010 had hints of apricot flavors and Alison noted, floral scents. I meant to buy a bottle of this, but somehow, I didn’t. Too much going on at the same time. It was also difficult to take photos! The Blanc de Pinot Noir was very buttery and smooth. It was a delight.

Domaine de la Planta Blanc de Pinot Noir 2010.

I liked the reds at this vineyard even more. La Revolution 2009 (Gamay aged in oak), was fine, but the Pinot Noir 2009 (aged in oak) was excellent. It had the smell of an older wine, ever so slightly a hint of mold almost at the first instant and then the deep smell of richness. The taste started kind of tart, but then mellowed to caramel and had a smooth finish. I really enjoyed it.

Domaine de la Planta Pinot Noir 2009 (aged in oak) One of my favorites of the day.

The Gamaret 2010 (aged in metal cask) was good with notes of cinnamon and spice. It was very “rond” but still not that really deep, smooth one I enjoyed, which I actually think was from the Cave de Genève. Surprisingly, the Gamaret 2009 aged in oak was not better. I expected it to have more flavor and to be smoother, but it was spicier and took me by surprise.

Domaine de la Planta "Esprit de Genève" 2009 50% Gamay, 30% Gamaret, 10% Merlot, 10% Syrah.

Esprit de Genève actually reminded me of a French côte du Rhône with some allspice notes. I could imagine it chilled slightly and sipped with some morel pâté on a fresh baguette!

It’s also worth mentioning that the vinters here were very charming and so enthusiastic. My friend mentioned that I was writing amateur notes for a blog and one of the vinters spoke to me in perfect English and gave me a chip with photos of the vineyard on it! Look for those in a future post. Also, the owner, Bernard Bosseau was at the cash box and was happy to have a couple snapshots with me. The short story is that the domaine had been in the same family for many generations, but when before the last heir passed away, he chose Bernard, from Nantes, France, who had been making a name for himself in wine circles of the village, to take over the family business. It appears to me that he is doing a fantastic job! Merci beaucoup to Chris the vinter and to Bernard for making such lovely wines.

"Vigneron, tonnelier, vigneron, courtier en vins" --the owner of Domaine de la Planta, Bernard Bosseau. Photo by Alison Ball

Here is where I will have to take a break and get ready to go on the road. When we get back, I’ll introduce you to the other star of Dardagny. I have also found out that I need to go to Satigny as it has the most volume and the oldest history for making wine in Switzerland. If anyone has suggestions for wines in Florence, Italy, please let me know!

2009 Domaine Rouge-Bleu, Lunatique, VdT France

Jenn and I are big fans of Rouge-Blue’s Cuvee Mistral. The Lunatique hit the shores of the east coast two weeks ago and finally arrived at MacArthur’s in DC. On Thursday I stopped by the store and picked up one bottle. The excellent Mistral is $18 so with the Lunatique ringing in at $50 it has a lot stand up to.  This is the first vintage of the Lunatique.

Lunatique is a small cuvee of only 100 cases.  Rouge-Bleu has a page Lunatique from A to Z that is dedicated solely to this wine.  This Vin de Table is made from 77 year-old Grenache.  The grapes are hand harvested and fermented in concrete tanks.

I double-decanted the wine and we tasted it over four hours.  Four very young hours.  This is an excellent wine but it really needs to age for several years.  While there is a lot going on, this is at a pure, youthful, primary, structured stage.  It does not yet show the complexity of the older Mistral.  This is not a criticism just a comment.  If you manage to drink an entire bottle within an hour, you will miss out on the good stuff and be let down.  There isn’t much of this wine available and it isn’t exactly cheap.  So I would highly recommend cellaring this wine instead of tasting it but if you can’t resist then decant the wine at least four hours ahead of time.

Is it worth $50?  Yes.

2009 Domaine Rouge-Bleu, Lunatique, VdT France
This wine starts off with a light nose of pure, fruit aromas.  In the mouth it is round with creamy flavors.  The initial fruits are cool and blue but there is massive, dreadnought power lurking behind there.  There are minerals mixed in with a salty profile.  The finish shows fine, grapey tannins with good coarseness.  After several hours of air it becomes very expansive in the mouth.  The intensity builds with air as you need to only drink smaller and smaller sips.  This intensity is not from high alcohol levels but from all of the rippling, youthful flavor.  It becomes saltier with air which is a nice complement to the creamy blue fruit.  The back-label mentions a flavor of coconut and that is a perfect description.  ***(*) 2015-2025.

Swiss “Caves Ouvertes” Preview

May 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Aaron and I managed to squeeze in a lunchtime tasting before the official “caves ouvertes.” I noticed that some of the caves would be open earlier than usual on Friday. So I convinced Aaron and the girls to go and off we went for a 90 minute adventure. We simply stopped at the first open cave since Aaron was on his lunch break. I had vaguely heard of “Cave de Genève” because I had stumbled upon some wine tasting at a grocery store the other day and they had a couple wines from their cave. This was one of the first times I had the infamous gamaret grape (only found in Swiss cantons of Valais and Vaud). It is rumored to be a cross of Gamay and Reichensteiner. It tastes more like Grenache (to me!) than Gamay, but it’s lighter. I really liked it.

Here's the first (and only) cave we hit today (Friday).

It was a huge warehouse type of place—no old buildings–all metal. The casks were metal as well. No oak in sight. Well, there were some barrels in the seating area, but according to Michel, the man pouring the wine, all wine here was aged in metal casks.

Cave de Geneve

No oak in sight!

Michel was very very eager to answer any question, but he didn’t want his picture taken. He said that they make some 4,000,000 liters a year. The number didn’t actually mean very much to me since I have no context for it. It sounded like a lot to me, but he looked at me like I would be disappointed with that number. I wondered why it is so difficult to get any Swiss wine outside of Switzerland. He had a very interesting answer. First, of course, there just isn’t the volume as with other countries. They are a small country and there isn’t a lot of surplus. The other answer was really interesting. It was until about 15 years ago that the Swiss vineyards were only growing Gamay and Chasselas grapes, so these were the only wines available and had no big following for export. Although, I do remember that in 2000, we used to be able to get bottles of Fendant in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. (It may be because of the large number of physicists who came from CERN and wanted to make fondue or raclette!) So it is only recently that they have been growing a great variety of grapes throughout Switzerland. Michel said that he hoped that in time, they would be able to develop a larger foreign market and be able to produce enough wine to export to North America. He said that they export to France, Germany and Japan. I found this website with the grape varieties of Switzerland in English. I didn’t realize there are many varieties that are indigenous and only found in Switzerland!

The wines.  The Cave de Geneve has two sets of wines. One is called “Les Personnalités de Genève.” Michel explained that these wines were mixed with different famous people of Geneva in mind and sounded like an interesting marketing idea as far as I could tell.


We went straight for the Gamaret which was called “L’Humaniste,” a mixture of 2010 Gamaret and Syrah. He said he didn’t know the percentages. It wasn’t as smooth as the first one I had tasted months ago, but we liked it. Michel was very helpful and confirmed that it was spicy with a hint of cloves. Aaron liked this one the best.

L'Humanist (Gameret Syrah) 2010

There is even one named after a famous Swiss feminist named Emilie Gourd, called “La Rebelle,” who was a Swiss suffragist, educator, unionist and anti-fascist, but Michel moved us onto the second group of wines called “Le Découvertes de Genève.” I wil have to taste “La Rebelle” next time! These wines are of a higher quality he told us. These wines are named after famous places in Geneva. The first one we tried is called, “Rue des Belle-Filles” (street of the beautiful girls) which is apparently a well-known street in old town Geneva and currently has a different name. This one turned out to be my favorite.  It is a Cabernet Franc 2009 19.50 CHF (Swiss francs).

Rue des Belles Filles, Cabernet France de Genève 2009

Rue des Belles Filles

It was so rich and smooth. Michel said, “tres round.” I could have drunk that one with Aaron’s magret du canard and frites and I would have been in heaven. I’ll have to ask him to make it later. Of course we got a few bottles.

Tasting some Gamaret at Cave de Genève

The next wine was called “Les vin de Phillipe Chevrier” who is apparently a famous chef in Geneva. There are a couple of wines that are mixed just for him. It is a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Savignon 2009. It was spicy, curry-like and michel said, “tannic.” It was one that I had to imagine might be better with a meal, but I thought it was too much on the spicy side. Although, now I am really curious about this chateau that is just a couple minutes away. Maybe we’ll go for lunch!

The last red wine we tasted was “La Clemence,” named after a famous bell in St. Peter’s Cathedral (famed to be Calvin’s pulpit) in the center of vielle ville, Geneva. Gamaret 2009: peppery, hint of cloves and allspice. I liked it, but it still wasn’t the Gamaret that I remembered, maybe it needs to sit for another year?

We ended with a dessert wine called “Intuition.” It tasted like summer. Savignon Gris, Muscat 2010: pear, peach (Michel said, “passion fruit”) very light. Delicious!

So, the operation definitely produces enough wine to supply a major grocery store chain (COOP) and has the slick, no frills tasting room and selling area. This place is about efficiency and cleanliness. Everyone was very friendly.

Since we had to get the girls back to school and Aaron had a meeting, we had to zoom off. They had a great setup complete with a full meal available, wine scent activities (boxes with scents in them), tours of the cave and we even got our “Caves Ouvertes” t-shirts. I’m looking forward to Saturday!

Picking up our selections behind the tasting area.

Dinner Parties in Bristol

I have always remembered attending several wine tastings organized through the Wine Circle.  What I did not remember is that they were held almost once per week!  After a tasting we would want to continue our research so an additional “tasting” happened at the nearest wine bar.  Outside of those gatherings Andrew, John, Iain, Rob, Eva, and I would get together for visits at different wine bars or for casual, unorganized wine dinners.  The core group, consisting of Andrew, John, Iain, Rob, and I, organized four formal wine dinners.

Hillside/Woodside House, Bridge Road, Leigh Woods

I lived in student housing at Hillside/Woodside house which is located on the far side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Clifton.  It is an old merchant’s house built shortly after the suspension bridge opened in 1864.  Most of the rooms were converted to student rooms leaving only two perpetually dirty kitchens and a common room full of perpetually stoned house mates.  Coupled with the distance, my house was clearly not suitable for dinner parties.  Instead, the four dinners were held at Andrew’s flat, Iain’s flat, and Rob’s row house.

Rob bringing out the 1961 La Gaffeliere

For one dinner we all cooked at Andrew’s flat and drank a mixture of wines.  Andrew had a friend who ran a tobacco shop.  Somehow he got the gig of being paid to test-smoke various tobaccos.  We often finished up with whisky at Andrew’s flat so it seemed natural that I try a pipe.  It did smell great.  So I would sit there, talking through the impossibly loud classical music (Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy), tumbler of The Macallan in one hand, pulling on my pipe.  One evening, when it was just Andrew, Eva, and I, he lent me a pipe along with some bags of tobacco and gave us the bottle of Macallan we were drinking from.  After all, tobacco and whisky did go together so well it would be a shame to break them apart.  And he did have another bottle for his own consumption.

John peeling carrots with the empty Claret bottles on counter.

One dinner was held at Iain’s flat where his Parisienne girlfriend cooked dinner and we drank 1973 or 1974 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon amongst others.  The 1961 La Gaffeliere was drunk at Rob’s house where he not only managed to decant the wines but single-handedly cooked the entire dinner.  I remember starting with a basket of quail’s eggs and I remember ending with a beautiful winter’s dessert.  I image the glasses of good wine blocked all memory of what I ate with them. 

Andrew pouring decanted wine as Iain watches

There was also a dinner of odd and interesting wines at Rob’s house.  The wines and courses for the dinners were discussed ahead of time and final costs were equally shared.  At this particular dinner there was a 1959 German Riesling and a Chinese Tsingtao Chardonnay.  I cannot find the journal where I took notes from that dinner but I will eventually find it.  I do recall that we finished off with some 1985 Quinta do Noval vintage port that Rob and Andrew bought at a London auction.  It was brutally young.  My tasting note reads something like, “This is so young it is like waking up yesterday.”

Iain thinks the wine is "good stuff!"

We would listen to jazz or classic music.  While my mother and grandfather always played music, it was not until the summer of 1992 that I started buying my own jazz and classical CDs.  The first time I ever heard Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder was at Iain’s flat.  The Parisienne dinner, the buzz from the wine, and the driving rhythm of the track Totem Pole left an inedible mark on me.  I fell in love with good music, good food, good wine, and good company.  I knew I would host such dinners when I eventually return to Ann Arbor.

The Author dressed for 1961 claret.

We dressed according to the quality of the wines.

Rob undoubtedly discussing wine.

The evenings always ended up with port, whisky, or Armagnac (no refined Cognac was drunk!).  And perhaps, a cup of coffee.

The Macallan with Andrew's Oxbridge friend and Andrew

I remember our last dinner. It was at the end of term and in a few days I was off to Frankfurt and eventually Florence.  We drank a mixture of wines including my first bottle of Chateau Musar.  Rob offered it blind and I guessed Israel not knowing they made wine in Lebanon.  We stayed up ridiculously late as exams were over.  Everyone spilled out of Rob’s house and walked the first few blocks home together.  I kept one bottle as a souvenir.  Upon realizing there were still contents leftover from decanting, I put the bottle to my mouth and tilted my head all of the way back.  The last few drops of wine left contained an enormous amount of sediment.  But it tasted so good and kept the evening alive for one more moment.

There was talk about renting a house near a coast, away from everything, and holing up with cases of wine and boxes of food.  It would be several days of uninterrupted cooking, eating, and drinking.  I do not know if they did rent the house but I do know that I had an eye appointment the next morning.  I needed a new pair of contacts for the summer.  In the morning, my eyes were blood-shot and dry from drink and lack of sleep.  The doctor kept trying to convince me that I had a problem with my eyes.  I eventually persuaded her to give me the contacts.  I did a bit more shopping then I was ready to begin my summer adventures in Germany and Italy.

A successful evening