The New World’s Version of Rioja: Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo

Pedernales Tempranillo Reserve 2012 Pedernales Tempranillo 2012

In the heart of Texas is a winery that specializes in the Spanish grape, Tempranillo.  With a memorable view over the Pedernales River Valley from its spacious deck and an impressive tasting room, Pedernales Cellars is a sure stop on your Texas wine trail.

Tempranillo is Spain’s response to France’s Cabernet Sauvignon.  As we expect, this Tempranillo is light ruby in color and it is clear and bright.  American oak makes its presence known with coffee, leather, and a little cedar that control the aromas.  Earthiness and meatiness set up the savory notes and an evident minerality rounds out the first real indication of the Tempranillo grape.   The fruit aromas are reserved with hints of dark fruit, while a little greenishness settles around the edges.  The texture is pleasant and smooth.  Strong but fine tannins are well integrated and add to the savory character of the wine.  Fresh acids and a medium-long, crisp finish end the appeal of a well made wine.  It should be consumed within two to eight years of harvest.

For a Tempranillo, this is an excellent New World representation of “Rioja.”

Rating 91

Emotional  rating:  91

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Creekside Cellars Merlot 2011

Creekside 2011 MerlotIn Colorado Merlot is a variety that produces reasonably well and can, in ideal spots, rise to very acceptable levels of quality.  Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is most likely to have a common parent: Cabernet Franc.  No wonder they blend so harmoniously to better each other in either structure or soft lush fruit.  Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot sport a similar fruit profile: blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, and dark cherry form the common fruit expectation from both wines.  Whereas Cab is firmer and more tannic, Merlot excels with its lush, juicy fruit and its softer texture.  “Cabernet Sauvignon without the bite” is the old distinguishing adage.  Merlot favors clay soils and, hence, ideal spots should offer more of what it likes.

This offering from Creekside Cellars is one of the leading Merlots in Colorado. The oak treatment is now coming into its own together with an appealing lush and velvety mouthfeel.  Typical dark fruit and tannins that are more bold than many Californian examples, together with its own hint of minerality, signal the high altitude, intense sunlight and cool nights.  The acid is firm and this wine demonstrates what Colorado Merlot can be.

Serve at 65 degrees.  A debut in the 50’s will hide the fullness of its fruit.

Rating: a solid 89

Emotional rating hinges on your appreciation of fine tannins that are noticeable and a Merlot that shows finesse with a lush character.  For me, it is an emotionally wonderful wine that arrives at my 94 appreciation level.  Tannins, lushness, and finesse — that’s it in a nutshell.  Get it while you can.

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Settembre Cellars – a Colorado Chardonnay

Three months in new oak imparts to this wine a warm spice and vanilla character that is Settembre Chardonnaynoticeable on first sniff.  The oak aromas overlay and mingle with the fresh fruit.  Apple and raw almond notes with hints of apricot dance on our senses.  The texture is smooth and rich with a beautiful flavored finish.

Blake Eliason, the winemaker, has made every effort to preserve the delicate aromas of the wine.  He starts by harvesting early to keep the finer fruit flavors of the grape intact, producing a wine with finesse.  There is a lot of debate as to whether filtering dulls the flavors of a wine, but he has opted for an unfiltered wine in an attempt to again preserve as much as possible of the wine’s delicacy.  You are the judge, so ask yourself: has the winemaker achieved a delicate expression of Chardonnay?  Do you like the blend of fruit and oak?

Complex wines depend on the preservation of the grape’s flavors, the development of further flavors in the fermentation process, and the creating of yet more flavors in the aging of the wine.  This wine is young and aging has had little opportunity to register its effect.  Complexity also depends on producing more than the sum of the wine’s parts.  Has this wine layered one flavor on another, folding them in on each other to make new, interesting flavors that remind you of more than fruit and oak?  Blake’s goal for his Chardonnay is a pretty bouquet and a polished finish.  My opinion is he has achieved these goals.

We can learn a lot from this wine when we concentrate and think about how it has been fashioned.  Each of our opinions are valid.  It’s your emotional response that matters most.

Rating 88+

Emotional rating will depend on what style of Chardonnay you appreciate.  Those who love the contribution of new oak and the velvety texture will rate this pleasingly high.

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Ruby Trust’s “The Gambler, 2013″ — A Syrah Worth Every Dollar!

Gambler 2012 - AThe cork has been pulled and we will evaluate this wine with and without an hour’s breathing.

It is opaque, clear, and bright with a purply edge.  Its youth is evident.  It’s “legs” run slow, indicating the viscosity of this 14.9% alcohol wine.  I stopped counting the wicking effect as the legs reformed for their fourth time!

Dark aromas predominate on the nose, accompanied by dark chocolate, an underlying foundation of ripe blackberry, a slight touch of smoke, old leather, the softened remains of burnt rubber (which would have been much more pronounced when tasted in barrel), toast, and the benchmark of meatiness.  On the palate, the fruit comes through with a rush of richness on a silky texture — perfectly balanced.   The tannins are well integrated and fine, and they appear to be dominantly from the oak.  They don’t pucker your mouth or dry your throat, but are evident on the aftertaste.

On to the next stage of enjoyment:  the finish is very long and the coating of the palate seems to last almost endlessly.  Deep, dark flavors with a cleansing acid that makes a great food wine competes for attention with the wine’s complexity.  It is a wine well worth the price.

Buy two, three or more bottles.  Lay two down and enjoy the others in their expressive youth.  Those you lay down for 3-5 years will surprise you with the flavors that develop in such a fruit- and oak-rich wine.  This wine can be laid down for a long time if you choose.  We all have special occasions and, without embarrassment, this will “wow” your friends and any knowledgable wine lover.  Can’t afford this much?  There is a less expensive Syrah-based blend from Ruby Trust called Gunslinger.  That’s next weeks write up.

Rating:  93

Emotional rating?  If you love full and rich wines, this one will ring your pleasure bell at 98!

After breathing for an hour, little change was noted.  The nose had muted a little, the mouthfeel kept its richness and the finish was very similar.  Conclusion:  this wine does not need breathing or may require much more time to notice any significant change.  Change, however, in my opinion is not needed.

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This Syrah Is Well Worth the Extra!

Gambler 2012 - ARuby Trust’s “The Gambler” 2012 — 100% Syrah

You pay more, but you get a lot more with this Syrah that has seen spicy new French oak and is both rich and entrancingly complex.  Syrah holds rank as one of the most noble red grapes and it is no surprise that the Aussies stole the name of France’s best expression of the grape — Hermitage — as the name of their best expression of this grape.  When Syrah is the wine in your glass, you are drinking from a variety that goes back two millenniums and more to ancient Roman times.  Although it is intriguing to believe it came from Shiraz, a district in Southern Iran, and that the adopted Australian name (Shiraz) for this grape is a recall of this origin, it simply is not true.

Two French grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, are its parents and France its place of origin.  It can produce some very dense wines if the yield is kept low and you employ one secret: pick it at the right time.  Don’t let it hang too long or it can quickly lose its acid backbone, weakening its structure.  All the good things in Syrah’s grape skin (anthocyanins) are concentrated in comparison to some other red grapes and as one source notes, as much as 40% more.  This should get your attention.

It’s source in France from the Rhone valley will tell you that location is important.  Cote Rotie (roasted slope) and Hermitage are the favored sites, with St Joseph at second place and Crozes-Hermitage bringing up a distant rear.  Place makes a difference!  Compare Australian Shiraz with the northern Rhone Syrah and you might be excused for thinking they are two different grapes.  California’s Central Coast, Washington, and many other places around the globe have produced some exciting examples that are more like the French originals, and this wine places Colorado in that impressive lineup.

Syrah, in its early developmental stages, often displays burnt rubber and black pepper aromas, which betray its affinity to oak — especially new French oak.  If young, concentrated, and from the right region, it can be too strong for some taster’s preferences, but all this will change with age.  This example is a bold, but softened, wine.  Ruby Trust’s Syrah, when tasted in its first year from their high quality French oak barrels, can be quite stern and punchy, but the oak will mellow and smooth the wine with more time in barrel.  Red and black fruit lie in wait for their debut to emerge with barrel aging and show the future of the wine.  A good taster will detect the hidden treasures in a Syrah in its first stage of barrel maturation.  But also lying in wait are the meaty, savory features of this serious food wine.

Let me introduce you to an excellent representation of Syrah, Ruby Trust’s The Gambler 2012, which is no gamble.  This is a wine with longevity written all over it, so don’t hesitate to lay it down.  If you want to drink it now, pair it with a grilled steak or a substantial savory dish.  Many cheeses will be glad to play a supporting role to its solid performance.  And if you want to know the meaning of structure, this wine has a solid frame to which its more delicate features cling.

Colorado is warm, in fact hot at times, and Syrah seems to love the heat and the soils laced with river rock.   My next blog will unravel the pleasures of this wine and what can be done with this noble grape in high altitudes and at the hand of a skilled, experienced winemaker.  In the meantime, enjoy.

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Flying Horse Petite Sirah – Napa

Flying Horse wineryA small plot of land is devoted to the petite sirrah grape at Flying Horse Winery in Napa Valley and the winery seeks each year to offer this less known, but interesting, wine.  Petite Sirah is on the rise in California and elsewhere.  However, Petite Sirah remains an unusual wine when vinified as a varietal.  You should try several Petite Sirah’s since where it is grown plays a significant role in the characteristics it offers.  Winemakers also can leave a notable fingerprint on the wine, many trying to vinify it in a soft, more luscious way.  Deep, dark wines with black fruit characteristics is what to expect of this grape and it keeps placing itself among the big, burly beauties that many wine lovers admire.

Why does big and bold appeal?  For the same reasons that a grilled steak with caramelized sugars and a little burnt tissue appeals.  Bold gets our attention and keeps it.  Remember the phrase “the bigger, the better”?  Well, although that is not always true, a bold presentation has an aura of power, depth, and richness.  Also remember, bold and big is not all this wine is.

Big and bold is the opposite of “delicate, with finesse.”  Opposites attract, while wines in the middle can get lost in the crowd.  This wine is muscular, with bracing acid to match its power along with fruit and oak flavors that remind me of that flame-torched steak.  The tannins are strong but not as gripping as you might find in a Barolo, for example.  Dark chocolate, dark coffee, burnt toast, vanilla, and a little spice mixed with a serving of blackberry fruit are among the flavors it gives us.

This blog is about experiencing wine and this wine is an exciting experience in the deep, dark, and bold side of wine, and it deserves the praise for being densely layered.

Rating:  89

Emotional rating?  With that steak (which it might even overpower), a solid 95.

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You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my books, “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 1 – The Dry Red Wines ” and “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 2 – The Whites and Rosés.”  Volume 1 also provides descriptions of the pairing of several Colorado wines with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.

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Colterris Cabernet Franc 2013 – Stunning!

IMG_1434Colterris has excellent vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.  A smaller vineyard of Petit Verdot rounds out their choices.  I have tasted, from 2009 to the present, notable Colterris Cabernet Sauvignons.  Malbec is still young and beginning to produce, but their Cabernet Franc is a wine that may outclass their previous successes.

The wine is a deep ruby, almost opaque, bright and clear.  The varietal character is demonstrated with a herbaceous note that is expected in the Cabernet family but not overdone or crudely dominant as it is in some Francs.  Complex notes waft out of a pleasing base of harmonious fruit and oak.  Aromas of licorice, coffee grounds, black current, pencil shavings, and vanilla with a pleasant floral quality rise from a viscous, juicy wine.  Mineral characteristics will call to mind the warm gravel of the Colterris vineyards.  The acids keep the wine fresh and vibrant, cleaning the fattiness of rich foods, which it would naturally enhance.

Cabernet Franc is a wine that is finding new appeal around the world.  It is usually forgotten that one of the Bordeaux heavy weights, Chateau Cheval Blanc, a St. Emillion first growth, is about two-thirds Cabernet Franc.  Colorado has a future with this grape that seems to find another home in its Grand Valley AVA.  The expression it finds in Colterris’s 2013 vintage displays lower tannins, color, and body than a full Cabernet Sauvignon but for Franc, it is rich and in great balance with a polished, smooth texture and a medium to long finish.  All Cabernet Sauvignon lovers could do well to try this highly rated wine.

Rating:  91+

Emotional rating?  Let me weigh in:  It is an emotional delight, a wine to be remembered at an appealing 96 points!

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You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my books, “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 1 – The Dry Red Wines ” and “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 2 – The Whites and Rosés.”  Volume 1 also provides descriptions of the pairing of several Colorado wines with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.

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Food and Wine: A Natural Affinity — Truffles and Nebbiolo

Barolo Grill BarRecently I was privileged to eat at the annual Barolo Grill “Truffle Dinner,” thanks to a generous friend.   All the courses were lifted to culinary heaven by the addition of shaved truffles or truffle glazes and were paired with Gianni Gagliardo wines from Piedmont in Italy.  The Barolos (100% Nebbiolo with their amazing delicate floral aromas reminiscent of violets and roses plus more earthy aromas of truffles and licorice) were a match second to none.  Barolo is sometimes called the “King of Wine” and truffles, “the diamonds of the kitchen” — worthy descriptions.

Italian white truffles are very highly esteemed and their strong earthiness is often described as syrupy sweet, although I would hail their savory characteristics.  Truffles are found the world over and the first black truffles from the southern hemisphere were discovered in Gisborne, New Zealand in 1993.  If you ever have a chance to indulge in truffles from any region, pair them with a noble Barolo and you will be delighted and taste ecstasy.

The Barolos, “Serre” and “Preve,” were outstanding and rated in the 90’s.  Aged in wood for 30 months, they revealed all that you might expect from this noble grape.  Check out the number of Barolos on the wine list at Barolo Grill.

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You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my books, “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 1 – The Dry Red Wines ” and “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 2 – The Whites and Rosés.”  Volume 1 also provides descriptions of the pairing of several Colorado wines with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.

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