Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A few Viogniers

This weekend, our neighbors Jeff and Beky came over with some Viogniers in hand for an impromptu tasting. Jeff has long been extolling the virtues of Viognier and let me tell you, he's been preaching to the choir. They brought a bottle of Summerwood 2007 and Melville 2007 (along with a nice, sweet, late harvest Garretson Viognier for which no tasting notes were taken). I supplied what turned out to be an unfortunate Melville 2006 and Tablas Creek 2006.

Viognier is a classic Rhone varietal, which is used, unblended, in Condrieu. In California it is frequently blended with other Rhone whites (e.g. Roussanne, Marsanne) and is sometimes blended with Syrah to soften the flavors. Crisp, typically dry, flavorful, fruity and flowery, California Viogniers can be very good to excellent expressions of the varietal and are made all over the state.

Following are our tasting notes and scores. Wines were tasted blind. They are listed in order of scores, highest to lowest.

I am supposed to conspicuously point out that Jeff's wines kicked mine's butts decisively.

Summerwood Viognier 2007 (Paso Robles, Westside)
Nose: Flowers, french oak
Palate: More flowers, tart peach/nectarine, french oak, incredible balance and complexity.
Finish: Long, complex
Rating: 93
Jeff: Not much nose. Very smooth, buttery, oaky taste. Smooth, light finish.
Rating 95
Beky: All around best blend. Rating 95
Julie: ...mmm, flowery, very drinkable Rating 87

Melville Viognier Estate - Verna's 2007 (Santa Ynez, Los Alamos)
Nose: Fruits, honey
Palate: Nectarine, tart, cotton-candy
Finish: Tart, fruity, sweet (residual sugar?)
Rating: 88
Jeff: acidic, grapefruit, oak. Rating 89
Beky: sweet start, crisp, alcoholy. Rating 87
Julie: balanced, ...mmm. Rating 89

Melville Viognier Estate - Verna's 2006(Santa Ynez, Los Alamos)
Nose: Honey, some burnt/caramel apple aromas
Palate,: More caramel, burnt sugar, honey along with some tart fruit flavors
Finish: Long, tart, caramel
Rating: 85
Jeff: sour, acidic nose. Good upfront, lingering taste. A little sour. Rating: 82
Beky: Bubbly, champagney. Rating: 83
Julie: Effervescent, old smell, tangy. Rating: 80

Tablas Creek Viognier 2006 (Paso Robles, Westside)
Nose: Not much
Palate: Dry, very light, not a lot of flavor development
Finish: Short, uninteresting
Rating: 80
Jeff: No nose, no body, no structure, no flavor. Rating: 80
Beky: Smoky start, dry, oak, as if cut with water. Rating: 72
Julie: Dry. eh. Neutral. Rating: 70

Final Notes -
Not being used to overt oak in Viognier, it was surprising to me how well the Summerwood fared in the tasting. It was clearly the best balanced of the bunch with great structure. Almost delicate compared to the over-the-top fruit and alcohol bomb Melville, it still had a lot of flavor and complexity.

The Melville 2007 was a very good to excellent wine. After I finished my tasting notes and we had the "reveal", I found that the flavors grew on me a little bit. The Summerwood remained king, but the gap narrowed a bit. Melville Viogniers have been a long-time favorite of mine and are a California quality benchmark year after year.

The 2006 Melville was clearly past its prime. The burnt sugar flavors are telltale signs of storage at too high a temperature or too long a period. Once great in its prime, it had by now developed tired flavors.

The 2006 Tablas Creek was a big disappointment. Clearly lacking in flavor, structure and complexity next to its peers, it really had nothing to offer. This was rated highly by Parker, but was universally panned by our panel.

I'll continue to buy Melville's Viognier as I find it to be a very interesting wine and a decent value. And next time I'm up in Paso Robles, I'll certainly make a point of stopping by Summerwood to revisit their excellent Viognier.

Monday, July 13, 2009

When Summer Sizzles, It's Time for Swizzles!

Swizzles are fast becoming a favorite drink of mine. Refreshing, with lots of crushed ice, swizzles are notable for being fairly simple mixtures of rum or other spirits, juices and sweeteners, which are then "swizzled" (stirred) until frost forms on the outside of the glass or pitcher.

Traditionally, swizzles are mixed by using a branch of the Swizzlestick tree, Quararibea turbinata, which is spun between the palms of one's hands (picture to the left). Swizzle sticks like this are generally not found in the US, so unless you or a good friend have a trip to Martinique planned in the near future, you'll have to settle for a bar spoon (which works fine, but is certainly less "authentic" feeling)

A good swizzle has a high-ish proof rum/spirit balanced by a nice citrus tang. The use of lots of cracked ice makes it refreshing and makes the drink last a long time. OK, so "a long time" may be an exaggeration, but it certainly lasts longer and delivers substantially more hydration than your typical "up" cocktail.

Swizzling gave me a good opportunity to sample some interesting rums from around the world. It seems as if each Carribbean destination has their own signature brand of swizzle and at least one excellent rum to go along with it. The Rhum Agricole of Martinique, in particular, have piqued my interest and will no doubt be the subject of further exploration in the future.

For this post I'm using Scarlet Ibis (Trinidad) for the Swedizzle, Mount Gay Sugar Cane Rum (Barbados) for the Barbados Red Rum Swizzle, Gosling's Black Seal (Bermuda) for the Bermuda Rum Swizzle, Lemon Hart (Guyana) for the Queen's Park Swizzle and Clément VSOP (Martinique) for the Martinique Swizzle.

Below are recipes for some favorite swizzled tipples including a rare drink of my own invention, the Swedizzle.

1.5 oz rum (used Scarlet Ibis, Appleton V/X would be second choice)
3/4 oz Swedish Punsch
1/2 oz lemon juice
Swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass.

Chartreuse Swizzle
1¼ oz green Chartreuse
½ oz falernum (Taylor's Velvet)
1 oz pineapple juice
¾ oz lime juice
Swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass. Garnish with a spring of mint. As an option, add 1/2 oz. Bacardi or J Wray Overproof white rum to kick things up a notch (or two with the J Wray)

Barbados Red Rum Swizzle
2 ounces Barbados rum
1/2 lime
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass. Recipe from Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide.

Bermuda Rum Swizzle
2 ounce dark rum (Gosling's Black Seal)
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce orange juice
1/4 ounce falernum
Swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass. Recipe from Robert Hess.

Queen's Park Swizzle
3 oz Demerara rum (Lemon Hart)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 oz rich sugar syrup (demerara or turbinado sugar)
juice of 1/2 lime
8-10 mint leaves
Muddle mint leaves in the bottom of the glass. Add remaining ingredients and swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass. Recipe from Imbibe Magazine.

Apple Swizzle
1.5 oz. Apple Brandy (Laird's Bonded)
0.75 oz. white rum
1 oz. lime juice
1 tsp sugar
5 dashes Angostura bitters
Swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass. Recipe from CocktailDB.

Martinique Swizzle
2 oz. Martinique rum
1/2 lime
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/2 oz. simple syrup
scant tsp pastis or Herbsaint
Swizzle with crushed ice (stir until frost forms) in a tall glass. Recipe adapted from Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide.

Notes: My favorite of the Carribbean swizzles has to be the Queen's Park Swizzle. While it originated in Trinidad, Demerara rum is traditional as Trinidad did not really ramp up rum production until after WWII (according to cocktail guru Dale Wondrich).

All of these swizzles make a damn fine drink. I had to tweak the Martinique swizzle a bit to downplay the pastis, balance the sweetness and allow the rum flavor to be noticed. The Bermuda rum swizzle is the fruitiest of the bunch, but definitely a worthwile pursuit. The Swedizzle, Chartreuse Swizzle and Apple Swizzle are all variations on the Carribbean theme, using interesting, if non-standard ingredients, that come together well.

But don't just take my word for it, get to swizzling!