Friday, August 28, 2015

California Sauvignon Blanc With Enough Nose For New Zealand

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ferrari-Carano Siena 2012 Sonoma County

Don and Rhonda Carano had a dream that involved land, grapevines and the natural result of that marriage. Ferrari-Carano is where the dream lives, and it's the piece of Dry Creek Valley where the wine is made.

The 2012 vintage in Sonoma County offered great growing conditions, with lots of hang time, which translates to the big, ripe flavors found in this wine. Aging for the Siena 2012 was done in 20% new Hungarian oak and 80% older French oak barrels. The alcohol hits 14.5% abv and the wine retails for around $20.

This Ferrari-Carano mix of (mostly) Sangiovese, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon has a medium-dark hue and a nose of red plums, blueberries and sweet oak spice. Stony minerals define the mid-palate. The wine is light in the mouth, with easy tannins. Red berries, cherries and a touch of cola appear on the palate, and it finishes bright and festive with spices - cinnamon and anise - lingering.

The winery says Siena "pairs perfectly with savory Italian food, pasta with flavorful tomato sauces or pizza." Can't argue with that. They also like it with chicken cacciatore, duck salad with raspberries and oranges, or prosciutto on crostini bread.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Everyday Wine You Actually Want Everyday

Everyday wine is, by its intent, meant to be enjoyed everyday - any day - but it also must be affordable. If it isn't, we won't be able to enjoy it everyday. There are many affordable wines out there, but relatively few we would want to have on a daily basis. Cornerstone Cellars' 2013 Red Rocks! is an everyday wine that would be a pleasure to sip everyday.

Red Rocks! was provided to me for review,  and I could review this everyday wine everyday all over again. Cornerstone's managing partner, Craig Camp, says, "The Cabernet Sauvignon clearly leads the other varieties in this blend, but the Zinfandel and Syrah are sure to show themselves." Cab, Zin and Syrah? Sign me up. Camp feels a blend like this is fun, as the different grapes take their individual curtain calls. "The result of this vintage’s blend is a structured wine with just enough bright, zesty fruitiness to take the edge off that structure," he says. "Red Rocks is meant to be the life of the party and a clever one at that." The suggested retail price of Red Rocks! is $15, the same as the white and rosé versions.

The wine is medium-dark ruby in color and presents a big nose of cherries and spice. Smoke also takes a turn. The palate has cherry and red plum in the forefront, with sage and cinnamon tagging along. Some of that smokiness from the nose shows a bit here, too. It is a very pleasant taste, and the fruit lasts long into the finish.

The 2013 Red Rocks! blend will pair nicely with meats from pork to steak, but it also gets a spot at the table with pasta in tomato sauce or roasted vegetables. It matched up perfectly with my wife's herb roasted carrots.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

A Winning White From Sicily

In the last 15 years, Sicily has worked hard to revitalize indigenous grapes, and the region's winemakers are crafting sophisticated and vibrant wines. The Caruso and Minini estate was founded in the late 19th century and is still a family-run business. Their varietal Timpune Grillo Sicilia 2013 is a great match for grilling and summer dishes.

This yellow-gold wine comes from Western Sicily and hits a reasonable 13% abv, seling for less than $20 online.

This Sicilian Grillo has a soapy, earthy nose that leaps from the glass, obscuring the mango and apricot fruit aromas. It is uncompromisingly mineral-driven. The palate is also full of the earth from which it comes, with a savory salinity that runs through the white wines of the Italian islands. The wine has great structure, with acidity enough to handle most food pairings that come to mind for a white wine.

 A dish with a big herbal presence is a natural pairing. Stinky cheese, olives, almonds, grilled seafood or sesame Thai noodle come to mind. Pasta with olive oil and cracked pepper or linguine in a cream sauce would be great with this wine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2013: Wegat Vineyard By Maley Brothers

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

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

Here are the six wines tasted and tweeted about during the virtual event:

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

Last year's inaugural releases were astounding. The bar was set high, and the Lodi Native growers and producers jumped at the chance to match - or exceed - the quality of the 2012 wines. These wines are all available at the respective wineries and at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center only. I was invited to take part in the virtual tasting event and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose.

Winegrower Todd Maley  took care of the grape-growing, while Chad Joseph handled the winemaking chores. On social media, @BrittanyCurran commented that this vineyard was "passed down through generations, love it." @Lodi_Wine tweeted that "Wegat Vineyard is a 21-acre plot of head-trained vines planted on St. Jorge rootstock in 1958." Tasting notes from @ReverseWineSnob admired the Zinfandel's "cherry, spice, mint and a nice earthy streak." 

The '13 Wegat Vineyard Zin by Maley Brothers is a worthy addition to the Lodi Native lineup. It is colored very dark and smells that way, too. Blackberry and black cherry aromas do a good job of distracting from the subtleties that lie beneath them. Rich, black earth, minerals, smoke and coffee all appear in turn. The palate turns those aromas into tastes, with a plummy blackberry front, and amazingly earthy middle and a juicy finish that lasts forever. It's a big wine, a brawny drink - not elegant. This wine has broad shoulders, blue jeans, a big belt buckle and dust on its boots. Pair it with lamb or game. If you like cooking, use it in a marinara sauce. You will have the best sauce ever.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Backyard BBQ Bubbly

Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva is a wine made by the folks at Freixenet as an effort to support Spain’s ancient local grapes, Macabeo and Parellada. The cuvée is a blend of nine different base wines.  A bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is added, for better acidity. The blend is produced only when all the proper terroir conditions are in alignment.

Gran Cuvée Reserva is aged for 15 months on the lees - in contact with the used yeast cells. Lower than usual dosage - addition of sugar - so the base wines are given a chance to shine, which they do. The grapes are 85% Macabeo and Parellada, 15% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Alcohol sits at a reasonable 12% abv and the wine sells for less than $10. It’s an amazing value.

This cava was poured for a small group at a backyard birthday BBQ, and it was a real crowd-pleaser. Aromas of peach and toast lead to flavors of honeysuckle and pineapple. It is light and festive with bubbles which dissipate quickly. The wine is fruity enough, but comes with a very earthy complexity which I find captivating.

This complex bubbly can be paired with all fish, ceviche, avocado and sushi dishes. You can also look to braised meats and aged cheeses for pairing ideas. Or birthday cake.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer Wine: Drink Pink With Lula Cellars Rosato

Lula Cellars is an Anderson Valley winery named for the winemaker's maternal grandmother. She must have been quite something, as her description on the website offers a glowing tribute. "This remarkable woman raised three children by herself after the death of her husband, Frank. Her enduring inner strength, faith and love for her children helped guide her and her family through the most difficult of times, and she was an inspiration to all who knew her." I'd hope for something with about two percent of that feeling to be written about me after I'm gone - that would be praise enough.

The 2014 vintage of Lula Cellars’ Rosato is its fifth release of this dry-styled, Mendocino County rosé.  An unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Tempranillo, this wine is produced as a dry rosé; the juice is in contact with the skins for only four hours before fermentation.

Winemaker Jeff Hansen has worked nearly 30 vintages so he brings plenty of experience to the table. He produced only 300 cases of this wine. I was provided with a sample for the purpose of this article.

This pinkie looks more like a red, its brilliant ruby color tinged with a bit of orange. The aromas are fresh, with red cherry - stems and all - joining a floral note. Flavors seems bent more in Tempranillo's direction than Pinot's, cherry in front, spices and fantastic acidity in hot pursuit. There is a late hint of tea that hangs on into the finish, which is lengthy. Pair it with shrimp from the grill or, for brunch with a spinach omelet.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Listen To What The Cabernet Franc Has To Say

Cornerstone Cellars typically blends their Bordeaux grape varieties - it’s what you do with Bordeaux grape varieties. But it was not so with the 2012 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Black Label Cabernet Franc. It's a 100% varietal wine. Cornerstone’s managing partner, Craig Camp, writes, "We did not plan it that way, but the wine insisted and it's our job to listen to what the wine has to say, not tell it what to do."

Camp continues, "Blending trial after blending trial ended up the same way with the unblended Cabernet Franc being the winner. There was simply nothing this Cabernet Franc needed, so we decided to do exactly that - nothing.

"While this wine is one hundred percent Cabernet Franc, it's still a blend as we have combined fruit from three exceptional vineyards for our Black Label Cabernet Franc and each of them adds something special: Our Oakville Station Vineyard in To Kalon adds depth, power and a velvety texture; the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena gives structure and richness; the Carrefour Vineyard in Coombsville brings lift, freshness and classic Cabernet Franc aromatics."

Aging took place over 18 months in French oak barrels, half of which were new. 933 cases of this wine were produced, and it hits 14.7% abv. The retail price is $45.

The '12 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Black Label Cabernet Franc is inky dark and big on the blueberry aromas. Cinnamon and nutmeg add a festive note. The palate shows a decidedly savory aspect of the dark fruit. Minerals, earth and black olive notes add complexity and provide a great backdrop for that bold fruit display. The wine also has great tannic structure and a freshness that's a joy to find in a red wine.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Merlot From The Santa Margarita Ranch AVA

The folks at Ancient Peaks Winery talk a lot about the unique terroir they have at their Margarita Vineyard.  That's not just a lot of air, either.  The estate vineyard sports five different soil types, from ancient oyster beds to the remainder of ancient volcanos.  Indeed, they sit in the shadow of those ancient peaks.  They boast that the "Santa Margarita Ranch AVA is situated along the foot of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range, roughly 25 miles southeast of the city of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west."  Oh, yeah, that's another claim they now have: "Our estate Margarita Vineyard now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only vineyard located within its own namesake AVA."  Well, isn't that special!  Yes, in fact, it is.

The 2012 Ancient Peaks Merlot hails from that distinctive terroir, and AP Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor says the 2012 is even more special that the previous two vintages. "2010 and 2011 were very cold, very challenging vintages" Sinor states in the wine’s video. "With '12, we got sort of a nice weather profile, a nice amount of rain and we could tell very early in the vintage that we had a very special year for Merlot."

The Merlot grapes come from three of their six blocks devoted to Merlot. According to the website, "Block 7 yields dark, intensely flavored fruit with both softness and power. Block 4 produces lighter red fruit qualities with lively acidity, while Block 5 splits the difference with a blend of black and red fruit characteristics." The wine is 85% Merlot, 13% Malbec and there is a two percent splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. Aging occurred over 18 months in French and American oak barrels.  4,501 cases were produced, and it sells online for around $15.

This wine is deep and dark. The inky indigo color telegraphs the nose, exploding with blue and black berries and cassis, a whiff of campfire smoke and a mountain of prehistoric terroir. The palate is laden with dark fruit, too, not to mention spice and earth. The sage and rosemary linger into a finish that won't let you forget them. The tannic structure is fit for meat and aging while the acidity refreshes and causes the mouth to water.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Chardonnay Gives Creaminess, Acidity Equal Billing

Chardonnay is, if memory serves, the most popular white wine grape in the U.S. Despite that rank, Chardonnay is sometimes held in low regard by more snobbish wine folk, who disdain it for its popularity. It is similar to my own failing feelings for a particular musical artist who has hit the big time - it was much more fun backing him before everyone knew about him.

I'm not a Chardonnay hater, even though I will usually opt for something a little racier, a little more daring, a little ... less Chardonnay. Even so, California Chardonnay has become a lot more interesting over the last half decade or so.

No longer typified by flabby, overoaked wines, the Chardonnay segment of wine styles has become nearly as fragmented as that of Riesling. Oak has become less dominant, acidity has become a focal point and it's hard to find a California winery which doesn't produce at least one completely unoaked Chardonnay.

The many different types of Chardonnay - steely, oaky, fresh, full - may call for a scale on the label, a la Riesling, to show the consumer what to expect inside the bottle. Until then, ask your wine merchant what sort of Chardonnay it is that you are buying. Have him or her guide you to the style that suits you.

The CrossBarn Chardonnay 2014 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County wine comes from select vineyards of the cool Sonoma Coast appellation. The grapes are pressed in whole clusters, stems and all, adding a freshness and vibrancy to the wine. Only 10% of the juice feels any oak - the rest is aged five months in steel tanks. The wine is, however, left in contact with the spent yeast cells during aging - with weekly stirring to keep the lees suspended. This imparts a creamy richness without so much reliance on oak. The wine also underwent full malolactic fermentation, which also adds to the creamy texture.

The '14 CrossBarn Chardonnay looks golden in the glass and smells nice and ripe. Peaches, pineapples and lemons burst forth like so much fruit basket. The palate shines as brightly, with wonderful fruit led by apples and lemons. The creamy quality resulting from the production techniques stands opposite an eye-popping acidity. Pair this with salads, soups and seafood anytime, but it can handle a pork chop or roasted chicken just as effortlessly.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Pink Wine That Looks And Drinks Red

We call rosé a pink wine, as it often is. Rosé can be a deeper shade, of course, with a complexity that runs deeper, too. When pink starts to look red, things get interesting. The wine feels fuller in the mouth and richer on the palate, yet it takes a chill just as well as its cousin of a lighter shade.

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has produced a pink wine that’s really red, the Rocks! Rosé. Cornerstone managing partner Craig Camp calls this vintage "a muscular rosé. Richly colored, flavored and dry-as-a-bone our Rosé Rocks! has the guts to take on real food." This vintage of Rocks! Rosé is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Camp pours  it with grilled steaks, chops and sausages after giving the wine a cooling off period, to make it that much more refreshing in the dog days of summer.

The color of the Rocks! Rosé is a pretty, deep ruby red - rosado-style. Aromas of rich, ripe cherries and raspberries are laced with a stemmy green note that hits the fruit just right. Cherries mix with strawberries on the palate, with a bracing acidity holding everything together. The wine has the heft and complexity of a red, while refreshing like a white. It's extremely tasty, and it does pair well with a lot more than salads. This is the perfect wine to accompany a backyard grill.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Telling The Story Of Vermouth

Adam Ford has written a book called Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture. This $24.95 volume tells the strange and fascinating history of vermouth, visits the controversies that have always been a part of vermouth tradition, and offers recipes both old and new to take advantage of the new generation of craft vermouths that are now available. I was given a copy of the book for review.

From Neolithic China to the ancient Silk Roads, to a marketing battle between two Italian producers in the 1700’s to the emergence of a new American vermouth style in the 2010’s, from the boisterous New York City saloons of the 1870’s to the ultra-dry martinis of the 1950’s, the story of vermouth spans the globe and all of recorded history. This book tells the story with style and is a great gift for a lover of mixology as well as a tome that will complete any well-stocked spirits library.

Vermouth is a closer look at a notoriously underrated bar staple. Equal parts fascinating history, useful recipe guide, and gorgeous bar-side display, the book is a treat for anyone who appreciates a well-balanced cocktail. Or a great sipper.

Ford fell in love with vermouth the same way he fell in love with a woman, quite by accident. And the woman was instrumental in his introduction to vermouth, the aromatized wine he discovered while hiking the Italian Alps.

Vermouth is Ford's attempt to write a history of the drink, a history which spans 10,000 years of human events, a history he claims has never been written.

The story's introduction runs through China, the Middle East, ancient Egypt, Persia, the silk routes and the Mediterranean. Then he does a turn on the recent blink of an eye covering the American side of vermouth's history, in which he plays a part by producing a vermouth of his own. Ford also includes a lengthy section of cocktail recipes using vermouth.

It is a drink that offers a lot of surprises as its story unfolds, and a drink that is well worth the time of any wine lover to investigate. This book is a great introduction to a beverage which has much more to it than meets the eye.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2013: Stampede Vineyard, Fields Family Wines

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

In case you are not aware of what Lodi Native is, or what they are doing, please read on. Lodi Native is a collaboration of six winegrowers who aim to highlight Lodi's unique sense of place by focusing on single-vineyard Zinfandel selections from the region. Each wine benefits from native yeast fermentation, zero new oak, and a “hands-off” approach in the vineyards and cellar, allowing the terroir-driven fruit to speak for itself. It's an effort that any Zinfandel purist can appreciate.

The six labels involved in the Lodi Native project - McCay, Macchia, Fields Family, Maley Brothers, St. Amant and m2 Wines - represent winegrowers as well as winemakers, like the majority of Lodi’s producers.  Here are the wines tasted and tweeted about during the virtual event:

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

Last year's inaugural releases were astounding. The bar was set high, and the Lodi Native growers and producers jumped at the chance to match - or exceed - the quality of the 2012 wines. These wines are all available at the respective wineries and at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center only. Check here for more information on availability. I was invited to take part in the virtual tasting event and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose.

On social media, @CourtneyC_Walsh remembered "the 2012 #LodiNative wines. Can't wait to see if the 2013's live up to the high reputation!" Would you really expect less? @thisismyhappiness tweeted, "So excited to have the opportunity to taste 6 special Zinfandels of the Lodi Native project tonight!" @MsPullThatCork noted, "no tricks in the cellar in making these #Zinfandel wines, just the vineyards showing off!" @myvinespot thought, "these would all work with bbq - that may be one of the hallmarks of @Lodi_Wine." Quite true. @cliffordbrown3 summed it up nicely: "The Lodi Native project is without a doubt the most exciting project anywhere in the world."

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel (Fields Family Wines)

The Stampede Vineyard dates back 70 years or so and is planted along the banks of the Mokelumne River in the Clements Hills AVA. Winemaker Ryan Sherman - Fields Family Wines - and growers Jeff and John Perlegos combined on this excellent vintage of the sextet.

The color is a little lighter shade of ruby than I usually find with Zinfandel. There is a highly perfumed nose sporting blueberry and blackberry aromas, a little bit spicy with an almost Pinot-like coffee note. The palate is delicious, with blueberry and spice leading the way, a dash of rosemary and a fantastic tannic structure and acidity that will make this wine perfect pairing with steaks or pork chops off the grill. The earthy quality makes me want lamb tacos. Thank goodness I live in Southern California, where that earthly delight is readily available.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Wine: Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare

Summer is generally considered rosé time, although I have noted - many times before - that it will serve us well any time of year. I always say the best day of the year for a nice, dry, pink wine is the day after Thanksgiving. It's a perfect pairing with those leftover turkey sandwiches after hitting the Black Friday sales or watching a few of the dozen or so college football games with a salami and a cheese ball.

The Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare is a perennial favorite, always delightful and elegant, always a Randall Grahm-sized slice of Rhônicity that's pretty in pink.

The '14 Vin Gris de Cigare is made from eight different Rhône grape varieties of the Central Coast - 35% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, 16% Grenache Blanc, 12.5% Roussanne, 8% Carignane, 8% Cinsaut, 1.5% Marsanne - whew - and 1% Counoise. This rosé has a 13% abv number and sells for $18. The iconic label art by Chuck House recalls the red and white relatives of this pink Cigare.

This wine is a very pale pink, like the inside of a sea shell. There is a fair amount of salinity to go along with that shoreline appearance, too. A nose of strawberries and cherries has just a slight green quality to it, while the acidity-fresh palate shows red fruit in a salty, earthy setting. A perfect match for anything from the sea - it's elegant, it's complex, it's refreshing and I'm doon with it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

When At The Greek Festival... Retsina

At the recent annual South Bay Greek Festival, held at St. Katherine’s Church in Redondo Beach, I was dismayed when I inquired at the beverage station about Greek wines. I was told their red and white selections were from California, and that they just had "some of this." The gentleman described it as Retsina, and told me it was "kinda pitchy." Not exactly a great sales pitch, but since I had read about Retsina and never tasted it, I was intrigued enough to buy a cup. "Good by the glass, better by the bottle," the server told me. I knew the sales training would kick in eventually. I thanked him for the offer and stayed with the cup.

Retsina is wine which is resinated, or flavored with pine resin. It originated, so says Wikipedia, around 100 AD. Ceramic vessels for wine were sealed with a pine resin to prevent leakage. The resin, of course, imparts its own set of aromas and flavors to the wine. While this may have initially been just a necessary evil, the effect of the resin was appreciated by many - like, the Greeks - and they continued to dose their wine with resin even after it was no longer needed. Technological advances - wood barrels - made the resin passé but the style lives on today.

The word Retsina, by the way, is a protected wine type in Greece. Anywhere else it’s made - I hear that Australia makes some - it must be labelled as "resinated wine."

The Retsina I tried was by Kourtaki of Attica, Everywhere I look I see the Savatiano grape listed as the main ingredient for this Retsina, but the label indicates a selection of “the finest grape varieties grown in Attica.” The alcohol is quite restrained, at just 11.5%. It sells for less than $10 per bottle.

The Retsina’s nose is laced heavily with the scent of petroleum. That "pitchy" flavor dominates the palate, with some citrus notes buried beneath. There is a nice acidity, though, and it pairs wonderfully with roasted chicken. A backbeat of eucalyptus makes for a pleasant finish. It’s not a wine for everybody. The server at the beverage table actually tried to warn me off of it. When I persisted, that's when he notified me it was "good by the glass, better by the bottle." As the wine grew on me throughout the glass, I thought he might actually be right.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

The North And South Of Chardonnay With Castello di Amorosa

The Napa Valley winery known as Castello di Amorosa is fashioned after a Tuscan castle. It fits that a good number of the wines produced there are made using grapes of Italian heritage. They do a pretty mean Chardonnay, too, though. In fact, they do three Chardonnays that show how terroir and aging both have such dramatic effect on the grape.

These three different Castello di Amorosa Chardonnays from the 2013 vintage showcase the grapes’ origins, the different production methods employed.and the versatility of the variety. The trio include the Napa Valley Chardonnay from their estate vineyard in Los Carneros, and two from the historic Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Director of Winemaking Brooks Painter writes that, “By using these two cool-climate vineyards, we hope to showcase the unique terroir of each of these Chardonnays.” One of the Bien Nacido wines was aged in oak, while the other was aged in a concrete fermentation egg at the Napa Valley winery. That, according to Painter, allows the yeast cells to remain suspended - which makes for a creamier finished product. Winemaker Peter Velleno and Vineyard Manager David Béjar bring plenty of experience to the winery, too.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara County 2013

The Castello has plenty of great grapes in Napa Valley, but they went south for this one, to Santa Barbara County’s Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. This single-vineyard, 100% Chardonnay is aged ten months in French oak barrels, half new and half seeing their second use. About 40% of the juice undergoes malolactic fermentation and the wine is aged with the spent yeast cells still in the barrel, with stirring to keep the yeast suspended. Both of these features contribute to the wine’s creamy texture and full mouthfeel.

Velleno produced a little over 450 cases of this wine, which has a 14.8% abv number and sells for $38 per bottle.

The oak plays quite a strident melody here; its effect seems rather brutal to the fruit from this iconic vineyard. Vanilla and oak spice lead the aroma profile, with the gorgeous tropical fruit scents dragging behind. Oak is also a big factor on the palate. If you like 'em big and buttery, this Chardonnay is for you. The wine feels nice and full in my mouth - as it should - yet the acidity comes through in fine fashion. It's a great choice to pair with roasted chicken, even pork. A nice, creamy risotto would be a fine match, too.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay La Rocca, Bien Nacido Vineyard 2013

This one is fermented in a single egg-shaped concrete vessel. Aging occured in contact with the spent yeast cells - lees - for 10 months. The richness comes completely from the aging on the lees, rather than from oak barrels. This preserves the fruit flavors. It was not allowed a secondary malolactic fermentation, so the acidity remains somewhat lively.  177 cases were produced, alcohol is at 14.8% abv and the retail price is $38.

This wine features a light golden straw tint with a nose of apples, pineapples and peaches. Big, pure fruit is what is showing here. The palate has a gorgeous mouthfeel, silky and creamy without the wood. The acidity is subdued, but still enough to handle pairing with a salad or seafood. Peach and apricot are foremost with a light touch of earth, but the fruit is the show.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013

Back to the Napa Valley here, as the grapes for this one are harvested from the Los Carneros estate vineyard, where the cool breeze from San Paulo Bay keep things Burgundian. The wine gets full French oak aging, half new and half neutral, with about 40% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation. Aging is done sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast cells - for ten months. 827 cases were produced, with alcohol very ripe at 15.3% abv. Retail is $29.

This wine has a beautiful color, like solid gold. Peaches, nectarines and oak grace the nose, with a nice, soft vanilla layer. The oak is not over done. On the palate, peach, apricot and earth dominate, with the oak aging apparent. The wood effect is not full-on buttery, but close to it. The acidity is magnificent. Get some shrimp, crab or lobster - nice with mussels or clams, too. It may be lobster roll time! The finish leaves the buttery vanilla trace of oak along with that earthy fruit.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Unexpected Napa: A Pair From Mondavi

The Napa Valley Vintners Association teamed up with The Daily Sip and the Sip’s editor-in-chief Karen MacNeil for a virtual wine tasting event which featured a sextet of “Unexpected Napa Wines.” What, exactly, are unexpected Napa wines? @TheDailySip tweeted the answer during the event. “We looked for classic estates making unexpected wines,” they chirped. “The #Napa Valley is a hotbed of American innovation,” they continued. “Traditions thrive and evolve while winemakers explore the new.”

The six wines tasted ranged from a mildly unexpected unoaked Chardonnay to quite unexpected California Albarino, Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot to Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon - which I would say are far from unexpected in Napa Valley. I was invited to join this little party and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose. This series covers the wines separately.

The Mondavi name is anything but unexpected when the talk turns to the Napa Valley. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon also fail to shock, but it is what the Mondavi winery does with these grapes that provides the twist.

The late Robert Mondavi helped put California wine on the map, so it is no surprise that the entryway to his winery looks like a cross between a mission and a cathedral. Those who enter worship at the altar of Sauvignons, both red and white.

Robert Mondavi Winery 2013 Fumé Blanc

The 2013 Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc is 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Sémillon. Mondavi created the term "fumé blanc" in 1966 to draw a line between his dry style of Sauvignon Blanc and the sweeter white wines of the day. It sells for $20.

@TheDailySip informed that, "The fruit for this Fumé Blanc comes primarily from #StagsLeap & the celebrated #ToKalon #vineyard in Oakville." There is nothing like a great vineyard or two. @KMacWine tweeted that the wine "has a non-aggressive greenness I call chaparral." A great note, and it's nice have a name for that quality. @Path2Wine chirped, "When you hear "Fume Blanc" you think @RobertMondavi This is a timeless, classic Sauvignon Blanc." @timlemke cut to the chase: "Too often friends dismiss Mondavi wines as mass produced, but I'll drink this Fumé Blanc anyday." Support came from @winecompass: "Even a mass produced wine made from 20% To Kalon grapes by default has to be very drinkable, right?" It sure worked this time. @laughrodite4U remembered "my first taste of Robert Mondavi #Fume Blanc in 1985. Served with a pork roast." And I'll bet it was delish that way. @TheGoodWineGuru was "really liking the softer notes of the Fume Blanc." As was I.

Mondavi's '13 Fumé Blanc may not be unexpected, but it sure is good. Pale yellow in the glass, its nose gives subtle fruit and a soft earthiness. The wine is very much in the old-world style of Sauvignon Blanc. There is almost no grassiness on the nose, with stone fruit and tropical notes coming forth. The palate is just as elegant, with a softness that is quite unexpected in this grape. Slightly smoky apricot and mango are in the forefront, while acidity takes a backseat. I would love this with a ham as much as I would with bacon and eggs. Yes, for breakfast, even at 14.5% abv.

Robert Mondavi Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

This Cabernet is made from 88% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 1% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. It hits 14.5% abv and Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens says it reminds her of why Mondavi built the brand on Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Mondavi cab drew praise from @WineOhTV: "Fantastic & affordable @ under $30 I'm a fan!"
@KMacWine reports that "There are some places where a grape just thrives. #Cabernet was destined to be made in the #Napa Valley." It would be hard to argue that point. @TheGoodWineGuru "Really liked the dried herbs and dark fruit on the nose," while @SandyWasserman liked "the cherry fruit and mild tannins."

@KMacWine tweeted, "This @RobertMondavi #cabernet offers a tremendous value. Each glass would only cost you the equivalent of a Starbucks latté." And it brings a bit more pleasure to the drinker. @WineCompass cited the "blackberries prevalent throughout; herbaceous and textured, long soft finish," while @GoodWineArtist picked up on "a lot of plum on this Cab, nice dark rich fruit flavors and good tannins but not too dry." Pointing out the obvious, @KMacWine typed that "#Steak and #cabernet are one of those thrilling pairings where the wine and food crave one another." @Shona425 liked the "lush, rich blackberry chocolate. Long finish. #Napa cab always a classic." More notes from @PrimlaniKitchen: "Classic Napa - Black Fruit, Cherries, Eucalyptus, Cloves - an Effortless Drinking wine." It has staying power, too, according to @macdaddy_m: "After tasting 30 consecutive vintages of this wine I am never disappointed."

The '12 Mondavi Cab is colored dark and rich, and layered textures burst forth on the nose. Blackberry and cassis lead the way, with a beautiful savory note of black olive. The palate is tasty enough - a little thin for me - with the dark fruit making itself at home and leaving little purple footprints into the finish. Tannins are good, but not overly aggressive. The wine's aromas make a promise the flavors can't keep. It's not a great Cabernet, but at $20, I don't expect it to be. What it is, is a good $20 Cab.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Wine Country Arkansas: Circle T Vineyards And Winery

Arkansas winemaking got its start in the late 19th century, when German and Swiss settlers took advantage of the grape-loving climate there. There are not very many commercial wineries in Arkansas - can we still count them on two hands? Even so, the state has three designated American Viticultural Areas - and half of Arkansas's counties are dry. It’s a conundrum wrapped up in a riddle, given its own AVA.

The motto at Circle T Vineyards is, "Grow the best fruit nature allows, craft wines that embody its finest qualities." Owner and winemaker John Trickett adheres to that mission statement by growing his Syrah grapes organically. The wine is not labelled as "organic" due to a trick of the requirements - he introduces CO2 into the product in a way technically different from that prescribed by federal regulations. So, it's organic wine, it just doesn't get to say so on the label.

Trickett formed a fondness for wine during his years in the motion picture business, when he was stationed in Dallas, Texas. When he retired and settled on the Arkansas land that had been in his family for over a century, he decided that he would grow Syrah grapes. Not only were they a personal favorite, but he felt they were well-suited to the climate and the soil there. His initial releases are the 2013 Syrah and the dessert wine, described below. Mother Nature presented obstacles last year which prevented him from harvesting a vintage. He is looking forward to a good crop for 2015 and will hopefully have more Arkansas terroir to show for his patience.

Circle T Winery and Vineyards Rock House Red 2013 Syrah

The grapes are organically grown in the Arkansas Mountain AVA, in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas. The wine’s name is an homage to the retirement home Trickett's ancestors built rock-by-rock on the land. Alcohol sits at 13.75% abv. It is 100% Syrah, estate-grown.

Rock House Red is a medium dark ruby red in color, with a nose that exhibits a rocky earthiness and a bushel basket of minerals. The fruit is dark and funky, with a rhubarb edge to the cherry and blackberry aromas. Notes of coffee linger. It’s very dry in the mouth, with flavors of blackberry and plum laced with beefy tannins and a mouth-watering acidity. The wine feels a little lighter in the mouth than typical Syrahs from France or California, with less heft but just as much spirit as its more renowned brethren.

Circle T Winery and Vineyards MST Sweet Dessert Wine

This an astounding dessert wine, although it really doesn't taste like dessert at all. It's made dry, Port-style and hits 19% abv. I would never had guessed a number that high, as smoothly as the wine drinks. Dessert wines always seem bombastic in one way or another - "Check out all this residual sugar!" or "How 'bout that fortification, buddy!" This one is as elegant and smooth as a good tawny. The fruit is dark and plentiful - brooding and slightly funky on the nose, rich and perfectly balanced on the palate - like a Syrah oughta be. The tannins are extremely gentle. Afterward, it's the fruit you remember, not the spirits.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Mosby Wines

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this two-hour trip. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives. This short series describes some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Mosby Wines

Bill Mosby is an eccentric, at least if you believe the blurb on the website. His eccentricity is also apparent when you look at his vineyards, full of grapes better known in Italy. If you are looking for an intro to Italian grapes in Santa Barbara County, head to Buellton and check out Mosby's wines.

The Mosby Artist Series of wines are decorated by beautiful visuals, provided by renowned artist Robert Scherer of Appiano, Italy. In the tasting room, I was told that Mosby and Scherer met by chance, seated at the same restaurant table with a big language barrier. The found communication in food and wine, which led to Scherer doing the label art.

2012 Cortese $18
A nice, earthy nose is presented by this Gavi grape. Crisp and delicious, with a great lemon flavor and a zing of acidity.

2012 Passerina $18
From Marche, this grape's California expression has big minerals and earth, with a very gentle acidity. Peach and apricot flavors join earthy notes for a delightful palate.  A great sipper.

2013 Pinot Grigio $18
This one has the same earthy note on nose as the Passerina. I found the palate a little boring, but decent acidity lifts it.

2013 Rosato di Cannonau $18
Steel fermentation gives this Grenache - Cannonau in Italy - a crisp acidity. A dash Mourvèdre beefs it up nicely. Cherries and oranges on the nose leads to a beautiful palate showing a great cherry flavor.

2009 Dolcetto  $28
The big, cherry nose has a high note of sweetness to it. The acidity refreshes, while the big tannic structure provides a great backdrop for a pairing with a bolognese sauce. Cherry and raspberry flavors leave a lingering tartness.

2008 Sangiovese $30
The nose shows cherry aromas a little bigger and a little darker than the Dolcetto.  Huge cherry flavors on the palate are sweetened by the oak spice.

2008 La Seduzione Lagrein $30
A nose of cherry and raspberry make this northern Italian grape show its Cali terroir. The palate has a giant cherry and black cherry expression. Great tannins make me feel it would be fantastic with a beef stew.

2008 Sagrantino $32
The nose shows alcohol first, then cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, it is the vibrant acidity and firm tannins that grab my attention. Floral notes lay upon black cherry and raspberry flavors on the palate.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Unexpected Napa: Artesa Albariño

The Napa Valley Vintners Association teamed up with The Daily Sip and the Sip’s editor-in-chief Karen MacNeil for a virtual wine tasting event which featured a sextet of “Unexpected Napa Wines.” What, exactly, are unexpected Napa wines? @TheDailySip tweeted the answer during the event. “We looked for classic estates making unexpected wines,” they chirped. “The #Napa Valley is a hotbed of American innovation,” they continued. “Traditions thrive and evolve while winemakers explore the new.”

The six wines tasted ranged from a mildly unexpected unoaked Chardonnay to quite unexpected California Albarino, Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot to Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon - which I would say are far from unexpected in Napa Valley.

The #SipWithKaren wines:

Alpha Omega 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay
Artesa 2014 Albarino.
Cornerstone Cellars 2013 Chenin Blanc
Robert Mondavi Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Robert Mondavi Winery 2013 Fume Blanc
St. Supery 2010 Dollarhide Petit Verdot

I was invited to join this little party and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose. I am covering them separately here.

Artesa 2014 Albariño

This unexpected wine is made from 100% Carneros Albariño grapes from the Artesa estate vineyard. Alcohol hits a moderate 13.9% abv in this refresher, fermented and aged in stainless steel (85%)
and new french oak barrels (15%) for five months.

The Artesa website talks terroir. "With its cool climate, Carneros is the perfect region for planting Spain’s most famous white grape – Albariño. This variety loves cool weather and ripens late without reaching high alcohol levels. For this reason we planted the now 20-year old vines in one of the coolest spots on our estate vineyard." Winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper utilized whole cluster pressing, which adds an herbal dimension that I love to find, particularly in a white wine.

@TheDailySip noted that "While only 19 acres of #albariño are planted in #Napa, @Artesa’s vineyard is 20 years old."  @sonadora is "Always surprised to see an Albarino from CA, especially from Napa!" @dvinewinetime commented that it is a "glass full of spun gold. Sweet banana & pineapple notes on the nose." Agreed. @KMacWine found "a distinctiveness to the fruit that makes Artesa #albariño distinctively #Napa, not #RiasBaixas. It’s ripe and long," she tweeted. @beerrabble liked the "perfume on the nose to start, slate on the mid palate-little tangy. nice on a warm night."

More tasting notes came from @SLHousman: "This Napa Artesa Albariño refreshing w/flavors of white peaches, lemons w/hints of bananas in the finish." @Hawk_Wakawaka loves "finding the unusual whites that do well in Napa. Albarino there was one of 1st new world spots for the variety." @DrinkWhatULike was whipped into a frenzy: "Whoa, holy peach/honeysuckle aromatics. Vibrant. Expressive. Lovely citrus acidity. Digging this." @Shona425 loved it, too. "Clean and crisp, not tart. A great option for a summer white."

This wine has more tropical fruit than Carmen Miranda's hat. Pineapples and bananas are sticking out in front, citrus and peaches on the sides and flowers all around. And those are just the smells. Take a swig of this chilled Albariño and let your fruit flag fly. But there is a nice hatband of minerality and a gentle lemon-lime note joined by a brimful of acidity. You'll want something like this anytime you find yourself under a Panama hat.

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