Friday, January 19, 2007

Classy Zin

2003 C. G. Di Arie, Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel ($25) -- From the Sierra Foothills of California this new project caught my eye when tasted recently. Last night I took a bottle to the local ZAP meeting and it was the first bottle emptied. That's a compliment and a problem when you want to taste more!

Seems that Leslie Sbrocco at "" had the same problem when she reviewed some of their wines also. After sampling 100 wines at a tasting, the Di Arie was emptied and she headed out to interview the owners who had made their fortune by putting the "crunch" in Cap'n Crunch.

To me this was more elegant than a typical Zin with full fruit and a long finish. I look forward to tasting more of their wines. Only 500 cases were made of this vintage.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #29

The theme this month for Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Fork and Bottle, is "Biodynamic" wines. The details on Wine Blogging Wednesday are at Lenn's site, Lenndevours.

At first I wandered around the wine shop looking for a wine to take home tonight to review but most wines do not herald their biodynamic (or organic) status as it is in most areas not a market-moving theme. I do not live in Vermont or Northern California. The web-sites might proclaim their status as a biodynamic or organic producer (whether it is certified or just best practices), but the front label rarely proclaims this status.

Later in the day I was browsing some old posts on my blog when I linked to the Cullen Wines site where their header reads "quality, integrity and sustainability". Bingo, I had my wine for the night. I have the Cullen Wines "Red" and "Mangan River" in stock as I had purchased several cases back in late 2004.

"Cullen follows the maxim that states that great wines are made in the vineyard. Thus, prior to planting, extreme care is taken in choosing the best possible site.

The soils at Cullen are old, granite and gravely sandy loam, overlaying lateritic subsoils. The vines are dry farmed, helping to ensure maximum fruit quality, and are both pruned and harvested by hand. Low yields enable the flavours of the grapes to develop fully. The Cullen family philosophy is to put quality before quantity. Quality starts in the vineyard where the vines are dry farmed. Cullen Estate Vineyard has "A" Grade Biodynamic Certification with the Biological Farmers Association."

2003 Cullen, Ellen Bussell Red ($20) -- Margaret River, Australia. The wine is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (50/41/9) which is aged in used oak barrels for 16 months. Most of the fruit came from the Ellens Ridge vineyard, planted in 1996. As this wine is in the drink-now category, the closure is Stelvin. An aromatic nose, is followed by bright, elegant fruit and a medium finish, but is not overly complex. It is approachable with subdued tannins.

"To take this even further Cullen Wines are harvesting as much as possible using Maria Thun theory Basics. She suggests that the moon in a constellation has a favourable influence on the elemental relationship of fire which makes it better for harvest giving greater intensity and preservation of fruit flavour.The wines are mostly making themselves with little or no intervention. This means indigenous yeast, no additions of any kind, minimal oak use and fining.We would like to think that in both the vineyard and winery we are working with nature rather than trying to control it. This gives us the lands best and purest potential of expression being put into the bottle."

A complete description of their biodynamic practices is detailed here. I agree with the overall concepts of organic and biodynamic practices as it makes sense that what you put in the vineyards, like nasty chemicals, will eventually come out in the fruit and the wine. However, I am not so sure about the female cow horn and the moon in opposition to Saturn thing. I can say that the wines are very good and most likely will continue to be very good as they continue to take loving care of their land.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"A South African Wine -- Impossible!"

Capaia Wines

This was the comment the Comte Stephan von Neipperg, the winemaker for the Red wines at Capaia, made when I asked if anyone could guess the origin of his Red wines in a blind taste. Could anyone guess South Africa? "Impossible!" Everyone at the table agreed that South Africa would be last on the list of possible regions. Napa, Bordeaux, Washington State, Margaret River maybe, but not South Africa.

Stephan, who is a dead ringer for a young Claude Rains and the proprieter of Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere, manages the wine holdings for a family that has been a winegrower for eight centuries. Their properties include La Mondotte, Clos de l'Oratoire, Chateau Peyreau, Chateau d'Aiguilhe and Clos Marsalette.

Today at lunch we enjoyed the Ohio introduction of Capaia's three wines which are flat out the best wines I have tasted from South Africa. If this is the potential of this region, with proper investment, siting and vinification, then we should be seeing much better wines coming from this region.

The Estate property is owned by Alexander and Ingrid Baron von Essen and is located north of Cape Town 30 kms from Table Mountain. The soil is mostly schist and the four year-old vines are stressed from the difficult conditions. Wines are fermented in 150 year-old French oak in a state of the art new winery. The official region is Philadelphia which was created by this project to kick off a new winemaking area.

2005 Capaia ($45) -- This is the flagship, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (48/43/7/2) aged 15 months in barrels. It is hard to believe this concentrated yet elegant wine is from 4 year-old vines. Enticing nose, big fruit, long finish with subdued tannins. The trick I was told was to pick the grapes when the seeds are ripe to reduce the astringent tannins. The winemaker was looking for "profoundness and harmony". Mission accomplished! Drink now or hold for 5 to 10 years.

2005 Blue Grove Hill ($20) -- This is the 2nd label with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (52/44/4). Aged eight months in used French oak, this wine has big aromatics, lots of soft fruit and is very drinkable now, but will age 2 to 5 years. The Capaia may be beyond your budget, but the Blue Grove Hill "Red" will change your mind forever about South African Red wines.

2006 Blue Grove Hill Sauvignon Blanc ($19) -- Cool fermentation in French oak as well as stainless steel, this wine is made in the French style with elegance and a clean, crisp finish. No grass or grapefruit here. The owner, Alexander, insists this wine will age and improve over the next 4 years. This may be a tough price point for a South African Sauvignon Blanc for people used to "value" thirst quenchers, but the wine will hold its own against many wines from Sancerre or Bordeaux.

The wines are imported in the US by Vintus operated by Michael Quinttus from Pleasantville, New York.