Wine tasting notes in simpler terms.       

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For those who have been here before, welcome back! You already know that this website is about appreciating wine in simpler terms. For those who are reading here for the first time, you should know that this website is about enjoying wine without formality or the use of what I will call "frou-frou" terms. I am more of a hack than a scultor.  I am not an officially trained sommelier and probably don't have the taste buds for it anyway.  You will not read terms describing some of the finer points of wine such as one that sent me over the edge to start this website in 2008 when I read a review that said the "bouquet has the nuance of fennel pollen." With the help of my wife and a few stalwart friends, we find a lot of wines that we like, and I will try to put the comments on the wines we taste and the wineries we visit into some sort of order and post them here.  I've amassed a current collection of notes on 58 wineries (actually visited) and around 562 wines as of May 8, 2012. That should be enough here to give you an idea what's out there.

NEW May 8, 2012: I just went to a tasting for Riedel glasses last Friday. My notes are below. Because I was stunned, I'll leave it here on the front page for a while and switch it to J. Lohr Vineyard's write-up sometime later.

The descriptions are as accurate as I can make them, and only incorporate wording from the wineries when I find that they describe it better than I can, which would be most of the time if I really read everything they say. I go to taste, not read. There are no wines described here that I have not personally tasted. If there ever is, the notes will be attributed to the contributor.

My personal experience with wine dates back to when it was illegal for me to obtain that experience. My banking career brought with it a need to entertain and with that I needed to gain enough knowledge to be able to order wines for dinner without making a fool of myself. Now we have a personal collection of over 1,500 bottles with over 700 different wines. I'm surprised I don't get confused trying to find the right one for dinner. Because we only buy what we like, they're all good.

There are very few rules here.  I will follow the most basic rule that I've always tried to follow, and that is that if I don't have anything good to say, I won't say anything.  I'll never cover a large percentage of the wines and wineries out there, but I will post notes and comments on the places we enjoy. I can't taste them all, so I welcome anyone's input on interesting wines you've tried or your personal favorites. If you like them, somebody else will to.  If you'd like to include your thoughts here, please email me at andy@winehack.net and give me the information on the wines with your comments. I'll publish your words and attribute to a first name and last initial so you will know it was your contribution.

Grab a glass and take a look around.  We go wine tasting as often as we can fit into our schedule and have already been to more places than I can remember.  As we go, I'll write.  

To review our notes on tastings, which is the meat and potatoes of any wine page, hit the button for "Tastings" and then pick the area you want to check out. You probably figured that out long before you got this far.

The Riedel Experience at J. Lohr Vineyards 5/4/12

I was invited to join a good friend for a Riedel Wine Glass Tasting Event at J. Lohr Vineyard's San Jose location.  Mac and I thought, okay, it's $90 each but we get to keep the glasses. At the last minute, we found out that Mac's sister was coming to town so we joined her into our group which worked out very well since the person who invited us decided not to go. They served nice appetizers before so nobody got started tasting on an empty stomach. We were seated with five glasses placed in front of us; four of which were Riedel Vinum (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy and Bourdeaux) and the fifth of which was called a "joker" which was a typical tulip shaped wine glass. For each one we sniffed, swirled and sniffed again, and then tasted. We also switched glasses with the same wines to show the difference, which was astounding. The quality of the glasses with 24% lead crystal was excellent, but it was the shape of the glass, the way the wines smelled differently and the way that the shape delivered the wine to sip that made the biggest differences.

Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) certainly said it better than I can when he stated "The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those mde by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on the wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make."

I am now a believer, and you'll see why. Tasting notes, including wine and glass comments are as follows:

Sauvignon Blanc, "Carol's Vineyard", St. Helena , Napa Valley, 2011. This is a very nice Sauvignon Blanc with a big grapefruit nose. It has a lot of depth and is well balanced with the grapefruit/citrus taste and just a little oily texture. In the Riedel glass it was very rich for a Sauvignon Blanc. Then we put it in the "joker" glass. The nose was dramatically reduced so the grapefruit was very faint. The big difference was in the depth and balance which seemed to go away almost completely. In the Riedel it was full, fruity, and rich. In the "joker" it was flat and dull. Huge difference.

Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, 2011. This is a well oaked chardonnay that spent 18 months in American oak. It also went through 100% malolactic fermentation so we got all of the nice buttery-vanilla nose which added a little pear and flinty minerality on the taste. This Chardonnay is one of those wonderfully creamy ones with just a little bit of acidity on the finish. This was served in the Chardonnay (Montrachet) glass, which is a very wide mouthed glass designed for oaked Chardonnay. When we put it in the Sauvignon Blanc glass which is more similar to the Riedel glass designed for unoaked Chardonnay, we lost most of the creamy buttery taste and minerality that we tasted in the oaked Chardonnay glass. Of all of the differences, this one shocked me the most. I wonder now how many Chardonnays I considered to be only crisp or light when the reality was that the oak and butter-vanilla was merely hidden by using the wrong glass. It is the shape, much more than the quality of this glass that makes the difference.

Pinot Noir, "Fog's Reach", Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, 2010.  The nose gave me what I call the classic leather and lace of a good Pinot Noir. It's got some very nice cherry-berry flavores with just a tickle of acid on the finish. I found it to be amazingly drinkable now for such a young Pinot Noir, but it had been open and poured into the glass for about an hour and a half by the time we got to it. The smaller rim on the Pinot Noir (Burgundy) Riedel glass concentrated the fragrance and the flavor. When we put it into the Chardonnay (wide rimmed) glass, this Pinot Noir lost much of its nose and seemed to be much less rich and full. It made enough of a difference that I would probably buy it (okay I did) if I tasted it in the Pinot Noir glass but might pass if I had it in the Chardonnay glass.

Cabernet Sauvignon, "Hilltop", Paso Robles, 2008. This Cabernet Sauvignon is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, and 7% Petite Sirah. It had a nice earthy and dark berry nose. The taste was rich and dry currant/dark berry. It has been open at least a couple of hours by the time we got this far, which I think would be about the same as decanting it for at least two hours. I would say setting this wine down for 3-4 years would soften the already reasonable tannins and bring the fruit more to the front which will give it more richness and depth. As it is, if you have the time to decant it, it's very nice now with good balance. We didn't have to play with glasss on this one. It was right where it belonged to start in the Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux) glass.

The overall glass tasting experience taught me a lot. I realize that a lot of people will probably poo-poo the idea that shaping the glasses to the particular varietals can make a big difference. I had to taste it to believe it. Good glassware is not inexpensive. The Vinum series that we tasted costs around $34 each or you can buy two for $50 at some places (yes I went shopping the day after the tasting). In sets of 6 or 8, you can buy Riedel Vinum or Grape series for under $20/glass. If you have the money and want hand-blown glasses, you can spend more with Riedel's Sommelier series.  If you're drinking wines like we do that generally average $20-$40 a bottle, the cost of glasses that allow the wines to be their best seems like a very good investment. When you splurge on an expensive bottle, the glass can pay for itself on the first sip. If you get confused on which glass to use, you can download an iPhone app to match the wine to the glass at www.riedel.com.

Enjoy!

Andy                       This is just not a pretty guy!
aka the WineHack

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