Monday, June 30, 2014

Warm Weather White Wines: Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc 2013

Three new white wine releases by Dry Creek Vineyard were shared with me recently, and they are perfect for springtime and summer consumption.  Personally, I enjoy whites all year long.  ‘Tis the season, though, for outdoor meals and bottles of whites on ice to pair with them.  We will cover the Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc soon and we have already had their Sauvignon Blanc.  Today, their Dry Chenin Blanc.

Dry Creek Vineyard has produced Chenin Blanc since 1972, and proudly so.  The fruit for this wine comes, as it has since the '80s, from the Clarksburg appellation in the Sacramento Delta.  The winery says sandy soils, warm days and cool nights make Clarksburg a perfect place to grow Chenin Blanc.  The 2013 vintage benefitted from nearly perfect growing conditions, and it was one of the driest on record.  A mild winter and moderate summer extended the season.

This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc which was fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The alcohol is restrained at 13% abv, and a better buy would be hard to find - $12 retail.

A pale straw tint makes for a delicate sight, while the aromas come on a little more forcefully.  Big, delicious smells rise from the glass - apple, pineapple and lime with a healthy dose of wet rock minerality.  The palate is dominated by flavors of green apples and lemon-lime with that awesome blast of minerals making another appearance on the tongue.  The acidity is just perfect: very noticeable, but it's not going to carve up your taste buds.  The sip finishes so clean and zippy with the sense of lemon zest lingering long afterward.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer

The Finger Lakes Wine region recently hosted another in a series of live virtual tasting events, with a video feed and participation via Twitter.  A virtual tasting event is a great way to gain exposure to a new wine or winery, and it’s a great way to mingle with like-minded wine folks.  The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance uses the social aspect of virtual tastings to their great advantage.

In May 2014, the FLWA staged a virtual event featuring a large variety of wines, not just one or two.  Participants sipped at home and joined in during a four-hour marathon. (Most virtual tasting events only run an hour or so.)  I was supplied with several white wines to sample, and today I’ll focus on the Dr Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Gewürztraminer 2013.

The Twitter crowd fell in love with the Rieslings and Canernet Francs, but Gewürztraminer was not forgotten, least of all by @DrFrankWine: "Believe it or not we released that wine only a month ago. Imagine how good it will be with more bottle age!"  Many tweeters thought the Finger Lakes is a great spot for a getaway: "#FLXwine region makes for a perfectly relaxing and delicious vacation."  @MiddleSeatView was afraid the credit card may have been too taxed while there: "I think we may have bought too much wine in the Finger Lakes..."  A picture showing a ten-bottle lineup was attached.

Dr Konstantin Frank's vision helped lift the New York wine industry to a preeminent level, hence his nom de vin as the "Father of Vinifera in the eastern U.S."  He was responsible for the "vinifera revolution" in the Finger Lakes region, insisting that European grape varieties would grow and thrive in the cold climate of upstate New York.  It turned out that it was the rootstock, not the cold climate, that was the problem.  His persistence proved him right, and now northern European varieties are planted all over the area - Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner.  Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars now employs a team of winemakers from New York, Virginia, Austria and Germany.  

For the Dr Konstantin Frank Gewürztraminer 2013, the wine saw skin contact for 24 hours, while fermentation was stopped to retain some residual sugar.  This wine is off dry on the IRF scale, with RS at just 0.7% and alcohol balanced at 13.2% abv.  This Gewürztraminer comes bottled under a screw cap and retails for $15 per bottle.

The wine has a golden tint, and slight bubbles clinging to the glass.  Aromas of jasmine, honeysuckle, peach and apricot are abetted by a citrus minerality.  The palate features beautiful fruit - peach, nectarine, apricot, lemon and lime - while minerals play a huge part and acidity is zippy.  It is completely refreshing.   This Gewürztraminer finishes clean and is loaded with citrus minerals. A little savory kick is in there on the finish, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Casey Flat Ranch CFR Red Blend 2010

The spring releases from California winery Casey Flat Ranch were featured in a virtual tasting event recently.  PR firm Charles Communications staged the Twitter tasting, which was also 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.  Today, we cover the 2011 CFR Estate Red Blend.

Casey Flat Ranch sprawls for 6,000 acres, and a 24 acre vineyard sits at the 2,000 foot level above Capay Valley.  In case you have not heard of Capay Valley, it is the next wine region over to the north and east of Napa Valley.  That part of the ranch not under vine, is under a couple hundred head of Texas Longhorn cattle.  They have plenty of room to roam.

Tweeters who were tasting at home chimed in with lots of favorable notes on the Casey Flat Ranch CFR Estate Red Blend.  @cliffordbrown3: “blackberries, dried herbs, cassis, minerals, cedar, tobacco and dried violets. I need a piece of juicy meat, hot off the grill to go with the CFR Estate Red.”  @Luscious_Lushes: “Red Wine blend, kitchen sink - deep, dark, brooding. Coffee -- 75% new French oak. Black cherry, blackberry notes - anise. ohh yes, Earl grey tea in there.”  @WineUpdate: “Spice cake, plum, blackberry-balsamic, peppercorn, black tea. Balanced oak. Excellent!”  @BigNoseWino: “big herbal, berry bomb nose w/ a savory mid palate & lightly acidic, tannin finish.”  @WineJulia: “$35 is an outstanding price for this red blend. It's lush."

The CFR Estate Red Blend 2010 is a four-variety mix of grapes that are pretty well-known in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley:  44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Franc and a four-percent drop of Mourvedre.  2,233 6-pack cases were produced, and the wine retails for $35.  Alcohol is a hefty 14.8% abv.

CFR is one dark wine.  Calling it "indigo" or "inky" sells it short.  If it were not for the sliver of purple around the rim, it would look like a glass of motor oil.  It is - in appearance - the Guinness stout of grape-based beverages.  As expected, the darkness carries through into the wine's aroma package.  Concentrated black plums and blackberries are shaded by spices - clove, cinnamon and pepper.  The palate reveals more darkness, laid on with a trowel.  The black fruit is explosive, the notes of licorice and strong tea have no trouble competing for attention and the tannins are muscular.  This is not a wine which will be sipped idly, without note.  This is a wine that demands - and deserves - your attention.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Drink Pink: Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2013

Cornertone Cellars’ managing partner, Craig Camp, has some strong feelings about wine being being pink.  He writes, “Just because you’re pink does not mean you’re a rosé.”  He cites White Zinfandel as a case in point.  A great place to start your wine journey, he muses, but the sweet, sappy flavor of many White Zins leaves him colder than a half bottle of Sutter Home in the back of the fridge.  “Unfortunately, because it’s pink (or kind of pink anyway) too many people think that all pink wine is sweet plonk.  Also, it’s a problem, as you can actually make a lovely real rosé from zinfandel.”

Camp goes on to talk about the saignée method of making rosé wine.  This is how many rosés are made, by bleeding off the juice from the grapes, leaving a more concentrated red wine behind.  This type of rosé is a winemaking byproduct, useful in cool regions mostly.  Camp says, “The downside of producing a pink wine in this manner is that you are harvesting your grapes at ideal ripeness levels for red wine, but not for pink wine. When done in a warm climate you get the candied flavors, higher alcohols and odd neon colors that you see in so many pink wines.”

So what's so great about great rosé?  They know a little bit about the pink stuff in the south of France, and Camp tips his hand about the inspiration for Stepping Stone's Corallina rosé.  "Real rosé wines," he writes, are "made in the classic tradition of Bandol and Tavel.  Vineyards are selected to be for rosé from the start and farmed to create ideal fruit for this type of wine.  The grapes are picked when the flavors are fully ripe, but you don’t have to wait for the skin tannins to ripen like you would when making red wine. This means you can pick at higher acids and lower sugars that will give you a balanced, elegant and complex rosé.  The best of these real rosé wines then spend a short time on the lees in mature oak barrels to broaden flavors and develop a rich, creamy texture.  Such a wine is our Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé.”

Cornerstone winemaker Jeff Keene got some great grapes to work with - 100% Syrah from the Crane Ranch Vineyard on the west side of Napa Valley's Oak Knoll District.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel and saw five months aging on the lees (in contact with the spent yeast cells) in neutral French oak.  Only 417 cases were produced and alcohol is a restrained 13.1% abv.  The beautiful label art is called “Wine Dance,” by the talented Janet Ekholm.

Corallina is tinted that color between coral and orange that is sometimes called salmon.  Bushel baskets of strawberries and cherries are on the expressive nose, as fresh as spring.  There is a green streak running through the fruit aromas like a big, crisp stem.  That's thanks to the whole cluster pressing of the grapes, stems and all.  A hint of spice rounds out an exemplary sniffing experience.

The wine feels great in the mouth, full and rich, with perfect acidity.  To say Corallina is flavorful is to cheat the wine of the praise due it.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up.  Strawberry and raspberry are in the forefront, but there is a beautiful hint of what I can only call a floral taste.  I've never tasted flowers, but this is what I imagine they would taste like.  Citrus and savory notes round out a palate whose complexity will make some red wines green with envy.  Pair it with something pretty - like a nice piece of salmon.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Finger Lakes Whites

The Finger Lakes Wine Region recently hosted another in a series of live virtual tasting events, with a video feed and participation via Twitter.  These events are becoming so popular that if you try to take part in every one that comes along, you’ll have a pretty full dance card.

The virtual tasting is a great way to gain exposure to a new wine or winery, and it’s a great way to mingle with folks who are as inquisitive about wine as you are.  Like many wine regions, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance uses the social aspect of virtual tastings to their great advantage.

In May 2014, the FLWA staged a virtual event featuring a large variety of wines, not just one or two.  Participants sipped at home and joined in during a four-hour marathon. (Most virtual tasting events only run an hour or so.)  I was supplied with several white wines to sample, and today I’ll focus on the Villa Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Riesling 2012.

On Twitter, @travel4foodfun carried the sentiment of all by tweeting, “We are now doing our virtual tasting from our friends @villabellangelo and It's a definite Wow!”  @jeffal66 commented on the wine: “Nice mix of melon, fall fruit on the Bellangelo. Pear for sure. Minerality.”   The winery of the moment, @villabellangelo, offered a glimpse behind the bottle.  They wrote, “Geek out on the Gibson Vineyard  - the source for our 1866 Reserve Riesling.” and “Check out our background history on the 1866 Reserve series at:"

This release marks the debut vintage of a Riesling that shows why New York’s Finger Lakes Riesling is known for that grape.  The fruit came from a single vineyard - Gibson Vineyard, just north of the winery on the west side of Seneca Lake.  The date in the wine’s name - 1866 - is a tip of the winegrowing hat to Dr. Byron Spence, an early grape grower in the region

With residual sugar at just 1.9%, this Finger Lakes Riesling clocks in on the dry side of medium dry.  Finger Lakes Rieslings all bear the Riesling Taste Profile scale designed by the International Riesling Foundation.
It’s easy on the alcohol - 11%.abv - and only 99 cases were produced.  My bottle was number 87 of 1188.

The 1866 Reserve Riesling gets a special touch in the winery, aging half in stainless steel tanks and half in oak barrels sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast cells - for eight months.

The light straw tint is pretty, and the nose is even more so.  Floral notes, pear and  nectarine aromas are not shy about getting out of the glass.  The mouthfeel is full and creamy and the acidity is on the gently side, making it a great wine to sip.  Flavors of pears and white peaches provide plenty to ponder while doing so.  This wine would be nice with spicy food, like a Thai dish or even Mexican food with a bit of heat to it.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

California Grenache: Bonny Doon Clos De Gilroy

In a recent article about California Grenache, Jon Bonné called Grenache "the Jan Brady of grapes."  He wrote that Grenache, when left to its own devices, is sometimes responsible for wines that are just not pretty enough.  He did offer, of course, that there are some great examples of California Grenache wines that are plenty pretty on their own.  Complex, even

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly in cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to make some noise.

Today in the California Grenache series, we sample the Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos De Gilroy Monterey County Grenache 2013.

Bonny Doon "President for Life" Randall Grahm’s scent of humor comes to the forefront on the labeling of this wine - see below.  Gilroy is the garlic capital of California - a town that truly does telegraph its whereabouts to travelers on the nearby freeway.  Think what you will, but the town is amazingly vampire-free.  

After laying on a few aioli-related puns, Grahm gets to the business end of the wine.  Made up of 75% Grenache, 17% Syrah and 8% Mourvèdre, Clos De Gilroy's grapes hail "from the Alta Loma vineyard in Greenfield (a particularly cool site for grenache) the gravelly Alamo Creek Vineyard near Santa Maria and some truly ancient mourvèdre vines in the sleepy Sacramento Delta town of Oakley, CA. "

These grapes - together with Grahm, although he claims minimal intervention - produce a wine with an absolutely brilliant nose.  Aromas of cherry and plum are dusted with a leathery layer of anise and tobacco.  The palate is big and dark, with multiple shadings of the fruits involved.  The cherry of Grenache leads the way, followed by the dark fruit and spice of the Syrah with Mourvèdre's savory notes and tannins.  There is a brooding funkiness to this wine that I find riveting.  I think it is a little too masculine to be comfortable when called "pretty," but it definitely wears its complexity well.  

And, it was another vampire-free night at chez Now And Zin.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Warm Weather White Wines: Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Three new white wine releases by Dry Creek Vineyards were shared with me recently, and they are perfect for springtime and summer consumption.  Personally, I enjoy whites all year long.  ‘Tis the season, though, for outdoor meals and bottles of whites on ice to pair with them.  We will cover the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc and Fumé Blanc soon.  Today it’s their flagship wine.

Dry Creek Vineyard founder David Stare was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.  Fittingly, that grape variety carries the banner for the winery some four decades down the road.

Produced by the second-generation of the family’s wine workers, Kim Stare Wallace and her husband Don, several different lots of grapes contributed to the wine.  It is anchored by 91% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, while a 9% splash of clone Sauvignon Musqué sails in for depth and richness, adding a tropical flavor and a full mouthfeel.  At 14.1% abv, it is a fairly hefty white, but the price tag comes in at just $18.

The winery says 2013 offered near perfect growing conditions featuring a mild winter and a moderate summer, and was one of the driest vintages on record.  These factors gave Dry Creek Vineyard some great fruit with which to work, and they made the most of it.

Possessing a very pale color, the wine gives a beautifully pungent aroma package of fresh grassiness, pineapple, pear and grapefruit zest.  The palate’s first name is savory - a gorgeous salinity is the first thing to hit my tongue.  The minerality is almost overwhelming, and I mean that in a good way.  River rocks come to mind as they are washed along in a wave of citrus.  Orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit all squeeze a little character into the flavor profile.  Pair it with an avocado salad or a plate of oysters.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Charles Krug

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.  The Charles Krug winery and vineyards have been around since 1861.  The Mondavi family bought it in the 1940s and have run it since.  Within a decade they cemented the Mondavi name as a Napa Valley synonym.  Charles Krug is the oldest winery in California and Peter Mondavi, Sr. is perhaps the state's 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 event are 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.

Twitter came alive for the event.  I heard that the Twitterverse was trending with the hashtag #CharlesKrugLive, at least for a bit. 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!"  While on topic, @WineHarlots mentioned of the Merlot, "Miles has left the building."  @JamestheWineGuy found the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to show "rose petal, violet, bay leaf, blackberry; profound nose"  while @martindredmond discovered that wine to be "killer with grilled lamb!"

Today we cover the Charles Krug 2013 Limited Release Estate Sauvignon Blanc.

This is the third vintage of the wine, which is crafted by winemaker Stacy Clark entirely from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  The fruit is grown on a 45-acre plot of estate vineyard which was planted in 2005.  On the Charles Krug website, the '13 vintage was proclaimed to have been nearly perfect, much like 2012.  The quality of the fruit certainly shows in the wine.

This wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged in contact with the spent yeast cells - sur lie, it's called - for seven months.  This imparts a rich, creamy texture to the wine while maintaining the snappy acidity that defines good Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine sports a moderate 13.6% abv alcohol level and retails for $35.

The light, straw color is just a notch above pale in the glass.  The wine's nose is grassy and full of peaches and tropical fruit - it really grabs me.  On the palate, peach flavors come on a bit stronger than those aromas did, and the citrus takes a prominent role, too.  Acidity is quite fresh and food-friendly, while the finish leaves a lemon-lime-grapefruit taste behind.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thirsty For Wine From Hungary

In the U.S., it’s probably a safe bet that the name Tokaji doesn’t register a very high recognition factor - even with wine aficionados.  The Tokaji region of Hungary is best known for the sweet dessert wines produced using grapes which have been blessed with botrytis - the noble rot which causes the grapes to be ultra ripe and super sweet.  So beloved is this type of wine, it is name-checked in Hungary’s national anthem.  I do not speak the language, but I am told the name is pronounced "TOE-coy."

The area does produce dry wines, too.  I recently had the opportunity to order one by-the-glass at Manhattan Beach restaurant Post.  The South Bay hotspot is in a repurposed post office building a couple of blocks from the beach.  I don’t often ooh and aah over restaurant food, but I did join my table mates in a round of high praise for each small sharing plate that was brought to us.  It’s very popular, but I was told they hold 40% of their tables for walk-in traffic.  We were able to sit right away at about 6:00 on a Saturday evening.

From the wine list I was attracted by a Hungarian wine made from Furmint grapes, the premier grape of the Tokaji region.  Furmint grapes have very thick skins initially, but as the growing season progresses, the skins become thinner.  This allows the sun to evaporate the moisture in the grape, making for more concentrated sugars.  A second skin then grows to protect the grape from botrytis, although the noble rot will eventually make its mark on the grape.  For dessert wines, the grapes may be harvested as late as December or January.

The dry 2011 Furmint I had was produced by Royal Tokaji, and is a 100% varietal wine made from estate grapes.  The winery’s first vintage for this type was in 2003, so it's still a newborn by European wine standards.  The wine costs $10.50 by the glass at Post.

The wine is a pale straw color with a bit of a greenish tint, very fresh looking.  On the nose, fresh pears and herbal scents are backed up by a strong sense of minerality.  The palate shows a beautifully refreshing acidity and a very fresh collection of fruit flavors, notably pear, apricot and citrus.  The wine finishes with a lemon-grapefruit zing and leaves a slightly nutty sensation, much like a Roussanne does.  I paired the wine with diver scallops, Hoisin sauce green beans, grilled Brussels sprouts and an amazing bacon and cheese biscuit  with no problem at all.  It was perfect for each dish.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: m2 Wines

Lodi, California is rooted in family-owned vineyards.  The winegrowers and winemakers there are hard at work, 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.

The group’s mission statement makes it clear they intend to get the public up to speed on Lodi wine:  “To demonstrate ... that distinguished, distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in Lodi, similar to other great wine regions of the world.  To encourage preservation and appreciation of old vine plantings – well as of Lodi’s long tradition of grower/custodians – by focusing more attention on vineyard sites, vis-à-vis real and tangible sensory expressions in each bottling.  To build professional camaraderie, a culture of information sharing, and new challenges for Lodi’s Zinfandel specialists.

Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.

Lodi Native recently held a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  Here is one of the wines discussed.

m2 Wines 2012 Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel - Winemaker, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines) - Grower, Kevin Soucie

Terroir is the name of the game at m2 Wines.  They promise to create every thing that has terroir, from  “Lodi Zinfandel to classic Napa Cabernet to exciting Rhône wines from the Sierra Foothills, m2 wines are created to fully express the character of the vineyard and the fruit of the vine as wine that is true to itself.”  You can’t ask for more than that.

This Mokelumne River wine shows its terroir from an arm's length away.  Tinted medium dark red, the wine gives off wild aromas of spice and herb in large quantities.  Nutmeg, mint and eucalyptus fragrances wash over the blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fruit.  The palate brings these elements forward even more, and the spices actually ride herd over the fruit.  Black cherry and raspberry flavors take the lead, but are pushed along under the whip of minty spices, sage, cinnamon, cola and tea.  There is a darkness here, too, but not an empty darkness.  It’s a darkness of plenty.  It’s the darkness of a forest of tall trees.  Of the wines I am privileged to taste each year, one always hits me as a Christmas wine.  This is the wine I want over the holidays.

Please do give this wine time to breathe.  It opens up amazingly.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

California Grenache: Lee Family Farm Grenache 2011 Monterey

As California winemakers accept that Syrah was not the Next Big Thing, they are looking for another contender.  Why not Grenache?

The Grenache grape is thought to have originated in Spain - as Garnacha - before running off to France - that's where it picked up the name Grenache - and Sardinia, where it goes under the name Cannonau.  It was one of the first varieties brought to Australia, where it did not feel the need to assume a nom de vin.  It was only natural the grape would come to California for a long vacation and decide to stay for awhile.

The buds break early on Grenache vines, and they take their sweet time about getting ripe.  Often one of the last grapes out of the vineyard, Grenache fruit tends to make a high-octane wine, which is why it has a habit of taking on a support staff.  Syrah and Mourvèdre finish off the Rhône trio of GSM.

Grenache grapes seem well-suited to California, particularly in the cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to become that Next Big Thing in California wine.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll sample some California Grenache from different parts of the state.  I hope you will check out the wines with me.  Most of the wines in the series will be varietal wines, all or mostly Grenache.  Today's entry - Lee Family Farm Grenache 2011 - comes from Morgan Winery in Monterey.

Morgan Winery claims their Monterey home is among the most perfect places for Grenache grapes to grow, even pointing out the boldness of that assertion.  "Grenache is the world’s most widely planted red grape," they say on their website, "and is responsible for some of the finest wines, from France’s southern Rhone Valley to the Priorat in Spain.  Monterey is now on the list for producing great Grenache."

Lee Family Farms is a label created under the parentage of Morgan Winery.  Dan Morgan Lee planted vineyards in Moterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands back in 1996.  Today he uses those grapes for his Morgan and Double L labels.  For his Lee Family Farms bottlings, he sources fruit from other quality growers.

The grapes for the Lee Family Farm Grenache comes from three different Monterey County vineyards - Wildhorse, Cedar Lane and Ventana.  All three benefit from the cooling marine influence of Monterey Bay.  The breeze and fog help lengthen the growing season so the grapes are picked as ripe as possible.

2011 was a cool vintage, and it shows in the acidity.  The cooler the growing season, the better the acidity.  The wine spent ten months in a French oak - 20% of which was new.  Alcohol clicks 14.3% on the scale and a bottle sells for $24.

Showing a medium garnet hue in the glass, a sniff of this wine at rest gives a faint smokiness, almost like a very light incense.  Swirl it a few times and the fruit wakes up - big, bright cherry and strawberry aromas blast from the glass like you scared them.  A note of lilacs in bloom follows.  The flavors are just as bold as the aromas.  Cherries and raspberries steal the show on the palate, but a very nice vanilla component plays in and makes a bit of a Creamsicle impression.  The acidity is fresh and delightful, while the tannins make a good effort, too.

Pairing the 2011 Lee Family Farm Grenache with chicken or sausage is a brilliant idea.  Even if the meat is a little lackluster, the wine's generous gifts will dress it up.  The finish isn't terribly long, but it is cherry-laden and dusted with anise and nutmeg.  It leaves you wanting more.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dessert Wine Undergoes Drastic Change In Five Years

A business trip to Sonoma County about five years ago resulted in a side trip to Calistoga, and a stop at the Bennett Lane Winery tasting room.  An impressive sample list was capped off with the Bennett Lane Dessert Wine, which I liked so much I bought a bottle to take home.  We just opened it recently, and discovered the wine had undergone quite a change.

The Bennett Lane website bills their dessert wine as a “traditional port style wine, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Carignane and all of the classic Portuguese varietals.”  While I remember it tasting very Port-like at the time of my visit in 2009, it now more closely resembles a dry sherry.  My notes on the wine I tasted in the Bennett Lane tasting room say, “Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas.”  It still does, only in a different way.  The promised fruit has become more of a coffee/caramel/raisin show.

Bennett Lane Dessert Wine carries the subtitle of "After Feasting Wine," and that is still a perfect time for its consumption.  At 7.41% residual sugar, it is sweet enough - but not too sweet.  At 18.5% abv, it has the kind of kick that caps off a fine meal in style.  At $60 for a 375ml bottle, it qualifies as a real splurge.  Hopefully it won’t turn into a $30 sherry while it waits its turn under the corkscrew.

What once was a rich red drink is now showing deep browning in the glass.  The opaque wine smells of raisins and alcohol.  The palate is luscious - raisin notes are draped heavily in burnt caramel.  The alcohol does show prominently, but it comes off more like a drink that is much stronger than wine.  There is quite a bit of grape residue in the bottom of the bottle.  Pairing this wine with the standard spread of pies at holiday time is a natural even in its decline, maybe even more so than when it was in its youth.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cimarone Wines' 3CV Bank 2012 Red Blend

Cimarone Wines and Three Creek Vineyard were the 2001 “retirement project” of Roger and Priscilla Higgins.  Those who know how difficult it is to grow grapes and make great wine may pause here for a little chortling and snickering.  If there’s a rocking chair on the premises, it’s just for photo opportunities.

The vineyard is in the recently 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 in 2012, 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 official sounding name of @AMVwine.

The 3CV Bank 2012 is basically a blend of Bordeaux grapes which are giving a buddy from the Rhône a ride to the Valley.  It’s a party, and all grapes are invited - 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Merlot and 6% Syrah is the varietal makeup.  The wine retails for $20 and has an alcohol content of 14.3% abv.

Bank opens the tiller with a great, dark fruit nose that is rich and dark.  Cassis and hints of leather, pepper and anise create the olfactory fireworks, while the palate is also extremely dark and fruity.  More savory notes peek through here - spices and tobacco notably - but the blackberry and currant fruit flavors are fully in charge.  The wine has a great mouthfeel, with enough tannins to tame a bite of steak, but not enough to pick your teeth with afterward.

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