Archive for March 2008

California Wine Continues To Shine- Tasting Recap

March 30, 2008

I spent a couple of nights last weekend tasting as many California red wines as I could. In all, I tasted close to 70, and came away as impressed as ever and with the feeling that the 2004 and 2005 vintages may be something truly special, especially in Napa. What’s even more exciting than the solid versions of Cabernet Sauvignon that continue to come from the region is the innovation across the rest of the state and in the Pacific Northwest, which is experimenting with varietals such as Syrah and Zinfandel, often blending them with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Here is a quick rundown of my Top 10 Cabernet Sauvignons and my Top 10 “Innovative” California Reds that I tasted last week.

TOP 10 CABERNET SAUVIGNONS:

  1. Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stag’s Leap District 2005, 93 Points, $50: Perfumey and deep aromas with blackberry and licorice notes above subtle oak and chocolate nuances. Soft, elegant mouthfeel with rich, perfumey dark fruit notes of blackberry and licorice and undertones of carmelly chocolate, cedar and mint. Finishes with impeccable balance and round tannins. Black fruit and mocha linger long.
  2. Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2004, 94 Points, $125: Aroma dominated by dark, almost jammy blackberry and a hint of green earth. Lots of mint leads into incredibly well-concentrated black currant fruit. Velvety texture as black plum, black cherry and blackberry provide uninhibited blasts of rich fruit. Round tannins hold together the intensity of these flavors through the long length.
  3. Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004, 93 Points, $80: Complex combination of green earth, black fruit, chocolate, caramel and hints of orange peel on the nose. Muscular, well-structured mouth full of blackberry, black cherry and burnt caramel malt with undertones of hazelnut and chocolate. Firm tannins on the gracefully never-ending finish.
  4. Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Primus Reserve Napa Valley 2004, 92 Points, $95: Concentrated black fruit aromas with huge notes of oak. Body defines elegance as well-concentrated black fruit, black tea and peppery spice combine with impressive balance. Round tannins and fruit carry through the long length. Well finessed.
  5. Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004, 92 Points, $50: Classic balance of black currant and oak on the nose. Elegant but bursting, focused fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry above subtle oak and cedar. Round tannins hold it all together, a real mouth full, very long length.
  6. Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley 2004, 92 Points, $115: Black currant, oak and chocolate show inviting aromas. Full-bodied black cherry and blackberry lead into hits of oak, chocolate and a hint of green earth. Well-balanced, terrific example of the style, fruit shines through the long length.
  7. Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Salus Napa Valley 2004, 92 Points, $90: Lots of baked plum and dark raspberry jam on the nose. Minty, cedary body of red currant fruit and black cherry with a huge blast of vanilla bean through the long length. Vanilla lingers, delicious.
  8. Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection Napa Valley 2005, 92 Points, $150: Heavily perfumed with tar and chocolate nuances above aromas of black currant fruit. Heavy fruit concentration of blackberry with undertones of leather, chocolate and sagey spice. Long length.
  9. Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, 91 Points, $80: Dark blackberry aromas with a hint of oak. Initial blast of oak lead into layers of black currant fruit intertwined with more oak and hints of chocolate. Tannins grip the long length, oak is somewhat in front of the fruit here but the finish provides the classic Darioush blast.
  10. O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2004, 91 Points, $70: Soft aromas of black fruit, caramel and vanilla bean. Plush, silky body of lightly perfumed blackberry and licorice above subtle oak. Round tannins, well-balanced finish, relies on heavy fruit.

TOP 10 “INNOVATIVE” CALIFORNIA/ WASHINGTON REDS:

  1. K Syrah Morrison Lane Walla Walla Valley 2005, 92 Points, $40 (100% Syrah): Toasty aromas with vanilla bean and leather above subtle black fruit. Beautiful chocolate/mocha notes along with tar, leather and tons of pepper spice. Leather and mocha linger, black fruits -blackberry, black licorice- are present but understated. A rich, full-bodied syrah with all the elements.
  2. Orin Swift The Prisoner Napa Valley 2006, 92 Points, $35 (51% Zinfandel, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah): Complex aromas of blackberry, baked plum, spice and honey. Delicious body of caramel, blackberry and chocolate covered cherries with a well-intertwined spiciness. Chocolate lingers with well-balanced vanilla bean nuanaces and medium dryness. Innovative and delicious with great combination of ripe fruit and spice.
  3. Owen Roe Syrah Ex Umbris Columbia Valley 2006, 91 Points, $25 (100% Syrah): Aromas of leather, pepper spice and red currant. Well-concentrated flavors of smoky beef and red licorice above subtle black fruit and undertones of peppery spice. Fruit creeps in later and spice lingers with hints of leather and smoke. Very elegantly balanced, lots going on, great value.
  4. Ojai Syrah Santa Rita Hills Melville 2003, 91 Points, $42 (100% Syrah): Elegant aromas of leather with hints of tar, black fruit and earth. Initial mouthfeel of smoked beef and leather lead into black licorice and wild berry along with notes of pepper spice and earthy mineral. Elegant and subtle, long length.
  5. Stags Leap Petite Sirah 2004, 91 Points, $35 (100% Petite Sirah): Inky, minerally black fruit aromas with traces of cedar and mint. Violety fruit body of blueberry and black licorice with a minerally backbone and hints of tar, leather and peppery spice. Velvety and smooth with a long finish of fruit.
  6. Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine North Coast 2006, 90 Points, $65 (100% Syrah): Jammy black fruit aromas with minerally undertones and hints of tar. Heavy tar, leather and beef flavors lead into black licorice, blackberry and peppery spice. Elegant integration of earthy syrah characteristics and fruit character, great example of a style to strive for.
  7. Ojai Syrah Santa Barbara County 2005, 90 Points, $30 (100% Syrah): Inky, minerally nose with perfumey blue fruit notes. Leathery body with violety blueberry and blackberry with strong earthy mineral backbone and subtle pepper spice. Minerality combines nicely with the fruit in the earthy, well-water finish.
  8. Ridge Zinfandel Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley 2005, 90 Points, $30 (100% Zinfandel): Aromas of plummy fruit and raisin. Flavors of perfumed red plum and cherry with undertones of port-like raisin, extremely well-balanced fruit flavors that never cloy. Long length, hints of cedary spice in the finish.
  9. L’Aventure Optimus Paso Robles 2004, 90 Points, $40 (51% Syrah, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon): Perfumey, almost floral blue fruit aromas with hints of earth. Initial flavors of green earth evolve into complex blackberry, licorice and blueberry with strong undertones of leather, smoked meat and a hint of peppery spice. Long length, a lot going on.
  10. Villa Creek High Road Paso Robles 2005, 89 Points, $55 (40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre): Violet, floral and mineral on the nose, hints of blue fruit as well. Tons of delicious, juicy fruit up front- blackberry, licorice and wild berry- along with hints of leather and pepper spice, a real mouthful. All fruit throughout, could benefit from more complexity, but fruit is so explosive that this remains a great example.

WINE OF THE MONTH- MARCH

March 26, 2008

What a great value! I’m always on the lookout for bargain Italian wine, and sure wish I’d scooped up more of these. Keep your eye out!

FALESCO SANGIOVESE UMBRIA 2006, $15, 89 Points, 7,000 Cases Made

Elegant aromas of red cherry, wild berry, floral notes, strong mineral and hints of herbs. Medium-bodied with lots of mineral up front leading into lovely red cherry, red plum and berry flavors. Clean aftertaste of berries and vanilla with undertones of mineral and herbs and well-intregrated tannins through the medium length. Great with food or by itself.

Vertical Tasting: Vina Montes Alpha Apalta Syrah

March 25, 2008

One of my favorite value wines year after year is the Alpha Apalta Syrah Colchuaga Valley from Vina Montes. I decided to taste the 2003 and the 2005 next to each other as an Easter gift to myself. Here are my running thoughts on each.

2003: Soft aromas of wild berry fruit, vanilla, and lots of green vegetable earth.

2005: More aggressive aromas of leather and subtle hints of earth above the dark, toasty berry fruit.

2003: Initial green earth flavors lead into hints of violety fruit and wild berry. Light hints of tar and leather linger behind. There’s lots of mineral and chalkiness to the long length.

2005: Lots of ripe fruit up front, strong contrast to the earthiness of the 2003. There’s black cherrry, black licorice and blackberry well-concentrated here. Darker undertones linger in the background as leather and mocha are present just before a nice blast of peppery spice.

2003: Speaking of spice, this one doesn’t have nearly as much. It relies more on its suaveness and finesse. There are hints of coffee bean in the finish, but these quickly give in to the chalky, dry finish that ends with green earth dominating the fruit and the other elements.

2005: Better fruit concentration for sure, but also much different fruit to begin with. These flavors are more typical of what I tend to associate with Syrah.

2003: The Wine Spectator says I was supposed to drink this before 2008. Oops. That could be to blame for the slightly out of balance fruit character. The wild berry elements are still intriguing, its just a shame that they give way to such aggressive earth and mineral notes so quickly.

2005: Pulling away as it opens. It’s noticeably more plush and benefits from its leathery characteristics and well-integrated pepper spice.
2003: 88 Points

2005: 90 Points

All-America Team of the Matty

March 23, 2008

First Team

C Tyler Hansborough, North Carolina

PF D.J. White, Indiana

SF Michael Beasley, Kansas State

PG D.J. Augustin, Texas

SG Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
Second Team

C Kevin Love, UCLA

PF Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

SG Chris Lofton, Tennessee

SG Stephen Curry, Davidson

PG Darren Collison, UCLA

Third Team

C Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

PF Brook Lopez, Stanford

SF Richard Hendrix, Alabama

PG Jerryd Bayless, Arizona

SG Shan Foster, Vanderbilt

HONORABLE MENTION

Eric Gordon, Indiana

Tyrese Rice, Boston College

Tyler Smith, Tennessee

Derrick Rose, Memphis

O. J. Mayo, USC

Gary Forbes, UMass

Robert Vaden, UAB

Ryan Anderson, California

A.J. Price, Connecticut

Brandon Rush, Kansas

Initial Tournament Thoughts

March 17, 2008

At first glance, the seeding looks about right, with one glaring exception: The Big Ten (and especially my Hoosiers) got royally screwed. Enough about how Arizona State beat Arizona twice and didn’t in. Doesn’t anybody want to talk about the Big Ten teams getting shafted beyond reason? Let’s start with Wisconsin. This is a team that was 16-2 in conference, won the conference tournament convincingly and boasts a road win at Texas. I thought they should have been a #2 seed, but even if they weren’t, could they have gotten a tougher draw? They’ll likely run into USC in the second round, easily the strongest of the #6 seeds and a horrible matchup for the Badgers. For a team that pretty much ran the table in the Big Ten, this is a very crummy deal.

Purdue fell to a #6 seed despite a 15-3 conference record, while Indiana astonishingly got stuck with a #8 seed in the toughest region on the board! I guess the NCAA will continue to punish the Hoosiers for Kelvin Sampson’s mistakes. It’s a real shame for the team and especially for D.J. White, who will get a second round matchup with the #1 team in the tournament as a reward for beating a tough Arkansas team, which isn’t likely to begin with. Looking at the teams seeded higher than or equal to Indiana we see: Mississippi State, Miami, BYU, West Virginia, UNLV, Marquette, Gonzaga and most ironically, Oklahoma. What a crock.

Anyway, here are my predictions:

EAST: North Carolina vs. Tennessee

SOUTH: Memphis vs. Texas

WEST: Duke vs. UCLA

MIDWEST: Kansas vs. USC

FINAL 4: Kansas vs. Tennessee, Texas vs. UCLA

FINAL GAME: Kansas over UCLA

First round upsets: Villanova over Clemson, St. Joseph’s over Oklahoma

SLEEPER TEAMS:

East: Notre Dame, Butler

West: Pittsburgh

West: Arizona, Drake

Midwest: USC, Davidson

Toughest Region: South

Weakest Region: West

FINAL BRACKETOLOGY

March 16, 2008

Georgia just screwed somebody. And I think that somebody was probably Arizona State. Looking at everything, I just can’t imagine that the committee will leave them in with an RPI in the 80s, even though they’re probably a better team than any of my last four in. The final spot likely comes down to Ohio State or Villanova. Looking over the last few teams in and out, here are some of my thoughts:

Kentucky: Should be in. As much as I’d like to, I can’t dismiss the 12-4 record in the SEC, more than two games better than Vanderbilt and Arkansas, who are both locks. The loss to Georgia hurts but the wins over Vandy, Tennessee and Arkansas should be enough.

Baylor: Should be in.  They could have sealed it Thursday with a win over lowly Colorado, but that double overtime loss shouldn’t be enough to toss them. The preseason win over Notre Dame is huge and the RPI isn’t bad (43).

St. Joseph’s: Should be in. Two wins over Xavier and a trip to the conference final looks like enough for a trip to the tourney, as the RPI is still in the top 50. The win over Villanova is a bubble separator.


LAST FOUR IN:

South Alabama: Should be in. Of all the small conference at-large hopefuls who fell short in their conference tourney, the Jaguars have the best resume. They are 3-2 against the RPI top 50 and only have one “bad loss” to Miami, OH. RPI is in the top 40 and the win over Mississippi State is huge.

Illinois State: Another mid-major with a high RPI (33) and a lot of wins (23). The unfortunate thing is that they don’t have a win over an RPI top 40 opponent, but finishing two games ahead of the next contender in the Missouri Valley should be enough to hold on before the bid.

Arizona: The Wildcats did everything they could to give their bid away, but finishing with a .500 conference record, having the nation’s toughest schedule and injury considerations look to be enough to just hang on. The main cause for concern is their 0-4 record against Pac-10 bubble company Oregon and Arizona State.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes got two marquee victories down the stretch to finish with a conference record above .500, but their 2-10 record against the RPI top 50 is a bit of a concern. They’re one of my last teams in based on the fact that only two of their losses are “bad” losses and they’ve played well of late. The question is whether the committee will take a fifth Big Ten team over a sixth Pac-10 team or an eigth Big East team. I’m going with the Buckeyes.

LAST FIVE OUT:

Arizona State: The RPI of 83 is what will probably end up sinking the Sun Devils. They have 5 wins over the top 50 including big wins over Xavier, USC and Stanford, but rough early season losses to Illinois, Nebraska and California nearly negate those. They split with Oregon, seem to have the better profile on paper but don’t benefit from their computer numbers.

Villanova: There are certainly arguments to be made for this team, but they’re 3-7 against the RPI top 50 and their bad losses (NC State, DePaul, Rutgers and Cincinnati) outweigh their impressive wins. RPI of 49 puts them in the discussion, but I think they are going to be the last team or two out.

Oregon: After a lot of debate, I gave the Ducks third place in the Pac-10 bubble team pecking order. They don’t have as many wins over the RPI top 50 as either of the other two (4-9, the other two have five wins each) and have more “bad losses” than Arizona (Oakland, Nebraska). They’re right on the line RPI-wise but they’re missing a marquee win. Arizona has two wins over Washington State and ASU has wins over Stanford and Xavier, so they get the slight edge over the Ducks.

Virginia Tech: It’s amazing how close the Hokies came to locking up a bid in the last weekend of the season against Clemson, and also nearly beat North Carolina in the ACC semifinal which would have been huge. If the committee cares about close losses, then they have a chance, but otherwise they don’t have much to rest on. Their 1-6 record against the RPI top 50 is the worst among all of the bubble teams.

Massachussets: UMass was easily second in the Atlantic Ten pecking order before the conference tourney, but the fact that St. Joseph’s was the team to make a run hurt the most since UMass was swept by St. Joe’s in the regular season, and I can’t really imagine four Atlantic 10 teams in the dance. They also have no wins over tournament-projected teams.

MATTY’S SEEDINGS:

1    North Carolina    UCLA    Memphis    Kansas
2    Tennessee    Texas    Duke    Wisconsin
3    Xavier    Georgetown    Louisville    Stanford
4    Notre Dame    Connecticut    Drake    Butler
5    Vanderbilt    Michigan State    Pittsburgh    Purdue
6    Washington State    Indiana    Marquette    USC
7    Clemson    West Virginia    BYU    Gonzaga
8    Oklahoma    Mississippi State    Texas A & M    Miami, Fl
9    Kansas State    St. Mary’s    Kent State    Davidson
10    Baylor    UNLV    Kentucky    Arkansas
11    St. Joseph’s    South Alabama    Illinois State    Western Kentucky
12    Arizona    Georgia    Ohio State    Temple
13    Cornell    Oral Roberts    George Mason    San Diego
14    Siena    Boise State    Cal St. Fullerton    Texas-Arlington
15    Winthrop    Austin Peay    Portland State    Belmont
16    UMBC    Mississippi Valley State    American    Coppin State/ Mount St. Mary’s

Bracketology 3/15

March 16, 2008

I’m still in shock that Indiana lost to Minnesota Friday night. For a 25-win season, this one certainly hasn’t been all that much fun to be a Hoosier fan. This loss was even more heartbreaking for me than the Wisconsin loss was for a few reasons: 1) Wisconsin is actually a good basketball team, 2) We missed twelve free throws and lost the game by a point, and 3) The winning shot was even more improbable than Butch’s bank shot. I have to admit that when I saw Jordan Crawford defending the in-bounds bass, I had a really bad feeling. Didn’t coaches across the world learn their lesson when Grant Hill hit Christian Laettner with that laser beam pass sixteen years ago? Having a player down the court to defend the last second shot or, moreover, to prevent the opportunity of such a shot, is far more valuable than trying to guard the baseline.

Somehow, I managed to get past all of this and pay attention to today’s action. Georgia and Illinois have big chances tomorrow to get in, and would do to the chigrin of those last teams in. With one day to go until Selection Sunday, here’s my updated Bracketology:
1 North Carolina UCLA Memphis Tennessee
2 Kansas Texas Duke Georgetown
3 Xavier Wisconsin Louisville Stanford
4 Notre Dame Pittsburgh Drake Butler
5 Vanderbilt Michigan State Connecticut Purdue
6 Washington State Indiana Marquette USC
7 Clemson West Virginia BYU Gonzaga
8 Oklahoma Mississippi State Texas A & M Miami, Fl
9 Kansas State St. Mary’s Kent State Davidson
10 Baylor UNLV Kentucky Arkansas
11 St. Joseph’s South Alabama Illinois State Western Kentucky
12 Arizona Arizona State Ohio State Temple
13 Cornell Oral Roberts George Mason NW ST/ Southland
14 Siena Boise State Cal St. Fullerton San Diego
15 Winthrop Austin Peay Portland St. Belmont
16 UMBC Morgan State/ MEAC Mount St. Mary’s Miss Valley St/ American

LAST 4 IN
ILLINOIS STATE
ARIZONA
ARIZONA STATE
OHIO STATE

LAST 4 OUT
VILLANOVA
OREGON
VIRGINIA TECH
UMASS