Friday, May 22, 2015

Hawking And Horsing: A Glass Of Wine With Mitch Hawkins

There is no horsing around when Mitch Hawkins, of Hawk and Horse Vineyards, decides to tell you about his world. He emphasizes the importance of his family, but he also takes some time to hawk his wares.

I had the pleasure of joining Hawkins for a glass of wine at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel when he was in Los Angeles recently. He poured his Hawk and Horse 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon of the Red Hills AVA, the southernmost in Lake County.

Hawkins is a big believer in biodynamic farming. "Biodynamic agriculture views the farm as a self-contained, self-sustaining ecosystem responsible for creating and maintaining its individual health and vitality without any external or unnatural additions," he writes on the winery’s website. He is proud that his vineyard is Demeter certified. The Demeter Association is known as the first label for organically grown foods.

"We are passionately dedicated to quality from the ground up," he states. "From the selection of our vines and vineyard site, to the most carefully detailed farming practices, we pay special attention to every aspect of the wine growing process. Our soil and climate are perfectly suited to growing Bordeaux varieties, and we specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon."

Hawkins peppers the conversation with numerous farm boy references, proud to talk about the dirt under his fingernails. Figuratively speaking, of course. He cleans up real nice for his forays into the big city.

After a career that has included several disparate occupations, he says of growing his grapes, "I can't imagine doing anything else."  He loves talking about the various attributes of his hillside vineyard - the red volcanic soil and the adherence to biodynamics first and foremost. He even had pictures of his land, which he showed like a proud papa.

Oh, and he really is a proud papa. He had pictures of his family to show off, too. They are rodeo people, and he has two girls who participate in barrel racing. A brief interlude occurred while he found a video on his phone of one of his daughters racing a horse through a course set up in the dirt around an array of barrels. The family’s allegiance to the horse world was driven home when he explained that they had bought land on Howell Mountain - a coveted winegrowing site - for use as a rodeo arena.

Eventually, he returned to the discussion on grapes. "Biodynamic farming is a method of working the land in harmony with the dynamic forces of the cosmos and elements of nature," he said. "It was developed by Rudolph Steiner, who lectured that the earthly and cosmic forces work in the farm through the substances of the Earth."

His 18-acre estate is home not only to grapevines, but also a herd of Scottish Highland cattle, who also participate in the biodynamics of the farm. He produced another batch of pictures, showing him burying horns full of dung and worm casings, all in the effort to make the land one with the nature around it. He brough a collection of "Lake County diamonds," the quartz rocks found in the soil on his vineyard site.

Although Hawkins is the winemaker, he recruited some good help - consulting winemaker Dr. Richard Peterson. Hawkins' 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab, aged for 21 months in French oak, 90% of which is new. Alcohol in the 1,500 cases produced sits at 14.1% abv and it sells for $65. For his blended wines, he is quick to credit his wife, Tracy, for having the great palate that enables her to call shots on the final blends.

Hawkins is justifiably proud of this wine. "This is one of our most elegant vintages to date," he said. "Long hang time and cooler temperatures gave this vintage great complexity, and it got a 98-point rating!"

This Cab is very dark, deep ruby - almost black. If it were green, it would be English racing green. The luscious nose demands attention immediately. I told Hawkins that it's one of those wines I could just smell and never get around to tasting. He quipped, "I never get tired of hearing that." Minerals, earth and blackberries are in the forefront, graphite comes on after it opens. The palate is elegant, but there is plenty of tannic structure. I want a rib eye with it. Hawkins suggests a New York steak. The lovely cassis flavor hits the minerality just right.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wine As An Art Form - CrossHatch Wines

The back label of CrossHatch Wines gives a description of crosshatching - an artistic technique that utilizes closely spaced, intersecting lines to add shading or depth to a drawing. Santa Barbara's Carr Winery has named their new line of blends after this technique. Winemaker Ryan Carr thinks of their blending process as the winemaking version of crosshatching. The different grape varieties are harvested on the same day and fermented together, adding shape and depth, bringing out aromas and flavors not there before.

2014 CrossHatch White Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

This is a really great white wine consisting of 70% Viognier and 30% Marsanne, the alcohol is quite restrained at only 14% abv and 154 cases were made. Retail is just $17, a steal for a wine showing this kind of quality.

Viognier grapes grown at Quail Valley Vineyard come from "the heart of Santa Ynez," while the Marsanne grapes were picked in the warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in Camp Four Vineyard. The grapes were co-fermented and aged six months in stainless steel tanks.

The straw colored wine has a gorgeous nose of tropical fruit and melon rind. There a suggestion of the sea in it, too. The salinity hinted at by the nose is realized on the palate - the savory aspect works with the fruitiness, not against it. Great, razor sharp acidity and a finish of lime zest make for an invigorating mouthfeel. Bring on some crab legs. Oysters. Scallops.

2012 CrossHatch Rhône Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

Sixty percent Grenache is a good start in my book and 40% Syrah is an even better second chapter. Carr only made 225 cases of this Rhône blend and it sells for $25. The grapes - both varieties - were grown in the Santa Ynez Valley's Quail Ridge Vineyard. The grapes were co-fermented with 15% whole clusters, then aged in French oak for 18 months. Twenty percent of that oak was new. Alcohol hits 14% abv.

This Rhône blend shows a medium dark hue in the glass and emits perfumed black cherry alongside earthy notes. There is a bit of funk to it, with an extreme minerality. Dark shadings on the cherry fruit mark the palate, with a rough-hewn oak spice. Nice acidity gives it a refreshing mouthfeel and the finish carries a bit of tartness, for quite a while.

2012 CrossHatch Bordeaux Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

Call this one a Bordeaux blend because there is not enough Merlot - 60% - to name it varietally. The remainder is Cabernet Franc, which plays almost as big a role in the aromas and flavors as the Merlot. 250 cases of this $28 wine were produced, with a 14% abv number. Camp Four Vineyard is where both varieties were grown, and whole cluster pressing again accounts for 15% of the grapes. Repeated also is the co-fermentation and 18 month French oak aging.

The inky wine lets no light through and smells equally dense. Black fruit, earth and a whiff of smoke play over an undercurrent of cinnamon spice. It is a very pleasantly fragrant wine. Things go just as well on the sip, with massive dark berries and plums  backed up by minerality, acidity and great tannic structure. Pair it with a juicy steak, pair it with potatoes roasted just short of burnt or pair it with leg of lamb. You can also just sip it and get along just fine.


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Monday, May 18, 2015

Charity Wine: Paws For A Cause

Baron Cooper is a rescued Manchester Terrier adopted by the Habashi family from their local Humane Society. "He had been a part of a prisoner rehabilitation program that left him with serious behavioral issues," the Habashis explain onn the website, "and as a result, he also had difficulty trusting strangers - especially men. Today we are working our hardest to help Cooper forget his past and enjoy his new life.  Slowly, he's regaining the happy-go-lucky and playful attitude he was meant to have."

Baron Cooper Wines - the wine label bearing his name and likeness - is intended to “raise awareness to the plight of all shelter animals in need of new and loving families,” according to the label. It goes on, “The Baron Cooper wine brand is dedicated to Cooper and to all pets in shelters across the country.” The company raises more than just awareness, too. They raise money for the cause. Five percent of all the sales of Baron Cooper wines will be donated to the Best Friends Animal Society focused on saving the lives of animals in America’s shelters.

The Baron Cooper line offers a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Cab and a red blend which are labelled with nothing more specific than “California” for point of origin. The line also includes a Sonoma County Pinot Noir and a single-vineyard old-vine Zinfandel from Lodi.

Baron Cooper 2012 Chardonnay, California

This white wine is made from 97% Chardonnay and 3% other white varieties, which are unnamed in the supporting material I could find. An alcohol level of 12.8% abv is quite reasonable. The wine sells for $16.

There is a nice golden hue and a nose containing the scent of apples, tropical fruit and a gentle kiss of oak. The palate has oak spice coming on much stronger in the flavor profile - even more so as it opens up. The apple is joined by apricot, lime and a little orange zest. Lip-smacking, juicy acidity makes food pairing easy. The lime stretches into the finish

Baron Cooper 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, California

Usually I am not too crazy about Cabernet showing nothing more than California as the AVA. More specific information is required for me to take a bottle from the shelf. This one - sent to me as a sample for review - is not something which I anxiously awaited. The wine carries alcohol at a reasonable 13.6% abv clip and retails for $20.

It's a medium-dark wine with aromas of dark berry and black cherry. The oak spice is sweet and light. Flavors of blackberry and plum are met by good tannins that lay low and don't get in the way of the sip. While it’s probably not making any top ten lists, the wine really is pretty decent. It doesn't have Napa Valley worried, but if you were to spend $20 on a Cabernet you could do a lot worse. I'd actually like this chilled at a summer BBQ.


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Friday, May 15, 2015

Lodi Wine: Inkblot Tannat

The wine community in Lodi, California has a saying: "What you call crazy, we call passion." Referring to the long history of agriculture than runs through most grower families there, it may have spawned an offbeat label by Michael-David Winery, which features symbolism couched in psychiatric terminology. The label art for the Inkblot line refers to the inkblot designs used in the Rorschach test to determine one's relative mental outlook. It is billed as test #209 by "Dr. Michael-David." Crazy? Or passion? What do you think?

The good doctor is credited with the quote, "Don't complain - wine!" Look at the picture. What do you see? A bunch of grapes?

"No doctor, I see a person drinking from a wine glass."

"Hmm."

"Is that bad?"

"Do you think it's bad?"

"I don't know what to think anymore doctor, there are so many wines out there."

"Mm hmm."

"Am I wrong to love a grape so few people even know about?"

"What do you think?"

The Tannat grape is noted for its high tannin, dark color and rich berry aromas and flavors. It is called the "national grape" of Uruguay, although it originated in southwest France. The grapes for Inkblot Tannat come from a five-acre vineyard in the southeastern part of Lodi. Red, gravelly loam soil provides great drainage for a variety that is actually rather afraid of water. Perhaps some time on the couch can ease this neurotic behavior.

The wine is 100% Tannat, aged for 16 months in new French oak. The alcohol level of 15.3% abv isn't exactly crazy, but there were initially only 400 cases around to argue the case against that opinion.

During a virtual tasting event on Twitter, @Lodi_Wine tweeted of @MDWinery Tannat, "Go big or go home." And bring a bottle for that crazy uncle who never comes out of his room. @pullthatcork commented, "Inkblot Tannat has substantially lower tannins than ones from #Uruguay I have had." I, too, thought the Lodi effort was much more drinkable than the Tannat wines from Uruguay that I have experienced. @Lodi_Wine may have been trying to give the wine a complex, citing, "The vineyard for @MDWinery Tannat is a mere 5 acres." Size isn't everything, is it doctor?

@FrugalWineSnob chimed in with, "Wow. Nearly black. Big but not a bully. Delicious French oak, tight mouthfeel. @WineHarlots called it, "a dense bottle of vanilla. Not typical, but tasty." @WineJulia loved "the smoky, earthy qualities. #yowzayummy," while @FondrenA took it step further, pointing to the wine's "nice gamey component - I could see this pairing well with duck or lamb." Kudos also came from @AmyCGross, who called Inkblot Tannat "BIG and BOLD and a great exclamation point to end an evening."

Indigo black, light does not get through this dense wine. Light tries to get through, but the tannins beat it within an inch of its existence. Light retreats in fear and develops a neurosis. The nose of this wine is immense, with explosive black fruit and truly extraordinary notes of mocha, caramel, coffee and alcohol. There's a lot of alcohol. The palate carries quite a bit of heat, too - not a surprise, considering the lofty alcohol number. I'm not a big fan of high alcohol wines, but this one makes a convincing argument for itself. Savory dark fruit is seasoned with spice and mocha while tannins stand guard, no doubt in case some light tries to sneak through. Pair it with the thickest, fattiest red meat you can find - give all that tannic structure something to do.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lodi Wine: Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

Oak Farm Vineyards is a beautiful property just a short drive from downtown Lodi. As the name suggests, they are known for their many huge oak trees, but the 60-acre estate features grapevines, too. Varietals grown on the property include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Verdelho, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese and Barbera.

The grapes for the Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014 come from Mohr-Fry Ranches - a Certified Green/Lodi RulesVineyard. The wine is made from 100% Lodi vineyard-designate grapes. Alcohol hits only 13.5% abv and it's all vinified in stainless steel tanks. Only 229 cases were made.

Oak Farms uses the same clone of Sauvignon Blanc grape  that put New Zealand on the map, but they point out that, "Lodi produces a more citrusy style. Our wine still has hints of grassiness, without being too herbaceous."  The grapes were whole-cluster pressed, which adds a bit to the herbal angle.

During a virtual tasting event on Twitter, @Lodi_Wine tweeted that "Chad Joseph is the winemaker at @OakFarmVineyard. He's pretty much a genius in the cellar." I'll go along with that. @NormalWine said this wine is a "nice Sauv Blanc. Very mild and lemony. Super summer sipper! Figgy with zing!" Figs and zing are both good in my book.

The nose features citrus, with minerals and a very slight grassy component. On the palate,  I find delightful acidity and great fruit, featuring tangerine, lemon and lime zest. The sip finishes clean and brisk. For the cheese pairing that was a part of the virtual event, @Luscious-Lushes noted that "Humbolt Fog is my spirit animal." Couldn't agree more.


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Monday, May 11, 2015

Lodi Wine: Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc

The name Acquiesce means "To surrender, to become quiet." At the winery, they say, "we acquiesce to the grapes,,, and to nature." Acquiesce Vineyards is Lodi's only winery dedicated completely to white wines.

The Acquiesce 2014 Picpoul Blanc is whole-cluster pressed, 100% Picpoul Blanc from the Lodi Mokelumne River AVA. Alcohol hits a very reasonable 12.5% abv. There were only 98 cases made, so don't drag your cursor ordering this one. It is estate grown, produced and bottled and retails for just $24. They only have 100 vines bearing this grape, which are Tablas Creek cuttings from the French Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. The high-acidity grape makes for a very food-friendly wine.

I wondered aloud on Twitter about how much Picpoul Blanc is grown in California.  @Luscious_Lushes replied, "not a lot. But I know Tablas, Twisted Oak and a couple of others that make single variety Picpoul." @Dracaenawines commented, "we are aware of a small vineyard in #pasorobles." @camron94 replied, "There's not much! Only about 42 tons of #PicpoulBlanc crushed last year in #California."

After we got past that, @dvinewinetime said, "OMG the @AcquiesceWine Picpoul Blanc '14 is AMAZING! Like drinking a glass of flowers. Beautiful." On the cheese pairing with the wine. @wineandgoodfood tweeted, "Cypress Grove Midnight Moon is creamy & mild...great pairing with the Picpoul Blanc." @Lodi_Wine said, "@AcquiesceWine is one of the newest members to the #LodiRules program. Let's give her some love!" That was in reference to Susan Tipton, the owner and winemaker at Aquiesce Vineyards.

This pale wine has such great minerality that the sensation of rocks in a stream is impossible to ignore. The aromas of wet stones are met toe to toe by orange peel and lemon zest. On the palate things get just as stony. Citrus flavors - the taste version of "wet rocks," - are in the forefront, the mid-palate and the finish. The acidity is dynamic and makes the wine perfect for food pairing. The Acquiesce website says to pair it with Thai dishes, cilantro, tuna, ceviche and salads. All of those recommendations are good. And sipping by the pool is also highly recommended.


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Friday, May 8, 2015

Lodi Wine Takes To Twitter, Brings Cheese

The wine community in Lodi, California really has a handle on how to get the word out about their grapes and wines. The series of virtual tasting events - based on Twitter, with a separate live video feed - are always well attended and and overflowing with great information about the region and its winegrowers.

It’s no surprise that the Lodites - Loditians? - have quickly mastered a social media art form that is rather new to them. They have had the farming thing figured out for generations. When they decided to start making their own wines instead of trucking the fruit of their labor down the road to be made by others, they hit the learning curve on the high side.

The periodic virtual get-togethers are a great way to showcase their wines and display publicly all the nice things that tasters have to say about them.  The most recent event featured four wines, two white and two red. The twist this time was a cheese pairing component, with select cheeses matched up with the wines. Here are the participating wineries and cheeses:

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards 2014 Picpoul Blanc ($24.00) 
paired with Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, Arcata, CA

Oak Farm Vineyards 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.00) 
paired with Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog® Grande, Arcata, CA

St. Amant Winery 2013 Barbera ($18.00) 
paired with Fiscalini Farms San Joaquin Gold, Modesto, CA

Michael David Winery 2012 Tannat ($35.00) 
paired with Central Coast Creamery Seascape Paso Robles, CA

The tasting session was hosted by Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at Lodi Winegrape Commission, who was joined by Cindy Della Monica, owner & cheesemonger at Cheese Central.

The wines on the list are are sustainably grown in adherence to the Lodi Rules™ for Sustainable Winegrowing - California’s first third party certified sustainable winegrowing program, which was launched in 2005. The cheeses are eco-friendly, too.

As described online, “Lodi Rules™ takes a comprehensive approach to farming that goes beyond just pest management to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, water and air quality, soil health, and employee and community well-being.” The program includes more than 85 farming operations, and 20,000 acres of Lodi vineyards have been certified.

“For a wine to bear the Lodi Rules™ seal of approval, its composition must be made up of at least 85% of fruit which has been sourced from a vineyard certified under the Lodi Rules™ program, meaning that the vineyard has passed an independent, peer reviewed audit of 101 farming practice standards which have been accredited by Protected Harvest, a non-profit organization of scientists, academics and environmentalists. Over twenty wineries now produce wines that bear the Lodi Rules™ seal on the label.”

Located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Lodi is about 100 miles east of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Sacramento. It has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850’s, and now home to over 100,000 acres of premium vineyards farmed by more than 750 growers.  

Watch this space for details on some of the individual wines included in this virtual tasting.


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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Casting About For A Couple Of "Cause Wines"

Steelhead Vineyards, out of Geyserville, CA, is a Sonoma County winery that donates a portion of their sales to fund the restoration of steelhead trout habitats, a cause to which they have devoted themselves since 2002. They are also high on water management practices - a nice thing to have at the forefront of your concerns, considering the drought conditions California faces. Consulting Winemaker Hugh Chappelle works with a variety of fruit from different sources to produces a Sauvignon Blanc that is wonderfully representative of the California style of the wine.


Steelhead Vineyards North Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2013

The year 2013 is acclaimed on the winery's website as "another great vintage!" 80% of the fruit in this wine came from the Lake County AVA, with a majority organically grown by Ron Bartolucci. The other fruit came from partners in Dry Creek Valley. The winery explains, "What sets 2013 apart is a riper, more tropical-citrus character in the wine, without higher alcohol, and a wonderfully balanced texture with soft, yet crisp acidity. Overall, an incredibly versatile vintage!" After their copywriter's liberal use of exclamation points, I can't wait for a sip.

This white underwent a complete, cold, stainless steel fermentation - no malolactic - to preserve varietal character of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes. A small portion spent time on the lees - the spent yeast cells - to give the wine richness and texture. It hits 13.5% abv and retails for about $14. It's a great buy.

The nervy white wine bears a nice straw tint and smells of freshly cut hay. Fruity aromas come through the grassy haze with pineapple and honeydew leading the way trailing citrus behind it. The palate is just as lively. Citrus plays a more prominent role in the flavor profile, with intense minerality and a salty spiciness. The finish is clean and refreshing and stays a long time.


Steelhead Vineyards Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2013

Fermentation takes place in open top tanks with gentle punch downs as well as closed top tanks. The wine is then aged in a combination of tanks and barrels on light lees - spent yeast cells - for up to 10 months with occasional stirring to bring out the wine's richness. The winery says, "This vintage of our Pinot Noir embodies everything we love about this varietal. 2013 was a great year for reds and a notable richness and concentration was immediately evident. This vintage will drink well on release but will award good cellaring over the next 2+ years." Alcohol hits 14.5% and the wine retails for about $15.

This Pinot Noir, I must admit, was a bit disappointing. The medium purple tint looks nice, but the nose plays rough. A highly perfumed funk dotted by violets and coffee grounds is interesting, if a little off-putting. In a Syrah it might be more welcome, but in a wine billed as 100% Pinot Noir, I want something a little more graceful. There is also a lot of heat right after pouring, with big tannins that might be expected from a much heartier grape. things settle down in a short time, but it takes quite a while to get to a level that might be called elegant.

Allow plenty of time for this wine to open up - and by that I mean open it the day before - maybe two days. Candied blackberry and plum are a surprise on the palate. There is more alcohol than I want with a Pinot, and a less complex palate too. Black tea notes show up eventually to help out, but it's still too grapey and too brawny.


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Monday, May 4, 2015

Quivira Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012 Sonoma County

The portion of Sonoma County known as Dry Creek Valley may sound like a parched, sun-baked no-man's land, but it wears that name as a disguise. It's a great place to grow grapes.

The 2012 growing season in Dry Creek Valley allowed for slow and even ripening. Nobody ever brags about fast, uneven ripening. You get that a lot in some other parts of California, but Dry Creek Valley gets to do a lot of bragging about their special climate. It's a warm part of the county, to be sure. They do like their slow, even ripening, though.

The grapes for this wine came from Quivira Vineyards' three estate vineyards, which all follow organic and biodynamic farming practices. The grapes from Anderson Ranch Vineyard provide red fruit to the mix, the ones from Wine Creek Ranch Vineyard add structure and spice while fruit from Goat Trek vineyard account for concentration and tannin. Fruit was also sourced from other local growers.

Winemaker Hugh Chappelle vinified the lots separately, which were aged in French, American and Hungarian oak , 20% of it new, with medium toast to allow the terroir to speak freely. The alcohol hits a hearty 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $22. It is 89% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah and 1% Carignane, and these spicy varieties play very well together. 11,475 cases were produced. Chappelle says, "Dramaless years are rare for winegrowers, so we welcomed 2012 with open arms in Dry Creek Valley."

The Quivira Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012 appears inky, so much so I can't see light through it. The nose displays beautiful blueberry, pepper, tobacco and a hint of vanilla. The palate is just as comely, with gorgeous fruit represented by juicy blackberry and plum colored by savory streaks of cinnamon, chicory and clove. The wine boasts great structure and acidity.

Quivira Zinfandel is made to pair with meat dishes - anything hot off the grill will do - with pasta Bolognese running a close second. If you have some left at dessert, try it with dark chocolate. OMG.


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Friday, May 1, 2015

A Moniker By Any Other Name: Mark Beaman, Winemaker

Does the name Mark Beaman ring a bell? When I was approached about joining the winemaker bearing that moniker for dinner, I thought there was something familiar about the name. It took a little digging - just a little - to find out why.

The publicist insisted that “you may not know winemaker Mark Beaman, but you likely know his wines,” and that turned out to be the case. Beaman is assistant winemaker for Parducci Wine Cellars, but that was not the memory nerve that was struck. Fifty Shades of Gray Wine wasn’t it either. Ah, Wines That Rock! That’s it! The wines that serve as a liquid tribute band for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Woodstock - Mark Beaman is the winemaker who rocked those Mendocino County grapes into the bottle.

The wines Beaman was at dinner to pour - and pour - were those bearing the Moniker label. These wines - sourced exclusively from Mendocino County - pay tribute to the three generations of the Thornhill family, Beaman’s employers. Beaman liked the Thornhills so much, he married one of them. “I had the job first,” he is quick to point out, “then I met my wonderful wife.”

Beaman was raised in a farming family in Washington state and kept the dirt under his fingernails with a stint as a soil conservation expert in the Peace Corps. Oddly, it was during that time in East Africa that Beaman became interested in winemaking. He saw the fermentation process there as the locals made mead, honey wine. He got his feet purple at Washington’s Columbia Crest winery before moving to Mendocino.

Beaman loves making Moniker wines in Mendocino County. “It was my desire to work for a small family winery, and I like that the Thornhills are very progressive in their farming practices and committed to crafting the highest-quality wines possible.” He particularly likes the varietal choice that is possible due to Mendocino’s microclimates and - of course - the soil types.

Beaman opened his dinner comments at the bar, noting that in Chardonnay, oak is like a painting frame. "If you notice it, it is too gaudy. It should serve as a framework. It should accent, not dominate."

He points out that Mendocino Wine Company - the parent company of Moniker Wines - is the oldest winery in Mendocino County, founded in 1932. He feels that Mendocino County's problem has been marketing, not growing or winemaking.

He is doing what he can to get the word out about what a great wine growing region is found in the county. How did he end up there, instead of at a more established winery? He wanted the opportunity "to experiment and be part of something being built in the present day." Beaman also was attracted by the"incredible diversity of grapes grown in Mendocino County."

His Moniker Chardonnay shows great fruit and bright acidity, which he attributes to the diurnal shift - the differential of warm and cool temperatures achieved in the county during the growing season. Notes of Asian pear and spice are joined by a great touch of oak. The fruit is gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. This Chardonnay is elegant, not oaky or steely. A 4% hit of Viognier adds floral aromas as it warms. Beaman says the presence of the Viognier gives a "second life to the wine."

"I'm not about the winemaker tricks and what I can do," he says. "I'm about the growers and capturing what they do and bottling it."

For red wines, Moniker employs redwood tanks - huge ones. The redwood tanks are over 100 years old and Beaman says the redwood "does not impart flavor to the wine, even when new. It does smooth the tannins quite a bit, though."

The Moniker Pinot Noir has a lovely, graceful, raspberry nose with gentle notes of tea and coffee. The palate is very rich, with red berry, cherry and black tea. Very gentle tannins make for a smooth sipping experience.

According to Beaman, the wine gives a "nod to Burgundy, but it's definitely a California Pinot because it has to through a lot of yoga poses before it's just right. It needs aeration to get it past its assertive phase."

Of the Moniker Cabernet Sauvignon, Beaman says it's a "cerebral, fireside wine," although it is great with food, too. Notes of gunpowder and mint are immediately obvious, while the "olive tapenade will come out," he says. Beaman says he really likes that he didn't mention blackberry or currant in the flavor profile. He is obviously proud to present a Cabernet that elbows its way past the usual descriptors and delivers something a little deeper.

The Moniker Wines are something on which Beaman can be very proud to place his own moniker.


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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Canyon Cabernet: Dascomb Cellars

Dascomb Cellars Patriarch Don Dascomb bought the estate vineyard in 1974, starting a family business which sold their fruit to other winemakers. By the end of the 1990s, many Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Santa Barbara County had been ripped out in favor of varieties that have proven quite successful for growers in the SBC - Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Dascomb felt that Cab's time in the county was not over. He maintained his planting of the King of Grapes in what is now the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County AVA - a place where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives due to the conditions which are considerably warmer than the land to the west, which is closer to the marine influence.

According to the Dascomb website, winemaker Dave Dascomb - the younger generation - believes that he is simply building upon what nature has produced. "Mother Nature determines if a particular vintage will be good or not," he is quoted. "My responsibility is to make it exceptional!" The blurb continues that, "Exceptional wine is achieved through established farming practices, patience at harvest, old-world cellar practices and a passion for the art of winemaking!"

The grapes for this wine came from East Valley Vineyard, planted by the Dascomb family forty years ago, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the region. Alcohol hits 14.5% abv and it retails for $34. Considering the price point, it over-performs. I received a sample for the purpose of this article.

This Happy Canyon Cab certainly made me happy. Inky black in the glass, I like it already. Ripe nose of dark berries and graphite, you bet. Mouth full of blackberries and currants, yep. Amazing tannic structure, you had me at inky black. And, you get that fabulous acidity thrown in at no extra cost.

I paired mine with tri-tip straight from my grill, and it fit like it was on special order. I imagine it will serve equally well with a ribeye or a bacon-wrapped pork loin. Oh, sorry, I drifted off into my barbecue fantasy place for a second. Pair it with any meat dish that’s not really spicy and you’ll have a good time.


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Monday, April 27, 2015

Who Do You Have To Know To Get A Proper Claret Around Here?

Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite is billed as the alter ego of the beloved, quixotic, notorious Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm. His flowery prose graces the back label of the 2013 A Proper Claret, and his missive to me, accompanying a sample of the wine, is similarly evocative and properly footnoted. It may well be the only wine label in existence with footnotes.

On the label, ffrench-Postalthwaite wonders aloud - albeit in print - what one has to do to "be served a glass of Proper Claret around here?" Claret is the generic British term used for wines of Bordeaux. There may have been a jab directed at France by the word, which formerly meant something of light color. The wines of Bordeaux once actually were of light color, but that was quite a while before they stormed the Bastille.

The pejorative stuck, as did the use of the phrase "the French disease" to describe syphilis. It may or may not be true that the French fought back on that one, calling syphilis "the English disease." They also got in a shot of their own by recognizing the American colonies as independent of Great Britain, while not recognizing the wine of England as anything at all.

But, as ffrench-Postalthwaite might annotate in his footnotes, I digress. He writes me that A Proper Claret "nominally purports to represent an old-fangled style of' 'Claret,' it frankly strikes me as perhaps more of a version of the Cabernets I remember of the '60s and '70s. Slightly riper and richer than the '12 version, it is still quite elegant and restrained." Which is more than we can say for ffrench-Postalthwaite. Nearly 16,000 cases of A Proper Claret were made.

This wine is composed of a blend of red grapes, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13.5% Petit Verdot, 7.7% Syrah and and .8% Petite Sirah. Did he say "point-eight-percent?" Did he say "Tannat?"

The interesting reading on the back label should not - could not - distract you from the wonderful illustration on the front, by New York City artist Bascove. The wine clocks in at a restrained 13.5% abv, no faint feat considering the high-octane grapes used in the mix. It retails for $16 and comes bottled under a proper screwcap.

The wine is as dark as night. Black fruit on the nose is adorned in customary Grahm-savory fashion by notes of sage, rosemary and a delicious black olive scent. The palate shows blackberry and cassis, but the wine is not dominated by fruit. Notes of cedar, cinnamon and cardamom play a huge role on the palate. The tannins are are firm, but elegant, and it should pair as as well with British bangers as they do with a good old American beef brisket.


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Friday, April 24, 2015

Wine Book: The Mad Crush

One of my wine country friends, Christopher Weir, has written a book about his experiences during one particular harvest at one particular winery. It’s called The Mad Crush: A Memoir of Mythic Vines and Improbable Winemaking, and it’s a great read. Its entertainment value is not restricted to those who know a lot about wine. Everyone can enjoy this book.

The Mad Crush is Weir’s personal recollection of the 1995 harvest at Saucelito Canyon Vineyard, in which he was recruited to help with the crush - the process of getting the grapes into the winery and making them into wine. Saucelito Canyon Vineyard is described on its website as being “in the middle of nowhere,” but a more accurate location would be the upper Arroyo Grande Valley of California’s Central Coast. This vineyard was originally planted in 1880, and the specialty of the house is old-vine Zinfandel.

Weir explains that while the book centers on the “eyebrow-raising escapades of the 1995 crush, it ultimately tells the larger tale of a century-old Zinfandel vineyard and the adventuresome characters who have dared to call it home.” It is his own personal account of the vineyard, its inhabitants and their place in California wine history. If you have a glass of wine while reading it, it’s like having a glass with a friend while he recounts the war stories of a season a couple of decades gone.

Interesting characters seem to gravitate to Weir, or he to them. In his role as a publicist for various wine concerns in the San Luis Obispo area, he has introduced me to several fascinating folks, including the most personal and hands-on vineyard tour I have ever experienced.

The one question that came to mind as I read the book was a wondered-aloud, “Why did he hold on to these stories for so long?” In almost the same instant I recalled the various books and screenplays that I and other friends have attempted, and the question became, “How did he ever find the time?” I’m not the only one who is glad that he did find that time.

The book has been getting some nice mentions from the wine-soaked likes of Joe Roberts, W. Blake Gray and rock-god Don Dokken, who is also a wine connoisseur. I’ll put my stamp of approval on it, too. There is nothing like a good collection of funny, interesting stories - when they happen to go so well with a glass of wine, The Mad Crush is irresistible.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Born Of Terroir

It is the time of year when people turn their attention to the lighter, whiter wines that refresh and replenish, after a winter of hearty reds to warm the insides and pair with the meaty, soul-filling dishes of the winter season. For me, though, it's always white wine weather - I drink mine at room temperature, the better to savor the aromas and flavors which are sometimes softened by a chill. I also like mine with more than seafood, as the higher acidity levels found in many whites makes for a perfect match with meat.

The classic white wine for warmer weather - pardon me, Chardonnay fan - is Sauvignon Blanc. The grape so good it is grown all over France, instead of in just one corner, really shines when the season turns to flowers and showers and men swinging bats at hurled projectiles.

Sauvignon Blanc is a popular grape in California, too. It finds great purchase in the soil of Napa Valley, soil which also accommodates several other grapes that hail from Bordeaux. Winegrowers say that it's the dirt that makes or breaks a grape, but the weather figures in prominently when determining that nebulous quality known as terroir.

Commenting on the generous 2012 vintage in Napa Valley, Cornerstone managing partner Craig Camp says, "The warm, but not hot, weather in 2012 gave us a long, even season that let the flavors develop at an even pace producing a Sauvignon Blanc with classic structure and minerality combined with a generous character that speaks so clearly of Napa Valley terroir."

What winemaking tricks did they employ to get the wine so rich and full? "None," says Camp. "In Bordeaux they add Sémillon to add richness, but in the Napa Valley we can achieve that depth with the Sauvignon Blanc variety alone letting the pure essence of this noble variety shine. As always, there is no new oak used with our Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc White Label to blunt it's natural, beautiful vivacious personality."

Alcohol sits at a Napa-proper 14.1% abv. Picking the grapes earlier for a now-stylish lower alcohol content is not how Cornerstone rolls. In a Twitter exchange with Camp, he states his belief that, “Making a 13% alc. #wine in a 14% terroir is not good winemaking. You're just denying #terroir.” So lower alcohol should not be a result of simply harvesting earlier? “You can't make good wine from underripe grapes. If you want low alcohol you have to pick the right vineyard.”

This Sauvignon Blanc retails for $30, placing it on a high plateau for the variety. The experience is worth the expenditure.

The Cornerstone Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc White Label 2012 puts fruit first, with delicious aromas of apples, cantaloupes and guava emanating from the glass. There is a whiff of minerals, but it's downplayed to favor the ripe, fruity nose. On the palate, expect to find plenty of melon and tropical fruit abetted by a bit stronger play for the citrus zest and minerals. It drinks with a full mouthfeel, yet as clean as can be. It’s rich, without leaning on oak. It is aged in French oak barrels for only five months, with the spent yeast cells stirred every now and then to create that rich and creamy mouthfeel.

Cornerstone suggests seafood - particularly shellfish - as a pairing, but don't overlook weightier dishes. The wine's acidity makes it a delight with turkey or chicken sausages, particularly ones that have a touch of spice in the recipe. It kills with Asian cuisine.


Monday, April 20, 2015

A Day Trip To Santa Barbara County Wine Country

Road trips to wine country are the best road trips.  For us, they are practically the only road trips. The beauty of the land up north of Santa Barbara is captivating, the fruit and vegetable stands offer some really great tastes to bring home and - lastly, but not leastly - there is wine when you get there. Denise and I recently took her brother, his girlfriend and a buddy of ours from Los Angeles up to the Santa Barbara County wine country around Los Olivos for the day. It’s been several months now, but here are the notes from that trip.

After the two-hour-plus drive - which included the customary stop for a bagel in Camarillo - our first stop in wine country was off the 101 Freeway west of Buellton.  We hit a couple of wineries there which have nice tasting rooms. Then, after lunch, we finished on “tasting room row” in Los Olivos. It’s the standard structure for our Santa Barbara County road trips, and it offers plenty of flexibility so we can keep our itinerary as fresh as we like.

Sanford

The vines at Sanford Winery and Vineyards were planted at a time when that was considered a bit of a weird thing to do in Santa Barbara County. It doesn’t seem so strange now, with the Sta. Rita Hills claiming a rightful place in the handful of great Pinot Noir regions.

The tasting room is housed in a big, beautiful hacienda with a walk-around porch that offers several serene views of the grounds. The crew is fantastic: just as helpful and knowledgeable as you want a tasting room crew to be. I’ve been to other tasting rooms where questions about the wines went unanswered - or worse, unrecognized. That is never the case with the attentive pourers at Sanford.

Winemaker Steve Fennell works for the Terlato family and has created some memorable wines at Sanford for nearly a decade.

2011 La Rinconada Vineyard Chardonnay - $40
Even though sparkling wine is often made with Chardonnay grapes, Chardonnay wine almost never reminds me of sparkling wine. This one does. A lovely pear and vanilla nose opens to a toasty palate that shows the nine months in oak (40% new) beautifully. The great acidity is a hallmark of Sanford wines.

2010 La Entrada  Chardonnay - $55
A little more oak influence in this one, with 50% new oak for nine months.  It’s slightly toastier with a really delightful showing of oak on the nose and palate. Only nine barrels were made.

2012 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir - $64
The 15 months aging in oak, fully half of which is new, does not seem the least bit overdone. The nice cranberry and raspberry nose  announces the flavors of the palate aptly.  There is a slightly toasty note in there and the acidity is superb.

2012 Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir - $64
This, we were told, was the first Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County. It was made by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict in 1971 and is still going strong today. Oak is again a 15-month process, and it shows a bit more here. Red berries and chocolate aromas lead to a fruity palate that offers a little toasty mocha on the finish.


LaFond Winery and Vineyards

Pierre Lafond pioneered the modern era of winemaking in Santa Barbara County. He started the region’s first winery after prohibition, back in 1962. He spent a lonely decade as the county’s only winemaker before planting 65 acres of vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills in 1971. It is on this property where the Lafond wines are poured in the wine country tasting room. The Lafond production facility is in downtown Santa Barbara, with another tasting room attached.

2012 Chardonnay Stainless Steel - $32
This one of those Chardonnays that straddles fence and offers a taste of both sides. The wine has a great, crisp acidity, yet it's very full, even though no oak is used. At least they tell me no oak is used. From where, I wonder, does that oak spice on the nose and palate arise? It would come from the nine months aging sur lie - meaning "on the lees." Lees are the old yeast cells that gave their lives turning the fruit’s sugar into alcohol. Leaving the wine in contact with them during aging lends weight and texture to the wine. It fooled me into thinking it surely must have been oak-aged for at least a bit. Those yeast cells worked overtime in this wine, leaving an alcohol content of 14.6% abv. 169 cases were made.

2012 Sta. Rita Hills Riesling - $20
You don’t see a lot of Riesling grown in the SBC, but this is estate fruit from 40 year-old vines that are growing in a meadow in the sun.  The nose give a beautiful note of white flowers and white nectarines, with peach and nectarine flavors following on the palate. More great acidity in this one.

2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir - $27
70% estate fruit, 30% from a nearby vineyard. It’s a fresh, bright Pinot with a nose of lavender and mocha and flavors of cranberry in a toasty setting.

2010 Arita Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir - $48
The grapes for this wine come from a plot just a half mile east of the estate vineyard. This is a real treat, with an unusual, distinctive nose of orange tea. The palate boasts orange tea, raspberry and a brilliant acidity.

2011 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah - $23
70% estate fruit here, 30% from a hilltop vineyard. Pepper and blackberry grace the nose, with dark fruit flavors embedded in very firm tannins.

2011 Lafond Vineyard Syrah - $40
older vines, more new oak than the SRH Syrah, at 37.5%. Aromas of bright coffee and mocha mocha lead to a huge baker’s chocolate note layered over the cherry flavor.


Cimarone

Cimarone's vineyards are in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County AVA, while their tasting room is on the main drag in Los Olivos. They produce 2,500 cases of wine each year and specialize in grape varieties of the Bordeaux region.

2012 Sauvignon Blanc - $16
This is the one and only white wine Cimarone makes. It spent 17 months in French oak twice-used. You'll get a nose full of nice floral notes while the palate brings green herbs, big fruit and zippy acidity.

2012 Cilla’s Blend - $18
The blend belongs to Priscilla, and it mixes Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is bright and cheery, as its name suggests it should be.

2009 Syrah - $30
Only 111 cases of this interloper were made - a Rhône grape amidst the Bordeaux. It is a warm-climate example of the great grape, with a floral nose, great acidity and sweet cherry on the palate.

2009 Gran Premio - $30
This Italian grape earns its place with the others. The Happy Canyon Sangiovese is bright and fruity, and demands one more sip. It goes great with pasta or pizza, by the way.

2011 Cabernet Franc - $30
This bright, peppery Cab Franc is a delight, with wild cherry flavors and a nice, red finish.

2012 Cabernet Franc - $30
A bit brighter than the '11 due to the warmer vintage.  A spicy nose and palate shows good acidity and a fabulous finish.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon - $35
This is an unusual cab, very bright, with not too much typical Cab-like flavor showing. It is cheery, red and ripe.

2010 Le Clos Secret - $40
It's no secret that this wine sports all five Bordeaux grapes. It was the first wine produced by Cimarone, and it still offers plenty of ripe, red fruit and savory cherry.

At the Cimarone tasting bar, I overheard a conversation between the pourer and a couple who were tasting next. To us. The gentleman was asked, "You do reviews for her and she does reviews for her?" He responded, "Yes, and she tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about” Don't let her dissuade you, fella. Your palate is your own. Trust it.


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Friday, April 17, 2015

Shedding Some Light On Illuminate Wines

The Illuminate brand comes from Kimmel Vineyards, part of Kimmel Ranch in the western foothills of Mendocino County's Potter Valley. Four generations of Kimmels have shed their blood, sweat and tears through the years - as cattle ranchers until their 1986 decision to grow plants - grapevines which grow at an altitude of a thousand feet. The Kimmels supplied great fruit for others to make into wine until 2007, when they chose to hold back some choice stuff for their own label.

According to the Kimmel website, their wines "are developed under the guidance of renowned winemaker Bruce Regalia, highly regarded for his leadership with brands like Duckhorn, Goldeneye and Madrigal. Ragalia works closely with vineyard manager Mark Welch.

Kimmel Vineyards' marketing mavens recognized a need for good wine at an affordable price, what we generally think of as an "everyday" wine. The Illuminate brand was created to satisfy that thirst for a good ten-dollar wine. Illuminte's label art, "ROOTS," by Karena Vail, depict how the grapevines "reach deep into the earth to nourish the vines and transform the grapes into a wonderfully fresh and fruit-forward wine."

White

The Illuminate North Coast Chardonnay 2013 carries a ripe alcohol content of 14.5% abv and is fermented and aged in stainless steel - not a splinter of oak for these Chardonnay grapes. 3,000 cases were made, and the wine sells at a $10 price point, putting it within reach of everyone looking for a great everyday wine.

The wine throws off a yellow-gold tint and smells of crisp green apples, tropical fruit, cantaloupe and a twist of lemon. The palate is fairly lush, with enough citrus fruit to make Minute Maid jealous. The zippy acidity carries some nice zest along to the finish. The sip is clean and brisk.

Red

Illuminate's North Coast Red Blend 2012 is a Bordeaux-style mix that is Merlot-heavy - 95% - with a smattering of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine is presented naturally - aged in steel, not oak. Alcohol hits 13.9% abv and 2,200 cases were produced.

Showing a very deep purple color, this red wine's nose is loaded with blueberries and sage with a backbeat of black olives. Flavors of cassis and blackberry are powerful, but there is a savory slant that is quite striking. The tannins bite a bit, but things settle down some after the bottle is open for a time. It's a pretty good wine, and the $10 sticker makes it look even better.




Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blended Wines Offer Better Guessing Games

Blended wines have more to offer than varietal wines, in my humble opinion. The fun I experience while trying to pin down the percentages of the different grapes in the blend probably marks me as a wine geek beyond hope, but that's alright with me. It's a fate from which I feel no need to be rescued.

Cornerstone Cellars' Stepping Stone brand offers a white blend called Rocks! It combines Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat Canelli, but the percentages are withheld - the better to cause wine geeks to wonder what those numbers are.

Cornerstone's managing partner, Craig Camp, made a sample available to me. He always shares more than wine with a sample, citing his own love of blends - particularly field blends, in which the grapes are grown together in the vineyard with only a guess as to what percentages make up the blend.

Camp writes, "My love of interesting blends goes back to the now famous Vintage Tunia by Silvio Jermann in Italy's Fruili." He says he was among the first American importers of this wine in the early 1980's. "During the same period I was introduced to the many blended southern French wines by Christopher Cannan," he continues. "No one debated too much the exact blends of these wines they way people do now. They were just enjoyed for what they were - delicious."

On the Jermann website, there is a quote from a wine writer on the virtues of Vintage Tunia: "No one until now has ever realised it, but it is the most extraordinary meditation wine in existence. Not in the passive sense (wine to drink while meditating), but in the active sense: it is a wine that makes you meditate.” So let's meditate on Stepping Stone Rocks! North Coast White Blend 2013.

One of the numbers Cornerstone does release is the alcohol content of 13.3%, a fairly moderate number. Also moderate is the retail price of $15.

Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Rocks! North Coast White Blend 2013 has a pale yellow tint in the glass, with a brilliant nose featuring a spray of floral notes with melon and a spicy, herbal twist. The palate offers very bright acidity in a wine that is sweet, but not syrupy. There is a cantaloupe note in the middle and a citrus finish. This is a natural with Japanese noodles, Pad Thai or penne pasta with sun-dried tomatoes.

The floral aromas give away the Muscat Canelli, while the fruit I attribute to the Chardonnay and the vibrant acidity to the Viognier. The alcohol moderation points to early harvest and the balance to just plain good winemaking.

Kari Auringer has just replaced Jeff Keene as the Cornerstone winemaker, by the way. According to Camp, "When Kari became winemaker for Cornerstone Cellars she was, in fact, coming home as, for most of the vintages of the 2000s, Kari was assistant winemaker to Celia Welch, who made the wines of Cornerstone Cellars from 2000 through 2007. Kari's fingerprint is already on almost a decade of Cornerstone Cellars wines. Over the last decade she has contributed to the fame of some of the Napa Valley's most luminous names including Scarecrow, Lindstrom, Keever, Kelly Fleming and Corra and has been singled out as a rising star in Napa Valley winemaking."


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Monday, April 13, 2015

Globerati Sauvignon Blanc

This 2013 Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Central Valley of Chile, and is made exclusively for Whole Foods Markets. It is apparently 100% Sauvignon Blanc, although I could find little information to support that. Globerati is a company that "stalks the finest vineyards of the world, swooping in at the opportune moment to bring you the latest sensational wine."

I don't know that I would call this one sensational, but it is certainly enjoyable. It has a nice yellow-gold straw tint in the glass, with a nose exhibiting big citrus - lemon-lime and grapefruit - with great citrus notes on the palate, too.  Grapefruits and limes are abundant, with a bright acidity and a mouthfeel that is full and round. It finishes clean, with minerals and zest. Not extremely complex wine, but as Spencer Tracy once said, "what's there is cherce."


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Friday, April 10, 2015

Martellotto La Bomba Cabernet Sauvignon

There is a warm spot in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley known as Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. It is in the east end of the transverse valley, kept mainly cool by Pacific breezes that blow in and across the land between mountains. The winds do not produce a big cooling effect this far east, though, like they do in the Sta. Rita Hills to the west. Over there, it's Pinot Noir country. In Happy Canyon, Bordeaux grapes rule.

Martellotto Wines is an importer, but they also find some pretty terrific grapes in the warm spot of Santa Barbara County. The website explains that "Greg Martellotto’s family has been making wine for generations, and his grandfather brought traditional winemaking practices to the U.S. when he immigrated to Ellis Island in 1909 A vineyard-first philosophy focuses efforts on farming (including biodynamic and sustainable agriculture) with gentle handling in the winery and minimal intervention. Martellotto wines are allocated, vineyard designated wines that are our pleasure to share."

A sample of the Martellotto La Bomba Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 was shared with me as a sample for review.  The red is 25% Merlot, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. Previous vintages came from Paso Robles, but the '13 hails from the SBC. 200 cases were made.

The wine has a deep ruby color, very dark, with a nose sporting blackberry, clove, vanilla and light cedar notes. The palate shows more blackberry and oak spice with a smattering of cassis and a nice acidity. There are great tannins and a good grip, the better for pairing with any kind of meat you like.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Pousseur Syrah 2012

Bonny Doon Vineyards' 2012 Syrah, "Le Pousseur," is made from Syrah grapes grown in some nice Central Coast spots - 48% Alamo Creek Vineyard, 18% Bien Nacido Vineyard, 18% Spanish  Springs Vineyard and 16% Ventana Vineyard. These are cool-climate sites and the website states that with "a fair amount of whole clusters included, this is a savory Syrah of great restraint."

Randall Grahm writes that he finds Le Posseur "enchanting and captivating rather than overpowering." He labels it as a "feminine" Syrah. I don't make it a habit to argue with a winemaker about his wines, but I was taken to task once for the use of the term "feminine" as a sexist way to describe a wine. PC or not PC, it does not strike me as feminine. Maybe it's feminine in a masculine way. Or masculine in a feminine way. Maybe it's just a wine having a crisis of sexuality. Or maybe it's just a Syrah of great restraint. It retails for $26 and 2,126 cases were produced.

Under the screw cap is a wine which is opaque indigo. Big blueberry fruit dominates the nose with a savory undercurrent. It is possibly the fruitiest nose I've experienced from a Bonny Doon red, which usually lean savory. The palate shows dark fruit too, with just a hint of that black olive note Grahm's wines often exhibit. Very nice acidity and a good tannic grip top off an entirely enjoyable experience. The oak touch is nice, just right in fact.