Friday, August 29, 2008

Oenology (Eno), A Wine Bar

"Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever" - Aristophanes - (from the menu at Eno)

Walking back to my hotel in Chicago from an evening business meeting, I spotted a sign: "Oenology". Hmm...promising...yes...a wine bar! Now, a wine bar in a big city like Chicago is not a surprise, but it was not on my schedule for the evening so I can call it a surprise...

A few comments on "Eno". Yes, it is located in a hotel (the InterContinental), but therein lies the charm - it was modern, but not so hip that I had to deal with the extra loud thumping of music, servers in tiny black minidresses and 25-somethings who already know everything about wine. But I wouldn't dare call this a "library" - yes there was modern music background and a youngish crowd, but the atmosphere accented the wine, not suffocated it. Perhaps even a detectable seriousness in the air which, for anyone who has seen me tasting, was absolutely perfect...

Most wine bars feature various wines by the glass and featured flights, and so did Eno, but Eno also featured thoughtfully prepared flights of cheeses and meats to pair with the wines, a simple, but well executed, touch  - I highly recommending some of the meat and cheese flights.

Flight #1 was a "Festival of Whites", paired with a flight of Wisconsin cheeses (perfect for this Cheese-head), olives and nuts, and a curiously delicious jam with mustard seed:

The 2006 www "Bordello" Verdelho (Lodi) showed a fresh greenness on the nose, with green melon and floral, woodsy, notes as well. Refreshing and flavourful with decent acid, but with higher alcohol and a heavy oaky hand.
13.4% alcohol, Score: 16/20

My favourite of the flight was the 2005 Atrea "The Choir" (Mendocino), a Rhone blend of Roussane/Viognier, had a nice earthy, musty nose, butterscotch (Werther's) and oregano later on. Smooth, soft, and luscious mouthfeel, very flavourful and poised, nice persistency. There's amazing juice in there if they just laid off the oak a tiny bit...
14.2% alcohol, Score 17/20

On the right was the 2006 Brooks "Amycas" (Oregon). A blend of Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Gewurtztraminer, and a dash of Muscat, it showed a simple nose of honeyed apples and wet bread dough, some citrus. Simple and refreshing, but a bit thin.
13.7% alcohol, Score: 15.5/20

Flight #2 was "Pinot Envy", paired with a unique selection of dried meats from around the world:

Pinot envy was not just Pinot Noir, and first up was the 2007 Yamhill Valley Vineyards Pinot Blanc (Oregon). Very minerally, with green grass and yeasty limes on the nose. Dry, limey, very nice acidity and minerality on the palate. Great persistency, very nicely balanced, this is quality wine making.
??% alcohol, Score:17/20

The 2006 Eola Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon) featured ripe raspberries, oak, vanilla, cocoa, white pepper, and a hint of cloves - more like a Californian Pinot on the nose - but back to Oregon on the palate, with good acidity, substantial tannins, and crisp fruit - better structure than the nose hinted at, nicely done.
13.8% alcohol, Score: 16.5/20

So here's one reason why I like wine bars - where would you try a STILL Pinot Meunier?Apparently Chandon's Napa estate has decided to set aside some of this classic champagne grape and use it in a dry, red wine. The nose of the 2006 Chandon Pinot Meunier (Carneros) was over-the-top California Pinot Noir at first - all ripe fruit and chocolate - but later opened up to reveal an appealing earthiness. Rather hot and unbalanced on the palate, with smokey dark berries (gooseberries?), modest tannin, and a deceptively long finish that lasts longer than you think.
14.3% alcohol, Score: 16/20

After the flights I had a craving for something European so I finished with a glass of Italian Cabernet Franc, the 2004 G. Puiatti "le Zuccole" from Friuli. Ahh, now there's the stuff...earthy green pepper, black pepper, tobacco, espresso coffee grounds... velvety dry tannins and crisp cherry fruit on the palate, a bit thin but still very good and nicely balanced, would work great with a wintery stew.
12% alcohol, Score: 16.5/20

For me, a wine bar should tease, taunt and educate, and it should be serious about the wine, not the bar. So in that sense Eno was a great success. No, it was not cheap, but not excessive, and I don't mind paying for the infotainment on occasion.

And for those of you looking for a hipper, trendier wine bar, Bin 36 is nearby.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Drive for One Hundred: 2004 Foradori Teroldego

Teroldego is a red grape from Italy's northernmost Trentino-Alto Adige winemaking region, and is found only rarely outside of Italy. In fact the grape thrives on the gravelly Rotaliano plain in northern Trentino, hence the wines are labelled "Teroldego Rotaliano".

Foradori is the most prominent producer, with the 2004 Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano being the entry-level wine. A very nice nose of peppery dried fruit, herbs, pine, blackberry and cassis, with some medicinal and floral notes as it opened up. Light- to medium-bodied on the palate, with good, juicy fruit and silky tannins. A short-ish finish, but balanced and flavourful, kinda "Gamay meets Nero d'Avola". A very good match for a mild Italian sausage pasta.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$25.15 (SAQ)

Not my first Teroldego - I tasted the impressive (but pricier) Foradori Granato as an opener to our "Oddities Night" - but I want documented proof for the Century Club membership committee...

The only Teroldego I have ever found outside of Italy was at Luna Vineyards, one of my Napa faves. They have used Teroldego in a variety of wines over the years.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drive for One Hundred: 2006 Barranc Dels Closos

Continuing the drive for 100 different varietals I picked up a white from Northern Spain. The 2006 Barranc Dels Closos, a white wine from Spain's Priorat region, is a blend of 50% Garnatxa Blanca (Grenache blanc), 30% Macabeu (Macabeo/Viura), 17% Pedro Ximenez, and 3% Muscat. Very pretty, with honeyed green apple, melon, white flowers and butterscotch on the nose, not dissimilar to southern French whites. Smooth and luscious, with crisp green apple and a nice bitter persistency, this elegant white hid the alcohol well and paired very nicely with edamame and cheap California rolls. I always think of big Spanish reds when I think of Priorat so this was a nice surprise - perhaps less of a surprise once I realized this came from Mas Igneus, one of Priorat's most celebrated houses. Bravo!
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$21.80 (SAQ)

PS - Mas Igneus's wines are organic. I frequently taste organic wines, but I usually forget to mention that - I will expand the list soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Drive for One Hundred: The Wine Century Club

Source: The Wine Century Club

I first heard of "The Wine Century Club" over on Dr. Debs' "Good Wine Under $20". For those of you who have not heard of this Club, they are dedicated to "...promoting the awareness of uncommon wine grape varieties." Being a rather adventurous sort I was certain that my blog would easily document 100 different grape varieties. Alas, digging into the archives I can only document ~75-80 different varietals tasted on this site. With this discovery I begin the drive for 100...

The 2007 Il Giangio Gambellara Classico is made from the Garganenga grape in the obscure Italian appellation of Gambellara. Green nuts and fresh cut grass, mangoes and lemons, some chalkiness on the nose as well. Joyful and flavourful on the palate, pineapple-y, crisp and focused, a terrific summertime white - simple, but no rough edges and a great price.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$15.45 (SAQ)

For those of you who think this is an easy task, I recommend that you head over to "The Wine Century Club" website and review the membership application form. This is not as easy as you might think, as many of those "different" varietals you thought you have tasted are actually the same grape, different name, and compounding this quest is the lack of information regarding the varietal contents of wines from certain regions (Portugal a notable offender).

Feel free to join me on this journey - cheers!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mini Vertical #8: Steltzner Claret

Steltzner's Claret is, in my opinion, one of Napa's great values. In a region where the entry price for decent cab is usually over 50 bucks, Steltzner continues to surprise with such a well made wine at this price point. Unfortunately the Opimian catalogue did not offer the Claret this year, but I had two vintages from previous offerings for a blinded "Mini Vertical" to pair with pepper steak:

The 2004 Steltzner Claret (Napa) was minty violets and ripe blackberries on the nose, with some liquorice, pepper, vanilla and green vegetal notes as well. Beautifully textured with decent acidity, velvety tannins, and a nice long finish, but showing the heat of the alcohol. The more ageworthy of the two, it should keep for a few more years but fine today.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$28 (Opimian)

The 2005 Steltzner Claret (Napa) was meaty and leathery on the nose, dark violets, liquorice, with fruit that smelled a touch older than the '04. Soft, silky tannins and nice dark fruit - simpler than the 2004, with a shorter finish. Drink now, short decant ok.
cork. 14.2% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$29 (Opimian)

Note that Steltzner fashions this wine using grapes (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot) from other suppliers and not estate-grown grapes. With high prices for Napa Valley Cabernet, I wonder how long the Steltzner folks will be able to keep a lid on the price?

Friday, August 22, 2008

2001 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz

The nice thing about going to friend's place for dinner is the potential for wine surprises - my cellar inventory is pretty much committed to memory so there are no surprises at home. Fortunately our friends Andreas and Rita are wine lovers and collectors, so I figured the surprise would be a good one.

For a summer barbeque Andreas served a 2001 Kilikanoon "Oracle", a Shiraz from Australia's Clare Valley. Deep, inky purple in the glass (but of course!), with a classic Aussie nose of black pepper, violets, and blackberries, some hints of almond extract, cedar and coffee as well - nice. Big, dark berry fruit in a soft, velvety textured wine, but with prominent tannins and a touch awkward. The long finish hints at a few more years of cellar time, but nice today after a decant.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17/20

If you love the Aussie Shiraz this won't disappoint, and it is different from the Barossas, but for a rather celebrated wine (95 pts from you know who) it was, well...I wouldn't have used the word "profound".

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Australia vs. America Cab Smackdown

My bro-in-law picked up a bottle of D'Arenberg's Galvo Garage, a wine I had been meaning to try for some time, so I decided a little blinded mano-a-mano with a Californian cab was in order (after all, he brought just one bottle...).

I am a big fan of d'Arenberg's wines, so it was no surprise that the 2004 d'Arenberg "The Galvo Garage" (Cabernet/Merlot/Petit Verdot/Cab Franc from McLaren Vale) went over so well - bright cherry fruit, subtle floral and spicy notes on the nose, a velvety texture with a tannic bite (the PV, perhaps?) on the palate. A loooong finish, this wine was a touch awkward in its youth but hints at greatness - stick it away for a few more years. 
screw top. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$26.95 (LCBO)

The 2001 Arbios Cabernet Sauvignon, a pure cabernet from the Alexander Valley, showed better the last time it was reviewed here. An attractive plummy/pruney nose, with leathery black pepper and oaky violet notes in support, but the first sip was all hot and alcoholly, hiding some lovely fruit and velvety tannins underneath. This may keep a few years, and was a bit better once the alcohol blew off.
cork. 14.2% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: US$32.50 + tax (Sherry-Lehmann)

Ok, so I now have at least three California vs. Australia "blinded head-to-head" tastings so far (1,2) - Australia has won all three, and in two of three cases the wine was cheaper than its American counterpart. Statistically insignificant, but trending in the wrong direction...

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Legend, And An End To Intoxication

Source: Wikipedia

Where's Joe?

Working? Yes, a lot. Gone Fishing? Yep, that too. And training, travelling, etc. But still drinking wine and taking notes, just a bit behind in my write ups....

Anyway, in my travels I came across the vinous legend of the gemstone, Amethyst, and it goes something like this (there are various versions):

Bacchus, the ancient Greek god of wine, was angry with man and vowed to punish the next mortal who crossed his path. A princess named Amethyst came along, on her way to worship the goddess Diana. Diana, seeing her danger, turned her into quartz to protect from Bacchus' tigers. Shamed, and filled with remorse, Bacchus wept tears of wine, staining her our favourite purple hue.

Apparently the ancients also believed that drinking wine from an Amethyst chalice would prevent intoxication ... you can keep your Eisch breathable glass, daddy needs an Amethyst chalice for Christmas!

Friday, August 08, 2008

2005 Stephane Tissot "En Barberon"

Earlier this year Edward unveiled the "Wine Drinker's Dilemma", a simple sketch highlighting the oenophile's frustration that we will never, ever, have the chance to taste as many of the world's wines as we would like. But rather than despair, this simple sketch has inspired me to continuously experiment with new grapes and appellations...

The 2005 Stephane Tissot "En Barberon" is a Pinot Noir from the Côtes de Jura appellation in France, and was my first Jura red. A nose of peppery sausage, vanilla, dark berry fruit, cedar and floral notes. Crisp and spicy on the palate, with green woodsy tannins and a chalky/minerally texture. A lengthy finish with great acidity and tannins, this Jura seems to have a few years of aging in it. Perhaps a touch heavy on the oak, but I loved the way it framed the crisp fruit. Reminiscent of a nice Burgundy red, a terrific pinot effort at this price point (if you could find it).
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$30.75 (SAQ)

PS - Last year I enjoyed my first Jura wine, a Stephane Tissot chardonnay from the Arbois in Jura - another success from this winemaker.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Marcus Goes Portuguese

Bachelor-guy Marcus seems to like my kids. I don't know why, but he was comfortable enough with my young family to invite the whole lot of us over to his place for an evening of fireworks, fine food, and Portuguese wine. Unfortunately a rainstorm negatively impacted the viewing of the fireworks from his patio, but the food and wine were excellent.

Marcus whet our appetites with the 2005 Alves de Sousa Branco da Gaivosa, a Portuguese white blend of Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Viosinho and other old grape varieties from Portugal's famed Duoro region. Pear, with some white flower notes, rather simple on the nose. Round and luscious on the palate with modest acid and a hint of oak, some nice bitterness. Simple, but refreshing, worked well with a nice cheese platter.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$18.90 (SAQ)

For dinner Marcus paired a few Portuguese reds with a grilled pork tenderloin.

On our left was the 2003 Herdade do Peso Colheita (Alentejo), a wine fashioned from the local Aragones and Alfrocheiro varietals. Leathery grape skins on the nose, minty blackberry jam, some greenness and spicy black pepper notes as well. Smooth and refined on the palate with light, fresh cherries, velvety tannins and good persistency, this was a great little bottle (and my wife's favourite).
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$21.05

The best wine of the evening, in my opinion, was the 2003 Quinta dos Roques Reserva from Portugal's Dao region, a blend of Touriga Nacional, some Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao, and other local varieties. Crisp cherries, leather, woodsy tannins, and spicy cloves on the nose, it really impressed on the palate, with fresher and crisper with velvety tannins, beautifully balanced. Not a long finish, this is a wine to drink now. Best pairing with the pork tenderloin.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$32 (SAQ)

The third wine of the evening was a wine from the Ribatejano appellation, a first for me. The 2004 Tercius (a blend of Castelão, Alicante Bouchet, Trincadeira and Aragones), sported a jammy nose of spicy black cherry fruit, some vanilla, smoke and mustiness as well. Thin cherry fruit on the palate, it was flavourful and balanced but intellectually flat. Drink now.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$18.25 (SAQ)

I rarely, if ever, buy Portuguese wine, so many hanks to Marcus for hosting this and bringing me outside of my shell. A little less rain and the fireworks would have been perfect as well!