Rhone All Stars

Friday night at Red Slate was awesome! Pulling the corks on so many of the top wines from the Rhone valley was enlightening and delicious.  We enjoyed two flights on wine, the first focused on the northern Rhone followed by one with four Chateauneuf-du-Papes.  We concentrated on just the top producers and wines, so we had a clear look how the wines show both terrior and the hand of the winemakers. 

The first flight was comprised of:

Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie 2009 – I served this wine out of the Riedel Swan decanter.  I chose it for a couple reasons, first for such a star studded tasting I wanted to start with a dramatic presentation for which this decant is admirably suited. Next, I figured this wine would be tight, so I wanted to give it plenty of space to breath in the larger base.  The wine itself was interesting, and was the one that evolved the most during the course of the evening. At first it just showed a bunch of oak and a modern take on syrah, but by the end of the night the elements of the wine came into harmony and showed the balance of elegance and rustic tones for which Cote Rotie is known. Floral tones, black pepper, pork, brambleberries, rather delicious and certainly a modern take on the region.

Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard 2009 - I knew this wine would be closed up and need some breathing room, so I poured it from the Riedel Amadeo decanter. This wine was tannic and hard all night, but it still showed an incredible amount of class that will come to the forefront in another 5+ years when the wine softens up.  Without a doubt one of the winners of the night for me, but only as something to put in the back of the cellar and forget about. 

Super sexy decanter next to plastic water bottle due to E coli scare.

Super sexy decanter next to plastic water bottle due to E coli scare.

Alain Voge Cornas Les Vielles Fontaines 1996 – I’ve enjoyed this wine in the past and I knew it would be friendly right away, so I was simply decanting to remove sediment by using the Riedel Bliss decanter. This wine next to the Allemand was a fantastic study in how Cornas ages.  Its always rustic, but the Voge was much more approachable and illustrated why this region is so well regarded.  The wine was definitely showing plenty of tertiary notes and doesn’t need anymore age, drink up.  The biggest surprise of the night was how much acid this wine had, tons! Sommelier wet dream, big bold red with lots of acid…

JL Chave Hermitage 1992 – Like the Voge, I knew this wine would open quickly, so I used the Riedel Face 2 Face decanter to remove sediment and provide some amazing visuals for a top tier wine.  Without a doubt the most regal wine of the evening.  The nose needed a bit of time to come into its own, but the mouth immediately showed the majesty of Hermitage.  1992 was a tough, rainy year in the Northern Rhone, but Jean-Louis and his father Gerard are another example of outstanding winemakers beating the odds and producing a fantastic wine in an off year. I don’t think that this wine will continue improve, but you don’t need to rush to drink it either.


The second flight Chateauneuf focused  included the following:

Vieux Télégraphe La Crau Châteauneuf du Pape 2007 – The iconic wine from the Brunier brothers is usually pretty friendly right out of the gate, and this wine was no exception.  I decanted into the Riedel Bliss decanter mostly to help it open more quickly, but there was a surprising amount of sediment as well.  In the land of Chateauneuf, I find there are two color spectrums that the wines will display, one is more the reds and browns, the other is purple and inky.  The VT was definitely in the red category, lots of cherry, raspberry, earth, spices, and garrigue.  It was a perfect combination of complexity and approachability.  2007 was a great year for bold styles of CdP, and I think this wine exemplifies this. 

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 2007 – I poured this wine from the Riedel Swan decanter because I figured it would need more room to breath.  Like the Vieux Telegraphe, it was throwning a bit more sediment than I expected.  Unfortunately, unlike its 2007 counter point, it was a bit reduced and never came out of its shell. Its obvious this wine is well bred, but it just didn’t want to show its true potential.  Everyone has off days.  Like the VT, it was definitely projecting in reds and browns. Put it back in the cellar and forget about it for a while.

Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape 2009 – Every Clos des Papes I’ve had is friendly and more accessible so I used the Face to Face decanter from Riedel to help the wine open up more quickly.  This wine was all about purple inky tones! Olives, garrigue, white pepper, blackberries, intense and high alcohol, but still charming.  Worthy of the praise and acclaim it receives, but certainly a wine with limited application on my dinner table.

Pierre Usseglio & Fils Réserve des 2 Frères 2009 – This is the first time I’ve had this wine, not knowing what to expect I used the Riedel Amadeo decanter to give it plenty of air contact.  I’m glad I did because it certainly took its time opening up, and throughout the night had an interesting biscuit note to it.  That being said, it definitely showed the modern face of Chateauneuf, purple and inky with lots of fruit, but some very pleasant lavender and white pepper notes also came into play.  I think this wine would be more enjoyable on its own rather than in the comparative setting, where it was playing second fiddle to some of the other wines. 

Overall this was an incredible tasting both for the hedonistic and intellectual elements. 


On Friday night I hosted a tasting that was pretty awesome on a lot of levels.  The tasting was call Troublemakers.  I chose 7 wines from winemakers that I think are causing a ruckus  by either doing something new and different in a traditional region, or being tradition in a region that is influenced by trends and technology.  I also used four Riedel decanters because like these winemakers, I think the Riedel family are a bunch of troublemakers.  In a few generations they have changed how the world serves and appreciates wine. 

The tasting was really cool because in addition to the wines and the glass, the guests ranged from novice to very experienced in the world of wine.  Sharing these fascinating wines with so many palates was great.  Its always a treat to see how people with varying experiences with wine react to things like orange wine. 

Here are the wines I poured, my thoughts on them as well as a bit of background. 

1. Bérêche et Fils Brut Réserve NV (2011) $47

Region – Champagne, FR  Grapes: roughly 1/3 each Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay

Raphaël has been working at the family estate for 10 years and is really coming in to his own.  He uses a number of controversial practices in including oak fermentation, oxidative wine making, a very definite love of pinot meunier, cork finishing his Champagnes, and making a number of single vineyard champagnes. 

2. Christ Gemischter Satz 2012 $21

Region – Wien, AU Grapes: Field blend of up to 20 different grapes

Rainer Christ is one of the very few winemakers to making a quality version of Gemischter Satz.  Most of the time this is a very boring wine made to be sold by the jug or glass from Heurigers in Vienna.  He and a handful of others are proving this style is capable of making top quality wine. 

3. Patrick Piuze Chablis Terrior Découverte 2012 $27

Region – Chablis, FR Grapes: Chardonnay

Puize moved from Montreal to Burgundy to learn about winemaking and ultimately wound up in Chablis.  He became very passionate about the terrior of Chablis, which has generally been overlooked.  He makes top quality single vineyard Chablis, as well as the more typical single vineyard 1er and Grand Crus.  He uses the same techniques for his Chablis that most use for only their top wines.  He’s definitely changing how people look at the non-cru areas of Chablis.

I did a quick decant of this wine table side with the Black Tie Face to Face decanter.   I chose this decanter because the Piuze only needs a quick bit of aeration to open up.  The base of the decanter is small so it limits the air contact, which is great for this wine.  The small base also helped keep the wine cool. Doing a quick decant  with the Face to Face tableside was also very dramatic due to the exceptionally long neck.

4. Radikon Pinot Grigio S 2010 $46

Region: Venezia Giulia, IT Grapes: Pinot Grigio

Stanko and his son Sasa are part of a handful of producers that helped put orange wine on the map.  They’re making wine like their grandparents did, before lots of technology and winemaking know how influenced the world.  They use long skin macerations and oak aging on whites to create a distinct, intense style of wine. This PG spent 2 weeks on its skin and a year in barrel before it was released. 

I decanted this wine with the Black Tie Bliss decanter before the tasting started.  I chose this decanted due to the small size.  It limits the amount of air contact, and I could put it back in the refrigerator if the wine was becoming too warm.

radikon decant.jpg

5. Luyt El País de Quenehuao 2011 $25

Region – Cauquenes, Chile Grapes: País

Louis Antoine Luyt gets the prize for biggest shit disturbed in this group as he’s actually gotten death threats and bricks thrown through his windows for what he’s doing. He studied in Beaujolais with the OG troublemaker Marcel Lapierre and has applied what he learned to amazing vineyards in Chile.  He’s focused on terrior and farming in a land of bulk crap. The Quenehuao vineyard was planted 300 years ago and it still producing today thanks to regrafting new vines on the old root stocks.

6.Tenuta delle Terre Nere Feudo di Messo Enta Rosso 2010 $50

Region: Etna, Sicilia, IT Grapes:  98% Nerello Mascalese, 2% Nerello Cappucio

Etna has a long history of producing underwhelming wines that nevertheless show off a sense of place.  Marc de Grazia, a wine importer, decided to purchase this estate a number of vineyards over 100 years old and change what’s going on here.  He started using top quality techniques to show off how great these wines can be and how well they show various parts of Mt Etna and its varies soils and expositions. This vineyard was planted in 1933 and expanded in 1973. 

I decanted this wine in the Swan decanter before the tasting began.  I wanted to give this wine plenty of time to open up and the larger base of the decanter and extended time helped achieve my goal. Without a doubt this is my favorite decanter to use.  It combines a dramatic appearance with an unexpected and elegant ease of use while pouring. 

7. Dunn Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $75

Region – Napa, CA Grape:  Cabernet Sauvignon

Randy Dunn came to Napa in 1978 and began making Cab the way they did in Bordeaux. Unlike most of his Napa peers, he never stopped doing this.  He doesn’t bother with the tricks and the tech, he just makes top quality wine with old school techniques.  He’s a troublemaker because in my mind his wines consistently outclass his neighbors due of his focus on tradition.

This wine was decanted in the Amadeo decanter.  I chose the Amadeo because it has the largest amount of surface area for the wine to enjoy contact with air. Anyone who’s enjoyed one of Dunn’s wines know his wines flourish with time to open. 

dunn decanter.jpg


Decanting Champagne

Decanting Champagne


On Saturday May 3rd, I teamed up with Riedel to do a decanted champagne comparison. The side by side of Demarne-Frison Goustan Brut Nature from bottle and decanter was awesomely nerdy! This was the first good experience I’ve had with decanting Champagne.  In the past I’ve always felt that decanting does more harm than good because the wine ended up losing too much of its fizz.

I chose the Demarne Goustan because I have a lot of experience with this wine and know its much better on day two when its had time to breath and unwind.  I also had a range of decanters to chose from and ultimately decided on Riedel’s Black Tie Bliss decanter.  I chose this model because it has a small base which limited the amount of surface area for the bubbles to escape.  I also chose this it because its compact enough to keep in the refrigerator. This experiment lasted for several hours and the wine needed to be kept cool.  Finally, I served the wine in Riedel Riesling/Sangiovese glasses to allow the aromas to come out of the glass while not losing too many more bubbles.  This glass is a nice half way point between a flute and the burgundy stem that is the usual Ambonnay glass.

The results of this tasting were fascinating. Immediately after opening the first bottle and decanting the second, the wines were clearly different.  The decanted wine was more evolved and expressed the aromas and flavors that I appreciate so much on day two – rich almond and honey tones, raspberries, and limestone minerality.  The taste from the bottle was tight and the flavors were concentrated on a lot of dusty earth, limestone minerality, and hay. 

The other piece of the experience rests with the effervescence.  The Demarne from the bottle had an aggressive mousse that was a bit overwhelming in the mouth, whereas the decanted version was much more elegant. The decanted wine still had plenty of fizz, and frankly was more enjoyable as a result of being decanted both in terms of flavor and bubbles.

Fortunately, there was enough of the wines left two hours after opening them to revisit.  The wine in the bottle had opened up more and was starting to evolve into the richer tones of nuts and honey, and the mousse was starting to calm down and become pleasant.  The decanted Demarne continued to evolve as well the barrel notes became more noticeable, some earthiness emerged, both of which made it fascinating to drink as the honey, almonds, and raspberry notes were all still showing as well. Unfortunately, the bubbles were waning. The wine wasn’t flat, but it wasn’t particularly lively either.  Essentially this is the experience I had the other times I decanted Champagne.  Enhanced flavors demand the sacrifice of bubbles. 

Overall, I appreciated the experience of the side by side, however I am still hesitant to recommend decanting champagne regularly.  I think you have to know the champagne in question rather well to know whether it will take to decanting. If the wine is tightly wound and very effervescent decanting is worth considering, but if it’s a delicate champagne or one that made in a lower atmosphere style, then I would avoid the decanter.  Either way, you need to drink the decanted champagne quickly if you want to enjoy the fizz. The experiment further confirmed that serving champagne in burgundy stems is a good compromise.  The glass helps open the wine without sacrificing too much of the mousse.