November 13, 2009

Domaine Charbonniere - Perdrix - Chateauneuf du Pape - 1998

France / Chateauneuf du Pape
$35 / Rhone

Ahh, the joys of having a cellar. With the economy ailing, and me being in an industry that has been severely affected, I am happy to have a cellar to drink during the downturn. I have been drinking 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape on and off for almost 10 years. It was a great vintage, and most of the wines have held up very well.

I was curious how this Domaine held up. A reasonably priced wine, it cost about $25 when I purchased this in 2001. It was a bit tight when I tasted it back then, and has had time to mellow over the years. The tannins have softened, and the wine has morphed into a wonderful treat.

The cork held up beautifully on this wine when I opened it. It poured ruby red, and did not look like a 10+ year wine. The scents from the glass were balsam, black fruit, cherry and a bit of earth. The wine was layered and long. There was still a bit of glycerin which was surprising after all these years. There were still sufficient tannins - though softer then in early life - that leads me to believe this one has 5-7 years left to drink.

Overall, this was a wonderful bottle of wine.

This producer always has a consistently good bottle from year to year. In the great years, this bottle is one that you should stock up on. With 2007 being compared to 1998 as a vintage, I may have to pick up some for the cellar.

What are some of your favorite CDP producers? Not the obvious - like Beaucastle and Pegau - but some of your favorite values in the region? Let me know....

November 6, 2009

Hewitson - "Ned and Henry" - Barossa Valley - Australia - 2006

Shiraz / Mourvedre
Barossa / $22 - $30

Although Australian wines are often labeled by the critical press as "Over the Top", they are still some of the finest values to be found for frugal wine lovers. Consistently delivering a lot of wine for the money, there are some gems to be found that should be on the top of every wine lovers list.

Hewitson is one of my favorite producers in the Barossa Valley. With 8-10 different wines released each year, they are consistently good year to year. Hewitson is one of my "Go-To" producers when I am looking for a wine to impress.

Ned and Henry is a lovely shiraz with a touch of mourvedre blended in for balance. Named after the estates two sons, this wine is big, rich and fruit forward. Those that like Aussie reds will love the balance and richness of this red.

It pours purple and the color is saturated. The nose is gobs of black fruit, red fruit some vanilla and licorice. The wine tastes of black fruit, plum, cola and finished with a hint of nut and earth. This is a medium bodied wine with a decadent feel.

How much can you expect to pay for this decadence? I found this wine on-line for $21.00. If you buy it retail, you can expect to pay up to $30. Even at $30, this is a lot of wine for the money. Most importantly, it is a bottle of wine that will not disappoint. I could easily see folks that taste this wine blind assume it is a $50 bottle of wine.

This wine is imported by John Larchet who owns "The Australian Premium Wine Collection". Any time you see this neck label, I can promise you it is attached to a wonderful wine. I had the chance to taste the entire collection last year with Josh Raynolds of IWC. There was not a bad wine in the bunch.

Maybe the best part of this review today is not specifically this review, but the recommendation to look out for this neck label when searching store shelves for a wine. It may be cheating, but I promise you that you won't go wrong.

Has anyone tasted any other wines in this collection? Do you agree with my analysis? Report back. You can comment following this post.

October 30, 2009

Marques de Caceres - Rioja - 1987

Tempranillo / 1987
Rioja / Spain

Every once in a while a bottle of wine falls through the cracks. The more wine you have, the easier it is to lose one in the mix of racking and case boxes. Annually I go through my wines to try to find these sneaky bottles and get them back to where they belong.

Sometimes I am highly disappointed when I find a nice bottle of wine and realize it has been lost too long, and is probably too old to enjoy. This is a bigger problem with white wines that generally have a much shorter shelf life.

Two years ago I came upon a bottle of Spanish Rioja from Marques de Caceres while organizing my racks. It was a "Riserva" bottling from 1987. I remember purchasing this while in Spain with my wife in 1992. These wines are generally released late, after cellaring at the estate from 3-5 years.

I probably spent $20 on this bottle in 1994. At that time, this was the upper range of what I was willing to spend on a wine, and an indulgence. I thought it would be a nice bottle to open a few years later to remember the great time we had in Spain.

Well, the wine was put on racks when we got back to Annapolis waiting for the appropriate occasion. In 2000, my family an I moved to Potomac, Maryland - and all of the wines got packed in mixed boxes for the move. Once we got into the new home, the boxes (About 50 boxes) sat against the basement wall.

As they say - Best laid plans......the boxes stayed against the basement wall until I build my wine cellar 3 years ago. At that time all of the wines were racked, catalogued, and organized to a degree so I could find the wines I was looking for. This poor Rioja popped out of a box - already 17 years old.

I put this wine and about 20 other bottles on a rack outside of the wine cellar to make vinegar. (Like I have time to make vinegar). There they have sat for 3 years - lonely, dusty and neglected.

Last week I invited some good friends over for wine, food and fun. While trekking down to the cellar for some more wine, my friend Fernando saw the neglected bottle of Rioja on the Vinegar shelf. When I told him the story, he wisely said "Why don't we open it?". Worst case would be it was bad, and we could dump it out. What a fabulous idea!

With much fanfare we opened the bottle. After carefully removing the cork (Which was in remarkable condition), a quick sniff led me to believe we may have gotten lucky. I poured the wine - a little darker then a normal Rioja - but this was older then a normal Rioja. I smelled dark fruit and a touch of prune on the nose. The wine tasted great. The fruit was still there - blackberry, currant and red bramble fruit mixed with leather and a bit of sherry. The wine was certainly beyond its prime. It was very thin and not near as supple as a peak Rioja should be. For 20 years old, it was a winner.

So what is the lesson in all of this? First of all, never assume a wine is bad. It is always worth giving it a try. My friend Fernanado and I now have a good story to share regarding a great night with friends, and a fabulous Rioja that was long left for dead. Depending upon how a wine is stored, you can sometimes get longer life then expected from a wine. If you have a strong vintage, the tannins in a wine may preserve it for much longer then you expect. Once in a while, there is no explanation. Even after sitting for 3 years on the Vinegar shelf, this humble Rioja had its 15 minutes of fame.

October 23, 2009

Review - Juan Gil - Monastrell - 2006

Spain / Jumilla
90pts / $18.00

When you love wine, you can't help surrounding yourself with others with the same passion. I meet quarterly with friends in Virginia to taste wine, eat good cheese and most importantly catch up on each others lives.

Two weeks ago Barbara hosted our quarterly event. The theme was blue cheese and our favorite wine since out last meet.

We had a fantastic time, as usual, but Barbara sent me home with a bottle of wine she was very impressed with. She and I have similar tastes, so I could not wait to try it out.

This wine poured a beautiful dark purple and coated the glass. It had smoky earth, blueberry and violets on the nose. It smelled delicious. The wine was medium bodied, typical of a Jumilla monastrell. The flavor notes were black cherry, tobacco, with dusty tannins. It had good structure and was multi layered. The wine is delicious.

All of the major reviewers gave this wine 90+ points. It has enough structure to last a few years in the cellar, but may be too tempting now. What a great gift, and impressive wine.

The most impressive feature of this wine is the price. I have found it as low as $16.99 online. You can find it locally in DC from $18-$22. Don't miss this budget beauty. Back up the truck and buy it by the case!

October 6, 2009

Casal Garcia - Vinho Verde - 2008

Portugal / 2008
$6 - $9 / 88 points

About once a month I am asked to assist with choosing wines for a wedding. Usually I am asked to suggest "Good, but Inexpensive" wines for the bar and tables. Vinho Verde is always one of my top suggestions for white.

You can't beat Vinho Verde for easy drinking. Literally translated as "Green Wine," this Portuguese beauty, for me, is a white wine staple. Light, refreshing and inexpensive; this wine will change your perception of cheap white wine. It is a low alcohol classic that never ceases to surprise me.

This wine is wonderfully crisp and refreshing. It is light bodied with plenty of acid. It is easy to pair with most snacks and grilled food. Reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc, it has a nose of lemon and lime, fresh grass and a touch of earth. The wine is slightly effervescent. This is the trademark of a vinho verde. It tickles your tongue.

It is a simple wine. Light colored with little body, this wine is easy to quaff. The citrus is refreshing on the front end. There are also some tropical fruit and mineral notes on the finish, with not a lot in the middle. This wine should be served cold.

This wine is generally made from loureiro, trajadura and albarino grapes which are indigenous in Portugal. If the map looks like a persons face in profile, the wine is produced by the eyes and forehead.(See Map) The blend varies from producer to producer, but always includes these varietals. This wine is called Vinho Verde, because the wine is meant to be enjoyed while young. It is important that you check the label to be sure you are buying the latest available. Currently, you want the 2008 vintage.

The vintage on this wine is not found on the front label. You have to turn the bottle around and look for an important looking seal. Within the seal, it will tell you the vintage of the wine. The last time I reviewed a vinho verde, I got lots of e-mails from readers telling me how disappointed they were in the review. When we investigated further, we found they were drinking wine that was 2-3 years old. Believe me, you will love this wine. If you don't, I will give you odds that the bottle you have opened is old.

Have I told you the best news? Brace yourselves. This wine is less then $8 per bottle. You can find it as little as $5.99 if you look hard enough. At this price, you should be buying it by the case.

Vinho Verde is the Rodney Dangerfield of summer wine. Because of it's low price, it "Gets no respect." Don't wait as long as I did to try it. You will be glad you did!

July 19, 2009

MATCHBOX Pizza Review - Bad Judgement

I recently went to Matchbox in Washington, DC to celebrate a successful theatre performance by my daughter. The experience was less then pleasant.

The story is almost incredulous. This is a tale of a waitress using very poor judgement to damage a long term relationship.

I have been transformed from a FAN of MATCHBOX to a unhappy customer.

713 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

July 19, 2009

To: Ty Neal, Perry Smith
Andrew Kim, Chris Schaller
Fred Herrmann

Dear Sirs;

I have been a fan of Matchbox since you opened your DC location in 2002. I dine at your Chinatown location frequently and recently have added the new Capitol Hill site to my dining list.

My daughter was participating in the DC Fringe festival this past Saturday. After the play, we walked from the theatre to your Chinatown Location to celebrate a successful show. I brought seven people with me and planned on enjoying an early dinner in your upstairs dining room.

We were seated promptly and greeted by our waitress without delay. We were all in good spirits – hungry and looking forward to sharing a meal and celebrating a fabulous afternoon.

When I ordered a draft beer, our waitress requested my ID. How sweet I thought. I am rarely carded (I am 49), and was happy to pass my license over for review. After perusing my Maryland license, the waitress asked if there is anything other then beer I would like, as my license was expired and thereby invalid as identification.

I looked at my license, and she was correct – my license had expired in May. I was unaware and quite surprised it had expired. As a reasonably responsible, middle age man with kids, I am not one to push the limits of the law.

What DID surprise me was her refusal to serve me a beer. She went to great lengths to explain that she could be arrested for serving someone without proper ID. She went on to explain in a condescending manner why she was right to take this position. I was stunned.

What my entire group first thought was a joke had become an incident. She would NOT serve me a beer, but would allow one of my adult guests to order one on my behalf. I was incredibly embarrassed and frustrated with the lack of judgment she used to interact with our group.

What started as a fantastic afternoon with my children and friends had turned into a disappointing, frustrating and infuriating experience. We stayed at our table, but immediately her tip went from 20% to 15%. If it were not for my wife…she would have received ZERO from me.

I am a food and wine person that spends a great deal of time at restaurants. Your establishment has been one of my favorites for many years. It is a shame that one incident can change the perception of a customer from a fan, to a detractor.

As a salesperson I feel I owe it to the owners and management to bring this incident to light. I have always felt that good judgment is one of the most important skills a waitperson can have. While Nicole was very competent as a waitress, she was a failure as an ambassador of your brand.

I have attached a copy of my license, my itemized bill and for good measure my AARP card to validate my tale. I hope you can use this example to better train your staff and avoid future incidents. Pizza Paradiso, Two Amy’s and Comet will be happy with my $163 tab once a month.


Gerry Dunn

March 4, 2009

Chave - Cotes-du-Rhone - Mon Coeur - 2006

Rhone Region / France
Proprietary Blend / $18-$25

I just arrived back from Naples, Florida where I spent 4 exhausting days with some old friends. Every year I meet with these guys to play golf and get a few days away from the family. There may be golf during the day, but it is all about food and wine at night.

The down side of spending time in an expensive market, is the food and drink is expensive too. To hold down costs, we tried to stay with wines offered at $70.00 and below. This is always a challenge since that puts the retail price at $20.00 to $25.00 at which point quality is spotty.

Most of the wine we had over this trip was forgettable. Why is it so hard for high end restaurants to research wines for the lower third of their list? There are some great values out there and we only found one worth mention.

Chave is best known for their higher end wines from Hermitage and St Joseph. Many folks are not aware that they produce an entry level wine as well. Although they carefully buy the grapes used from throughout the Rhone region (Rasteau and Cairanne), the result is delicious.

This wine is a blend of Syrah, Granache and a little bit of Carignane. The nose is fabulous with strawberry and red fruit. It is a bit darker then a Pinot Noir with good clarity. The first taste brings cherry and blackberry on the front and a slightly spicy raspberry finish. The tannins are pure and sweet...this one is easy to drink.

This wine was paired with a Roquefort Strip Steak and held up to it well. It is not a wimpy wine. The wine had good body, almost chewy...and can be paired with bold flavors and fatty food.

I need to thank Rick Gilbert and the boys from Buffalo for picking up the tab that evening. Kudos to Larry Hager the KaKooYa man for letting the shanty Irish invade Quail West; Chris for admitting he had new hair plugs, and Barry the door breaker. Tim Gavigan with Fleming's Steakhouse treated us like gold. I hope I have the chance to reciprocate in Washington, DC. Thanks to all, you made my week!

By the way....Notice the Alligator in the lower right hand corner of this photo. Rick and Chris were about to throw me into the water for playing so poorly.

Photo Credit to Larry's I-Phone.

From Left to Right - WineGent, Chris Gavigan and Rick Gilbert