Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sparkling Wine Science

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Grounded Wine Company Steady State Red

Napa Valley winemaker Josh Phelps grew up literally among the vines.  He was raised in the wine business and surprised no one when he excelled at it as his own career.

Phelps' Grounded Wine Company, he notes, is "grounded in heritage, grounded in soil, grounded in simplicity."  The winery's mission is to "create wines that evoke a sense of place."  After all, that's what wine is all about.  Phelps says his wine system is in "steady state" and can be expected to continue that way into the future.

The Steady State Red Wine Napa Valley 2015 is a Bordeaux-style blend made with 73% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol hits a predictable 14.5% abv  and the wine sells for $65.

Steady State is very dark and smells that way.  Black berries, currant, anise and a trace of tar on the nose paint it, black.  The palate is fruity but serious, with a savory stripe cutting through the middle just barely on the tart side.  Acidity is bright and the tannins are moderate, so it's drinkable as well as pairable.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Spumante Surprise

If you are anything like me - God help ya - you may be a tad surprised to hear the name Santa Margherita and not hear Pinot Grigio immediately afterward.  I was not so surprised to find the Italian winery making other wine styles.  Their Chianti is on the shelf at the supermarket, too.  There's a marketing push behind the company's sparkling rosé, as I was supplied with a sample.  So, you might expect to see it in the wine aisle soon, too. 

Santa Margherita's vineyards originated eight decades ago in the Veneto region.  Now they also raise grapes in Alto Adige and Tuscany. 

Santa Margherita Vino Spumante Rosé

The Santa Margherita Vino Spumante Rosé hits only 11.5% abv and sells for around 20 bucks.  It's an interesting rosé, because it's not made by limiting the skin contact to get pink.  It's made by blending white grapes with white.  The mix is 55% Chardonnay and 40% Glera grapes with a 5% splash of Malbec.  The grapes came from a hilly area of Treviso and an Eastern area in Veneto - the far northwestern corner of Italy.

This wine has frothy bubbles that disappear in an instant.  The nose comes on like a basket of cherries and strawberries, with a strong earthy streak through the middle of it.  It's dry on the palate with a tingly fruit presence and a nice acidity that will pair well with food.  The earthiness lingers on the finish.  If you drink Prosecco for your bubbly fun, you should try this lovely pink sparkler.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Fresh And Grassy: NZ Sauvignon Blanc

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

The 2016 vintage, sourced from Marlborough's southern valleys, is winemaker Peter Jackson's attempt to make a wine that shows the best of the sites from which it comes.

It’s 100% Marlborough, with about 50% of the grapes taken from the winery's own Sound of White Vineyard in the Waihopai Valley.  The balance came from other well-loved grower blocks in Fairhall, Rapaura and Spring Creek.

Vinified in steel, the Catalina Sounds SauvBlanc hits only 13% abv and it sells online for about 14 bucks.

This is an amazingly fresh wine, with enough grassy aromas to qualify as a bona fide New Zealand SauvBlanc and set it apart from those of California or the Loire Valley.  In addition to the herbal notes, there's a boatload of citrus and wet rocks.  In the mouth, the acidity zips, but doesn't rip.  Lemons, orange zest, and a bit of lime combine for a mineral-laden trip down Sauvignon Lane.  The wine goes down easily, but offers enough acidity to make it food friendly.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Old vines are appreciated the most in Zinfandel vineyards.  California's heritage grape has been growing nonstop in Lodi for more than a century, and the older the vines are, the more character the wine has. It's what makes Zinfandel a popular favorite in the Golden State.  Besides, how you gonna keep 'em drinking Merlot once they've had a taste of old vine Zin?

A recent virtual tasting of old vine Zinfandel wines from the Lodi region featured three people who are delightfully nerdy (watch) and incredibly passionate about their Zinfandel.  The online session was held on National Zinfandel Day and led by Stuart Spencer, of St. Amant Winery and the Lodi Winegrape Association.  He was joined by Kyle Lerner of Harney Lane Winery and Kevin Phillips of Michael-David Vineyards.  They focus on Zinfandel with a love not just of the grapes and the wine, but of the character and history of the vineyards and those who planted them so long ago.

The vines for the Fields Family Old Vine Zin are from the 1920s and '40s eras, and are overseen by the Leon Perlegos family in the Stampede Vineyard, Clements Hills AVA.  Winemaker Ryan Sherman says, "We don't shoot for any specific percent level, it is what it is from year-to-year.  Welcome to the prettier side of Zin." 

The wine was aged in neutral oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered, and went through native fermentation under the Lodi protocol.  Only 100 cases were made at 14.3% abv and it sells for $28, a great price for a wine of this quality. 

The 2014 Fields Family Old Vine Zinfandel is a medium-dark wine with a nose that knocks me over.  There’s black fruit, there's tar, there’s savory smoke and licorice.  Quite complex.  The medium mouthfeel carries a lovely acidity and firm tannins.  Flavors of ripe cherry and raspberry jump out in a fruit-forward expression that welcomes more savory notes of leather and cigars later in the sip.  It might be a little light for pairing with the heaviest beef, but I'd love it with a strip steak and fries.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

A Good Night For Port

"It’s a good night for Port," my wife said.  The brutal Southern California winter had its teeth in us, with the overnight low expected to drop UNDER 60 DEGREES.  God help us, we have Port and will hopefully wake up tomorrow.  "Port weather" really doesn't happen in Los Angeles, so you have to jump in there when you get the slightest chance.

Charles Dickens let Ebeneezer Scrooge's nephew Fred describe Port to Bob Cratchit: "It's wine, Bob.  A cheery, warming, goodly wine.  A wine that'll race through your veins with little torches.  It's port, Bob.  The fifth essence of the Christmas spirit."

Quinta de la Rosa has been in the Bergqvist family since 1906, but they were Port shippers well before that.  The vineyards cover 55 hectares of the slopes above the Douro River, and winemaker Jorge Moreira works with grapes that have been foot trodden.

Of the many different styles of Port, ruby is the cheapest and most plentiful.  After fermentation, it is stored in concrete or stainless steel tanks, and usually blended from different years to match the house style.  Ruby is between two and five years old.  The folks at La Rosa say their Ports "tend to be slightly drier than the norm and are made from A class grapes."

The de la Rosa Ruby Reserve Lote No. 601 is dark ruby in color and smells of currant, laden with savory notes of leather and smoke.  It's a complex nose for what it considered the least complex Port.  Savory touches flourish on the palate, too.  However, the fruit flavors are bold and forward, while the acidity rips and the tannins exert their will, with little torches. 

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Sonoma Cab Meets Greece

Georgós Zanganas founded Nu Greek Wines of Sonoma after moving to the U.S. and having trouble finding the Greek wines he left behind.  He noticed that California wines gave him a headache, while his Greek faves never did.  His solution is in this bottle.  Zanangas imports bulk wine from Greece to Sonoma County, where a blend is put together at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood under the direction of winemaker Robert Rex

Zanangas says it's a pretty nifty trick to make wine this way.  "It comes by boat in 1,000-liter and 24,000-liter bladders from Greece," he says.  "Once the wine is harvested in Greece, we get it into a stable form (so it does not get spoiled during its 45-day voyage from the ancient port of Piraeus in Athens,) to Oakland and then by truck to the winery in Sonoma."

"We blend and age our red wines in Sonoma," he continues.  "Once they are bottled, we wait four to six months before we release them to market.  We bottle the white and rosé right away, which is 100% wine from our Greek vineyards."

The publicity team claims the Georgós wines are healthier because of the lower alcohol, sulfites and histamines.  Those qualities are said to eliminate the headache often caused by wine.  They also promise softer tannins and high antioxidants.

Georgós Ithaka Penelope’s Spell Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

The wine was named after the ancient Greek isle of Ithaka, ruled by Odysseus.  Pretty brainy stuff, there, referencing Homer's "The Odyssey" and all.

They say on the website that the grapes are hand-picked and triple hand sorted.  Oak treatment is done in 35% new oak - 55% from France, 20% from Hungary and 25% from Pennsylvania forests.  Alcohol checks in at 13.5% abv and it sells for $31.  The "Greek-style Cab" is made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from both Sonoma County and Greece.

This wine is quite dark both in view and on the nose.  That nose, oh boy.  It's much more rustic than Cabs usually are, with deep roots in tar, leather, earth and smoke.  Truly incredible.  The palate shows rustic notes, too, and is likely the Greek grapes making themselves heard.  Deep, dark fruit reminds me of a Sangiovese crossed with a Cab.  The acidity is youthful, while the tannins are smooth. Pair it with lamb and be happy.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

South African Bubbles

Since the 1960s, Simonsig has been producing wine from South Africa's Stellenbosch region. 
This one, Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé, was intended for sampling by Valentine's Day.  Well, bubbles are still a good idea no matter what time of year it is.  Bubbles every day for the rest of 2018!  Go for it.

This South African bubbly hits the Pinot trifecta: 63% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinotage and 2% Pinot Meunier.  Pinotage is South Africa's leading red wine grape. According to Wikipedia, it was bred there in 1925 by by Abraham Izak Perold.  It's a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, which was known as "Hermitage" in South Africa back then.  The sparkler is made in the méthode cap classique, which is basically how Champagne is made in France, with bottle fermentation.

Winemaker Johan Malan says 2015 was a warm vintage in which the grapes were picked about two weeks ahead of schedule.  Alcohol is a low 12.1% abv and it sells online for about $25.

The wine bubbles up vigorously, but the festive nature disappears quickly.  The nose is earthy, but fairly muted in that respect and in that of the red fruit.  Palate-wise, the wine disappoints a bit.  It does have a tasty, savory flavor and a nice shot of acidity, but I wanted a little more fruit expression.  Maybe I should stop complaining and just enjoy what is a thoroughly drinkable, but slightly underwhelming bubbly.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Sparkling Shiraz And Australian Rules

"Sorry about the girl."  That's how the email started.  Paringa WinesDavid Hickinbotham wrote me over the weekend after my article about his Sparkling Shiraz appeared on Now And Zin Friday.  I had mentioned how Australian Rules Football had turned a momentary attraction into disappointment.  He apparently understood how someone could have such a strong interest in the sport.  The girl is mostly forgotten, but I still like Australian Rules.  And sparkling Shiraz.

He explained that he has attended the Grand Final, the Australian Rules version of the Super Bowl, since 1971.  He's also been growing grapes that long, and making wine for export since 1999.  Hickinbotham is understandably proud of his Paringa and 3 Rings Barossa labels, with both having stirred positive comment from reviewers, including me.  He told me that he started Paringa at about the same time another winery, in Victoria, came up with the idea.  Both used a local landmark of the same name as their naming beacon, a town in his case and a road in the other's. 

Hickinbotham told me that his family's connection with Australian Rules Football is his great grandfather Dave Hickinbotham, pictured from the Australian Football website, who played for Geelong.  That team has won nine Grand Finals since 1925, and his father, Alan, played a handful of games with them.  Alan was a successful businessman, a less successful politician and a well-remembered AFL player and, later, coach.  South Adelaide renamed their home field, Hickinbotham Oval, after him.

David has informed me that I should schedule a trip to Australia during the season, and he promises to take me to a game.  I hope it's at Hickinbotham Oval, and I hope we can bring in his sparkling Shiraz to the game.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Bubbling Up From Down Under

The Paringa website declares that the Hickinbotham family has been in the Australian wine biz for some eight decades.  The current generations are David and Dena Hickinbotham and their son, Alan.  The founder, Alan Robb Hickinbotham, is reportedly considered to be the father of professional winemaking education down under, for his work with Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia.

David Hickinbotham loves Australian Rules Football.  That makes him okay in my book.  I don't understand the rules, which are apparently a big part of the sport, but I love to watch the games, especially the officiating.  Those guys in the white smocks declare scores and infractions with such gusto.

Long ago, I was attracted to a woman from Australia and I asked her out to dinner.  At the restaurant, she revealed that her brother was an ARF referee.  For the rest of the evening, that's all I could talk about.  She finally said, "Look, why don't I give you HIS number?"  She never went out with me again.  She didn’t give me her brother's number, either.  But I still like Australian wines, especially really good ones.

My love of Australian sparkling Shiraz is similar. I am fascinated by it.  It's dark ruby, but it has bubbles.  At its best, it is a very complex wine that really sneaks up on the sipper.  For a winery that delivers value wines of quality, it's a great choice.  Alcohol is a reasonable 12.5% abv and the wine sells online for well below the $20 mark.

The Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2016 is a dark wine with a big, grapey nose and a blast of leather and meat coming right behind.  It's an interesting combo, such a simple beginning that turns complex on a dime.  The palate is just as brash, with subdued bubbles, keen acidity and a dark, fruity taste.  Think Lambrusco, but bigger.  The earth profile hits late and stays on the finish.  It's fun, but it's serious, too.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Wood" You Like Some Chardonnay?

In St. Helena, 1,800 feet up Napa Valley's Spring Mountain, Charles and Stuart Smith started Smith-Madrone Winery more than four decades ago, when there was still room at the top in the "pioneer" field.  The winery's name is a tip of the winemaker's hat to the Smith brothers, and to the madrone trees that populate the property.

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Napa Valley Spring Mountain District 2015

This lush 100% Chardonnay is from grapes grown in Napa's Spring Mountain District.  They harvested smaller clusters in the 2015 vintage, so flavors are a bit more concentrated.  Aging took place over 10 months in barrels, with 80% new French oak used.  The alcohol hits a hefty 14.9% abv and 512 cases were made.  It retails for $34.

Golden, the oak shows even before the first sniff.  It's a fairly oaky nose, with apricot and mango fighting through.  Lemon and orange appear on the palate, with enough zip to the acidity that it does not seem flabby.  The oak, though, will be an issue to those who like a lean, clean Chardonnay machine.  I'm tasting this in late February, and I typically like oakier Chardonnays more in the holiday season.  Oh, well, the Christmas tree is still up, so it's all good. :)

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Rancho Mirage Wine And Food Fest Pix

Here are some pictures from the recent Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival.  They were taken by Marc Glassman of Glassman Photo and were supplied to me by a publicist.  She says that there were some concerns about the food samples running low during the event, which took organizers by surprise.  The organizer says he has made a note of that and the issue will be addressed at next year's event.

More than 200 handcrafted wines and cuisine from 15 of the area's top chefs were featured.  The event was put on by David Fraschetti, a full time resident of Rancho Mirage and the creator of the VinDiego Wine and Food Festival held in San Diego each April.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Smith Story Love Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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