Alexandre Sirech 2008 Le Bordeaux

65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% ABV
Bordeaux AOC, France
imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, CA, for World Wine Headquarters
$5 at the Oakland, CA, store on 7 July

Sirech_2008_LeBordeauxAt first sip, this wine’s restrained earthy red fruit was immediately recognizable as Bordeaux.  It seemed reasonably promising, but unfortunately, on the first night, we drank it up before it could fully air.

A few nights later, the second half, kept in a 375ml screw cap bottle with very little air, was not especially exciting.  While it showed typical bing cherry and blackcurrant fruit, with funky, slightly stemmy, earth, the flavors were a bit simple and poorly integrated.  I found it rather boring.  It was probably better the first night, although never that great.

Lodali 2011 Dolcetto D’Alba “Sant’ Ambrogio”

Dolcetto D’Alba DOC, northwestern Italy; 13.5% ABV
imported by Global Wine Co., San Rafael, CA
$5 at the Oakland, CA, store on 7 July

Lodali_2011_DolcettoDAlbaWeinish commented a while ago that I needed to “spend a weekend with this wine.”  I finally got around to this wine and there’s no weekend needed, IMO, just a while in a decanter.  After decanting it off some fine sediment, I thought it seemed promising, and not bad to drink, from first pour.  It showed nice fruit (ripe and tart) of red / lighter purple plum, medium red roses, maybe a little strawberry.  It slowly improved until it was fully aired after about 2.5 hours, when it showed ripe, liqueur-like fruit of black cherry, purple plum, a little cherry pit and dark aromatic spice, and a hint of vanilla.  From my limited experience with Dolcetto, I had thought of it as a full-fruited but coarse and acid wine, making a red that’s solid and serviceable, but not very exciting.  Pleasantly confounding my expectations, I found this wine really delicious.

The next day, the second half (stoppered in a 375ml bottle with very little air) was more rough and acid, never coming together the way the first half did.  So, I guess I’d highly recommend this wine if you’ll finish it in one evening (or morning, I guess :) ), but not if you would drink it over more than one day.

Il Follo Prosecco “Extra Dry”

made from 100% Glera grapes, Prosecco DOC, northeastern Italy; 11.5% ABV
imported by Wade and Clark, Hawthorne, NY
$6 at the Berkeley, CA, store on 1 Aug.  Also at Richmond.

IlFollo_NV_ProseccoI got this bottle mostly because I liked its shape, and because an extra-dry Prosecco sounded tasty on these warm days.  Although I have not tasted a lot of Prosecco, this one strikes me as different from my previous examples.  Instead of ripe, yellow flavors, this one shows green and white flavors of apple and pear, with only a little yellow apple, and the mouthfeel is slightly more textured than I recall.  Similarly, the gently ripe fruit is balanced nicely with crisper acid and a slight bitterness.  The carbonation is moderate.  It is pretty dry, but not as absolutely crackling dry as some sparkling wine I’ve tasted.  I doubt it’s an extraordinary value, but I found it quite enjoyable and good for the money.

Stickybeak 2010 Semillon – Sauvignon Blanc

Sonoma County, CA; 14.3% ABV
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 29 July

Stickybeak_2010_SemSauvBlancThis wine had also intrigued me for a while.  I forget when and why, but Stickybeak has somehow impressed me as a pretty good negociant, and I also liked that they cared enough to make the traditional Bordeaux white blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.  I finally opened a bottle and, indeed, it’s pretty good for the price.

While the flavors might be slightly washed out from age, it is still pretty fresh and tasty.  The wine shows the white melon / melon rind of Semillon and the yellow apple / lemon and a little green melon of Sauvignon Blanc, in a nice blend gently supported by oak, with an occasional hint of green bell pepper, especially as it warms.  The fruit is gently ripe, well balanced by tasty acid.

The next day, the rest in the bottle is still pretty good, but to me not quite as good as the first day.  The fruit is more forward and full, still nicely blended, but the finish is slightly more rough.  Still, I think this is pretty good for the price.  Don’t wait to drink it.

Ty-Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo

Nara, Japan; ABV for sake is typically 14 – 16%; imposing black, triangular bottle
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 3 Aug.  Almost certainly also at Berkeley, and probably many other stores.

TyKu_Sake_JunmaiGinjoI was pretty excited to hear that the GO was getting a junmai ginjo (more on that below) sake for a pretty low price for 720ml.  However, when I tasted it, I found this to be okay but not especially exciting sake.

So, about the sake terms…  “Junmai” means that it’s made from only rice and water.  “Honjozo” means that neutral spirits (extra alcohol) were added, which is not the case with “junmai.”  “Ginjo” means a good amount of the surface of the grain of rice is polished away, usually resulting in a cleaner taste of the sake.  (Sakes that are labeled just “Junmai” are often relatively more funky and acid.  The only grade higher than “junmai ginjo” is “junmai daiginjo,” which means that more of the outer part of the rice grain has been polished away.)

The first thing I noticed about this sake is that it’s fairly yellow-colored for a sake, although still more clear than any white wine.  The nose is definitely of a nice sake, showing aromatic rice.  However, on the palate, after the usual rich rice flavor, the main flavors I get are of mint and yellow peach, and I find the somewhat funky acid more like I would expect from a “junmai” instead of from a “junmai ginjo”.  The mint may even be sort of mint-chocolate-chip, which is really not what I associate with sake.  It’s pretty tasty sake for the price — for this much Japanese sake one could easily spend $40 — but it’s not as good as the two I reviewed recently, as I guess you would expect from the prices.  Also, from the amount available, this sake will likely receive wider distribution than the others.  (With this bottle, I also opened the “Lucky Toki,” among the three that appeared with the two reviewed at the link above.  I thought it was less good than the two I reviewed, but better than this bottle.)

The next day, I thought it was much the same.  For $7 for 720ml, this is fine sake, but nothing to rush out and get, IMO.

I want to add a few words about sake vs. wine.  In wine, I usually prize intensity and complexity of flavors, and their elegant delineation.  In sake, I usually prize purity and harmony.  I am not looking for a lot of “flavors” in sake.  Instead, I hope for the direct expression of the white rice and water, although that can take various forms.  I haven’t built up my sake vocabulary like I have my wine vocabulary, but I hope this helps somewhat.

Juana de Sol 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva

Mendoza, Argentina; 13.5% ABV
$5 at the Berkeley, CA, store on 29 June

(Sorry, I forgot to photograph this bottle before recycling it.)  This wine seemed promising, seeming to have nice fruit buried beneath a good bit of tannin.   Even after two hours of air in a decanter, however, the wine still was not very open, showing mostly candy-like tartness and tannin.  After 2.5 hours, it darkened to blackberry / dark boysenberry, funky tar, and still finishing with strong tannin and strongish acid.

The next day, the wine was more open and integrated, with rich ripe fruit, tannins and acid.  It’s pretty substantial — showing flavors of purple plum / plum skin, dark red / purple cherry, and dark earth — if not all that complex or pleasurable.  I’d guess it would still benefit from more age.

Blackjack Ranch 2007 “Double Down” Syrah

Santa Barbara County, CA, 14.9% ABV
$6 at the Oakland, CA, store on 12 July

Blackjack_2007_DoubleDownSyrahThis wine label struck me as very promising, but it was a few days before I finally tasted any.  Even immediately after opening, it seemed pretty good, starting to air quickly into ripe fruit of dark cherry and plum, earthy black pepper, with nicely balancing acid.  I didn’t taste it after that until the third and fourth days open (still in the same bottle with just the cork stuck in the top), and it was then still reasonably good.

It was a couple weeks later, however, before I got to open a bottle over an evening and consider it a bit.  This bottle struck me as less impressive than the first I opened.  While it showed similar flavors, the wine was a bit more simple and dull, less complex and lively.  It was also good from first pour, but more fully softened and opened up after 2 – 2.5 hours in a decanter.  Even though I’m criticizing the second bottle compared to the first, I think it’s still very good for the price.

A few days later, the saved single-glass, screw-cap bottle still needed a little air to come forward and integrate.  Although quite ripe and full-bodied, it showed nicely delineated flavors of dark red and dark purple / black plum, dark cherry / cranberry, tar / licorice, a little black pepper, and oak.  It may be even better than on the first night.  Still, I would guess this wine is at its peak, or even slightly past, and you shouldn’t wait long to drink it.

About this wine, Seedboy wrote: That Syrah is a nice cool climate example with plenty of life left on it.

Expat, lover of dry, earthy and tannic reds, commented:  I had the Blackjack tonight. Exactly what I thought it would be – a well made, syrupy, meaty syrah. I think Seedboy and B-dub are a little more charitable than I am. To me it was a tad sweet and I didn’t find it completely balanced because it lacked the acid and tannin backbone for my palate. I sipped it while grilling a top sirloin over oak and it was a fine cocktail wine. With the steak it lacked the structure i wanted. Bottom line, this is a wine most people will be very pleased with and at this price it’s a great deal. I’ll apologize in advance for sounding like a pompous a**, I just like more earth and funk in my reds.

Here, I disagree with Seedboy that it has plenty of life left, and with Expat that there wasn’t enough acid.  However, I agree with Expat that there was not a lot of tannic structure.  Your thoughts?  :)

P.S.  I also saw a case or two of the 2008 bottling of this wine.   Has anyone tried it?

Spy Valley 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir

Marlborough, New Zealand; 13.5% ABV; screw cap
imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco
back label says the bottle contains “8 standard drinks.”
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 29 July

SpyValley_2011_PinotNoirRoseSince I’ve liked New Zealand Pinot Noir, I had been intrigued by this NZ rosé of Pinot Noir for a while, but got a bottle only recently.  I’m sorry it took so long, because this wine is delicious.

The first pour (approx. 0.3 standard drinks?) was somewhat tart, making me suspect it was over the hill.  However, the next glass was nicely elegant and tasty.  I then left to go eat dinner out, leaving the bottle in the fridge with the cap on.  When I returned a few hours later, the wine was extra yummy, tasting of sweetly ripe fruit of tangerine, red berries, yellow fruit (apple? pear?), rounded out by gently supporting wood and enlivened by decent acid.  If you prefer the bone dry southern French style of rosé, this wine, although I’d still call it “dry,” may not be for you.  Otherwise, it’s very appealing.

The next day, the last tiny bit in the bottle (kept in the fridge). was more acid, with the previous apple or pear becoming more lemony, and the wood finish becoming more prominent.  It wasn’t terrible, but I liked it better the first day, and the second day may be better if there’s more left in the bottle than there was in mine.

Casa Ferreirinha 2012 Duoro “Papa Figos”

Douro DOC, Portugal
35% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Barroca, 15% Touriga Nacional; 13% ABV
imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on about 22 July.

CasaFerreirinha_2012_DouroI felt like this wine never fully aired on its first night open.  It seemed to promise becoming dense, dark earthy, red-fruited.  Instead, it was rather sour and unyielding, but it slowly opened more over 4.5 hours or so.  The flavors were in the vein of dark cherry, red plum, cranberry / hibiscus tea.

The next day, however, the saved single-glass screw-cap bottle promised to open up more fully, but still never quite made it.  It showed flavors of dark ripe and tart plum, cranberry, black earth, dark roses / violets, still with pretty strong acid.  With these results, I think this is pretty good wine for the price, but I’d recommend putting it down in cool storage for 4 to 6 years.  If you want to drink it now, I’d suggest putting it in a covered decanter for 6 hours to a day before serving.

Poggiotondo 2011 Vermentino

Vermentino classified as Toscana IGT, Italy; 13.5% ABV
imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, CA
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store some time in the last week.  Still a little there.

Poggiotondo_2011_VermentinoOn the first day open, I found this wine immediately likeable.  It showed riper fruit of apple, lemon, with a healthy portion of acid, and some skin bitterness.  It’s nicely smooth and delineated.  Not extremely exciting, but more than just a quaffer.  Pretty good for the price.

The next day, the flavors came out a bit more, but the wine was still well balanced: lemon, yellow apple and pear, wood with some complexity of mace or nutmeg.  By “flavors,” I mean the ripe fruit, viscous acid, and wood / spice.  I’d guess that if you like California Chardonnay that is ripe but on the more acid side, you’ll probably like this, too.