January 2001 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 199
Rejected: 180 Approved: 19 Selected: 2
DAM FINE WINES
Our first wines of the new Millennium can be summed up by stealing a slogan from the producer of our domestic offering, "dam fine." Neils Udsen of Castoro had a nickname as a child. He was called "beaver." Castoro means beaver in Italian and that's how the whole thing started. We often wondered what a picture of a beaver was doing on a bottle of wine, but we never wondered about the wines. They're wonderful!
Our import represents one of the best buys for hearty, robust red wines made anywhere. The Rhone-style blend would cost twice as much if it came from the Rhone, but from the picturesque Languedoc-Roussillon it represents a tremendous value. Our selection was aged in oak barrels for 12 months which is almost unheard of here, but it adds even more complexity than usual. This will be a quick sell-out so don't delay in stocking up.
This month's domestic selection comes from the husband and wife team of Niels and Bimmer Udsen who established Castoro Cellars nearly 15 years ago. Their goal of producing world-class wines from Paso Robles grapes has become a reality as their wines are currently being sold all over the world and have attained a degree of notoriety.
Niels was born and raised in Ventura, California. He started in the wine business while studying Agribusiness at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. After working on a few winery-related projects he became intrigued by the field and went to work at what would become his second "Alma Mater," Estrella River Winery. There he worked in the cellar doing anything and everything that needed Ito be done during the 1981 harvest. During the next five years at Estrella, he learned the finer points of wine production. That learning experience turned into a love which then led him to establish his own winery. He only makes four varietals under the Castoro label, so when a luscious batch of Chenin Blanc comes his way, he bottles it under the San Domenico label.
Paso Robles is situated 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, literally halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The climate and diverse soils provide optimal growing conditions for a number of varieties. Hot days are contrasted with coastal breezes, which flow over the Santa Lucia Mountain Range to cool the vineyards in the evenings.
Chenin Blanc does wondrous things here. The warm days raise the fruit levels and the cool nights keep the acids in check resulting in a clean, crisp and fresh offering that will match any dish.
Light, but penetrating pineapple and melon nose and flavors. Snappy finish to match beautifully with the minced squab recipe on page 6.
Great now. Will hold
for a year or two.
Serve slightly chilled
(approx. 2 hrs
Domaine de Bisconte makes exciting wines using a combination of traditional Rhone Valley and southern grape varietals. We like to think of it as a "mini" Chateauneuf du Pape at a very mini price.
The wine is estate produced, which means Bisconte grows its own grapes arid makes its own wine as opposed to buying grapes and having it made at a coop. The blend is 40 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache and 30 percent Carignan, which makes for an interesting combination of scents and tastes. The Domaine is a relatively small property for the area, consisting of 106 acres of hillside-planted vineyards. The growing climate is mostly dry and hot, and the soil is tremendously gravely on a limestone base, which gives these wines a Mediterranean flavor. There are an increasing number of wines from this region coming into the United States. Their popularity is due to the attractive prices, high quality and drinkability.
Syrah is the workhorse in this blend. It is the undisputed king in the Northern Rhone villages of Cote Rotie and Hermitage and also plays a significant role in the Southern Rhone favorite, Chateauneuf du Pape. The gamy, smokey elements in the grape are scoring marks among wine aficionados.
Grenache adds the subtle tones of spice and cherry along with a touch of clean earthiness. Carignan adds the edge to cleanse the palate.
Roussillon is in the eastern section of the Pyrenees, a mountain range so high that much of it remains snow covered throughout the summer. Vines and olives are two of the rare agricultural crops that thrive here. We're not familiar with the olives, but from our Domaine de Bisconte, we sure like the wines.
Deep ruby-red color with a light tint at the edge. It has an exotic mix of minerals, vanilla and black fruits and a touch of green olive. Great with the recipe beef bourgogne on page 6.
Could improve in a
year or 2. Serve
cool (approx 30
min in fridge)
"Paul, What do professional tasters look for in a great wine?"
.J.D., Englewood, CO
Judging wine is probably one of the most difficult, it not impossible things to quantify. If for no other reason than each person has different likes and dislikes, it is very difficult for most tasters, even professional ones, to separate their personal tastes from an accepted norm.
One of the main problems is in establishing an accepted norm! The best place to begin is with the UC Davis Wine Evaluation Guide. This guide breaks wine down to its basic components. The important ones are appearance, smell, acid, sugar, overall impression and finish. This is quite different from what the University of Bordeaux and the University in Milan use as their general criteria. Who's right?
Part of it has to do with what each country feels is important in wine evaluation. For instance, since most Old World wines are labeled by where they come from, as opposed to the grapes used, "typicity" is a very important aspect. A taster in Bordeaux may downgrade a wine from Pomerol that you and I think are great because it doesn't taste like Pomerol. It tastes more like Pauillac! In California, if we like a certain Cabernet Sauvignon, we don't care where it comes from. It's the taste that's important.
Great wines all have certain attributes which can be discussed and evaluated. They should look and smell like what they are. A wine that looks and smells like a terrific Chardonnay, but is really a Riesling, in many tasters' opinion, is flawed. If it doesn't taste like what it is, regardless of what it tastes like, it is considered flawed.
Great wines should promise something in the smell that can be delivered in the mouth. The flavors should hang in there until the wine is consumed and those same flavors should linger on the palate for at least a few seconds afterward.
The best professional tasters can separate themselves from their personal likes and dislikes and determine if a wine smells and tastes like what it is, even if the taster doesn't like it, and evaluate it as such. This is normally quite difficult in that almost everyone that evaluates wine is personally involved in wine and has some strong biases that are much more difficult to ignore than if they were evaluating something they could care less about. In other words, the intense interest these people have in wine is the same thing that causes them to have a great difficulty evaluating it. And it will probably always be so.
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