Category Archives: 2003

A night spanning three continents…

Last night, we had my good blogger friend John, The Wine Raconteur, and his wife over for dinner at our place. The dinner had been a long time in the making, and I am glad we finally got to it. It has become a Christmas tradition in Nina’s parents’ house for me to cook a boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy) “between the years”, as we call the period after Christmas and before work starts again in early January. I had to tweak my established recipe (over at FX Cuisine’s stunning food blog) a bit, and figured John and his wife would not mind being the guinea pigs to give the new recipe a try.

I have always loved this dish, and pride myself in having mastered quite some skill in its preparation. It is time consuming, with the marinating and dealing with the meat, but it is also so rewarding! This photo is from FX Cuisine, and mine looks pretty much like this (and yes, I do serve it with mashed potatoes as well!):

Boeuf Bourguignon

As a French classic, a Burgundy Pinot Noir is normally a must to accompany this dish, but John had something else in mind. He had recently acquired a bunch of single vineyard reserve Pinot Noirs from California-based Tudor Wines and wanted to share this wine, which was very generous. He knows of my reservations as regards California Pinot Noirs (too fruit-driven, not enough earthy aromas), so he grinned and informed me that this had enough “dirt” in it. And oh boy, it did. We were drinking the 2007 Tudor Tondre Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands. It was such a pleasant surprise: The initial taste was this wonderful earthiness that a light Pinot Noir carries when done right, and it stretched through the mid-palate, only to be taken over a by surprising fruitiness of sweet cherry and berries. This fruit explosion was in no way a problem, it was so well integrated and part of the earthy tones. Just a great wine, wonderful with the meal as well.

After we were done with the Tudor bottle and our dinner, and conversation was flowing naturally back and forth, I was making eye contact with Nina. We had a bottle of Riesling in the fridge, but it didn’t feel right to crack that bottle just now. As John’s wife was describing how much she enjoys Cabernet Francs and has a penchant for big wines (just like Nina), Nina suggested we should open our last bottle of 2007 Tukulu Pinotage. John reported that he had only ever tasted his first Pinotage at a recent tasting and seemed not very keen on reliving that experience (who can blame him, a lot of the stuff sold here is not up to par), but we insisted. Nina and I have had a weak spot for good Pinotage ever since our time in Botswana, were amazing wines from this grape were available. Tukulu quickly became my favorite producer back then, and has remained so since. Tukulu was one of the first wineries in South Africa to be run by black entrepreneurs and deems itself a black empowerment project (granted, I do like the winery for that reason alone!). This particular bottle had been sitting for a while, and Cellartracker kept nagging me that its drinking window was closing…man, was Cellartracker wrong. The wine poured in a gorgeous purplish red, and swirled heavily through the glass. The nose was fresh and enticing, with typical rubber and dirt aromas mixed with red fruit. On the palate, the wine was wonderfully fresh. Great acidity, lots and lots of earthiness, mixed in that unique style that only good Pinotage can achieve with red fruit. Stunning, and by far not nearing the end of its drinking window.

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

Instead of dessert, as is common in our household, we opened a 2003 Vereinigte Hospitien Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese. You all know my love for aged Rieslings by now, and this one did not disappoint. Petrol aromas in the nose, some mineral aromas and citrus. On the palate, the wine was a stunning mix of toffee and vanilla and underlying acidity and yellow fruit aromas. It still tasted very fresh, and was not on its way to (what I loosely describe as) the more sherry-like qualities of even older Rieslings. By this I am referring to a narrower scope of aromas, and a “thinner” mouthfeel (thanks to Frank for making me explain this a bit more!). I love this stage in a Riesling’s development: still supple and a good mouthful, but turning more towards the caramel side. In general, I find the 2003 Mosel Rieslings are great to drink at the moment, so if you have a bottle in your cellar, give it a try!

All in all we spanned three continents last night. Add in that we talked about our Asian trip as well, and we can make that four. I love how wine can do that, so easily. But as always, the best wines are worth nothing if not had in delightful company.

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Sempre Vive: A Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical 2002 – 2006

The line

The line

I need to start with an apology: Somehow the camera took almost completely worthless photos, and we forgot to take pictures of the wines in glass…so, the photo component of this blog sucks. Sorry about that.

Over a week ago, we had the last of our wine tastings with friends before the summer break. It was a special thing, because two of our friends are leaving the city for good, so this was also the last tasting in that combination. It has really been a great experience tasting with these people whose opinions on wine I have come to appreciate a lot, and who have made these meetings so much fun. There was just always a good vibe around the table.

In order to celebrate this occasion, I had decided we should do a vertical tasting of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. When I came across this opportunity on Wines Till Sold Out, I could not resist it for various reasons: I like verticals (see my last wine related post), they offer a glimpse into the handwriting of a winemaker, maybe even terroir, but also into how a particular wine from a particular area ages. Take into account that weather differences can play their role, too, and you have your hands full. I picked this vertical, a 2002 to 2006 of Cabernet Sauvignon not because I am very fond of that grape (I am not) or the area (I have mixed feelings), but because I know that at least three of our tasting group really like bolder red wines. And one of them is among those leaving us. The final push was the offer: WTSO offered five consecutive years, from the same winemaker and the same plot of land. And that for 99 bucks. I figured it was worth a try. An initial quick Internet search did not show many results for people that had tried these, so we were left to our own devices.

The wines came with an info package about winemaker and plot and vintages, which I thought was a neat idea. Let me fill you in, briefly. The wines are named Sempre Vive and are made by Romeo Cellars. The grapes stem from a vineyard in Calistoga, south of a reservoir between two forests. This is said to create hot days and cool nights (with temperature drops of up to 40 degrees between day and night). The oldest vines in that block were planted in 1971, the majority are 37 years old. Apparently, the clone of Cabernet Sauvignon that was planted back then was unknown, so after DNA testing it received the owners’ son’s name…

The winemaker of these wines is Alison Doran, whose father owned Simi Winery. She spent the majority of her working life at Firestone Vineyard from 1976 until 2000. Today, she works for several clients in Napa and Sonoma, including Romeo.

When considering how to conduct the vertical, I weighed the options (young to old or vice versa or even adjusting for taste and not look at the vintage) and had tremendous feedback and help from many you, see here. I decided to go with Anatoli and Jeff’s advice and try the wines first and then arrange the order. It made the most sense to me. I was also pretty shocked when Anatoli remarked that these wines were way too young still…hey, we are talking 2002!! That’s 11 years!! WOW.

So, I opened the bottles and tasted them after 90 minutes. I then determined the sequence, although, quite frankly, I felt a bit overwhelmed with making that decision. I went with 2004 – 2003 – 2006 – 2005 – 2002. The wines remained open for re- and cross-tasting after we were done with the sequence and then most of us ranked the wines and I will give you our ranking in the end.

First up, as explained, was the 2004 Romeo Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Old Vine “Sempre Vive”. The info sheet stated that 2004 was a short, tough year with late rains in spring, frost and a cool summer with heat spells in September. The grapes were harvested on September 23, 2004, spent 18 months in 50% new French oak. The wine was released on June 1, 2008. It has 15.1% ABV.

In the glass this wine was medium dark red. The nose showed marzipan (sweet almond paste), some alcoholic notes, caramel, then some cherries and berries. Someone noticed ripe strawberries. On the palate, this wine was medium-bodied, very very spicy and had a jammy warmth to it. There was definitely some heat from the alcohol and its tannins weren’t exactly shy. I still felt it was quite balanced. I later got some mint aromas too. The finish, though, was surprisingly short.

This wine split the table. Two of us really, really disliked this wine (curiously, one of them being a bold, heavy red wine lover!) because, to quote them “their mouth went numb from the alcohol”.  I’d say it was a mixed start, the heat was an issue, but the wine still had some interesting aromas to it.

Our second wine was the 2003 vintage. According to the notes, 2003 was a great season with welcome April rains and a warm finish of the season. The grapes were harvested on October 17th, 2003 (a month later than 2004!), aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak. Release date was June 1, 2007. The wine has 14.9% ABV.

In the glass, the 2003 vintage was a rather dark red. All of us smelled manure (not in a good way!), and that was a bad reminder of this stinker that we tried at an earlier tasting. Once you got over the manure, it showed a fruity nose with blackberry and what I would call raspberry-balsamic aromas. Weird. On the palate, this wine was light to medium bodied, a lot spicier than expected. There was a sizable amount of acidity, but one could also tell that the grapes were riper than in 2004, because the wine tasted somewhat sweeter than the 2004 (a bit too sweet for me). It was more herbal than the previous wine, some got black olive aromas, I thought it was smoky with a dark bitter chocolate aroma in the finish.

Next up the 2006 vintage, which was reportedly a cool season with roller coaster hot spells in the fall and uneven ripening that led to reduced quantities. Harvested on October 18, 2006, aged for 18 months in 63% new French oak and released on June 1, 2010, 13.68% ABV.

The color of this vintage was striking: It was a full bright black currant color. The nose was fresh and bright, full of raspberry, blackberry, some vanilla and again marzipan. On the palate, it was medium bodied and nicely velvety to begin with. There was some acidity, tannins, well balanced. I did enjoy the first sips of this wine a lot, except for the shortish finish. Otherwise it seemed nicely balanced. And then it collapsed. Every following sip seemed flatter than the one before. Someone remarked the finish was awkwardly dusty. I don’t really know what happened to that wine, but it just fell apart…that was very sad.

We moved on to the 2005 vintage, which saw a long, cool season with rains in the end. Not exactly ideal. The grapes were harvested October 17, 2005 and aged for 19 months in 50% new French oak. The wine was released on June 1, 2009 and has 15.15% ABV.

It presented itself in a dark ruby red. The nose was full of unripe aromas: greens, herbs, some mint, some red currant. I thought the nose was so, so. Not exciting exactly. In the glass, I did like this one quite a bit. It was light to medium bodied, spicy and had some good branch aromas (I sometimes like that, as in this case). There was definitely too much heat, a general problem for me when wines go over 14.5% ABV. The finish was actually rather long, albeit just of medium length. I thought this one paired well with the goat gouda we had with it…

The final wine in this line up was the 2002 vintage, the oldest of the day. The grapes saw a long relaxed season with some early hot spells. The grapes were harvested on October 7, 2002 and spent 20 months in 50% new French oak. The listed alcohol level was 14.3% ABV. Release date: June 1, 2006.

In the glass, we found a slightly brickish red color. The nose was full of earthy aromas, some age, the fruit aromas had definitely receded from this wine. On the palate, this wine tasted like an older wine, with earthy aromas, some tobacco and leather. Don’t get me wrong, the wine still tasted quite fresh. Its medium body was carried by noticeable residual sugar that led to a long finish. I’d say a bit more old world flavors, which I definitely appreciated. I liked this wine quite a bit. It had some bitter aromas in the finish, but I did not mind those.

Again, there they are...

Again, there they are…

So, staring at my notes, I am wondering: What have I learned from this tasting? I am not quite sure. First of all, I am not sure the order really worked. It was a rather cumbersome guess work what the wines would taste like later when fully explored, and I don’t think I was fully comfortable making that decision. Second, the wines were….so, so. I didn’t expect too much because I tend to have problems with Cabernet Sauvignon single varietals, but others around the table also didn’t seem really satisfied with the experience. Third, I didn’t really get an overarching theme in the wines that I would have identified as the winemaker’s hand or the terroir…I guess I am just not as experienced to get that stuff…The coolest thing about the tasting were the corks, though: The 2002 and 2003 cork did not have a website on it, but an email address that ended in @aol.com. How awesome is that???

We still had fun, and we naturally opened a bottle of Riesling to cleanse our palate and finish off the evening. More about that in another post…

Oh, and our ranking? Well, mine went like this (best to worst): 2002, 2004, 2005, 2003, 2006.

But I was outvoted (only four voted – best wine got 5 points, lowest 1 point):

Groupwise we ended up with 2002 (19 points), 2005 (13 points), 2003 (11 points), 2006 (9 points), 2004 (8 points).

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2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese

2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese

2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese

From one of his frequent trips to Germany, a friend of ours brought back a mixed case of German wines that my friend ManSoo had put together for us. It contained some Kurt Hain wines, a sparkler, some 1989 Auslese and three wines by von Hövel, a VDP winery at the river Saar, one of them this 2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese.

Now, for those not familiar with the Mosel region, the Mosel has two tributary rivers, the Saar and the Ruwer that are part of that wine growing area. The Saar, as I have explained before, meets the Mosel just south of Trier, in the town of Konz. It commences in France and then flows into Germany. It is a mere 246 km (152 miles) long, but only its final stretch in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate is used for growing wine, mostly Riesling. It is known to produce more mineralic, somewhat tarter Rieslings than the middle Mosel. The microclimate is cooler than at the Mosel, so the grapes tend to ripen later and can reach acidity levels without the higher sugar levels you can find on the Mosel, which gives them a distinct character. Most of the vineyards used to belong to the Catholic church, but in the course of secularization in the 19th century, many private investors bought plots and began wine making. Rich families began to settle later in the 19th century which led to the term “Saarbarone” (baronets of the Saar, a term derived from “Ruhrbarone” which was used for the industrialists in the Ruhr area that made a fortune when the industrial revolution took off). A lot of the estates on the Saar are very grandiose, unlike most Mosel estates.

Weingut von Hövel has been owned by the von Hövel family since 1803 (just in time for secularization) and is one such rather big mansion. It is a member of the prestigious German association of quality winemakers, VDP, and owns 11 hectares (27 acres) in the Saar valley which are planted with Riesling only. Its annual production is around 60,000 bottles. Since 2010 Max von Kunow has been the owner of the estate. Besides holdings in the legendary Scharzhofberg, the winery exclusively owns the vineyards Kanzember Hörecker and Oberemmeler Hütte, the vineyard this wine was from. Oberemmeler Hütte is a South-west facing tiny plot of land. Unlike most vineyards in the area, it is quite far removed from the river, on a higher lying plateau. In the 1868 Prussian taxation map, which marked vineyards according to their property value and therefore -indirectly- quality, Oberemmeler Hütte is in the same category as the Scharzhofberg, i.e. very highly ranked.

I was excited to try this wine, because while we lived in Trier, we were only about a 7 minutes drive away from where the Saar meets the Mosel and Oberemmel is pretty close to where that happens. We actually had our wedding celebration in a BBQ hut only a couple of miles away from this particular vineyard. So this is as neighborhood as it gets for Saar wines for us.

The wine poured in a very clear pale, almost white color. Absolutely no ageing was noticeable when looking at it. The nose was delicate, with fresh aromas of citrus, white peach, cream and hints of vanilla. There were some traces of age in the nose, but not prominent at all. On the palate, the wine was light bodied and surprisingly thin in texture. It had a somewhat ethereal feel to it in its lightness in general. The taste was still clean and fresh. There were no citrus aromas, but apple and pear had come in. There was hardly any minerality noticeable which was a bit surprising. The finish was medium long.

The wine was very interesting to me, because it was a combination of still quite fresh, but also seemingly contracted from age, which were the two poles that this wine was tied to. At times, I wanted it to be a bit firmer, and at other times I enjoyed its lightness. It was a type of aged Riesling I don’t think I have experienced in the past. Good to very good, I would say.

Check out the vineyard’s location here.

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