Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cru Beajolais: Fleurie

Domaine de la Madone is in the Beaujolais cru called Fleurie, a pastoral area - aren’t they all? - in France’s Gamay grape region. It is squeezed in between Moulin-à-vent and Morgon.

The name of the domaine comes from a little chapel on the highest hill in Fleurie. The vineyards are composed of granitic earth on the region’s hillsides, and the vines are between 70 and 100 years old.

The wine is aged for a year in oak, then another six months in vats. Alcohol hits 13% abv and the retail price is around $20.

Nice and dark, the Fleurie looks like the serious wine that it is. Aromas of violet's and strawberries are joined by pepper and cardamom. The palate offers a zesty acidity and a fruity flavor profile, with enough minerality to justify that dark color. It has a hint of bitterness on the finish, probably due to the granite in the soil. The wine is perfect for meat dishes, tomato sauces or grilled vegetables.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hamilton Wine

Monday, December 5, 2016

Drink Pink: Pinot Noir Rosé From Anderson Valley

Lazy Creek Vineyards a subsidiary of Healdsburg's Ferrari Carano Winery. It’s located about an hour north, in Mendocino county’s Anderson Valley. It is at this facility is where the company's full Pinot Noir production is centered.

A recent online tasting session introduced the 2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir to a group of wine writers, myself included. We were all provided samples of the wine for review. The session was moderated by publicist Chelsea Kurnick and featured winemaker Christy Ackerman. You can see the Ustream broadcast page here.

Christy Ackerman makes all of the Lazy Creek Vineyards wines, and all of the Pinot Noirs for Ferrari-Carano. She says she feels "very lucky" to work with Pinot Noir in general, and especially the grapes from the Lazy Creek estate vineyards.

Ackerman says the thing that makes Anderson Valley special is that it is "cooled by the ocean but at the same time protected from the ocean."  The cooling marine influence, so critical for growing perfect Pinot, is mitigated by the landscape. The best of the ocean is brought home without the harshness of the sea directly.

Sustainability is a growing concern at most vineyards, Lazy Creek included. Ackerman says they reworked the winery with an eye toward the environment. They cut water use by half, use cooling jackets for tanks and employ the natural cooling of their cave. They are big into recycling, they made packaging improvements that reduce their carbon footprint and even instituted a ten-hour day for the employees. She says that gives the Lazy Creek workers an extra day off to spend with their families.

Owners Don and Rhonda Carano describe Lazy Creek Vineyards as one of the smallest, and oldest wineries in Anderson Valley. The bottle a Gewurztraminer and the rosé under the Lazy Creek banner, but all the rest are Pinot Noirs.

Making a specific rose, not a saignee in which the juice is a byproduct of a red wine, allows for everything to be directed toward the making of the wine. It’s 100% Pinot Noir, carries alcohol at 14.2% abv and retails for $22..

The Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir is a fairly bright salmon color and it has that lovely rosé nose of fresh strawberries and cherries. The flavor profile leads with cherry and pulls a tart little savory red wagon behind it. Slight hints of citrus zest and lemongrass make for a rather interesting rosé palate, more interesting than I usually find. Pair it with any sort of salad, or seafood. If you’re a snackmaster like me, cashews or nut roll are great with it.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Beaujolais: Duboeuf Morgon

You’ve heard Georges Duboeuf's name before, I know it, even if you know very little about French wine. The Duboeuf name is synonymous with Beaujolais, especially the Nouveau that is released just in time for Thanksgiving each year.  Duboeuf also dabbles in the higher end Beaujolais wines, from the various crus of the region. Here, we explore his Morgon bottling from the vineyards of the late Jean-Ernest Descombes, whose daughter runs the business now.

Nicole Descombes says the Morgon produced from the Gamay grapes of the Descombes vineyard shows "the fruit of Beaujolais, the charm of Burgundy." The family has been at it in Morgon since the French Revolution.

The wine is all Gamay grapes from the Descombes domain.  Alcohol is typically Burgundian, at 13.0% abv.  The grapes are fermented whole cluster, unstemmed, and the wine spends less than two weeks in contact with the grape skins.

Aromas of blackberry and black cherry dominate the nose, with an earthy veil that is the hallmark of the vineyard.  The palate is beautiful, with a cheery acidity and firm tannic structure - but not too firm.  The dark fruit flavors are tinged with a hint of peppery orange peel, with minerals in plain sight.  You can put this on the holiday table without a worry, but it will pair just as nicely with a baguette and some cheese.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Beaujolais Nouveau

Holiday time always makes me turn a little more toward Beaujolais. If you follow such things, you get that little pre-Thanksgiving kick of the Beaujolais Nouveau release. It happens on the third Thursday of November, giving a one-week window before tastes move on to other delights.

The wine ends up on millions of Thanksgiving tables each year in the U.S., not to mention being the drink of choice in French cafés toward the end of each year.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a young wine, made from Gamay grapes and meant to be consumed while young. To be blunt, it’s not getting any better in the bottle.  BN is usually a dull but drinkable wine that I often find quite grapey, but others seem to revel in its simplicity. Personally, I don’t see the need to rush the wine out the door immediately after harvest, but I understand. It started as a marketing ploy, and lives on as that today.

The better choices are the wines from the crus of Beaujolais, the ten villages that all offer their own separate and distinct terroirs. They don’t cost much more than BN, but the difference is like night and day. There was a Brandlive online tasting event recently which featured Franck Duboeuf and Steve Kreps Sr. of Quintessential Wines, the exclusive US importer of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. Charles Communications founder Kimberly Charles moderated.

@WineHarlots summed up the difference between BN and cru Beaujolais nicely during the Twitter tasting: "Beaujolais Nouveau for a day. Cru Beaujolais for a lifetime."

The wines tasted will be written up here in future posts. The record of the live stream may still be here, if you’d like to watch and listen.

2016 Beaujolais Nouveau (SRP $11.99)
2015 Beaujolais-Villages (SRP $12.99)
2015 Domaine La Madone Fleurie (SRP $19.99)
2015 Morgon Jean-Ernest Descombes (SRP $21.99)

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Monday, November 28, 2016

"Oldfangled" Wine

Bonny Doon's winemaker and guiding light Randall Grahm talks a lot about the "life force" of a wine, and about how his winemaking style seeks that quality. He calls his style an "oldfangled, unaffected manner" which eschews overripe fruit and the resulting high alcohol. His wines tend toward the "savory" side of the wine-o-meter. His wines don't shout from the hillsides about their time in oak. His wines allow the grapes to be the speaker, not the barrel, not the man.

Grahm writes that the Bonny Doon 2014 Grenache that he calls Cuvée R is made from grapes that are actually a "very special clone" from the Château Rayas vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These grapes were grown in his former estate vineyard, Ca' del Solo, now known as Rancho Solo Vineyard in Soledad.  He notes that "Soledad is not the easiest place to grow grapes," yet he feels that Cuvée R shows the "great potential of Grenache to produce wines of real elegance in the Central Coast." Grahm is now growing the same Grenache clone at an Estate vineyard in San Benito County, "with the greatest expectations."

This wine sells for $48, and only 270 cases were produced. Alcohol sits at the customary Calfornia setting of 14.5% abv.

Cuvée R is medium-dark in the glass and has those great savory nose notes that Grahm seems to pack into every bottle of wine he makes. Leather, black olives and smoke are the first to escape. The palate stays on Savory Street with a big olive play on the dark fruit. Acidity is positively mouth-watering and the tannic structure is quite firm. Pair it with pork or fowl easily. I had mine with an honest-to-god Pennsylvania nut roll and almost hallucinated. It was that good.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sweet Wine: Rivesaltes

This is one of those French wines that drive typical American drinkers crazy. The appellation is Muscat de Rivesaltes Protégée. "Burgundy" just rolls off the tongue so much easier. The sweet wine - as in "dessert" - is made from half Muscat of Alexandria grapes and half Muscat Petits Grains. "Pinot" is so much less to remember. Rivesaltes is the AOC for naturally sweet, fortified wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. With that forgotten, let's move on to the estate.

The Cazes vineyards are biodynamically free of pesticides and insecticides, and they claim to act upon "the true expression of the soil and the plant in their natural environment." They make Vins de Pays, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes wines at the Cazes facility.

This natural, sweet wine is juiced up to 15% abv. By "juiced up," I mean that the wine is made by stopping the fermentation halfway through by adding wine-based alcohol. That kills the yeast so that a large part of the grapes’ sugar remains, giving the wines its sweetness. This wine is six years old, but Cazes makes them with much more aging. We’ll take a taste of some of those in the future.

The Cazes Muscat de Rivesaltes 2010 smells of sweet peaches and apricots, but an earthy layer drapes over the candy-like aromas as if to try and mask them. On the palate, stone fruit is there, too, and a note of orange zest plays into a rather nice acidity level.  It's great as an aperitif, but pair it with cheese. It's nice with creamy Brie, better with smoked farmhouse cheddar. They advise matching the color of the wine with the color of your dessert.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Versatile, Stylish Wine

My wife tells me that a little black dress is perfect for any occasion. That’s something you learn in Girl School, I guess. I took shop class and learned how to make an ugly key rack that looks like an oversized wooden key, walnut stain.  Perfect for no occasions. I grew up to wear my shirttail out whenever possible and comfortable shoes with all outfits. I think girls were probably given much more useful information in their youth.

Little Black Dress wine is intended to be the booze equivalent of that garment, a no-brainer, easy choice that solves problems on the spot. As they say, "Good taste is your call. It's something you wear proudly and pour boldly. It's your own personal flavor. And it looks amazing."

Margaret Leonardi is the winemaker in Mendocino County. I don't know if she wears a little black dress or a pair of old jeans, but she certainly knows how to make a wine that’s right for all occasions.

The winery likes to say that "a good bottle of wine is the best accessory," and I will concur. It's certainly a much better accessory than a tiny black purse that only holds a couple of credit cards. It's better than a belt that's six inches wide and shiny. It's better than shoes that hurt your feet. Of course, pretty much everything is better than shoes that hurt your feet.

California is the region, shown on the label, which doesn't narrow it down much. I'm guessing that either there were several regions from which the grapes gathered, or one rather undesirable region. A multitude of sins can be obscured with just the word "California" on a wine label.  This Chardonnay has no need to hide its upbringing in shame, though.

It sits at 13.5% abv and sells for around ten bucks. The Chardonnay grapes make up the bulk of the wine, with the rest noted only as "complementary white wine grapes."

It looks yellow-gold in the glass and smells of citrus, mainly. Meyer lemon, grapefruit and tangerine mix in with tropical stuff like guava and pineapple. Mmm. On the palate, we have a fairly delicious wine here. There is maybe a touch too much oak for me, but that's just me. Those austere, naked Chardonnays are good in the summer, but they're like white slacks. November is way past time to give them a rest.  A little extra wood fits in nicely with the holiday season.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Australian Pinot Noir

The McPherson MWC wines were shared with a collection of wine writers in a Twitter-based tasting session.  Winemaker Jo Nash was on hand to give us all the information we craved. She celebrated her fifth year as the head of the cellar at McPherson in 2016.  She’s also married to a winemaker and they have a brood of grape-stomping kids at home.

Andrew McPherson's family started the wine business in 1968 in New South Wales. In 2000, he found some land he liked near Nagambie in central Victoria and that’s where the winery is today.
Victoria is the Australian state in the extreme southeastern part of the land mass, just north of Bass Strait from Tasmania. This location results in a cooler expression than you may be used to with Australian wine.

Their Sinclair Vineyard, along the Goulburn River sits next to the winery. The Croftwood Vineyard is in the huge Murray Darling region.

The MWC line was introduced two years ago and is just now making its breakthrough in the U.S. They call the wines "rustic" and say they are, "soft, savoury, earthy styles with a European influence."

The MWC Pinot Noir 2014 is 100% Pinot Noir and has alcohol at 14% with a retail price of about 20 bucks. This wine is medium-dark and aromatic. It smells a bit of raspberry, but cherry notes and strawberry come through, unusual for a Pinot Noir. It's ripe on the tongue, too. Rich, juicy cherry and a slightly dark, slightly tart mouthfeel deliver a fairly solid experience. While it won't knock a Russian River Valley or Sta. Rita Hills Pinot off the top shelf, it can stand on its own with most other California Pinots.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Trick Or Treat In L.A.

The horror of Halloween disappeared 12 stories up at a friend's apartment in a tower at Park La Brea. Safely ensconced far away from the echoing cries of the neighborhood ghosts, goblins, pirates and princesses, we drank some good wine. We looked out through the descending darkness at the Hollywood hills, sniffing and swirling as we enjoyed no trick, just treat.

As is her wont, Elaine directed me to the chiller to "pull out anything you see that you like." Elaine really decorates for Halloween. I had to make my way past the mad butler, the angry granny, the spiders and the shrunken heads to get there, but I arrived at the small box and just reached in a pulled out a winner.

Linne Calodo was started in 1998 by Matt Trevisan in Paso Robles' Willow Creek District. Sustainably farmed vineyards produce the grapes he uses to make his blends.  Trevisan, I’m told, is quite selective about who gets his wine. I heard an anecdote that he sometimes refuses to supply a restaurant with his wines if they have snubbed him in the past. It sounds like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld… "No wine for YOU!" But whether it’s true or not, I admire his allegiance to his wines.

Linne Calodo Sticks and Stones 2014 is a Paso blend of Rhône grape varieties: 71% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 9% Cinsault and 8% Mourvèdre. Alcohol sits at a lofty 15.8%  

This wine has a really pretty nose that sports a floral cherry sensibility. On the palate, expansive dark fruit are joined by savory touches of leather and cigar. Great tannic structure shows well in this big and brawny wine.

We also opened a bottle from the Santa Ynez Valley of beautiful Santa Barbara County. The Consilience Grenache 2012 is a Sanger family wine. The alcohol number is a typical 14.5% abv.

There is a beautiful cherry nose here with lavender notes. A very floral palate also displays cherry with a leathery thing going on as well as coffee flourishes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Carmel Valley Pinot: Jarman Wines

Jarman Wines are made by the fine folks at Holman Ranch, in California's Carmel Valley. The land has changed hands many times since it was carved out of the "Crown of Spain" as a mission grant. Though many have claimed it through the years, Holman Ranch is now the property of Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased it in 2006. "Recently retired," the website explains, "Thomas and Jarman decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to make estate grown wine and olive oil." So much for the rocking chair.

The label indicates that the wine was hand harvested and hand sorted and that 12 barrels were made. Pinot Noir clone 115 grapes were used, which were organically estate-grown there on the ranch. The juice was aged for ten months in half-new, half-used French oak. Alcohol sits at 14.3% abv and it retails for $75.

The Jarman Pinot Noir 2013 is medium dark in the glass with a rosy brick-colored shade along the edge. Aromas of tart, dark berries and coffee come up immediately. The nose is anything but shy. On the palate, tartness and a coffee note also play large, with a mild acidity and gentle tannic structure. It's a big wine - not as elegant or as subtle as I want a Pinot Noir to be, but in California it seldom is.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Sicilian Red Wine: Nero D'Avola

The Stemmari winery is located in the western side of Sicily, Italy's island just off the mainland. It's the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. There, indigenous Sicilian grape varieties are grown, like the white Grillo and the red Nero d'Avola.

The farming is sustainable at Stemmari's vineyards, in two sites, Sambuca di Sicilia and Acate. EMAS 2 certified, they achieved the European credential for environmental sustainability and management in 2002. You may recognize a couple of their other brands, Mezzacorona and Rotari.

The Stemmari Nero d’Avola 2015 is a full varietal wine at 13% abv. It reportedly likes the clay earth of Sambuca di Sicilia.  Once used for adding color to wine, Nero d'Avola is as dark as you like, and richly flavored. The wine is aged six months in French oak barriques.

The Stemmari Nero d'Avola is darker than a serious bruise and offers a nose that means just as much business. Black fruit, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, leather, cigars, black olive, mocha - I mean, what do you not smell? It's a downright savory palate, too. Forest floor leaps out with plums and licorice in tow. There is a distinct mineral presence and the tannins work, if they really have to. They aren't going to get up just to make the sip harsh. This rustic wine will fit naturally with pecorino cheese, arancini, eggplant stew or even pasta and sardines. Stemmari recommends a true Sicilian dish, or course, like Spaghetti alla Norma, with eggplant, and smoked ricotta cheese.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Pink Italian Bubbles

Italy’s alpine Trento DOC is a sparkling wine region in Trentino. Rotari, along with Ferrari and Cavit, are one of the larger producers in Trentino. They use the traditional method of making wine bubby - Metodo Classico - and conduct a second fermentation in the bottle. There, the wine ages for 24 months. This Brut Rosé is vintage dated 2013. It sels for less than $20, so even the price tag is pretty.

Rotari Rosé is made from 75% Pinot Noir grapes and 25% Chardonnay, grown in the foothills of the Alps. It fizzes like crazy and maintains its bubbles nicely. Pink? It's practically orange. The nose is a beautiful floral spray of roses, lilacs and lavender. A sweet apple aroma comes from beneath that and brings lovely cherry and strawberry smells. The palate brings that wonderful Alpine terroir and acidity, with a touch of toast. It's as dry as a bone, yet with an underlying sweetness that faintly peeks through.