Archive for May 2009

WINE OF THE MONTH- MAY

May 28, 2009

I just returned from a wonderful 11 night trip to Europe in which my wife and I visited Rome, Sicily, Sorrento, Greece and Turkey by land and sea. We especially enjoyed our time aboard the brand new Celebrity Solstice cruise ship, which happens to offer a spectacular wine list. I decided to make this month a duel feature of two separate vintages of the same wine, both of which are still available. I tasted the most recent vintage at Sona in Los Angeles back in February and then again aboard the ship, and also had quite a good amount of the older vintage aboard the ship as well! I prefer the more recent vintage, but felt that since both are still out there and plentiful, I might as well give special attention to both. Generally, anything produced in Barossa Valley is worth tasting, but this wine consistently delivers at a somewhat lower price point.

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PETER LEHMANN SHIRAZ BAROSSA VALLEY 2005, $15, 89 Points, 22,000 cases produced

Loaded with vanilla and red fruit on the nose. Supple red cherry, perfumed fruit and hints of earthy roasted beet and peppery spice come together to form deep structure on the palate and linger long.

PETER LEHMANN SHIRAZ BAROSSA VALLEY 2006, $15, 90 Points, 26,400 cases produced

Lots of dark red fruit and vanilla bean on the nose. Ripe but dark raspberry and black cherry flavors above notes of pomegrante carry through the dark chocolate and understated pepper spice, a less aggressive but suave style. Full and leathery throughout the impressive finish.

Early Preakness Picks

May 13, 2009

I know that the posts haven’t been drawn yet, but I’m going to have to give this an early try anyway. I’m pleased to report that I am leaving for a ten night cruise to Southern Italy and Greece tomorrow afternoon, so I won’t be able to complete a full analysis- it’s even possible that I won’t get to watch the race! That might be the only downside to this trip, which my wife and I have been anxiously awaiting for over six months now. At first glance, this Preakness looks even more interesting than the Derby. You have the top four finishers from the first Saturday in May, the best three-year-old filly to come along in over a decade (and maybe ever), speedy stakes winners that skipped the Derby and have been pointing to this, and, lest we forget, the forgotten favorite of the Derby. It’s going to be one of the strongest Preakness fields in recent memory, which is great to see after the absurdity of last year’s challengers to Big Brown. As briefly as possible, I’ll go over how I see the race shaping up.

As a preface, while I’ve gained a lot of respect for the Derby winner Mine That Bird and have made my apologies, I think he’s a strong play against here, even though I think he could go off as low as the fourth or fifth choice in the race (when was the last time that happened??) He isn’t likely to benefit from the shortened distance or the probable fast track, and suffice to say that if there’s ever been a bounce candidate, (2 weeks of rest off a 25 point Beyer jump) he is it.

Speedy newcomers BIG DRAMA and TAKE THE POINTS should battle for the lead early with the former getting the better of the latter, who should fade out of the picture fairly quickly after what I expect to be much faster fractions than we saw in the Derby. Directly behind, in perfect stalking position, I expect to see the trio of female monster RACHEL ALEXANDRA, injured but quickly recovered Derby favorite FRIESAN FIRE, and the very game PAPA CLEM. All three have great tactical speed and should be in great shape if they can rate off the pace a bit. Settling in behind, I’d again expect to see Derby runner-up PIONEER OF THE NILE closer than he probably should be, but he proved me very wrong in his impressive performance two weeks ago. MUSKET MAN will be saving ground in stalking position, and while he has continued to outrun his pedigree, you have to figure that this race will be asking a lot from him two weeks after a major over-achievement in the Derby.  GENERAL QUARTERS will fall back a bit behind into the next big flight along with some of my throwouts, which include FLYING PRIVATE, LUV GOV and TONE IT DOWN. I like the General the most of that group, although I still just don’t think he is fast enough, and he proved me right in the Derby, a race that was ripe for the taking for his running style and slop pedigree. Falling well behind the pace will be Derby winner MINE THAT BIRD and the underrated TERRAIN.

The big question here is how long BIG DRAMA will last. Given that he is unraced past 7f and only has one start this year, I don’t like his chances as much as some do, especially since his pedigree doesn’t scream “distance.” However, his speed is undeniable, and I expect him to lead most of the way but would be surprised if he isn’t overtaken by some of the more experienced stalkers. With smart races, RACHEL ALEXANDRA and FRIESAN FIRE should explode past him and have a lot left in the tank for the stretch. Keep in mind that the Oaks winner, while winning by over 20 lengths in a romp, wasn’t exactly overexerted against that weak field, and that the Derby fave was eased down the stretch after an impossibly bad trip. In both cases, these horses should be in great shape from a conditioning standpoint, inasmuch as that they shouldn’t be exhausted from having to come back after two weeks. PIONEER OF THE NILE should be right on their tails, but I still don’t think that he has the stretch kick to overtake horses that he isn’t already eyeballing, which he won’t be. With a likely hot pace, some horses will be tiring, and I expect PAPA CLEM and MUSKET MAN to be the prime candidates, with TERRAIN and MINE THAT BIRD flying down the stretch. The difference here in my opinion will be the fact that unlike the Derby, where the three horses at the front of the pack seemed to come to a virtual halt in the final furlong, I expect RACHEL ALEXANDRA to be flying, with FRIESAN FIRE right there, but probably missing the slop a bit and hating the extra hald a furlong a bit as well.

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Picks Summary:

  1. Rachel Alexandra
  2. Friesan Fire
  3. Pioneer of the Nile
  4. Big Drama
  5. Papa Clem
  6. Mine That Bird
  7. Musket Man
  8. Terrain
  9. General Quarters
  10. Luv Gov
  11. Flying Private
  12. Take the Points
  13. Tone It Down

Tasting Report- Spanish Wines

May 10, 2009

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted an extensive recap of the Spanish wines I had tasted over a month or so between my trip to Spain and at various tastings. A year later, I still find myself turning to Spanish wines almost more than any other due to the combination of value and quality that is difficult to find anywhere else in the world. Whether you want a bargain table wine for $10 or a world class wine for just over $100, this dynamic, diverse wine producing nation is hitting on all cylinders. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve enjoyed the most recently. If you pay close attention to last year’s post, you’ll notice a few of the higher end wines that have benefited score-wise from having an extra year in the bottle.

TOP TEN WINES FOR VALUE (under $50):

1. Bodegas Alto Moncayo Garnacha 2006 , 94 Points, $45: Deep, expressive aromas of toast, leather, tar, smoked game/beef and dark red fruits. Dense body with depth of flavor showcasing complex dark plum, black licorice, perfume and complex smoke and orange peel citrus, but dominated by a distinctive coffee note, leather and hints of black pepper. Monsterous, long finish. A blockbuster offering.

2. Costers del Priorat Pissares 2005, 92 Points, $25: Delicate, creamy nose and body of red cherry, vanilla bean and red licorice with undertones of subtle floral, smoke and chocolate notes. Complex and elegant, smooth as can be through the long finish.

3. Condado de Haza Ribera del Duero Crianza 2005, 91 Points, $30: Rich and perfumey on the nose with lots of blackberry and black cherry fruit above an impressive powdery cocoa note on the palate. Hints of smoke and mineral intertwine and chocolate charcter lingers with lots of juicy dark fruits through the long length.

4. Emilio Moro Tinto Ribera del Duero 2005, 91 Points, $35: Typical smokiness on the nose above dark plum and black cherry nuances. Full and rich, with minerality pumping along with dark plum and cherry above notes of chocolate and espresso. Muscular, with a blast of campfire smoke through the long finish.

5. Bodegas Juan Gil Jumilla 2006, 89 Points, $15: Nose of mineral, red fruit and subtle tobacco spice. Deep, powdery texture with blackberry, black cherry and licorice above strong earth and mineral, tobacco spice and a blast of tannin through the deep, complex length. Monastrell.

6. Artadi Vinas Gain Rioja 2006, 89 Points, $28: Intriguing combination of toasty vanilla and plummy black fruit on the nose. Fairly ripe purple fruit here- plums, figs and violety floral notes above light caramel and burnt toast, oak and mineral. Lots going on here through the long finish, fairly deep Rioja, but showing quite well for its youth.

7. Finca de Luzon Jumilla 2005, 88 Points, $15: Vivid plum and blackberry fruit on the nose along with hints of mocha powder. Well-balanced body of sweet blackberry and plum fruit with pleasant chocolate notes and hints of cola. Medium length, well-integrated tannins. Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.

8. Bodegas Izadi Vetus Toro 2005, 88 Points, $20: Inviting nose with floral hints and notes of citrus above red fruit and smokey hints. Medium-bodied with cherry fruit and a decisive floral note which evolves into a blast of mineral and smoke on the finish. Very tannic still, but complex and layered.

9. Bodegas Atteca Old Vines Garnacha Catalayud 2007, 88 Points, $15: Smoky and toasty aromas with ripe red fruits. Very fruit forward and ripe, with flavors of cherry, lavender, violet and blueberry. Light undertones of toasty spice, oak and ends with a minerally note.

10. Bodegas Atteca Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines 2007, 87 Points, $8: Slightly jammy nose of raspberry with undertones of cherry and mineral. Fleshy body of lively raspberry, red licorice and cherry fruit, layers of mineral and vanilla bean linger underneath with impressive spiciness through the finish, red licorice lingers longest.

TOP TEN HIGH-END WINES:

1. El Nido Jumilla 2006, 97 Points, $120: Deep, complex nose of caramel, orange peel, minerally perfume and blackberry/ cassis fruit. Extraordinary mouthfeel of constantly evolving black fruit, deep caramel, cocoa, cedary spice, leather and orange peel citrus notes. Finish lingers for minutes, firm tannins carry the dark fruit, spice and cocoa nuances for miles. Such depth, complexity and balance here, I can’t ask for much more in a wine. Long one of my favorite wines in the world, and this is the best vintage they’ve ever made. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Monastrell.

2. Bodegas Muga Torre Muga Rioja 2004, 95 Points, $90: Complex nose of perfumey blackberry, licorice and violet with notes of smoky bacon and mineral. Delcious, elegantly balanced body of black cherry, blackberry and dark plum fruit and a backbone of silky vanilla, cocoa and exotic spice that evolves into a long, chalky length. Perfumey and fruity initially and then spicy and minerally through the long length, this is about as good as Rioja gets. Smooth, silky and seamless.

3. Bodegas y Vinedos Maurodos San Roman Toro 2004, 93 Points, $60: Almost sweet on the nose, with plum cake spice and notes of cola. Plush, amazing mouthfeel of elegant plum, blackberry and sweet spice and floral notes pumping through. Elegant and complex, long finish with only a hint of dryness.

4. Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera del Duero 2005, 93 Points, $160: Deep, almost tarry black fruit and oak is very elegant on the nose, hints of smoke and burnt toast add intrigue. Dark, smokey body with notes of smoked meat dominating subtle blackberry notes. Incredibly soft and smooth mouthfeel, this is all about depth, as light hints of earthy mineral and mocha cry for food through the long finish.

5. Mas Doix Velles Vignes Priorat 2005, 92 Points, $125: Lifted by its eucalyptus perfume and pepperminty violet aromas, almost inky black and purple fruits and spiced rum nuances. Soft mouthfeel of juicy dark plum, black licorice, and blackberry fruits here with notes of cedary spice and a hint of cocoa. Deep, perfumey and elegant through the long length, finishing with a raisiny, rummy note. Grenache and Carignan blend.

6. Huerta de Albala Tarberner #1 Cadiz, 92 Points, $90: Smoky, gamey and leathery aromas with lots of graphite above red currant fruit nuances. Floral, gamey flavors evolve into red cherry, blackberry, licorice and plum fruit, and hints of strong leather, black pepper and chocolate show up in the fantastic length. Layered and complex throughout a creamy texture, chocolate covered cherry flavors linger long. Syrah.

7. Dominio de Pingus Flor de Pingus Ribera del Duero 2006, 92 Points, $80: Complex combination of perfumey black fruit, smoked meat and chocolate on the nose. Subdued fruit but deep flavors, with smokey meat and leather above some blackberry notes that are complemented by tar and dark chocolate. Deep, smooth and smokey, yum!

8. Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi Priorat 2005, 91 Points, $85: Vibrant nose of floral elements, hints of violet, orange peel, caramel and mineral. Elegant body of red currant fruits, rose petal and undertones of caramel and mineral. Long length without any jamminess. Refreshing, well-balanced and delicious blend. Has gained some complexities, with hints of earth and darker black cherry and blackberry fruit underneath with chocolate and black pepper spice. Stony, wet limestone mineral lingers. Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

9. Bodegas Aalta Tinto Ribera del Duero 2005, 90 Points, $60: Dark aromas of black fruit, chocolate and green earth. Very deep body, with hints of tar, leather and coffee shading the black fruit notes through the impressive finish. Lots of grip here from the tannins, cries for food.

10. Bodegas Luzon Alma de Luzon Jumilla 2004, 89 Points, $60: Wet, minerally, almost inky black fruit aromas with hints of earth and oak. Slightest hint of green pepper earth initially leads into deep blackberry fruit and hints of toasty chocolate, ending with a blast of minerally spice. Very deep and elegant, only complaint here is that the green earth notes tend to overshadow the fruit through the finish. 70% Monastrell, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Oops! Mine That Bird wins Kentucky Derby

May 3, 2009

Wow! Well that’s an entire week of my life that I’ll never get back. Since I know I am not alone here on my handicapping analysis of the Derby winner, and because I’m man enough to admit when I am very, very wrong, here’s what I wrote three days ago about Mine That Bird’s chances to win this race:

MINE THAT BIRD (Birdstone- Mining My Own/ Smart Strike), PP#8, 81 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: I can’t really think of any. Finished fourth at Sunland Park last time out, and was twelfth in the BC Juvenile last fall against some of these.

Cons: Really, really seems overmatched here. Observers of his workouts note that he could possibly be “mentally challenged.” He’s the longest shot in the field for good reason. His top Beyer of 81 is abysmal.

Conclusion: The perfect example of Derby Fever, as this horse has no business running against the rest of these. He’s just another body to create a meaningless traffic jam. Reason number 10,000 that the field should be cut down.

Harsh, huh? I almost feel like Mine that Bird read this blog last night before he went to bed and got really, really pissed off. First, let’s take a step back and realize that is a monumental upset- the highest priced winner of the Kentucky Derby in 96 years. Yes, bigger than Giacomo. The $2 Superfecta paid $550,000! Besides, with Giacomo, there were actual reasons to play him based on closing speed that he had demonstrated in prior races. With Mine That Bird, there simply is no handicapping angle whatsoever that could have led to the conclusion that he had any chance to even hit the board in this race, let alone win it. Also, in 2005 when Giacomo pulled the upset, that race completely fell apart, with Spanish Chestnut running a blazing :45.0 half mile and burning out the rest of the field that tried to stay close to that pace. This time, if anything, the pace was slower than I expected as Join in the Dance plodded along through the slop in :47.2. This should have meant that the other three horses near the lead, Pioneer of the Nile, Papa Clem and Regal Ransom, should have battled it out for the win and that all of the closers were in big trouble if they were too far from the pace. (I would have been wrong in that event too). But somehow, some way, jockey Calvin Borel was able to make a move from last place that was nearly identical to the move he made two years ago to win this race aboard Street Sense.

This was a strange day. As soon as I Want Revenge scratched, all of a sudden I was uneasy about my picks. The whole undercard showed no consistency on the slop and I got my face ripped off–early on it would seem that speed was going to hold, and then a closer would come out of nowhere to win a race. Favored Friesan Fire was bumped around early and never got into position, and he was eventually eased to finish second to last. My pick, Dunkirk, stumbled badly out of the gate and probably overcompensated after that, finding himself too close to the leaders and with nothing left to make the final move I expected. Desert Party was wide the whole way, way too close to the pace, and tired, and aside from those three, who really was a surprise to finish poorly? What looked like one of the deepest Derbys in years turned into an incredibly shallow, wide open race over the course of the last week. It really is a shame that we didn’t get to see I Want Revenge or Quality Road in this one, not to mention The Pamplemousse or Old Fashioned, but the race was so bizarre that I’m not even sure if their presence would have changed the outcome. Blame the slop, blame the bumping, or blame the overall strangeness, but just like 98% of the betting public, I still went home with an empty wallet.

So I suppose it was only right that it would end on a strange note. Watch the replay of the race again, and listen to Tom Durkin’s call. Durkin is among the best in the world at calling horse races, yet he failed to even recognize the fact that Mine That Bird had taken the lead until he was nearly three lengths clear of Pioneer of the Nile and driving towards the wire in a romp! He barely was able to make the call of the winner before the horse crossed the wire, and the legitimate shock in his voice at that moment is telling, and classic. If that isn’t testament to how shocking this was, than I don’t know what is. It certainly wasn’t Durkin’s best call of his career (it was arguably his worst), but it fit right in with the outcome, and I definitely had no idea who that horse was driving down the rail either as it happened.

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In conclusion, I’m sorry Mine That Bird, for saying those mean things about you. You clearly deserved the spot in the field, and I guess I can no longer argue that the field size should be reduced. And I now realize that you just pretended to be a retarded horse during your workout last week to drive up your odds, you little hustler. My wife noticed how little and cute you were during the post parade. Next year I’ll just let her pick my Derby winner for me during the parade and thereby save myself hundreds of hours of work.

Although I can’t promise you’ll see your name on any of my Preakness tickets.

Additional notes:

– The Apollo Curse still stands, but aside from that, every meaningful statistic or trend that ever existed for evaluating a Kentucky Derby winner is now effectively hogwash. Don’t even get me started on the 100 Beyer rule. How about a 90 Beyer? Mine That Bird barely broke 80 on his best day prior to today’s race. And no horse has ever won the Derby with a dosage figure as high as Mine That Bird’s is. He was actually the only horse in the field with a higer dosage than 4.00, one of many reasons he was overlooked by me and handicappers everywhere. It just goes to show that like in any sport, on any give day, anything can happen.

– I can’t help but point out the pedigree of Mine That Bird and its history of heartbreak in Triple Crown events. Most recently, his sire Birdstone defeated the beloved Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont to stop his quest for the Triple Crown. Before that, his grand sire Grindstone nipped Cavonnier at the wire in the 1996 Derby in a photo finish. And now this. Evil, evil line of horses. But you can bet that I’ll be paying more attention to them going forward.

– You can’t end a post about this weekend without mentioning the most impressive performance of the Derby events, and that was by Rachel Alexandra, winning the Oaks in dramatic fashion by some 20 lengths. Keep you eye on this one, as she appears to be a once in a generation type talent, and has put herself squarely in the race for Horse of the Year.