Friday, January 20, 2017

Enough Oak To Build A Warehouse

This a tough wine about which to write, because it is designed from the ground up for a completely different consumer than myself. It's off-dry - not my thing - and oaked within an inch of its very existence. It's pleasing somebody, though. I was taken aback by the numerous four- and five-star reviews online for Apothic Red. It's supermarket-priced at right around ten bucks.

The name is inspired by the Greek word, apotheca, which is defined as a repository or storeroom where wine was kept. I've seen wines named after natural beauty, mythological creatures and spaceships in France, I've never before seen one named after a warehouse.

It's very dark in the glass, black almost. A purple ring around the edge is the only thing differentiating the color from, say, motor oil. The nose is amazingly oaky. Fire, smoke, burning things - all these traits come across with the fervor of a four-alarm blaze. Those grapes are there - Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon - but it's like "Where’s Waldo" to find them. Sweet oak is what you taste. And put the emphasis on sweet. This is one of those wines made exclusively for millennials who just got rid of the training wheels last week, so pardon me if I don't seem too enthusiastic. The oak isn't supposed to be the whole show in a wine.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

New SoCal Wine Trail

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Santa Maria Valley Pinot Blanc

A New Year's Eve day trip to Santa Barbara County brought us, once again, to Sanford Winery's outpost west of Buellton. It was raining in L.A. when we departed in the morning, but the day turned amazingly beautiful once we arrived in wine country.

Sanford's Pinot Blanc is a bit of an oddity on their menu, in that it's not Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. This 2013 was the first vintage of the wine, made from a grape they say can be as hard to manage as the Noir variety. The wine retails for $34.

This wine carries a 14.5% abv number and had no malolactic fermentation at all. Still, it has a nice, full mouthfeel due to the aging in neutral French oak. The Sierra Madre Vineyard, from which the grapes come, is in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. It's one of my favorite wine regions, as the earth and mineral aspects always seem to come through so strongly, especially in the whites.

The cool climate of the Santa Maria Valley also makes for a delightfully refreshing acidity. This one actually is somewhat reserved in that department, but it has enough acid to make for a good pairing with food. The nose and flavors are quite dark and earthy, with a savory mask placed over the fruit to give great complexity.

Monday, January 16, 2017

If You Pass On Pinot Grigio, Try This One

Brothers Luigi, Ercole and Fernando bought what is now the Pighin estate in 1963, and it became a full-fledged winery four years later. Fernando and his wife and kids have run the place since 2004.  The building on the property dates back several hundred years. They say the "vineyards of Grave del Friuli overlook the north shore of the Adriatic Sea."

Kobrand, the wine’s importer, notes the relationship between the name and the soil: "Like the gravelly Graves region of Bordeaux, Grave del Friuli owes its name to the gravel in the subsoil, which forces the roots of the vine to grow deep into the earth in search of water. As the vine struggles, its fruit grows richer, resulting in full, well-structured wine with remarkable minerality."

This Fernando Pighin Pinot Grigio is one of those Pinot Grigios for people who think they don’t like Pinot Grigio. Flat, unimaginative juice this is not. It carries an alcohol number of 12.5% abv, and sells in the $10 to $15 range.

This wine a bright and beautiful yellow-gold in the glass. The nose is fruity and floral, with Meyer lemon and tangerine zest. Stone fruit and white flowers complete a delight for the nostrils. On the palate, there is ample fruit balanced with earthy minerality. The acidity is quite good. I enjoyed mine with lentil soup, and the winery also likes it with fish and risotto.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Chardonnay That Melts In Your Mouth

JaM Cellars stands for John and Michele, second-generation vintners who happen to run the Napa Valley wine biz.

The blurb for their Chardonnay says, "This wine melts in your mouth," which is only natural for a wine called "Butter." It’s made from 100% Napa Valley Chardonnay grapes and sells for an eye-popping $16.

Butter is a delightful wine, showing a rich, golden color and an expressive, complex nose. It features the exotic side of tropical fruit, mango, guava and, as the folks at JaM Cellars put it, baked lemons. I've never baked lemons, so I can't be sure, but there is some citrus in there, baked or otherwise. The "touch of oak" is probably a little more than that, but it's nothing to fear. It's a nice, uh, buttery, flavor that mixes in quite well with the citrus and peaches. Vanilla finish, beautiful. Acidity, fresh. California Chardonnay, just like you remember it. Only a little leaner. Just a little.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Sultan Of Savory Puts Freshness In The Mix

Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm points out that the Réserve is "precisely the same wine as the '12 Le Cigare Volant (normale), but texturally quite different, and with possibly a bit more depth and complexity." Doesn't figure, since this one is aged in glass, not oak.  Grahm feels that the Réserve Cigares "are perhaps more 'meditation' than food wines." It retails for $60 and 840 cases were produced.

After a "short tenure in barrel" the wine spent 20 months in glass carboys, which brings a freshness to it that usually disappears after being soaked in oak. The 2012 Le Cigare Volant Réserve is made from 39% Mourvèdre grapes, 33% Grenache, 26% Syrah and 2% Cinsault.

It's a savory wine, the way I like it and the way Grahm usually makes it. Dark and mysterious, it smells of meat and olives and earth, with a little black fruit thrown in just to make it palatable for everybody else. There is, however, a "cleanliness" to it that in other wines is often obscured by oak. It's just the same way on the palate, with flavors mimicking the aromas. The finish lingers comfortably and provides plenty of anticipation for the next sip. Meditate on a piece of dark chocolate while sipping this.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Chardonnay Under The Sequoias

It's a story we never tire of, isn't it? Family turns 110-year-old Napa Valley barn into a winery, now they're working on their fourth decade as winemakers. Sequoia Grove's 24-acre Estate Vineyard and 50-acre Tonella Ranch Vineyard are both located in Rutherford, in the heart of the Napa Valley. They boast of their terroir, "the superb climate and gravelly-loam soils impart distinct flavor in the Bordeaux varieties."

Company president Michael Trujillo knows the lay of the land, a knowledge that comes with 30-something years of experience. Winemaker Molly Hill is a simple girl - she just wants to make great wine. "Balance to me means nothing stands out—not alcohol, not tannin, not acid, nor fruit nor barrel."

The Chardonnay grapes for this wine come "mostly from Dijon and Wente clones grown in the renowned, cool-climate Carneros District in Napa Valley." Growers like the Haire vineyard, the Ghisletta vineyard, and the Cunat vineyard in Oak Knoll contributed fruit.

The grapes were whole-cluster pressed for full flavor and wonderful acidity. There was no malolactic fermentation allowed, but the wine took on a creamy feel from sitting on the lees, the spent yeast cells, while in the barrel for ten months. Thirty percent of the oak used was new French. Alcohol hits 14.1% abv and it retails for just under 30 bucks.

Sequoia Grove Chardonnay gives a green-gold hue in the glass. It's almost glowing. The nose hit me like a good ol' California Chard, big and oaky, but full of tropical fruit, too. Pineapple, guava, lemon, lime, tangerine - there's a little bit of it all. The wine is barrel fermented, as well as aged in French oak. It has a very full mouthfeel, but the acidity is quite fresh, too. The oak plays prominently on the palate and is abetted by lemony minerality and the flavor of white peaches. Oak stays through a rather lengthy finish, like an old friend who just had another hour open up in the schedule. No need to leave just yet.

Friday, January 6, 2017

X Marks The Spot For Syrah

I'm sure you have a particular wine brand, or winemaker, to which you gravitate. You can circle around, spinning through wine space, trying every other planetary grape concoction that orbits close enough so you can grab it. You can make as many landings as you like on other wine label asteroids. You always come back to planet Earth. It's a safe harbor, hospitable, a place where you know there may be surprises but they won't be unpleasant.

Mine is Bonny Doon Vineyards. CEO and "president for life" Randall Grahm earned his "Rhône Ranger" stripes years ago when he gave up on Pinot Noir and went after the grape assortment from the Rhône Valley. If anyone ever made a good move, he did right then and there. His wines are dear to me, they speak to me, they're different every year and I can hardly wait to taste whats next.

The 2012 Bonny Doon Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Block X, is special. Grahm says it’s "one of the best iterations of Bien Nacido Syrah in recent memory." That's really saying something, too. There was a "substantial percentage" of whole-cluster grapes used and it shows with some herbal, minty notes. It carries a wonderfully respectable alcohol level of 13% abv and retails for $50. Only 313 cases were made.

This dark, brooding wine is savory, savory, savory. It's nose gives off aromas of meat, black olives, black fruit, coffee, herbs and a minty note that's downright wispy. Flavors are dark as well, with maybe a little more fruit coming through than in recent vintages, but still dominated by savory notes of bacon, coffee grounds, black tea and licorice.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Bordeaux Sparkler, Bargain Price

This non-vintage Bordeaux sparkling wine was provided at the Tam O'Shanter in L. A. for bottomless Champagne and mimosas. So, it's cheap - less than $10 - but it's a pretty good bubbly.

The Veuve du Vernay bubbly is dry, it's yeasty, it even has a touch of smoke on it. Flavors of pears and apples and toasty herbs are quite nice, especially for the price.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Monday, January 2, 2017

Cool Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Lazy Creek Vineyards is under the umbrella of Healdsburg's Ferrari Carano Winery. It’s located about an hour north, in Mendocino county's Anderson Valley. It is at this facility is where their full Pinot Noir production is centered.

A recent online tasting session introduced the 2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir to a group of wine writers, myself included. We were all provided samples of the wine for review. The session was moderated by publicist Chelsea Kurnick and featured winemaker Christy Ackerman. You can see the Ustream broadcast page here.

Ackerman makes all of the Lazy Creek Vineyards wines, and all of the Pinot Noirs for Ferrari-Carano. She says she feels "very lucky" to work with Pinot Noir in general, and especially the grapes from the Lazy Creek estate vineyards.

Ackerman says the thing that makes Anderson Valley special is that it is "cooled by the ocean but at the same time protected from the ocean."  The cooling marine influence, so critical for growing perfect Pinot, is mitigated by the landscape. The best of the ocean is brought home without the harshness of the sea directly.

Owners Don and Rhonda Carano describe Lazy Creek Vineyards as one of the smallest, and oldest wineries in Anderson Valley. They bottle a Gewurztraminer and a rosé, but all the rest are Pinot Noirs.

"The majority of the estate ranch at Lazy Creek Vineyards is planted to 36 acres of Pinot Noir; of special note is an 8-acre block with a miniscule average yield that’s said to be the oldest Pinot Noir vineyard in California. These grapes produce Lazy Creek’s Estate Pinot Noir. All of the Pinot Noir blocks are planted specifically to different clones, including Heritage, Dijon (such as Pomard, Gevry Chambertin and Romanee Conti) and California clones (Swan, Martini, Calera and Clone 37).  The soil and varied terrain on this ranch provide a dramatically different flavor profile for each Pinot Noir block."

The Anderson Valley climate is cool, Pinot Noir cool. The 2014 Lazy Creek Estate Pinot Noir shows a medium dark tint and has a nose of blackberry, coffee and cola. The fruit is big enough on the palate, but it definitely has co-stars in the more savory players. Cola takes a bigger turn in the flavor profile, while a hint of black tea bubbles underneath. It has a great structure, firm but easy, and pleasant acidity. It finishes medium long. It sells for around $60.

Friday, December 30, 2016

French Vermentino - Rolle In The Rhône

This interesting white blend is from France’s Rhône Valley. Its composition is nearly equal parts Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, and very small amounts of Marsanne and Clairette. Vermentino - called Rolle in the Rhône neck of the vineyards - is a grape better known as a denizen of Italy, but it works largely the same when it’s grown in the Costiere de Nimes AOC. The 2014 Chateau Mourgues du Gres Les Galets Dorés costs $8 by the glass and an astounding $29 by the bottle at L.A.'s Belle Vie. In a restaurant, that counts as a huge deal.

The wine takes its name from the stones - galet roulés - that were plentifully dropped of by glaciers eons ago. François and Anne Collard run the business and make the wine in a place that belonged to the Convent of the Ursulines before the French Revolution. François tells us that Mourgues means nuns, while grès means pebbles.

It looks pale gold in the glass. The nose is bright, with citrus, salinity and the smell of wet rocks. On the palate, big minerals. Stones. Zest. It brings everything you like in these two grapes.

At Belle Vie, I paired my glass of this beautiful wine with grilled octopus, one big tentacle curling around the plate. It was perfect.

It was so perfect that I decided to try one of the reds from the wine list afterward. The 2013 Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon from Côtes De Bourg AOC, Chateau Falfas, listed at $47 per bottle.

The grapes are vinified in stainless steel after bio-dynamic farming. Smoke comes through loud and clear, with various shades of dark fruit and big minerals. There's no oak in the way, so you get all the pure fruit that went into the bottle.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

California, Oregon, Provence In One Rosé

Elouan Rosé promises "the opulence of California, the elegance of Oregon." The problem is, there's not a word about Provence anywhere in that blurb. That's what the wine brings to mind for me.

Elouan is not just a California winemaker packing a carpet bag and heading north to explore different terroir. It's a man about wine, Joseph Wagner, practicing Pinot in places north of his usual stomping grounds. He calls his Oregon outfit Copper Cane Wine & Provisions, and he furthers his familiarity with Pinot Noir in a region that has become famous for the grape.

Wagner says that "Oregon’s coast offers great diversity, giving us the ability to select a range of vineyards that give us versatility in style and a broad range of characteristics to enhance the final blend." From the Willamette Valley comes acidity, from the Umpqua Valley a richness, from the Rogue Valley, ripe flavor. The warmer Rogue region is where most of the grapes were grown, so the cool-climate savoriness is muted.

"This is a bespoke rosé where grapes were grown and harvested with the specific intention of making rosé," Wagner writes, "and not a saignée rosé, which can be a by-product of making red wine." And don't you just love people who use the word "bespoke?"  The wine retails for $22.

It's a beautiful rosé, with an almost brilliant pink-orange color that says, "This is gonna be fun." A nose full of strawberries and limes promise good things, and when you take a sip, there they are. Cherries, strawberries, citrus and fresh acidity grace the mouth, just like they are supposed to in a great rosé. I want this with sandwiches made from leftover turkey. And ham. Right, like there's leftover ham.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wine For "Bell, Book And Candle"

This is from the archives. It originally ran in 2011, from my days of pairing wine with movies for

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cooler Side Of Australian Shiraz

The McPherson MWC wines were shared with a collection of wine writers in a Twitter-based tasting session.  Winemaker Jo Nash was on hand to give us all the information we craved. Nash celebrated her fifth year as the head of the cellar at McPherson in 2016.  She’s also married to a winemaker and they have a brood of grape-stomping kids at home.

Andrew McPherson's family started the wine business in 1968 in New South Wales. In 2000, he found some land he liked near Nagambie in central Victoria and that’s where the winery is today.

Victoria is the Australian state in the extreme southeastern part of the land mass, just north of Bass Strait from Tasmania. This location results in a cooler expression than you may be used to with Australian wine. Their Sinclair Vineyard, along the Goulburn River sits next to the winery. The Croftwood Vineyard is in the huge Murray Darling region.

The MWC line was introduced two years ago and is just now making its breakthrough in the U.S. They call the wines "rustic" and say they are, "soft, savoury, earthy styles with a European influence."

The video stream featured Nash live in Australia with Henry Hudson of Hudson Wine Brokers. It was 5 p.m. in L.A., but 11 a.m. in Victoria. It was noted that it's always 5:00 somewhere.

Jo talked a bit about her inspiration. Like a lot of wine folks, she worked in bars and restaurants in college, tasting lots of wine along the way. Then, a trip to Europe prompted a winemaking class. Hooked.

As far as grapes go, she says she likes Chardonnay and Shiraz the best, and she works a lot with both of them. She tries to "capture the grape's varietal expression in the glass" and likes to "allow the vintage to speak in the wines." She credits her status as a female for causing her to be attracted to more elegant, balanced wines. "Cooler climate means slower ripening," she explains of the weather in her part of Victoria. The Australian state is about the size of Oregon.

How does she like having her creations under a screw cap? "We steered away from cork due to inconsistency," she said, while Hudson noted that "almost all the 45 wines we bring in are under screwcap." Tom chimed in that he has “seen waiters who looked like they wished there was a screw cap” on a bottle that was giving them trouble.

Hudson thinks the Shiraz/Mourvèdre  is a good wine to make people think of something other than the jammy style people may expect from Australia.

The MWC Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2014 is 93% Shiraz, 5% Mourvèdre and 2% Viognier, although the label omits the Viognier and calls it 95% Shiraz. It gets between six and 12 months in French oak.  Alcohol sits at 14% abv and the wine retails for about $20.

This Shiraz/Mourvèdre blend has big fruit on the nose - cherry, black cherry - with notes of campfire smoke and lavender popping in. It's medium dark in color, but gets a bit deeper on the palate. Fruity, definitely, but not a bomb. In fact, there are dark savory flavors carrying the black cherry flavors along. The finish is savory and quite long-lasting. Acidity is nice and fresh, and the tannic structure is firm.

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