Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mohegan Sun Wine Fest: The Wines

Though I would have preferred more diversity in the wine selections at the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest Grand Tasting, I found some very good wines and I will share a sampling of my favorites below. Obviously, I did not taste every wine at the event so there could have been other worthy wines that I simply did not get the opportunity to sample. If you attended this event, and tasted some good wines that I have not mentioned, feel free to add your thoughts to the Comments.

The labels are eye-catching, especially if you are a music lover, though you might suspect they are mere gimmicks. The Wines That Rock, founded in 2009, is a collaboration between RZO Music, Inc. and the Mendocino Wine Company, and is "...all about pairing wine & music."  The Mendocino Wine Co. is very environmentally friendly, with sustainable farming, green power through solar & wind, eco-friendly packaging, carbon neutrality and more.

There are currently five Wines That Rock, including wines for Woodstock, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stone, The Police and The Grateful Dead. If you check their website, you can see the inspirations for these wines, the reasons why the music and wine are supposed to work well together. I have tasted several of these wines before, which generally retail around $15 a bottle, and they are generally good wines for the money and not merely a marketing gimmick.

Their newest release, in partnership with Grateful Dead Productions and Rhino Entertainment is the 2009 Grateful Dead "Steal Your Face," a  red blend. Their website states: "To capture the essence of the live energy of the Grateful Dead’s Steal Your Face, Winemaker Mark Beaman chose to meld several varieties into one. Just as the band members would segue through various musical styles, this wines far reaching flavors melt seamlessly from one to the next, blending Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel & Grenache. In honor of the band’s famous improvisational concerts that have brought joy to so many, this wine celebrates Mendocino County’s bounty of diversity and freedom of experimentation."

I enjoyed this muscular wine, with its prominent blend of black and red fruit, a spicy backbone and strong tannins. It had just enough complexity to make it interesting, especially at its price point. It is an easy drinking wine, excellent for BBQ or hearty meat dishes, or something to warm you on a chilly winter evening. As I am not a big Grateful Dead fan, I can't really say how this wine compares to their music. But maybe my friend, and devoted Deadhead, Adam of Wine Zag can comment on that.

I found two Spanish Albarinos, from Rias Baixas, each offering its own unique style. The 2010 Serra da Estrela Albarino ($16.99) is from a winery established in 2000, located  in the Condado do Tea subzone of Rias Baixas on the northern slopes of the Miño river. The chief winemaker is a woman, Cristina Mantilla, a common occurrence in Rias Baixas wineries. This Albarino sees no oak, and is crisp and clean, with more restrained fruit tastes, apple, pear and apricot. Its minerality is more prominent, kind of a flintiness, and it has a fairly lengthy and pleasing finish. A nice choice with seafood, from oysters to shrimp.

The 2010 Salneval Albarino ($11.99) is produced by the Adega Condes de Albarei winery, founded in 1988 and located in the O Salnès valley. It is a cooperative of 362 grower/owners, equipped with advanced winery technology. Again, this Albarino was crisp and clean, but its fruit flavors were much more powerful, a delightful melange of peach, pear and melon. Its minerality was more subtle, along with hints of honey and spice. It had a fuller mouthfeel, more voluptuous, than the other Albarino, and I would enjoy this on its own or paired with food, maybe something with a little spicy heat, like some Thai. If you are not drinking Albarino, then go find some to taste.

The 2007 Jose Maria Da Fonseca Periquita Reserva ($16.99) is a Portuguese red blend of 50% Castelao, 30% Touriga Nacional, and 20% Touriga Franca. It is aged for about eight months in new and used oak and has an alcohol content of 13.2%. A light red color and an alluring fruity nose with a touch of exotic spice. The flavors include blueberry, raspberry, black cherry, vanilla and spice. Easy drinking, delicious, and another reason to embrace Portuguese wines.

One of my overall favorite wines of the Expo was the 2005 Terre Rare Carignano del Sulcis Riserva ($14.99) from the Sella & Mosca winery in Sardinia. The winery was established in 1899 by two Piedmontese businessmen and it is currently owned by Campari. This wine is made from 100% Carignan, is aged for three years in French barriques and has an alcohol content of 13.5%. I found this to be a complex and interesting wine, a stunner at this price point. Spicy and bold, with delicious black fruit flavors, vanilla, a silky mouthfeel and hints of earthiness. I would pair this with pork, venison or lamb, or just savor on its own. This is a wine likely to end up on one of my Favorites List of 2012.

The Saintsbury Vineyard has long been one of my favorite California producers of Pinot Noir. The winery founders, Dick Ward and Dave Graves, made their first Saintsbury wine in 1979 and released their first Pinot Noir in 1981. Based in the Carneros region, they currently produce about 40,000 cases annually. Over the course of the Expo weekend, they poured five different wines, including four Pinot Noirs.

The 2009 Carneros Chardonnay ($21.99) is unfiltered, spends 8 months in French oak (20% new), and undergoes malolactic fermentation. The bottle is under a screwcap, and presents a tasty white wine with restrained fruit, spice and some minerality. This is a good example of how oak can enhance a Chardonnay, rather than drown it.

The 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir ($27.99) is a good starting point for their portfolio of Pinot Noirs. It might be their most muscular Pinot, with bright red fruit, a spicy backbone and hints of earthiness. A delicious taste, nicely balanced and a pleasing finish. Over the years, I have drank many bottles of this Carneros Pinot. The 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir, Lee Vineyard is a single vineyard that spends about ten months in French oak, about 29% new. It has less muscle than the regular Carneros though the fruit is still bright and there is plenty of spice notes.

Onto their more elegant offerings. The 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir, Stanley Ranch is an older vintage as the current one for this wine is 2008. This was a more elegant wine, very Burgundian in nature, which subtle red fruit flavors, plenty of spice notes and a strong backbone of earthiness. Its lingering finish was very satisfying, and this is certainly a wine to slowly savor, enjoying its complexity and style. A sublime wine evidencing the skill of Saintsbury. The 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir, Brown Ranch is equally as excellent, an elegant experience with less earthiness and spice. There is much subtlety in its complexity, reminding me in that respect of a fine Daiginjo sake. These are examples of some of the best California Pinot Noirs out there.

A squid picture on the label? And even a name based on squid?  Yes, it is catchy and kind of cool but is it a mere gimmick?  The 2011 Calamares Vinho Verde ($7-$8) is a Portuguese blend of 40% Arinto, 30% Trajudura and 30% Loureiro with an alcohol content of only 9%. The wine is from the single estate of Quinta da Devesa, and its name is intended to "...create an association with the unpretentious and relaxed nature of the region and its wines." This is an easy quaffer, a wine to drink and enjoy, without any need to think about it. Slightly effervescent, it has plenty of acidity and flavors of grapefruit and lemon, with some mild mineral notes. For under $10, this is a good choice, and pair it with light chicken dishes, seafood and maybe even cheese.

Moving onto Spain, I enjoyed the 2009 Tarima Hill ($15), produced by Bodegas Volver, S.L. and from the Alicante region. It is made from 100% Monastrell, the vines aged from 25-35 years, and the wine spends about 20 months in French oak. This is actually the first vintage of this wine. This is a big and bold wine, with lush ripe plum and blueberry flavors, strong tannins and hints of vanilla, cinnamon and raisins. It calls out to be paired with a big steak, and offers a good taste for the price.

Next up, a couple Grüner Veltliners from the same winery, Eder, which possesses 12 hectares of vineyards, in the town of Mautern in the Wachau region of Austria, and produces only about 20,000 bottles annually.These Grüners were very different from each other. The 2009 Eder Grüner Veltliner was very aromatic with prominent fruit flavors and good acidity. A relatively simple, easy drinking and fun quaffer. But the 2006 Eder Raubern Single Vineyard Grüner Veltliner (under $20) was anything but simple. The melange of flavors fascinated me with their complexity, with plenty of spice and floral notes, yet still with noticeable stone fruit components. Despite its age, this seemed still very fresh and it was a clear winner, sure to please any wine lover.

I found a couple nice Ports too. The 2001 Warre's Late Bottled Vintage was very approachable with plenty of cherry and plum fruit flavors, subtle spice and a smooth mouth feel. It was more an elegant style, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. The Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserve Porto was another elegant wine but its berry flavors were more restrained, and accompanied by tastes of dried fruit, nuts, spice and floral elements. It seemed more complex than the Warre's and was also smooth and very satisfying on the finish. Both Ports were enjoyable, and your choice of the two will depend on your personal preferences.

Australian wine has taken a hit in the last couple years, a backlash from wine lovers tired of overly fruity, high alcohol, and huge red wines. There is some truth there, that Australia produced a significant number of wines that met those qualifications, but there are also some very good wines coming out of this region. They just seem to get far less publicity and maybe it is time for wine lovers to return to Australia. A good starting point may be the Shingleback Winery, located in the McLaren Vale of Australia.

Kym & John Davey chose to develop a family estate that had been established in 1957. In 1998, they released their first wine, the Shingleback Shiraz, and their stated goal was to "produce affordable, quality wines that express the true character of McLaren Vale." I tasted their 2006 Shingleback Shiraz and was impressed with what I tasted. It certainly was not a fruit bomb and was a far more elegant and restrained wine, with plenty of complexity and a pleasant taste of black cherry, blueberry and raspberry combined with vanilla, subtle spice and even hints of chocolate on the finish. Good structure, nice balance, and pure delicious. It makes me want to further explore Shingleback wines, as well as seek out more of these type of Australian wines.

With the Wine Blogger's Conference coming to Portland, Oregon in August, plenty of attention will be coming to Oregon wineries. At the Expo, I encountered Jim Bernau, the founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards, who purchased the vineyard site in 1983 and planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The winery and cellar are carved into an ancient volcanic flow and the soil is red from its high iron content. It is claimed that this soil is similar to "...the red clay soil found in the Grand Cru Pinot Noir vineyards of Romaneé-st-Vivant in Burgundy,.."  I cannot comment on that but I can state that their wines are impressive and I hope to visit their winery in August.

Their 2009 Pinot Gris ($17.99) was stainless steel fermented and permitted to sure-lee age for a time. It is crisp and clean with bright flavors of green apple, melon and pear with a slight herbal component. Delicious, refreshing and moderately complex. The 2009 Pinot Noir ($29.99), which undergoes about 11 months of French oak (22% new), is a delicious example of Oregon Pinot Noir. Ripe red fruit, hints of spice and orange peel, and a lengthy, satisfying finish. It is a more elegant style, offering a nice balance and good complexity.

The stunner though was their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir ($43.99), which is subtle and seductive, an elegant and complex Pinot which is sure to impress. The melange of flavors ranges from bright cherry to ripe plum, from cinnamon to black pepper. You need to slowly sip and savor this wine, to perceive all of the diverse flavors within. Well balanced, this wine provides an alluring finish that seems to caress your palate with silk, lingering long within your mouth. A killer wine, I highly recommend this one.


Adam Japko said...


The issue wine being like music is beyond esoteric to me. But, if you boil it down to the ways music creates connection player and listener and the ways wine creates connection between drinker and wine's terroir and winemaker, you might see a linkage. I remember Dead shows where I swore the band was playing just for me, hitting the notes that are uniquely mine to enjoy. I have had that experience with wine. This Dead wine is not that, but I applaud the creators for attempting to connect the style of the Dead with wine.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Adam for answering my question.

I can understand how wine might bring to mind a certain musician or band. In the Drops of God wine comic, the main character compares a certain wine to the music of Queen and provides and explanation of how they connect to him. It is certainly a very different way of looking at a wine, different from the usual descriptors of fruit and spice.