Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wine In Space


From the vaults, 6 years ago.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Virginia's Barboursville Vineyards

James Barbour initiated the vineyards that carry his name today. He was a Governor, a Senator and the Secretary of War, but he is best remembered for his contributions to Virginia's agrarian heritage. He, like his neighbor Thomas Jefferson, struggled to buck the tobacco trend and grow rotated crops that didn't use up the soil. An Italian bought the parcel in the 1970s, Gianni Zonin, whose name you have probably seen on bottles of Prosecco. Zonin, also bucking the tobacco advice, planted grapes and made wine. The Zonin family still owns the vineyards, and wines are produced by winemaker Luca Paschina.

Scheduling changes on my trip prevented me from trying the restaurant at the estate, Palladia, but it gets raves from all over. Next time. I was able to make the half hour or so drive out of Charlottesville for a tasting of the Barboursville wines. Here they are.

Pinot Grigio 2016 -A very refreshing wine, although the grape is not one of my favorites.

Vermentino Reserve 2015 - Lovely acidity and the mark of the earth on it.

Viognier Reserve 2015 - Very nice acidity, but the wine was not a favorite.

Chardonnay Reserve 2016 - It's the only white they make with oak, and it's Hungarian wood. Quite a show that oak makes, if you ask me. A little too much in the wood.

Vintage Rosé 2015 - Rich pink, made from Petite Sirah, Barbera and Merlot. The acidity is great and the palate brings beautiful, light fruit with herbal touches.

Barbour’s Reserve 2015 - Fantastic red fruit and mocha
are a real kick.

Sangiovese 2015 - Big, earthy, smoky. Love it.

Merlot 2015 - Another earthy red.

Cabernet Franc 2015 - This is really good, with great acidity, white and bell pepper notes.

Merlot Reserve 2013 - This is what I want from Merlot - big smoke, earth and a savory coffee
expression.

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014 - Tons of earth that reminds me a bit of Paso
Robles Cab.

Cabernet Blanc - A sweetie, with 2% residual sugar.

Rosato - Even sweeter, with 4% residual sugar.

Phileo - Sweet Traminette, Vidal Blanc and Moscato blend, 10% residual sugar. This is a lovely dessert wine with floral notes, good with cheese.

Paxxito 2013 - The sweetest, with 12% residual sugar. It's simply beautiful, made in the passito process in which the grapes are air-dried over time. You get raisins and caramel, and since when it that not a great dessert?


Friday, August 18, 2017

Tasting Wine at Jefferson Vineyards

There’s been much wine-related writing about Thomas Jefferson over the past decade or so. His love of fine wine, his travels through Europe to feed that love and his own desire to make a great American wine have been well documented. However, it’s hard for me as a modern-day person to overlook the obvious flaws that a man of his stature exhibited in those Colonial days. I'm talking about slaves.

The man for whom my high school was named, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the country's third president - he had issues that were pervasive at the time. He owned people, had them living in squalid rooms on his beautiful estate, had them do the work that the sprawling grounds required while he sat back and enjoyed life. They didn't spend a whole lot of time addressing that at Thomas Jefferson High School in southeast Texas. They didn't spend any time addressing it, as I recall. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the school no longer exists, that a predominantly African-American town still has a school named for Abraham Lincoln, but TJ bit the dust in favor of a more generic name, Memorial High.

So, when I recently visited Monticello in Virginia, I was rather surprised at how matter-of-factly the tour guides deal with the slavery issue, among other shortcomings of Jefferson the man. I was also surprised that his wine obsession wasn’t more thoroughly documented by the docents. I wouldn’t have heard a word about it had I not asked a question during the garden tour.

Down the road from Monticello, a little off the beaten path - or, with a beaten path of its own - lies Jefferson VIneyards. The estate is situated near Charlottesville on land that was given by Jefferson to an Italian viticulturist from Tuscany named Filippo Mazzei. He was reportedly drawn to the U.S. by no less than Ben Franklin and John Adams, and Jefferson wanted him as his neighbor. Jefferson even copped a line from Mazzei for a paper he was writing. I think it went something like, "all men are created equal."

The cozy, wood beamed tasting room at Jefferson Vineyards features a rack full of wines, some of which are estate grown, some of which are not. Here is what was on the tasting menu in June 2017 when I was there.

Chardonnay 2016 - Mostly stainless steel fermentation and aging, with only 5% done in oak. Tropical fruit and apples, with a slight effervescent quality.
Viognier 2016 - White flowers and summer fruit. Nice acidity, aged in oak and steel.
Rosé 2016 - Light salmon color, the result of only six hours of skin contact. An unusual mix of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc with some Merlot.
Vin Rouge 2015 - Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Very light - earthy, yet sweet, 0.9% residual sugar.  It has an almost tart, plum and pinot noir taste and weight. It sure takes a chill well.
Cabernet Franc 2015 - Nine months aging in 80% neutral oak. It's a little light, with the expected pepper notes somewhat diminished. I was surprised by how unimpressed I was by it..
Merlot 2014 - Very light in color, slight smokiness, nice light cherry palate. A pretty good summer red.
Petit Verdot 2015 - This is a heavier red, deeper in color and not as tannic or bold as usually found n the variety. Cherry notes are a hit with chocolate.
Meritage 2014 - Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dirty earth, nice savory angle. Rich, but would work with pork. 22 months in oak.
Vin Blanc - This dessert wine has only 4% residual sugar. It's a fairly earthy blend of Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Petit Manseng and other grapes.



Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Beat Heat With Lambrusco

Lambrusco is the perfect red wine for hot weather. Sure, your zippy whites and refreshing rosés are hard to resist when the triple digits come calling. But Lambrusco always takes me back to a summertime visit in New York City. I escaped the oppressive heat and humidity with a bottle of wine on a sidewalk table at a storefront in Little Italy. The red wine bottle - I don't really remember what it was, but I think it was Beaujolais - sweated profusely as it came right out of a refrigerated case. It may as well have been Lambrusco, because that's how I like it served, ice cold on a blistering hot evening.

Molo 8 Lambrusco is a full varietal wine that mixes 85% Lambrusco Maestri & Marani grapes with 15% Lambrusco Ancellotta. The grapes are grown in the Mantovano DOC, in vineyards that sit as high as 500 feet above sea level. They are vinified in stainless steel tanks, and the fruity freshness couldn’t hide itself if it wanted to. Winemaker Davide Terlizzi does a fine job of bringing this distinctly Italian wine to us. Alcohol is extremely low at 8.5% abv, and a bottle of Molo 8 costs about $12.

It’s a very purple wine that tastes a bit like grapes and black cherries, with that famous Lambrusco earthiness coming through. It’s muscular for the style, with noticeable tannins and a nice acidity. Put a chill on it and chase the heat away. If it comes back tomorrow, just pull out another bottle.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wine For "Woodstock"



From the vaults, five years ago. The wine and movie pairing for "Woodstock." Thanks to "Blood Of The Vines" for hosting these originally.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unique Spanish White Wine Blend

The Vivanco dream began, according to the website, 100 years ago when Pedro Vivanco González started a four-generation - and counting - business. Today Santiago Vivanco leads the business side and and Rafael Vivanco Sáenz makes the wine. The winery is where it has always been, in the La Rioja town of Briones.

This Rioja white wine is made from 50% Viura grapes, 35% Tempranillo Blanco and 15% Maturana Blanca, and they claim it's the first wine in the world made from those varieties. The grapes were grown in estate vineyards located "in different Rioja terroirs."

Thé Vivanco family describes the two grapes in this mix with which you may not be familiar. The Tempranillo Blanco comes from "a natural genetic mutation found in a single cane of a red Tempranillo vine, discovered in an old vineyard in Murillo de Río Leza (La Rioja) in 1988. It does not exist anywhere else in the world." The Maturana Blanca "is the oldest grape variety to have a written record in Rioja, being mentioned in a text dating to 1622. It does not exist anywhere else in the world." So, you're getting a real treat here.

The wine is alcohol-restrained at 13% abv and sells for around ten bucks online. Looking for value? Right here.

The Vivanco Rioja Viura Blend 2016 is pale in the glass and offers up a nose of citrus and wet rock minerals. It's a gentle set of aromas, and the palate follows suit, with easy acidity - still quite fresh, though - and flavors of lemon pie with a spray of green apples. It should pair very well with white fish, risotto or pasta with butter and pepper.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Discovering Wine At The Garagiste Festival

The Garagiste Festival is coming to Paso Robles in November, so save the date. The event features boutique wineries, small producers, with some extremely great California wine to pour for you. The festival's "Urban Exposure" was held recently in Santa Monica, and I was delighted to accept their invitation to attend.

Garagiste, in case you are wondering, is a French term (gar-uh-zhee-stuh) which originated in Bordeaux.  It described mavericky small-lot winemakers who didn't care much for following the rules.  These passionate vintners often whipped up their wine in the garage, or whatever space they had available to them.

What was once just a pejorative is now a movement.  Not that California winemakers operate under the burden of the sort of rules found in France, but these folks are considered renegades simply for daring to make their wine their way.

Nearly four dozen wineries which produce less than 1200 cases per year poured wines that people may not get a chance to taste very often.  Most of these small producers don't have tasting rooms, and their distribution is often spotty, if not non-existent. I didn't get to taste from every table, by a long shot. Here are the wines I sampled.

Ann Albert Wines - Santa Barbara winemaker Eric Johnson poured two first-vintage 2015 Chardonnays that both spoke to their origins. The one from Zotovich Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills had lemon-lime fruit aged in new French oak, $44. The one from Bien Nacido Vineyard showed the touch of earth and savory salinity I love so much from that farm, $44. He excitedly told me of the efforts of the Bien Nacido vineyard manager and crew that may have spared the vines from being damaged by a recent wildfire.

Brophy Clark Cellars - This Santa Barbara winery makes a 2014 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay with restrained alcohol and just the right touch of new French oak, $22.

Burning Bench Cellars - A Marin County boutique producer, winemaker David Mease poured a 2006 Pinot Noir from Moon Hill Vineyard that showed some lovely browning and savory tea notes. More recent vintages are big and fruity without knocking people down, $45.

Carucci Wines - Santa Barbara winemaker Eric Carucci's 2013 Viognier from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard has a big floral nose and a savory/fruity palate, $30. His 2014 Grenache comes from a lovely warm-weather site, Murmur Vineyard, located between Santa Maria and Los Alamos, $38.

Chenoweth Wines - Sonoma producers Charlie and Amy Chenoweth concentrate on Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that are big and fruity, $65.

Cholame Vineyard - This San Miguel winery has Andres Ibarra making the 2014 Summer Shade Grenache Blanc, a standout at this event. Super salinity, super savory, huge nose and brilliant acidity, $24.

Coruce Vineyards - The Antelope Valley, north of Los Angeles, is not the first place one thinks of when Southern California wine regions are bandied about.  Winemaker Bob Balentine works magic with warm-climate estate grapes like Semillon and Symphony, $21, and Viognier, $25.  Big florals mark these appealing whites.

D. Volk Wines - Dana Volk was quick to point out that she's no relation to Santa Barbara County winemaker Kenneth Volk. I think her actual words were "Yeah, I wish!" On her own, she has made some wines to be proud of. Her 2016 Camp 4 Vineyard Grenache Rosé is a savory beauty, $22. Her 2015 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir is lovely and elegant, $42. Her 2014 Syrah from Hampton Family Vineyards is a great warm-climate version of the grape, $24.

Tao Vineyards - Michael and Nikki McRory say they actually do have a few grape-growing neighbors in Agoura Hills, just over the crestline from the Malibu AVA. Winemaker B. Alan Geddes makes a 2016 Syrah Rosé that’s very good, $22; the 2015 Awakening Sangiovese that’s beefy, $26; and the amazing 2015 Mindful Merlot, that’s magic in a bottle, $38.

Theopolis Vineyards - Theodora Lee has to wake up feeling like the Maytag repairman sometimes. She's a female, African-American winemaker in the Anderson Valley, and she plays that role to the hilt. "Now, don't you walk away without tasting my Petite Sirah. That's my baby!" But, she's also proud of her 2014 Pinot Noir, unfiltered and elegant, $42, She calls her richly-colored 2014 Rosé of Petite Sirah a "summer red," and it's a great one, $24. Her 2014 Symphony makes one realize what a cool climate can do for that grape, $22.

Two Shepherds - Sonoma winemaker William Allen poured his 2014 Grenache Blanc from "down south," the Saarloos Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Graceful savory notes, $25. His 2016 Rosé of Grenache from Mendocino's Potter Valley is extremely pale and elegant, $25. The Two Shepherds 2014 Pastoral Melange Rhone Blend is an incredible North Coast mix of Mourvèdre, Carignane, Syrah and Roussanne. Unorthodox, but tasty. It’s light enough to take a chill well and would make a good BBQ wine, $24.

Vinemark Cellars - Thousand Oaks producer Mark Wasserman uses mostly eastside Paso Robles grapes for his remarkable wines. His 2016 Chardonnay is beautifully oakless, $24. Another great pink wine at this event, the Vinemark 2016 Grenache Rosé is awesome, full and earthy, $24. He does a nice Cal-Italian turn with the 2015 five-grape Buono Miscela, $35, and the light and breezy 2014 Mezzanotte of Primitivo and Syrah, $32. He says his 2014 Cab is his best ever, and it has the mark of Paso Robles all over it. $32.


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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wine For "From Russia With Love"



From the series of wine and movie pairings I did about five years back with Blood Of The Vines. This one's a bit more timely now.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I AM Drinking That @#$%& Merlot

Murrieta's Well is a Wente property in California's Livermore Valley. They take great pride in being one of the Golden State's "original wine estates." The place was founded in the late 19th century, with cuttings from the Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux in France, not to be a name-dropper. The estate was bought in 1933 by Ernest Wente. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso "partnered together to revive the winery." Winemaker Robbie Meyer does a great job of turning the fruit entrusted to him into magnificent wines that tell the story of the land.

A virtual event recently put Murrieta's Well into an online tasting session, which is documented here. My thanks to those involved in putting on the show for inviting me and providing samples to taste.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Livermore Valley Merlot

This estate wine is made from 90% Merlot grapes, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petite Sirah. The several varieties were vinified and aged separately, 18 months in French oak, 40% of which was new. It has alcohol at 14.1% abv and the 18 barrels produced have all been sold, according to the website.

This extremely dark wine has the sort of aromas that make me say, "I AM drinking some f%&@ing Merlot." Blackberry and plum dominate, but leather appears, with campfire smoke close behind. The palate is beautiful, sweet and juicy, with a firm tannic structure and mouth-watering acidity. Oak hints top it off nicely, with vanilla and spice. It will be great with your favorite steak, hot off the grill.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Spain's White Refresher

Spanish white wines are special, especially during summer. Their refreshing acidity, buoyant fruit and steely minerality just beg to be taken outside with you for a picnic or just to the porch.

Maetierra says they are the only winery in Rioja that makes only white wines. Located in Calahorra, they use grapes from all over the country. It’s hot over much of Spain, but there are cool-climate regions near the Atlantic Ocean, and those places are where the grapes are grown for the Atlantis line.

The bodega started as a college experiment in 2001, just yesterday as far as Spanish wine history goes. Under Raul Acha's guidance the wines just keep on coming.

These Albariño grapes come from Rias Biaxas, on Spain’s northwestern edge, just north of Portugal and splashed by the Atlantic. The wine’s alcohol content comes in at 12.5% abv and the price seems to run about 12 bucks.

The Maetierra Atlantic Albariño is a pretty, pale golden wine. I love the nose. It shows a serious savory side, with a soapy salinity. There's great fruit in there, too, a gentle note of limes and tangerines. The palate brings plenty of minerals to the forefront with a racy acidity that really refreshes. Pair it with crab, oysters or peel-and-eat shrimp for a delight.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Addendum: New From Fess Parker

Santa Barbara County's Fess Parker winery is branching out. In the spirit of their founder's pioneering ways, the heirs of the barrels are heading north, to the Napa Valley, to create a new label. It's not just a footnote, but an addition to the Parker legacy. Addendum is the company's arm for Bordeaux-style wines.

The Addendum wines will be available in September, but I was able to snag a sample thanks to a Brandlive virtual tasting event put together by Charles Communication. There's history there, as Kimberly Charles worked closely with Fess Parker years ago. She helped the world realize that the man could not only rock a coonskin cap better than anyone, he made a damn great bottle of wine, too.

There's some nepotism there as well. Charles employee Greer Shull says she's a Parker family member, so this job hit pretty close to home for her. Parker's daughter Ashley Parker Snider, her husband and Parker President Tim Snider and winemaker Blair Fox all took part in the online session.

The virtual tasting is hosted here, if you’d like to take a look. 

Addendum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah, Atlas Peak, Stagecoach Vineyard 2014

This wine is made from 56% Cabernet Sauvignon and 44% Syrah from Napa Valley's Stagecoach Vineyard in the Atlas Peak region.  Alcohol clocks in at 14.9% abv, but it drinks even hotter.  Aging took place in French oak barrels for 28 months.  22% of that wood was new. It retails for 90 bucks.

The dark wine is loaded with big, ripe fruit. The nose carries black and blue berries in spades, with a gorgeous, savory undercurrent. Coffee, smoked meat, olives and sage play into that understated accompaniment. Sweet oak spice is the bow on the package. The wine drinks a bit young, with vibrant tannins. The palate is just as lovely as the aromas led me to believe. Those dark berries mix with a touch of oak - actually more like a "whack." Everything plays together beautifully, though. Too much is sometimes just enough.



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Addendum: New From Fess Parker

Santa Barbara County's Fess Parker winery is branching out. In the spirit of their founder's pioneering ways, the heirs of the barrels are heading north, to the Napa Valley, to create a new label. It's not just a footnote, but an addition to the Parker legacy. Addendum is the company's arm for Bordeaux-style wines.

The Addendum wines will be available in September, but I was able to snag a sample thanks to a Brandlive virtual tasting event put together by Charles Communication. There's history there, as Kimberly Charles worked closely with Fess Parker years ago. She helped the world realize that the man could not only rock a coonskin cap better than anyone, he made a damn great bottle of wine, too.

There's some nepotism there as well. Charles employee Greer Shull says she's a Parker family member, so this job hit pretty close to home for her. Parker's daughter Ashley Parker Snider, her husband and Parker President Tim Snider and winemaker Blair Fox all took part in the online session.
 
The virtual tasting is hosted here, if you’d like to take a look. 

The Fess Parker winemaking program began 30 years ago in Santa Barbara County, with Rhône and Burgundian styled wines. The second generation of the Parker family is forging the new label for single vineyard Napa Cabernets. They source some grapes from Stagecoach Vineyard, and another noted plot that we cannot mention due to contractual restrictions.

Tim Snider says they felt they had to explore the possibilities presented by their vineyard relationships in Napa. In true pioneer fashion, they are blazing a new trail for themselves. Snider says the family did not make the move to producing Napa Cabs cavalierly. He says the main emotion at this point is enthusiasm. Ashley pointed out that they didn’t start a Cab label just so they could charge more for the bottles. Production on all four of the Addendum wines together is less than 800 cases, she says, so it’s more of a learning experience.

Addendum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Stagecoach Vineyard 2014

This wine is made of pure, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, the Stagecoach Vineyard in the Atlas Peak region.  Aging took place over 28 months in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.  Alcohol at 14.9% abv is Napa-rich, and the wine sells for a similarly rich $95 per bottle.

This wine is medium dark and smells like expensive Napa Cab. The fruit is ripe and dark, but there is also a savory aspect that rolls up pencil shavings, sage, black olives and mocha into an aromatic ball. The palate is rather smooth, but with tannins that make themselves known on the back end. This will tame a steak and not work up a sweat. 


Monday, July 31, 2017

Addendum: New From Fess Parker

Santa Barbara County's Fess Parker winery is branching out. In the spirit of their founder's pioneering ways, the heirs of the barrels are heading north, to the Napa Valley, to create a new label. It's not just a footnote, but an addition to the Parker legacy. Addendum is the company's arm for Bordeaux-style wines.

The Addendum wines will be available in September, but I was able to snag a sample thanks to a Brandlive virtual tasting event put together by Charles Communication. There's history there, as Kimberly Charles worked closely with Fess Parker years ago. She helped the world realize that the man could not only rock a coonskin cap better than anyone, he made a damn great bottle of wine, too.

There's some nepotism there as well. Charles employee Greer Shull says she's a Parker family member, so this job hit pretty close to home for her. Parker's daughter Ashley Parker Snider, her husband and Parker President Tim Snider and winemaker Blair Fox all took part in the online session.
 
The virtual tasting is hosted here, if you’d like to take a look. 

The Fess Parker winemaking program began 30 years ago in Santa Barbara County, with Rhône and Burgundian styled wines. The second generation of the Parker family is forging the new label for single vineyard Napa Cabernets. They source some grapes from Stagecoach Vineyard, and another noted plot that we cannot mention due to contractual restrictions.

Tim Snider says they felt they had to explore the possibilities presented by their vineyard relationships in Napa. In true pioneer fashion, they are blazing a new trail for themselves. Snider says the family did not make the move to producing Napa Cabs cavalierly. He says the main emotion at this point is enthusiasm. Ashley pointed out that they didn’t start a Cab label just so they could charge more for the bottles. Production on all four of the Addendum wines together is less than 800 cases, she says, so it’s more of a learning experience.

Addendum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Skellenger Lane 2014

Made from grapes grown in a "a prestigious Rutherford vineyard," this wine has what winemaker Fox calls "that Rutherford dust" all over it. It has California brawn, with an alcohol level of 14.9% abv. Aging took place over 28 months in completely new French oak barrels. It carries a price tag of $95.

This wine is very dark in the glass. It gives off an unexpectedly subtle aroma of cassis and smoke. A whiff of graphite and leather come in after it sits a bit. The palate shows its youth, but in an endearing way. Slightly spiky tannins settle down with time, and the dark berry flavors just get more intense. There is some sweet vanilla in play, along with an easy little dash of cinnamon. The finish is incredibly long, and it's a pleasure to behold.



Friday, July 28, 2017

Spanish Rosato, Kosher

The Spanish wine co-operative of Cellar de Capçanes reportedly made the first kosher wine in Spain. Importers Royal Wine Corporation says that Spanish Jews "were once one of the largest Jewish communities worldwide, living peacefully under both Muslim and Christian rule until the year 1492 when Isabel and Ferdinand expelled them during the inquisition. Currently, there are approximately 40,000 Jews living in Spain."

The 2013 Capçanes Peraj Petita Rosat is a kosher rosé produced in the Montsant region of Spain. The wine is an incredible blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah grapes. It his only 13% abv on the alcohol scale, which makes it extremely drinkable.

This wine colors up like cranberry juice. It has an extremely earthy and savory element to the nose. It's more than just an herbal "stemminess" - it's a full-on, nose-in-the-furrow dirtfest. There are cherry and strawberry notes, of course, but they live under the ground. The palate plays right along with the game, hiding its bright red fruit underneath an umami blanket. It's not an approach I find much in a rosé, even one that’s Garnacha-based. Nice acidity, and full in the mouth. Pair this with a salami sandwich, cashews or tapas if you're feeling adventurous.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kosher Pinot Noir Misses Mark

Oxnard may not spring to mind immediately when you start riffling through your mental Rolodex of California wine regions. The Ventura County town is home to Herzog Wine Cellars, under the umbrella of the Royal Wine Corporation. The winery's story is one of immigrant grit and determination.

The Herzog website says the company goes back to "Philip Herzog, who made wine in Slovakia for the Austro-Hungarian court more than a century ago. Philip’s wines were so appreciated by Emperor Franz-Josef, that the emperor made Philip a baron."

Philip's grandson Eugene had to move his family around quite a bit during World War II to hide from the Nazis, only to be run out of Czechoslovakia by the communists. He brought his family to New York in 1948 and started working for a kosher winery that paid him in company stock. Within ten years all the other stockholders had given up on it, leaving Eugene as the last man standing. He and his sons then formed Royal Wines as a tribute to Philip.

Expansion to Southern California happened in 1985, but it was a couple of decades before they would build their present state of the art facility. Head winemaker Joe Hurliman leads the kosher facility and produces wines in the tradition of the Jewish people.

The 2015 Baron Herzog California Pinot Noir is a dark ruby in color, with light just barely getting through the glass. Its nose is straightforward - black fruit and a smoky layer on top. It's not terribly complex, but it is rather savory and pleasant. The wine is quite light in the mouth, which is surprising given the dark aromas. The tannins and acidity are both on the scarce side, leaving a Pinot Noir that is mainly just a sipper. Its light feel and rather thin flavor don't translate to elegance, so there’s not a lot to recommend it.


Monday, July 24, 2017

F Is For France

The Locations wines are an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort. It resulted from a conversation he had with a French winemaker about what would happen if one were to simply break all the rules. Would something new arise? Would the wine world spin out of its orbit? Would people buy it?

At first, I wasn't on board with the philosophy of making wine generically. I felt specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. I still feel that way. However, after sampling through a few letters, I'm on board with what Phinney is doing.

Yes, the letters. These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - E is for Espana, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas.

F is for France, and it's the fourth edition of the F series. The wine blends Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals into a heady - 15% abv - wine that comes on strong, then delivers. Ten months of barrel aging seems just about right for this letter.

F4 is dark and jammy, with its heavy black fruit aromas mixing with vanilla, cigar and tobacco notes. The palate is big and rather boozy, with dark berries and plums walking hand in hand with savory, meaty, black olive flavors. Grenache, Syrah and Bordeaux varieties. How’s that for breaking rules?


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Friday, July 21, 2017

Italian Wine Dinner In Torrance

Italian wine producer Tenuta San Guido came to Southern California recently, to Torrance, in fact. It was a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with the winery's tasty offerings and to discover a wonderful Italian restaurant in a neighborhood that is a little off the beaten path.

Primo Italia's wine is looked over by sommelier Grace Giovannetti - her husband Lou owns the place.  Their restaurant is only about eight months old, but is already a big hit with the locals, as the dining room was packed and the wine dinner was sold out. Rat-pack music is piped into the front room, while the wine event is held in a private back room by the wine cellar.

The five-course Tuscan-style dinner from Chef Michelangelo Aliaga featured food that was farm fresh, homemade and wood-fired. Chef Aliaga said, "Tuscany is a rustic, hunting area and these dishes are authentic." He served Florentine-style tripe, fish pancotto and pici pasta with hare ragu. The latter was two days cooked, with red wine. Venison with fruits of the forest was followed by grandmother's cake, "Torta Della Nonna."

Tenuta San Guido is in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany, and they specialize in the so-called "Super Tuscan" style of wine which utilizes Bordeaux grape varieties, grown in Tuscany. The Marchese Mario Incisa was introduced to the wines of one particular vineyard near Pisa in the 1920s.  He strove to create his own "thoroughbred" wine and used cuttings from that special place.  It marked the birth of the Super Tuscan style.What the marchese called the "Nose of Bordeaux" comes from the gravelly soil in the area. He produced wines for two decades that didn’t leave the property. They were for private consumption only.

Here's what we drank:

Salviano Orvieto 2015 - A pale gold wine from Umbria, the nose displays minerals, citrus and I swear I got seashore notes in this landlocked Italian white. Great acidity in the mouth, with lemon zest.  It was wonderful with tripe and bread, although the acidity fought a bit with the spicy tripe. Grapes include Trebbiano, Grechetto, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Le Difese 2014 - 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese here. The nose shows roses, cassis and minerals, with a palate of black fruit, licorice and earth. Lovely acidity and tannins. It went well enough with the seafood stew, but I preferred the white.

Guidalberto 2015 - 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese grapes. Big red fruit, sage and eucalyptus aromas meet flavors of red fruit and soft tannins with an herbal note and finish. It was a great pair with the pici pasta.

Sassicaia 2013 - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc grapes. Red fruit and minerals on the nose are joined by a bit of herbal note, white pepper and cedar aromas. The palate is smooth and rich, with savory minerals, quite elegant. It was remarked on by several around me at the table that it was hard to believe the wine was only four years old. Perfect with the venison. By the way, Sassicaia has its own appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia D.O.C.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Rioja Blanca

Hacienda López de Haro wine is made at Bodega Classica, in the Rioja Sonsierra region. The winery says it's in the heart of Rioja, with the Toloño Mountains to the north and the River Ebro on the south. Their vineyards - spread out over Rioja - average 50 to 80 years in age, some of them older than a century.

The white Rioja wine contains Viura "and other varieties," as the winery coyly puts it. It hits 12.5% abv for alcohol and saw three months aging in French oak barrels.

This white Rioja wine shows a pale golden tint in the glass. The nose is beautiful. Citrus and tropical fruit abound, with a stony minerality laced into the fruit. On the palate, the acidity is extremely refreshing and the flavors of tangerines and lemons are again presented in mineral fashion. The finish is lengthy and the tropical fruit seems to last the longest.


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