Olga Raffault 2008 Chinon Les Picasses

I bought a case of this on the recommendation of an Oregon wine merchant. It’s a somm favorite and it wasn’t very expensive – perhaps $30/btl?

It sat for 10 years in a storage facility.

Since returning to the United States, I’ve opened 4-5 bottles, and each has been really, really disappointing.

It’s just…dead.

The nose is of dried red/black fruits, grilled green peppers and curled leaves. All of which tell you the same thing: it’s past it.

I’m going to look for a very recent release of this so that I can see what it tastes like young. But I think the remaining bottles are going into a beef bourginon recipe or something like that.


  • Les Picasses is one of the most famous vineyards in Chinon, which is in the Loire Valley not far from Touraine. This is Cabernet Franc country.
  • Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and several others. It’s medium-to-high tannins and acidity, red fruit and notably herbaceous (capsicum)
  • Olga Raffault is one of the top producers in Chinon and they age the wine for many years before release.
  • Winemaker’s notes:The fruit is destemmed and the whole, uncrushed berries are fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tank; fermentation and maceration last for 25-30 days, depending on the vintage. The wine is aged for 2-3 years in oak and chestnut foudres ranging from 30-50 hectoliters; it is then further aged in tank and bottle before release about four years after the vintage. Les Picasses is the fullest-bodied, most structured and most complex of the Raffault reds.

Muga Rioja Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2006

My wife just flew to Thailand for 10 days of incredible food, great friends, and some of the friendliest people on earth.

I’m stuck here, working and looking after our two sets of twin boys. So I needed some comfort.

Muga is, of course, one of the most famous wineries in Rioja. And the grapes for Prado Enea are “always the last to be harvested,” according to Muga, and come from ‘high-altitude plots’ (~550m) at northwest of Rioja Alta.

Tempranillo dominates the blend, but Grenache, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano are also in there.

This wine had a fairly long maceration period (that’s how the wine gets so dark ruby) and then spends 3 years in French/American oak casks. Then it’s bottled and stored in their cellars for at least another 3 years. That means that this wine has at least 1 more year of ageing than is required to call it ‘gran reserva.’

Appearance: For a 16 year-old wine, only a narrow rim of garnet; still dark ruby overall.

Nose: Cooked black fruit and cedar, vanilla and cloves.

(First glass) Both Tempranillo and Grenache are low to medium-tannin wines. After 16 years, a lot of these have knitted together and precipitated out. So very smooth (almost non-existent tannins) and clear signs of ageing in the fruit. Upon opening, the oak flavors dominate. But this wine is still too cold right now, so I’m going to let it open and warm.

(Second glass, 2 hours later) The fruit has emerged, but it’s still subdued. The wine is more aromatic, and more pleasant to drink, but it’s still clearly past its peak.

(Third glass, 4 hours after opening) Not much change really.

Overall: I know how these Gran Reserva wines taste upon release. They’re not like an Aussie Shiraz, but they’re dense and rich and overtly oaked. This was fairly disappointing, but perhaps I just waited too long 🙂


  • In Spain, the words ‘reserva’ and ‘gran reserva’ actually mean something. In the USA and other regions, ‘reserve’ can often mean whatever the winery wants it to mean.
  • ‘Gran reserva’ means that the wine was aged for at least 60 months (5 years!) in a combination of oak barrels (at least 2 years) and in the bottle (at least 2 years). A winery would only consider making this huge investment in time (and money) in great vintages, with superb grapes.
  • Rioja is the most famous region in Spain, and the grape that dominates there is Tempranillo. Tempranillo produces wines that have medium acidity and medium tannins, with fruit flavors that range from red fruits to black fruits.
  • It is traditional for the wines of Rioja to be aged in oak – often new oak, so it is very common (even at the ‘crianza’ level where the ageing requirements are lowest) to taste strong oak-related flavors.

St. Innocent Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2010

A striking, but simple label. A memorable name. A location far removed from most other Willamette Valley wineries.

I doubt that St. Innocent’s name has anything to do with its Salem, Oregon location, but that’s how I remember it. “I’m innocent!” the alleged witch pleads. And yes, I know that THAT Salem is in Massachusetts, but this is how my mind works.

I don’t recall where I first had a St. Innocent Pinot Noir, but I remember being captivated. Really bright red fruit – cherries and strawberries. Plush tannins. High acidity. Refreshing and beautiful.

At this stage, I know that quality Oregon pinot noir can age well. This is just the latest example.

Pale ruby color, just the faintest of garnet at the rim. Very pronounced red fruit flavors, violets and light cedar and cinnamon aromas. A bit of Cherry Cola.

In the mouth, just delicious. Really beautiful, velvety, still very nice fruit, but that extra special something that age can provide: leather, mushrooms, leaves. And the wine still has wonderful length, with waves of flavors. I want to call in sick for work tomorrow, sit in my La-Z-Boy and finish this bottle while reading a novel.

Weissenkirchen Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2020 Wachau, Austria

Ah! German and Austrian wine labels! So complicated and difficult to translate that all the extra detail leaves the average wine buyer, ironically, knowing nothing.

Gruner – at some point I’ll manage an umlaut on WordPress – is known for 3 things: tropical fruits, high acidity, white pepper and (sometimes) fennel/dill aromas. It can be mistaken for NZ Sauvignon Blanc (makes sense given the climate) and is generally fuller/rounder than the Riesling grown in the vineyard down the road. Some sommeliers love it, it’s hip or it’s not – but I never buy the stuff.

First, some fun (to me) translation/etymology.

Weissenkirchen = white church
Smaragd = a quality designation that oddly refers to an emerald-colored lizard (think how similar ‘smaragd’ is to esmerelda, Spanish for emerald) that basks on the warmest, upper terraces. Smaragd wines are from superior sites, have higher alcohol levels etc.
Wachau = a region in Austria, and not a very big one, that follows the Danube River. It looks very Mosel-ish in terms of terraced vineyards hugging curves in the river, though isn’t as dramatic. And from my little I’ve read, Riesling tends to get the premier hillside sites, whereas Gruner has to do with loess [that was a darn good pun].

The Weissenkirchen with Danube beyond.

So my first surprise was how golden colored this wine was. It looked like an aged Riesling! Straight from the wine fridge the aromas were muted, and when I tasted it, I worried that it had prematurely oxidized (despite being under screwcap). But as the wine warmed and opened up, the pineapple came on strong (the white pepper and fennel never showed up). The back label described the wine as “discretely spicy.” As in, so discrete, I didn’t notice it.

This wine felt quite heavy in the mouth, especially for a white wine. And no surprise, it’s 13% ABV, at the high end for whites.

An enjoyable wine, to be sure. Would I buy it again? No. I think I need to get involved in some feather play (Federspiel) first.

Clos de los Siete – 2018

I’m like Leonardo di Caprio in reverse. I only drink old wines.

It’s not because I’m a wine snob. It’s because I’ve built up a big collection and it needs to be drunk. It’s also because it’s wildly interesting to get a better feel for what happens to wine as it ages.

However, I’ve decided to take the WSET Level 2 course, and most of the varietal descriptions, and most of the wines we’ll be tasting as part of the course are going to be young. So I figured it was a good idea to remind myself what young wines taste like!

So I made a Total Wine run and picked up a bottle of everything I haven’t tried before or haven’t tasted in a long time: Fiano, Verdicchio, Pinotage, Gruner Veltliner etc. And as I was racing through the aisles, I saw Clos de los Siete on special. Michel Rolland + Mendoza + Bordeaux blend + Malbec. I knew it was going to be rich and lush.

I followed the WSET’s “SAT” method (Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine) and started familiarizing myself with the steps and the vocabulary. But that’s too boring! This was a very dark ruby wine with black fruit and oak that erupted out of the glass. I smelled cedar and smoke, and by the second sniff couldn’t get grilled ribs out of my head.

I expected my mouth to be coated with tannins, but they were ridiculously smooth and ripe. ‘Creamy’ one critic wrote, and that’s spot on. With the vanilla-ish flavors from the oak, it was like a black plum creamsicle.

I didn’t tell my wife what she was drinking. “Gosh, that’s rich!” she exclaimed, and asked for the glass again.

By WSET standards, I’d consider this a “very good” wine 🙂 A bit Napa Valley-cartoonish, but certainly very enjoyable.

2013 Bila-Haut ‘Occultem Lapidem’ by M. Chapoutier

This wine brings back memories. Great memories.

Indigo Restaurant, Soi Convent, Bangkok

There is a lovely French restaurant on Soi Convent in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s name is Indigo, but I’ve also heard it called the second French Embassy because the place is always packed with Frenchies – a sure sign of (at least relative) authenticity.

You walk down Convent and then turn left down an alley just before hitting Silom Road. The alley smells, the concrete is cracked and heaved, and a rat or two often scuttles away. It’s the last place you’d expect a French restaurant, which is why I loved taking guests and clients there. Then you step into a delightful courtyard filled with arching palms and twinkling lights, you hear the hubbub of happy diners and smell sizzling steak frites and you can’t help but smile.

I’ve eaten at Indigo 50 times, and had a glass or bottle of wine there at least 100 times. It’s no hyperbole to say that it’s one of my favorite places on earth. And on many of those occasions, this was the wine I chose: Michel Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut ‘Occultem Lapidem.’ It’s a very affordable GSM (well actually, SGC!) blend from Roussilon. And it’s delicious, a baby CdP full of amazing berry flavors.

I bought two cases of the 2013 Bila-Haut before I left Thailand. They came from a US retailer and were shipped to my storage locker in Portland. I wasn’t sure how long the wine would last, but Robert Parker gave the 2013 a 97 and said it could last for 10-15 years.

Unfortunately, it looks like he was wrong. I’ve tried several of the bottles over the last few years and they all taste a bit faded. The delicious fruit and chocolate/licorice aromas have receded into the background. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

Nonetheless, I’m smiling as I’m drinking it. Such amazing memories.

Tua Rita “Giusto di Notri” 2006

Whenever I uncork a wine this old, I feel a mixture of excitement and dread. Did I wait too long?

It’s a terrible feeling to pour a bottle of wine that you know WAS good, and have it taste blah or even bad. You finish the bottle anyway, of course, hoping until the last sip that something magical is going to happen. But it rarely does.

Thankfully this was nothing like that!!! While I was pouring the bottle, brambly fruit and licorice aromas leapt out of the decanter. The wine was still very dark in color; not at all red around the edges. Encouraged, I took a little sip and swooned: this is was what great, old wines can taste like!

Giusto di Notri is a very famous (and fairly expensive) Bordeaux blend from cult winery Tua Rita. It tends to get scores of 96+ from the major wine critics. But it’s Giusto’s big sister, Redigaffi – a 100% Merlot bottled “Super Tuscan” style as an IGT wine – that gets more of the attention. A bottle of Redigaffi costs around $300; a bottle of Giusto, $100.

Here’s what Robert Parker had to say (in 2009!) about the 2006 Giusto di Notri.

“The estate’s 2006 Giusto di Notri is another weighty, powerful offering bursting with tons of primary fruit. Sweet herbs, cassis and graphite swirl around in the glass, adding further complexity. Like the other wines in this line-up, the Giusto di Notri needs time to reach the full range of its potential, but it is awfully impressive even at this early stage. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2026.”

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Parker certainly got this one right. Here we are in the middle of Giusto’s “best drinking” window and it tasted amazing: no longer “powerful”, but instead velvety smooth. Even my wife (who isn’t always a fan of older wines) immediately said “Yum!”

Novellum – Value from the Sunny Side of France

My “Great Wine Values” tastings continue with a Chardonnay from the south of France, specifically the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

This 2017 Novellum Chardonnay cost $12.99 on Wine.Com. It got a 92 score from Jeb Dunnuck (a breakaway critic from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate). That means that the Novellum’s price-per-point is an insanely low $0.14!

When I drink whites from Languedoc-Rousillon, roses from Bandol or whatever from Provence, I’m expecting sun-in-a-glass. Other than that, wine-making styles vary wildly.

Boom! When I swirled this in the glass, I smelled candied pineapple and papaya before I even brought it near my mouth! In terms of flavor, it was very ‘sunny’ – tropical fruits, very limited oak impact, and good acidity with a touch of sweetness.

A Long Way from Burgundy

My wife liked it – though she told me it didn’t taste like a Chardonnay to her at all. “Certainly not a French Chardonnay.”

She thought it was a Riesling! And I can understand why – there was a surprising aromatic quality to the nose that made me think there was some Viognier or Marsanne added to the Chardonnay.

Later, I was chuffed to discover that I was kind of correct: 80% of the Chardonnay was aged in tanks on Viognier lees.

I’m not such a huge fan of this style, to be honest. I like the limited oak, I like the fruit but overall I don’t think I could drink four glasses of this. I don’t think I will include this one in the upcoming WineKnow tasting event. But you might love it! Different strokes for different folks!

WineKnow Facts:

  • The large wine regions of Languedoc-Rousillon and Provence are (in terms of location) very similar. The Rhone River flows into the Mediterranean near Arles, which is bang in the middle of France’s coastline. Just remember Two Ls: Languedoc-Rousillon is to the “Left” (i.e., to the west of Arles and the Rhone, stretching towards Spain) while Provence is to the east of Arles, stretching towards Italy.
  • Vines in the Languedoc get MUCH more sun than in Bordeaux or Burgundy. So you’d expect a Languedoc (or Provencal) Chardonnay to taste a lot ‘sunnier’ down than classic white Burgundy (Chardonnay). And they do. They are generally fruitier, less acidic and less complicated.
  • Languedoc (and further west, Rousillon) is a great area for value wines in France. The reds tend to be GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends like in the Rhone Valley, while the whites are a mix of aromatic Rhone varieties like Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne or international crowd-pleasers like Chardonnay.
  • Stylistically, these wines are all over the place. Some are overtly copying the “New World” model of super-plush or heavily-oaked wines. Others are as restrained as they can be given the climate. You just have to try them until you find a few you like. Good news is, they’re cheap!

Icario Rosso Toscana – Value Vino

With this $15 Tuscan red blend, I’ve initiated the research program for our upcoming 7th WineKnow event on the “World’s Greatest Wine Values.”

The UK’s premier wine magazine, Decanter, awarded this wine a stunning 93 point score. (In fact, they gave it a 18.5 score – out of 20 – but most wine retailers just multiply that score by five to make it comparable to everyone else’s 100-point scale.)

With a 93-point Score, Icario is Flying Pretty Close to the Tuscan Sun!

That means that this wine cost $0.16 per point – one of the lowest prices-per-point I’ve seen. In other words, this wine offers incredible value compared to other high-scoring wines.

Decanter wrote that the Icario boasts a “classic Sangiovese nose of red cherries and earthy notes. Rich and juicy mouth-feel, with velvety tannins and fresh acidity.”

I agree. It’s easy, true to its appellation, balanced and delicious! This one is definitely going into the next WineKnow lineup!

Tonight I happened to make spaghetti with marinara sauce and crumbled Italian-style sausage, which just cried out for a local wine like this.

BTW: I much prefer Decanter’s easy-to-understand reviews compared to the often ridiculous comparisons (Meyer Lemon? Damson Plum?) and fanciful allusions (a sighing odalisque?) in US wine mags.

WineKnow Facts:

  • This is an IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wine from Toscana that is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Teroldego and 10% Merlot.
  • In Italy, the quality pyramid goes DOCG –> DOC –> IGT.
  • With so much Sangiovese, why isn’t it labeled Chianti? They could charge a lot more money, right?
  • One reason is the Merlot. By regulation, this ‘foreign’ grape is not allowed in Chianti wines.
  • Another reason is likely the location or locations where the grapes were sourced. If they were all sourced from Chianti Classico or any of the famous sub-regions, they would shout this out on the label.
  • Instead, this is likely a blend that includes grapes grown in non-Chianti areas of Tuscany. (I later learned that the winery is based in Montepulciano, and also produces Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano! The modern winery looks like a great place to visit!)
  • In any cases, the inclusions of the Merlot means that they couldn’t label the wine as Chianti Classico even if ALL the grapes were grown in the Chianti Classico region!

Malbec – Been a Long Time

Gosh. When was the last time I drank a Malbec?

Other than a few bottles of Achaval Ferrer, I don’t have any Malbecs in my collection. I never buy Malbec at wine stores, and I don’t see it frequently on wine lists by the glass.

You’d think that I abhor Malbecs, but I actually quite enjoy them!

I’m guessing that there are two reasons for this. First, I don’t eat a lot of beef anymore because my wife doesn’t think it’s healthy. (I love it nonetheless! So I sneak out for a steak from time to time.) Second, because like Aussie Shiraz, mass-market Malbecs can feel pretty formulaic.

So I decided to give Clos d’Argentine’s 2014 Winemarker’s Selection Malbec Reserva. The wine got a 91 from Wine Enthusiast and costs around $15 (I think).

Of course the wine is very dark. I smelled more oak than fruit on the nose, together with an unpleasant aroma of wet cigarette butt that once my brain latched on to I just couldn’t shake. I decided to let the wine sit for a bit, and I’m glad I did.

I am constantly reminded of the importance of letting wine breathe – even for wines that are just five years old like this. During the ‘waking up’ process, nasty smells that have been bouncing around in the bottle waft away, the sometimes vinegar-like acidity fades, primary aromas get into the glass and my overall enjoyment of the wine surges. 

After an hour, the cigarette butt smell was gone, replaced by much preferable dark cherry and tobacco aromas. Still not as fruity as I would like, however, and even a bit sour! Acidity was good though the tannins were hardly noticeable.   

While the ‘breathing’ certainly helped, I wasn’t a big fan of this wine. It felt unbalanced (too much wood) and not enough core, ripe fruit. 

WineKnow Facts:

  • While Malbec is Argentina’s iconic red wine, the grape is indubitably French. In Cahors, it’s known as Cot. (In a wonderful boomerang, Cahors wines are making something of a comeback thanks to Malbec’s global fame!)
  • That said, Argentine Malbec tastes quite different from Cot from Cahors. Much of this comes down to climate and wine-making approaches. But the grapes themselves have different attributes – likely because the original Cot cuttings came to South American in the 1800s, well before the phylloxera epidemic in Europe. Even French winemakers admit (well, some of them do) that the original Cots (now making Malbec in Argentina) are superior for more serious wines.
  • Classic Malbec characteristics: very dark purple, brambly (even gamey) dark fruit, high alcohol, medium-high acidity and medium tannins. Maybe some chocolaty goodness or smokiness on the finish. Wines tend to be big but ‘smooth.’
  • The most comparable grapes to Malbec would be Syrah and Merlot – at least in my mind.