Sunday, April 10, 2016

Barbera from the 2013 Vintage from Vietti

It's been awhile -- a few years in fact -- since I've written about wine, and I said I wasn't going to do it again.

But my wife and I are going to Italy for the first time in decades this fall and to prepare, we have, among other things, been trying to learn more about Italian wine. For me, more means pretty much everything because I'm essentially starting from scratch. In years past, I tended to avoid Italian wine, in part because I was unfamiliar with the grapes and the wine-growing regions and in part because the labels seemed very confusing.

To help sort things out, we are doing the same thing we did when I was writing this blog on a regular basis: opening two or more bottles at a time and comparing them, sometimes at only one sitting if enough people are present, but often over the course of a couple of days, resealing the bottles with rubber corks and a pump in the interim.

After years of experience tasting and drinking wine in one fashion or another, comparative tastings over the course of a relaxed dinner is the ONLY way to go, in part because most wines are meant to be consumed with food and in part because wine gradually changes character as it comes into contact with more and more oxygen.

Which brings me to the following: a

Vietti 2013 Barbera d'Alba "Tre Vigne" ($25), and a

Vietti 2013 Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne" ($17).

Barbera is a grape strongly identified with Italy's northwest Piedmont region and wines made from it  are generally notable for relatively high acidity, but not much in the way of tannin. It is considered to be a "rustic" grade in comparison with, say, Nebbiolo -- the "noble grape" of the Piedmont.

Alba and Asti are two towns in the Piedmont near which Barbera is grown, but with significantly different results. Barbera d'Alba is often identified as being more feminine -- sweeter and softer -- in nature while Barbera d"Asti is more masculine -- darker in color and more rustic. Some might find it rougher, or more challenging, particularly in the finish.

Vietti's winemaker recently visited Seattle and when I told him what we were doing, he suggested we compare his two Barberas to get a sense of how the two terroirs differ. It was highly illuminating.

At first taste, the wines were clearly different, but not in a dramatic fashion. It was only over the course of two dinners did the very pronounced differences become increasingly clear to the point where, if I handed a person a glass of each without identifying what they were, the consumer might conclude they were made from two different grapes.

The significantly more expensive Vietti Barbera d'Alba is a very pleasant, mouth-filling, medium-weight wine with no noticeable tannin and just enough acidity to be food friendly. Consumers would tend to identify the finish as "smooth" -- to the point where this wine could be consumed as an aperitif. The downside? A lack of complexity means one loses interest in this wine as time goes by and over time, the smooth finish seems "flabby."

The darker Vietti Barbera d'Asti is a much more assertive wine, particularly as time goes by. It has a light tannic backbone that gives the wine structure -- structure that is largely absent from the d'Alba. The tannins, although far from pronounced, when combined with the acidity definitely give this wine a rustic character.

The bottom line: we both liked the Vietti 2013 Barbera d"Asti best. It was better with food, it was more interesting, it held up better over time and most importantly, it seemed to convey 'a taste of Italy" to a greater degree than did the Vietti d'Alba.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Belle Pente Wine Coaster

Here's a coaster made from foil that sealed the corks on bottles of Belle Pente pinot noir that I consumed in recent years.

Belle Pente is one of a number of very good wineries located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I started buying their pinot over 10 years ago because at that time, it was readily available here in Seattle and the winery had at least two offerings that sold for under $20 a bottle -- along with several more expensive varieties.

Belle Pente is one of the wines I have used in an attempt to discover how well Willamette Valley pinot noirs age and when is a good time to drink them. Given Seattle's favorable climate, I simply put them in a dark area in my basement, well away from the furnace, as opposed to in a temperature-controlled storage facility.

The result: these wines -- even the less expensive ones -- age well and definitely become better over time.  I recommend cellaring them for at least three years after they are released and drinking most within a 5-to-8 year window.  

I also recommend that readers experiment to determine what works best for them. It does take patience, a certain amount of disposable income and good storage conditions, however.

The bottle pictured here is from the 2007 vintage and it sits for the moment on my "ready-to-drink" rack. I'm sure it will disappear soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Coasters From The Foil That Caps Wine Bottles

It's been about three years since my last posting, which remains basically in force since I don't intend to resume reviewing individual bottles of wine.

But I have, in the interim, continued to be a wine enthusiast.

Like many of you, I save the corks from my bottles -- for no particular reason. For years I have simply thrown them in a large box and with them, the metal or plastic (ugh!) caps that one generally removes with a foil cutter or a blade. 

One day, an idea flew into my head: why not flatten out the foils, cut them into squares, glue them onto small boards and make coasters?

You can see a couple of the results below.

The top coaster on is made from foil caps removed from various bottles of red Bordeaux of the early 1980s.

The bottom coaster, also shown at the right with a bottle of 1981 Ducru-Beaucaillou sitting on it, is made of foil removed from Ducrus of the '81,'82 and '83 vintages.  The 1981, by the way, is drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

I tell winemakers that I meet from time to time that they should encourage their customers to make coasters. That's because one has to drink 16 bottles of wine to make a single coaster. If you want to make four coasters so that everyone at a small dinner party can have one, that's over five cases of wine!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Wine Commentator to Cease Publication


The purpose of this posting is to notify readers that “The Wine Commentator” is ceasing publication and that all past entries will be deleted in the very near future.

I can’t say I’m going out of business because this blog has never been in business. As readers may have noticed, the blog is devoid of advertizing and always has been. In addition, as per the disclaimer above, there has never been any other source of revenue or compensation in any form associated with my activities.

I started this blog about six years ago when I developed a severe case of tendonitis and had to have a leg put in a cast for a month. One day, sitting at my computer, I clicked my mouse a few times, typed in a couple of words and discovered that I had a blog.

What to do next?

Some months earlier, I had been trying to explain to a friend the difference between Bordeaux reds and wines made from grapes associated with Bordeaux that were grown in the state of Washington.

“You should write about wine,” he said.

I dismissed the idea at the time, but with a blank blog in front of me, I thought “why not?”

I also decided to test an idea that is central to “Field of Dreams” – the film about baseball: “If you build it, they will come.”  Could that be true with respect to the Internet?

Initially, I  told no one other than my wife that I was writing a blog about wine and made no attempt whatsoever to publicize it or to optimize search engine results.

The outcome?  They did NOT come!

I continued that approach for about five months and during that time, I probably experienced on average three visitors per week.

Then a friend of mine sent me an article from a long-established San Francisco-based wine blog and during the course of reading it, I discovered that the blog invited other wine bloggers to submit their URLs. So I did and my blog joined a very long list. (This does seem to be a popular activity.)

Almost immediately, my traffic jumped to between five and ten visitors a day (as opposed to a week), but when I examined where they had come from, I discovered almost none came from the other blog. Rather, it seemed, Google’s search engine  had somehow decided to take my efforts more seriously as a result of the link.

Some months later, Google greatly improved its indexing system for blog posts and I took advantage of that change. Traffic then quickly climbed to about 20 visitors a day and increased slowly but steadily thereafter.

At present, traffic averages about 60 visits a day during most months and climbs to more than double that during the “high season” for wine – the months of November and December. Since the blog was started, there have been just short of 100,000 visits in total.

The number of “readers” is far smaller than the number of “visitors,” however.  Most people arrive at this blog as a result of a search for information on a particular wine or type of wine and in the vast majority of cases, what they see here isn’t what they were looking for and they quickly depart.

A small fraction of visitors remain and read some postings – mostly two, three or four, but in some cases a very large number. It’s had to know whether what I have written has been helpful or not: I rarely hear from anyone. (Unfortunately I had to make it more difficult to comment because I started getting spam when it was easy to do so.)

The main reason I have decided to end “The Wine Commentator” is that I have been having a difficult time trying to find anything new to say. In addition, it’s time to move on to other activities.

I’ve personally had a lot of fun writing the blog and as a result of doing so, have discovered and tried a LOT of wine that I probably never would have experienced. It has been fascinating.

Best wishes to all  -- including a few who have informed me I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about!

Fowler W  (“Skip”) Martin

(PS I would like to thank Google for hosting the blog and diligently indexing the postings even though the company has received no revenue as a result of my activities.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Cellar Report: High End 2001 Oregon Pinots


A duck breast for dinner seemed to call for something special in the way of pinot noir so I pulled from the cellar a:

Beaux Frères 2001 “The Beaux Frères Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($65) and a

Domaine Drouhin 2001 “Laurène” Pinot Noir ($55).

Here’s the quick bottom line: the Domaine Drouhin offering was considerably better than the Beaux Frères both right out of the bottle and after these two wines had been exposed to a fair amount of oxygen.

Sometimes, when a wine matures in the cellar, flavors that may have been individually detectable  when it was first released gradually come together into a coherent, blended whole. This is what happened with respect to the Drouhin offering. It tasted like a very pleasant, conventionally flavored Oregon pinot noir and despite having been in the bottle for about nine years, it held up extremely well over a three-day period, the partially consumed bottle having been resealed after the first dinner and reopened two nights later.

As one would expect, this wine was soft and velvety without being flabby. It still had sufficient structure and acidity to be very good with food and the finish was excellent. Nothing was amiss. This wine can cellared for some additional years if you wish, but it is just fine right now.

The more expensive and generally very highly regarded  Beaux Frères was frankly a disappointment. When it was first opened, both of us initially thought it was the more interesting of these two offerings, but unfortunately things started to go wrong in a hurry.

As it came into contact with more oxygen, the wine opened up to flavors that seemed to us a bit disjointed, but most troublesome, a sharp, slightly fizzy aspect appeared – as though there was some residual fermentation going on.

That was the end for my companion, who pushed the glass away.

I sipped it from time to time to see if that sliver of sharpness would disappear quickly, but it didn’t.

Meanwhile, we greatly enjoyed the  “Laurène,” which disappeared from the bottle disproportionately.

I was pretty sure that the sharp fizzy aspect of the Beaux Frères would disappear over time and sure enough, when the re-sealed bottle was re-opened two evenings later, this wine was a lot more drinkable. But it still wasn’t as good as what remained of the Domain Drouhin. We blind-tasted them again and both of us easily placed what turned out to be the Drouhin first.

Hopefully whatever ailed the Beaux Frères was limited to my particular bottle even though there was no evidence at all – by sight or by smell – that the cork had leaked. Since it is the only one that I had, I can’t try another bottle to find out, however.

These wines are both made from grapes grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and they are both a bit over medium in terms of body weight with the Beaux Frères slightly the heavier – and more alcoholic – of the two. It was listed as being 14.4% alcohol by volume while the Drouhin was said to be 14.1%.


Beaux Frères

Domaine Drouhin

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A to Z, Cloudline, Louis Latour 2008 Pinot Noir

This posting considers an:

A to Z 2008 “Oregon” Pinot Noir ($20),  a 

Cloudline 2008 “Oregon” Pinot Noir ($20) and a 

Louis Latour 2008 Pinot Noir (Vin de Bourgogne) ($15).

Here’s the quick bottom line: these three reasonably priced and widely available wines made from the pinot noir grape are all Worth Considering, but don’t expect anything particularly wonderful from any of them. The first two, as the designations indicate, are blended wines made from grapes grown in various vineyards in the state of Oregon, not all of which are necessarily located in the prime Willamette Valley region.  The third is a wine made from pinot noir grapes grown in France that is specifically intended for the U.S. market. (The same or a similar wine marketed in France would not have the words “Pinot Noir” displayed on its label.)

As usual, two of us (in this instance) blind tasted these pinots over a two-day period, resealing the partially consumed wines between the first and second dinner.  Here’s what my co-panelist, who did not know what they were or how much they cost, had to say after trying them the first time around:

“These are not the best wines that I’ve had. I don’t think that any of them are top rate.” But (the one that turned out to be the Louis Latour) was ‘more approachable’ and (the one that turned out to be the A to Z) was ‘more interesting, but not approachable.’” This individual went on to describe what was eventually revealed to be the Cloudline as “just kind of there.”

Both us agreed that the light, bright Louis Latour offering remained very consistent over the two-day period. It was red-fruit focused, a bit more acidic than the two Oregon pinots and its finish was just a touch sour, but not unpleasantly so. This is a very light-bodied pinot, hovering just above being so light as to be unpleasantly thin.

On the first night, I found the Cloudline to be nicely balanced, but not terribly interesting in terms of flavor. Like the Louis Latour, it leaned toward the red side of the pinot noir flavor spectrum, but it was noticeably heavier and a bit sweeter than the French wine. In contrast, the A to Z was a distinctly darker and less acidic wine than the Cloudline, but at the same time it also seemed a little dull.

On the second night, as mentioned above, the Louis Latour was basically unchanged. But the Cloudline, which I had liked best the first time around, had developed an unpleasant flavor almost to the point of being “off.”  This was a big disappointment.  The A to Z, on the other hand, had opened up, displaying more flavors and becoming more balanced in an overall sense. I was pleasantly surprised and happy to finish that bottle while disposing of what remained of the Cloudline.

My companion once again placed the Louis Latour, which was now very easy to identify, first.

All three of these wines, by the way, are listed as being 13% alcohol by volume.

If you purchase the Louis Latour pinot noir, drink it soon. Don’t let the fruit fade with time – there just isn’t enough there. This is an affordable pinot for informal consumption in circumstances where wine is not the main event. Serve it with relatively light fare, such as a dinner salad.

If you buy the A to Z, open it well before you intend to drink it and consider pouring it into a decanter and swirling it around before serving it. If it gets enough oxygen and is given time to open up, I think you’ll be pleased with this one  -- if you like darker pinots that aren’t particularly acidic. This one can go with a meat-based main course.

I really don’t know what to say about the Cloudline. In most instances, wines in this price range are purchased for immediate consumption on one particular evening. If that’s your plan, it may be just fine, but it’s nothing special – a disappointment considering the fact that Oregon’s 2008 vintage has been rated one of the state’s best.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Ken Wright, Merry Edwards 2006 Pinot Noir

Regular visitors to this blog may feel they are always reading that West Coast pinot noir is a medium-bodied wine or lighter. Are there are any full-bodied options out there? The answer is yes and here are two of them: a

Ken Wright 2006 “Shea Vineyard” 2006 Pinot Noir (about $50) and a

Merry Edwards 2006 “Tobias Glen” Pinot Noir ($54).

If you are a fan of big, intense pinot noir or if you are looking for a wine that would go well with particularly hearty fare (and if you have an ample budget for this sort of thing), both of these blockbuster-type pinots are Worth Considering.

Each year, Ken Wright releases several powerful, concentrated single-vineyard pinots made from grapes grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. As if to emphasize the hefty nature of these offerings (and perhaps to convince you they really are “something special”), the wines are contained in exceptionally heavy bottles. This is unnecessary and unfortunate because the wine is backbreaking to carry if you purchase a case, the thicker bottles tend not to fit easily in most wine racks and, most important, these bottles are far more damaging to the environment to produce than normal wine bottles.  Sea Smoke Cellars recently announced that for environmental reasons, it would henceforth release its most expensive pinot in a normal-weight bottle and it is high time Ken Wright and various other wineries did the same. Except for sparkling wine, heavy bottles are unnecessary and irresponsible.

The Shea Vineyard, an important source of grapes for a number of higher-end Oregon offerings, is located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley and the Ken Wright offering under consideration here is listed as containing 13.5% alcohol by volume.

In contrast, the Merry Edwards pinot (14.4% alcohol) comes from grapes grown in what is described as a shady glen in California’s Russian River Valley, a portion of Sonoma County. The winery says that the cool temperatures of that particular location make the grapes grown there among the last to be harvested, which gives the wine “the dense richness of late-ripening grapes.”  Like the Ken Wright pinot, the color of the Merry Edwards offering is deep and dark and the winemaker talks of flavors along the lines of blueberries, blackberries, cassis and licorice. I’m sure you get the picture: this is not one of those light, red-fruit focused pinots that are much in vogue.

Winemakers sometimes describe U.S. pinots as being either masculine or feminine in character. Both of these wines are firmly in the masculine camp with Merry Edwards suggesting the “Tobias Glen” pinot would best be served with dishes along the lines of beef stew with mushrooms or roast quail with a sauce of reduced blackberries.  Suffice to say, neither of these are salmon wines.

Two of us blind-tasted these two wines during the course of two dinners, resealing the partially consumed bottles in between. In total, this was done over a three-day period.

The Merry Edwards “Tobias Glen” offering was the clear winner on the first night. It had a more pronounced bouquet and it displayed a range of attractive flavors on the palate. In contrast, the Ken Wright “Shea Vineyard” was more narrowly and intensely focused on a single dark-fruit flavor. Both of these wines were big and powerful, but in neither case was the fruit so dense as to be described as “extracted.” Both finished very nicely.

Two evenings later, the story was a bit different. The Merry Edwards, while still pleasant, had lost its complexity. In contrast, the Ken Wright offering had gained a bit – some spice that wasn’t apparent on the first night (perhaps the wine was still closed up) had appeared. But spice didn’t last long. By the end of the second meal, it was much less apparent than when the bottle was initially re-opened.

If you have any of the Merry Edwards, it is easy to say what to do. Open it and drink it in one evening.  The Ken Wright is a little tougher. Maybe one should open it a bit early on the night you plan to consume it and let it breathe for quite awhile.

These wines could be cellared for a longer period of time, but I don’t think that is necessary.

If you like a big, dark pinot, both of these are at least worth trying.