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What's new in iJamming!...
Fri, Aug 29, 2003
CABERNET FRANC
The 'Other' Cabernet Grape Takes Root In New York
Part 1: The Basics/Regions
Part 2: New York Wines
Part 3: Loire Wines
Part 4: Conclusions
Last of The Summer Rosês: Goats Do Roam, Vin Gris de Cigare and Rose of Virginia.
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
JOHN ACQUAVIVA
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured wine region 3:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE WHITES
Featured wine region 4:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE ROSÉS
Previously...
2003 FEATURED WINES 1
FEATURED WINE 6
FEATURED Wines5
FEATURED Wines 4
FEATURED Wines 3
FEATURED Wines 2
FEATURED Wines 1
Featured wine region 2:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES
The Geography
The Villages
Featured vine:
VIOGNIER:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.

Now with updated reviews
Featured wine region 1:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE
Featured wine web site:
HONIG
WINE AND MUSIC:
What wine fans and music devotees have in common.
Featured wino: TIMO MAAS
Featured party wine:
CLINE's Cotes d'Oakley
And how Cline does it
Featured wine web site: VIGNOBLES BRUNIER
The full iJamming! Contents

FEATURED WINES
(with recommended music)

Here's how it works. . .I've been involved in music all my life; as I've matured, I've gotten more into wine, finding that it pushes exactly the same 'obsessive' buttons. Given that I have my own web site, why not write about wine as well as music? Even better, why not link the two - recommend an appropriate bottle of wine to go with an interesting new album, and vice versa? While the cross-referencing is presented in good humour, the reviews stand seriously on their own; these wine recommendations are skewed towards varietal-variety and value-for-money, which means learning as we drink, without breaking the bank. Most bottles were purchased in the USA but should be available worldwide.

To see if I've written about a particular wine or grape, use the search engine at left.
Previous wine reviews and music recommendations can be found at:
-
FEATURED WINES 1FEATURED WINES 2FEATURED WINES 3
FEATURED WINES 4FEATURED WINES 5
FEATURED WINES 6
2003 WINE REVIEWS 1

If these occasional reviews don't fulfil your thirst for wine knowledge, consider signing up for the Wine Lovers' 30 Second Wine Advisor. You'll be e-mailed an easy-to-follow tasting note or news item every day, or every week, according to taste. (And choice!)

CLINE
CALIFORNIA ZINFANDEL 2001, $9

I'm a proud proponent of Zinfandel, one of the most distinctive and addictive of all wines, and one that's almost entirely unique to America. But though I've written about the trends at the top end, waxed lyrical about Seghesio's basic bottling, and reviewed blends where Zinfandel plays either starring or supporting role, I've yet to recommend a 100% Zinfandel for under $10 a bottle. Similarly, I launched this web site with a feature on price-conscious Cline Cellars, and on this same page I've praised one of their high-end offerings, but I've yet to single out their Zinfandels (and they make several) for a featured review.

Time to make amends – though Cline have made the job that much easier by fashioning one of their best budget bottles to date. The $9 2001 Zinfandel has a generic 'California' label that belies its precise assemblage, for the bulk of the grapes are from 50-year old vines in Cline's own Contra Costa County vineyards, much of the remainder hails from the ideal Zin-growing area of Lodi, and Cline works hard to ensure that the blend they put in the bottle is chock full of immediately accessible flavors.

In the glass, the wild berry fruit, cloves and spice that make up that inimitable Zinfandel nose and palate are balanced by moderate alcohol (13.8%, and that IS moderate for Zin), soft tannins and just enough oak to add vanilla flavor and chewy texture without masking Zinfandel's unique attributes. I sampled the 2001 before, during and after a mid-summer (2003) barbeque and it was hard not to hog the bottle to myself and finish it in one fell swoop.

How do they do it? Quantity, for one. There's over a million bottles of this stuff produced every year, and at only $9 a pop, Cline has little problem selling it. (Hopefully, some of that is in Europe, where quality Zin is still thin on the ground.) But quality, too. While the California Zinfandel is intended for drinking during its first year of release, the fact that you want to drink it during the first hour of taste is testament to the winery's impeccably high standards.


MUSIC?
It's traditional, and it's American, but any flag it waves is truly democratic: Cline believes in intensity of flavor for everyone. So does neighboring San Francisco's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, whose new album Take Them On, On Your Own is a similarly fired-up call to arms. A perfect match for a rock'n'roll barbeque.

CHAPEL DOWN
HORIZON
ENGLAND, NV

World class wine from England, it says on the back of the bottle, and no, that's not an oxymoron. There's some perfectly good English wine out there, assuming you stick mostly to whites and sparkling wines as befits a cool climate. If you don't believe me, check the three full pages of notable producers listed in your Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book.

Better still, next time you fly British Airways (across the Atlantic, at least), pass up the factory bottlings of Fetzer chardonnay and generic white Bordeaux when the drinks trolley comes round and ask for the English wine by name: Horizon from Chapel Down in Sussex. Then sit back and take comfort in your superior choice. Almost as green in the glass as the pastures of the Home Counties from which it hails, the Horizon is full of crisp grapefruit and gooseberry on the nose, usually the signature aroma of Sauvignon Blanc. While that particular grape is not grown in the UK, Horizon does a passable imitation of a fine Loire aperitif, with plenty of crunchy acidity, good sharpness on the attack and then a nice soft, round finish that leaves you licking your lips in delight. What Horizon lacks it finesse it makes up for in unpretentious honesty - and at just 10.5% alcohol, you won't be staggering down the aisles even if you go back for a second or third (miniature) bottle.

But if not Sauvignon Blanc then what, exactly, are English wines made of? The most successful white grape in England is Seyval Blanc, which not only makes a fine dry wine but buds early, stays ripe through a damp autumn and can survive frost. (For those reasons, it's also popular in Canada and northern New York state too.) Unfortunately, because it's a 'hybrid' grape (as opposed to orthodox 'vinifera'), Seyval Blanc doesn't meet the European Union standards for "quality wine", thereby freezing English wines out from competition on the Continent. The other heavily planted grape in England, Muller-Thurgau, does pass EU muster, but while you rarely hear people gushing enthusiastically about that German workhorse, none other than uber wine critic Oz Clarke likens the best of the English Seyval Blancs to "bone-dry Chablis". The European Community's loss is your gain. Next time you fly British Airways, be patriotic. Or just be smart.

MUSIC?
It's English, it's honest, it's refreshing and it refuses to disappear from sight just because it's not in vogue this year. Cue that trustworthy English singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, and his 25th solo album The Old Kit Bag.

PAUL GOERG
BRUT CHAMPAGNE, PREMIERE CRU 1995
FRANCE, $30.

I've reviewed Methode Champenoise wines before on this web site, but never, until now, the real thing. Because much though I love the concept of bubbly, the wines from Champagne itself are generally over-priced and over-rated: for the $40/£20 your average bottle of non-vintage Veuve Clicquot will set you back, you could be drinking 3-4 bottles of extremely good red, white or rosé – without the stigma of looking like you're flaunting it. (Let's not even get into the bling-bling extravagance of triple-digit luxury cuvees.)

Fortunately there's been a revolution in the champagne region in recent years, with more and more of the 15,000 small growers bottling their own juice, rather than selling it off to the major houses. Paul Goerg is one such example. His vineyards are around Vertus, in the Côtes de Blancs tip of the Champagne region (see circled name in the accompanying photo), further south than the region's capital towns of Epernay and Riems, just outside the Grand Cru regions that mark (both in quality and price) the most illustrious of Champagnes, but not that far from the celebrated village of Le Mesnil.



Which essentially boils down to value for money. Goerg's Brut champagne 1995, mostly chardonnay with a little pinot noir, has an intense nose of buttery toast and crisp apples, is creamy and foamy in the mouth, with hints of almonds and biscuits, and its bubbles literally dance away on the back of the tongue in that hedonistic manner of great sparkling wine. It's got a long, satisfactory finish without the austerity that sometimes dampens my enthusiasm for champagne. It's full-bodied and it's in full balance. We bought a bottle for my birthday dinner recently (at Red White and Bubbly in Brooklyn) and were so knocked out we arranged a birthday brunch around a second bottle. Decadent, I know, but that's what good champagne is all about. And best of all, this particular decadence is (comparatively) affordable.

MUSIC?
It's value for money. It's high quality. It's "control…passing from the hands of the few [champagne houses], to the de-centralised many [grape growers]." And it makes you want to dance. Bring on Novamute's 2 CD's and MP3's. You know Richie Hawtin lives for the stuff.

CLINE
BIG BREAK VINEYARD LATE HARVEST MOURVÈDRE
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA 1997
$22, 375ML


I wrote about Cline Cellars on my very first wine posting: their (Côtes d') Oakley blend is one of the most fascinating and entertaining American wines to offer change from a ten dollar bill. Higher up the price spectrum, Cline concentrates on ancient vine and/or single vineyard Zinfandels, Syrahs, Carignanes and Mourvèdres – spicy, meaty, full-bodied reds of the kind that make my mouth water, every one of them.

The Big Break Vineyard in Contra Costa County produces Cline's most treasured Mourvèdre (read more about the grape's Mediterranean roots here) and in 1997, a famously hot year in California, Cline left one block on the vines for a further five weeks after harvest. The result: a most unusual and surprisingly delicate sweet red wine. The residual sugar level (9.4) clearly indicates that it's meant for after-dinner drinking, but the alcohol content – just 12% - means it won't knock you out like so many 16-18% late harvest Californian zinfandels or European ports.


An incredibly deep purple in the (dessert) glass, the Big Break Mourvèdre offers simple, pure, enticing berry aromas, a noticeably sweet attack which fills out well on the mid-palate, turning slightly sharp on the finish before rounding off with a luscious sticky after-glow. It accompanies all manner of heavy desserts, including chocolate and hard cheese, but unlike other reds, you could come to it long after such dinner finals and enjoy it unaccompanied and unencumbered.

Unlike most other items in the Cline catalogue, the Late Harvest Mourvèdre is not desperately cheap, proves is itself a slightly acquired taste and won't win awards against the finest and most proven of after-dinner drinks. But it's unusual distinct and unusual enough that even the most perennially disinterested of dinner guests will likely enquire about it, and as much as anything else, it's sexy. Isn't that a good enough reason to try it should you find it?

1200 cases (of the 375 ml bottles) were made in 1997, and I picked one up as recently as last Christmas. (The empty bottle is shown with a suitably Christmas-like sledding picture up above.) Cline made the wine again from the 1999 vintage with a higher alcohol content of 14%. You can read full and glorious details of the wine-making process here.

MUSIC? In Classic Californian style, the Big Break Late Harvest Mourvèdre provides a new twist to a tried and tested formula. In doing so, it balances the masculine with the feminine while settling on something indisputedly indisputably sensual. Pour it while playing your prospective partner The Stratford 4's Love and Distortion - and who knows what might happen.


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2003.