Friday, October 9, 2015

Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

Mendocino County's Anderson Valley has become a good spot for great value in Pinot Noir. The cooler-climate region is making a name for itself as a Pinot Paradise, with the quality we might expect from a pricier neighborhood and a price tag that's a little easier on the debit card.

The 2013 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes that were harvested from their three ranches in Anderson Valley. According to the Ferrari website, the grapes are "cold soaked for three days and fermented in small bins and stainless steel open-top fermentors. Various yeast strains are introduced to add complexity. Fermentors are punched down one to three times per day. Wines are pressed when dry and then moved to barrels to complete malolactic fermentation. The wine aged for 10 months in new and neutral French oak barrels before bottling." Thirty-seven percent of the barrel oak was new.

Some much-needed rain in late 2012 brought the 2013 heritage and Dijon clone grapes through another drought cycle into a near-perfect growing season. Ripening occurred on the early side and they were blessed with a big crop, despite the dry season. The wine's alcohol hits 14.4% abv and it sells for $30.

This Pinot shows medium-dark color and gives an aromatic nose that telegraphs its complexity. Raspberry, black cherry and plum blend together beautifully with earthy notes and a light touch of oak spice. On the palate, the fruit is as big as Mendocino County, and just as pretty. A light, earthy touch gives a hint of savory and that bit of oak tops it all off. Stout tannins, too, for a Pinot Noir.

The winery says you can pair this wine with salmon, fowl, beef or lamb, with excellent results.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Time To Rock Some Pink Wine, Bro!

"It all started with a whisper… but now it’s time to rock!" That is the statement printed on the label of this wine, this Côtes de Provence wine. I suppose with the hipsters all draining every bottle of Provence rosé they can get their hands on, the battle for their limited attention has to start somewhere. Why not in italicized lettering on the label?

Pink is all the rage, now that the feminine stigma has been ripped from rosé by the brosé movement. I can hardly believe I just tapped out those words. Every picture I see on Eater of a ridiculously large group of men all lifting their glasses of Provence like so many Miller Lites makes me wonder. Where were you fellas last year?

Some of us guys have been drinking pink wine all along, pinkies tucked into our hands in the masculine fashion - or not. What does it matter? Pink pants may be feminine - except on a Palm Springs golf course - but pink wine is for everyone, and it always has been. "Let's rock some pink, bro!"

This Chateau D'Esclans Rock Angel Provence Rosé is light in color, but fairly hefty - for Provence - at 14% abv. The grapes are primarily Grenache, with some Rolle - you may know it as Vermentino - blended into the mix. Part of the wine is vinified in 600-liter barrels, the other portion in stainless steel tanks.

Côtes de Provence rosé is a real treat. This one acts exactly the way a pink wine should, with strawberries, citrus and a slightly herbal touch on the nose. The palate brings the strawberries in first, and a nice little cucumber element pokes through. An herbal grassy texture is no surprise in this bone-dry wine with an easy acidity that refreshes but does not sting. The lengthy finish has the herbs hanging around quite a while.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Surfing, Film And Wine

ZIOBAFFA is an Italian wine, the creators of which - Jason Baffa and Chris Del Moro - have brought their passion for filmmaking and surfing to wine.

Baffa is an award-winning filmmaker who chronicled his love of surfing in the film, "Bella Vita," developed with his friend Del Moro. The pair shared plenty of good food and beverage while getting those gnarly waves on celluloid. It was a natural - organic, in fact - transition to ZIOBAFFA (in Italian, Uncle Baffa.)

The press info states that "ZIOBAFFA is bottled and labeled with eco-friendly material, crafted with a biodynamic focus and organically produced grapes. With a focus on sustainable, zero waste production and environmentally friendly bottling, including the innovative Helix re-useable cork closure, these wines are a modern take on an old world tradition."

The unusual cork, which looks like a cross between a sparkling wine cork and a liqueur stopper, requires no mechanical assistance for opening. You can access the wine barehanded, even though it is worth some trouble.

This is Pinot Grigio the way I wish Pinot Grigio always tasted. A smoky nose sports citrus and almonds in addition to the small campfire. It has quite a bit of character for a Pinot Grigio. The palate is earthy and lemony, with kiwi on the backside. The finish is not terribly long, but the tropical notes stay with it to the end, along with a honey component. The acidity is not thrilling - the only negative I found - but the mouthfeel is quite round and full. 12% abv means you won't lose focus from a large pour.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sweet And Gorgeous: Lula Gewürztraminer

Lula Cellars, a small production winery located in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, spent the summer pouring the inaugural release of its 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and the latest Rosato effort. The Rosato is delightful, while the Sauvignon Blanc has yet to grace this space - it will soon, though. They do have another wine perfect those summer days - or, as we are still saying in Los Angeles, these summer days.

2014 is the sixth vintage of Lula’s Dry Gewürztraminer. The wine is made from grapes grown in several Mendocino vineyards. Mendocino is gaining more recognition lately for its cool-climate Alsatian varieties. It's a $22 wine, and only 200 cases were produced.

The Lula Cellars Dry Gewürztraminer for 2014 has a gorgeous nose - honeysuckle with sweet peaches and pears. That floral aspect is dominant, by the way. On the palate, full frontal fruitity and a mild pepper component play together quite nicely. The acidity keeps the sweetness in check, which is a big job. This wine, despite "dry" on the label, is extremely sweet.

The spiciness is interesting and opens up additional pairing possibilities. This is a natch for Thai food or spicy tacos. The wine also pairs well with seafood and shellfish. The winery recommends Dungeness crab, halibut and lemon risotto with asparagus.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blue Blood, White Wine: The Count’s Torrontes

Count Patrick d'Aulan comes from wine. And money. And blue blood. He is the aristocratic owner Alta Vista Winery, but he is no newcomer. His family held the keys to the Piper-Heidsieck Champagne house for nearly a hundred years. In the late 1990s, the domaine was sold. As luck would have it - maybe it wasn’t luck at all - the Count had met Bordeaux winemaker Jean-Michel Arcaute. They began scouting for new wine lands to conquer, and after a little sniffing around, they arrived in Argentina. Salta, to be precise.

Salta is in the northern part of Argentina, a stone’s throw from Chile and Bolivia and not much farther to Uruguay. The vines from which the Torrontes grapes were taken are at an altitude of 5,400 feet, so it’s pretty special terroir. in fact, all the vineyards owned by Alta Vista reside at an altitude of at least 3,200 feet.

The 2013 Alta Vista Salta Torrontes received no malolactic fermentation, to enhance the wine’s fresh and vibrant character. Aging took place in steel for three months, then in the bottle for a similar span. In the tanks, the wine rested on its lees, or spent yeast cells, hence the full mouthfeel.

This Torrontes has a light golden tint and a nose that is simple, but effective. The aromas of white flowers and pear juice are concentrated and captivating. The palate shows a bit more variety, with a more mineral-driven set of flavors - limes, oranges and pineapple - in addition to the luscious pears and peaches in this fruit salad of a wine. The acidity is passable, but not really spectacular - great for sips and salads. Make it a fruit salad.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Patagonia's Dark Vision Of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir wines made in the southern part of South America, Patagonia, have a tendency to be extremely earthy and bold. Barda is no exception, although it does show more fruit than I expected.

The Barda Pinot Noir is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Patagonia is the southernmost region in South America, but it’s a vast expanse. Bodega Chacra is in the Rio Negro Valley, in the more northern part of Patagonia. It is actually much closer to Buenos Aires than to the southern tip of the continent. Still, it’s a good 600 miles from the South American metropolis.

The Chacra website explains the Rio Negro geography a bit more: “The property's situation in the arid central Argentine desert is tempered by the confluence of the Neuquen and Limay Rivers, both of which flow from the Andes and converge in the Rio Negro, which in turn flows into the Atlantic. The Rio Negro Valley itself is a glacial bed 15.5 miles wide stretching 310 miles along the river's banks at an elevation of 750 feet above sea level. The valley is irrigated by a network of channels excavated in the late 1820s by British colonists who observed the abundant snow melt flowing from the Andes and created an oasis in the middle of the desert.”

The wine’s alcohol content is a low, low 13.2% abv. Aging occurred over twelve months in French oak barrels.

Very dark purple, Barda Pinot Noir 2014 has a nose defined by earth. The minerals lead the raspberry aromas around on a leash, although other Patagonian Pinots I've tried have been even earthier. There is an herbal scent as well, but the profile is all about the dirt. On the palate, the fruit gets to show off a little more. Raspberry and black cherry are most noticeable, with the minerals making a play of their own here, too. It is a bit one-dimensional. The tannic structure and acidity are both vigorous, and the finish is lengthy.

Lamb is a popular meat in Argentine Patagonia, and it will meld wonderfully with a dark and rich wine such as this one. I would also like it with Merguez sausage, a more traditional chorizo or even just plain skirt steak.

Friday, September 25, 2015

You Can Call Me Albariño

Albariño is a grape of Spanish origin, and in the Rias Baixas region it is pretty much king. The name means "white of the Rhine," I am told.  Albariño is, indeed, related to the Alsatian Riesling grape. Here in California we see a lot of home-grown Albariño, but it's always nice to have one we might call "the real McCoy," if McCoy was, indeed, a Spanish name. In this instance, we might refer to the wine in question as "the real Falcón."

Kobrand, the wine's U.S. importer, writes that Don Olegario is an "artisanal winery begun in the 1950s by Adolfo Falcón." In the 1980s, Adolfo's son Olegario pushed the bodega to its present status as a top producer of Albariño. The five offspring of Olegario now run things, with Roberto Carlos Falcón handling winemaking duties, while Fernando grows the grapes. María, Vanessa and Mónica are also involved in the day-to-day operation.

They point out that the winery is "a top producer of Albariño, the region’s most famous grape variety." The grapes for this Albariño come from a single, 12.4-acre vineyard which has 30-year-old vines growing in sandy and granite soils. "Sustainable winegrowing is used," relays the importer, and "the grapes are hand harvested and undergo a cold maceration before fermentation in stainless steel vats."

Bodega Don Olegario is one of only a few single estates in Rías Baixas, where vineyard land is often divided among hundreds of growers. This allows the bodega to control its fruit from field to bottle.

The 2014 Don Olegario Albariño Rias Baixas offers lots of limes and lemons with a touch of sweet pineapple on the nose. A nice streak of minerals rides through, as well. The palate shows citrus and green apples, joined by minerality galore. Great acidity makes for a predictably refreshing - and food friendly - quaff. Lemon flavors last well into the medium length finish. At 13% abv, the alcohol is reasonably restrained.

This wine is a beautiful aperitif, but save some for the seafood course, too. The minerality and acidity make it a great match for oysters, crustaceans and just plain old fish.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Drinking Someday's Wine Today

Champagne is largely considered by ordinary folks to be a "special occasion" wine. Usually, Champagne is rather costly. Finances unfortunately play into the notion that a pricey bottle should be saved for another time. Get something under a screw cap for today. After all, we have to drink tomorrow, too.

This fine bottle of bubbly was given to me as a birthday present several years ago. We were holding on to it for a very special occasion. We asked ourselves recently, "What is more special than today? How many more tomorrows can we count on?" Instead of holding it back for some special day that - truthfully - might never come, we popped the cork and enjoyed the moment that is now. We think it was a wise decision.

Moët et Chandon is the biggest Champagne house in France, founded in 1743 by Claude Moët. Best known for their top-shelf brand, Dom Pérignon, Moët made White Star as a non-vintage Champagne. It was discontinued in 2012, replaced by the Imperial label which has been around since the 19th century. I understand that White Star was a bit sweeter than the super-dry Imperial, which sees a more restrained dosage - the introduction of sugar into the fermentation process.

The nose is yeasty and a little bit funky, with the smell of a wet sidewalk after a rain wafting in late. Flavors of peaches and apples strain to be noticed above the minerals and toasty notes. It is not bone dry, but the sweetness is quite restrained and the acidity is a notch right over "zippy." This is how - for me, anyway - Champagne is supposed to taste.

Pair what you like with it - rare tuna, potato chips, wedding cake, the dessert tower - or light up a big fat Cuban cigar with a hundred dollar bill and blow smoke onto the poor folks. Or, just pour, toast and sip. Cheers.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Just Gimme A Cab!

At a wine tasting event I attended once, I was awaiting my turn at the pouring station when the gentleman ahead of me loudly asked the server for "anything you got that's a Cab." His tone, I took to be rude. He sounded as if he were dismissing all other red grapes without a fair trial. I have since come to learn that real dyed-in-the-wood Cabernet Sauvignon lovers simply don't have time for anything else. Suggest that they may enjoy a Grenache or Syrah as a change of pace, and you will get a quizzical twitch of the eyebrow as an unspoken, "Why?"

At Cornerstone Cellars, they do love Cabernet Sauvignon, they just don't obsess over it, or stalk it. They embrace a lot of different grapes, but their first love was Cab. It will always be special.

The grapes making up Cornerstone's 2012 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon were sourced from four outstanding Cab sites. 92% of the wine's makeup is Cabernet Sauvignon - from South Napa Valley, Yountville, Oakville and Howell Mountain. 5.5% of the grapes are Carneros Merlot while 2.5% are St. Helena Cabernet Franc. Fans of Cornerstone will recognize the Napa vineyard sites they return to again and again for quality fruit: Oakville Station, Ink Grade, Kairos, Talcott. These vineyards are a big reason that Cornerstone wines are reliably top-notch.

The wine rings up 14.7% abv on the alcohol scale and $50 at the cash register. 1,265 cases were bottled, along with a couple dozen magnums. Aging took place over 18 months in French oak barrels, half of which were made from new oak.

The 2012 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque in the glass. Aromas of cassis and sweet oak spice dominate the nose, while traces of anise and pencil shavings poke through. The palate is so rich, it doesn't have to dress up. But it does so anyway. Black and blue berries are in front, with allspice, nutmeg, and tobacco sweetening the deal. Add great tannic structure to the package and I'm all in. This is a superb wine, whether you are a Cab fan or not.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

A Pair Of Dry Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blancs

Fumé Blanc 2014

The term Fumé Blanc was created by Robert Mondavi, as a marketing ploy. It was the name he gave to his Sauvignon Blanc wines when he shifted from a sweet style to dry. He laid no claim to the term, allowing anyone to use it if they wished. It was inspired by the Pouilly-Fumé Sauvignon Blanc wines of France's Loire Valley.

This is the wine that put Dry Creek Vineyards "on the map," they say. DCV founder David Stare was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, a move that has been borne out as genius through the years. Winemaker Tim Bell continues to craft a flavor profile of citrus and minerals, just as the big grape maker in the sky intended.

This wine saw stainless steel fermentation and not a stave of oak in the process - surprising since it has a richness and fullness usually associated with oak aging. It contains 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and hits 13.5% abv with a trail sticker of about $14. The nose shows grass and citrus, heavy on the citrus. The mineral-driven palate gives a very full mouthfeel and displays a nice acidity.

The DCV Fumé Blanc will pair wonderfully with pasta - especially in a cream sauce - but it is full and rich enough for roasted chicken. It served well with a baked potato loaded.

Sauvignon Blanc 2014

For the DCV Sauvignon Blanc 2014, they use 82% Saivignon Blanc grapes and blend in 4% Sauvignon Gris, a clone originating in Bordeaux, with 14% Sauvignon Musqué for aromatics and a full mouthfeel. The wine is steel fermented, reaches 13.5% abv, and sells for $18. About 7,000 cases were made.

The Dry Creek Vineyard 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is herbal without being grassy, and fresh without being sharp. The nose gives an herbal note lifted by the Musqué's aromatics, with citrus and minerals to spare. The wine feels full in the mouth, with a beautiful lemon-lime tartness and fresh acidity. A slight savory aspect cuts in late and stays through the finish.

The pop of the acidity makes this wine a great pair with seafood - mussels, crab and oysters come to mind. If you're just snacking, it goes great with potato chips and pretzels. By the way, potato chips and pretzels go together quite well on their own.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Poggio Graffetta Nero D'Avola 2012

Over the past 15 years Sicily's reputation as a wine region has made great strides. Indigenous grapes have been revitalized, and the winemakers of Sicily are now crafting sophisticated and vibrant wines.

Poggio Graffetta is located in the a Sicilian town of Ragusa. Wines made from the Nero D'Avola grape is one of many great exports from the Italian island - along with the cannoli, arancini and pecorino cheese. This wine is both drinkable and affordable, with alcohol content at only 13% and the price at just under $14.

The Graffetta Nero D'Avola 2012 is very dark - almost no light gets through when held to a lamp. Aromas of dark fruit and the subtle sense of earth make for an underplayed nose. On the palate, plums and blackberries meet minerals and black olives for a game of "sweet or savory." The match is a draw. The tannins are temperate and the acidity makes the mouth water.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lodi Native Single Vineyard Zin: Marian's Vineyard

This note wraps up the Now And Zin coverage of the virtual wine tasting event which featured the second vintage release of the Lodi Native project. The event is chronicled on the Twitter hashtag feeds at  #LodiLive and #LodiNative.

The Lodi Native project is a collaboration of six winegrowers who aim to highlight Lodi's unique sense of place by focusing on single-vineyard Zinfandel selections from the region. Each wine benefits from native yeast fermentation, zero new oak, and a “hands-off” approach in the vineyards and cellar, allowing the terroir-driven fruit to speak for itself. It's an effort that any Zinfandel purist can appreciate. I was proud and happy to be invited to sample these six great wines..

The Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel comes to us from St. Amant Winery, with Stuart Spencer creating the wine from the fruit grown by Jerry and Bruce Fry, of Mohr-Fry Ranches.

The social media participants educated us: @Lodi_Wine chirped that "Marian's Vineyard is 8.3 acres of own-rooted vines planted in 1901." @ReverseWineSnob wrote that, "Marian's Vineyard Zin is very aromatic, with wonderful spice and a lovely refined palate." Who could argue? @IsaacJamesBaker tweeted, "Yeah, digging the silkiness of this Marian's Vineyard.," while @Courtneyc_Walsh thought that "Marian's Vineyard = Lodi's Grand Cru."

The medium-dark purple color gives it the look of a Pinot Noir - a dark Pinot Noir, but plenty of light gets through. The '13 version of the Marian's Vineyard Zinfandel has a beautiful nose of violets and cherries. There is a little clove, a little campfire, some cedar and a whiff of cigar. Those pleasantries add complexity, but it's still a fruit-powered nose. The palate is highly expressive, showing a dark flavor profile of wild berries, earth, cinnamon and sage. The mouthfeel is elegant and the tannic structure is smooth. This wine is not for drinking, it's for enjoying, experiencing, feeling.

Pair this one with your Thanksgiving turkey and go easy on the cranberry sauce. There's enough fruit here to sweeten that meat, light or dark. It will be a fine addition to holiday tables - it tastes like the holidays, to me - but if you can't wait, a pork chop or baked chicken will benefit from the richness of these flavors.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Blended White Wine Perfect With Spicy Dish

Blended wines are fun. When you know what the grape is, there's no guesswork - unless you want to guess whether your Pinot was juiced with a bit of Syrah. In a blend, especially when the grapes used are not telegraphed on the front label, you have the enjoyment of ruminating while trying to figure out what they are. If you don't think that's fun, you probably are not reading a wine article in the first place.

Cornerstone Cellars managing partner Craig Camp thinks they are fun, too - to make, not just to drink. He can appreciate a varietal wine as well as anybody, but "when you start out to make a blend, he writes, "the only rules are your emotions. What is it about the wine world you want to touch?" In the case of Cornerstone's White Rocks!, they decided to reach out and touch a lot of sweet, ripe fruit.

The 2014 White Rocks! by Cornerstone features - spoiler alert - Orange Muscat and Viognier in the blend. With those grapes in play, we would normally expect a sweet ride, and that is what we get. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also appear in a wine that keeps alcohol moderate, at 12.5% abv, and price low, at $15.

Yellow gold and aromatic, the 2014 White Rocks! by Cornerstone shows a nose full of little white flowers, nectarines, apples and citrus. The palate is just as lovely, just as fruity. Sweet peaches, nectarines, oranges and a shade of tropical fruit make for a festive feel, while a gentle acidity allows plenty of space for spicy food pairings.

Camp likes the explosive fruitiness of White Rocks! paired with Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and all variations of Chinese cuisine. "A good old American BBQ is not bad either," he adds. I loved it with smoked cheddar. It's a great sipping wine, too.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Margerum Wine, Whole Foods Market Go To Dogs... And Cats

An event is coming to Santa Barbara that animal lovers will want to put on the calendar.

Pet Adopt-a-Thon & Barbeque at Whole Foods Market, Santa Barbara

Saturday, September 26th 11-2pm

Volunteers from Cold Nose Warm Heart of Goleta and ASAP Cats of Santa Barbara will be on hand with pups and kittens hoping to find humans to rescue, while Margerum Wine Company's David Moorman will be grilling up hot dawgs to benefit cool cats and dogs!

Prizes include dinner at the Wine Cask, Whole Foods Market gift cards and gift baskets, winery and brewery hats, Tshirts and other goodies!

Tickets can be obtained in several ways: 

 $5 CASH ONLY per ticket, 100% of ticket sales will be donated. Tickets will go on sale Saturday, September 12th at the Buzz Hive, inside Whole Foods, Santa Barbara.

 Buy a Dawg to Save a Dog - Purchase one of David’s Dawgs and receive a raffle ticket, too!

 Feed The Homeless - Purchase a large bag of Whole Paws dry dog or cat food ($18.99) or a case of wet cat or dog canned food ($24), receive FIVE raffle tickets. All Whole Paws food will be donated to ASAP & CNWH.

 Drink Up For the Kits & Pups! Attend the beer & wine tasting events, $6 CASH ONLY, raffle ticket included with flight. $5 will be donated to ASAP/CNWH.

Flight times: Friday, 5:30-7:30pm, Saturday 11-2pm

100% of proceeds donated, winners need NOT be present to win!

Brooks Van Wingerden, General Manager at Margerum Wine Company, writes that Doug Margerum and Gina Cook (the wine specialist for Whole Foods) were tasting together a few months ago, not long after Doug had lost his beloved dog, Patches

Margerum and Cook are doing a series of private label wines for Whole Foods. As they were "patching together" a Pinot Noir blended with fruit from some of the best sites in Sta. Rita Hills AVA ( La Encantada Vineyards, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, and Radian Vineyard ), a Merlot blend from the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA and others they bantered about their pets, past and present and thought, "what can we do to help more cats and dogs find furever homes?"

Just like that, the idea to give a donation for each bottle sold from two of these new wines was formed. 

One dollar from every bottle sold of Rapporte (French for "fetch") Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills (retail $34.99) will be donated by Doug Margerum to Cold Noses, Warm Hearts.

Fifty cents from every bottle of Chaton Heureux Cuvee (French for "Cat, Happy Blend") Merlot blend (retail $19.99) will be donated to ASAP Cats. 

Both are volunteer-run rescue groups that work to save cats and dogs destined for euthanasia at the Santa Barbara county shelter.

The labels were designed with pets in mind and both the labels and the wines are stunning.

The wines will be available exclusively at select Whole Foods Markets from SLO to San Diego and at Doug Margerum's tasting rooms in El Paseo – downtown Santa Barbara.

For more information, please call 805-686-8500 or email

Pinot Noir Wines From Sonoma, Anderson Valley

The opportunity to taste and compare two wines of the same variety and vintage - from the same winery - gives a wine geek a chance to describe the similarities and differences between the wines. In the case of the two CrossBarn Pinot Noir wines from Paul Hobbs, there is more alike than otherwise.

Both the 2013 Pinots - from one Sonoma County, one from Anderson Valley - look the same, smell almost alike and are nearly indistinguishable on the palate. Both hit 14.1% abv, both are on the brawny side and both sell for $35.

On the CrossBarn website, the label is described as “renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs’ innovative winery dedicated to crafting wines of stunning quality and exceptional value using sustainable vineyard practices and traditional winemaking techniques.” These two wines are well-made, and are done in the California style of Pinot - a little bigger than life.

The CrossBarn Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2013 has a dark hue and displays plenty of raspberry, cranberry and black cherry flavors, with a big earthy note and moderate spice - clove and nutmeg. Red plums, cherries and raspberries adorn the palate, with a nice, tart edge and a well-defined tannic structure joined by a mouth-watering acidity. It comes on bold - not something I look for in Pinot - but it settles down quickly and finishes elegantly, with fruit lingering quite a while.

The CrossBarn Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013 is a bit darker in color than the Sonoma, with a darker nose, too. Black fruit replaces the red and an even earthier note comes forward. There is a similar type of oak spice present, as well. On the palate, flavors fall in line with the Sonoma Pinot, with red fruit prevalent and less tartness. The initial contact is not as brash, and the wine carries itself with some degree of elegance. It is still a California Pinot Noir, though, so don't expect it to be too delicate or dainty. It does flex its bicep a bit.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Another Vampire-Free Vintage For Clos De Gilroy

The little California town of Gilroy is the garlic capital of the world, so they say, and one sniff as you drive by on the freeway confirms that nickname. Bonny Doon Vineyards President-For-Life Randall Grahm gives a nod to Gilroy - and all things aioli - with his Grenache named Clos De Gilroy. It just one of Grahm's red wines that exude a compelling savory side.

Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2014 is made from Monterey County grapes - 89% Grenache, 9% Mourvèdre and 2% Syrah - from five different vineyards: Alta Loma (80%), Del Barba (9%), Rancho Solo (6%) Ventana Vineyard (4%), and one percent from Camp Four. The ‘14 Clos de Gilroy was a gold medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this year. It retails for $20 and 3,159 cases were made.

Grahm says that the 2014 vintage is done in a "slightly different style than the '13, perhaps a bit meatier and chewier." The wine is "still primarily sourced from the Alta Loma Vyd. in the Arroyo Seco," he says. "This is a superb example of what Grenache is capable of in cooler sites of the Central Coast, when not allowed to achieve a preternatural degree of (over)-ripeness."

Clos de Gilroy shows medium-dark purple in the glass, with beautiful aromas of cherry, strawberry and raspberry on the nose, augmented by an herbal note for which Grahm’s wines are known. Delightful red fruit on the palate joins some nice savory notes, earth and pepper notably. Light on its feet with a crisp acidity and fairly easy tannins, this is a great wine for sipping - it can even take a chill fairly well.

The wine will also pair nicely with a variety of dishes - anything pork or chicken is a cinch. It has the guts to go with beef stew and the elegance to make it a good match with salmon.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

The Ferrari Of Zinfandel

In my home state, Lone Star Beer is marketed as "the national beer of Texas." In the state I have called home for over 25 years, Zinfandel is thought of as the national wine of California. The Zinfandel grape has been here almost as long as winemaking has. Certain regions of the Golden State are known for their great Zinfandel grapes - Lodi and Paso Robles come to mind, and so does Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley.

Ferrari-Carano makes a wine composed of 97% Zinfandel grapes with a splash of Petite Sirah. Their 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel is fermented in steel tanks before aging for 16 months in French oak. A third of that oak is new. The wine retails for $28 dollars.

The Dry Creek Valley Zin is an incredibly dark wine, almost black when held to the light. Its appearance led me to expect a gigantic, ripe, imposing, blammo nose to explode in my face like a loaded cigar. What else from a deep, dark Zinfandel? The nose is not at all blustery, though. It is elegant. Blackberry fruit is ripe, to be sure, but the nuances of sage, cinnamon, pepper and basil play lightly across the olfactory nerve endings.

On the palate, the expectations are met. Flavors of black plums, cherries and dark berries don't even try to be subtle. There is black pepper galore and enough minerals to allow me to skip my multi-vitamin in the morning. Great mocha notes come into play late. The juicy acidity needs to be paired with some meat, and fast. A hearty mouthfeel and bold tannins round out a great wine to have with a thick, juicy steak.

You could also pair this Zinfandel with anything off the grill - I'm thinking of mild Italian sausage right about now - or a burger with blue cheese on it instead of mustard.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lodi Native Single Vineyard Zinfandel: Schmiedt Ranch

A recent virtual wine tasting event featured LoCA, the Wines of Lodi and the second vintage release of the Lodi Native project. The event is chronicled on the Twitter hashtag feeds at  #LodiLive and #LodiNative.

Lodi Native is a collaboration of six winegrowers who aim to highlight Lodi's unique sense of place by focusing on single-vineyard Zinfandel selections from the region. The six labels involved in the Lodi Native project - McCay, Macchia, Fields Family, Maley Brothers, St. Amant and m2 Wines - are winegrowers as well as winemakers, as are the majority of Lodi’s producers.  Here are the wines tasted and tweeted about during the virtual event:

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel (Fields Family Wines)
2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel (Macchia Wines)
2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel (Maley Brothers)
2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel (McCay Cellars)
2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel (St. Amant Winery)
2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel (m2 Wines)

I was invited to take part in the event and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose. Here are my impressions of the 2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel by Macchia Wines.

Macchia winemaker and owner Tim Holdener used the Zinfandel grapes of Schmiedt Ranch Vineyard, managed by Lodi great Markus Bokisch, to create perhaps the most enthralling of the six Lodi Native wines. 

The tasters on social media commented, after @Lodi_Wine got the ball rolling, noting that "Schmiedt Ranch was planted in 1918 by the late great Ross Schmiedt." @MsPullThatCork noted that "Schmiedt Ranch was 'becoming a high rent area,' according to Tim Holdener." He was quoted by @Lodi_Wine, too. "Tim Holdener," they tweeted, says 'Lodi Native wines are meant to provide you with a taste of the vineyard. I never met a #Zinfandel vineyard I didn't like.'" 

One of the six Lodi Native Zinfandels, the Schmiedt Ranch by Macchia is sold in the six-pack through Lodi Native, but is also offered singly on the Macchia website, for $35. The alcohol hits an extremely ripe 15.9%.

Oh, man, this wine is good. In the glass, it’s as dark as a power failure, with a highly perfumed nose showing bright cherry and blackberry fruit with a savory streak running right through the middle. Black olives, sage, and thyme aromas make this a very interesting sniff. The palate gets even more complex, as the olives and herbs show boldly and a delicious coffee/mocha note drifts into the finish. 

The wine’s tannins are subtle, but it pairs wonderfully with a hamburger (easy on the mustard) or pizza, a pork chop or roasted chicken.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Napa Valley Petit Verdot - Good, But Not Unexpected

A recent virtual wine tasting event featured a sextet of "Unexpected Napa Wines." While Petit Verdot might not be the first grape you think of when someone mentions the Napa Valley, I would hesitate to say that I am shocked to hear of a Bordeaux variety growing there.

This inky wine is created with grapes from St. Supery’s Dollarhide Vineyard. Third generation winemakers, the Skalli family, allow Petit Verdot to carry the load, accounting for 97% of the blend. The rest is Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak aging occurs over 20 months in French oak barrels, half of which are new. There were 590 cases of this wine produced, and it retails for $50.

Dollarhide - the family-owned, sustainably farmed estate vineyard - features about 500 acres of grapevines, with the other two-thirds of the acreage left to its natural state. Vineyard elevations range from 600 to 1,100 feet, which exaggerates Napa Valley’s warm days and cool nights. Thirteen different soil types and a unique microclimate give Dollarhide a unique growing environment for grapes.

On social media, @TheDailySip calls it “a dense, opaque purple. The flavor is incredibly compact as well – blueberry, licorice, and black pepper.” @DrinkWhatULike let us know that Petit Verdot is “one of more notable grapes here in Va. This '10 a big‘un but well balanced. Well done.” @KMacWine tweeted, “I enjoy the blue fruit tones to this @StSupery #petitverdot, as well as its notes of violet and a distinct spiciness.” @SLHousman went gaga: “Wow BIG blackberry pie, allspice, anise w/ a touch of earth in this Petit Verdot.” More on the size from @winerabble: “There is nothing petite about #petitverdot!” @elyserobin rhymed, “Hello Petit Verdot! Blackberry and plum and vanilla, oh my!” We’re not in Bordeaux anymore. We're in the Napa Valley.

The 2010 St. Supery Dollarhide Petit Verdot is dark, as in dark, as in indigo ink. Very dark. Blackberry on the nose is not a bit shy, and is joined by black plum, clove, sage, vanilla and coffee. The palate shows dark fruit cloaked in oak spice and a dusty mineral note, the kind you only find in a single vineyard wine. Big tannic structure and acidity lasts for days. The wine finishes just as bold and brawny as it starts.

Pair with meat? Oh, yes. Think about a big, thick steak or lamb shanks. A beef stew would go just great with this one. Lay off the spices in your dish, because the wine has plenty of its own.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

California Sauvignon Blanc With Enough Nose For New Zealand

On the CrossBarn website, the label is described as “renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs’ innovative winery dedicated to crafting wines of stunning quality and exceptional value using sustainable vineyard practices and traditional winemaking techniques.” Hobbs' love of farm life, inspired by a childhood spent on his 150-year-old family farm in upstate New York, is the impetus behind the name of this label. The "cross barn" holds dear memories for him, and he keeps it alive in this line of wines.

Hobbs has placed the winemaking duties in the capable hands of Greg Urmini. His work with the 2014 vintage was made easier by an even-ripening growing season. Half of the grapes used in the CrossBarn Sauvignon Blanc 2014 are of the Musqué clone, which offers even more aromatics than usual. 87% of this wine was produced using stainless steel tanks, while 13% was ferment in oak barrels. There was no malolactic fermentation allowed, but the wine did rest on the spent yeast cells - sur lie - for four months.

I expected a California Sauvignon Blanc to taste fruity - the opposite of grassy. This CrossBarm Sauvignon Blanc plays the herbal card like an ace-high straight. New Zealandesque? Maybe, a bit. But there is more than the grassy aroma on the nose. The tropical fruit mows the lawn nicely, with pineapple and guava in abundance. A citrusy mineral note also plays into the bouquet. The mouthfeel is dominated a brisk acidity and that citrus angle, with apples and pears to boot. The herbal feel is certainly a major force, but not to the exclusion of the fruit. It is a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc which should please any New World palate.