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Aside from Yellow Tail acting as an ambassador and the pesky Outback commercials, Australia is on the brain, omnipresent and huge. A little more comes to mind when I think of Australia, like the first girl I ever loved, getting to try a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz—a promise fulfilled, in my blog long ago—and the Kinks classic ode, among other rock bands saluting the land down under.

Tuesday happened to be an eventful day, I interviewed and got the position for wine specialist in a local Whole Foods, made some matzo ball soup and was able to taste eight Aussie wines, winding down the total to taste to 309.

Before we learned anything about Australia, we opened the class with a blind tasting. A straw colored wine was poured and notes were taken. We were asked to identify the wine and after the identifying process, whether or not we liked it.

After deliberation and much discussion we decided that the wine showed well but was nothing too special, and as a class we were not sure what exactly we had tasted.

A Riesling on the nose—with fragrant white flowers wafting out of the glass—but it gave way to a fuller body with less of the razor sharp acidity that is often appended to Rieslings of character. We were undecided. Eventually the wine was revealed and much to our chagrin it was Yellow Tail Chardonnay. Oh well, for a wine that is routinely panned it showed well, definitely exceeding the five dollar price tag.

After the palate shake up, we worked our way through the diverse states of Australia, beginning in Western Australia and moving east, wading through major growing areas like the Limestone Coast to the Barossa Valley. We learned about some major players in the Australian wine world like Penfolds and their highly acclaimed Grange, Leeuwin Estate wines, Two Hands and d’Arenberg. We witnessed the proclivity towards Rhône varietals, especially Shiraz and some of the major white grapes like Chardonnay and Riesling.

Australia follows a typical trajectory in comparison to other New World winemaking nations, steadily reducing yields and achieving higher quality through technology and savvy. With so many quality wines being produced in Australia, it was nice to taste through a decent smattering.  And they were:

09 Yellow Tail Chardonnay

06 Leeuwin Riesling Art Series, Margaret River

09 Torbeck Semilon, Barossa Valley

NV The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz, McLaren Vale

07 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale

07 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 128 Coonawarra

08 Two Hands Grenache Yesterday’s Hero, Barossa Valley

09 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share, McLaren Vale

There were some interesting wines in the mix that night. The Riesling from Leeuwin really reeked of petrol, a heavy funk was tough to fight through but on the palate it dissipated, leaving only grapefruit, lemon and green apple fillips on the tongue. It refreshed my palate with the appropriate amount of acidity and had powerful flavor intensity with a lingering finish.

Some of the reds were interesting and my favorites were definitely the Penfolds Shiraz and the d’Arenberg Cabernet for their structure and mouth feel. However, I would like to focus on the Two Hands wines that were a bit extracted, especially Yesterday’s Hero, with a strong bouquet of raspberry jam and a hint of candied strawberry, it was aggressively sweet. Still dry on the mouth, no RS (residual sugar) but my god it was like a Seder came early and having the compote for dessert before all the other courses. Devoid of structure, the flavors were dictating the wine. Though the Grenache was blown out, their Shiraz was refined by comparison. It had a more complex and layered nose and flavor profile with cocoa, pepper, herbs, tobacco and some dark fruit to round out the concoction. The mouth feel was viscous and sensitive, not overbearing. Interesting to see the range of styles a winemaker can deploy.

Ending the class with the Black Chook was really like the big exclamation point. My formal tasting notes stop there—I can definitely vouch for my first time tasting a sparkling Shiraz; the Black Chook was awesome, but that happens to be my taste. Sparkling Shiraz down, now on to the stickies from Australia’s cellar door.

Living in the city affords a boodle of burger varieties, accommodating all the price ranges, incorporating an endless array of ingredients and specializing in unique sides to quell my cravings any time of day. I can eat the lower ranking, mass produced patties of fast food chains or work my way up to gourmet grinds (sirloin, short rib and other cuts) of meat, a swanky mise-en scène of Hollywood’s hippest hamburger, depending on how much I am willing to spend. In Los Angeles the gourmet burger phenomena has clenched its fist around our city (big cities in general) and there are a few places that stand out in the LA area, including but certainly not limited to: 25˚, 8 oz. Burger Bar, Umami Burger and Father’s Office. It would be difficult to maintain a burger and wine blog without tipping the fedora to these masters of the patty.

Not too long ago, in GQ Magazine, Alan Richman decided to be a maverick and sniff out the best burger in America, platitudes not to be doled out carelessly, even more, he decided that Umami burger would take those honors. After that article was released, Yahoo decided to repost it, slapping the article and an even more obnoxious title on the piece to their scrolling marquee of eye-catching news items.

I was inundated with questions and comments about my opinion of the piece and the place, as if I know everything about hamburgers, or subscribe to a burger blog called A Hamburger Today, riding shotgun with Damon Gambuto through the city of Angels… no, no, not me. I know that the article was well written and that a lot of other critics are in agreement about the best place to find a hamburger in LA, maybe California, but the country pushes that theory to the brink. It is an arduous task to assign rank to so many different variations (burger joint vs. gourmet burger) but feel that if you do, it is incredibly subjective, and therefore I rarely rate burger establishments (and any inclination is behind me now) because I know they are created in unequivocally dissimilar styles! Alan Richman made a bold claim about a local restaurant, one that I had the means of traveling to. It was time for me to recast my attention on the dressed up and sophisticated burgers of Umami.

After spending four plus hours at the LACMA, my eyes were full, ingesting an entire course of artwork from Koons to Kadinsky, but my stomach on the other hand was howling for nourishment. I decided the best course of action would be to dine nearby and document my third trip to Umami Burger (I am beginning to adopt the LA Times food critic strategy before reviewing).

I made it to La Brea in no time, pulled up to the valet and in minutes was seated inside Umami. The service in the past was a little spotty, borderline rude and that has always been my knock against Umami, not the burgers but the people, it makes for uncomfortable dining when you are in combat with your server.

Anyway, with the luck of the draw I had a nice but inattentive server, busy with a ton of other things than his station and the wait was much longer than I remembered, roughly twenty five minutes elapsed before my burger (The Manly Burger) and smushed potatoes made the table, but it seemed a legitimate wait; there were some rather bulky orders for parties piling up in the kitchen, my order happened to be lost in the shuffle.

The presentation is minimal, understated and clean. Arriving on a long ceramic plate straight outta Surfas the softball of a burger sits proudly. The burger bun is always eye-catching, a little too big, like button cap mushroom that dwarfs the rest of a substantial setup by comparison. The patty is generous, cooked medium and finely seasoned. The addition of bacon lardons, thick ends of smoky-salty-fatty chunks of pork, adds depth to the fairly straightforward beefiness of the burger. The onion strings bludgeon the taste buds with a similar smoky profile. There is also an aioli replete with horseradish, not listed in the ingredients that add sharpness to each bite, keeping the salinity in check. The burger is calculated and though it spares greens—in display or on the burger—all else is covered.

If you grow up in a Dutch household, the potato is the only vegetable you are comfortably attuned with, at least in my household, so the smushed option seemed fitting. A double fried Dutch yellow creamer with a measured sprinkle of coarse salt sitting atop a rich creamy fry sauce (in the same ilk as the friet met—the mayo-driven accompaniment to the frietjes of the Netherlands or Belgium), complimented the meal and were a welcome reprieve to French fries, though the sides still did not top my favorite at the Golden State.

On a whole, much like the other times I went to Umami, I left satisfied by the burger, not feeling like I had transcended time, or had a mind-altering experience with fleeting bits of ecstasy but rather a very carefully crafted burger. I admire Alan Richman—that heavily decorated food writer for GQ—for the gumption to extol Umami openly; I am not so outward in my adoration, believing more can always be done and to never become too comfortable (Thanks Dad!). I do feel that aside from the burger being marred by inconsistent service (a definite factor in any restaurant receiving nearly perfect accolades) it offers a bounty of goodness. Enough so that you too, should try it for yourself. Douzo meshiagare.

On Thursday I attended a special wine course, a supplement to the already rigorous, yet fun, class schedule that I take… we were short one major country before the final exam. Already covered in serious detail were France and Italy, leaving one, if not many more, countries to be visited via the seven-fifty. It was time to spin “Latin-Esque” by Esquivel and his Orchestra (a Mexican band leader!) and travel to the perennially sexy country of Spain to download its history and learn all about its winemaking.

An interesting fact about Spain is that they have more grapes (grown for the purposes of making wine) growing in their lands than any other nation in the world. There are 2.9 million acres of vines flourishing over the Iberian Peninsula yet they only account for a third of the world’s production of wine.

The low production is out of the utmost respect for the vine, allowing atypical (with regards to the rest of the globe) wide spacing for the vine to do its thing. Also, when the rest of Europe replanted due to the infestation of Phylloxera—a root louse that decimated the vineyards of Europe forcing major replanting missions as hardly any places were spared from the devastation—much of Spain did not. As a result Spain’s vines are older, producing much less but more concentrated fruit.

Spain grows over six hundred grapes but a few varieties dominate the terrain, those being: Airen (the most widely planted of all grapes in Spain), Albriño, Garnacha, Palomino, Tempranillo, Macabello, Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre), Xarel-lo and a couple others in the first tier.

On Thursday evening’s class I tasted through the region beginning with the bubbles of Cava in Penedes and pachinkoed down into Andalucía to taste through a couple styles of Sherry.  In all I tasted these wines:

NV Rimparts Brut Reserva Cava

09 Uriondo Bizkaiko Txakolina

09 Tvronia Rias Biaxas

07 Algueria Ribiera Sacra, Mencìa

05 Viña Cubillo, R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja

06 Viña Santurnia, Rioja

06 Tinto Pesquera, Ribiera del Duero

08 Ipsum, Reuda, Verdeho

08 Zaumau Priorat

08 Jaun Gil Jumilla

NV La Cigarrera Manzilla Sherry

NV Character Royal Sandeman, Amontillado

The Cava was great, my second time having Cava, a sparkler made in the traditional method from the chalky, sandy soils that mimic those of Champagne.

Good acidity, compliments of the continental climate in Penedés, allowing the grapes to retain acid and structure. However, the finish was slightly bitter, reminiscent of a walnut—a trait I do not see replicated in France.

Moving to Rioja, I revisited some praiseworthy examples of Tempranillo—a grape, as I am sure you are already familiar from reading my blog, I am a fan of—from some traditional minded producers. The R. Lopez de Heredia was good with notes of soy sauce and fruit and the oak was used responsibly. The Viña Santurnia was a transformative effort for one of the people in the class—she delivered the most riveting and wild tasting notes of the year, comparing paintings of obscure Japanese artists to staccato passages in the works of late 19th century composers and mixing it all in, like a master blender, to reveal her affection for the wine.

Tinto Pesquera, the most famous of the wines poured that evening, made by Alejandro Fernandez hit the high notes of everyone in the class, from those that judge conservatively to the easy-to-please. With notes of coffee, cassis, blackberry and the ocean—it was complex—and showed a deep hue of garnet and pierced the palate with heavy gripping tannins and painted the taste buds with cocoa, spices and plum. The wine offered a lot and was an exemplary Tempranillo.

The sherries concluded our tasting journey, missing the mark with my palate—a lot of nuttiness on the tongue for both examples, the Amontialldo was better for me but still not a favorite. Not to be discouraged I look forward to drinking more Sherry—all styles—when the time is right.

How about the Jaun Gil, the heavy Monastrell that has become a favorite of everyone in the wine world (James Suckling recently gave it a favorable score on a blind tasting), with notes of tar and fruit and trying to be coy/subtle about the fact it was a hulking beast at 15 % abv. Like you can hide that much heat. To put it mildly, my favorite part of the highly touted wine was the label.

Trading in the AOC and DOCG in favor of some fantastic DO’s from Spanish producers was rewarding. Spain in a day was kind of exhilarating. I learned a lot about a region that harbors some of my favorite wines while exposing other lesser-known areas—the purpose of the class really. I was able to deduct twelve more wines after my brief sojourn to Spain, from the not so intimidating figure-of-500, with only 342 more before me. As the year flies by I cannot wait to see how many more wines of Priorat I consume, or of Cava I will uncork. I still need to make good on exploring more sparkling wines… too much to drink not enough time to type!

I recently finished my final portion of Italian wines in my Tuesday night course; the truncated sessions went by too fast to do the country justice. In the last segment, dedicated strictly to Southern Italy, we tasted through 15 bottles of wine while plowing through history and styles of wines from twelve different regions.

We paced ourselves through Toscana, marching faster and further south into Marche, Umbria, Lazzio, Abruzzo winding down to the toe of Italy—Calabria—before we trod the waters of the Tyrrhenian to reach Sicily and concluded our voyage with a trip to Sardegna (Sardinia).

We tasted through theses wines:

06 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico

08 Castello Romitorio Rosso di Montalcino

04 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Sanguineto, Prugnole Gentile (Sangiovese)

03 Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG Casa Triocco

08 Lacrima di Moro d’Alba Rubico

09 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Gran Sasso

07 Cesanese del Piglio Corte dei Papi Cesanese

08 Fiano di Avellino Colli di Lapio Marzo

05 Aglianico di Vulture Cantina Venosa, Aglianico/Terre di Orazio

06 Cir San Francesco, Galliopo

08 Nero d’Avola Cusumano

07 Etna Rosso Sal Foti Dilic

09 Vermentino di Gallura Deiana

08 Cannonau di Sardegna Contini

05 Colli di Lapio Romano Clelia, Taurasi

The frenzied pace, left a lot to be desired, I could have sat and enjoyed the brunt of these bottles, on their own, writing a novel (a blog entry, for certain) on each, but, we forced our way through the tasting. I have a newfound appreciation for Campania after tasting our delectable DOCG Taurasi that was soft on the palate and bursting at the seams with herbs, bark and cherries.

Another standout among the many, was the 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with an exemplary bouquet synonymous with Tuscan reds—leather, cherry, smoke and dried herbs, more of the same followed on the palate that was delivered with a powerful intensity, filled out with a hearty structure of tannins and oak integration and would not relent with a long and favorable finish.

It was tough to say goodbye to a country that has had a special place and sparked my wine interests for so long, but I can rest assured knowing that I will continue to work the many wines of Italy into my countdown and through my cellar rotation as the year carries on. After the fifteen wines of Italy in one night, I am left with 357 on my Road-to-500 and a single desire that the time be slowed down a tick so that I can savor and reflect on the wines because they so deserve it.

In my Tuesday night wine course I continued my comprehensive coverage of Italy, rather than skimming through a few well known examples of the peninsula, we (the class) rolled up our sleeves and continued to get nerdy with a few of Italy’s less than famous wines like Schioppettino, even throwing in a white wine from Slovenia (my first) while finally figuring out Lambrusco.

We picked up where we left off, to the Southeast of Alto Adige, beginning with Veneto, a region known for a large portion of Italy’s wine export market. The Veneto is the home of Amarone—the most famous wine in the region, made from dried grapes, yielding concentrated fruits and higher alcohol—as well as pumping out Valpolicella in high volume. Valpolicella consists of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara and more interesting than the grapes that make it, are the different styles of the wine, from Nouveau to Reciotto (the grapes are dried to concentrate the sugars). The Veneto is also known for the white wine Soave from the Veneto, made from the curious grape Garganega and a little help from Trebbiano. Soave is known to produce fragrant, light bodied wines that are fresh and vibrant.

Next was the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia well known for its white wine production but it was also the area where we learned of Schioppettino meaning the gunshot, dubbed for the loud pop it would make when opened due to being bottled young and finishing its fermentation in the bottle.

We packed up and continued south, pushing into Emilia-Romagna where I would finally get my introduction to Lambrusco. Something seemed off-putting about that wine, when I would see it in the bargain bins at retailers; I had never tried it.

I learned that it is teeming with acid, young, fresh, sweet and slightly sparkling (in the classic style) while possessing lower tannins and alcohol. It is the perfect partner for prosciutto because the Lambrusco’s high acidity can pierce the fat in the pig leg. It also has an affinity for the salty cheeses of the region. I will never look at the bargain bin Lambrusco the same way, it represents a value driven wine.

We concluded our tasting with Pigato in Liguria; we touched on of one of the most idyllic areas in all of Italy—Cinque Terre—studying the area perched on the hills bordering the coast of the Ligurian Sea.

In all, we tasted through these wines:


08 Fumamelli Valpolicella

09 Prà Soave Classico

09 Corte Majoli Amarone

09 Kabaj Rebula

06 Gigante Schioppettino

07 Bisson Colline Del Genovesato Bianco Pigato

08 Tennuta Uccellina Bursôn Longenese

NV Venturini Baldini Lambrusco Dell’ Emilia


A few standouts among the many that I tasted were the Schioppettino, possibly influenced by the name, but I detected on the nose + palate smoke (from the gun shot?), mushroom, wood and cherry. It was full-bodied, a little more than moderate tannins; medium acidity and moderate flavor intensity but the flavors finished long and were favorable. Everything was in sync.

The Fumamelli Valpolicella was another standout with notes of cherry, tobacco and fresh cut eucalyptus on the nose, it was dry with full body, moderate transitioning into heavier tannins with a long fruit filled finish. Youthful and very good.

The Lambrusco was the last wine that really interested me. Probably not the best introduction judging by the grimace on my teachers face (obviously there are better out there), but, I was interested in the food pairing powers of the wine, more so than the dirty notes of soil and funky cheese that were prominent. The mouth feel was bright and exciting and I look forward to purchasing a different version in the future to taste a fresher core of fruit and experiment with pairings (an upcoming blog idea for sure!).

I tasted through eight different examples of Italian wines (one Slovenian too), seven of which were new to me. I came away from this Tuesday’s class knowing way more styles of wine in Italy thanks to my professor and I am now happy to report that I have 376 wines left to taste before my Mission-to-500 is complete. It is getting better all the time!





My first genuine introduction to wine began with the vino of Italy, primarily the wines of Piemonte (translating as the foothills of the mountains), including Barbera, Dolcetto, Moscato and Nebbiolo. The wines enthralled me… the heavy tannins in the red varietals were not off-putting but rather intriguing; the power of the wines was noticeable from the beginning. But it was only when I began to familiarize myself with the wines of other parts of Italy that I began to really understand their charming qualities. Fast forward four and a half years later and it had been a while since I had enjoyed some Barbera d’ Asti or Alba and Tuesday’s class would be harkening back to my roots, exploring the rustic nature of Piemontese wines as well as examining nearby regions like Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia and Alto Adige. It was looking good on paper.

Piemonte is located in the Northwest of Italy acting as the foothills to the Alps, producing some of the most famous wines from Italy like Barolo and Barbaresco as well as one of the most highly sought after food items—the almighty truffle. The surface area between those two legendary winemaking villages (Barolo and Barbaresco) is not all that far, fueling a major rivalry over the centuries. Both wines are made from hundred percent Nebbiolo, but, of course, the vines live in each respective region. There are some differences though, like the mandatory aging time between the regions. More pronounced variances occur between producers of each village; new school winemakers instituting new oak in order to create a contemporary style versus the traditional-minded winemakers who favor neutral wood barrels to craft an old-world wine. Both versions are revered for their chiseled structure, immense aromatics of rose petals, tobacco, cherries and anise and big-time palate delivery. Excellent food wines that embody fall and winter, boasting eHarmony-matching skills when paired with cold weather fare like roasts and truffles.

From Piemonte, we would depart, covering terrain to the Northeast like Lombardia and Alto Adige, where we would taste some interesting varietals between the two regions. Those two areas both incur cold, continental climates, harnessing the weather to create high acid white varietals. We tried Sparkling wines and cross varietals (Müller-Thurgau), getting nerdy with the wine selection like listening to way too much Ornette Coleman, or strictly grooving on the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It was very cool to say that I have tried one of only a handful of imported Erbaluce wines in the USA and while I am sure that I am not going to be requesting a case any time soon I was happy to try it.

In all, we tasted the following:

08 Erbaluce di Caluso DOC

09 Sandrone Dolcetto d’ Alba

08 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo

06 Giorgio Pelissero Barbaresco

98 Conterno Barolo

NV Quattro Mani Franciacorta

09 Erste Neue Südtirol Müller-Thurgau

08 San Maurizio Cornalin Valle d’ Aosta

09 Lechhaler Teroldego Rotalino DOC

08 Convento Muri-Gries Lagrein Rosso

09 G.D Vajra Muscato d’ Asti

The tasting order was interesting, shuffling between white and red wines, quick palate adjustments were required and I was able to sift out a few gems like the 98 Conterno Barolo for its interesting aged notes of truffle, soy sauce and tobacco and elegance on the tongue with refined tannins. I could easily see the appeal for this wine despite its grand price tag ($175). I was also impressed with the Erste Neue Südtirol Müller-Thurgau with its powerful and youthful aroma intensity of ripe peach and apricot, portraying a simple flavor profile, that lacked acidity but was otherwise delightful; it was not a thinking man’s wine, instead a perfect supplement to the highly anticipated warmer weather of the Golden state.

On a side note, the NV Quattro Mani Franciacorta sparkling wine was a disappointment, most likely the bomb of the bunch. Coming off my recent high with Champagne, this wine offered limited aromatics, almost recalcitrant, barely giving off scents of toasted brioche and minerals and was even less alluring on the palate.

The tasting was one of my favorites; it rekindled my fondness for a part of the world that I hold responsible for igniting my passion for wine and it was also very tasty. Eleven bottles were knocked off the list on Tuesday, leaving 389 left on my righteous path to 500. My sojourn-by-bottle to the North of Italy marked the beginning and I am excited about the remainder of the trip down the boot of Italy and possibly to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Onward ho.

Every Alexander, no no, everybody braves a few terrible days in his or her lives, but when you are an Alexander the problem is amplified because you share your misfortune with a children’s book, your fate has been spelled out. My Friday was definitely the worst day of the year for me, however their was a silver lining, slipping from the clutches of crapdom and ending with the best example of a Washington Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted.

Alexander’s “Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very Bad Day” became a reality on the 18th of February when I woke to a cacophony of sound produced by noisy construction workers with too much energy at 7:00 a.m. I was off to a career-defining job interview, only to see that my car had been the victim of a drive-by cementing (actually more like a cement shower) from the construction project next door.

Perfectly on time for my interview, I had no time to have a meaningless conversation with a bunch of guys who could not care less for my poor car so I trudged on. My interview began timely and it went really well, feeling proud of the case I’d made for wine specialist.

Unfortunately, I got word later in the day that they went with another candidate for the position and that story gets far worse but I am done kvetching.

So after a very dispiriting day at work, I took up a friend’s suggestion to come and hangout with a few ladies at a high-rise building downtown and have some drinks.

I brought a bottle of Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (#417) from Walla Walla Valley in Washington State. A wine with such rave reviews that I could not resist, and hoping to change my luck by uncorking it.

I began with introductions while I broke the beautiful capsule of the bottle with her-all-inclusive Rabbit opener and pouring the deep-hued liquid into the hosts Mikasa stemware.

We all took in the fragrant bouquet redolent of a cigar box and blackberries; the nose was alluring and powerful, leaping from the glass. The palate offered more of the same, pregnant with black fruit, a lush mouth feel and minimal drying tannins.

Overlooking Los Angeles’ rain-cleaned streets from the eighteenth floor vantage point, devoid of automobiles around 3:00 a.m. and enjoying a seven-fifty of Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from the PNW—an area that is fast becoming a favorite for my palate since it has already captured the title of favorite place to visit—with new friends, the night transformed into a memorable one. With the wine’s capacity to alter the course of the day, even enough to wash down a terrible defeat of the Ducks (5-1 loss against Minnesota), I was incredibly grateful to have purchased two of them. Not so terrible, so not horrible, nor even bad after all!

Saturday night, after work, I invited some friends (the Michigan collective) over to have some wine, hangout and keep me apace my 500 bottles on the year. They were going to bring a seven-fifty of Pinot Grigio over and I would match their ante and continue that theme by setting aside a bottle of Rosé.

The Michiganders brought a bottle of “The Naked Grape” Pinot Grigio (#432) over to try. Wasn’t sure what to expect but assumed that the wine would be fruit-driven and fresh. After popping the cork and pouring the wine, I gave the straw colored juice a sniff. With faint aromas of apple and pear it was not saying much, rather, it was aromatically challenged. On the palate the wine was hot—a kick of heat equivalent to tequila hit me, it was getting warmer as we discussed the components of the wine like it’s short fruit finish. When I finally spied the ABV (alcohol by volume) it was a very low, only 12.5%, which was alarming because for the alcohol to show that aggressively meant it was poorly made.

Quick to move on, we unscrewed a bottle of 2009 Saint André de Figuière from the Côtes de Provence (#431). A Rosé blended from Syrah, Cabernet, Grenache and Cinsault that I was expecting to have retained some residual sugars and express a lot of youthful and exuberant fruit. I was wrong. The Saint André had a charming nose of marzipan and raspberries but in the mouth it was dry and had a very faint raspberry-sparkling-water note. The hints of fruit morphed into creamy and buttery overtones most likely from malolactic fermentation.

Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is a conversion of malic acid found in grapes after a primary fermentation and turning it into lactic acid as a way to soften the wines’ acidity. It is a choice of the winemaker to add this extra fermentation to sculpt the acidity into a rounder mouth feel that can exhibit flavors of butter—as is the case with Diacetyl, a byproduct of MLF.

Now I imagine that the Rosé would have been a smash with some food, but by tasting without a meal the wine was unable to captivate our palates, it was without a partner to help bring out some of it’s subtleties. I acknowledge the fact that the potential of the wines (especially the Saint André) could be achieved if the circumstances were different but the fact is…they were not and the wines left a poor impression on me.

The night was not a total drag; I was still riding the high of the Ducks 3-0 victory over Colorado Avalanche earlier in the day and I was in the company of some great friends, making for a relaxing Saturday in my book.

I continued my countdown-to-500 this week with another sixteen wines, sampling between Burgundy and Bordeaux. In my Tuesday course it was a continuation of Burgundy, tracing the map further south along the Côtes de Beaune, the Mâcon and Pouilly Fuissé and concluding our travels in Beaujolais.

We tasted the following:

08  Deux Montille Soeur, Pernand-Vergelesses

08 Ch. Puligny Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet

08 Ch. Puligny Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet

08 Ch. Puligny Montrachet, Meursault

04 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Macon-Milly-Lamartine “Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon

94 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Macon-Milly-Lamartine (Sample)

07 Domaine Manciat-Poncet Pouilly-Fuissé “Le Crays”

95 Domaine de la Chanaise Morgon

07 Domaine Piron-Lameloise  Chenaz Quarts

Of the set we sampled there was one standout, among the many well-crafted wines that night, it belonged to the second set that we tasted, standing apart from it’s brethren by emitting unabashed odors of asparagus and baby corn—unique. On the tongue the 2004 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon was dry, painting the inside of my cheeks with medium high acidity, boasting a shapely figure (med. bodied) and yielding strong flavors of aspargus, baby corn and some baked apple that were slow to leave the palate. It was a swan among ducks.

The following night we had our last all-about-Bordeaux class, where we would say goodbye to the Southwest of France by tasting the white and dessert wines of Bordeaux and leave on a sweet note.

The white wines of Bordeaux are paid little attention in America, favoring the hulking reds of Bordeaux, with one exception… the wines of Sauternes and Barsac. Collectors’ wines. The sweet wines of Sauternes are comprised of botrytis[ed] Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and maybe even a splash of Muscadelle.

Botyrtis Cinera is a spore of fungus that leeches the water from grapes, dehydrating them, and in turn ramping the sugar levels of each fruit that is affected. This is a beneficial process when it is done to perfection, dubbed Noble Rot; if it fails to produce the coveted sweet wines then it is referred to as Grey Rot. The method of making Sauternes and Barsac is labor-intensive and a passion of love, enshrined in history.

I mention they are collectors’ wines because of their aging ability, often spanning a normal lifetime and beyond if they cellared in the proper conditions.

Wednesday night we tasted:

09 Festival (Ch. Le Gay, Pomerol)

09 Ch. L’Hoste, Entre-Deux-Mers

07 Ch. Larrivet-Haut-Brion

08 Ch. Thieuly

07 Ch. Sigalas Rabaud

99 Ch Julien Cabernet Sauvignon from Monterey

07 Ch. Du Seuil, Graves

The Sauterne was the showstopper of Wednesday evening; in comparison to the white wines that came before, it was unrivaled, making it hard to perform the customary spit that follows each sampling. The esters of the wine jumped from the glass delivering honeysuckle and honeycomb aromas straight to the olfactory. The viscous golden liquid only got better on the tongue with honey, vanilla, almonds and apricots coating and lingering in my mouth. An interesting note about Sauternes is that there is a fair amount of acidity but it is hard to detect because of the greater amount of residual sugar masking it.

It was bon voyage to Bordeaux and Burgundy, for now, with sixteen wines behind me in two days and 432 left to taste before the year’s end; I just made it on to the freeway and am looking to get to 500 on the quick. Worth sticking around… it’s only going to get tastier.







Burgundies were the theme of Tuesday’s tasting; we sampled through a geographic swath of producers from Beaune and beyond, dotting the hillsides of the eastern part of France. An area well known (an understatement) for producing Pinot Noir and some instances of steely Chardonnay—as is the case with Chablis—and we were afforded a tremendous opportunity to taste a set of seven from multiple vintages and appellations from Côtes de Nuits.

We broke the tasting into two groups, giving the wines a fighting chance to distinguish themselves on our palates. We would analyze all that we tasted and they were, and in this order:

04 Goisot Irancy Les Mazelots

05 Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Vosne-Romanée

06 Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Bourgonge Rouge

07 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Pommard

06 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Nuit-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos de Grande Vignes

96 Domaine Chandon de Brailles Savigny-Les-Beaune

95 Hubert de Montille Bourgogne Rouge

I hate to be that guy but among the second grouping sipped, we tried a couple of older vintages and my palate was won over by the most expensive of the lot—96 Chandon de Brailles. When I taste I do not like to know the price, I never want to be swayed or influenced by any factors other than the pure expression of the juice. It was an elegant wine, aged for fifteen years. Refined and focused, with tart, dried cherries on the palate, and a long and lingering finish that gripped me like hearing Jon Brion’s “Little Person” for the first time (only a little less melancholy).

I left that course on a high note and was in good spirits when I attended my Bordeaux-centric class the following day (mustering a bit of courage to start a conversation with that girl from my class too), and hoping for a wine in the works to woo me like that Burgundy a day before.

Unfortunately I did not find one to outshine the Pinot Noir though it was still a great session.

We tasted first instead of taking notes; an assorted collection of three wines (two of which were from the California) to emphasize the differences between new and old world wines—I could only imagine.

We tasted three sets in total in this sequence:

00 Ch. Sociando-Mallet

07 Ch. Chasse Spleen

05 Ch. D’Issan

06 Domaine De Chevalier

06 Ch. Calon-Segur

05 Ch. Lagrange

06 Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal

07 Ch. Julien Malbec

01 Ch Magdelaine

02 Domaine Georg Rafael Cabernet Sauvignon

There were some fine examples of smoothed out silky tannins like the 01 Château Magdelaine. The other aged bottle of the set Château Sociando-Mallet and the younger wines of Lagrange and Haut-Bages-Liberal stood out for their unique and well crafted styles, combining fruit and structure, making some thunder when it was time to do a group review of the wines.

Out of all the wines tasted in the Bordeaux class, the most favorable for my palate was the Ch. Lagrange with it’s ripe blackberry flavors and the weight on the tongue—it was not the most layered or too nerdy but it was delicious.

The vin of the Golden State did not exhibit the elegance of it’s ancestors, with the Malbec being a quite aggressive tribute in terms of alcohol and then there were the aggressive drying tannins found in the Domaine Georg Rafael. A poor showing for California.

A sweep of France’s vast terrain in my glass over two days time, trying some great wine at breakneck speed, while I continue to pass another mile marker, 450 wines to go before I hit 500. I have already tasted fifty wines (head shakes quickly… cannot believe it) in under a month and while some people do not drink that many wines in a year I know that I have a lot of work to do before I can achieve my goal.

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