Monday, May 21, 2018

Wine And Food: Jar

Suzanne Tracht and Preech Narkthong, of Jar
Don't you love it when a restaurant wine pairing works out?  It did so for me recently at Jar in Los Angeles, and the experience underscored how a sommelier can make all the difference. 

Al Melendez is actually the manager there, but he spoke with the knowledge of a somm, and the passion of one.  Al greeted my wife and I warmly after we had been seated and asked if he could help with the wine selection.  As I sipped the negroni, I told him I was thinking about the Alsatian Riesling with the Dover sole.  He seemed like he had something he wanted to say.

I asked what he would recommend, and he leapt into action.  "Let me pour a few samples for you and you tell me which is best for the fish."  He hooked me, just like that sole had been.

The Dover sole came with pickled ramp butter, and something about the Riesling tickled my fancy.  Al was one somm type who wasn't pushing it.  He poured samples of a Pouilly Fuissé, a Sancerre and the Lang & Reed Chenin Blanc from Napa Valley.  For my taste, the Chardonnay was close, the Sauvignon Blanc was a little too Sauvignon Blanc and the Chenin Blanc was just right.

It paired wonderfully, with a pert sweetness that set off the ramp concoction just right, yet dry enough and fresh enough to fit the fish like a glove, if that's possible.  Plus, It was rather big for a white, perfect with the light seafood.  It was hit with the crab deviled eggs as well.  The wine lifted the meal beyond its already delicious status in a way the Chard or Sauv Blanc would not have.  Thanks, Al.

Next time I'll try the Riesling.


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Friday, May 18, 2018

Albariño: Contes De Albarei

Albariño is a lovely white wine grape that is predominant in Spain's northwest corner.  It's the reason they get out of bed every day in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  Snooth staged an online virtual tasting session featuring Albariño wines from Rias Baixas, and I was lucky enough to be invited.

The winery known as Condes de Albarei is located in Castrelo, a little town in the province of Ourense.  The winery was founded in 1988 by a group of Salnés Valley growers who wanted to concentrate on Albariño.  They picked a great place to do it, as the valley is reportedly the birthplace of the grape.  Those growers still own and run the place, so much into their work that they don't appear to have a website.

The estate vineyards cover more than 700 acres with mountains all around and the Umia River running through.  Alcohol in the wine is customary for the area, around 13.5% abv, and it sells for $14 or less online.

The Condes de Albarei Albariño wine is golden in the glass and smells of apricots and flowers.  The citrus comes across as a mix of lemon and tangerine.  On the palate, it's one of the more sippable Albariños I've tasted from the region.  The acidity is fresh but doesn't rip off one's tongue.  Flavors of Granny Smith apples and Meyer lemons come forward, along with some other fruits that may have been named after people.  It's an earthy drink that lasts a while on the finish.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Albariño: Bodega Fillaboa

There's a Snooth virtual wine tasting coming up today that features Albariño wines from Spain's Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  I'm tasting nearly a dozen different Albariños for that reason - not because it's spring, or because it's almost summer, or because I love Albariño.  Although those are all reason enough.

The Fillaboa website leads with, "Creating is not an easy task when surrounded by so much noise."  That's how Bodega Fillaboa's owner decided to go for the peace and quiet of the Rias Baixas land where the 70-hectare estate is located in Salvatierra de Miño.  The "good daughter" referred to in the Galician name sits set off from its surroundings by an ancient stone bridge and stands as one of the oldest and biggest estates in Pontevedra.  The bodega is only 150 feet from the Portuguese border and 22 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.  They also make three spirits, or aguardientes, from their Albariño grapes.

The 2016 spring was rainy and the summer was the hottest and driest in the previous 50 years.  Alcohol in this wine is restrained, as is customary in the region, at 12.5% abv.  If this Albariño is an indication, the creating is very good at Fillaboa.

The Fillaboa Albariño 2016 has a bit more golden tint than usual, and bit more earthiness on the nose.  There’s still a bouquet of flowers to smell, along with apples and citrus.  On the palate there's a soft salinity that goes along with an almost racy acidity.  Green apples and limes come forth and linger on the finish. 


Monday, May 14, 2018

Albariño: Pazo Señorans

There's a Snooth virtual wine tasting coming up on Wednesday that involves Albariño wines from Spain's Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  I'm tasting nearly a dozen different Albariños for that reason - not because it's spring, or because it’s almost summer, or because I love Albariño.  Although each of those reasons would have been enough to convince me.

The Rias Baixas Denomination of Origin was established in 1980, specifically for the Albariño grape.  Of course they had been making wine in the region for centuries before.  The winery credits 12th-century monks for providing inspiration to this day.  About a dozen grapes are permitted for making wine.

The winery is a former Galician ancestral country home (pazo) in the village of Señoráns, but it's not known which was named for which.  The vineyard's soil is largely broken down granite, which lends a strong mineral sensibility to the vines.  In addition to its line of Albariño wines, the bodega also features a distillery where they make a sort of Albariño brandy called aguardientes.  One variety is brilliantly golden while the other is clear.  Both are 100% Albariño, the golden one is made with skin contact, anise and cilantro seeds.  I did not taste them, but they sound quite interesting.

The wine is made in stainless steel tanks and alcohol hits the usual 12.5% abv. It sits on its lees during vinification, and that imparts a bit fuller mouth while maintaining that amazingly fresh acidity.

This Albariño shows lemon, lime and lanolin on the nose, with a whiff of apricot.  The pale color is golden straw, and the palate comes forth with a mighty acidity and a mouthful of green apples, on the tart side.  Minerality makes a big play, and the finish is medium-long with a citrus zestiness.


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Friday, May 11, 2018

Albariño: Altos De Torona

A virtual tasting session is coming on May 16th that involves Albariño wines from Spain's Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  It's being put on by Snooth and I'm tasting nearly a dozen different Albariños for that reason - not because it’s spring, or because it’s almost summer, or because I love Albariño.  Although each of those reasons would have been enough of a convincer.

Spain's Rias Baixas Denomination of Origin was established in 1980, specifically for the Albariño grape.  Of course they had been making wine in the region for centuries before.  In fact, the winery credits 12th-century monks for providing inspiration to this day.  About a dozen grapes are permitted in Rias Baixas for making wine.

Bodega Altos de Torona is located a stone's throw from the Miña River and slightly harder toss from the Atlantic Ocean.  The vineyard's position on the south-facing slopes shields it from the cold, wet weather found on the other side.  Winemaker Pablo Ibañez fermented this 100% Albariño wine in stainless steel to an alcohol level of 13% abv.

This pale Albariño has a citrus-first nose showing lemons, peaches and twist of tangerine.  The palate displays tart apples, lemon zest and some white pepper.  The acidity is fresh and the wine finishes very clean, with minerality lingering after the sip.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Albariño: Laxas Of Rias Baixas

There's a Snooth virtual wine tasting coming up on May 16th which will involve Albariño wines from Spain’s Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  I'm tasting nearly a dozen different Albariños for that reason - not because it's spring, or because it's almost summer, or because I love Albariño.  Although each of those reasons would have been enough to convince me.

The Laxas bodega has been in the family since 1862, and they watch over their 13-acre estate vineyard with careful eyes.  The vines grow on steep terraces which look south over the Miña River in sandy, mineral-laden soil.  Winemaker Jorge Dominguez Hervella works with great fruit and makes the most of it, producing an Albariño that speaks of its land.  Alcohol on the 2017 Albariño checks in as 12.5% abv and it sells for around $18.

The 2017 Laxas Albariño is a pale yellow wine which has an interesting nose full of lemon-lime, apricot and a lanolin note.  A bit of earth peeks out amid the smell of white flowers.  The mouth is rather full, yet the acidity is fresh and zingy.  Lemony and tropical fruit flavors abound in a mineral-laden palate and leave me craving a calamari and scungilli salad.


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Monday, May 7, 2018

Albariño: Terras Gauda O Rosal

There's a Snooth virtual wine tasting coming up on May 16th that involves Albariño wines from Spain's Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  I'm tasting nearly a dozen different Albariños for that reason - not because it's spring, or because it's almost summer, or because I love Albariño.  Although each of those reasons would have been enough of a convincer.  I'll keep you posted on details, but it's usually easiest to jump on Twitter and join the fun.

Bodegas Terras Gauda makes their O Rosal Rias Biaxas from grapes grown in one of the subregions of Rias Baixas, O Rosal.  It's a little piece of land butted up against the Miño River to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

Terras Gauda has three wineries and a vegetable cannery under its corporate umbrella.  The O Rosal Valley winery is a couple of decades old and now produces about 1.5 million bottles of wine each year.  This Albariño blend is their flagship wine.

The Terras Gauda O Rosal Rias Biaxas White Wine is not a varietal wine, which is how Albariño grapes are often vinified.  This one is 70% Albariño, 20% Caiño Blanco and 10% Loueira, the latter two grapes being found in the northeastern corner of the Iberian peninsula.  Its alcohol content is low at 12.5% abv and it sells for as little as $12 online.

This wine has a lovely golden-green hue and a brisk nose of stone fruit, Meyer lemon and flowers.  The palate shows those qualities plus a hefty load of minerals and acidity, enough to make oysters a great idea. 


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Friday, May 4, 2018

Albariño: Don Pedro De Sotomaior

Albariño is a lovely white wine grape that is predominant in Spain’s northwest corner. It's the reason they get out of bed every day in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia. It's also the driving force behind a winery known as Adegas Galegas. If you know the area, the company is in Salvaterra do Mino, nudged up against Portugal's northern border.

The firm's Don Pedro line concentrates on Rias Baixas and its heritage of Albariño. The wines are named for Don Pedro de Soutomaior, a 15th century knight and a hero of the region. There's reportedly some speculation that he was also Christopher Columbus. I could find no documentation that anyone ever saw them in the same room together, so maybe that’s true.

Winemaker Asunción Carballo leads a team of people who strive to produce wines which exhibit the character of the region. She rides atop a wave of talented female winemakers in Spain. The wine's alcohol content sits at 13% abv and it sells for just under 20 bucks.

This pale wine, the Don Pedro de Sotomaior Rias Baixas Albariño 2017, is subtle on its nose, with very light aromas of citrus and wet rocks. The sniff is not rendered tart by those descriptives, however. There is a softness to it that takes the edge away. The palate is another matter, as a rippingly joyous acidity makes itself known immediately. Flavors of crisp apples, lemons and a touch of orange are as vibrant as they seem here on the page, like a lovely spring day bathed in the cool wind of Galicia. The pleasure lasts long after the sip disappears. Pair this with fried calamari.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Rosé From Rioja

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

This beautiful rosé wine is made from sustainably-farmed estate grapes, 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha.  The wine is produced in the Sangrado method, which means the juice was captured free-run from the grapes.  The 2016 vintage was a hot one in Briones, with high temperature readings every day and very little rain.  This led to a harvest of concentrated grapes.  The wine has an alcohol level of 13.5% abv and retails for about $15.  The label indicates that the bottle design was inspired by one that's on display at the Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine.

The Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha Rosé Rioja 2016 has a lovely rosado color, a deep and rich pink.  The nose is big and bright, full of beautiful red fruit - cherries, strawberries, raspberries - just as fresh as can be.  A hint of herbs drifts over but can't diminish the ripeness.  The palate is just as fruity, and the mouthfeel is zippy and tingly.  The acidity is refreshing and ready for a tuna salad or even something off the grill.


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Monday, April 30, 2018

A Great Oregon Pinot Noir

This winery is named for the Oregon Trail, which rewarded 19th century explorers with the fertile land of the Willamette Valley.  The valley was under 400 feet of water a much earlier point in history, with volcanic soil and marine deposits carried to it over time.  The winery promises ripe fruit and minimal intervention in the cellar with their Pinot Noir.

The 2016 Oregon Trail Wine Company Pinot Noir carries alcohol at 13.2% abv and sells for about $20, pretty reasonable for a good Pinot - very reasonable for a great one.  You'll hear the word "Burgundian" tossed about a bit when Oregon Pinot Noir is talked about, and this wine is a good example of why.

The wine is medium dark in the glass with a gorgeous nose of smoky, red fruit.  Bright cherries have the shade of earth thrown over them with an overlay of sage. In the mouth, tannins are firm and acidity is great and the palate is ripe and a bit savory.  It's a bold wine, but the brawn is kept in check.  At no time did I think I might possibly be drinking a Syrah.  It's a middleweight, right where Pinot ought to be.

There's wine from all 50 states.


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Friday, April 27, 2018

Serious Sauv Blanc From Monterey County

The Arroyo Seco AVA is centered around Monterey County's Arroyo Seco River, a seasonal waterway that brings rain and snowmelt from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Salinas River.  Commercial grape growing started there in 1961 and has grown to some 7,000 acres under vine.  The region is about 40 miles away from the deep waters of Monterey Bay and parts of it get direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean through the Salinas Valley. 

The 2016 MuirWood Sauvignon Blanc grapes were grown in their Suter Vineyard estate plot in the Arroyo Seco Canyon.  They are the Musqué clone of the variety, and as such offer more aromatics, typically with a lean to fruit, away from the vegetal aspect for which the grape is known.  Surprises abound, though.

The wine hits 13.9% abv on the alcohol meter and sells for about $15.

The nose this wine offers is unlike any I've experienced with Sauvignon Blanc, even of the Musqué variety.  There are apple notes and flower aromas, but an overriding smokiness - muskiness? - lends a savory effect.  The acidity is zippy but not mind-blowing, and the weight is medium full, like a Chardonnay.  It's an extremely satisfying drink, and one of the more impressive of the variety that I've tasted.  Sauvignon Blanc generally means spring to me, but this would be great next to a Thanksgiving ham.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pink Wine In A Moose Can

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard is a serious wine company.  He's a serious winemaker who makes serious wines.  His sense of humor, though, is not that of a dour, soulless number cruncher.  I get the feeling he's had to do a lot more of that kind of work in his career than he'd like, but he doesn’t let it bring him doon.

Grahm is now making a pink, fizzy wine that comes in a can, La Bulle-Moose de Cigare.  He describes the Bulle-Moose as "pretty darn similar to our Vin Gris de Cigare, apart from the fact that it has been carbonated and put up in cans with a slightly goofy label."  It does look goofy, but the wine inside is seriously good.

The press material for this wine includes a reworked version of the "UFOs in the vineyards" tale that was embraced by Grahm years ago for his line of Cigare wines.  It's also on the can.  Grahm admits that his canned, fizzy pink wine is a bit of a stretch for him -- he’s used to much more serious "vins de terroir."  He says it's his tip of the hat to the realized fact that he's going to need some millennials hoisting his creations if the lights are to stay on at "chez doon."

Six Central Coast grape varieties made their way into these stylish cans, 57% Grenache, 18% Grenache Blanc, 9% Mourvèdre, 6% Roussanne, 5% Carignane and 5% Cinsault.  That’s quite a Rhônish roundup.  It was fermented in stainless steel, on the lees, stirred quite a bit and carbonated before bottling, er - canning.  Alcohol is light enough for a picnic or outdoor festival at 13% abv and the wine retails for $8 a can, which contains a half bottle.

The wine -- from a can -- pours up frothy, retreating quickly to a nice frizzante status.  The nose is beautiful and worthy of a picnic.  Bright, fresh strawberry and cherry aromas dominate, with a touch of sage and earth.  The flavors are ripe and sweet, with an earthy touch befitting a good rosé.  Acidity is perfect, great for food pairing as well as sipping.  The winemaker suggests you serve it very cold, and that will make it a great summertime wine. 

Grahm puts tongue in cheek to recommend La Bulle-Moose de Cigare be paired with moossaka, moozarella crostini, moosseline de poisson, tarte au pamplemoose and chocolate moose. 


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Monday, April 23, 2018

Sonoma Cabernet

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

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

2015 Pickberry Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 

The winery says 2015 was an exceptional vintage for the Sonoma Mountain fruit.  "The 2015 drought played a role.  The high temperatures in August and early September accelerated maturity and picking times resulting in lively acidity, moderate to low alcohol and intense aromatics."

The wine was aged in neutral Bordeaux barrels for 21 months and it hits 14.2% abv.  The retail price is $60, and it's that special.  Only 300 cases were made.  Virtual tasters liked the tart fruit and spiciness of this one.  They also complimented its nose of roses, licorice, black pepper and eucalyptus.

This Cab is very dark and offers up a beautiful nose of cassis, vanilla and sweet oak.  There's a very slight herbal tinge and suggestion of smoke.  The palate shows blackberry, blueberry and a bit of bramble.  The tannins are quite firm and will no doubt mature in years to come.  As it is, it's a wonderful wine that's ready for a grilled steak or portobello mushroom.


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Friday, April 20, 2018

Washington Chardonnay

From Washington's Columbia Valley, the 2015 Pacific Crest Centennial Trail Chardonnay is named after the 2600-mile route that crosses some excellent wine regions as it winds its way across the western U.S.  The Chardonnay grapes for this wine grow in sandy loam on vines planted in 1981.

2015 was a warm Washington vintage, with riper fruit resulting from the sunshine.  Winemaker Linda Trotta fermented the juice in steel and oak, and the barrels got an extra four months work aging the wine.

The alcohol hits 13.2% abv and the wine sells for $17, very reasonable considering the quality.

The wine sits pale yellow-green in the glass and smells of tropical fruit with quite a buttery overlay.  The oak treatment rests in that place that's maybe a skosh too much, but a lot of people like it there.  What saves the day is the ripeness of the fruit and the raciness of the acidity.  Both come in heaping helpings.  Papaya, guava, banana and pineapple all take a turn on the taste buds.  The mouthfeel is full and the finish takes a long time.


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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cornerstone's Howell Mountain Cabernet

The wines of Cornerstone Cellars have been around for nearly three decades, and the company has seen its share of change through the years.  One thing that appears to have stayed the same is their commitment to crafting excellent Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Napa Valley.  The recently added winemakers in Yountville, Charles Thomas and Kari Auringer, are guiding the good ship Cabernet now at Cornerstone.  Thomas has a 30 year track record in the Napa Valley, and Auringer is in her second go-round with the winery.

They only made a hundred cases of this $100 wine, and it proved to be very popular.  The website says the 2014 Howell Mountain Cab "sold out quickly at the winery."  Unavailable for the moment, Cornerstone says a "limited vertical release of 2013, 2014 and 2015 will be available in November 2018."  Get in line.  Alcohol hits 14.6% abv.

This wine is medium dark, dark at its core.  Aromas of rich blackberries and cassis come blasting forward, with tobacco, smoke and anise in tow.  There's a hint of something herbal - possibly eucalyptus? - poking through lightly.  A medium heft in the mouth is joined by firm tannins and a racy acidity.  It has a really clean palate, with dark berry and plum flavors not trod on too heavily by oak.


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