Monday, September 1, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: Macchia Wines

There is a new collective of Zinfandel producers in Lodi - Lodi Native.  The six winemakers involved have banded together to bottle some single-vineyard Zins under their collaborative banner.  Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.

The mission of Lodi Native is to accent Lodi’s heritage plantings, many of which date back to the late 1800s.  They do this through sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices.  Native yeast fermentation and the lack of new oak help put the focus on Zinfandel’s terroir - on the taste of vineyards rather than varietal character or brand.

The group’s mission is to show the world "that distinguished, distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in Lodi, similar to other great wine regions of the world."  They also want to preserve old-vine plantings and celebrate the agricultural heritage of Lodi.

You can find out more about the specific wines here:

2012 Fields Family Century Block Vineyard
2012 m2 Soucie Vineyard
2012 Maley Brothers Wegat Vineyard
2012 McCay Cellars Trulux Vineyard
2012 St.Amant Marian's Vineyard

Today, we are covering the 2012 Macchia Noma Vineyard Lodi Native Zinfandel.

The Macchia Wines Noma Ranch Zinfandel is made by Macchia's winemaker, Tim Holdener.  The grapes are brought to fruition by grower, Leland Noma.

Noma's namesake vineyard is a 15-acre plot of small, old Zinfandel vines.  Noma Vineyard dates back to the early 1900s, which actually makes those vines middle aged by Lodi standards.  The land - on the east side of the Mokelumne River - is completely dry-farmed, producing tiny clusters of highly concentrated, high-acidity Zinfandel grapes.

Macchia is a small, family owned/operated winery.  Holdener makes no bones about it - he's a Zinfandel man and he shows it by producing nearly a dozen single-vineyard bottlings.  Macchia also sneaks around behind the Zinfandel banner to make some fine Cal-Italian wines - Sangiovese, Barbera, and Nebbiolo.

This Lodi Native Zin is medium-dark purple in the glass, as well as on my shirt when I sloshed a bit while swirling.  After blotting up the floor around me, I smelled and received a nose full of peppery raspberry and black cherry.  The black pepper comes through like gangbusters.  The palate shows why Zinfandel reminds me of the Old West.  The black cherry carries so much dust you could hold a rodeo in it.  The pepper is so big it needs a ten-gallon hat.  And the sagebrush - well, podnah, that's real sagebrush in them thar bottles.  The fruit plays large, of course, and the cherry/raspberry flavor carries a dark note of brambly tar.  The alcohol doesn't seem to be as high as listed - 15.8% abv.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Sweet Wine From Bonny Doon Vineyard

Sweet wine is not just for the holidays, although many people feel that way.  These may be the same folks who only drink Champagne on New Year's Eve.  Sure, a nice dessert wine with pumpkin pie is great.  A sip or two while unwrapping presents on Christmas morning helps us give a picture-worthy smile even for the gifts we know we'll be returning on Boxing Day.   But does it pair with turkey?  Can we drink it all year long?  Yes, if we can afford to.

At $24 per 375 ml bottle, it's actually a pretty good deal for dessert wine.  Still, if you are serving a group of people it can get pricey to give everyone a good pour.  And everyone wants a good pour of dessert wine.

Bonny Doon's Vinferno 2013 is light on the alcohol - 11.2% abv - and heavy on the residual sugar - 14.6%.  The Grenache Blanc grapes are harvested from the Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco which has been put to such great use by winemaker Randall Grahm in other wines.  And props to Mr. Grahm, while we're at it, for producing a single-vineyard sweet wine.  Vinification took place in stainless steel tanks.

The grapes are air-dried, by the way.   Grahm waited for botrytis to set in - the mold that makes dessert wine sweet - but it never came to the vineyard in 2013.  So Vinferno turned out to be a late-harvest wine, in which the grapes dried on the vine.  It would have made for better marketing copy had the grapes been laid out for three months on top of a carport housing a Citroen, but it was not to be.  Hang time did the trick.

Vinferno is a sweet wine, to be sure, but there is plenty more going on, which lifts it from "dessert wine" status to the level of a great table wine.  First of all, there is a savory aspect to both the nose and palate that keeps it from cloying.  Second, the acidity is bracing, and it's especially noticeable when served unchilled.  It's definitely food-friendly.  Third, the flavors probably go best with fruit or a soft, creamy cheese, but they work well with lightly herbed meats, too.  Even bratwurst.  Salty peanuts.  At this point, you'll need another bottle.

This wine has color to burn.  It's a beautiful, whiskey-tinted amber that is quite enticing.  Aromas of pear, apple, apricot, pineapple and honey have a savory blanket of earth over them.   Fruit flavors come across sweetly, with a complex savory story of their own to tell, too.  The herbal notes are huge, and welcome anytime.  But I want this on Christmas morning.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confessions Of A Syrah Lover: Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010

I love Syrah.  As much as I like Zinfandel, Grenache or a good, smokey Merlot, I always open a bottle of Syrah just a little faster, in anticipation of what's inside.  I get that people may be confused by the difference between cool-climate and warm-climate Syrah, the same way they are confused by the difference between sweet and dry Riesling.  "That other one I had doesn't taste anything like this one!"

Cool-climate Syrah is what I go for, and the darker and funkier the better.   Since Riesling often utilizes a meter on the label to show the wine's relative sweetness, maybe Syrah producers should stop bitching about how nobody buys the stuff and band together to create a Syrah scale that would make it easier for the average wine shopper to tell what's in the bottle.  A Hawaiian shirt could signify the warm-climate side, and a parka the cool-climate side.  Just talking off the top of my head here - a wine think tank could probably come up with more suitable designations.

When I was offered the chance to sample a couple of Syrah wines by Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, I tried to play it cool by simply replying, "Sure.  Love to,"  but the "Warmest Regards" close at the bottom of my email exposed me as a wine writer who will try a Syrah of any clime, anytime.

The Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 is made from estate-grown grapes from five of the winery's vineyards: Chapel F, Cushman A and B and Mesa A and B.  The wines a Rhône-lover's delight, blending 94% Syrah and 6% Viognier.  The red and white grapes are fermented together in small barrels and aged for 16 months in French oak, 19% of which was new.  The alcohol level quite restrained, only 13.6% abv.  12,400 cases were produced and the bottles retail for $25.

The grapes are sustainably farmed by Zaca Mesa, which pioneered Rhône varieties in Santa Barbara County.  Their "40 years of terroir-driven wine" claim is not just idle talk.  They were the first to plant Syrah in the SBC in 1978.  Over half the vines have been replanted since then with new rootstock and clones. The high elevation of the vineyards - 1500 feet - means cooler nights, which means better natural acidity, which means gimme some now.

The winery's website notes that 2010 was a cool vintage and offered a long growing season, for the Santa Ynez Valley.  The usual heat took the summer off and the grapes ripened in slow and steady fashion.

The 2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah carries a medium-dark ruby hue and a burly nose of blackberries, carried along by dusty sage and black pepper.  The cool vintage shows itself in a note of coffee grounds.  The taste is just as complex, with the dark berries joined by spices and herbs.  The wine really does have an amazing flavor.  When I drink Syrah, this is what I want it to taste like.  The acidity is remarkable - lip-smacking good - and the tannins stay busy but don't get in the way of a smooth sip.  It's balanced.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni and the cellar and vineyard team can be proud of this one.

The folks at Zaca Mesa like it with rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary and garlic.  I won't quibble with that.  I'll also have it with beef ribs, pork chops, roast duck and all by itself if we don't feel like cooking.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Cimarone Cilla's Blend Red Wine

We should all have retirement projects like Cimarone Wines and Three Creek Vineyard.  Roger and Priscilla Higgins opted for grape crushers instead of rocking chairs for their golden years.  Oh, they have rocking chairs, too - for photo ops.

Three Creek Vineyard is in the happily named AVA called Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County, located in the warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Both the vineyard and the winery facility were sold a couple of years ago, but Mr. and Mrs. Higgins kept the right to use the fruit in their Cimarone and 3CV wines.  The wines are now produced by renowned winemaker Andrew Murray at his Los Olivos winery.

Murray’s Twitter handle used to be “gotrhones” but he has since broadened his scope with the more inclusive name of @AMVwine.

The Cimarone website gives big props to their vineyard management company, Coastal Vineyard Care, led by Jeff Newton.  They have farmed the vineyard since 2005, using sustainable farming practices while targeting low yields and high quality.  The vineyard is now planted to Bordeaux varieties, with some Syrah and Sangiovese thrown in for good measure.

The 2012 Cilla's Blend - named for Priscilla, because the wine's elegance rivaled hers - is made from five grape varieties taken from Three Creek Vineyard's Happy Canyon slopes.  It's 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah, 12% Cabernet Franc, 12% Mabec and 1% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol hits 13.9% abv, and aging took place over ten months in mostly neutral French oak.

Medium-dark ruby red, this wine shows its Bordeaux background as well as its Santa Barbara terroir.  Smelling of red berries and black cherries, there is an element of spice on the nose that has me thinking of potpourri.  On the palate, red currant leads the way with traces of oak spice bringing up the rear.  The inclusion of Syrah in the mix really gives the Bordeaux feel a new twist, with a jammy and peppery slant.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Mondavi: The Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cab

A recent virtual tasting event under the BrandLive banner featured Charles Krug Wine proprietor Peter Mondavi, Jr. tasting and tweeting about the wine bearing his family name, synonymous with the Napa Valley.  The Charles Krug winery and vineyards have been around since 1861.  The Mondavi family has owned it since the 1940s.  Charles Krug is the oldest winery in California and Peter Mondavi, Sr. is perhaps the state's oldest vintner - within swirling, sipping and spitting distance of the century mark.

The 2011 vintage represents not only the inaugural release of Charles Krug's Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, but also the winery’s 150th vintage.  95% of the grapes used in making the wine are Cabernet Sauvignon, while a 3% bit of Petit Verdot and a 2% splash of Malbec grapes round it out, and all that fruit was grown on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley.  After vinification, the wine spent 19 months aging in French oak with an alcohol content resting at a very reasonable 13.7% abv.  It retails for $75 per bottle.

A cool growing season in '11 made harvest a few weeks later than usual.  The yield was down and the sugar content of the grapes was lower than they like at Krug, but they were thrilled to capture so much flavor despite the obstacles.

The Family Reserve Howell Mountain possesses an inky ruby color, dark enough to block the light from passing through the glass.  Its nose pits cassis and blueberry notes against sweet oak spice, with a tobacco scent making a run for it,  Great fruit on the palate brings a rich berry flavor to mingle with the savory aspects.  The fruitiness is lush, but tempered by an astounding minerality.  The sense of mint, sage and spice is the perfect counterpoint to the dark fruit flavors.

The spicy tannins are delightful, and a great match for a ribeye steak grilled with rosemary.  Every year I find at least a few wines that make me daydream about a holiday dinner.  This wine will be welcome on the table alongside my standing rib roast.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lodi Summer White Wines: Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc

Lovers of Lodi wine took to their favorite social media platform recently to swirl, sip and spill the beans about the amazing white wines of the Lodi AVA.  The comments put forth by the participants of the virtual wine tasting event can be found under the hashtag #LodiLive, while full details of the event and the Twitter stream is found here.

Lodi may have made its name with red wines - particularly Zinfandel - but Lodi winemakers produce about 24% of California's wine output and is the state's leading producer of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.   @WineJulia tweeted, during the Twitter tasting, “ Lodi is NOT just red wine country. #lodisummerwhites.”

Heritage Oak Winery's owners, Tom and Carmela Hoffman, are working the land that has been in Tom's family for five generations.  In the 1970s, farming Tokay grapes was the thing.  During the next decade, the focus shifted to Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

They think of acidity as the calling card of their wines, which the terroir and winemaking technique supports completely.  The 2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc is made with grapes harvested from Hoffman Vineyard's Bruella Road Block (80%) and Mokelumne Flood Plain (20%, the Sauvignon Blanc Musquée clone.). Alcohol hits only 13.7% abv.

On Twitter, during the virtual tasting event, @ChasingJen tweeted that the wine shows “mineral preachiness, lemon, grass (soft), refreshing."  @norcalwine cited  “the New Zealand style but dials back the pungency and green. It's good.  Tart & ripe peach, guava, mango, peppery spice & fresh green bean."  @Luscious_Lushes thought the wine was "very subtle & smooth.  Not very tropical- more apple, asian pear, stone fruit. Very easy to drink."  From @dvinewinetime: "Tart & lemony with bright acidity."  @cellarmistress liked the "lemongrass, grapefruit--huge, juicy flavors, my mouth is watering!"

I find the Heritage Oaks 2013 Sauvignon Blanc to be green, but not grassy, showing plant stems and pepper that dominate the nose.  The palate displays bright acidity first and nearly-ripe peaches and apricots second.  The green notes show mightily in the flavor profile, which is great if you like them.  I do, by the way.  Tart grapefruit also makes a strong play on the taste buds.  People who want a wine dripping with sweet fruit need to look elsewhere, but people who want their wine a bit on the savory side and ripping with acidity - food friendly, in other words - should check with Heritage Oak.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Great Value Malbec Wine From Argentina

Felipe Rutini was hired by the Argentine government in 1885 to develop public parks in Mendoza. It didn't take him long to recognize the potential for winemaking in the region, and his family established themselves as winemakers, owning property there for over a century.  In 1994, ownership was transferred and winemaker Mariano Di Paola  has been overseeing the winemaking since then.  In 2008, a winery was opened in Tupungato, in the Uco Valley.

There are hundreds of acres planted to wine grapes now, only 21 miles away from the 21,5000 foot peak of Tupungato volcano, the world's tallest active volcano.  The minerality resulting from the location defines the terroir of the region.  A 25-degree swing in temperature between day and night produces the diurnal effect that makes it a great wine growing region.  Harvest starts at the end of January and ends in early May, making it one of the longest growing seasons in the world.

The Trumpeter brand from Rutini helped open the door for Argentine wine in the U.S., and when people talk about the great values found in Argentine wine these days, this is one that needs to be in that discussion.

Rutini's Trumpeter 2012 Malbec is crafted from 100% Malbec grapes and undergoes full malolactic fermentation, in which all the malic acid turns into lactic acid.  This produces a fuller, richer mouthfeel.  Oak aging is done over seven months in barrels which are 30% new American oak, 30% new French oak and 40% neutral American oak.

The Trumpeter Malbec is extremely dark in color while offering a nose full of sweet oak spice.  The oak shows up, but doesn't overstate its case.  Cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and open onto a seriously deep tar aroma that lies over the dark mixed berries.  The palate really over-delivers, considering this wine costs only $11.  Rich blackberry and currant flavors are set off by the American oak spice rack with the note of tar creeping on the finish.  The tannins are steak-worthy while the acidity makes me want a big, juicy one.  I think of a hearty beef stew for this wine, on a chilly winter day, watching a snowy college football game on TV.  Or, right now will do.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: McCay Cellars TruLux Vineyard

Lodi is carving out their piece of the California appellation pie.  The area is rooted in family-owned vineyards, with generations upon generations of farmers working the dirt there.  They are getting out the message in every way possible that Lodi is a wine region of note.

The grape variety for which Lodi has become known is Zinfandel, and a new collective of Zinfandel producers - Lodi Native - has been formed.  The six winemakers have banded together to bottle some single-vineyard Zins under their collaborative banner.

Their mission is to accent Lodi’s heritage plantings – many of them dating back to the late 1800s – through sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices.  Native yeast fermentation and use of no new oak help put the focus on Zinfandel’s terroir - on the taste of vineyards rather than varietal character or brand.

Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.  A while back, Lodi Native held a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate and received this wine as a sample for review.

The TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 was made by Michael McCay, of McCay Cellars.  Winegrower Keith Watts watched over the TruLux vines to insure that great fruit was provided.  The back label of this Lodi Native effort describes the Trulux Vineyard as "a west side Mokelumne River AVA vineyard originally planted in the 1940s on St. George rootstock.  It is distinguished by unusually tall, head-trained vines (topping 6 fett) and a clonal selection producing atypically loose, elongated clusters.  This, and loamy sand, yields dark, meaty fruit qualities with earthy complexity."  The grapes of the 2012 vintage were picked in mid-September, a bit early, when sugar levels were moderate.  Alcohol levels in the reds of Lodi tend to run a bit on the high side, so the 14.6% abv number is actually relatively reasonable.

The TruLux Vineyard Zin definitely shows its single-vineyard terroir in a distinctive manner.  The wine looks inky and smells like a bottle of grape perfume.  Aromas of black and blueberry are joined by a sweet scent of pipe tobacco.  Tar scents come forward after the wine has had time to breathe.  The palate is brilliant, with leaping flavors of cassis and the aforementioned dark fruit - very dark fruit, in fact.  The tar that presents itself on the nose also hits the tongue on the second night open.  Cinnamon spice lasts into the finish, which is luxurious.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lodi Summer White Wine: Uvaggio Moscato Secco

Virtual wine tasting events are becoming more and more popular, in which Twitter users take to the Twitterverse for an hour or so to taste a selection of wines and comment on them.  A large contingent of Lodites took to their favorite social media platform recently to swirl, sip and spill the beans about the amazing white wines of the Lodi AVA.  The comments put forth by the participants can be found under the hashtag #LodiLive, while full details of the event and the video stream is found here.  The wines were provided to me for review.

Lodi makes about 24% of the wine produced in California.  Various Tweeters commented that a grand total of seventy-five wine grapes are grown in Lodi, and 20-30 of them are white varieties.  The region is the leading producer of Chardonnay,Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc in the Golden State.  Rhone and Spanish varieties are popular favorites of winegrowers in Lodi.  The real purpose of this virtual tasting event was to illustrate that Lodi is more than red wine country. and their mission was accomplished.

The 2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco is quite a bargain.  It's surprisingly dry, tastes and smells great and only rings up at about $15 on the cash register.  Jim Moore, the proprietor/winemaker of Uvaggio, specializes in Italian varieties.  He owes a debt to the old-world styles, but he is not limited by them.  "We are not attempting to duplicate what Italy has to offer," he says.  "Rather, we are creating our own interpretation, to bridge the best of both worlds."  Uvaggio is a Napa-based outfit, but they utilize only Lodi-grown grapes.

The winery points out that the Moscato Giallo grape variety "is relatively obscure even in Italy and is so uncommon in the U.S. that our government does not yet recognize it as a varietal.  We produce both a dry and a sweet version of Moscato.  The dry version, Secco, is a surprising take on what people might think of as a dessert wine.  However, it will stand up to most meals one might prepare using chicken or pork.  The sweet version, Dolce, is not sticky sweet like some Muscat-based wines, but elicits just the right hint of ripe fruit and honey."

The Secco is made from 100% Moscato Giallo from the Lodi appellation, specifically the Bella Vigna Vineyard.  Grapes were harvested in mid-October, but still at moderate sugar levels.  No malolactic fermentation here, so the acidity is untempered while the alcohol hits only 12.9%.

The Twitter users were vocal about this wine.  @norcalwine tweeted, "Uvaggio Moscato Secco's nose is spicy with notes of mineral, baked ham and an assortment of wildflowers," while @norcalwine messaged "I LOVE the nose. This is not your little sister's Moscato. It's savory AND floral."  @Luscious_Lushes liked the “Intensely aromatic, floral aromas. Secco but not SWEET."  @cellarmistress commented, "That nose speaks to me. Moscato has such a beautiful orange flower nose."  @dvinewinetime liked the "Light fruit of peach, white plums and cantalope! Unique & beautiful,"
while @FrugalWineSnob went for the "Honeysuckle, ginger. Yet another surprise: very dry!"

This dry Moscato does have a very floral nose with beautiful layers of honey, cantaloupe, tropical fruit and a touch of spice.  The aromas are sweet - dessert wine sweet - but the sip spins that notion around 180 degrees.  It's dry and savory, but a trace of sweetness does come in on the finish.  There is a very Riesling-y petrol note on the mid-palate, as well.  Fascinating?  Yes.  Great acidity?  Got it.  Flavor all over the place?  Check.  With Secco chilled, summer doesn't seem so hot anymore.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Youthful Spanish Wine Carries Mature Depth

Spanish red wines are known for their aging potential, but recently the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero has been touting the area's younger wines as more affordable and ready to drink right now.  They call them barrica or roble wines - "barrel" and "oak," respectively - which seems to be curious nomenclature since the young Tempranillos of Spain are among the least oaked wines made there.

Ribera del Duero is a wine region in the north-central part of Spain, along the Duero River.  They call their Tempranillo wine "Tinto Fino," and observe the same aging-based classification system that Rioja does.  Gran Reserva sits at the top of the heap with five years aging, followed by Reserva with three, then Crianza with two.  

Joven - it means "young" - is the baseline classification of Tempranillo, with less than a year of oak aging under its belt.  As such, this type of Tempranillo is usually much fruitier and simpler than a crianza or a reserva, which both have more barrel aging.

The Roquesán Tinto Joven 2011 - a sample was provided for the purpose of review - is a dark- colored wine and also very dark on the nose.  Plum and black cherry aromas mate with tobacco and nutmeg in a rather dashing display of smells.  Black plum and a savory streak of dusty minerals define the palate, with a light, chalky sensation on the finish.  Aromas and flavors like this are usually the result of oak aging, but this wine's label states "No Oak & Farm Proud" just above the 13% alcohol designation.  It's a 100% Tempranillo wine.

The acidity is brilliant, and the very strong tannic structure upon opening the bottle makes pairing with heavy meat not only advisable but virtually required.  The tannins settle down quite a bit after getting some air.  At a $15 retail price, this is a lot of wine for the money.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lebanese Wine With Lebanese Food

If you are one of those people who looks at a restaurant wine list in search of something different and special, you probably know the feeling of disappointment very well.  Big names, corporate wines and the same old grapes always seem to leap from the page. That’s not to mention the eateries which serve wines having no apparent connection to the food prepared there.

It was a great surprise to find Lebanese wines on the menu at Open Sesame, the simple and delicious Lebanese restaurant in Los Angeles on Beverly Boulevard.  There is also a location - the original - in Long Beach.  Ali Kobeissi, the restaurant’s founder, makes a commitment to authenticity in his food and beverage selection.  His food is amazing and his attention to the wine is greatly appreciated.

Open Sesame's beverage menu offers five Lebanese wines by two different wineries - by the glass and bottle - as well as a Lebanese beer.  I had a white blend by Ixsir, from the winery’s Altitudes line.  An explanation of the name appears on the winery’s website: “IXSIR derives from “Iksir”, the original Arabic word for “Elixir”, a word common to many languages, defining the purest form of all substances, a secret potion that grants eternal youth and love.”

Photo from
The wine is made from 40% Muscat, 30% Viognier, 15% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon grapes, all grown in the vineyards that stretch up and down the length of the nation at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.  The winery on the outskirts of Batroun - in the northern part of Lebanon, close to the sea - is an award-winning piece of architecture named by CNN as one of the greenest buildings in the world.

There is a golden straw tint to the wine and a nose of vanilla sweetness, citrus peel and minerals.  The wine feels fairly full in the mouth, with a savory start and tons of minerality.  A bit of sweetness comes through on the finish, which was much more noticeable to my wife than to me.  It paired very well with my lamb pita sandwich.  The simultaneous earthiness and sweetness of the lamb - due to the sumac spice? - married very pleasingly with the slightly sweet minerals in the wine.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Charles Krug Family Reserve Generations 2011

Peter Mondavi, Jr. tasted and tweeted about his family’s stake in the Napa Valley recently in a virtual tasting event held on Twitter.  The Charles Krug winery and vineyards have been around since 1861, but the Mondavi family bought the property in the 1940s and have run it since.  The Mondavi name is now a Napa Valley synonym.  Charles Krug is the oldest winery in California and Peter Mondavi, Sr. is perhaps the state's oldest vintner as he nears the century mark.

2011 was the 150th vintage for the Charles Krug label, and the Charles Krug Family Reserve Generations blend is from that vintage.  The very first vintage of Generations was produced in 1991 by Marc Mondavi.  The elder Peter Mondavi was partial to wines of a single variety, so his son had to show him that a blend was a viable option at a time when Cabernet Sauvignon was really taking off in the Napa Valley.  His argument was persuasive, and Generations was born.

This beautiful blend is composed of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot.  The winery says 2011 wasn't an easy vintage.  A cool growing season made harvest a few weeks later than usual, the yield was down by 30% and the sugar content of the grapes was 6% lower than they like.  They are, however, thrilled that so much flavor was captured in the bottle despite the obstacles.  This wine spent 20 months in new French oak barrels, hits a very reasonable 13.9% abv in alcohol and sells for $50.

It's a very dark ruby color, almost inky, and deep, dark notes appear on the nose to match.  Plum and blackberry aromas are dusted with a light mocha scent.  White pepper peeks through a bit.  Generation's flavors are equally impressive as plum leads the way for the spice and tobacco to follow.  A minty essence comes in late and stays on the finish.  The acidity makes my mouth water - that's what it's supposed to do - and the tannins are silky.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rutini Trumpeter Malbec-Syrah Blows Own Horn

Rutini's Tupungato winery in Argentina's Uco Valley was Opened in 2008, well over a century after Felipe Rutini decided it would be a good idea to grow some grapes and make some Mendoza wine.  Hundreds of acres are planted to wine grapes now.

A scant 21 miles away is the 21,500 foot peak of Tupungato, the world's tallest active volcano.  The minerality resulting from the location defines the terroir of the region.  A 25-degree swing in temperature between day and night produces the effect that makes it a great wine growing region.  Harvest starts at the end of January and ends in early May, making it one of the longest growing seasons in the world.

In the Rutini Trumpeter Malbec-Syrah, those two grapes form a 50/50 split and come from Tupungato vineyards.  Aging took place in 40% new American oak, 40% new French oak and 20% used French oak barrels over seven months.  The wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, which lends a mellow and creamy mouthfeel to this wine.  Winemaker Mariano Di Paola has done a fine job of producing a wine that is interesting - even a bit challenging - despite being produced in quite large amounts. 

The 2012 Rutini Trumpeter Malbec-Syrah is rich looking with a medium full body.  Soft vanilla notes on red berry aromas mark the nose, while hints of mocha, cinnamon and tobacco give some complexity.  The palate is a delight - it's an oaky one, but a delight nonetheless.  The use of new oak really shows in this wine, with the wood-induced flavors and aromas standing firmly in the forefront.  There is a huge savory angle to this red blend, which I love for pairing with meat.  The tannins are supple and the finish is fairly long.  I've had more complex Syrah blends, but not for $11.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rich, Robust Red Wine From Canada's Niagara Peninsula

The wines of California are what I am usually awash in, so the opportunity to taste wine from Canada doesn’t happen very often for me.  I have my good friend Kevin Johnson to thank for this one.  In a previous life for both of us, Kevin was the best damn music director a radio station ever had, and I don’t say that simply because he sends me wine from his travels in the northern realm.  It is nice to be thought of kindly, and I think of Kevin that way very often.

When I think of Canadian wine, I think of icewine - even though I know there is more to it than that.  This is a table wine from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a beautiful place I visited once and would love to see again.  The wine is the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Reserve Rich and Robust Red VQA Niagara Peninsula 2012.

Even in that lengthy monicker, the term "VQA" does rather jump out.  What does “VQA” mean?  It stands for “Vintners Quality Alliance,” and is a regulatory and appellation system similar to France’s AOC or Italy’s DOC.  Further sub-appellations allow for the different terroirs of Canada to be more specifically identified.  Jackson-Triggs Winery is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, within the Niagara Peninsula - Canada’s largest wine appellation.

The Jackson-Triggs name is a blend of the winery founders’ names, Allan Jackson and Don Triggs.  They established the winery in 1993.  Winemaker Marco Piccoli has worked in Italy, Germany and Argentina, and claims to infuse a bit of himself in each of his wines.

The Jackson-Triggs Rich and Robust Red is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  On the Jackson-Triggs website, an explanation is given that the winery makes both Syrah and Shiraz.  The distinction comes down to New World vs Old World, with Shiraz being the version with the bigger, bolder fruit-forward experience.

The fruit for this wine is from the Delaine Vineyard, in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula.  Oak aging is carried out over six months in French and American oak barrels.  Alcohol is restrained, at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $14.

The dark wine has a medium feel in the mouth, with prickly tannins.  A nose of blackberry and cassis jumps from the glass, while on the palate the fruit is forward as well.  Notes of dark berries and black pepper are graced with a touch of vanilla oak.  The finish is rather tart, with a peppery flavor lingering.  Ultimately, this red blend does not taste like world class wine, but it does deliver enough to keep afloat the expectations of a Cab/Syrah blend for under $15.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

White Wine For Summer: Casey Flat Ranch Sauvignon Blanc

The spring releases from California winery Casey Flat Ranch - located in the mountains of California’s Capay Valley in Yolo County - were featured in a virtual tasting event recently, staged by PR firm Charles Communications and hosted on a live video stream which is archived here.  Casey Flat Ranch Managing Partner Alison Garrett and winemaker Laura Barrett hosted, while those who joined in sipped and commented on four CFR wines:  the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2013 Syrah Rosé, the 2012 Viognier and the 2011 CFR Estate Red Blend.

The vineyards of this historic longhorn cattle ranch overlook the Capay Valley from a vantage point 2,000 feet high in the Vaca mountains to the east and bordering Napa county to the west.  I am told that the high elevation produces terroir-driven  wines, “serious, elegant wines, packed with fresh fruit and stunning minerality.”   The AVA is a youngster, formed in 2002.

The Capay Valley was settled in the 1850s, and vines were planted in the next decade.  The grapes at Casey Flat Ranch were planted much more recently, in 2002 and 2008.  Soil conditions at 2,000 feet on the ranch range from rocky to sandy, with a sandstone base.  Temperatures are similar to northern St. Helena, with a swing of 40 degrees between daytime and night - suitable for Bordeaux and Rhône varieties.  Casey Flat Ranch utilizes sustainable vineyard practices and is home to a variety of wildlife, including 200 Texas Longhorn cattle.

Twitter users who participated in the tasting event did their homework before logging on.  @wineandgoodfood found that “Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet, Cab Franc, and Tempranillo are among the grapes that dominate the Capay Valley AVA.”   @WineJulia commented that  “Casey Flat Ranch is totally off the grid! Solar powered - very cool”  @MsPullThatCork let us know that  “Sustainable farming practices a high priority at CFR. They're solar powered! “  After the event, @winethropology summed it up for us all: “Terrific line-up tonight - Informed consumers should definitely keep eyes peeled for this emerging wine”

Those in the Twitter-verse loved the Casey Flat Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2013.  From @WINEormous: “really love the nose on the 2013 Casey Flat Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. Tons of peaches. Great price point - $18”  @martindredmond said,: “Loving the Casey Flat Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. Made with Musque clone. Aromatic, Crisp, refreshing!”  @Luscious_Lushes agreed.  “I love the Musque clone. It gives it such a roundness and floral quality that i love,” adding later,  “Ok madly in love with tis SB. It has all of the juicy acidity but none of the bite. crisp granny smith apples. REFRESHING.”  @WineJulia tweeted,: “What a gorgeous tropical nose on the SavBlanc. Pineapple, limes, grapefruit!”  And @winethropology was similarly blown away.  “Seriously, this Sauv Blanc is insanely captivating. Wow.”

The wine is quite pale in color, with a floral peach aroma on the nose which has an herbaceous tint to it.  A very slight funky note plays across the fruit.  The Musqué clone of the Sauvignon Blanc grape is highly expressive and typically has a strong floral element to it.  The palate is fresh and delightful, the way we like our Sauvignon Blanc, and is drenched in nectarines and acidity.  It is the acidity which makes this a great food wine, and it's the lovely fruit and flowers combo that makes it so good to sip on its own.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Zinfandel Gets A Moment In The Summer Spotlight

It’s not like the Zinfandel grape doesn’t get its fair share of time in the spotlight.  Zin festivals abound in California, the state which can justifiably claim Zinfandel as its heritage grape.  As the person who came up with the name of this wine-stained little corner of the worldwide web, I think there is always room for one more.

The folks at ZAP! - Zinfandel Advocates and Producers - are behind this new event.  ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration will have its introductory splash on Saturday August 16, 2014 from noon to 3:30 p.m. at Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard, 1040 Lytton Springs Road in Healdsburg.

“The inaugural event will be held in Dry Creek Valley, a traditional home for great Zinfandels,” according to Mark Vernon, president, Ridge Vineyards and the 2014 ZAP president.  “The occasion is for consumers looking for a fun, casual and unique experience to taste among the vines. It’s Zin‐revival—a rustic ZAP tasting under the tent—mingling with the wineries, munching on authentic wood‐fired pizza and mixing it up with the people who share our passion for Zin,” he continued.

ZAP’s Executive Director Rebecca Robinson expects the Simply Summer Celebration to be a new “must-attend” event, as the Zinfandel Experience in January has become.  “New traditions are rare. Thatʹs what makes ZAPʹs Simply Summer Celebration so special,” says Robinson.  “On August 16th, some of the worldʹs highest quality Zinfandels will be served in the heart of Northern Sonoma.”

Tickets for ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration are $45 for ZAP members and $60 for the public. Tickets can be purchased at ZAP ‐ Simply Summer Celebration.  ZAP members receive early bird pricing - an additional $10 off per ticket - through June 30.  Participating wineries will receive special pricing for their winery club members.  You may contact ZAP directly by phone at 530-274-4900 or email at

Robinson points out that ZAP is in this wine thing just for the wine.  “As a non‐profit 501(c) (3) educational organization, ZAP’s focus on cultivating our advocate base at higher levels of giving is translating to effective consumer engagement for our wineries.  This new summer event features the historic spirit of Zinfandel and builds on the work already begun to reposition Zinfandel as a quality varietal with historic significance to our culture and society,” said Robinson.

Participating wineries include:

Artezin Wines, Barefoot Cellars, Ballentine Vineyards, Beltane Ranch, Carol Shelton Wines, Chacewater Wines, Charter Oak Winery, ChaseCellars, D‐cubed Cellars, Del Carlo Winery, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Easton Wines, Edmeades, Elyse Winery, Fields Family Wines, Four Corners,
Gamba Vineyards & Winery, Hartʹs Desire Wines, J. Rickards Winery, Jerome Winery/Cellar 433, Klinker Brick Winery, Kokomo Winery, Lava Cap Winery, Limerick Lane Cellars, m2 Wines, Mazzocco Winery, Mike & Molly Hendry, MoniClaire Vineyards, Murphy Goode, Novy Family Wines, Pedroncelli Winery, Pezzi King Vineyards, Proulx Wines, Ridge Vineyards, Rock Wall Wine Company, Rombauer Vineyards, Rued Winery, Scott Harvey Wines, St. Anneʹs Crossing, St. Francis Winery & Vineyard, Three Wine Company, Trentadue, Turley Wine Cellars, Valdez Family Winery, Wilson of Dry Creek, XYZin and Zin‐Phomaniac.

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Italian Wine With Italian Food

Everybody loves a good wine value, and I find great values over and over again in the wines of Italy.  The Italian restaurants of Los Angeles - there are so many great ones - are particularly adept at finding wines that offer a lot of quality for the money.

When you drink wine in a restaurant, especially by the glass, there simply is no way to think of it as a deal.  So today’s wine - at $9 a glass on the wine list at Da Pasquale in Beverly Hills - may not look like such a great deal at first glance, but it sure does taste like one.  And, considering that you can find this jaw-dropper for under ten bucks a bottle, the value is definitely there.

The 2011 La Maialina Chianti - named “Little Pig” to honor a centuries-old Tuscan pig breed - is crafted by respected Tuscan winemaker Attilio Pagli, who now also creates wine in Argentina’s Mendoza region.  This wine offers a great expression of the Sangiovese grape and yet another good reason to pair Italian wine with Italian food.  The grape's acidity makes for a perfect meal accompaniment.

The wine has a medium ruby tint and beautiful aromas of cherries and roses, hot from the sun, dominate the nose.  Tobacco notes come forward after it has been in the glass a while.  On the palate, there is more great cherry expression, also turning darker with time.  Great tannins, nice acidity and a medium-full mouthfeel make for a wine that’s easy to drink and pairs well with food.  It was particularly nice with my lasagna Napolitana.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Wine: Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc

Several new white wine releases by Dry Creek Vineyards were shared with me recently, and they are ideal for springtime and summer consumption.  Whites are great all year long, if you ask me, but the summer months allow for a crisp white wine to show its refreshing qualities best.   We have already covered the the Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Dry Chenin Blanc.  Today, their Fumé Blanc, kindly provided as a sample for review.

Fumé Blanc is the wine that put Dry Creek Vineyard on the map.  Founder David Stare was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, and he did so after being wowed by the classic styles of the grape produced in Sancerre, Pouilly and Vouvray.

Sauvignon Blanc, at its best, offers freshness in a way no other grape does.  Its racy, wild character is not bound by "fruity" or limited by "pretty."  Sauvignon Blanc is the first day of spring, the hottest day of summer, the last warm day of fall.

Dry Creek Vineyard's first Fumé Blanc release came in 1972, and the winery still - despite all its other successes - presents it as their flagship wine.  The winemaking team of Tim Bell and Nova Perrill adhere to tradition - Loire Valley inspiration is apparent in the wine’s aromas, flavors and textures.  !00% Sauvignon Blanc, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, reaching  13.5% abv.  It retails for $14 and is bottled under a screw cap.

2013 offered near perfect growing conditions, and is one of the driest vintages on record.  A mild winter and a moderate summer stretched the season and allowed for some great acidity providing the backbone of the finished product.  The winery recommends you try this wine with oysters.

The pale wine has a fragrance to rival spring itself.  Grassy and daring, it smells of mango, pineapple and a fresh cut lawn.  It smells like spring; it smells like summer.  The palate is just as amazing, with apples, tropical fruit

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Charles Krug Wine Napa Valley Merlot

A May virtual tasting event under the BrandLive banner featured Charles Krug Wine proprietor Peter Mondavi, Jr. tasting and tweeting about his family’s stake in the Napa Valley.  Charles Krug is the oldest winery in California and Peter Mondavi, Sr. is perhaps the oldest vintner.  He is within swirling, sipping and spitting distance of the century mark.

2011 was the 150th vintage for the Charles Krug label, and three of the wines on the tasting list for the Twitter event were from that vintage, their Napa Valley Merlot, Family Reserve "Generations" blend and Family Reserve "Howell Mountain" Cabernet Sauvignon.  See the video of the tasting here.

Wine lovers in the twitterverse came alive for the event.  During the virtual tasting, @WineJulia commented on the wine’s drinkability, messaging that "the lower alcohol keeps these elegant, while the complexity & tannins bring them to life!"  @WineFashionista tweeted, "Interesting that of these four wines Merlot is Charles Krug's best seller!"  @WineHarlots mentioned of the Merlot, "Miles has left the building."

The Mondavi blurb writer calls the 2011 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot their “Cab lover’s Merlot,” and with good reason.  It is as big and bold as many a Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from America’s best-selling wine region, despite a cool growing season in 2011 that made harvest a few weeks later than usual.  The yield was down and the sugar content of the grapes was lower than they like, but the winemaking team members were thrilled to capture so much flavor despite the obstacles.

The Napa Valley grapes which make up this red blend are 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Sirah, 3% Malbec and a 1% splash of Petit Verdot.  The wine spent 18 months aging in French and American oak barrels.  Alcohol clocks in at a pretty reasonable 14% abv - thank you, cool vintage - and retails for $25.

The wine has a very dark color, opaque ruby red in the glass.  The nose displays robust aromas of black cherry and blueberry with a nice plume of smoke laying over the fruit.  On the palate, the moniker “Cab Lover’s Merlot” really hits home.  Rich, bold fruit flavors burst forth impressively.  Savory undertones join the show, awash in dark berries and vanilla.  A very slight herbal sensation peeks through, a light bell pepper note - the only aspect of the taste that points to a cool vintage.

Pairing with red meat is a no-brainer - the tannins are fine and the acidity is juicy.  A cheese plate would be welcome, too.  Include some Camembert, Gouda and Gruyere.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Nice, Affordable Chardonnay: Rutini Trumpeter, Argentina

In 1885 Felipe Rutini was hired by the Argentine government to develop public parks in Mendoza.  It didn't take him long to recognize the potential for winemaking in the region, and his family established themselves as winemakers, owning property there for over a century.  In 1994, ownership was transferred and winemaker Mariano Di Paola  has been overseeing the winemaking since then.  A winery was opened in 2008 in Tupungato, in the Uco Valley.  There are hundreds of acres of vineyard land planted to wine grapes now.

Only 21 miles away is the 21,5000 foot peak of Tupungato volcano, the world's tallest active volcano.  The minerality resulting from the location defines the terroir of the region.  A 25-degree swing in temperature between day and night produces the effect that makes it a great wine growing region.  The southern hemisphere harvest starts at the end of January and ends in early May, making it one of the longest growing seasons in the world.

The Rutini Trumpeter Chardonnay 2013 sells for $11 per bottle and sports an alcohol level of 13.5% abv.  Malolactic fermentation sits at 30%, and the oak treatment utilizes French oak - 50% new and 50% mature - for seven months.

The wine is a pale straw color and features a nose of apples, lemon peel and soft vanilla.  On the palate, citrus takes the forefront, with apple and pear flavors following.  Bright acidity and a really nice mouthfeel allow the oak to make its statement without overriding the sensation of the fruit.