Wine Rating: 93
The summer is on the way out, leaving behind great memories of wonderful wines. From the superb Conundrum 2010, a remarkable Decoy Sauvignon Blanc 2009, to a case of the ever so buttery Morgan Chardonnay 2008; I opened all through the summer. With subtle hints of fall beginning to take shape, we start to welcome the new grapes of the season. I always look forward to November and the Beaujolais Nouveau. I also welcome 9 months of reds. For me, the faux pas is not wearing white after Labor Day, but drinking it. Champagne doesn’t count as it is usually (almost always) Pinot Noir grapes, minus the tannic skins.
Before I begin my review (that, by the way, knocked my socks off) I want to give you a brief ‘Wine Tasting 101’ lesson. I’ve had a few people tell me that they love the column, but do not have a palate for wine. Some have said that they appreciate what a good wine ‘could be’ but have yet to really hone what it is they should be looking for. As a result, I have been asked – “what are ‘you’ looking for specifically when tasting, smelling, swirling, holding the glass up to the light?” My friends, it is not that difficult. Like most things in life it takes a willingness to be educated; a different way of smelling and tasting and some damn disciplines. I’ll admit, I am very disciplined with my palate and for me it’s worth it. I don’t eat anything processed; no salt, sugar (red wine is very low in sugars), no caffeine, no artificial sweeteners, no cigarettes, nothing damning to my health or palate. This ritual happens 6 days a week and on the 7th day I eat anything and everything; it is called ‘Binge Day’. If I want a keg of beer, In-n-Out Burger and donuts I have it, pizza and cookies – mine. Anything I want – I eat! Why one day a week? Because it kicks in my metabolism and spikes my insulin levels keeping me out of a ketosis state and its empty calories so I disposed of it almost as fast as I eat it. Am I crazy? I hope so! But I have almost no body fat and truth be told I find it very fun and challenging. Saturday is my Binge Day and I look forward to it like Christmas each week. You would too if you ate only a chicken breast, spinach and two hard boiled eggs (no yolks) three times a day, 6 days a week. I only drink water, peppermint tea and 2 glasses of red wine at dinner.
The reward for me is how my palate has opened up. I taste things now I have never experienced before. Finding hidden flavors from some of the best wines produced is a pleasure. Do you need to be an extremist for such a palate? NO! Open up a bottle of wine; red or white, it doesn’t matter. Make sure it is the right temperature. (Note: NO WINE should be served at room temperature. Why? Because the degrees of a room can fluctuate very drastically killing the wines balance.) The best wine cellars in the world are set at the ‘ideal’ temperature of 55 degrees. If a restaurant gives you a room temperature wine send it back and tell them to serve it properly (see the wine temperature chart at the end of the column). Open the wine and pour it into a glass about half way. I do not care what type of glass just something bigger than a shot glass and make sure it’s actually made of glass. I have a great jelly jar from the 1970’s with a faded Sylvester and Tweety Bird on it that I review most wines in. Swirl the wine within the glass. You want to bring oxygen into it. After all, it’s been sitting on its ass for a few years and it needs to stretch its legs. You are opening up the wine, bringing the aroma to life. Some older 20+ year wines need at least 2-hours before they open up. For such wines it is best to decant them out of the bottle. For lower and mid-priced wines you can pour the wine into a blender for 20 seconds; but people yell at me when I do this; as if you could offend a $25 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. The process is called ‘hyper-decanting’ and it works. The great blogger Tim Ferris taught me that trick. As the wine is opening up, stick your nose in the glass and inhale. The first thing you notice will be the alcohol, but as that settles down, the magic starts to happen. You are not looking for the exact smell of fruit or herbs. The bouquet comes from the essence of what that fruit, herb or spice represents. Do you smell a forest with pine? Close your eyes and explore. Each wine is a treasure hunt of fragrances. Is there a hint of plum, green apple or spice, maybe a little coriander, cinnamon or holly? Smell beyond the basic structure. Swirl again and watch the legs(2) cling to the glass. It may take a few times before you really begin discovering the aromatic balance of the wine, but I assure you (if you have a decent bottle) it’s there. You will find it once the wine hits your mouth, whether it lands upfront or sneaks up from behind. Mark my words, you will start to look for it and that’s when you’ll know you’re on your way. Next month we will go into more detail about taste and color. In the meantime swirl, look, taste, let it open up and find the heart of what gives a good wine its terroir(3).
The Domaine Grand Veneur vineyards are in the north of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, in France. Within the region only 120 acres spread over three appellations: CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE, CÔTES DU RHÔNE “Les Champauvins” and CÔTES DU RHÔNE. This area is one of the most important in the history of wine. The grapes that are produced in this region are renowned. Next to, the beauty that is Bordeaux, this is my preferred area in all of France.
So let’s get to it…
I opened the bottle and decanted it into a beautiful thin glassed decanter someone gave my wife and I a few years ago. This wine needed at least two hours to breathe, so I set it on the counter and let it slowly find room temperature and then right before pouring the first glasses, I placed it back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, so that when I pulled it out, it was a perfect temperature of 64°.
Pouring from a well-balanced decanter makes life worth waking up for. Seriously, it never splashes or drips and it gives you a wonderful clean cascade. Once poured, I slowly make circular motions holding the base of the glass; this exposes the wine; allowing air to caress the fruit. I lift the half full glass into the light and look at the color. Years ago before wine making was technologically enhanced it was not out of the ordinary to find skins and even twigs in some old Bordeauxs. Wine filtration is state-of-the-art today and the wines are clear and colorful. What I look for is the hue that represents the varietal and with this Rhone I, wanted deep purple and I saw it. A wonderful color that needs to be seen and admired; not even Pantone could create such a pigment.
At that point, I stick my schnoz in the glass and profoundly inhale. This is the first hint of what will be. This is where memories begin. Wham! Plum, Plum and some fig jump out. There is so much fruit escaping it is hard to find them all. It is like licking the wallpaper in Willy Wonka’s factory “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – I digress. The aroma kept coming; blackcurrant, maple and allspice. What a brilliant breath of fresh air.
Then the wine is tipped from the glass into my mouth and at this point, the first tang you will always notice is the alcohol; wine is boring without it. When that settles the tannins (acid) come alive. The acid of this wine is powerful. My tongue feels coated in leather and my teeth feel like socks are covering them. As all of this subsides (I still have not swallowed) the fruit and spice that I smelled moments ago I am now tasting. I find a hint of orange blossom, the clove is more pronounced, but the plum just opens it all up. The dry lingering tannins go down wonderfully and what remains is sometimes more important than where it began: the finish. This has always expressed to me how a wine will age, will mature. This splendid, well balanced 2009 has years ahead of it. The balance of the fruit and tannins is amazing. This wine will grow handsomely in price in the next few years as it opens with better and better ratings. So stock up while it’s affordable, cellar it properly and enjoy now or 25 years from now.
Domaine Grand Veneur
Winery: Domaine Grand Veneur
Label: Les Origines
Appellation: Chateauneuf-du-Pape [Shat-En-Noof-Do–Pop]
Varietal: Rhone Blend
Appearance (Color): Deep Purple
Aroma (Complexity): Plum, Fig and Spice
Body (Texture and Weight): Medium, Well-Balanced
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Plum, Allspice, Orange Blossom, Currants
Finish (What lingers): Black Currant and Clove
Serving Temperature: 64°
Food Pairing: Fine Dining, Steak and Strong Cheeses
Drink: Now through 2030