Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wine Glasses

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Wine Lovers

Monday, January 15, 2018

Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo Blend

Morgan Winery is a Salinas outfit with vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County.  The winery's location makes me think of Steinbeck, but the wine makes me think of the Rhône Valley with a splash of Spain.

Dan Morgan Lee was making wine from other people's grapes in the 1980s, and bought the winery's Double L Estate - for double luck, twin daughters - in the 1990s.  The ink wasn't even dry then on the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA papers.  The vineyard is certified organic by  Monterey County Certified Organic, and it's certified sustainable as well.

Winemaker Sam Smith used grapes from from  northern and central Monterey County to create the 2017 G 17 Syrah.  It's one of those only-in-America blends featuring two Rhône grape varieties and one from Spain, all grown in Monterey County, of course.  The mix is 87% Syrah, 9% Grenache and 4% Tempranillo.  G 17 was aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, a quarter of which were new.  The grapes came primarily from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco Appellations of Monterey County.

Alcohol hits 14.4% abv, so it's hefty without being overpowering, and it retails for $22.  Just under 1200 cases were made,

The first whiffs of this medium dark ruby wine are pretty boozy, but they're loaded with black berries, tobacco, smoke, leather and spices.  The palate picks up black cherry and a ladle of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.  The wine drinks surprisingly gently, with enough tannic structure for roast or pork.  A medium finish is noteworthy and is missed when it fades away.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Big Wine, Food Fest For Greater Palm Springs

Denizens of the desert are getting a new reason to celebrate in a culinary way.  The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival will debut on February 17, 2018 at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater and Community Park.  Attendees will be able to revel in more than 200 handcrafted wines and cuisine from 15 of the area's top chefs.  The event is put on by David Fraschetti, a full time resident of Rancho Mirage and the creator of the VinDiego Wine and Food Festival held in San Diego each April.

Wineries from California and Washington State will be showing their stuff, with Justin and Navarro among those planning to pour.  The wines are enough to get me there, but they'll also have some of the top chefs in the desert offering culinary experiences from restaurants like Acqua California Bistro, Blue Ember and Haus of Poke.  16 of Rancho MIrage's best Chefs will compete for the title of "Chef of the Fest." Guests can also enjoy a steady stream of live music throughout the event. 

Tickets to the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival start at $70 and are available on the fest's website.  The all-inclusive General Admission and VIP ticket includes a crystal souvenir wine glass and unlimited tastings of the wines, a variety of gourmet appetizers, cheeses, artisan breads and olive oils.  Early Entry VIP tickets allow attendees to arrive one hour earlier than General Admission.  You must be 21 to attend.

The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival will also support local charities with 100% of Silent Auction proceeds going to the Desert AIDS Project.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel: Harney Lane

Old vines are appreciated the most in Zinfandel vineyards.  California's heritage grape has been growing nonstop in Lodi for more than a century, and the older the vines are, the more character the wine has. It's what makes Zinfandel a popular favorite in the Golden State.  Besides, how you gonna keep 'em drinking Merlot once they've had a taste of old vine Zin?

A recent virtual tasting of old vine Zinfandel wines from the Lodi region featured three people who are delightfully nerdy (watch) and incredibly passionate about their Zinfandel.  The online session was held on National Zinfandel Day and led by Stuart Spencer, of St. Amant Winery and the Lodi Winegrape Association.  He was joined by Kyle Lerner of Harney Lane Winery and Kevin Phillips of Michael-David Vineyards.  They focus on Zinfandel with a love not just of the grapes and the wine, but of the character and history of the vineyards and those who planted them so long ago.

Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel 2014

Lerner says Zinfandel is "all about the fruit," so it’s okay that his wines sell out before they're quite ready. Age them if you want to, or enjoy them now.  The grapes for the Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 came from the Lizzie James Vineyard, a plot of grapevines that was planted in 1904.  The wine is a dry-as-a-bone award-winner that spent 21 months aging in French oak barrels and hits a heady 15.7% abv.  It retails for $36.

This Zinfandel, from vines planted in 1904, is forest-dark with brambly, black fruit and tons of supporting characters.  The nose emits all that you may dream would accompany a wine made from 114-year-old vines.  There is spice, there is tobacco, there is tar; cinnamon, mocha.  Leather, dirt and oil also appear.  The palate is similarly dark, but surprisingly youthful and perfumed.  The acidity rips, the tannins roar and the wine does its duty on marbled beef.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

J Lohr Sauvignon Blanc

Jerry Lohr led the way in Monterey's Arroyo Seco District and was an early advocate of Paso Robles' suitability for the growing of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  He's been a mainstay in California's Central Coast wine community for decades and his wines seem to get better with every release, still garnering awards and high ratings and still selling like crazy.

I generally find California Sauvignon Blanc to be a little too ripe for my taste, a little too pretty.  This one straddles the fence between a California close-up and an old-world postcard.  There's plenty of tartness, balanced out with acidity and flavor.

This Sauvignon Blanc wine was named for the original concrete water channel that connected two vineyards.  The J Lohr Flume Crossing comes from a cooler 2016 vintage which allowed longer ripening for the grapes yet maintained the acidity needed in this style of wine.  The white wine was aged for five months, 45% in stainless steel, 55% in barrels.  Alcohol hits 13.8% abv and the retail price is $14.

Flume Crossing is an extremely pale wine with strong mineral and citrus notes on the nose, laced with a gentle herbal edge.  The palate shows lemon, peel and all, with a handful of wet rocks minerality.  The acidity is zippy and refreshing and begs for some crustaceans, immediately.

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Beautiful Napa Cab From Historic Vineyard

The Inglenook vineyards began in 1879, when a Finnish sea captain decided to make a European-class wine estate in landlocked Rutherford, California.  His nephew inherited the place after it had already been noticed by the rest of the wine world.  Film director and writer Francis Ford Coppola, along with his wife Eleanor, bought Inglenook and moved there in the 1970s.  According to the Inglenook website, they "have spent forty years reuniting the original vineyards, returning winemaking operations to the chateau, and restoring Inglenook's illustrious heritage."  Coppola works with wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt and Managing Director and Winemaker Philippe Bascaules to create wines, now under the original trademark of Inglenook.  The six-time Oscar winner has been making wine for nearly as long as he’s been making movies.  He’s been quite successful at both, and reportedly used the profits from "The Godfather" to buy the Inglenook property.

This wine is from the Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley, made from 85% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Merlot, grown in the Cohn, Red Barn and Chateau vineyards.  It was aged in 90% French oak barrels, more than a third of which was new oak.  Alcohol hits the typical 14.5% abv mark, while the wine retails for a hundred bucks.

The winemaker describes the 2012 vintage like this: " of the best vintages in recent history because of near perfect climate conditions. The entire season was marked by moderate temperatures, which lasted through September and October. Having no heat spikes or rain to contend with in the fall allowed the fruit to hang on the vines longer, giving the grapes better concentration and ripeness as well as more textural dimension and flavor complexity."

This dark wine bursts with rich cassis, vanilla and tobacco notes on the nose.  Black fruit flavors are met with minerals and spice and the tannins are a step away from youthful, vibrant yet showing a soft side.  The Cabernet Franc shows up wonderfully spicy with a green note in tow, while the Merlot even sneaks in a whiff of smoke.  It's a pleasure from sniff to swallow, and the lengthy finish reminds one to go back for another sip. 

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mom-In-Law Comes Through With Choice Stout

Old jokes about mothers-in-law don't apply here.  My wife's mom loads me up with booze at Christmas, for which I am grateful.  There were two nice bottles, one of gin and another of vodka, and she knew I liked craft beer so she threw one of those into the stocking.  It was an imperial stout that she probably picked up at random.

Or not. A true Las Vegas resident, Verna loves the trappings of Sin City, and a beer called Sin Tax surely beckoned her.

Handcrafted in Vista, California, north of San Diego and east of Oceanside, this beer comes from a great area for the craft style.  When I lived in San Diego decades ago, there weren't so many options, but what was there was choice.  Today, you can hardly miss with a San Diego County bottle or can.

Mother Earth Brew Company makes the Sin Tax Imperial Stout with "premium British crystal and roasted malts melded with a Maris Otter base and American hops."  It's dry at 8.1% abv and they call their flavor-laden creation a "guilty pleasure."  "Don’t let it fool you," they say.  "This is an imperial stout first and foremost.  The peanut butter is simply featured to augment what is already there…a fantastic example of a legendary beer style."

This crazy brew has a nose that knocked me down.  Shades of blackstrap molasses hit first, then brown sugar, then caramel, then coffee.  Talk about aromatic and expressive, this is it.  The medium mouthfeel isn't creamy, but almost - it's smooth and gentle.  Flavors of espresso, Mexican chocolate and cocoa beans fill the flavor profile with dessert ideas.  I had one large bottle, and it satisfied both my sweet tooth and my taste for beer.

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

We at Now And Zin Wine are taking a couple of days off to open all those gifts, snack on that stocking full of cashew nuts and dine on that roast beast before the Grinch gets it.

May you and your loved ones enjoy the happiest of holidays, filled with joy, wonder and love.

May you enjoy wine to the fullest in the coming year, finding new wines to love and loving your old favorites even more.

And while we are at it, a very smart man once offered a seasonal comment that bears repeating more now than ever: "A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear."

Merry Christmas, and cheers!  

From Now And Zin Wine.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sweet Bordeaux For The Holidays

Sauternes is a Bordeaux appellation exclusive to sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes.  Sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert, especially over the holidays.  Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses.  Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of Sauternes wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.  Hosted by Snooth's co-founder and chief taster Mark Angelillo and wine educator Fred Swan, the event drew raves from those who participated in it.

Chateau Lapinesse Bordeaux Sauternes 2014

Chateau Lapinesse is in the Graves section of Bordeaux, but they have a Sauternes property from which they produce this incredible wine.  It's a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc that is sweet, but not too much so.  The alcohol is restrained at 13% abv, and it retails for 40 bucks.

The online tasters couldn't get enough of the Chateau Lapinesse 2014 Sauternes.  One called it "a stunner with exotic fruit and floral notes," while another raved, "HOLY MOLY this Lapinesse is awesome!"  They were actually being somewhat reserved.

This sweet Bordeaux wine carries gentle aromas of apricots and flowers, with a trace of honey in the mix.  The viscous mouthfeel outweighs a perky acidity and flavors of apricot and orange peel are a delightful pair.  The finish is lengthy, but not nearly as lengthy as I wished it to be.  So, have another sip and refresh that feeling.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cab-Heavy Sonoma Blend Means Business

Four Ferrari-Carano wines were recently featured in an online virtual tasting session, of which I was invited to be a part.  The presentation was hosted by Chelsea Kurnick of McCue Communications and associate FC winemaker Rebecka Deike.  She handles the winery's red wine program.  She says she started out wanting to be an optometrist, but she saw her focus change to a wine career.

The point of the tasting was to highlight what great wines the selections are for the holiday table.  Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay both served very well at Thanksgiving, and their Trésor red blend is well-suited for December festivities.

2013 Tresor, Sonoma County

The 2013 Trésor, features the five Bordeaux grapes in a Cab-heavy setting with big flavor and a little more new oak used in aging. Lush, the wine certainly lives up to its name as a "treasure."

The blend of five noble grapes from Bordeaux has 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.  The wines are vinified separately in oak barrels, then aged there for 21 months before blending.  Forty-two percent of the oak was new.  Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv and Trésor retails for $55.  If you're into label art, Marco Sassone's work on Trésor is beautiful.

Tresor is a deep ruby wine that lets the Cab come through.  The nose is laden with black and blue berries, cassis, oak spice and some pencil shavings.  The palate is beautifully savory, with a cloak of olives, cigars and coffee grounds comforting the dark fruit.  A little spice and a little smoke from those supporting grapes plays very well.  The finish is lengthy, acidity is perfect and the tannins are medium-strong.  Online tasers liked the idea of pairing Trésor with ribs, lamb, duck or strong cheeses, and so do I.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Greek Rosé Via Sonoma County

Georgós Zanganas founded Nu Greek Wines of Sonoma after moving to the U.S. and having trouble finding the Greek wines he left behind. He noticed that California wines gave him a headache, while his Greek faves never did.  His solution is in this bottle, and I'm told it sells at Northern California Whole Foods Markets and on restaurant wine lists in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  For the Georgós "Farmer" Ios Aphrodite's Kiss Rosé, Zanangas imports the bulk wine from Greece to Sonoma County, where it is bottled at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood under the direction of winemaker Robert Rex.

Zanangas says in a publicity Q&A that it's a pretty nifty trick to make wine this way.  "It comes by boat in 1,000-liter and 24,000-liter bladders from Greece," he says.  "Once the wine is harvested in Greece, we get it into a stable form so it does not get spoiled during its 45-day voyage from the ancient port of Piraeus in Athens to Oakland and then by truck to the winery in Sonoma.

"We blend and age our red wines in Sonoma," he continues.  "Once they are bottled, we wait four to six months before we release them to market.  We bottle the white and rosé right away, which is 100% wine from our Greek vineyards."

Of course, this wine is straight up Agiorgitiko, or Saint George, grapes.  It's reportedly one of the most widely planted grapes in Greece, but one top wine expert says most of the vines in the country are virused. 

The publicity team claims the Georgós wines are healthier because of the lower alcohol, sulfites and histamines.  Those qualities are said to eliminate the headache often caused by wine.  They also promise softer tannins and high antioxidants.

The wine is is billed as a sort of halfway point between Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  If that sounds a little odd to you, you're not alone.  I've often wanted one or the other, but never have I wished to be somewhere in between.  It's unoaked and retails for $23.

The color of this rosé is almost like bourbon, a nearly burnt orange that tends more to brown than pink.  It doesn't look much like rosé, and it doesn't smell that way, either.  First whiff, I get an earthiness that borders on foxiness, as in wines made from North American grape varieties.  Strawberry with an intense mineral overlay then takes over.  The palate offers plenty of cheerful fruit and earthy minerals but little acidity, which is reportedly an issue with Agiorgitiko grown in lower altitudes.  Ios is not what most American consumers would expect in a rosé, but more adventurous souls won't be disappointed. 

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Argentine Wine: Norton Malbec Reserva

The Malbec grape grows all over the world, but nowhere as in Argentina.  They grow about three-quarters of the world's Malbec grapes.  If Cab is king in the U.S., Malbec is monarch in Argentina.  Poorer wine producers in the country sometimes can't afford enough French oak barrels to go around for all their wines.  If a wine has to go naked, or unoaked, to stretch the peso, it'll be Cabernet Sauvignon that does without, not Malbec. 

Often relegated to the status of "blending grape" in France, Malbec is revered in Argentina and used most often in varietal wines.  The Argentines sometimes mix it with Bonarda, a South American treasure that has yet to break out globally, but watch out when it does.  It's a beautiful grape, too.  Malbec grows better and maintains its acidity in higher elevations, so you find it often in mountainous regions.

Bodega Norton sits in the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza's Lujan de Cuyo region, a place known for its Malbec plantings.  Their five vineyards in the First Zone of quality are planted with vines that average 30 years old, but some are as old as 80 years.  They were reportedly the first winery in the area some 120 years ago.  Norton is possibly the most familiar Argentine label for American wine lovers. 

The 100% Malbec wine is aged 12 months in French oak, then more in the bottle.  Alcohol is restrained, at 13.5% abv.  It retails for $19.  The Reserva Malbec consistently gets high ratings from those who attach numbers to wines and made a leading "Best Of" list last year.  It's one of Norton's new line of signature wines, and they also are unveiling a Privada Family Blend line which reportedly were once reserved for their private cellars.

This Norton is pitch-dark with a red rim and carries dark aromas on its nose.  Blackberry, blueberry and currant are predominant, with smoke and a rack full of holiday spices completing the scene.  On the palate, rich bold fruit comes forward on a wave of pepper and minerals.  The acidity is bright and the tannins are perfect, enough for a meat feast but not too much for sipping.  It’s a delightfully smooth quaff.  The savory aspect lingers medium-long on the finish.  It drinks like a youthful wine that is beginning to take on the character of its few years.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Wine: Sweet Wine From Bordeaux

France's Bordeaux region is more than just Cabernet and Merlot.  It is also features sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes.  Sweet white wine is not everyone's cup, but sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert.  Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses.  Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.  Have it with the pumpkin pie, sure, but try it with the ham and turkey, too.  You'll be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of such wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.

Chateau du Cros Loupiac  2014

The Chateau du Cros has been in the Guyenne province since the 12th century in the high ground of Loupiac, overlooking the Garonne Valley.  The oldest vines on the property date back to 1907, which their website says is a rarity.  With vineyards also in Cadillac and Graves, the grapes for this wine were grown in Loupiac.

Loupiac is a region in Bordeaux that is known for its sweet wines.  It's close to Sauternes and right between Cadillac and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, if you’ve been there.  If you’ve never had a sweet wine graced with the mineral effect of limestone soil, you’re in for a treat.

Those grapes are 90% Semillon, with 5% each Sauvignon and Muscadelle rounding out the blend.  The roots reportedly reach down through nearly two feet of limestone clay to get water.  The Loupiac terroir of this vineyard is prized by the Michel Boyer family who have run the chateau in modern times, and it is revered in the region.  Aging took place in oak barrels for a full 12 months, something I understand is a fairly recent adaptation.  The sweet wine hits just 13% abv in alcohol content and retails for about $15.

This sweet Bordeaux pushes all the right buttons for a wine style that wants to be known as "more than dessert."  The rich golden hue beckons, while the nose of candied fruit is draped in a cloak of minerality.  The palate certainly wants to be more than an after-dinner afterthought.  The viscous mouthfeel, bracing acidity and mineral-driven flavor profile form a trio unlikely to be caught traveling together in most sweet wines.  They have been doing it in Bordeaux for centuries.