Friday, September 22, 2017

85 Years Of Mendocino

Parducci has been producing wine for 85 years, and so the name of this one is a natural. John Parducci, known in the day as "Mr. Mendocino," started the whole thing and pretty much put Mendocino County on the wine map. Those who keep his vision alive today raise a toast home every day, I would imagine.

85 is a blend of Mendocino grapes - 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc.  It was aged in a little less than one-third medium toasty, new American oak and the rest in seasoned oak barrels. Alcohol checks in at 14.5% abv and it sells for $45. They only made 240 cases of this commemorative beverage.

The wine is medium dark and smells of plums and blackberries, with great notes of sage, vanilla and eucalyptus. That dark fruit hits big on the palate and carries along nice oak spice notes with it. Tannins are fairly aggressive, and the finish lingers awhile. The oak notes come through effectively, but do not take over the nose or palate.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

43-Year-Old Rivesaltes Dessert Wine

The Terrasous aged sweet wine series features a range of their natural sweet wines that have been aged for at least six years. This one hails from 1974. The wine is fortified to 16% abv and sells for about $75. That’s for a nice, full-sized wine bottle, too, not a little "sweet wine" size.

The 1974 Vin Doux Naturel is made of  Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc grapes grown in southern France's Rivesaltes region of Roussillon, just north of Spain and west of the Balearic Sea.  It's surely sweet, but with the beautiful tart edge that makes dessert wine so approachable and food friendly. The more age these wines have, the more character they show. Pair with pastries or enjoy on its own as an aperitif or a finale.

This 43-year-old white dessert wine is whiskey dark, even darker, maybe. The nose brings buckets of raisins and brown sugar, with baking spices - it smells like the bottom of an upside-down cake. It's fairly viscous and tastes of sweet spices and raisiny fruit, with an awesome acidity still working.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Kosher Wines For Rosh Hashanah

If you need kosher wines for Rosh Hashanah - which begins at sunset on September 20th, 2017 and runs through sunset on September 22nd - there are some good ones and some not-so-good ones out there. Of course, if you're happy with Mad Dog and your family prefers the taste of grape juice over wine, then you're probably all set. You can get a half barrel of it for seven bucks. If you want something more like a fine wine, however, read on.

Galil Mountain Winery and Golan Heights Winery are both Israeli producers. You may not have even considered that wine is made in Israel, but it is and it's often really good and it's kosher.

Golan Heights Winery describes their part of Israel this way: "The Galilee (or Galil) is the most northern, and generally considered the best, appellation in Israel. The highest quality area within the appellation is the Golan Heights (or simply the Golan), the coldest region in Israel. The vineyards on this volcanic plateau rise from 1,300 feet above sea level to 3,900 feet and receive snowfall in the winter." The region is known as Israel’s "wine country."

The winery’s first vintage was the 1983 Sauvignon Blanc. Since then, it has been operated as "strictly Kosher" from the vineyard to the winery. Head winemaker Victor Schoenfeld leads a team that has trained around the world.  Schoenfeld says wine "has the power to embody the culture, language, scents and people of its region."

Yarden Blanc de Blancs

Blanc de Blancs is a fancy term for a sparkling wine made only from Chardonnay grapes. The Yarden Blanc de Blancs is made completely from those that were grown in Israel’s Golan Heights region. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and the wine was aged for a minimum of four years. Alcohol is quite manageable at 12% abv. It retails for $31.

The wine fizzes up quite bit, but the bubbles dissipate quickly. Its nose shows tons of toast and an earthy, yeasty quality that is undeniable. The savory aromas lead to a palate that displays more of that holy soil, embedded in a vibrant, but not quite racy acidity. It has great weight and offers the kind of taste treats one expects from Champagne.

Yarden Malbec

The 100% Malbec wine is sourced in Yonatan Springs in central Golan Heights.  It's aged for 18 months in French oak, carries an alcohol number of 14.5% abv and retails for $33.

It's a wine that is dark to its core, in tint, aroma and taste. Blackberry and currant bring the fruit smells, while a savory aspect rivals it in the form of tar and spice. The palate is rich and dense, with dark fruit flavor and the mark of a year and a half in oak. The tannins are firm, but not overpowering. It rivals other popular-brand Malbecs, but comes at a higher price.

Galil Mountain Winery Yiron

Yiron is a Bordeaux-style blend from upper Galilee. The wine is Kosher, but not Mevushal.
Galil Mountain's head of winemaking Boaz Mizrachi Adam says he follows advice to "do the best you can without hurting future generations."

This wine features 56% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 32% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 5% Petit Verdot. Winemaker Micha Vaadia aged it for 16 months in French oak barrels. At 15% abv, it’s wise to keep an eye on uncle Julius if he’s driving. Retail is $32.

This dark wine has aromas of cassis with a savory backbeat. Anise and leather join the fruit on the nose. The sip offers a tasty expression of the grapes involved, with an earthy element that's not quite pencil shavings and not quite olives, but close on both counts. The tannins are a bit toothy, but that brisket probably needs a good taming.

The wines of both wineries start at under $20.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Murrieta's Well "The Spur" Red Blend

Murrieta's Well is a Wente property in California's Livermore Valley. They take great pride in being one of the Golden State's "original wine estates." The property was founded in the late 19th century, with cuttings from the Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux in France. The place was bought in 1933 by Ernest Wente. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso "partnered together to revive the winery." Winemaker Robbie Meyer does a great job of turning the fruit entrusted to him into magnificent wines that tell the story of the land.

A virtual event recently put Murrieta’s Well into an online tasting session, which is documented here. My thanks to those involved in putting on the show for inviting me and providing samples to taste.

Murrieta's Well "The Spur" Red Blend Livermore Valley 2014

The Spur is made from five mostly Bordeaux-born grape varieties. It's a mix of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Sirah, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc, all grown in their Livermore estate vineyards. They say they blended "the classic Bordeaux varietals with Petite Sirah to create a distinctly Livermore Valley fruit expression."

The wine was vinified in steel, then aged for 24 months in French oak, half of which was new. Only 207 barrels were made. Alcohol hits low, at 13.5% abv and it retails for $30.

The Spur is medium-dark in the glass and offers up a beautiful nose that is defined by its aging process. Vanilla spice and cigar box notes keep the cherry-red fruit flavors disguised well. The palate is a savory splash of herbs, fruit and spice. As in the aroma profile, red fruit takes a back seat but never has to shout, "down in front!" There's a hint of tartness that lines up perfectly with the bounty of flavor in this wine. A firm tannic structure adds purpose to pleasure.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Addendum: New From Fess Parker

Santa Barbara County's Fess Parker Winery is branching out. In the spirit of their founder's pioneering ways, the heirs of the barrels have headed north, to the Napa Valley, to create a new label. Adding to the Parker legacy is Addendum, the company's arm for Bordeaux-style wines.

The Addendum wines are just becoming available, but I was able to snag a sample thanks to a Brandlive virtual tasting event put together by Charles Communication. Parker's daughter Ashley Parker Snider, her husband and Parker President Tim Snider and winemaker Blair Fox all took part in the online session.

The virtual tasting is hosted here, if you’d like to take a look.

The Fess Parker winemaking program began 30 years ago in Santa Barbara County, with Rhône and Burgundian styled wines. The second generation of the Parker family is forging the new label for single vineyard Napa Cabernets. They source some grapes from Stagecoach Vineyard, and another noted plot that we cannot mention due to contractual restrictions.

Tim Snider says they felt they had to explore the possibilities presented by their vineyard relationships in Napa. In true pioneer fashion, they are blazing a new trail for themselves. Snider says the family did not make the move to producing Napa Cabs cavalierly. He says the main emotion at this point is enthusiasm. Ashley pointed out that they didn't start a Cab label just so they could charge more for the bottles. Production on all four of the Addendum wines together is less than 800 cases, she says, so it’s more of a learning experience.

The grapes for the 2014 Addendum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon came from two Napa sites. Alcohol comes banging in at 14.9% abv and retail price is $90.

This is an extremely dark-tinted wine. It's nearly impenetrable, in fact. The nose follows suit, showing very dark fruit covered in a savory shawl of forest floor, cigar box, pencil shavings and spearmint. The palate is lush, with blackberry flavors and earth most prominent. It has quite a backbone, with enough tannic structure for marbled beef and some left over. It still drinks fairly youthfully, but it does settle down somewhat over time.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rioja Red

The Vivanco dream began, according to the website, 100 years ago when Pedro Vivanco González started a four-generation - and counting - business. Today Santiago Vivanco leads the business side and and Rafael Vivanco Sáenz makes the wine. The winery is where it has always been, in the La Rioja town of Briones.

The Vivanco 2013 Rioja Crianza is all estate Tempranillo, grown in Rioja Alta, on vines that range from 15 to 20 years old. The crews were able to wait until early October to get the fruit off the vines. Aging lasted 16 months, in French oak barrels. Alcohol runs at a reasonable 13.5% abv and I see the wine selling for about $15.

The art on the label is a 1974 Joan Miró work called, Le Troubadour. The bottle was inspired by an 18th century vessel, which is on display at the Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine.

The dark Spanish wine gives off a heady whiff of black and blue fruit with an overlay of leather and black olives. A little smokiness creeps in after it sits awhile. On the palate, it has a vivacious acidity that makes my lips smack. It also features plums, blackberries and currant in a slightly savory, earthy framework. I want a pork chop with this, or a lamb shank.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Murrieta's Well: Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc

Murrieta's Well is a Wente property in California's Livermore Valley. They take great pride in being one of the Golden State's "original wine estates." The property was founded in the late 19th century, with cuttings from the Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux in France. The place was bought in 1933 by Ernest Wente. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso "partnered together to revive the winery." Winemaker Robbie Meyer does a great job of turning the fruit entrusted to him into magnificent wines that tell the story of the land.

A virtual event recently put Murrieta's Well into an online tasting session, which is documented here. My thanks to those involved in putting on the show for inviting me and providing samples to taste.

Murrieta's Well Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc 2014

The wine is made from estate grapes grown in California's Livermore Valley, in the Sachau vineyard - 88% Cabernet Franc with a 6% splash each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Vinification was done in steel tanks, while the three parts were aged separately for ten months in French oak barrels. The vintage was marked by drought and the resulting lower yield from the vines produced small, concentrated grapes.

Twenty barrels of this wine was produced, and it's all sold out, according to their website. It carries its alcohol at 14.1% abv and the retail price was $58, when it was in stock.

The 2014 Murrieta's Well Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc is big, brawny, dark and deep. Inky indigo in appearance, the nose shows dark fruit and a tarry edge that carries tobacco and spice. Flavors run to the dark side as well, with blackberry and plums shrouded in forest floor. The structure is great, with firm tannins and juicy acidity.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Two Fine New York Gins

The New York Distilling Company says their spirits are "purposefully different." The Brooklyn-based distillery is run by "cocktail people making spirits for cocktails," Allen KatzBill Potter and Tom Potter. The latter also co-founded the Brooklyn Brewery.  The distillery makes ryes and gins that are distilled in Brooklyn from grains grown in New York State. I was ent tiny sample bottles of each for review.

Gin is perhaps the best use for juniper berries that there is. Originating in Great Britain in the Middle Ages, when they called it genever. The Dutch popularized gin as a medicinal product (for my rheumatizz) and today, whenever someone offers me a tonic for my soul, I say make it a gin and tonic.

Dorothy Parker Gin

The neutral grain spirit and botanicals are distilled together in a 1000-liter pot still, as in the 18th century. The botanicals include juniper berries, coriander seed, lemon and orange peel, whole green cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, elderberries and hibiscus petals.  The process takes seven hours to distill, and it's then left for a week before being slowly proofed in a column still to 44% abv over the course of two to three weeks.

The Dorothy Parker Gin has really herbal aromas - the juniper and coriander play large - and great traces of citrus on the sip. It's fantastic straight up, even better as a dirty martini.

Perry's Tot Navy-Strength Gin

Again, the neutral grain spirit and botanicals are distilled together in a big pot still. The list of botanicals is similar, including juniper berries, coriander seed, lemon, orange and grapefruit peel, whole green cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, angeleica root, whole star anise and wildflower honey.  The distillation process is the same, but it’s proofed higher, to 57% abv.  They say Perry's Tot gin is the first Navy Strength gin produced in the U.S. in 100 years.

The aromatics are much the same as the DP, except with more citrus notes and more firepower on the palate, to be sure. Navy strength means, in this case, 114 proof. It doesn't mess around. And it's exactly what you want in your G'n'T. They call theirs are "Tot & Tonic." If you really want to get crazy at your home bar, try their recipe for the "Innocenti." Stir over ice the Perry's Tot, a dry vermouth, Lillet Blanc and Benedictine and strain into a cocktail glass.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Cabernet Sauvignon With A Rustic Side

Ramsey Wines are a second label for the Kent Rasmussen Winery. It is named for his wife, Celia Ramsay, who handles the business aspect of wine while striking her own artistic notes as a Bay Area singer.

This blend, the 2015 Ramsay North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, is 97% Cab and 3% Merlot, with the grapevines spread out in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties. Winemaker Rasmussen writes that "2015 was a stunning year for grape-growing in California’s North Coast." Great weather in California? Go figure.  "From the start of the season until the end we had day after day of beautiful sunshine, blue skies and fresh and fragrant air. The vines responded by giving us a small, but perfect crop." Alcohol hits 13.6% and the wine sells for an amazing $18.

This is Cab with some guts. Oil-dark in the glass and rustic on the nose, the aroma package is full of back-country bramble and black fruit. There's a savory note of tar that virtually leaps out at me. The palate shows plum and blackberry roughed up by a cedar and spice element in the same way one might break in a cap or a baseball glove. Cabernet Sauvignon is normally not my first choice, but it might be if they all tasted this good for the price.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Good Zinfandel Is A Smoke

To paraphrase the end of a famous quote, "a good Cigar is a Zinfandel." The name for this Cosentino wine was taken from Winston Churchill's witticism promoting cigars and booze before, during and after meals. The winery's Napa Valley location should not warn you away from their longtime reliance on Lodi grapes.

he 2015 Cigar Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel has a big ol' California alcohol number at 15.5% abv and retails for $22. Winemaker Marty Peterson was wise to limit the oak aging to only eight months. It's just right.

Cigar is an extremely dark wine, marked by blackberry and blueberry fruit on the nose and palate. The aromas strike me as being a little muted at first, especially for a Zin. Some savory smoke and tar aromas open up as the wine does. As telegraphed by the name, the smell of cigar box also works into the profile. The flavors are dominated by bold fruit, but a touch of oak spice and black pepper wraps that up in a pretty bow. Tannins are firm and useful, if you happen to have a pork chop or a lamb shank laying around.

Friday, September 1, 2017

California Pinot Noir From Dierberg

Jim and Mary Dierberg feel this wine is one that is worthy of their "250-year plan." The couple owned a winery in Missouri and looked at properties from France to the Napa Valley before deciding that Santa Barbara County was right for them. The Dierberg Vineyard is home to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, while the warmer Star Lane vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley has Bordeaux varieties.

Winemaker Tyler Thomas says he is "thrilled" to be working with fruit from Happy Canyon, the Sta. Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Valley.

This Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir is medium-dark in the glass. It brings aromas of earthy raspberry and black cherry, with coffee grounds and a heavy mineral angle. On the palate, it has a boatload of acidity and tannins, with dark berry flavors and hints of black tea. It's a huge Pinot with a distinctive flavor, probably a bit brawnier than my taste likes, but still has an elegant side. It is unapologetic in its California-ness, even from a cool-climate region like the SMV.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Nothing Petite About This Lodi Whopper

Petite Petit is a Michael David wine made from Lodi fruit, 85% Petite Sirah 15% Petit Verdot.  Those grapes are the pair of elephants under the big top circus tent on the label. "Step right up, come see the greatest duo in history."

The winery describes the 2015 Petite Petit as a "dense, full-bodied, whopper" of a wine, and that's right on the money. Speaking of dollars, this bottle only costs 18 of them. Alcohol is Lodi-like at 14.5% abv.

There’s nothing small about Petite Petit. Its dark color is big, its nose is huge and the palate is elephantine. Blackberries and plums adorn both the aroma and flavor profiles, with a hefty load of tannins to play lion tamer against any beef it encounters. Fire up the grill, bring on the rib eye.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Red Rhône Blend GSM

A vacation to Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood found us opening a bottle of French wine in the lobby of the Inn at Henderson's Wharf. I would have preferred to explore some local wines, but there was only one in the wine store down the street.

Domaine La Rocalière produced the Lirac Le Classique 2013. The vineyards from which this red Rhône blend grew are located in the towns of Lirac and Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres. The domaine also has vineyards in Tavel.

The vineyard boasts Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan vines for rosé and red wines - Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Roussanne for white. The 2013 Lirac le Classique is made from 34% Grenache, 33% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre grapes. Alcohol sits at a robust 15% abv.

This medium-dark blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre has a gorgeous ripe nose, full of big red cherries and blue berries. It carries a rustic edge underneath, with pepper and bramble peeking through the fruit. The palate has savory notes on top of the dark berries.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Wine Country: Maryland

Black Ankle owners Sarah O'Herron and Ed Boyce credit - or blame - their entry into winemaking on "one taste-test too many." The winery is named after the road on which the vineyard sits in Frederick County, Maryland, in the North Central Piedmont region. It may have originated from the muddy boots walkers got when traversing the road that was a dirt trail long after other roads had been improved. It also may date back to Native American lore. They like the "wine stomping" images that spring to mind.

Sustainability is a watchword at Black Ankle. They even built their winery and tasting room from "straw, clay, stone and wood that we found on the farm." Sounds like a structure on which all three "little pigs" could have collaborated.

The 2015 Black Ankle Viognier was purchased at a local wine shop in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, where we stayed on a recent vacation. It blends 75% Viognier and 25% Grüner Veltliner in a mix that I don't think I've encountered before. The vines grown in what the winery calls "decomposing slate with quartzite veins." It retails for $32, although I got mine several dollars cheaper. Alcohol is at 13.5% abv.

Pale yellow in the glass, this Maryland Viognier has a delightful nose of peaches and lemons. The palate shows a savory sense with both wonderful acidity and a full mouthfeel. White wines are enjoyable enough when the weather is perfect, but when things are hot and humid there’s an even higher appreciation achieved.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

South African Wine: Red Blend

Lubanzi Wines is named for a wandering dog who led the winemakers on a six-day journey along South Africa's Wild Coast. Founders Walker Brown and Charles Brain have only two wines in the line at the moment. One is a red blend, made of Shiraz, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre and a white, which is 100% Chenin Blanc. Both South African creations retail at under $20.

Brown and Brain - not South African themselves - say they are working with two of the country's more noted winemakers. Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jack were asked to be "forward-thinking, socially responsible and innovative" in making the Lubanzi wines. Brain says they're aiming at the millennial market, a demographic that he thinks has the buying power to lift South Africa's underrated status. He says they want to make a wine that "punches above its weight."

The owners are directing some of the proceeds back to those who helped make the product. Half of their profits will go towards The Pebbles Project, an NGO that works with low-income families on South Africa's wine farms. The back label claims "50% of the profits back to the hands that made it."

The Lubanzi red blend from South Africa’s Coastal Region features 46% Shiraz, 31% Cinsault, 20% Mourvèdre and 3% Grenache. The 13.5% abv is easy to take and the $18 price tag is almost shockingly low.

The Lubanzi red blend of South African Shiraz, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Grenache is a dark ruby wine with a nose and palate to match. Aromas of dark fruit are joined by a strong minerality, with a slightly smoky, savory, leathery whiff above the glass. The palate is fruity in the most savory sense possible. Big black cherry and cassis meet up with earthy herbs and spices. It's a lively wine, with acidity to refresh and tannins to make pairing it with meaty dishes a natural. The twist-off cork makes it super easy to open.