People are always asking for tips to improve their wine buying, storing and drinking experiences. With this in mind, I felt it was time to put these thoughts up on the blog. We all have to start somewhere, and it can literally take years to feel truly confident about your favorite region or variety. The following tips are not about where wine comes from or the style you might enjoy best; instead it’s a list of the nuts and bolts to help you enjoy your wine more, no matter what region or style you enjoy most.
Each of these points were learned through experience, which in some cases were very poor. I still remember, with remorse, the days that I had a wine rack above my refrigerator—always wondering why the wine in my home wasn’t as good as what I found coming from restaurant or retailers’ cellars.
While this list is in no way the end-all of wine-drinking mysteries solved, it does make for an excellent guide for the beginner and even intermediate wine enthusiast—you never know.
Where NOT to store your wine – A kitchen may seem to be a convenient place to keep a small wine rack, but the reality of it is that the constant temperature swings from your oven or the heat radiating up from the back of your refrigerator can cook a bottle in no time. By the same token, a room with a lot of windows may be aesthetically pleasing to you, but your wine sees it in a different light. Ultraviolet rays damage wine, and direct sunlight can cook it as well. Keep your bottles in a dark place where temperatures remain relatively unchanged, such as a hall closet or basement, and away from any hot water heaters or boilers. For any long term storage, you’re better off looking into professional storage or even building your own cellar.
Let it breathe – If there’s one thing I learned that has truly improved my enjoyment of wine, it’s to let it breathe. Almost any bottle will improve with exposure to air, however not all wines react well to decanting. To play it safe, I open the average bottle at least one hour before I plan to drink it. Right after popping the cork, I’ll pour a small half-glass sample so that I can evaluate it upon opening, versus how it improves an hour later. Also, this practice gives the wine a little more air exposure in the bottle, as the fill will come just under the shoulder. Red wine tends to want more air than white, yet some varieties and styles, like white Burgundy and Riesling, can truly come to life with a short decant.
“Room temperature” doesn’t necessarily mean room temperature – The flavors of the things we eat and drink change drastically with temperature. Wine is no different, but one thing to remember as a wine drinker is that the term “room temperature” for red wines is referring to a room of 65 degrees, which is far off from the average home or apartment. Whenever I have a red that’s a little warmer than I’d like, I’ll either give it twenty minutes in the fridge or chill my glasses before pouring. This is how these wines were intended to be enjoyed.
The colder it gets, the less you taste – Ever wonder why some restaurants serve their white wines at extremely cold temperatures? It’s because the colder the wine becomes, the less you will notice its flaws. I tend to drink my white wines at around 45-50 degrees, which can be easily achieved by pulling your bottle out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving. You’ll suddenly notice details that weren’t there before, as the bouquet opens up and textures come to life.
Smell is everything–well almost – It pains me when I see a glass of fine wine sipped before taking in the bouquet. The fact is that 70% of what you taste is first developed by what you smell. Think about how bland everything tastes when you have a cold. Not nosing a wine before sipping is literally robbing yourself of half the experience. So take your time. Taking in the aroma of a wine is a big part of the enjoyment.
Start a tasting group – The best way to learn about wine is to taste more than one bottle next to another. What’s the difference between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon? It’s easy to tell when they’re both in front of you. By starting your own tasting group, you can learn about wine and host a social event all at the same time, and you can even share the expense with other wine enthusiasts.
Pairing wines with food by region – What’s the easiest way to pair wine with food? Look to the wines that are made closest to the recipe’s origins. If you consider what the people who created the recipe liked to drink, you’ve already made a big step in the right direction.
Do you have any wine tips to share? I’d love to hear them.
By; Eric Guido
Sitting across from Chad Melville while sipping a Samsara Pinot Noir, and the biggest question in my mind is, why haven’t I tasted these wines before? It’s no secret that I have become a fan of the new style of cool-climate, terroir-driven Pinot Noir from California. Samsara, which is a Sanskrit word for the repeating cycle of birth, death and life (or reincarnation)—this could have been a great band name—also applies very nicely to Chad’s project.
If the name Melville sounds familiar to you, it’s because of Chad’s father Ron Melville, who started the very successful Melville winery, which Chad continues to work for as their National Sales Manager. Melville is best known for pioneering the category of high-quality Pinot Noir and Syrah without the lofty price tag. The wines are really quite good.
However, for Chad Melville, a drive to blaze his own path took form in 2002, when he and his wife created Samsara. It was a passion project to be sure, which you understand the second Chad starts to speak about their goals and principals. He went on to explain, “We stayed small on purpose…” which really hits home when you consider Chad’s background with Melville and how easy it would have been for him to recreate that dynamic.
Instead, Samsara is all about a focus on micro-terroir, as Chad sources from individual ¾ acre blocks within each of his vineyards, vintage after vintage. This may keep the production down, with only 125 cases of each wine in his portfolio, but it also allows him to gain an intimate knowledge of the vines, soil and climate. The long growing season coupled with that ever-ripening Californian sun is perfectly contrasted by these cool-climate sites with cold winds which whip around the vines.
Whole and partial cluster fermentation with native yeast is a big part of the equation here, with 50% of stems for the Pinot and up to 100% for the Syrah. To many, this seems like a new fad in California, but not so for Samsara. The stems here add gorgeous exotic notes to the wines’ bouquets and tantalizing textures on the palate, while contrasting the naturally ripe fruit. The single vineyard Pinots see from 20-25% new oak, yet it’s not even perceptible here; instead these wines speak of the earth from which they came.
As we moved through the selections, I could see Chad’s eyes light up with the tilt of each new glass. It’s obvious that this is still a passion project for him—though one which has certainly succeeded. I have officially added Samsara to my A-list of California Pinot Producers.
On To The Tasting Notes:
2012 Samsara Pinot Noir – The nose was wonderfully perfumed with floral red berry fruit, olive, smoked meats and minerals. On the palate, it entered soft and round yet firmed up quickly to display gorgeous, focused red fruit. The finish lasted long with a distinct note of tart raspberry with a hint of savory herbs. (90 points)
2011 Samsara Pinot Noir Las Hermanas – The Las Hermanas was thrilling on the nose, a perfect example of the new Californian Pinot Noir, showing red berry with exotic floral tones, green pepper, dried orange peel, and a hint of marine salinity. On the palate, it displayed bright, focused fruit which fleshed out into silky textures as it traveled across the senses with herbal and mineral hints adding depth. The finish was long and palate-coating with a bitter twang, a pull of tannin and acidity which made the mouth water. This was a pleasure to taste and my personal favorite! (93 points) Morrell
2011 Samsara Pinot Noir Melville Vineyard – The nose showed darker berry fruits with a savory, almost meaty note followed by chalky minerals. On the palate, I found rich, ripe red fruits with herbal, mineral tones and a slight steely note. It was long on the finish with a dried berry note that was contrasted by brisk acidity. (91 points)
2009 Samsara Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard – With a few extra years in bottle, the 2009 Turner vineyard showed beautifully dark and almost sensual aromatics of rich crushed berry, sandalwood, burnt butter and a hint of pepper. On the palate, it displayed rich red berry, moist soil and floral undergrowth with gripping, masculine textures which added a sense of completion to this dark and savory beauty. The finish was smooth, slowly melting from the senses with hints of spice, dark fruit and floral tones. (92 points)
2011 Samsara Syrah Verna’s Vineyard – The nose was at first reluctant, yet it blossomed with time in the glass to reveal dark red fruits and floral tones with spice, hints of pepper and minerals. On the palate, it was rich and vibrant with a mix of crushed blackberry, savory herbs, smoked meats and rich bakery crust. Its vibrancy continued through the finish with a twang of acidity and lingering notes of dark fruit and floral tones. (92 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
A while back, I polled a number of experienced Barolo collectors for their choice of the best vintage of the ‘90s. These days, we seem to have a great vintage every year, if not every other year, with ‘06, ’08, and ’10 being reported as great and ’05 tailing close behind. Notice that I didn’t really mention the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage, as I’ve found these wines to be far less impressive than originally expected. However, back in the nineties, Barolo only saw two decent vintages between 1990 and 1995. It wasn’t until 1996 when they hit their vintage streak with ’96, ’97, ’98 and ’99. These were all good-to-very good years, but there is only one vintage of the nineties that each of these experienced collectors believed to be the best vintage, and that’s 1996!
The Barolos from 1996 showed that perfect unity of tannin, acid and alcohol with a core of rich fruit, that spells “cellar worthy.” Most Barolo lovers look for the next 1989 or 1978 that they can squirrel away in their wine cellars and enjoy in their magnificent maturity; it’s a big part of what draws people to Nebbiolo, the heights it can reach with proper aging. All signs lead us to believe that 1996 is the next great vintage. The only question is, when do we start drinking them? It was with this in mind that we recently organized a “blind” 1996 Barolo dinner.
The biggest surprise for me was how open each of these wines showed. At all of my recent ’96 tastings, the wines continued to display gripping tannin, which would restrain the fruit on the palate. Although their bouquets were developing well, I began to fear that these wines would never come out of their shells. This tasting was a perfect example of how unnecessary those fears truly were.
Granted, this tasting contained quite a few modern-styled wines, which confirmed a different notion that I’ve been toying with—that the structure of 1996 Barolo lent well to the better modern producers of the time. Imagine my surprise when a bottle of Azelia Bricco Fiasco came out on top, a wine that I would have assumed to be clunky and showing remnants of dark oak. But that was not the case. In fact, the Fiasco vineyard within the commune of Castiglione Falletto reigned supreme on this night, as Paolo Scavino’s Bric del Fiasc, found the third place spot.
Another interesting reoccurrence is the inclusion of the Cappellano Barbaresco, which held its own in the company of Barolo. Yet again we find a Barbaresco inserted into a blind Barolo tastings and showing tremendous potential and longevity.
In the end, I firmly believe it’s time to start digging into our cases of most ’96 Barolo. I’m sure the top traditional producers are years away from their peak (possibly our next tasting), yet from the modern camp, there’s no shame in pulling some corks.
On to The Tasting Notes:
1996 Alberto Voerzio Barolo La Serra – The nose showed tart berry, dark fruits, woodland tones of undergrowth and dark soil, along with a hint of cocoa powder and green stems. On the palate, I found tart, dark berry, cranberry, and hints of espresso with angular yet not tannic textures. Notes of soil, leaves and saturating dark fruits lingered on the finish. This was an enjoyable wine, yet its modern leanings were obvious and hindered any expression of pure Nebbiolo fruit. (90 points) website Italian
1996 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The nose was, at first, restrained, showing waxy red fruits, yet it blossomed in the glass to reveal dusty soil and spice and ripe, almost candied, cherry. It showed soft, luxurious textures on the palate with mouthwatering acidity driving flavors of dark fruit and plum. Hints of tannin lingered on the finish with dark, resolved red fruit and licorice. (92 points) website
1996 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco – This showed a gorgeous bouquet with earth and forest floor up front, followed by red berries, minerals and dried spice. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with dark red fruit, spice, herbal tea and inner floral notes. Long and dark on the finish with perfectly resolved tannins in an expression, which can only be described as classic. On this night, the Azelia Bricco Fiasc stole the show. (94 points) website
1996 Giacomo Brezza & Figli Barolo Castellero – Rustic at first sniff, the Brezza Castellero showed overripe cherry, undergrowth, tobacco, herbs and a hint of exotic spice. On the palate, it had an initial note of saturated wood with dark berries and mineral tones. Wood, soil and herbs lingered throughout the finish. (87 points) website
1996 Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Riserva Vigna Cappella di Santo Stefano – The nose showed dark red berries with a hint of funk, wood, spice, mint and plum sauce, along with hints of undergrowth and soil. On the palate, it displayed rich textures with dark fruits spice, cocoa, espresso and hints of cedar. Dried red fruits with a hint of spice lingered on the finish. Modern to be sure, yet ultimately enjoyed. (91 points) website
1996 Cappellano Barbaresco – As I read my notes and think back to this wine, it’s interesting to think how many descriptors can sound negative, yet were truly enjoyable all the same. The ’96 Cappellano Barbaresco showed green herbaceous notes up front with notes of parchment, yet somehow came to life to reveal dried fruits, potpourri and mineral tones. On the palate, it was pleasantly rustic with dried fruits, herbs, minerals, and a hint of old barrel. It was long on the finish, showing tart fruit and earth tones, leaving the impression of a wine beyond its 18 years of maturity—yet still quite enjoyable. (N/A as the Cappellano’s request not to have their wines scored) website
1996 Fratelli Brovia Barolo Villero – Unfortunately, this wine had seen its better days. The nose showed dried red berries, herbs and mint. On the palate, I found dark red fruits, which dried out through the close. In the end, this seemed disjointed and acid-driven without the fruit to support it. (N/A) website
1996 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Storico Liste – The Storico Liste showed a bit beyond its years yet pleased around the table all the same. The nose showed dark berries with cedar box, exotic spice, and hints of tobacco. On the palate, I found acid-driven textures with still-lively tannin giving way to dried red fruits, undergrowth and soil tones. Tannin mounted in the finish, as the fruit dried out and saturated the senses. This seemed somehow youthful, yet mature—or possible mis-stored for a short time in its life. In the end, it was a good showing. (92 points) website
1996 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc – The nose was, at first, worrisome—as I initially found a whiff of tomato and celery, yet air was all this needed to come to life. With time in the glass, I found dark rich red berry, balsamic notes, and spice with a hint of dark soil. It was concentrated yet balanced by a fresh vein of acidity on the palate with red fruits, dry spice and inner floral notes. Intense dark fruit and notes of tobacco lingered through the finish. (93 points) website
1996 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – The nose showed red berry complemented by cedar, spice and balsamic tones. On the palate, it started with angular, acid-driven textures but quickly fleshed out, gaining body and richness. Flavors of dried cherry and citrus lingered on into the finish. This was enjoyable, yet a bit simple, and it would have probably been much better served on its own. (88 points) website
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
I have recently noticed a drastic change in my cellar, collecting, and drinking habits. This change didn’t happen overnight; instead it was a slow transition; one that I don’t believe I was even willing to admit to myself until recently. So what is this change that I speak of? Well, I have officially begun down a path to truly loving wines of the northern Rhone.
You see, the Northern Rhone has a way of drawing you in and converting you into a lifelong fan. It’s not the average person who appreciates the fruits of the northern Rhone, for there seems very little in the way of fruit at all when first approached. These are wines of the earth, with pure animal magnetism. If Burgundy is the elegant royalty of French wine, then the northern Rhone is the war-hardened general. Nowhere else does a wine speak so much of the savory side of Syrah. It’s only after time – in the glass, or aged in bottle — that the complex notes of dark fruit come forward, complemented by hints of charred meat, animal musk, and intense minerality.
Syrah is the red grape which dominates vineyards throughout the region. The best is found on steep, terraced hillsides of shallow granite and slate, along a short swath of the Rhone river valley. Here, the climate is Continental with cold, wet winters and hot, sun-drenched summers. The appellations of Hermitage and Cote Rôtie represent some of the most prestigious and age-worthy wines of the region, yet due to limited production they are often pricy and very difficult to find. Many of the best producers are small family-run operations. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss the larger firms of M. Chapoutier and Jaboulet, who are both capable of producing some of the top wines of the region.
Yet today, we cannot speak of the northern Rhone without mention of St. Joseph and Cornas; two sub-regions of the north, which have made considerable strides in both quality and popularity. For the lover of Syrah and the animal-style of the north, these wines represent tremendous value, but many of us worry that it won’t last for long. We have already seen producers of Hermitage and Cote Rotie plant stakes in these vineyards, claiming that their qualities may one day equal that of Hermitage. However, only time will tell.
Below are some of the most exciting Northern Rhone wines that I’ve experienced this year, spilt up by region. I hope you’ll dig in and take the plunge yourself. Enjoy!
The popularity of Hermitage is nothing new, in fact, it’s more of a reawakening. This storied site has been producing world-class wines since the eighteenth century. In fact, it is often said that at that time, some of the top houses of Bordeaux would secretly blend in Hermitage to their wines for added richness and depth. Technically, producers here are allowed to add up to 15% of the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne. However, this is seldom practiced.
- 2005 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage – The 2005 Chave Hermitage seemed to literally blossom in the glass with a bouquet which spoke to everything I love about the northern Rhone. Initially it was very much rooted in the earth with dark soil tones, brown stems and herbs, yet turning deeper and richer with air, as notes of crushed red berry, exotic spice, violet florals, minerals and hints of animal musk lifted from the glass. On the palate, this gave the impression of a never-ending veil of silk being gently pulled across the senses—seamless came to mind. Its dark red fruit gave way to cascading layers of savory herbs and red floral tones as it came to a finish with dusting of mineral-tinged earth. (97 points) Morrell
- 2011 Delas Frères Hermitage Les Bessards – The nose seemed almost impossibly deep and intense with dark rich blackberry preserves, brown sugar, licorice, violets, tobacco and spice. On the palate, it showed dark, silky textures contrasted by finesse with focused blackberry and plum fruit seeming to touch on all the senses. The finish was long with fine tannin nearly masked by its dark fruit, spice and herbal tones. (94 points) Morrell
Côte-Rôtie is often seen as the little brother of Hermitage, yet make no mistake, the best wines can easily compete. Remarkably similar with its steep terraced vineyards, southern exposures and granite dominated soils. One of the biggest differences here is the common use of whole cluster fermentation and wines which often contain a small percentage of the white grape, Viognier. The results are often quite exotic. Many producers blend from different parcels throughout the hill and you’ll often find the exalted designations of either Côte Brune, Côte Blonde or a blending of the two.
- 2010 Gilles Barge Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune – The nose was savory to the core and rooted deeply in the earth, showing dark soil, animal musk, bree, mineral-laden stone, and black cracked pepper. On the palate, rich, savory textures messaged the senses as black fruit was ushered along by a core of minerals, savory herbs, charred meat and peppery spice. The finish remind me more of a veal reduction sauce than a wine, lasting long with it’s rich meaty flavors and herbal tones. It’s wines like this that create diehard fans of the Northern Rhone. (94 points)
- 2012 Pierre Jean Villa Côte-Rôtie Carmina – The nose was rich and layered, yet wonderfully floral all the same, showing black fruit with ginger-spice, violet floral tones, dark earth and black pepper. On the palate, waves of mineral-drenched black fruit washed across the senses with herbal tones, showing remarkable balance and poise. The long saturating finish was floral with berry tones and spice. The 2012 Pierre Jean Villa Côte-Rôtie Carmina is incredibly youthful today with serious upside potential, yet so hard to resist now. (94 points) Morrell
- 2011 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie – This showed a wild and savory nose that was more of the vegetable garden than the berry variety. Notes of savory herbs, exotic floral tones, stewed tomato, and chalky minerals came together in a mind-bending yet truly enjoyable bouquet. On the palate, it was smooth and vibrant upon entry yet quickly turned to structure with brisk acidity. Youthful to be sure, yet still showing an array of red vegetable and herbs turning to riper red berry but never giving up its earthy-soil driven persona throughout the palate-saturating finish. (93 points) Morrell
- 2011 M & S Ogier D’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie – The bouquet came to life in the glass to reveal notes of animal musk, blackberry, olives and herbs, followed by floral undergrowth, ginger spice and hints of black pepper. On the palate, it showed smooth, silky textures with ripe red and black fruit, along with violet tones. Hints of tannin were kept fresh by inner floral tones, black pepper and herbs lingering throughout the finish. (93 points) Morrell
- 2010 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Côte-Rôtie Domaine des Pierrelles – The nose was rich and intense with dark fruits, savory herbs, white pepper, spice and violet floral tones. On the palate, I found vibrant-silky textures which were quickly contrasted by a firm tannic spine, as ripe black fruit saturated the senses. Structured yet focused through the finish, in need of time to show it’s full potential, yet already pleasing on its intensity alone. (92 points)
St. Joseph may be the most exciting region within the northern Rhone today. As prices for Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie continue to escalate, it’s hard to ignore the value of St. Joseph. What’s more, the interest being shown by producers throughout the region (JL Chave being a perfect example), is a sign of things to come. If you could only try one wine from this list today, it should be a St. Joseph.
- 2012 Domaine Monier St. Joseph Terre Blanche – A truly floral and exotic perfume reached up from the glass with notes of yellow flowers and rosemary, along with bright, tart cherry and spice. On the palate, it entered silky with fleshy textures only to reveal more acid-driven tension as it traveled across the senses. Finessed dark fruits and floral tones lent a feminine persona with the addition of grainy slate and minerals which lasted long into the finish. (93 points) Morrell
- 2011 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph – The nose was dark, earthy and intense, showing red and blackberry fruit, citrus peel, vine-ripened tomato, animal musk and bacon fat, along with floral tones and dark soil. On the palate, it was smooth yet dense with silky textures, as rich red fruits, spice and crushed violets lasted well into the concentrated yet focused finish, along with lingering minerality. (92 points) Morrell
- 2012 J.L. Chave Sélection St. Joseph Offerus – With a nose that can only be the northern Rhone, the 2012 Offerus showed dark yet vibrant aromas of charred meat, wood smoke, animal musk, crushed blackberry, toasted pasty dough and savory herbs. It was smooth on the palate with medium-bodied textures and notes of crushed violets, blackberry, and herbs with brisk acidity providing a truly pleasant and complete experience. It finished clean, a little shorter than hoped for, yet enjoyable for its remnants of dark fruit and juicy finale. In the end, this is a terrific value. (91 points) Morrell
- 2012 M. Chapoutier St. Joseph Les Granits – The nose of the Les Granits was dark and remarkably intense, showing layer after layer as it sat in the glass. Aromas of animal musk and olive gave way to spiced citrus, crushed berry and floral tones with hints of caramel and spice cookie. It seemed to travel across the palate in a dense, silky wave of dark fruit yet left behind a coasting of soil and mineral earth tones in its wake, along with a hint of savory herbs. Tart red berry, minerals and a note of blueberry skin lingered on the finish. (91 points) Morrell
Cornas is the most southern portion of the northern Rhone. Here too, the steep, terraced vineyards and brutal climatic conditions create wines of intensity and tremendous depth. Yet with Cornas we often find darker, denser wines with gripping textures. You will typically need to give them time in the cellar to reveal their charms.
- 2010 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre – The nose was diffuse, showing blackberry and herbs with hints of cocoa powder, spice and dark soil. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with intense tart black fruits and hints of pepper. Gripping tannin matched with a good acid balance assures this will last an easy decade in the cellar. Herbal tones, dark fruits and hints of citrus lingered through the finish. (93 points)
- 2012 Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose – The nose was vibrant with dark red berry fruit, pretty floral notes and a hint of blueberry skins. It was angular on the palate, yet kept fresh through lively acidity, delivering dark fruit flavors, black pepper and violet floral tones. The finish displayed saturating dark fruit with gripping tannin and lingering minerals. I enjoyed this wine for its contrast of bright floral fruit and underlying structure. (91 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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