Friday, February 23, 2018

The Smith Story Love Story

A virtual wine tasting event was staged recently for Smith Story Wine Cellars.  "Virtual tasting" is when a bunch of wine writers/tasters get together on social media and spend an hour or so letting technology link us with great people and wines.  There are far worse ways to spend time.

This BrandLive event was put on by Charles Communications and can be viewed in retrospect here.

Smith Story Wine Cellars is based the Russian River Valley AVA, with a second tasting room in the Anderson Valley AVA.  Smith Story is credited as being America's first successfully crowd-funded winery.  Eric Story and Alison Smith Story call their 2013 creation "the little winery that did."  They call their relationship "a friendship that caught on fire."

Eric is from the San Francisco Bay area and Ali is a Lone Star Stater like me.  They met while both worked for K&L Wine Merchants in Northern California.  Pursuing their dream to make their own wine (on a budget), the newlyweds launched a Kickstarter campaign.  Their new alliance with Springboard Wine Company as their broker will take them from a"wine club" winery to a "wine list" choice, reaching their goal of getting the wines to diners in restaurants

The Smith Story wines are handcrafted from twelve family owned vineyards throughout Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Knights Valley, Pinot Mountain, Anderson Valley and the Rheingau Region of Germany.  Winemakers include Eric Story and Consulting Winemaker Katy Wilson, although Ross Cobb was also a Consulting Winemaker from 2014-2016.

Smith Story Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2016   $25
This almost clear wine smells as fresh as spring itself.  The typical grassy notes associated with the variety are mercifully muted, as is often found in Sauvignon Blancs pulled from California vineyards.  The nose also shows distinct citrus and wet rock components.  The mouthfeel is spry and racy with a very nice level of acidity.  The palate is clean, loaded with minerals and a peppery citrus zest.  Lemon meets spice and everything’s nice.

Thorn Ridge Pinot Noir 2015  $75
There were only three barrels of this wine made and it hits 12.9% abv.  The virtual tasters adored the tea leaves, bramble berries, baking spice, forest floor and mushrooms.  It was praised as an elegant wine, the kind Pinot Noir lovers love to love.

Sonoma Valley Cabernet Franc 2015  $40
Cabernet Franc is reportedly Eric Story's favorite grape variety, and the Loire Valley is the muse for his winery.  The virtual tasters loved this wine.  It is extremely dark; light has a tough time passing through the glass.  The nose is very savory, full of leather, minerals and bell pepper.  It's a "heavy" nose, one that conveys a very full flavor.  And so it is, but with a twist.  Instead of the black fruit indicated on the nose, red fruit comes through on the palate in fairly bright fashion.  The savory aspect is there, too, as spices drape over the flavor profile.  I can imagine that something off the grill, smoked in rosemary, would be a perfect pairing.

Pickberry Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015  $60
Virtual tasters liked the tart fruit and spiciness of this one.  They also complimented its nose of roses, licorice, black pepper and eucalyptus.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Stone Suit

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sauvignon Blanc Wine From Monterey County

Chesebro Wines come from beautiful Carmel Valley, with vineyards there, as well as in the Arroyo Seco AVA.  That's where the Sauvignon Blanc grapes for this wine were grown, in the Cedar Lane Vineyard farmed by Michael Griva

The Arroyo Seco AVA is centered around Monterey County's Arroyo Seco River, a seasonal waterway that brings rain and snowmelt from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Salinas River.  Commercial grape growing started there in 1961 and has grown to some 7,000 acres under vine.  The region is about 40 miles away from the deep waters of Monterey Bay and parts of it get direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean through the Salinas Valley. 

Chesebro Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Arroyo Seco 2016

This wine has a lovely golden tint.  The nose is full of citrus zest and a lanolin component, with only a slight grassiness.  It's a very California SauvBlanc.  On the palate, there's more lemon, some apricot and a gorgeous salinity with a zippy acidity to carry things along.  The mouth, however, is full and rich while the long finish leaves lemon peel lingering.  Alcohol sits at 12.5% abv and the wine sells for $18.


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Monday, February 19, 2018

Garagiste Wine Festival: Southern Exposure

Here's a date to put on your calendar:  May 12, 2018.  That’s the next Garagiste Festival, a Northern Exposure event set for Sonoma.  I mention this because I recently attended the Garagiste Southern Exposure wine show, in Solvang, and I heartily recommend that you support them when they are near you.

The Garagiste Festival began in Paso Robles, an effort to spotlight some of the many small-production winemakers in that region.  The festival's name comes from the French word that describes small, maverick wine producers operating in garages instead of chateaux.  Most of the producers who pour at the Garagiste events have no "winery" - they buy grapes directly from choice vineyards and turn them into wine in low-overhead locations.  Most make fewer than a thousand cases per year.

Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick are co-founders of the Garagiste Festival, Lisa Dinsmore is the Event Director and Melanie Webber handles the public relations.  They once again rented out VFW Hall Post #7139 on a beautiful February day that cooled off a Southern California winter heat wave.  It was fitting to see the office of the Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioner right next door.  Forty-two low-production winemakers spilled more than 200 hand-crafted wines for the eager tasters, of which I was one.

Here are my notes from just a few of the wonderful wineries represented at the show:

Buscador Winery - Santa Barbara
2016 Chenin Blanc, Jurassic Vineyard - Winemaker Matt Kowalczyk got caramel on the nose (!) with neutral oak notes and a crisp mouthfeel.  $25

Byron Blatty Wines - Los Angeles
Mark and Jenny Blatty own the 750-case producer.  Their 2015 Agenda Syrah/Tannat is a blend from Malibu vineyards.   Dark and juicy!  $58

Cloak and Dagger Wines - Paso Robles
2014 The Defector Zinfandel Reserve - Huge peppery red fruit, still young.  50 cases.  $49

Diablo Paso Wines - Paso Robles
Enrique Torres makes a beautiful 2017 Guanabana Albarino, Paragon Vineyard.  25% new oak gives a great caramel-coated apple nose, with green apples on the palate.  1st vintage.  $30

Dusty Nabor Wines - Paso Robles
Dusty, the winemaker, makes a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Frankel Vineyard which is classic Paso Cab, Eastside chalk.  $65

Hoi Polloi Wines - California
Event co-founder Doug Minnick helped make this wine, a 2016 Grenache Rosé, Colburn Vineyard - picked early specifically for rosé. Wow! Cherry candy.  $30
The 2015 Illicit Pinot Noir, Santa Maria, comes from an unnamed but outstanding vineyard.  It's an excellent Pinot that's more Burgundy than California.  $52

March Wines - Santa Cruz Mountains
2016 Dry Riesling, Redwing Vineyard - petrol showing, 1st vintrage. GREAT!  $25

Marin's Vineyard - Monterey
Winemaker Marin Wolgamott produces the 2016 Estate Viognier - AWESOME floral nose, great palate. $20.  The 2015 Rancher's Daughter Malbec/Merlot is a really drinkable low-tannin BDX blend. $25

Metrick Wines - California
2016 Chardonnay Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria - awesome.  Steel for 8 months on the lees. $36

TW Fermentation Co. - Paso Robles
James Schreiner makes chalky, dusty BDX varieties.  The 2013 Straight Cab is superb, all Paso, more character than Napa.  $64


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SBC Tasting Room: Rideau Vineyards

A trip to Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley is always set off with a Rideau Vineyard visit.  Recently, we left L.A. early enough to get in our traditional stops at the bagel place in Camarillo and the Milpas Trader Joe's with the marine layer still making a cool morning of it.  Soon there will be an extra diversion when the blueberry farm starts selling those beautiful berries.  The sun broke through as we pulled into the grounds of Rideau Vineyard.

It's a Cajun French name, so I have always pronounced it as REE doh, as it would be in my native southeast Texas. At the tasting room they pronounce it rih DOH. Maybe they’re just trying to be fancy, but I'll go with what they say. They oughta know.

Iris Rideau owned the place for 20 years before selling it to some folks from Montreal in 2016.  They operate the winery with the same family-run feel as did Iris.

Here are the wines I tasted:

Rideau "Coquelicot" Sauvignon Blanc 2016 - Really fresh nose, more floral than grassy.  Easy-drinking acidity with a mineral-laden palate that is clean almost to a fault.  $26

Rideau "Sierra Madre" Stainless Steel Chardonnay 2016 - Great nose.  Such a bright, full mouth I would swear there’s oak in there, but no.  $28

Rideau Lagniappe White 2014 - Rhone-style blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier with an earthy, nutty nose.  Bright minerals, anise on the palate.  Extra years of aging have made a difference.  $33

Rideau "Camp 4" Sangiovese 2015 - Earthy, cherry nose; light mouthfeel with red fruit, then vanilla.  91 Points Wine Enthusiast.  $34

Rideau Lagniappe Red 2013 - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.  Very earthy palate (a Rideau hallmark) with red berry flavors.  $33

Rideau "Thompson" Syrah 2014 - Very nice, fruity nose, although somewhat subdued.  Dried stem inclusion offers a green, savory quality.  $39

Rideau Estate Syrah 2014 - Big earth on the nose, fantastic red fruit and oak notes on the luscious palate.  $44


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Monday, February 12, 2018

Expect Great Zin At Rancho Mirage Wine, Food Fest

There's a great wine event coming this weekend for residents of California's desert communities and all of Southern California.  The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is this Saturday, February 17th 2018.  The organizers have kindly invited me to be an ambassador of what looks to be a fantastic event.  More than 200 handcrafted wines will be poured and you'll sample 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.

You can find the event and follow the #RMWineFest2018 on Twitter: @rmwineandfoodfestFor a discount, use the Now And Zin Wine promo code: NZWine.

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.

Barlow Vineyards is one of the wineries that will be attending, and I can't wait to sample the rest of their line.  Their Zinfandel is a knockout.  Located in Napa Valley’s Calistoga area, Barlow Vineyards was purchased by Warren Barlow Smith in 1994 and it's a family affair still today.  They were farmers initially, selling the fruit of their labor.  They began selling the vinified fruit of their vines at the urging of a previous winemaker.

They made fewer than a hundred cases of this wine and it retails for $35.

The Barlow Calistoga Unfiltered Zinfandel 2012 is a real crowd pleaser, very dark and aromatic.  A blackberry and licorice nose gets a savory whiff of smoke and a shot of vanilla on the side.  It's had some time in the bottle and it’s getting very smooth and silky as it ages.  On the palate, good, dark fruit stands a little on the tart raspberry side.  The oak influence shows in a touch of spice and vanilla, but it doesn't overwhelm.  The acidity is nice, and the tannins are good.  This can pair with a pork chop, but it's a great sipper, too.


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Friday, February 9, 2018

Cabernet From Napa's Benchlands

The wines of Cornerstone Cellars have been around for nearly three decades, and the company has seen its share of change through the years.  One thing that appears to have stayed the same over time is their commitment to crafting excellent Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Napa Valley.  The recently added winemakers in Yountville, Charles Thomas and Kari Auringer, are guiding the good ship Cabernet now at Cornerstone.  Thomas has a 30 year track record in the Napa Valley, and Auringer is in her second go-round with the winery.

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Benchlands 2014

This great wine is made from Rutherford fruit, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot 3% and Cabernet Franc.  The alcohol level is lofty, at 14.9% abv, and it retails for $65.

The Benchlands Cab is dark and rich.  A nose of blackberries, plums and cassis is layered with leather, spice and oak notes.   The aromas are nearly a dead ringer for a Syrah, but that impression goes away on the sip. It's definitely a Cab, and it's a really bold one.  The wine is so complex that it seems new flavors arise on each sip.  The acidity zings, the tannins grip and the finish lingers on a medium while.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Norton Wine



The Norton grape, the beginning of my obsession with American wines.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Pink Bubbles From Alsace

House Gustave Lorentz is near Bergheim, in the northeastern French area of Alsace, just across the Rhine River from Germany.  Charles Lorentz took up where his father left off, on an old mountain hillside.  Named a Grand Cru in 1983, the vineyard has been certified organic since 2012.

These bubbles are a cremant because they are not made in the Champagne region, although they are made the same way those wines are produced.  The grapes used are all Pinot Noir, giving the wine that "weighty" feeling.  Alcohol checks in at 12% abv and the wine sells for $30.  Lorentz made 2.500 cases, which are imported by Napa's Quintessential Wines

Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV

This fun bubbly from France's Alsace region is pretty in pink and pleasantly pungent.  The brut smells like more strawberries than you could fit into a bushel basket.  There's also a lovely, light earthy note, which leads on the palate.  Toasty flavors come into play, along with what the importer calls a "discreetly fruity" aspect.  A citrus peel note sneaks in late and finishes long and earthy.  Great acidity.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Super Bowl Wine



Did this about 7 years ago. The landscape has probably changed some since then.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

(Slaps Head) I Could Have Had A Chardonnay!

Dan Morgan Lee has been around wine since the '70s, made his own since the '80s and grown grapes since the '90s.  His Double L Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands is lauded for the quality of its fruit.  Sam Smith is the winemaker for Morgan Winery, and he carries out the minimalist vision that produces what they call wines of "balance, elegance and distinction."

2015 Metallico Un-Oaked Chardonnay

The grapes for the 2015 Metallico were taken from several cool Monterey County sites: the Roger Rose, Leavens, Double L, and Kristy’s estates.  It's unoaked, so they use the most fruit-forward vineyard blocks. The wine was whole cluster pressed, aged for five months in stainless steel, underwent no malolactic fermentation.  The alcohol sits at a very manageable 13.5% abv and it sells for $22.

This is a lovely, savory Chardonnay, the kind that makes me sorry I usually pass up the grape on restaurant lists and in the wine shop in favor of something a bit more exotic. This is plenty exotic.  Slightly golden in color, the nose brings an earthy salinity to the table.  A touch of lanolin masks the Meyer lemon and tropical fruit aromas.  The palate also shades the fruit with earthiness and lemon peels.  This wine has zippy acidity and is literally made to go with food.  I like it as much as some Chardonnays I've tried at twice the price.


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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Seaplane Full Of Pinot

Wines often are named after someone, or something, and here's another one,  The Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir is the namesake of the WWII warbird PBY-5A Catalina amphibious flying boat.  There's reportedly only one left in the Southern Hemisphere, and there's a group dedicated to its preservation.  This wine draws attention to it as well.

Sourced from Marlborough's southern valleys, the 2015 Pinot is winemaker Peter Jackson's attempt to make wines that show the best of the sites from which they come.

The wine is a 50-50 blend from the winery's estate vineyard, Sound of White, in the Waihopai Valley and Clayridge vineyard in the Omaka Valley.  Both vineyards are clay-based hillsides.  Partial steel and french oak vinification was met with full malolactic fermentation to keep things nice and smooth.  The aging happened over ten months in french oak.  The alcohol is quite reasonable at 13% abv.

Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir is classic New Zealand Pinot, dark and delicious with a seaplane full of coffee and tea notes.  The nose is as earthy and solid as you could want, which is an unusual attraction for someone like me.  I generally like my Pinot more on the elegant side, but this isn’t really brawny - it’s brainy.  The palate is youthful without being obnoxious, dark, not devilish.  A finish that lingers well is much appreciated.  Pair with mushroom-based dishes or lamb for a like-like match.


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Friday, January 26, 2018

Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc From Arroyo Seco AVA

The Arroyo Seco AVA is centered around Monterey County's Arroyo Seco River, a seasonal waterway that brings rain and snowmelt from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Salinas River.  Commercial grape growing started in 1961 and has grown to some 7,000 acres under vine.  The region is about 40 miles away from the deep waters of Monterey Bay and parts of it get direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean through the Salinas Valley, both adding to its cool-climate stature.

Bernardus Griva Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Michael Griva's vineyard - reportedly planted specifically for Carmel Valley's Bernardus - contains Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the aromatic Musqué clone, and a small section of Sémillon grapes.  The sandy, stone-laden soil drains very well and provides a great place for the fruit to soak up enough sun to ripen to great varietal expression.  It's mainly a Sauvignon Blanc, with the Sémillon providing just a 5% splash.

The Bernardus Griva was fermented in steel tanks, then aged several months in large neutral French oak barrels.  Alcohol is restrained, at 13.9% abv and the wine retails for $30.

This is a beautiful California Sauvignon Blanc.  It has a wonderful nose that offers more salinity than grassiness.  Citrus and minerals are also in play.  On the palate, the savory herbal flavors get the citrus treatment, too.  Zippy acidity brings a lively food friendliness, so pair it with shellfish, salads or spinach.


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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Spanish Bubbles - Vilarnau Cava Rosé

Cava house Vilarnau is located outside Barcelona.  I understand they date back to the 1940s, although their parent company goes back much further.  Manuel María González Ángel founded his sherry winery in 1835, then joined up with his English agent Robert Blake Byass.  Gonzalez Byass continues today under the descendents of Señor González.  They sell a large variety of wines, like the cavas of Vilarnau.  The bottles are wrapped in the avant-garde design of Antoni Gaudi.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé NV

Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé is a Catalonian, non-vintage DO Cava that provides bubbles and substance at a very fair price.  Alcohol sits at only 12% abv, and the sticker price is only $16.

The wine is made from 85% Trepat grapes and 15% Pinot Noir.  The Pinot was grown in the Penédes region of Catalonia, while the Trepat grapes came from Conca de Barberà in Tarragona. That red grape is probably indigenous to northeast Spain, and used mostly for making rosé wines.  The color is extracted from the grape skins for 18 hours, and fermentation takes place in steel tanks, while the secondary fermentation - from whence the bubbles come - happens in the bottle.

This fun bubbly brings the brut.  It's Sahara dry, with a strong earthy and yeasty streak running through it.  The unusual grape - Trepat - comes on with some of the earthiness of a North American variety, and provides a nice counterpoint to the Pinot Noir.  It's my first time to taste Trepat, by the way, and I would do it again.  Minerals all over the strawberry aromas and flavors hit very well, and provide food friendliness. 


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