• 2006 Cougar Crest Viognier - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (5/29/2009)
    VERY pale straw color, with strong aromas of honey, brioche, lemon and even a little bit of cucumber. Very smooth, silky mouthfeel. Very nice acidity throughout the wine with overwhelming pineapple, and honey suckle. Finish is smooth and firm. This is a very well structured viognier - reminiscent of $40-$60 condrieu's from the Rhone. (90 pts.)

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Chianti Classico

After drinking chianti classico for a week straight in Tuscany late last year, I fell in love with it. I think it's POSSIBLY the most underrated wine right now. Over the last two nights, I've had a couple glasses of Chianti Classico and it's reaffirmed my love for this wine. I recommend trying the 2004 Vigna Vecchia Chianti Classico - this can be found in the $15 range in my eyes, is an 89+ point wine. Pair it with some sharp cheese and cured meats and you're in business.

Wine Bar Review: Vinoteca

1940 11th St. NW
Wash, DC 20001

My first installment in a running series started at Vinoteca in the U Street Corridor. I've been to Vinoteca a number of times, and have always been a fan of its wine program and vibe.

1) Bottle/Wine by the Glass Selection: 38 points

Vinoteca's bottle and wine by the glass selection is exciting. While its selection of the "standard" types of wines is, well, standard, its selection of "unique reds/whites" is where they excel. The Trivento torrontes from Mendoza on the menu (glass is $7) was showing well last night as was the Paco & Lola albarino. I think Vinoteca should continue down this path of finding value driven wines from regions of the world that are sometimes unknown to the casual wine drinker. Vinoteca's reputation around DC is that it's the place to go to find a unique offering of wine, not just the standard Napa Chardonnay's and Pinot Noir's. It also offers tastes of their wines for half of the glass price - a FANTASTIC way to experience 10+ wines in an evening.

2)Staff Knowledge: 14 points

The easiest way to judge the staff behind the bar at a wine establishment is to ask them what they recommend. If they immediately offer a suggestion without asking what YOU like, they lose major points. After asking this question last night I was given a glass of the Stag's Leap Viognier (I'm a big viognier fan, so on paper it was looking like a good recommendation) - problem was the wine wasn't showing well at all. I think the bottle might have been open too long...and for $16, I wasn't impressed AT ALL.

3)Ambiance: 8 points
I like the bar area of Vinoteca, but it can be a bit tight during their busiest times. Our group of 4 felt squashed a bit, and we were asked to shift our bar stools around a number of times to allow for more guests to pack in and to move out of the staff's way.

4) Price: 16 points
Finding reasonable prices in wine bars isn't easy. Vinoteca's offering of the K Vintners Milbrandt Syrah is a great example of this - I have 4 bottles at home and I paid $80 for all of them. If I bought the same bottle at Vinoteca, I'd pay $84/bottle. I understand the markups on wine, but this is a bit excessive in my opinion. What saves Vinoteca is their tasting option. The staff is generous with their tasting pours.

5) Stemware: 10
Vinoteca uses over-sized Bordeaux glasses for most of their wines and also have over-sized pinot noir glasses. I'm a big fan of over-sized wine glasses, so Vinoteca scores points with me here.

OVERALL: 86 points
It's worth noting that Vinoteca offers a great Tuesday night wine class. I've attended these classes to anyone interested in wine. $35/person may sound steep, but you do receive a $5 gift card and are able to drink A LOT of wine during the class - definitely a GREAT value.


Drinking Wine the Next Day

I left about half of last night's bottle on my kitchen counter. I used my VacuVin to remove air from the bottle - but the characteristics of the wine change nonetheless. The smokiness of the wine is almost completely gone, replaced instead by dark licorice and mocha. Overall the wine is a little more challenged on the nose, but the mouthfeel of the wine has become even smoother over the past 24 hours. A lot of black and white pepper showed up on the wine overnight - a very nice change.


Amazing Spanish Wine Value

Not surprisingly, Spain is full of value driven wine. While a generalization, I think Spain is the country leading the way on outstanding value wines. The wine I opened tonight is no exception to this "rule". I won this bottle at auction for $10 - tastes more like a $30-$50 Merlot-based Bordeaux.

  • 2005 Bodegas Juan Gil Monastrell Jumilla Bodegas Hijos de Juan Gil Juan Gil - Spain, Murcia, Jumilla (5/13/2009)
    A fair amount of wood smoke dominate the nose with raspberries, and cranberries tucked in. The mouthfeel is nice and silky - this is a remarkably smooth wine for under $12. The fruit easily stands up against the alcohol and the finish has lingering flavors of chocolate and coffee. Great QPR - find this wine. (90 pts.)

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Syrah: New World vs. Old World

New World vs. Old World
I’ve been a big supporter of Californian syrah over the past 6 months or so – bought a lot of bottles and enjoyed my fair share as well. I think it was the classic sour cherry and overall balance of these wines that really did it for me. Friday night I took part in a new world vs. old world syrah tasting at Think Café in Chicago.
An amazing selection of syrah was on display Friday night – ranging from a youthful monster out of Paso Robles to an explosive and thought provoking Cornas from the Northern Rhone (there was even some First Growth Sautuerne to round out the meal).

2000 Saint-Cosme Côte-Rôtie – This was a great wine to start the night off with. The nose was full of bacon fat, tapenade, and sour cherries. This wine was pure silk, with coffee and blackberries throughout. Interestingly, the flavors were subtle, not muted, just reserved and mature. Seemed like this wine was in a good place right now – 90pts.

2003 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie – The nose of this wine reminded me of Sunday morning breakfast. Rich bacony flavors were wrapped around ground coffee, cooked meats, and blackberry jam. Again, outrageous mouthfeel with this wine. The wine itself had lots of blackberries, sour cherries, and dried tobacco flavors with a long finish. A fair amount of burly tannis on this wine suggest it still has a number of years before it plateaus. – 91pts.

1996 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas – Wow. What a wine. The nose was rocking with massive dried tobacco, lead pencil shavings, and pepper. I cannot say enough about this wine, the body of this wine was full of cooked meats, and pepper…LOTS of pepper. Paired this with a steak and it was absolutely perfect together. The backend of this wine is still youthful, and lasted for nearly a minute. If you have the opportunity to get this wine, jump on it – 95+pts.

1999 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - The nose took some time to open up and compared to the Cornas was slightly lacking. A fair amount of leather, coffee, and dark, ripe cherry came through – had this along with a steak and it worked really well together. Like the other wines, this had a really nice structure and balance to it – 91pts.

2001 Kongsgaard Syrah Hudson Vineyard – This was the first New World wine of the night and immediately you could tell the difference. Nose had overpowering black indelible marker. Might be a turnoff to some, but I enjoyed it. This was a massive wine full of blueberry reduction sauce. Combine that with other dark fruits and you get a massive, baby of a wine. What really surprised me about this one was the balance. Yes, it was a New World “fruit bomb”, but it also had nice acidity – I think this has a number of years of to continue maturing – 93pts.

2006 Saxum Broken Stones – This was a beast of a wine. The nose was more reminiscent of a cocktail than a wine. It turned me off right from the start. There was massive strawberry reduction sauce nose on this wine, and it was hard for me to pull out anything else. Strawberries, cherries, cassis, dominated this wine. Believe it or not, this has 16.3%alc! A testament to the quality outfit at Saxum, the fruit stood up to the high alcohol level. I’m not sure how I felt about this wine. Compared to the wines earlier in the night, this style seemed too over the top for me – 89pts.

The difference between the Rhone and California has been talked about a lot, and in my mind, is clear. While the Cali wines knocked me over the head with their strawberry, sour cherry, and cassis flavors the bottles from the Rhone were far more subtle in their greatness. There are certain wines that I’ve come across that I classify as “anti-social” wines (sagrantino de maltefalco, nebbiolo, and port) – simply because drinking them brings on a period of introspection. I’m adding Northern Rhone syrah to that list. Each sip I took of these wines told its own story – new flavors kept emerging adding to the overall complexity of the wine. It’s a worthwhile exercise to sit down with a bottle of big Cali syrah and a bottle of syrah from the Rhone. I think you’ll be shocked at how different the wines taste side-by-side. If you’ve done this before, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on how it went – leave a comment below.

  • 2007 Breggo Cellars Chardonnay Savoy Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (5/2/2009)
    On the nose, there is subtle oak, lemon, pear and granny smith apple flavors. Very nice nose. Wow, this is an incredible balanced chardonnay from Cali. There is certainly oak in this wine, but it's controlled and the fruit stands up to the oak impressively. I think that this bottle achieves a balance of oak and fruit that I really look for. I can't forget to mention the mouthfeel of this wine as well. Super silky, quite enjoyable. The one interesting thing I can say about it is it has an impressive back end structure that I don't normally notice in Chardonnays. I think this might be able to age for a couple years....it would be interesting to try that. (91 pts.)

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