Friday, January 30, 2015

Whole Foods Rioja Works For Super Bowl Chip/Dip

If you live near a Whole Foods Market that features a wine department, you have it better than a lot of folks.  Whole Foods holds virtual wine tasting events from time to time, in which you can pick up a bottle of a featured wine at the grocery and join the hashtag stream on Twitter.  I was invited to join one of these Twitter tasting events during the holiday season.  One of the wines featured was the 2012 Leyenda del Castillo Rioja, which goes just as well with a Super Bowl chip'n'dip as it did with a standing rib roast.

The wine is very easy to drink, and it scores a reasonable 13% abv on the alcohol meter.  Pricing is just as reasonable, selling for under $15 per bottle.

Some great wine lovers took to social media to explain how the Leyenda del Castillo Rioja impressed them.  @WFMWine tweeted, "loving the nose here, a bit of dust, cherries, what you'd expect of Rioja."  @NaturalMerchant commented, "Love a good Tempranillo - Rioja Rocks."  I'd have to agree with that.  @Bepkoboy chipped in that "This Leyenda del Castillo Rioja definitely goes well with rosemary roasted chicken.  I know for a fact!"  From @RickGriffin, "LOVE the balance of the Leyenda del Castillo Rioja - fruit & earth! Unbelievable value."

Someone tweeted that the Rioja disappeared so quickly that a leaky glass was feared.  @RickGriffin fired back, "I’m not taking chances - drinking the Leyenda del Castillo Rioja right out of the bottle."  The "Metaphor of the Day" award went to @EsteHawk, who called this Rioja  "a ride downhill on a smooth road in a Cadillac you can't get rid of for nostalgic reasons."  Couldn't have tweeted it better myself.

This Rioja doesn't overwhelm, but plays its part very well.  Like the good, solid drummer who lacks flash and sizzle - but always keeps the beat and has a nice fill to throw in - it's what you would call "dependable."  No one is falling off the couch in a state of disbelief - it's no Keith Moon - but no one is pouring it down the drain, either.

The nose of this wine puts forth some nice cherry aromas cloaked in cigar tobacco, leather and white pepper.  The palate displays great fruit and a savory side that tries to stay out of the way, but can't.  The acidity is as fresh as a five a.m. donut and the tannins lay back a bit.  A finish that does not call it quits too early caps this quaff with considerable class.  Pair it with manchego cheese or a pepper steak and you will be quite happy.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lodi Tempranillo: m2 Tormenta - A Storm In A Bottle

Late in 2014, a social media virtual wine tasting event was put on by Lodi Winegrowers.  This event attracted a crowd of interested wine writers, many of whom had already experienced a taste of Lodi with a similar event centered on the Cinsault wines produced with grapes from Bechthold Vineyard. The Lodi Tempranillo tasting was eye-opening as well.

One of the featured Tempranillos was from m2 Wines, a winery self-described as crafting artisanal wines from distinct California vineyards which reflect the unique personality of winemaker Layne Montgomery.  His Tormenta Tempranillo is a storm of aromas and flavors.

The grapes for m2's 2012 Tormenta - 100% Tempranillo - come from vines in the 24-year-old Kirschenman Vineyard.  The Lodi soil tended by Alan Kirschenman - who is name-checked on the label - is composed of sand with light clay and gravel.

Tormenta is tank fermented and aged for 14 months French oak, 15% of which is new, with medium-plus toast.  295 cases were made, each bottle showing 15% abv and costing $22.

During the social media event for which the m2 Tormenta was supplied, @Lodi_Wine noted that "Winemaker Montgomery started in the broadcast business before moving to winemaking."  As a former broadcaster myself, I can feel the kinship.  Others also commented while sipping his wine.  @TheWineyMom liked the "M2 nose of coffee and mocha - first time I've sniffed these in #Tempranillo."  @dvinewinetime tweeted that "The nose on the '12 M2 Tempranillo is perfumed & floral w/ slight rotten egg."  Hmm.  I got a savory note, but it wasn't rotten.  @norcalwine says the m2 Tempranillo "is a mouthful of wine: creamy and packed with flavor. Red ripe fruit, sweet dill, cocoa!"  @myvinespot compared Lodi's Tempranillos with their Cinsault wines: "Where the lighter and brighter Lodi Cinsaults go well w/ turkey, the Tempranillos match well w/ turducken."

The m2 Tormenta is tinted a medium-dark red and has a gorgeous nose that lifts readily out of the glass.  Bright cherry and blackberry aromas mingle with cedar, pipe tobacco and a little smack of clove.  The palate is lively and flavorful, with great acidity that really makes the wine feel fresh in the mouth.  Tannins are on the tall side, a bit toothy, but not a problem with barbecued ribs and smoked sausage.  In fact, Tormenta also went quite well with a smoked English cheddar cheese.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Whole Foods Wines: H&G Priorat 2008

H&G Priorat 2008 was featured by Whole Foods Markets during the holidays as one of their spotlight wines for the 2014 holiday season.  They had also featured it the previous year, and there is good reason they had repeated it.  It's very good.

The Spanish wine region of Priorat is in the northeastern part of the country.  Priorat is known for its black slate and quartz soils, a rich terroir of volcanic origin.  Garnacha is the main grape there, and Grenache - as we call it in other parts of the globe - is always a great choice for pairing with food.  Alcohol is fairly high, at 14.2% abv, and the wine retails for $14 at Whole Foods.  H&G Wine is a California-based winery which produces wine from various parts of the world, Spain included.

Rich and dark in the glass, the wine sports a savory nose, displaying the minerals of the region.  Tobacco store, cigar smoke, nutmeg, clove and blackberries mingle in a brooding mix.  The palate shows black fruit framed in a host of savory spice sensations. Oak is present, but it plays nicely in the earthy scenario.  The aromas and flavors are lively and dark - it's a very complex wine which deserves to be savored over a lingering sip session, or with a hearty meal.  Beef, stew and barbecue are all good pairings for it.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Whole Foods Wines: Bubo Cabernet Sauvignon

Everybody loves a wine with a back story, even if the back story is a bit contrived.  Bubo - a California winery - has taken the Latin word for "owl" as their name.  It's also the name of the goddess Athena's magical owl, so we are getting into Edith Hamilton's territory - something I didn't really anticipate as I tossed aside the old cap'n'gown.

Owls are associated with wisdom, good fortune and animals that wear glasses.  They are also known in modern times as great pest control devices - that makes the name perfect for a winery, since most vineyards have owls - real or plastic - stationed on their vine trellises to keep away vermin who like to munch on grapes.  Vermin who don't know any better will end up on the business end of a set of talons, leaving no one to tell the story and warn the young 'uns of the terrible vineyard raptor who guards the sweet little clusters.  It may seem sad for the vermin, but business is business.  Personally, I'd rather see grapes in the form of a 750 ml bottle than as vermin food.

So, owls are alright with me.  We once had a couple of owls in the trees near our home, and I took the chance of hooting back to them one evening.  They went away and we didn't hear their hoots for months.  I always wondered what it was I said that offended them so.  Could it have been something like "vermin is murder?"  They may have decided to hoot it up for a while in more carnivorous trees.

Since owls are such good stewards of the land, Bubo Wine Cellars says they are "deeply committed to a sustainable farming philosophy that recognizes that growers are long-term stewards of the land they farm.  We favor natural over man-made controls and encourage biodiversity."  That means there will be owls.  In fact, there is one on the label.  There is no mention of exactly where the grapes are grown; the appellation is "California," and that covers a lot of ground.

The Bubo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 allows you to hoot it up for under $20 at Whole Foods Market, where it is a mainstay of the wine department.  At 13.5% abv, you can hoot it up a little more than you usually do with a California Cab and avoid that "not so in control" feeling.  When you decide to try and hoot at the owl on the label, it's time to put the cork back in for the night.

Bubo Cabernet pours up deep and dark, and gives a big whiff of oak spice on the nose.  Clove and vanilla jump right out, leaving the cassis notes running behind.  There are some spicy and herbal aromas playing into the nose as well.  Flavors of ripe blackberries and red currants carpet the palate, with those oaky notes coming through.  Clove and vanilla pave the way for cinnamon and a hint of eucalyptus.  Tannins are up front and ready to take apart a juicy bite of ribeye, while the acidity sits fresh on the tongue.

If the wine were not as complex as it is, I might be tempted to think it too oak-driven.  With all that's going on here, though, the oak effect is as welcome as an owl in a vineyard.  Just keep an eye on your vermin.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"It's Just Wine, Drink It"

Every time I open a bottle of wine, I want it to the best I've ever had.  With the pop of each cork, hope rises anew.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way.  Some bottles simply don't overwhelm.  It's alright with me when they don't, though.  People sometimes have ways of making themselves likable despite an absence of dazzling good looks, perfect hair or expensive clothes - relying instead on charisma.  Charles and Charles Merlot reminds me of a twist on that old blind date scenario: "Is she pretty?" "She's got a great personality."

With a lead-in like that, you may expect that I think this red is the kind which makes people say, "I am not drinking any @%$#ing Merlot!"  It's really not, but I had a hard time coming around to it.  It's a blind date wine.  "Does it taste good?"  "It's got a great personality."

Charles & Charles is a collaboration between winemaker Charles Smith and wine importer Charles Bieler.  Smith is a big believer in iconic labels - he was inspired by the Ralph Steadman drawings on early Bonny Doon labels - and he targets his marketing directly to the people who buy his wines.

The back label on the C&C Merlot features both Charleses having a brief, static conversation in front of an abstract American flag, Bieler speaking and Smith replying in each panel.  Different bottles have different panels on them.  "Party on, Charles." "Party on, Charles."  "Dude, you rock." "No, you rock."  "Washington Merlot is..." "My bag, man." "Dude, looks like you're posing for a mug shot." "I am."  "Are you crying?" "I love a Merlot, man. Tears of joy."  "Pairs well with." "Aah man, just drink it."  It was the final response - emblazoned on their website - that finally won me over.  I just drank it.  I liked it.

Charles and Charles teamed up with Napa Valley-based Trinchero Family Estates, which makes their line the first Washington state wines for the group.  There were 7,000 cases of Merlot made, and they are exclusively available through Whole Foods Market for about $14.

The wine is a blend of 78% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec from the Wahluke Slope AVA on the east side of the Columbia River, a warm climate site.  It is aged ten months in French oak, 40% of which was new.

The 2013 Charles and Charles Merlot shows as a medium-dark ruby color in the glass.  The nose is quite nice, bringing plenty of blackberries, blueberries and toasty oak notes with sage and smoke just peeking through.  There is maybe a little too much oak peeking through - possibly the preponderance of new oak used in aging is the reason for that.   On the palate, ripe plums and oak lead the way, with tons of oak spice jumping for joy on my taste buds.  It seems at first sip a fairly uninspired wine, with the oak effect overplayed.  On the second and third nights it was open, it did seem to settle down a bit and become much more enjoyable.  The wine is full-bodied and finishes spicy.

As far as a lifetime commitment goes, I can’t do that.  But if we’re just talking about being friends, I’m good with it.  The popping of the cork, in this case, did not change my world.  It did, however, gain me a new friend.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Finger Lakes Dry Riesling: Knapp Winery

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance recently celebrated the launch of the 2013 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings with a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  This was shortly before the state of New York was announced as a certain wine publication's recipient of their Wine Region of the Year award.  The state is understandably proud of the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes - the calling-card wine of the area - but they also make some extremely interesting reds, a mean sparkling wine and some pretty heavenly dessert wines there.  Let's get our eyes back on the Riesling, now.  This one is from Knapp Winery and Vineyard.

Close to Seneca Falls and easily accessible from "the New York State Thru-Way, man" - as Arlo Guthrie might say when properly motivated while visiting upstate New York - Knapp makes a Riesling that I have been tasted on for several vintages now, and it always impresses.

There is no reason why it should not.  Knapp Winemaker Steve DiFransesco has brought in 33 harvests in the FLX.  Vineyard manager Chris King has 15 years experience among the vines.  They work together well to produce a good bottle of wine each year.  It's what they do.  Knapp has grown Riesling grapes since 1983.

For the 2013 Dry Riesling, the crushed grapes remain in contact with the skins overnight to enrich the aromas.  The alcohol content is only 12% abv and 302 cases were produced.  Hitting just over one percent residual sugar, it clocks in on the Riesling Scale at "dry."

During the virtual tasting event on Twitter, @WineHarlots tweeted that “The Knapp Winery Dry Riesling 2013 is exquisite. Subtle and nuanced, it is wine that whispers instead of screams.”  And so, lean in a little closer - let me tell you what I think in as quiet a voice as I can manage.

The golden straw tint is fairly light, while the nose is not so shy.  Crisp peach, apricot and nectarine aromas are up front, with notes of flowers, then lemon, then minerals appearing in descending order.  There is almost none of the distinct earthy quality I have noticed in other Knapp Rieslings, but the fruit plays its lead role well.  On the palate, the lemon aspect comes in larger than on the nose.  It's not a zestiness, but a sweet lemon flavor that takes the spotlight.  It is dry, as advertised on the label, and the acidity is better than moderate.  It's one of the more sippable Rieslings I have had in a while - but it fares well in pairing with lighter dishes.  I had mine with a Thai curry that was somewhat spicy and it fit just fine.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

A Good Cigare Is A Smoke

To say that Randall Grahm is an iconoclast may be a little strong.  After all, he did knock down a few walls while finding his way as a winemaker.  He did not do so out of spite, of course, but as a means of redefining what was possible in the vineyards of California.  He had a go with Pinot Noir but, in a case of “right grape, wrong place,” he moved on to helping give the grapes of the Rhône Valley an official residency in the Golden State.  His Franco fascination really knows no borders, extending to the vines of Spain, Italy and Germany as well.

Grahm’s label notes say the Bonny Doon Vineyard 2010 Le Cigare Volant Réserve en bonbonne “seems to disarmingly suggest a Burgundian take on Châteauneuf, if such a notion can be fashioned.  This is not an ordinary wine.”  To which I can add, somewhat less poetically, “You got that right.”  You may be tempted to think of Le Cigare Volant Réserve as a brawny Pinot Noir.  Its roots are Rhône, though - no surprise, coming from the winemaker who is sometimes billed as The Rhône Ranger.

The wine is made from Central Coast grapes, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, and 16% Carignane.  Alcohol is a very restrained 13.3% abv,, which makes this a beautiful wine to sip - despite its obvious talent as a mate for food.  It retails for $79.  Grahm advises us to, “Ideally hold for a year or two (Sept. 2015-16).”  He feels the wine can stand a good 15 to 20-plus years of aging.  The iconic label art by Chuck House appears so often in my home it’s almost an installation.

This Cigare is the same blend as Le Cigare Volant normale, but for the réserve, the wine spends only a short time in barrel.  It is put in five-gallon glass carboys - bonbonnes - for twenty months of sur lie aging.  Grahm feels aging the wine in glass, while still in contact with the spent yeast cells, adds to the wine’s integration, complexity and savoriness.

The dark wine shows some truly outstanding attributes, beginning with the nose.  Black cherry fruit is delightfully muted by the savory side - black olives, tobacco, smoke and spice all have a part to play.  It's an olfactory experience to be savored, and it gets better.  In the mouth, this Cigare really gets lit.  The acidity is phenomenal and the tannins are nice and firm, so save a seat for it at the dinner table.  Flavors of plums, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries make a broad palette that showcases a spicy aspect, stretching from cinnamon to sassafras. Slightly tart on the finish, that Burgundian reference plays out nicely.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sherry: Santiago Palo Cortado

Wine is easy.  Sherry is difficult.

I want to be very upfront about this article and make the disclaimer right now: There is a geek alert in effect.  Continuing with the article means you may be a developing wine geek.  Understanding my explanation of sherry may require you to be one.

Just the mention of sherry sends me online or into reference books to be sure I’m not making any mistakes.  And even with the help, I’m still not sure I’m right.  Wine - in general - is easy.  Sherry is difficult.

To muddy the water - uh, the sherry - even further, this bottle is not even a regular, garden-variety sherry.  As if there is such a thing.  Palo Cortado is a rather rare type of sherry, only occurring naturally one to two percent of the time in sherry production.  As the sherry is aging in the barrel and under the flor - a film of yeast -  it is on its way to becoming a fino, or maybe an amontillado sherry.  The flor layer protects the wine from oxygen while it turns all the little sugars into alcohols.

Sometimes, though - that aforementioned one to two percent of the time - the flor disappears and leaves the wine exposed to oxygen.  Now it starts aging oxidatively, like the type of sherry known as oloroso.  This wine will be rich - like oloroso - and crisp - like amontillado.  The wine is officially an accident, but Palo Cortado can be manipulated by blending amontillado and oloroso.  That, however, is cheating.

The grapes for Santiago Palo Cortado come from Andalusia, in the southern part of Spain, near the town of Jerez.  It’s a place called the Sherry Triangle, where the bulk of Spain’s great sherry production occurs.  They are Palomino Fino grapes, 100%.  The wine is aged a minimum of twelve years in what is known as the Solera system.  Rather than try and blunder through a description of that myself, I’ll let the website Sherry Notes do that, without so much blundering.

"Barrels in a solera are arranged in different groups or tiers, called criaderas, or nurseries.  Each scale contains wine of the same age.  The oldest scale, confusingly called solera as well, holds the wine ready to be bottled.  When a fraction of the wine is extracted from the solera (this process is called the saca), it will be replaced with the same amount of wine from the first criadera, i.e. the one that is slightly younger and typically less complex.  This, in turn, will be filled up with wine from the second criadera, and so on.  The last criadera, which holds the youngest wine, is topped up with a new wine named sobretabla.  Taking away part of the wine and replacing it with the contents of other scales, is called rociar or 'to wash down.'"  

It goes on from there, but my head is spinning simply from copying and pasting that paragraph.

The finished sherry hits an alcohol level of 20.5% abv and retails for about $23.  A sample was provided to me by The Artisan Collection.

The wine looks great - the amber color of bourbon or a Newcastle Brown.  That deep color makes for high expectations in other areas, and those expectations are met.  There is a fair amount of alcohol on the nose, but wafting in and out - like the sound of a distant marching band on a windy day - are luscious fragrances of brown sugar, burnt caramel and dried raisins.  Now, high expectations are set for the palate.

If this is your first experience with Palo Cortado, the aromas may lead you to expect a very sweet drink, which is not the case.   The sherry is far less viscous than might be expected and quite dry, with none of the flavors having anything to do with the sweet aromas coming from the glass.  It drinks more like a spirit than a wine, with a strong nutty flavor and just an idea of raisins and caramel behind it.

The big story, though, is the acidity.  It zips across the tongue in racy fashion and really makes itself know in the throat, on the way down.  I have always heard sherry referred to as a sipping wine, or a cooking wine.  This one is a pairing wine.  The notes of chestnut and hazelnut are great with pork or even some herb goat cheese on a wheat cracker.  The acidity helps it mate with just about anything you could throw at it.  I'd have it with a steak, no problem.  A big, old-Vegas kind of steak.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Whole Foods Wines: Pizzolato Organic Pinot Grigio

One of the wines showcased during the holidays by Whole Foods Markets is a lighthearted and delicate Pinot Grigio by Italian producer Pizzolato.

I don't drink a lot of Pinot Grigio, but when I do, I drink Italian Pinot Grigio.  This one, from the Venezia IGT, is an organic wine from the hillsides north of Treviso.  It is vinified off the skins in stainless steel, with only indigenous yeasts used.  The importers say it is not only organic, but also suitable for vegans.  At just 12% abv, it's a lightweight wine that won't provide too much alcoholic intrusion to a light lunch or seafood dish.

Whole Foods recommends a pairing with such as, "delicate seafood, shellfish, lemon vinaigrette and citrus fruit salad."  I'll go along with that.  I'll also look at a nice, light cheese plate as a good match.

On Twitter, @RickGriffin was "Loving the Pizzolato Pinot Grigio - nice acidity - bring on the seafood!"  He commented upon "a hint of mint with apples, peach & citrus."  @Bepkoboy tweeted succinctly, "Absolutely lovely!"  @LisaBellMusic thought "The wine is refreshing and light; fruity," while @jenmoreno said she was "Glad we've got some oysters to go with it."  Apparently reading the proceedings without a bottle of her own, @gracepap realized, "I need to buy that Pinot Grigio."

The Pizzolato Pinot Grigio struck me as pleasant, with a pale straw color in the glass and an aromatic nose of flowers, green apples and a hint of herbs, just a slight touch.  The palate holds some very nice acidity, with flavors of pear, apple and a hint of minerals defining the taste profile. Crisp and balanced, this is a wine that will certainly make Pinot Grigio lovers happy - maybe even win a few converts.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Cimarone Cabernet Franc Refreshes The Grape Rut

There are - as the t-shirts and bumper stickers say - so many grapes and so little time.  For this reason, I always try to avoid getting stuck in a grape rut - having the same variety over and over again.  How some people can routinely drink the same grape all the time is beyond me.  “Have you no curiosity, sir?”

Me, I tend to have a lot of Syrah and Zinfandel among the reds and a fair number of Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs among the whites.  But I’m always ready for a change of pace.  Cabernet Franc is one grape that sometimes gets short shrift for a while.  That is not as it should be.  In fact, if I were to become a one-grape type of person, Cabernet Franc would have a great shot at becoming that grape.

Cabernet Franc is one of the more beautiful red wine grapes - imho, anyway - and I got the opportunity to sample one that was produced right in my own Southern California backyard.  The Cimarone Cabernet Franc is from the AVA named Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County.  That’s very specific, to be sure, and quite a mouthful as well.  It’s located in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, where the maritime influence is somewhat diluted by warm, sunny skies.  Happy Canyon is Santa Barbara County’s locale for the grapes of Bordeaux.

Cimarone winemaker Andrew Murray didn't get a whole lot of 2012 Cabernet Franc grapes from Three Creek Vineyard with which to work.  The warm-climate plot has always rewarded Cimarone with plenty of great Bordeaux varieties.  Even when the count may be less than spectacular, the quality is still top-notch.

the '12 vintage is Cimarone's third with the lovely Cabernet Franc grape.  The wine is aged over 27 months in French oak barrels.  80% of that wood is neutral oak.  Alcohol hits 13.8% abv and the bottle retails for $30.

Medium ruby, this wine has an absolutely fabulous nose - dense, with an almost grapey black cherry aspect leading the way. There is a bit of sage, a bit of black pepper and a bit of bell pepper, but the fruit aroma is simply lush.  Its flavors are a little more complex, with blackberry jam and cassis carrying along pepper, nutmeg, allspice and anise.  The wine is fantastic for sipping, but also deserving of a spot at the dinner table.  The tannins and acidity are both at a level that make this Cabernet Franc an inviting wine to pair with food, which is as it should be.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Zealand Wine: Kim Crawford Pinot Gris

Kim Crawford Pinot Gris was spotlighted as one of the wines from New Zealand featured in the fall of 2014 at Whole Foods Market.  The grocery’s wine folks sponsored a virtual tasting event for these wines, and I received and invitation to participate, along with samples of the wines.

The winery had an inauspicious beginning, in Kim and Erica Crawford’s spare room in 1996.  Recognition of their reputation followed quickly and today they are reported to be the top-selling New Zealand producer in the U.S.

Kim Crawford’s winemaker, Anthony Walkenhorst, says on the winery website, "Being a winemaker allows me to combine creativity and science, which I love."  He has developed an uncluttered wine style which lets him capture the essence of the fruit with which he works.

On social media, @davidnzwineusa commented that,  "@nzwine = diversity, quality, value. Balance, great with food."  @WineHarlots tweeted, "Light and lively, the @kimcrawfordwine Pinot Gris $16 yearns for ceviche."  Which reminds, me - so do I.  @JamesTheWineGuy liked the "green citrus, fig, sesame, white flowers, and sesame."

The Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2013 utilizes grapes sourced mainly from the Wairau and Awatere sub-regions of Marlborough, New Zealand.  They describe the winemaking process in a nutshell: "After harvest, the grapes were crushed and direct pressed with minimal skin contact. The clarified juice was then cool fermented to optimise varietal expression, flavour, and intensity. There was no wood and minimal skin contact. We used five different yeasts to ensure that we profiled the fruit and kept the fresh acidity."

The wine has a 13% abv alcohol number, so the one-glass-only drinker won’t have to worry about getting tipsy at lunch.  It comes under a screw cap and the retail price on the Pinot Gris is $17 at Whole Foods.

Peach and pear juice - ripe and running down the forearm - adorn both the nose and the palate of this lively Pinot Gris.  The aromas are full and rich, while the mouthfeel is bright and zippy, with admirable acidity and a light touch of citrus minerality on the lengthy finish.   It sips great, and will serve as a great aperitif. It also marries quite well with food.  We had ours with takeout vegan cashew curry, some pineapple fried rice and my wife's roasted carrots and parsnips.  It was delicious.  It’s also good with Brussells sprouts and goat cheese.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Bending Branch Winery

I don't make New Year's resolutions.  If I did, however, I would resolve to write the articles for this website quicker than I have been.  That effort would be critically dependent upon variables like jobs, income, lottery wins, trips to Bermuda, etc.  I'll keep you posted on how those factors work out in 2015.

Back before Thanksgiving, the four wineries of Texas Fine Wine invited everyone to pick up a Texas wine for Tempranillo Day. They invited me, too, and this wine was provided for that purpose.

Bending Branch Tempranillo 2011

In the small Texas town of Comfort, there is a boutique winery where about 20 acres of grape vines are sustainably and organically farmed.  Comfort is along Interstate 10, between the rustic, laid back, hick chic of Kerrville and the Latino-flavored urban sprawl of San Antonio.  The town sprang up in the mid-1850s, a product of the influx of German immigrants into the central part of Texas.

Bending Branch Winery makes wine from some pretty interesting grapes: regulars like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah are joined by more obscure grapes like Picpoul Blanc, Souzao, Vermentino and Tannat.  Winemaker Robert W. Young says Tannat is actually their signature grape, calling it a "true champion of the terroir unique to Texas."  There is, of course, some Texas Tempranillo growing near those live oak trees on the estate which provided the inspiration for the winery's name.

This Texas Tempranillo has a medium dark tint, looking pretty and friendly in the glass.  Sniffing it provides access to a ten-gallon hatful of aromas like blackberry jam and oak spice.  Clove, vanilla, black pepper and sage come forward brazenly.  On the palate, it’s nice and dry, with dark fruit and a savory streak a mile wide.  There are notes of coffee, earth and dust that lead to a really nice, dry finish - a finish that leaves a bit of the Texas plains in my mouth.

A Twitter user - @JDewps - jumped into the Tempranillo Day virtual tasting event to say that "It's got a beautiful smokiness as well. Love comparing their 2010 and 2011 vintages. Great winemaking!"  I tend to agree.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Brennan Vineyards

Tempranillo is one of Spain’s many gifts to the world.  It takes an honored place alongside such wonders as Salvador Dali, Manchego cheese and sherry - we’ll just overlook that whole Spanish inquisition thing for now.

The Tempranillo grape is planted worldwide, of course - about 575,000 acres' worth - and it is the world’s fourth most-planted variety, with some of the oldest Tempranillo vineyards located in Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rioja regions.  Tempranillo is known by other names in other places: "Ull de Llebre or Ojo de Llebre in Catalonia, Cencibel in La Mancha or Valdepeñas, Tinto Fino in the Ribera del Duero, Tinto Madrid in Arganda, Tinto de la Rioja in the Rioja, Tinto del Toro in the Toro, Grenache de Logrono, Tinto del Pais or Jacivera in other parts of Spain, Aragonez or Tinto Roriz in Portugal, and it may actually be the grape variety Valdepeñas in California."  Thanks to the awesome blog post on Under The Grape Tree for that information.

There are about 400 acres of Tempranillo planted in Texas, where it stands, arguably, as the Lone Star state's signature grape.  The climate and soil in Texas mimic those qualities of Tempranillo's Spanish roots.

During the virtual tasting event for Texas Tempranillo on that grape’s international day back in November, the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society - @TAPASociety - tweeted, "Texas is now the 5th largest grape growing region in the US and Tempranillo takes center stage."  @TXViognier admitted, "I'm biased, but the #txwine kinda kicks the ass of the 2 Spanish #tempranilloDaywines."  On the subject of the grape’s many aliases, @shoozmagooz let us know why: "it mutated to adapt to the various Iberian microclimates, got new names each place."

The four wineries of Texas Fine Wine invited everyone to pick up a Texas wine for Tempranillo Day. They invited me, too, and this wine was provided for that purpose.

Brennan Vineyards Tempranillo 2012

Brennan Vineyards puts their motto in all capital letters, as if they are screaming on the internet: “100% TEXAS GRAPES, 100% TEXAS WINE.”  Maybe they feel nobody thinks to look first in Comanche, Texas for great grapes and wine.  However, that’s where the Texas Hill Country meets the High Plains, so a proper inspection should be made.  I spent a night once at a motel in Comanche, and awoke to find it was across the road from the Comanche Livestock Exchange.  The aromas were quite ripe, as I recall.  Brennan’s winery is located a bit further to the southwest, but you might still pray for a prevailing wind that will blow the other way when you visit.

The land was bought in 1997 and vineyards were planted a few years later.  In 2005, the sale of "Sophisticated Wines with Texas Roots" began.  They grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier and a TexItalia grape that we know as Nero d'Avola, owing to its Italian hometown.  Who knows, though?  Maybe someday, Nero di Comanche.  Winemaker Todd Webster will be able to turn such a grape into a Texas-sized hit.

Webster says the Tempranillo grapes for their 2012 vintage - the winery's second effort with the grape - "are from our Newburg Vineyard and from the vineyards of Bob Ossowski and Adrian Allen in Cross Plains."  The 2011 version won awards all over the place - gold awards, mind you - and I would not be surprised to see the 2012 follow suit.  It clocks in with alcohol at 14.3% abv and retails for $26.

It’s a very dark wine, with a nose that shows plenty of darkness - blackberry, juicy tar, spices and some good ol' Texas dirt.  The palate strikes a dark chord, too, with black fruit leading the way for black pepper, smoke and a pleasant dash of cinnamon.  It finishes earthy, and takes its dear, sweet time doing it.

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