Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Best Whisky of 2010?

As the year comes to close, I begin to reflect on some of the great whiskies of 2010. From the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons to the 1989 Limited Edition Black Art from Bruichladdich, it seems as if each year brings a new wave of interesting, amazing and sometimes unconventional bottlings that are only around for a few weeks, Those of us lucky enough to secure the goods will be able to cherish them for years to come. Recently I have started to read some interesting blogs and trade publications that have gone to the edge and claim one as the “best” of the year. I’ve always had a hard time with this concept due to the fact that at Bounty Hunter, we only offer the “best”. If it’s not great, we don’t sell it. Trying to pick a single malt that is better than another, is like trying to argue that Wayne Gretzky was better at hockey than Michael Jordan was at basketball. Okay, maybe that's a bit extreme, but even if I tried to stick to a region, take Islay for instance, I would be hard-pressed to pick a Bruichladdich over a Lagavulin because they are stylistically different. Neither is superior, they’re both great for different reasons.

All I can say, is that at the end of the day (and year) I am going to sit back, kick up my feet and sip some of the best dram out there. It could be the Compass Box 3rd edition “Flaming Heart” or the new 1994 Glenrothes - it will depend on my mood at the time. What would you consider to be the "best" whisky of 2010?

--Stefan Matulich, Spirits Buyer

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Edna Valley - Smokey Reds and Textured Whites

Unlike Napa Valley over the past three decades, Edna Valley’s reputation has rarely superseded its tiny size. That’s a shame, because this 35-square mile American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the middle-southern Central Coast has quietly been turning out some of the most interesting Chardonnays in the state of California. And, in recent days, some dynamic Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Rhône-style whites, too.

Although viticulture was brought to the Edna Valley by Spanish missionaries over 200 years ago, it has only been in the last 30 (-ish) years that this scrub oak and cattle-dominated landscape has been replaced by wave after wave of lolling vineyard. The Niven family, who planted Edna Valley Vineyard’s Paragon Vineyard in the early 70s, were some of the first modern-day vintners to recognize that the region’s climate and soils were a veritable Eden for Burgundian grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Rich with 25-million year old marine shells, sand and clay as well as volcanic sediment from an ancient 14-volcano chain that begins in Morro Bay, Edna Valley is a transverse (east-west running) region shadowed by the Santa Lucia Mountains to the northeast and the San Luis Mountains in the South. Unlike the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the mountain ranges frame the region’s eastern flanks and therefore provide no buffer for the Pacific Ocean breezes rushing into the valley from the west. Pockets of hills surrounding the valley capture and preserve these damp, chill winds. In other words, this is no catch-and-release program. The result is that Edna Valley typically has the longest growing season in the state. New shoots tend to bud as early as the first of February – one to two months before most Northern California vineyards – and because spring and summer stays long and mild, grapes ripen well into mid-to-late October.

When farmed wisely, such long vineyard hang-times can yield lusciously mature fruit. The best Edna Valley Chardonnays possess a voluptuous texture along with a mouth-tingling acidity that stops the wines from moving into fat and flabby territory. The same goes for many Pinots coming out of the region (although, more often than not, we prefer the Pinots coming out of the Arroya Grande AVA, Edna Valley’s southeast neighbor). In recent years, too, growers have discovered that grapes like Syrah and Viognier also respond well to the long, consistent season, yielding smoke and spice reds and textured whites similar in complexity to the cool climate wines of France’s northern Rhône Valley...but with a ripeness that is altogether Californian in style.

Of course, one of the most notable qualities nearly all wines from this tiny Central Coast AVA seem to possess is that they tend to give you plenty of juicy bang for your buck. Because they’re often made in equally tiny production, though, the challenge is often in finding these great value reds and whites. Not to worry. We have our team of Bounty Hunter Scouts constantly on the lookout for the most delicious gems.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Schramsberg Comparitive Tasting 2010

Give credit where credit is due. If a winery wants to be included in the conversation of “world-class”, it needs to prove itself against the heaviest hitters. The folks at Schramsberg do that on a regular basis with a series of blind tastings, one of which I was invited to recently. It involved a small group – the winemaking team and enologist and winery president Hugh Davies – and a handful of friends in the trade. For this
particular session, it was me representing Bounty Hunter, a sommelier from New Zealand and two local winemakers. It was 9AM on a Monday morning, and fizz was on the breakfast menu.

The format was blind for the winery staff, meaning they knew the wines in the flight but not the order. For the rest of the guests, it was double-blind… we didn’t know anything about the wines being poured other than they were all tête-du-cuvée (the winery’s top-shelf offering) sparkling rosés from top producers. 11 glasses were lined up in front of each of us along with a sheet of paper listing the following criteria: color, aroma, palate and rank. We were to carefully evaluate each wine and turn in our sheets so that a group ranking
could be compiled. Following the tabulation, each wine would then be discussed beginning with the group’s least favorite and finishing with the overall winner. This was both a chance for the group to share their personal impressions of the wines along with allowing the winemaking team to clarify their internal vocabulary about certain flavorelements and characteristics. One taster’s baked cherries is another’s cranberry tart… that sort of thing.

There were some surprises as you can see below, but note how well the host’s wines fared. It’s pretty impressive when you consider the competition. I’ve listed my personal ranking along with the retail price the winery paid as a frame of reference. I’ve also listed the group’s combined rankings with the aggregate scores to gauge the separation between each finishing position. Keep in mind that this is like a golf score relative to total points… lower is better. Also note that there are only 10 wines listed as one bottle was corked. Tragically, that bottle was Krug Rosé.

1. 2000 Schramsberg “J. Schram” Rosé - $130 (Group Rank – 2nd, 37 points)
2. 2002 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Rosé - $500 (Group Rank – 1st, 26 points)
3. 2002 Perrier-Joüet “Fleur de Champagne” Rosé - $300 (Group Rank – 5th, 44 points)
4. 2000 Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Rosé - $200 (Group Rank – 8th, 63 points)
5. 1998 Schramsberg “J. Schram” Rosé - $130 (Group Rank – 3rd, 41 points)
6. 1999 Bollinger “Grand Année” Rosé - $200 (Group Rank – 6th, 46 points)
7. 2003 Roederer Estate “L’Ermitage” Rosé - $70 (Group Rank – 4th, 42 points)
8. 2000 Villemart “Grand Cellier Rubis” Rosé - $105 (Group Rank – 10th, 73 points)
9. 2000 Moët et Chandon “Dom Pérignon” Rosé - $375 (Group Rank – 7th, 62 points)
10. 1998 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” Rosé - $275 (Group Rank – 9th, 65 points)

So what’s to learn from this little tasting session? Well first, it’s clear that our hosts are making some phenomenal wine. The group put the two Schramsberg wines at positions 2 and 3. Lesson two is that the price tag doesn’t always translate into palate pleasure. While Cristal was the clear winner, it’s also $500/bottle. Frankly, it had better deliver the goods for that kind of scratch. Conversely, there were some very spendy, name brand wines that were pretty roundly panned by the tasting panel. Granted, it’s only one group’s opinion, but Hugh Davies commented how consistent the results have been with this lineup across different tastings around the country. And last, and maybe most important for the consumer to keep in mind, is that rosé isn’t always necessarily better. To that point, the Bounty Hunter staff tried a bottle of ’98 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” the previous week that was phenomenal. It was the star of the show among another lineup of high-end fizz. But as you can see above, it’s much pricier pink brother got beat up pretty badly by the tasting panel. Sometimes, you just have to pull the cork to be sure. It’s all in the name of research after all…

--Rhett Gadke, Wine Director

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010 Harvest Wrap-up

Justice Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes
Well, we wrapped up a helluva harvest this year. Mother Nature threw everything but locusts at us, but we managed to bring in our Justice and Waypoint fruit in prime condition... the real problem is there just isn't much of it. A cool, wet spring had a lot of people panicking that their grapes wouldn't get ripe (luckily our vineyard managers don't get sweaty palms), so they started pulling leaves to let sunlight reach the clusters. Then what happened? We might have well have been in Tucson for about five days. Fruit started burning like an Irishman in Ixtapa.

When sunburn happens to the degree that it did this year, there's only one solution: lose the raisins. Be it in the field or on the sorting table, there was a lot of shriveled mess to send to the compost pile. That's where it's awfully nice to have high-tech sorting tables shaking out the unwanted stragglers and eagle eyes to pluck out the rest. Then we were left with nothing but beautiful little berries to send to the fermentation tanks. We just wish there were more of them.

--Mark Pope, Founder & CEO