Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New York Bubbles: Sparkling Wines From The Finger Lakes

Fresh off kudos as wine region of the year, New York continues to impress from the various wine regions of the Empire State.  The Finger Lakes area has probably achieved the most notice, due in large part to the work being done with Riesling grapes there.  They do more than Riesling, though, as a virtual wine tasting event showed recently.  I participated in the Twitter tasting of Finger Lakes sparkling wines, in which three different bottles showed the diversity of the region's bubbles.

To see the conversation thread and comments from the participants and winemakers, you can view that here.

@JamieGall1930 got the conversation going by asking, "Who doesn't love a little bit of bubbly especially around the holidays?"  @thewinegetter agreed, "True, popping sparklers is always great. I was tempted to saber one or two, but it's too cold outside."  Somebody always has to get out the sword!

Glenora Wine Cellars 2005 Brut Méthode Champenoise  $30

Glenora winemaker Steve DiFrancesco and vineyard manager Chris King combine as co-workers to create the impressive line of wines from the Seneca Lake winery.  The grapes - 52% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir - were grown during the warm 2005 vintage.  A moderate residual sugar of 1.2% makes for a clean, crisp balance and creaminess while the 12% abv should be a level that's easy to handle for anyone.  The wine got a long aging period, so the semi-dry bubbly shows some great toasty flavors.  This wine makes up only 171 cases of the 45,000 cases produced.

On Twitter, @amybcleary admitted, "I enjoyed all 3, but admit that this was the first bottle emptied."  Since we were only a few minutes into the event, she clarified, “Note: I'm at work, so had to pre-drink earlier this week. I'm not that fast a drinker."  That’s what I tell everyone, too, Amy!  @thewinegetter had a favorable review, "Seriously impressed with the 2005 @Glenorawine! Nice tart apple, some raisin aromas, and tobacco."

I find the toastiness a little subdued at first, but the earth and fruit are stunning.  After a few sips, the toasty, yeasty nature comes on a bit more.  The mark of the aging is the creamy quality of this wine.  My wife couldn't get over it - she calls it buttery - raving about the mouthfeel and the finish while pretending to cajole another glass from me.  I'm always happy to share.

The bubbles pour up festive - small and tall - before dissipating into the rich, golden liquid quickly.  The buttery, tangy Crucolo cheese is a perfect fit with this bubbly, and almost as nice with Castlevetrano olives.

Dr Konstantin Frank Chateau Frank Célèbre  $21

The sparkling winemaker at Dr. Frank is Eric Bauman, and his cause célèbre is Riesling - fitting, since he's at the place that pioneered Riesling in New York state.  It was a radical departure in the 1950s, when North American varieties were considered the only type that could be grown in the cold climate of New York.  Fortunately, Dr. Frank didn't pay attention to the naysayers and started a wine revolution.

The comments were favorable on social media.  @50StatesOfWine effused, "Love that @DrFrankWine is making a sparkling Riesling!"  @thewinegetter tweeted, "Really nice Riesling Cremant from @DrFrankWine. Residual sugar a hit with my friends. I love the liquorice aromas.  Reminds me of German Sekt."

Located on the Keuka Lake Wine trail, the winery takes grapes for this bubbly not only from the Keuka estate, but also from their estate vineyard on Seneca Lake.  The 100% Riesling is made in the cremant style, méthode champenoise.  This means it's made exactly the same way Champagne is made.  Whole-cluster pressing results in what I call a nice greenness, while the 11% abv number makes for a very drinkable wine.  The 3% residual sugar means it is definitely on the sweet side of the street.

The pale sparkler sure whips up a froth when poured.  Medium-sized bubbles come up like a skyrocket before settling down after a bit.  The yeasty aroma is plain from a distance, and the wine's nose is all Riesling.  There is even a hint of petrol amidst the earthy fragrance of pears.  On the palate, Riesling is apparent again.  Great, sweet fruit is touched with a hint of earth and sourdough bread, and the finish really takes its time.  Zippy acidity practically begs for food to be paired with it, while the sweetness says, "Make it spicy!"

Lakewood Vineyards Blanc de Noir  $30

Winemaker Christopher Stamp is the grandson of the farm's founders.  He has 25 vintages as a winemaker under his belt.  David Stamp - another grandson - oversees the grape growing in the family's 80 acres of vineyards on the west side of Seneca Lake.  Alcohol is restrained - as usual in the Finger Lakes - at 12% abv.  210 cases were produced, and the wine retails for $30.  It's 100% Pinot Noir."

Those gathered on the Twitter stream were impressed.  @50StatesOfWine asked, "First sparkler a Catawba, then a Chardonnay, now a Pinot Noir - what will @LakewoodWines do next?!"  @LocalVinacular commented, "the first 2  sparkling wines we'd have for sipping wines, but we like the @LakewoodWines Blanc de Noir to pair with food."

The golden hue is beautiful and inviting.  There is earth and yeast on the nose, with the earthy side carrying more weight.  Scents of apple, pear and a bit of apricot lay underneath the textural design.  On the palate, the flavor of crisp green apples really shines, while the earth notes take a step back to let the fruit do its job.  They do not shrink away entirely, however, so there is enough of the good Seneca Lake soil in the mix to provide a great counterpoint.  The acidity is sterling and the wine feels quite full in the mouth.  Paired with Crucolo cheese from northern Italy, nice; with our fruit and nut bread from La Brea Bakery, perfect.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

The Wines Of New Zealand at Whole Foods

In the recent Twitter tasting for the New Zealand wines, which were fall features at Whole Foods Markets, there was lively discussion of The Red Blend, from Villa Maria.

@WFMWine hit us with some background info: "Villa Maria The Red Blend.used to be called cab-merlot, new name, new vintage. Nice label and package."   One WFM location had  guests tasting on hand: "The Villa Maria red blend was also popular with many guests at tonight's tasting."  @WFMSantaFe tweeted, "New Zealand - where the reds are sassy and the whites are grassy!"   They then got down to business by noting, "Best paired with a ribeye! Villa Maria Red Blend, 2013 vintage #cutsthefat."

Sir George Fistonich founded Villa Maria Estate in Auckland in 1961, starting with a one-acre vineyard.   An innovator, he instituted the practice of quality-based pricing for grapes in New Zealand, hired viticulturists and made Villa Maria cork-free beginning with the 2002 vintage.  Sir George received New Zealand’s first knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 2009 for his importance in the country’s wine industry.

Villa Maria has been a member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand since the organization’s birth in 1995.  The company has vineyards in Aukland, Gisborne, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, which is the source for The Red Blend.  The Hawkes Bay region is on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.  It’s a dry, temperate climate that gets hot summers and cool winters.

Villa Maria's The Red Blend is a mix of Bordeaux grape varieties - Merlot-heavy at 75%.  14% of the makeup is Cabernet Sauvignon, while Malbec takes up 7% and 4% goes to Cabernet Franc.  The alcohol is a fair 13% abv and it looks to have a fairly medium intensity of dark red coloring.  It is bottled under Villa Maria’s “Private Bin” label.

The Red Blend’s nose brings the Bordeaux, with all the blackberry, cassis and oak spice you can stand.  Clove, cedar and nutmeg are prominent, with undercurrents of vanilla, cinnamon and a good whiff of Merlot smoke.  The palate echoes those sentiments, for the most part.  It's dark, without getting all primeval on us.  It doesn't brood, it just furrows it's brow a bit.

The tannins are lively enough to mate this wine with a variety of red meats, the fattier the better.  It goes great with soft cheeses, too.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Napa Grenache Blanc: Priest Ranch

Priest Ranch wines are made by Somerston Wine Company, who also make Highflyer and Somerston wines.  The Somerston estate is in the eastern hills of Napa Valley, where the vineyard is planted largely to Bordeaux grape varieties.  There are also some Rhône grapes growing there, and even a bit of Zinfandel.

Fruit from the 1,628-acre Somerston Estate - 200 acres of sustainably-farmed vineyard - is generally sold to other producers, but a portion is wisely retained for their own labels.  Director of winemaking Craig Becker is also general manager and a founding partner of Somerston.

Somerston vineyard is a haven for its Rhône grapes, boasting one of the largest plantings of Grenache Blanc in California.

The ‘13 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc comes bottled under cork with a 14.3% abv alcohol number and a price tag of $22 per bottle.  I was given a taste courtesy of Jarvis Communications.

Taking a whiff, the wine’s nose is quite interesting, with savory and nutty aromas playing against apricot fruit.  The palate is oily, but at the same time very acidic.  It's a great food wine, full and lush in the mouth with no curtailment of the razor blade acidity.  The savory apricot flavor outlasts the wine’s pure fruitiness on the lengthy finish.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Just A Snack. Just A Chardonnay.

Wine goes with food.  Food goes with wine.  I know food came first, but was food really worth the chewing without wine with which to pair it?   What is a great wine without something great to eat with it?  Is a gorgeous steak anything more than just a piece of meat if not brought to life by its proper wine mate?  A fantastic food and wine pairing is simply a beautiful thing, but which is the more important aspect?

Such tiresome questions for this day.  Someone to cook, someone to pour, someone to wash the dishes.  Someone to help enjoy it all.

Happy holidays to you and yours, from the house of Now And Zin.  Thank you for taking the time to read these words through the years.  We appreciate that you are there.

Cornerstone Cellars Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2012

This Chardonnay comes from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  The grapes - Chardonnay clones 76 and 95 - are from the Carabella Vineyard on Chehalem Mountain and the Gran Moraine and Willakia Vineyards in Yamhill Carlton.  It was aged for 15 months in French Oak barrels, 28% of which were new.  It is completely barrel fermented with full malolactic fermentation employed during that process.  Alcohol rests at a reasonable 13.5% abv, 300 cases were made and it retails for $40.

Very nice, this Chardonnay.  The oak - as pronounced as it is - is played perfectly, not overdone.

A light golden tint leads to a nose of lemon zest and minerals. The palate shows great flavor, with citrus and rocks prominent.  The oak softens the mouthfeel but remains just a supporting player despite the length of oak aging.  The wine drinks clean, with a very nice acidity.  It won't rip your face off, but it will pair well with your caprese salad, leaving your features intact, but your cravings satisfied.

Cornerstone's Craig Camp believes in Oregon as a great place - maybe the best in America - for Chardonnay, and he tells me that "the 2012 chardonnay fruit was the most beautiful and defect free I've ever seen in Oregon."

This wine tasted extremely good with roasted vegetables - specifically, my wife’s roasted Brussells sprouts with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  They were augmented by her roasted celery with sesame oil, sea salt and paprika.  “Just a snack,” she said.  It was much more than that despite its simplicity, and the wine really completed it.  The oak aging married with the oil, while the citrus elements of the food and the wine blended smoothly.

This was one of those instances in which it was hard to tell if the food made the wine or the wine made the food.  I suspect it was a little bit of both.  I know neither would have tasted so good without Denise.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Lodi Tempranillo: Riaza Wines

Another one of those fun social media get-togethers occurred recently, featuring hosts Stuart Spencer - who wears many hats as the Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Owner and Winemaker of St.Amant Winery, and President of the Board of Directors for TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society) - and Rick Taylor, Owner and Winemaker of Riaza Wines and Director on the Board of Directors for TAPAS.  As you may have already guessed, the topic was Tempranillo.

The gaggle of wine tasters who gathered on Twitter - and the video feed - were ready for some Lodi Tempranillo, and they were not disappointed.   Comments were tweeted from @Lodi_Wine, who told us that "Nearly 25 different Lodi wineries produce a Tempranillo."  They also volunteered that "Nearly 900 tons of Tempranillo came out of Lodi in 2013."  The publicists for the event, @CharlesComm, laid a little history on us: "When it first arrived to CA, #Tempranillo had the name Valdepenas."  I did not know that.  We all learned a bit during the hour.

The virtual tasting event spotlighted Tempranillo wines from four Lodi producers, Bokisch, Riaza, Harney Lane, McCay and m2.  Bokisch appeared earlier.  Today, Riaza.

Riaza Wines Tempranillo 2012  $26

The social media stream was abuzz with good notes on the Riaza Wines Hunter's Oak Vineyard Tempranillo.  @myvinespot tweeted about the "Inviting nose w/ dried cherries, cranberry, warm spice, soft and round in the mouth."  @dvinewinetime liked the "dry, tart cherry w/ hints of tobacco and soft tannins."  @GrapeOccasions commented on the "red fruit & tobacco on the nose, and wow, floral cigar to taste!"  @norcalwine called it "an approachable, tasty wine: cigar box, red cherry, sweet spice, tangerine peel," while @MsPullThatCork asked, "Can you cellar Tempranillo?"  The answer shot right back from @riazawines: "yes, it will get softer, better."  

Riaza Wines is owned and run by Rick and Erin Taylor, a couple who just happen to have a passion for wine and access to lots of grapes.  That nearly always means "Winery," and so, they have held true to the course in Lodi.

Who does what in that partnership? Erin handles the business side of things, while the website says of Rick, "Though the business card says winemaker, Rick’s only real job is not to screw anything up!"  I have a similar arrangement with my wife, and I can attest to how hard that simple sounding task can be.

Tempranillo Day, back in November, resulted in the Riaza Tempranillio 2012 arriving on my doorstep for the purpose of review.  As is my custom, I will just give some information about the wine and let you know how it struck me.

The Taylors love wine made from Spanish grape varieties, and they realized that Lodi's Mediterranean-like climate is perfect for growing them.  They give a nod and a tip of the hat to Liz and Markus Bokisch, who also have an Iberian love affair going on.

Like Bokisch, the Riaza winery focuses on Spanish varieties - Tempranillo, of course - as well as Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, Monastrell and Verdejo.

Explaining Tempranillo, the Taylors say, "Though a staple in Spain, Tempranillo is only now starting to become recognized as a significant player in California.  Interestingly enough, the grape has been grown here for hundreds of years…coming to the new world with the Spanish missionaries in the late 1700s.  What was once churned out for jug wine up and down the valley, Tempranillo is finally being viewed as something other than the “red-headed step child” of the vineyard."

If this is what jug wine tasted like, bring it back.  Made from 100% Tempranillo grapes grown in the sandy loam of Hunter's Oak Vineyard in Lodi's Clements Hills AVA, this wine was aged for 19 months in American and French oak.  Alcohol hits 14.6% abv, and only 97 cases were produced.

The Riaza Tempranillo colors up medium ruby in the glass, while showing off a delicious nose of blueberry, coffee, cinnamon and clove with a hint of cigar and leather.  In the mouth, a nice acidity and firm tannins are a natural match to the savory dark fruit.  Spices abound - nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon.  There's a sense of black tea, reminiscent of a California Pinot Noir.  The wine comes on rustic, but finishes elegantly.  It's a knockout with spicy pork roast.

The winemaker feels that Tempranillo pairs exceptionally well with anything off the grill, anything with a little char on it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dry Up And Make Amarone

Amarone della Valpolicella is a rich Italian wine made from dried grapes.  The heightened  flavors, aromas, color and tannins of Amarone owe everything to its production technique.  A bottle of Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009, was provided by a public relations firm for review.

Masi owner Raffaele Boscaini is the seventh generation to run his family's wine estate.  The Masi website calls Amarone a "modern wine with an ancient heart."  It is imported in the US by Kobrand.  The wine has a slightly higher alcohol content than many wines - 15% abv - and it retails for $63.

Senior editor Alison Napjus, of Wine Spectator, says, "What’s impressive about Amarone is that it's a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth - it's very personable - and it also has the capacity to age, and a lot of that has to do with the production technique, appassimento."

In appassimento, the bunches of grapes - Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara - are placed in trays to dry out.  They spend several months in this drying process.  The grapes are left lighter and more concentrated after the loss of that water weight.

The  2009 Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico had a broken cork, but it was pushed down into the bottle without much of a problem and with no serious floaties.  The palate shows beautiful dried meat and dried fruit, roasted coffee beans, cherry, black olive and spices - mainly clove.  The tannins are quite prominent, as is everything else about this wine which Will Not Be Ignored.  It really overmatched the pasta and red sauce, but hit a good mark with the Buffalo Gorgonzola.  However, drinking this wine with cheese is like using a Ferrari to drive the two blocks to the store.  Have a steak.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Drink Pink: Dolin Rosé Of Malibu

Malibu made its name long ago as one of the wealthiest places for surf and sun.  A bottle of SPF 50 sunscreen and a long board strapped to the top of your van will provide you with some great fun - until the sets stop rolling in or the security guards chase you off the private beach, whichever comes first.  When the fun is over, the fun's not really over.  There is always wine.

Wine is easy to find in Malibu.  It's in all the restaurants and there are a couple of tasting rooms along PCH.  Up in the hills, a bit off the surfboard beat, there are vines, thousands of them.  Malibu has over four dozen vineyards and is now enjoying its recently approved status as a bona fide American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

Elliott Dolin has spent time both as a professional musician and as a real estate investor.  He never really gave any thought to making wine.  In 2006 he and his wife planted an acre of Chardonnay vines in their expansive backyard - they simply thought a vineyard would look nice on the hillside.  Quickly, Dolin’s passing fancy became a focal point of his life.

Dolin’s winemaker Kirby Anderson is a non-interventionist in the winery, the better to showcase the characteristics of the vineyard.  He says Dolin’s Malibu fruit speaks for itself.  "I try to always keep my emotions in check when making wine," he says, "but the potential of the Dolin Vineyard is so tremendous that I can't help but get excited."

The fine folks at Jarvis Communications provided this wine for the purpose of review.

The 2012 Dolin Malibu Estate Rosé is 100% Central Coast Pinot Noir, carries an alcohol content of 13.5% abv and is contained under natural cork.  One-third of the pink wine spent 8 months in neutral oak, while two-thirds stayed in stainless steel after fermentation in same.

This rosé has melon and berry on the nose, with a shade of green showing.  A nice cherry flavor appears with a bit of candy, but a strong herbal presence balances the fruit.  Food pairings will abound with the lovely, fresh acidity, and the hint of green on the finish underscores the savory aspect.  Leave it open for a while, and it starts to show a delightful bit of funk.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Lodi Cinsault: Onesta Bechthold Vineyard

Cinsault, that oh-so-blendable grape, got a moment in the spotlight during a Lodi Wines virtual tasting event recently, and it made the most of its time in the spotlight.

The subjects of the soirée were four wines produced from grapes grown in Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard.  Bechthold is Lodi’s oldest vineyard - planted in 1886 - and the Cinsault vines there are ancient monsters - the kind winemakers respond to in the same way a starving man eyes a steak dinner.  Their reactions are basic, monosyllabic and guttural.  "Need! Want!"

Lodi Wine notes that old vines "tend to produce more intense wines because older vines naturally set lower crops."  The lower a vineyard’s yield, the more concentrated the aromas and flavors from those grapes.  "Bechthold’s old vines… continue to thrive while regulating their own fruit production, without a lot of human intervention:  the hallmark of 'old vine' viticulture."

Turley Cellars’ Tegan Passalacqua claims, "Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines.  It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing.  It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed."  It's great for the holidays, by the way.

Onesta winemaker Jillian Johnson says they put "a little Bechthold in almost every wine we made" in the five years she spent at Bonny Doon Vineyard.  "There didn't seem to be a wine that a little Bechthold Cinsault couldn't improve," Johnson said.

Bechthold Vineyard's head trained vines - organically grown and dry farmed - take the full spotlight in Onesta's Cinsault.  The wine is born of the single vineyard and raised nine months in neutral oak barrels.  It has been said that this wine has the weight of Pinot Noir and the fruity nature of Zinfandel, but I quibble a bit with both observations.  It's a tad beefier than a typical Pinot, and a bit more savory than a typical Zin.

Alcohol trips the meter at 14.5%, but I would guess that to be a low estimate.  Tannins are forceful and persistent, right through the finish.  Only 370 cases of this wine were made, so it qualifies as a precious commodity.  The $29 price tag seems a bargain, considering what is in the bottle.

Aromas of raspberry, cherry and strawberry are joined by nutmeg and cinnamon.  The spices really leap out at me, and there is a tart and savory aspect - downright tarry on the second night open - to all that fruitiness.  The palate shows a tartness, too, and the fruit goes on for days, with a great level of acidity to offer as a bonus.  Onesta's Bechthold Cinsault is made for food, and the bigger and beefier the food is, so much the better.

On Twitter, @OnestaWines helped us out with some tasting notes: "black cherry, cinnamon, violets, Bay leaf, hint of lavender and tea."  @BigNoseWino tweeted that it "explodes with strawberry, spiced rhubarb pie; wild berries; big spicy kicker on finish."  @martindredmond liked the Rhônshness of it, showing " a bit of funk! Nice contrast to cherry, strawberry, and spice profile. Elegant too!"  @NorCalWine loved the "drying herb, earth, rare beef and meaty spice," while @thismyhappiness loved "the deep fruit ... Elegant. From the 'vineyard of the year' in CA!"

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Paul Hobbs' Big, Fat California Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir is huge.  Remember how they used to say "big, fat California Chardonnay?"  That was back before they became "lean, steely California Chardonnays."  Is California Pinot Noir taking possession of that big, fat monicker - since Chardonnay isn't using it anymore?

The Paul Hobbs 2012 Pinot Noir is a cuvée of five different soils, six different clones and seven different Russian River Valley vineyards.

Fermented in steel tanks, the wine aged for eleven months in small French oak barrels, just under half of which were new - meaning you get a "big" end result from them.  That's where the spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred, which gives the wine a leg up when it comes to feeling big in the mouth.  Three percent of the grapes were pressed whole cluster, adding an herbal touch to the proceedings.

First of all, it's extremely dark wine.  Up to the light, I can't see my fingers on the other side of the glass.  Isn't Pinot Noir supposed to look a little on the thin side?  Taking a whiff, I think I'm smelling six Pinots at once.  The aromas are there - tart raspberry, black tea, coffee - but they are super-concentrated.  Flavor, it's got, too - and plenty of it.  Red currant, black raspberry, spice and an earthy streak that's made to pair with mushrooms.  It goes great with roasted potatoes and carrots, too.

This Pinot Noir is huge, so if you are looking to be finessed, keep looking.  If you like your wine on the "blunt force trauma" end of the spectrum, however, here ya go.  It does get darker and tamer sipping it over three nights, but does not lose a bit of its massive character.  Enjoy it with whatever meat will be straining the supports of your holiday table, roasted root vegetables and a handful of cashews.  Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bonny Doon's Heart Has Its Rieslings

The wines of Randall Grahm are so good,you may wonder why he feels the needs to funny them up with eye-catching iconic images and puns.  To sell them, of course, is the answer.  Any wine producer will tell you how hard it is to get the attention of the wine-buying general public, and they'll tell you this with lots of hand-wringing and brow-mopping included.  

Grahm - Bonny Doon Vineyard's winemaker and President For Life - gets written up a lot as the rodeo clown of the wine world, and that is unfair. What he is, is a world-class winemaker who happens to know a little about marketing that product.  To hear him tell it, a little is all he knows.  He's a quiet and reserved guy when it comes to self-promotion - but when it comes to extolling the virtues of his wines, and presenting them in an appealing, attention-getting manner, he is Barnum and Bailey rolled into one wine-soaked ball of "Step right up!"  He's the Mad Men of the grape world.  He knows how to get it out there.

He also knows that no matter how good the wine is, if it doesn't catch the eye of the casual shopper, it won't jump off the shelf on its own.

So, we get great label art, we get great notes - he's an acclaimed writer - and we get puns.  Now, I'm not sure how well puns sell anything.  I remember a Halloween party I attended, dressed in a full black cape with a plastic fish head strapped over my nose.  All night long I got, "What the hell are you supposed to be?"  My answer - "Cape Cod!" - didn't exactly win me any new friends.  It may have even cost me some old ones.  Never dress as a pun for Halloween - it simply isn't appreciated.

On the wine bottle, things may be different.  If kittens, toilet plungers and a bear in a rowboat sell wine, why not a pun - and a pretty good one, at that - with some great label art and a cool back-label paragraph thrown in for good measure.

The Heart Has Its Rieslings gets it out there.  It's a name that pulls in the wine shopper, and is paired with art that is good to look at as well.  Will it sell?  We'll see.  If it doesn't, it's a shame - but Grahm will have a cellar full of great Riesling aging away doon under the house.

This Riesling is a 2013 cuvèe of grapes from two spots - Ventana Vineyard in Monterey County and Wirz Vineyard in San Benito County.  It comes in at a super-low 9.5% abv and has residual sugar measuring three percent.  

The nose is just about dead-on perfect, with slightly honeyed pear graced with an earthy measure and just a little touch of petrol.  It's really a beautiful sniff.  On the palate, just a hint of sweetness lies on the beautiful peach, pear and apple flavors with a strident streak of acidity running through it.  The wine finishes earthy, sweet and luscious.

Fans of Riesling that pushes the needle to the sweet side of the meter will love this.  Grahm states on the label the wine is made from "every so botrytised grapes" and should "reward a long-term commitment to cellaring."  Good luck making that commitment.  Buy extra bottles.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Jacquart Champagne

As October turned toward trick-or-treat, I was treated to a small tasting of Champagnes from Jacquart of Riems, France.  The tasting took place at one of my favorite Los Angeles cheese shops, Artisan Cheese Gallery on Ventura Boulevard, so the treats were plenty.  Mrs. Now And Zin sent me there with instructions to enjoy the tasting and don’t come home empty-handed.

Jacquart’s head winemaker, Floriane Eznack, was quoted in The Drinks Business when she joined the house in 2011, “My role is not to make a big change but to define the style and stick to it.”   The style, as she defines it, is smooth and textured, with a focus on bright acidity.

The Mosaic Collection was introduced to mark Jacquart’s 50th anniversary.  It’s a fine tribute to the house, if the three wines I tasted are an indication.  Any - or all - will be welcome at holiday festivities of any sort.

Floriane Eznack, photo courtesy
The Brut Mosaique sports some flinty toast aromas along with apples and pears. Three grapes are used, Chardonnay (35-40%), Pinot Noir (35-40%) and Pinot Meunier (25-35%). There is a minimum of 20% reserve wine in the mix, which receives a light dosage and more than three years of aging.  Flavors are toasty, with apples and lime zest leading to a rich, long finish.  It’s the flagship Jacquart cuvée.

For the Jacquart Rosé Mosaique, Pinot Noir - vinified as a red wine - brings the color and structure, while Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier play their roles, too.  This pretty wine brings a funky, toasty quality on the nose, with red fruit smelling very nice.  Great acidity makes the sip quite refreshing, while flavors of toasty cherries and strawberries are a delight.

The Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2006 vintage shows apple and citrus on the nose, with a lovely palate of lemon peel and a slight hint of toast.  All Chardonnay, the wine leaves me wanting more, with a beautiful expression of creme brûlée on the finish.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Lodi Cinsault: Estate Crush

If you have more than a casual relationship with wines made from the Cinsault grape, you may already be a grape geek.  On the other purple-stained hand, you may enjoy Cinsault all the time without even knowing it.  It is a grape often blended with other, more famous grapes.  It's a role player in many rosé wines of Provence, it's in the mix of beaucoup Rhône blends and it even stands alone in Lodi, California.

A while back a few wine-loving social media users shook hands with some of the best Cinsault in California.  The topic was the stunningly complex, ancient-vine Cinsault wines from the famous Bechthold Vineyard.  Since Cinsault is a great grape for the holiday table, here is one of the wines featured in that Twitter tasting event.

Lodi custom crush facility Estate Crush helps the general public crush, vinify and bottle the fruit of the vine.  They also reserve a little space for their own interests.  I suppose, if you get a chance to make Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard fruit, it's perfectly OK to kick out that guy making wine from berries he found growing along the side of the road.

Only 100 cases of the Cinsault were produced, and it's a gem that hits only a modest 13.8% abv on the alcohol scale.  Considering the lofty numbers clocked by many of Lodi's big red wines, this is pretty much like water. It certainly tastes better than water, though.

I was provided with a sample for the purpose of the social media tasting event.  What were some of the folks on Twitter saying about the wine?  I'm so glad you asked.

@Lodi_Wine noted that, "@estatecrush Cinsault was made with minimal intervention 2 showcase the fruit & vineyard."   @sperkovich liked the aromas and flavors: "Lovely rhubarb pie nose, strawberries & lite spiced finishing clean."  A tribute from @norcalwine: "Estate Crush Cinsault dials up intensity, palate weight, but still very balanced. Earth, drying herb," adding later, "I'd be very happy with a bottle of Estate Crush Cinsault & a plate of lamb sausage with couscous."  @CharlesComm brought it all home: "Thanksgiving anyone?"  It'll work well in December, too.

This wine has a medium-light tint and a  nose that displays a serious savory side, which borders on funkiness.  On the palate, flavors of black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and red berries are downplayed by the savory aspect. The acidity level is just about perfect, and the tannins are firm.  An earthy streak runs through it all and lasts well into the finish. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gifted Vermentino: La Ginestraia

Never question an Italian wine given as a gift, especially when given by an Italian.  I suppose it is a testament to the high quality of Italian wines available in the U.S. that people say you can order an Italian wine in a restaurant without a worry that it might not be good.  I have found that to be true in Los Angeles, even with wines that couldn’t sell for any more than ten dollars per bottle retail.  This gifted Vermentino probably cost up around $20.  Our friends, Guido and Tina,  gave this wine to us for no reason other than this: they like us.  However good the wines tastes, it will be hard to beat the feeling we got from their act of giving it.

Riviera Ligure di Ponente is a DOC of Liguria, north-western Italy, stretching west from Genoa along the Ligurian Sea.  It covers red and white wines from the provinces of Imperia and Savona in the western part of Liguria.

The main white-wine grape in the region is Pigato - what the locals call Vermentino.  The two grapes have been shown through DNA testing - you may have missed that episode of CSI: Liguria - to be the very same grape.  It appears in some sources, though, that the local growers disagree with that claim, saying that the grapes look different and make wines that taste different.  The crisp and refreshing wines made from Pigato pair well with the foods favored in the local cuisine.  Pesto pasta, fish and shellfish are all good matches.

Irene Virbila wrote about the 2011 vintage of this wine in the Los Angeles Times: “La Ginestraia is a new venture for Marco Brangero of Brangero in Diano d'Alba in Piedmont, already well known for his Dolcetto d'Alba.  The grapes for La Ginestraia come from a vineyard in Ortovero, seven miles inland from the Mediterranean, that dates from the 1700s.”  The La Ginestraia Vermentino is very moderate on alcohol, hitting only 12% abv.

Yellow-gold in the glass, this 2013 Ligurian wine delivers what we want from the Vermentino grape - the ocean, sea air, salt spray, salinity.  There's fruit in the nose, but it's the savory quality that gets us going, makes our eyes glaze over while perusing a wine list.  How can we seriously consider a Chardonnay or a Riesling when there is Vermentino in the house?

Apricot, citrus and a pineapple tangent burst forth on the palate, but they are the horses racing under the savory whip of minerality.  The acidity is great, the alcohol is in check and the lemon zest finish wants to stay forever.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo 2012

Markus and Liz Bokisch took one look at Lodi and fell in love with it.  The property they bought reminded both of them of their respective family origins, and more to the point, reminded Markus of his childhood summers visiting family in Spain.  Their focus on Iberian grape varieties is the result of these family memories, we are all the richer for it.

The whole story was explained to me by the happy couple on a visit to Los Angeles, during which they poured their wines for an event at Edgar Poureshagh’s 3Twenty Wine Lounge.  They don’t know how to play it cool, fortunately.  Their love of wine and passion for making it is apparent in every story they tell.

Hailing from the Jahant and Mokelumne River AVAs, the 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo is a tale of two vineyards and two different soil types.  Liberty Oaks and Las Cerezas vineyards sport volcanic clay loam and silty loam, in which the twelve-year-old vines grow.  Consisting of 90% Duero clone Tempranillo grapes, a 10% splash of the prized Bokisch Graciano grapes are thrown in at no extra charge, "in the tradition of the Rioja."

The back label shows that, "Like its Iberian counterpart in the Ribera del Duero, this wine displays luscious aromas of cherry and cassis, finishing with hints of cocoa and spice."  I was supplied a sample of this wine for the purpose of review.

Aging occurs over a period of 18 months in French and American oak barrels and the wine's alcohol content is 14.5% abv.  685 cases were produced, and the suggested retail price is $23.  Bokisch Vineyards is certified green for sustainable wine growing practices by the Lodi Rules Program.

The Bokisch Tempranillo is medium dark, allowing just enough light through the glass to outline the fingers holding it.  Its nose is very Rioja, with cherry and blackberry paving a path for some really great oak spice - aromas of an old baseball glove and a half a box of cigars hit me quickly.  Clove, nutmeg and some extremely delicious savory notes follow.  The palate brings very dark fruit and more of that savory action with plenty of oak effect showing here, too.