Friday, July 13, 2018

The Whip - Livermore Valley White Wine Blend

Winemaker Robbie Meyer took to Snooth recently to discuss the latest vintages from Murrieta's Well, in California's Livermore Valley.

The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate vineyards were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres. 

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

He sat in with a group of invited wine writers and helped us sip through the Murrieta's Well Sauvignon Blanc, dry rosé, white and red blends and a pre-release of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Murrieta's Well The Whip 2016

The Whip starts out as a Bordeaux Blanc, but bends toward the Rhône about halfway through.  The grapes are a fairly even split of five estate-grown varieties - 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat and 10% Viognier.  The wine's alcohol level rests comfortably at 13.5% abv, 297 barrels produced and the retail price is $26.

A portion of the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented in oak to give them extra roundness. Then, 14 months aging in barrels added even more softness.

The wine looks pale gold in the glass, with green shadings showing.  Its nose is a mixture of orange blossoms, apricots, light grass and earth notes.  The palate offers lovely stone fruit and citrus.  The flavors are pleasing and the acidity is easily racy enough for a salad or egg dish.  In fact, I think having it with Sunday brunch would be perfect.  The grapes here are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat and Viognier, so it's a real vineyard party in a glass.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Pink Wine

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Rioja Rosé

Rosé season is in full swing, if there really is such a thing.  I bellow so much about how pink wines are great any time of year that I'm starting to feel like the rosado hombre gruñón.  Rosé wines are as good in December as they are in July.  But since it's July, let’s have a glass on the patio.

The 2017 Bodegas Beronia rosé is a Rioja blend of 40% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and 30% Viura grapes.  It hits only 13% abv on the alcoholometer and it sells for under $15 in most places.  Bodega Gonzalez Byass exports this and many other fine Spanish wines all over the world.

The grapes were given just a few hours of skin contact for color, then fermented, and bottled in January.  The 2017 vintage had frost in the winter, hot temperatures in the summer and August rain saved the day.

This beautiful Rioja rosé strikes a pose of vibrant salmon in the glass.  It has a beautiful nose, too, rich with cherries, strawberries, greens and flowers.  On the palate, light fruit leads, with a backbeat of savory herbs coming through.  Acidity is zippy, but not overpowering, while the finish is medium and very pleasant.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Get Offa My Grapevines!

It's the 30th anniversary vintage of Bonny Doon Vineyard's flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," knocks me out every year with the "flying cigar" release.

The label, by Chuck House, depicts a strange airship sending down a beam of red onto a pastoral vineyard.  Legend has it, in 1954 a UFO scare terrified the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so much that a decree was issued, banning any "flying cigar" from landing and destroying the vines.  To my knowledge, it's still on the books today because, why not?  It's a great story and one of the better back stories for any wine ever.

Le Cigare Volant is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-ian blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault.  The grapes came from six noted California vineyards, Rancho Solo, Bien Nacido, Ventana, Del Barba, Bechtold, Alta Loma.  Alcohol stands at the usual 14.5% abv, 2,400 cases were produced and the wine sells for $45.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm remembers the 2013 vintage as "cool and elegant" and says the 2013 release is "slightly less muscular than '12."  Grahm expects the wine to age well for 10-15 years.

The Syrah in the mix came mostly from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, possibly my favorite vineyard, and one which Grahm says has the "closest analogue we have found to a Northern Rhone Syrah."

I love smelling the wines of Randall Grahm.  He makes savory walk and talk and jump through hoops.  This wine, the 30th anniversary vintage of Cigare, brings it home like it always does.  It shows a medium dark color in the glass and on the nose.  There is cassis and licorice, but the savory notes carry the load.  Black olive is the first smell I get, followed by a bit of tar and a whiff of smoke.  Cigar box, leather and bacon fat finish out a complex aroma package.  The palate is delicious as always.  Grahm says the '13 is "less muscular," but I think there's more to it.  This Cigare drinks with the weight and elegance of a Pinot Noir.  Black fruit is forward, while more savory aspects of sage and mint come in to join it.  The tannins are gentle, the acidity fresh and the finish long. 

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Wente: A Single-Vineyard Chardonnay

If you love Chardonnay, you probably love Wente Vineyards, and you may not know it.  The grape clone which is used to make 80% of American Chardonnay is here thanks to Wente.  In 1912, German immigrant C.H. Wente planted a cutting from from the vine nursery at France's University of Montpellier.  That Chardonnay plant became the Wente clone of the grape.

To get a bit geeky, In viticulture a "clone" refers to vines descended from a single plant by taking a cutting or bud.  Each vine grown on a clone is said to be genetically identical to the original vine.

Wente is the country's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, now run by the family's 4th and 5th-generations.  A virtual tasting event was hosted recently by the family historian, Phil Wente, and winegrower Niki Wente, who walked us through five different styles of their line that defined California Chardonnay. 

The Wente family is five generations deep into the wine business and are sometimes referred to as "California's First Family of Chardonnay."  They say they were the first in California to make a varietally labeled Chardonnay, in 1936.

Wente Single Vineyard Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2016

Six different clones of Chardonnay grapes were used in making this wine, all from Wente's Riva Ranch Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.  There's a 2% splash of Gewürztraminer in the mix.  The Wentes say Arroyo Seco is the best place in California to grow Chardonnay due to its "cool growing season with the deep gravelly soil" which both help ripen the grapes and balance the sugar and acidity.

About 90% of the wine was barrel fermented in French and American oak, 60% new.  The remaining 10% was fermented in stainless steel.  The wine underwent full malolactic fermentation and was barrel-aged on the lees for eight months.  Alcohol 14.5% abv and it sells for $22.

This Chardonnay is oaked to what I hope is the maximum point.  On the nose, a strong vanilla scent meets a Carmen Miranda hat of tropical fruit, like pineapple, mango and banana.  The acidity is zippy yet the mouthfeel is creamy, thanks to the malo.  Citrus lasts the longest on the finish, but it has to fight it out with the oak to do so.  If you're in the mood for a good ol' fashioned California Chardonnay, this is your bottle.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Paso Robles GSM Hits Homer

The Paso Robles wine region sprawls over a good part of California's Central Coast.  It sprawls so, that it was recently divided into eleven sub-AVAs.  That's a testament to the variety of terroirs in the region's 600,000-plus acres, 40,000 of which are under vine. 

Hall Ranch sports five sustainably farmed estate vineyards - 300 acres in all.  They grow 21 different grape varietals there in the neighborhood of the Estrella River.  Head winemaker Don Brady was Texas-trained, back before Texas had a wine industry of which to speak.  He's been with Hall for nearly two decades.

Robert Hall's 2016 Cavern Select GSM is a Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Morvèdre in more or less equal parts.  About half of the grapes came from Paso's Adelaida sub-app, about a third from the El Pomar region and the rest were from the Creston and Santa Margarita Ranch appellations.  Oak was used in the fermentation and aging process, Fresn and European (Hungarian?) and much of it was new wood.  Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv and it’s available only through the wine club and tasting room at $45.

This inky wine smells the way you want a GSM to smell, full of blackberry, cigar box and tar.  It has aromas that won't quit until you notice them.  The flavors are just as insistent, and just as dark.  Oak is pronounced, but well integrated, while the tannins can handle a steak without getting in the way. 

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Temecula Wine Pairing Dinner

Temecula is trying to work its way up the California Wine Regions ladder, and it's a tough climb.  It's got to be hard enough to fight for the attention of Southern California with Santa Barbara County, just up the coast a bit.  But trying to wedge yourself into a conversation containing Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc. is a suicide mission.  Add in the fact that Temecula is still just getting on its feet as a serious wine region, which many will argue is still a work in progress.  The Temecula wine community would love to see Angelenos spending their day trip money there, instead of driving north.

The Temecula Winegrowers Association recently held a small dinner in Los Angeles, the purpose of which was to woo people who write about wine to write about Temecula.  I was an easy target, because I do like Temecula and have found a number of wines from that region to be quite good.  That said, there has been a lot of chaff with the wheat as the area grows up.  The dinner was held in a pop-up space on a side street in Venice. 

One aspect of the Temecula Valley that was hit upon time and again was its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  Most people think of the area as a hot, landlocked inland hell, but it's not.  Several of the representatives present pointed out that Temecula is actually less than 20 miles from the California coastline and receives the benefits of the ocean breezes.

Winemakers were standing together as I walked in before the dinner, telling each other "PBR per acre" inside jokes, spinoffs of "it takes a lot of beer to make wine."  In the aperitif time, I got to speak with Leoness Cellars owner Mike Rennie, a self-described "crazy ol' farmer" who happens to own about a quarter of the Temecula Valley's 2500 acres of grapes.  Rennie talked about how he speaks with former NFL quarterback - now Orange County winegrower - Vince Ferragamo weekly about grapes.  Rennie grows 19 different grape varieties in his Temecula soil.

Patrick Comiskey, who writes about wine for the "Los Angeles Times" seemed rather unimpressed with the pre-dinner beverage until I told him it was a Temecula Blanc de Blanc.  He admitted that it was "very good," and he seemed to be genuinely surprised by the realization.  The Carter Estate Blanc de Blanc is all Chardonnay - that's what Blanc de Blanc means - very dry, toasty, bright and balanced.  It will pair with just about anything, and it went great with the African spice popcorn and sfingi - Italian doughnut puffs - that were passed around before dinner.

Former NFL star and actor Fred Dryer was there as the guest of CRN's Michael Horn.  Dryer does a sports show for Horn's website and seemed rather unengaged - even when asked about his TV series "Hunter."  Dryer lit up, though, when I asked about his status as the "Sultan of Safeties."  He’s the only NFL player ever to score two safeties in the same game.  He really didn't seem very impressed with the food, which I thought was outstanding.  He also begged off on sampling much of the wine, explaining that he was driving.  Locavore chef Leah Di Bernardo of E.A.T. and her crew provided a menu that was inventive and delicious. 

As for the wine, Renzoni Vineyards winemaker Olivia Beale spoke eloquently about her creations, Tim Kramer explained the Leoness offerings and Marcello and Damien Doffo were there as a father and son wine crew.

Wines and Food

Leoness Mélange d'Ete 2017 - This lovely white is an off-dry mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Muscat.  Its sweet, floral nose is great, while the palate is flat but fruity, peach mostly.  It was paired with grilled peach toast to nice effect.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards Vermentino 2017 - Made from grapes grown by a grower "down the road."  There's a nice tropical nose with fabulous salinity, and similar notes for the palate.  The great acidity suggests a great food wine.  It should have been a great pair with the San Diego halibut, but oddly, it was not.  It wasn't a bad match, though.

Renzoni Lyric Rose 2015 - This rosé of Syrah displays a nose that’s herbal and full of strawberries.  The palate is dry and fruity, perfect .  Chef Leah's heritage pork paired extremely well with it, featuring strawberry on pork, served with the bone on plate.  A knockout dish.

Doffo Winery Viognier 2017 - This was served with the cheese course, in the middle of the meal.  Its flowers, peaches and herbs show wonderfully on the nose.  The palate has a great acidity, with stone fruit flavors in a straightforward presentation.  The wine was very nice with the triple cream brie.

Leoness Cellar Select Meritage 2014 - 50% Merlot and 35% Cab Franc with splashes of other noble grapes filling out the blend.  This beefy wine was paired with beets and berries, and fared surprisingly well.

Doffo Mofodoffo Gran Tinto 2015 - This wine features mostly Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah.  I would have bet it was a Tempranillo.  Smoke and red fruit decorate the nose, big tannins are there to work on meats, and a savory streak delights.  It paired with braised lentils well, too.

Renzoni Sonata 2014 - A Tuscan blend, half Cab and half Sangiovese, the clone used to make Brunello.  All oak and tannins, this might have been better as simply a Sangiovese.  24 months in new French oak definitely left its mark.  It shines with food and was served with grilled octopus, pasta shells and a tomato sauce.  It was an interesting pairing, although not ideal for this wine.

Doffo Mistura 2015 - Mistura is Portuguese for "mixture."  This Cabernet/Syrah blend was the first Doffo wine produced on the property.  There are baskets of red and blue fruit on the nose, and a soft and fruity feel on the palate . The wine paired wonderfully with the King Trumpet mushrooms on grain.  In my opinion, the Mistura was the best wine of the evening, and it was the best pairing offered.

After a break for an iced hazelnut and vanilla Spokane coffee, the meal wrapped up with the Leoness Signature Selection Grande Mélange 2014.  Their play on Châteauneuf-du-Pape has Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  There was good structure, nice fruit and a savory note that showed a bit tart.  It paired well with the vanilla bean gelato that ended the meal.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

"O" Is For Oregon, Orange

There's change underway at Troon Vineyards in southern Oregon's Applegate Valley.  Some folks say "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," but the folks at Troon said, "let’s make it better."   Winegrower Craig Camp tells me it’s not just a new label for the 2017 Riesling Orange Wine Whole Grape Ferment.  They have worked for several years to convert the estate to biodynamic farming and winemaking.  Camp says, "As we bring our soils and vines back to health each new release from Troon Vineyard will gain in complexity and pleasure."

The orange Riesling is an unusual wine, to be expected from a winery which has experimented freely with grape selection and even produced a co-fermented "blend."  The designation of "whole grape fermented" was used because Camp says "skin fermented" sounded "kind of yucky."  As always, the grapes from the estate's Kubli Bench were crushed and fermented with native yeasts.  The "whole grape" means the skins stay in there, which is what gives the wine its interesting orange tint and incredible herbal notes.  Alcohol sits easy at 11.5% abv and the wine retails for $20.

The 2017 Troon Vineyard Riesling, Orange Wine, Whole Grape Ferment, Applegate Valley, Kubli Bench Estate Bottled - now that's a mouthful - offers a light touch of tannins, a vibrant acidity and crisp dryness that makes it an extremely refreshing sip.  It's one of the more complex white wines I've tasted.  There's a strong herbal whiff on the nose, backed up by stone fruit.  The tartness hits the perfect middle ground and the wine is as dry as the proverbial bone, so put this wine on the dinner table with full confidence.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lunching Amongst The Wine Bottles

It was a great day for a great meal out.  Denise and I had a midday repast at Wally's in Beverly Hills, the full-blown restaurant version of the longtime Westwood wine store.  She had lunched there the day before and knew I would love it.  Not just an eatery, there's a store full of wine shelved around the diners.  I can't think of a better way to have food than when surrounded by thousands of bottles of wine.  We sat near the Bordeaux stash, but it was a culinary trip to Spain for me.

The grilled chicken salad de La Mancha is a real delight, making the term "chicken salad" seem outdated, simplistic and downright foolish.  It contains escarole, chorizo, raisins, piquillo, almonds, olives, shaved manchego, quince and toasted garlic dressing.  I know it reads good, but you should taste it.  You should especially taste it with a wonderful Spanish wine.  The 2016 Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli, Hondarribi Zuria from Getaria.  The Basque Country wine has been around since the 16th century.  "Txakoli" is the style and is usually somewhere sparkling and quite dry.  The grape is the "Hondarribi Zuria" and the location of origin is the town of Getaria.  That's a tiny spit of land that barely juts into the enormous Bay of Biscay, just west of Spain's border with France.  The wine is produced and marketed by the Txueka Etxaniz family.

The wine is extra dry, pale and smelling of wet rocks and cantaloupe.  It's not particularly fizzy, but the winery makes another style that is.  The heaven that happens when the wine hits the quince in the salad is simply indescribable.  I often repeat dishes on return visits to restaurants, but I can't imagine getting the same wine when there are so many others from which to choose.  Perhaps my next visit will be to Italy, or France, by way of Wally's.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Japanese Beer For Sushi That Tastes Great On Its Own

My much better half and I were having sushi the other night.  I love sushi, but the beverage options always leave me cold.  I like wine, but the choices never seem good at a sushi place, at least not the ones we frequent.  Beer always seems to be Asahi or Sapporo, neither a fave.  Our sushi place offers an extensive selection of sake, but I've never delved into that ocean enough to know where I'm swimming.

This night, I noticed a Japanese craft beer, Kawaba Sunrise Ale.  Billed as an unfiltered amber ale, I figured it had to be pretty close to my wheelhouse.  It was good, beery and ale-y enough to make both of us happy.  But that's a fairly weak description, especially for a guy who can go on and on about wine.  Why does beer stump me?

I clicked my way over to Beer Advocate, as I do when I want to know what real beer geeks think about a brew.  The Kabawa had - in one user's opinion - "some caramel malt sweetness and toasted grain… a lightly sweet, even creamy coating of caramel… an increased brown bread quality… some light hops spice… a dry tea leaf feel."  And he didn't think it was all that complex.

Maybe I'll just stick with "gimme an IPA."  That's what I really want when I want a beer.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Locations Wine: Washington State

Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame, in which he makes wines from all over the world.  These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, and WA is for Washington.

Locations wines are non-vintage, have no appellation designated and are always blends, with Phinney's goal being to make the best wine from that country or state.  Each wine has a release number which represents the vintage for the majority of the wine in that specific bottling.  In this case, WA5 is made from Washington grapes harvested in 2015.

The label describes a sixth generation vintner and friend of  Phinney once telling him, "if I were twenty-one, single, and could make wine anywhere in the world, it would be Washington."  At which point Phinney must have whipped out his notepad and made a note to "check out WA."

WA5 is a red blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah grapes.  Alcohol gets up there, 15% abv, and it sells for around $20.  It's a bargain, and would be at an even higher price.  The wine was aged ten months in French and American oak barrels and bottled in Napa..

This dark wine offers a gorgeous nose of plums, blueberries and leather.  It's a rich nose, one that belies the $20 price sticker.  On the palate, there are savory tones that play against the fruit, smoky and earthy and laden with minerals.  It drinks like a good Rhône blend.  A really good one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wine At L.A.'s Original Farmers Market

The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles is a great place to meet friends for a bite or a sip, when the weather's nice.  And when is it not, in Southern California?  It's an institution at 3rd and Fairfax, a sprawling, casual, outdoor shopping area that was built in 1934.  Although it has gone through some upgrades through the years, it's still here.  You can stroll up to any one of the many food booths for a slice of cuisine from every part of the world.  The one my wife and I keep returning to is Monsieur Marcel Bistro. 

Elaine was with us, while Brian and his entire family, in-laws included, were at a nearby table.  It was festive enough even before the drinks came, and it got better afterward.  Brian insisted on buying us an ale from the nearby bar - Marcel carries only wine - and it was a hit, although no one thought to make a note of it.  I did keep track of the wines I tried, although I failed to note which Rhône blend Elaine chose to go with her tuna tartar.

The 2016 La Croix Gratiot Picpoul de Pinet is from France's Languedoc-Roussillon region in the southwest.  The white wine is made from 100% Piquepoul Blanc grapes, and is loaded with minerality and freshness.  It's reportedly known as the "Chablis of the South."  There aren't many places in Los Angeles where one can find a Picpoul on the list. 

The wine's importer says that the name of the appellation - Picpoul de Pinet - is spelled differently from the grape - Piquepoul - because French wine law does not allow a grape name to be included in the appellation.

Next up was the 2017 Terra Nostra Rosé from Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean that is more closely identified with Italy.  There's little info I could find on the winery, but Marcel's list shows that the pinkie is made fully from Sciacarello (Sciacarellu in Corsica) grapes.  The grape is usually blended, not varietal, but they say it makes a smooth and spicy rosé.  They’re right.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

A Wine Mistake

It's terrible when wine goes wrong.  A reliable Argentine producer, under the wing of a rock-solid California company... it should have been a taste treat.

The 2015 Colomé Malbec was made from grapes of four estate vineyards in the upper Calchaqui Valley in Salta, Argentina.  Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv.  The bottling is part of the Hess Family of wines and was highly regarded by Wine Spectator, which ranked it as one of their top 100 wines of 2017.

However, every now and then in the wine biz, a bad bottle gets through.  That's the case here. 
Inky black, this Malbec has an unfortunate nose that reminds me of fingernail polish remover.  It's probably volatile acidity, a naturally occurring flaw in the winemaking process.  It's not a killer - in fact, some people find that VA is intriguing, interesting. 

I've had wines afflicted with VA before, to a lesser degree, and found them offbeat.  This one is too far gone for me to appreciate.  The chemical odor is overwhelming and the displeasure seeps into the palate.  It's always a disappointment to encounter a wine for which I just can't muster up any excitement.  Several of my Delectable contacts have assured me that it's an anomaly, and I am certain of that.

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