Monday, March 30, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Pedernales Cellars

The key for success of the Texas wine industry has been identifying the right grapes to grow. The first drip of perspiration during the long, hot Texas summer made someone think about Spain's Tempranillo grape, and the rest is history. Texans have had some luck with Italian and Rhône varieties, too, but Tempranillo sure seems like the most logical choice to me.

The sixth-generation Texans at Pedernales Cellars makes wines that are "100% Texan," no matter that the grapes in question originated in Spain - or France, in fact. Those grapes for the Texas Tempranillo 2012 are all Texan now, some grown in the Texas High Plains and some in the beautiful Hill Country. Their trophy case must be ready for remodeling since they have raked in awards from a wide variety of wine competitions.

By the way, the pronunciation of the town - and river - from which the winery takes its name is "Per-den-al-ess, according to natives of the area. I seem to remember Lady Bird Johnson using the term, "If the lord's willing and the creek don't rise," but I know I recall her - or maybe Fannie Flagg's impersonation of her - making it, "If the lord's willing and the PERdenales don't rise." Fact check me on that, if you like, and let me know if I'm correct.

This ten-gallon Tempranillo has a really strong smell of alcohol on the first whiff - and quite a few whiffs to follow. And this was after it had been decanted for a day. The wine only carries a 13.2% abv number, so it was disconcerting to find the alcohol so prominent. It's a bucking bronco of a wine, and needs to be busted before you can expect a quiet ride.

An hour in the glass, with a lot of swirling, brought the oak-spiced cherry aromas into focus. A little cedar, a little clove, a little pipe tobacco and you've got yourself a nose. Sipping is a treat, too, once the tannins are tamed. Brilliant cherry and blueberry flavor washes along the spicy notes that result from the oak aging.

The wine compares quite favorably to Rioja in both taste and mouthfeel. That acidity is really mouthwatering, and a steak or a pork chop would be great with the Pedernales Tempranillo.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bonny Doon Minds Its Own Beeswax

Le Cigare Blanc is the white counterpart to the always awesome Le Cigare Volant red blend, named for the alien spacecraft "banned by decree of the village council of Châteauneuf-du-Pape." The flying cigars may not be allowed to land in France, but they land in my place a lot. They are welcome visitors from another appellation far, far away. Well, just a bit north of me, anyway.

The 2013 Le Cigare Blanc, "Beeswax Vineyard," is a combination of 55% Roussanne grapes, 26% Grenache Blanc and 19% Picpoul grapes from Monterey County's Beeswax Vineyard. Roussanne and Grenache Blanc get around a bit in California, but I'd love to hear of another Cali wine sporting Picpoul.

Bonny Doon Vineyard winemaker Randall Grahm states, "We've made a very slight label change with this vintage. An echo of the mineral character that we were able to express in the wonderful '11, but perhaps a tad richer on the palate." Minerals are good, richer is good. I'm looking forward to sipping. The wine hits 14.5% abv on the alcohol scale and sells for $28 per bottle. 1965 cases were produced, and if there are any left at this time it's an oenological crime.

The '13 Le Cigare Blanc shows in the glass just slightly richer than pale gold. Aromas of quince and peach are smacked with a delightful salinity - not quite the smell of salt water, but pretty close to it. There's a note of candle wax in there, too. The palate is exquisite, with lovely white fruit flavors and a decent acidity which is tempered by the wine's mellow mouthfeel. Traces of a floral sense melt into a slightly saline feel on the finish.

It fits so well with a pasta salad featuring mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and capers that it seems incredible to think that the wine wasn't made with that dish in mind.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oregon Pinot From Napa Winery's Northern Branch

The folks at Cornerstone Cellars have been putting corks in bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for quite a while. In addition to their Bordeaux fascination, you may know that they also have a Burgundian side - a side which necessitated that they open a shop a little further north.

Cornerstone/Oregon has received the winery's white label treatment with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for some time now. It was with barely contained enthusiasm that Cornerstone's managing partner Craig Camp announced a more colorful Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The Cornerstone Oregon Stepping Stone Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 is a mouthful, in more than just name alone.

This Pinot spent 14 months in French oak, 18% of which was new oak. Alcohol is up there in this ripe wine, at 14.1% abv. 500 cases were produced and the wine has a $30 retail price. As part of the Cornerstone artist series, the label is beautifully adorned with Oregon artist Janet Ekholm's "The Color of Life."

The wine is a fairly dark ruby that stops short of opaque. A very hefty nose sports big, dark fruit and a faint whiff of eucalyptus. The wine drinks hefty, too, packing some punch, as a wine from a very warm vintage is supposed to do. But it's not all brawn - there is charm there as well. It doesn't hit you and take your wallet, it sits you down to talk, then slips your phone out of your pocket while you're looking away.

The simplicity of this Pinot is beguiling. There are plums, blackberries and black cherries, too. But the herbal aspect rather sneaks up on you after you've stopped paying such close attention. Thyme and sage try to float away right under your nose, leaving a slight mocha note to explain why those guys didn't hang around. The intense fruit flavor leads one away from the Pinot trail, but there are enough hallmark characteristics of coffee and tea to keep you on track. The wine drinks both easily and heartily at the same time.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Wine Country Wisconsin: Wollersheim Winery

When a young man leaves Beaujolais after wine school to travel to America and take an entry-level job at a winery, you might expect him to go to California. After all, the Golden State - as far as wine is concerned - is the France of the U.S. Second choice? New York, maybe. Or Oregon, or Washington. Possibly Virginia.

When Wollersheim Winery's winemaker, Philippe Coquard, came to the United States as an exchange student he chose Wisconsin. Over thirty years later he still considers it the best move of his life, and not just because he loves the Marechal Foch grape.

Coquard grew up in Beaujolais with twelve generations of winemakers preceding him in the family tree. Immediately after graduating from wine school, he traveled to Wisconsin as an exchange student. There, he hired on with Wollersheim, fell in love with the vintner’s daughter and got married. The rest, he says - without a hint of irony - is history.

The Wisconsin winemaker tells me, "Wisconsin is a bit colder than Beaujolais {!} but I use the same grape growing and cellar methods that I learned in France. It's the same approach I would use in Beaujolais with Gamay or Chardonnay grapes. Looking at wine globally, rather than regionally, he says "I could make wine anywhere using these techniques."

Marechal Foch - Coquard calls the grape “one of the most noble hybrids of all” - is “closer to a Côtes du Rhone than a Pinot Noir,” he says.  In fact, it has been around Europe a few times and thrives now in America’s cold Midwest.

In addition to Coquard's pet grape, the Wollersheim vineyards are full of French-American hybrids like Marquette, La Crosse, La Crescent and Frontenac. The winery was founded in 1847 by Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian who later founded one of California's first commercial wineries.  Wollersheim closed its doors for Prohibition and did not reopen until 1972.

Wollersheim does source some grapes from gentler climates - their Carignane comes from Lodi and they also buy grapes buy from Washington and New York. Aside from these outside grapes, everything they use comes from within a mile of the winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The lion's share of the winery's production is distributed in-state, with about five percent ending up in the Chicago area.  Very little goes to the twelve states to which they ship.

The fine folks at Wollersheim kindly provided a sample of two of their home-grown wines for the Now And Zin Wine Country series.

Wollersheim Domaine Reserve 2013

This wine is a perfect example of why the winemaker has a favorite grape. Estate-grown - 95% Marechal Foch and 5% Millot - the Domaine Reserve shows the terroir of the Lake Wisconsin American Viticultural Area. The grapes are destemmed before crushing and the juice undergoes a long, warm fermentation. After twelve months of barrel aging in half American and half French oak, the wine has aging potential of five to ten years, according to the winery. Alcohol stands at 13.5% and it retails for $25. They have made this wine since 1976.

The winery says Domaine Reserve is "among the rare single-field wines, using only grapes from our oldest vines located on our steepest slopes."

Dark garnet color, the nose displays blackberry, plum, spices and herbs with an amazing, mouthwatering mocha angle. On the palate, there is dark berry, herbs, coffee, and a tart acidity to make this a great wine to have with dinner. The tannic structure gives the green light to beef, but its spicy side says pork.

Wollersheim Prairie Blush 2014

This deep pink semi-dry, dubbed "white Marechal Foch," is made completely of Wisconsin-grown Marechal Foch grapes. It gets a cold fermentation, with a natural residual sweetness achieved by stopping the fermentation. The winery advises we enjoy it young, within two years of bottling. It sells for $10 and carries an 11% alcohol content..

This blush - the Midwestern word for "rosé" - has a beautiful, ruby-red glow and a fresh-as-spring nose full of strawberry, raspberry and cherry aromas. The Wisconsin earth comes through as well, but does not overwhelm the fruit. The flavor is rather like a fruit salad, too, with good acidity on a palate that hits a step drier than the "off-dry" meter reading suggests. It goes great with cheese - in Wisconsin, it had better go great with cheese - and it is perfect for picnics.

You can hear my three-part interview with Coquard on the Now And Zin Wine Report: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wine Country Virginia: DuCard Vineyards

During the effort of trying to taste wine produced in all fifty states, some states bear another visit - and another.  DuCard Vineyards is our third sampling of Virginia wine in Now And Zin's Wine Country series.  The Old Dominion state was one of the first in the series, and one of the more recent.

DuCard owner Scott Elliff says he started out innocently enough, growing grapes for sale to a neighborhood vintner.  On the winery's website, Elliff remembers, "We initially sold our grapes to a winery up the road, and wines that included our grapes won a number of awards, including the Virginia Governor’s Cup as the best wine in the state and the Best Wine in the East (out of 1,400 entries) in another competition."

Elliff avoided the proverbial ton of bricks and put two and two together quickly.  "We decided to begin bottling a small amount of wine under our own label, exclusively for friends and neighbors and a small but growing email list of “fans and followers.”  The value of his decision was realized when his wines sold out in his first three vintages.

Not only is DuCard a source of great wine, they are also a leader in Virginia's green business community.  DuCard was Virginia's first solar powered winery, and was awarded the Virginia Green Travel Star designation for its environmentally sound and socially conscious practices.

The winery composts grape waste for use in fields and gardens, uses reclaimed hardwoods from barns and other Appalachian sources for flooring and tasting room bar, employs organic alternatives to  chemical sprays whenever possible and recycles wine bottle corks for use in their flooring.

The label on DuCard's 2013 Signature Viognier reveals that grapes from the estate are whole-cluster pressed, then barrel-fermented and aged in neutral oak.  Alcohol tips the meter at 13.7% abv and the retail sticker of $26 per bottle may price the wine out of some "everyday wine" budgets, but there's always the weekend.

The wine's very pale, golden color is not too inviting - but don't stop after a glance.  The nose send showers of vanilla peaches out in a cloud of soft oak and floral scents.  On the palate, rich peach and pear mix with a slight taste of orange peel.  The acidity is striking, and a citrus note clings to the lengthy and delicious finish.  If all it had going for it were the acidity and the citrus angle, the DuCard Signature Viognier would be worth purchasing.  With all its other attributes, it should be in every wine rack in Virginia - and beyond.

Pair the DuCard Viognier with all the seafood you love - scallops, crab cakes and oysters come to mind - or a nice Gouda cheese plate with apple slices.  And, if you can't wait for lunch, have it with a late breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked bacon.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Argentina Via Whole Foods Market: Belgrano Malbec

A recent virtual wine tasting event put on by Whole Foods Markets brought out the wine lovers on social media.  The Twitter-based chat session drew a nice crowd of participants who were sampling some of the bargains offered at the grocery chain.

Several wines were tasted and tweeted about, and the conversation was friendly and animated, as usual with this sort of Twitter tasting.  If you'd like a heads-up when the next Whole Foods event comes to social media, you should follow the Whole Foods wine department on Twitter at @WFMwine.

The Belgrano Argentine Malbec was very popular with the online panel.  On Twitter, @WFMwine noted, "we sell Malbec like crazy. Belgrano is $9, good value. Warm spices, some blueberry, a little smoky note. Like the nose?"  A resounding round of "Yes!" ensued, from others who joined in the event.   @RickGriffin  agreed, tweeting, "Love the mouthfeel and finish of the Belgrano Malbec - GREAT value!"  @estehawk thought the Belgrano was "buttery and earthy with a touch of spice."  @WFMwine  then egged on the crowd a little more: "Belgrano is nice, soft & round. A real crowdpleaser no? goes with anything, burgers, pizza, cold turkey sammie."  @JamesTheWineGuy offered his tasting notes: "Lavender, violets, cassis, dark chocolate, chicory, and baking spices."  The Belgrano Malbec made @lovelemonsfood hungry: "this one makes me want to eat a bowl of spaghetti."

The Belgrano Malbec hits only 13% abv and comes under a synthetic cork.  From grapes grown in the Maipú Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, this wine is a righteous steal at Whole Foods.  It sells there for about $10 and, to my understanding, it's a Whole Foods exclusive.  

The dark color looks quite rich and ruby-red.  Aromas of blueberry, smoke and spice bolt from the glass, leaving a little trail of cedar behind.  The palate is lovely - ripe, red fruit and oak spice are contained in a full and easy mouthfeel with smooth tannins. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wine Country: Ohio - Meier's White Catawba Wine

Grape cultivation started in Ohio in 1825.  That’s when Nicholas Longworth started growing grapes for wine purposes.  By 1860, Catawba grapes were all the rage in Ohio’s vineyards and the state was the nation’s leading wine producer.  Ohio enjoyed a good run at the top of America’s wine industry, a run which came to a crashing halt when Prohibition was enacted.  After the repeal of the ban on alcohol, Ohio was slow to recover its lost wine industry, as were most American states.  They have come on strong, though, and now threaten to break in as one of the top five wine producing states.

Today, there are well over a hundred wineries operating in the Buckeye State.  Ohio wine is produced from a lot of grapes you probably recognize - Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc - and some you may not.  North American hybrid grapes are hardier during Ohio’s frigid winters than vitis vinifera grapes.  Grapes like Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Chambourcin and Catawba may sound foreign, but they lie at the heart of American wines made in the great Midwest.

The Catawba grape is an American fruit thought to be a cross between vitis labrusca and vitis vinifera plants.  Catawba’s place in American wine history was ensured in the mid-1800s, when the aforementioned Mr. Longworth produced sparkling wines from Catawba grapes.  His bubbles won raves even from wine lovers in Europe.

Catawba is no longer very highly regarded as a wine grape due to an essence it displays which is common to many North American grapes.  It is sometimes called “foxy,” and it is not usually given as a compliment.  This earthy characteristic may not be what floats everyone’s wine cork, but I think of it as the mark of America on the wine.  It’s like the funk of the Rhône Syrah or the petrol of the German Riesling - maybe not for everyone, but indicative of terroir.  It tends to wear better in sweeter wines than dry.  The grape is fairly popular - along with the Concord variety - as a source for grape juice, jams and jellies.

Meier’s Wine Cellars is Ohio’s largest and oldest wine producer.  They also make other beverages, grape juice included.  They once grew their grapes on an island in Lake Erie, but now purchase grapes from independent growers in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.

Meier’s White Catawba Wine is made from Catawba and other unnamed grape varieties.  This viscous wine is colored like apple juice and scented with an earthy, Midwestern, broad-shouldered nose.  There is a sweet edge to that aroma, as in pear juice.  Sweet sap on the palate is fruity, and rather delightful in a North American kind of way.  The sense of sweetness remains after the sip, leaving a sticky sweet feeling reminiscent of a dessert wine.  It is actually more off-sweet in taste, but the sweetness tends to be more pronounced on the finish than during the sip.

There is not much acidity to speak of, but it does serve a purpose with food nonetheless.  It's a great wine to pair with salsa and tortilla chips, spicy Asian cuisine or peppery bar peanuts.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Lodi Tempranillo: McCay Cellars

A recent social media virtual wine tasting event featured five great Tempranillos from Lodi.  We have already posted about Bokisch, Riaza, Harney Lane, and m2.  Today we wrap up with McCay Cellars.

The wine tasters who gathered on Twitter were not disappointed in their quest for some great Tempranillo straight out of the Lodi earth.   Comments were tweeted from the likes of  @CharlesComm, who noted "Explosive aromatics on the @mccaycellars #Tempranillo. Bring on those papas!"  @TheWineyMom tweeted, "My first sniff gives out some nutty aromas. BIG nose!!"
 @devinewinetime chimed in with, "Tempranillo - Tons of red fruit; spice & smooth, lingering tannins. Quite sippable!"  Another note from @GrapeOccasions stated, "I'm picking up Eucalyptus  and I like it!"

McCay Cellars Tempranillo Lot 13 Vineyard 2012  $28

Michael McCay does some wonderful things with the grapes that grow in his estate vineyard.  McCay has been a Lodi grape grower since the 1980s, putting his own name on wines for a handful of vintages now.  He loves and lives Lodi, gushing on the McCay website, “Lodi has California’s best climate for producing wine grapes.  The Mokelumne Rivers’s sandy loam soil along with the Delta’s cool breezes provide the perfect and unique environment for growing the best wine grapes in the world.”  His Grenache and Zinfandel speak directly to that claim.  So does his Tempranillo.

At 14.3% abv, the alcohol content of the Lot 13 Vineyard Tempranillo is a bit relaxed by Lodi standards.  Also common in Lodi - and typical for McCay - is a limited production of 179 cases.  This wine retails for $28.

The aromas here really do explode from the glass.  Brambly, dusty cherry is dripping with mocha, chocolate and sage.  The medium density of the ruby hue foretells the easy-sipping mouthfeel.  Flavors of black cherry lead the palate parade, with a great streak of minerals and a fistful of tannins in tow.  A hint of slightly tart raspberry brings the finish into focus.  It's an incredibly enjoyable wine, offering something exciting for at least four of the senses.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wine Country Kansas: Holy-Field Vineyard And Winery

German immigrants brought grapes and winemaking to Missouri in the early part of the 19th century and, by the latter part, wine had crossed the Missouri River into Kansas.  The two states made up a winemaking powerhouse which provided more wine than any other area in the US at that time.  The story went sour quickly, though.

Temperance leader Carrie Nation hailed from the Sunflower State and the relentless work of her movement resulted in Kansas becoming the first US state to adopt a statewide prohibition of alcoholic beverages in 1881 - predating the national era of Prohibition by nearly four decades.

It has been noted that around the beginning of the 20th century - despite the state's prohibition - there were still thousands of acres of grapevines which served Kansas bootleggers and the booming wine industry in neighboring Missouri.  National prohibition killed off the wine industry in Kansas - Missouri, too - and recovery would not begin until the 1980s.

Kansas is known for its fertile soil and long growing season, particularly in the eastern half of the state where most of its 30 or so vineyards are located.  The Holy-Field Vineyards and Winery website waxes poetic about making wine in Basehor, Kansas: "The bounty of the vines springs forth on fourteen beautiful acres tended under the personal touch of owners Les and Michelle Meyer. Holy-Field's ten grape varieties ripen to produce fifteen distinct wines."

The name of the vineyard and winery is inspired by its location at the intersection of 158th Street and 24-40 highway in southern Leavenworth County Kansas.  In bygone years 158th street was named Holyfield Road, and the name offers a tip of the hat to that era.  The vineyard is filled with Native American and French Hybrid varieties

Holy-Field Cynthiana

Also known by the more masculine name of Norton, Cynthiana grapes are thought by many to be America's great lost grape.  It flourished in Midwestern vineyards for many years until Prohibition pulled the carpet from beneath its feet.  The wine industries in these states literally died at that time, taking Cynthiana with them.  The grape - by both names - has undergone a great resurgence and is now grown in several states, Kansas among them.

The Holy-Field Cynthiana shows extreme earthiness on the nose, which is somewhat obscured by the aroma of alcohol, more than the 13.5% abv number would suggest. The taste is brimming with tart - bordering on sour - cranberry, raspberry and cherry.  Spice is abundant, a result of the 12-16 months aging in American oak which the wine undergoes.

Here is a nice article giving a brief history of the Norton/Cynthiana grape.

Holy-Field Amitie

This refreshing white wine blends two French hybrids grapes - Chardonel and Traminette.  The former claims Chardonnay as its parent, while the latter hails from the Gewürztraminer grape.  The wine is done completely in stainless steel, with no oak used to color the beauty of the fruit.  It hits only 12% abv on the alcohol scale

This wine's light golden color suggests a light and refreshing quaff, and the nose adds a hint of sweetness to the expectations.  Aromas of apples, white peaches and a sweetly herbal note are inviting.  The flavors deliver on what has been promised.  Sweet fruit and a slightly spicy edge are wrapped a delicate acidity that tingles just right.  There is just a hint of earth underlying all this, and it stays on the finish.  I am reminded of an off-dry Riesling, which is a good thing to be reminded of now and then.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Duchman Family Winery

The Spanish flag once flew over Texas.  So have the flags of five other entities, but none of the grapes claimed by those other flags have taken to the Texas terroir like Spain's Tempranillo.  In Driftwood, Texas they make a Tempranillo that is worthy of a little flag waving.

The Bayer Vineyard Tempranillo 2011 - the first Tempranillo effort from Duchman (DOOKman) Family Winery is a real family affair.  The 100% Tempranillo grapes come from the Bayer Family Vineyard.  Winemaker Dave Reilly takes a break from the Italian varieties for which Duchman has become known and crafts a Texas-sized gem from the Spanish grape.  Only 682 cases were made, and the wine contains a very reasonable 13.5% alcohol.

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.

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 a Twitter tasting event which featured Texas renditions of the Spanish favorite, @bsvtexas noted that “the Duchman 2012 Tempranillo from Alan Bayer's vineyard in Terry County is wonderfully complex and spicy.”  Texas wine expert Russ Kane - known on Twitter as @VintageTexas - tweeted that the “@DuchmanWinery 2011 Tempranillo (Texas High Plains AVA) is smooth and aromatic with smoky notes, red berry, soft finish.”

This dark Tempranillo smells just how one would imagine a meeting of Rioja and the Lone Star State would smell.  Huge whiffs of blackberry and blueberry are laced with some good ol' Texas dust.  Earth plays a big supporting role, with oak pulling up in third place.  A little bit of vanilla, a little bit of clove and a lot of leather are in its aromatic saddlebag.  The wine's earthiness comes through even bigger on the palate, where it rivals those dark berries. There is an abundance of spice, tobacco and a hint of mint as well.

If the Duchman Tempranillo - paired with a smoked brisket or a nice steak hot off the grill - doesn't make you happy, you should start therapy and make this issue #1.  Less carnivorous folks will love this wine with sautéed mushrooms or roasted potatoes.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Sparkling Syrah Shows Magnified Flavors And Aromas

Bonny Doon Vineyards' owner and winemaker Randall Grahm has made sparkling wine from Riesling, Albariño and Moscato grapes - not to mention his bubbly pear wine and sparkling cider crafted from apples, pears and quince.  This sparkling Syrah mines that adventurous vein further, while adding a page to his illustrious history with the Rhône grape.

The Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011 was released a little over a year ago to Bonny Doon's DEWN club members.  It is now available for $36 retail.  Grahm has high praise for it, if he does say so himself.  “It's my favorite Bonny Doon wine," notes the iconic Rhônemaster.

For the record, it is 83% Syrah from Jespersen Vineyard and 17% Grenache from Alta Loma Vineyard.   This Central Coast sparkler - effervescent, really - shows large bubbles that don't last long and carries an extremely modest alcohol content of 11.9% abv.

It is quite dark in the glass, with an expressive nose and an aggressive palate.  From the Bonny Doon website: "You love the aromas of Syrah, right? Now, get ready to smell them REAL BIG."  That's not a disclaimer, it's a billboard.   Intense aromas of the blackest berries are intertwined with the smell of Kalamata olives and roasted meat.

The palate is so heavily laced with the olive element that I am nearly convinced that I am drinking from the olive jar.  Earth comes through in abundance, as it does in Grahm's still wine Syrah efforts.  There is a note I labored over unsuccessfully, until I saw in Grahm's tasting notes that it is "spearmint Necco wafers."  Really?  This just gets better and better.

In a Twitter conversation with Grahm, he wrote that his sparkling Syrah is "similar to sparkling Shiraz but very elegant."  Grahm adds that the Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah is "lower in alcohol, higher in acid than sparkling Shiraz; cool climate fruit, mintier than get-out."

Sparkling red wine may put one in mind of Lambrusco, but this operates on an entirely different level.  This is the sparkling red for those who feel Lambrusco just isn't enough fun.  As Grahm writes, it is "clearly a Syrah, but rendered in a way that is startlingly unexpected and just totally fun."  Expect some startling fun when you break out the church key to pop the crown cap on this bottle.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Cornerstone Napa Valley Red Wine 2011

Wine is a special thing.  That's why I'm here.  That's why you're here.  For many, the higher the price, the more special it is.  Most folks who have to fit their wine purchases into a budget save the high-priced bottles for special occasions, like anniversaries and birthdays - "splurge wines," they call them.  Today's wine is splurge-worthy.

The 2011 vintage in Napa Valley presented some big hurdles for grapes and grape growers to jump.  Wet winter, wet spring, late bloom, mild summer - not a textbook Napa season.  That was okay for the folks at Cornerstone Cellars.  Cornerstone's managing partner Craig Camp says "we were able to achieve our desired ripeness levels in all of our vineyards in 2011.  For those who aspired to pick at close to 30 brix, it was a difficult year, but for producers like us, who harvest at around 24 brix, the 2011 vintage produced lovely, elegant wines."

The Cornerstone 2011 is a single vineyard wine made from grapes grown in the Oakville Station Vineyard of the To Kalon District.  Three of Bordeaux finest varieties - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot - make up this blend.  The wine spent 22 months in new French oak, and that new oak is apparent in the aromas and flavors, but the oak treatment is perfectly applied.  Alcohol content is 14.4% abv.  It's scarce, as usual - just 104 cases were produced.  The retail price of $150 will keep the riff-raff from scarfing it up, though.

Aromas of cassis, plums, smoke and licorice can't wait to escape the glass.  The deep ruby wine shows black and red berries on the amazing palate, interlaced with allspice and a hint of orange peel.  The acidity is stunning, and the tannic structure is quite firm.  This wine deserves a splurge-worthy cut of meat to allow it to show itself in a setting that fits its heritage, elegance and power.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Cru Beaujolais - Two From Morgon

Morgon is a Beaujolais cru, one of 12 smaller subdivisions of the Beaujolais region.  The main grape of the land in Beaujolais is Gamay, and if all you know of Beaujolais are the Nouveau wines that are released very young in late November each year, do yourself a favor and explore the crus a bit.  Morgon is a great place to start.

I have noted before that in the 14th century, the Dukes of Burgundy invited the Gamay grape out of Burgundy while welcoming Pinot Noir as the new tenant.  Gamay then took root in Beaujolais to the south.  Morgon has a long history with grapes - it was home to the vineyards of the Romans.  The volcanic and granitic rock found in the crumbling soil of the Morgon region supplies the terroir for which the region is known.

These two examples of Morgon were provided to me as samples for the purpose of this article.

Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2012

Jean and Agnès Foillard took over his father's vineyard in 1980.  Mainly planted on the Côte du Py, "the famed slope outside of Villié-Morgon, the granite and schist soil are on the highest point above the town," according to importer Kermit Lynch.

Foillard follows the teachings of Jules Chauvet, a traditional winemaker who went against the more popular commercial trends. Three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet and Guy Breton joined him and were dubbed the Gang of Four by Lynch.  Minimalists, they eschew young vines, synthetic herbicides and pesticides, late harvesting, chaptalization and filtration.  So Foillard's Morgon wines express the true terroir of the region. Lush when young, his wines are also age worthy.

All Gamay, the wine is made from organically farmed fruit borne of vines as much as 90 years old.  Whole cluster fermentation - stems and all - leads to six to nine months aging in used oak barrels from Burgundy.  The wine is delivered as natural as it gets, unfiltered, with no sulfur dioxide used for preservation.

The wine shows extreme earth on the nose, with some smoke wafting out of the glass.  The palate is very fruity, with cherry, blackberry and plum flavors coming forward.  It also has a pretty floral texture, yet it’s dark and earthy, too.  There is acidity to burn.  Foillard makes a wine that is big, especially considering the lighthearted froth by which many people define Beaujolais.

Georges Duboeuf Morgon 2011

Georges Duboeuf is the most recognizable name in Beaujolais wine.  He represents over 400 winegrowers in the region and his name is a mainstay in the French section of supermarket shelves worldwide.  His name is virtually synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau, but his hand is in the crus as well.  Here we explore his Morgon bottling from the vineyards of the late Jean-Ernest Descombes, whose daughter Nicole runs the business now.

Duboeuf says this wine's terroir "intensifies with age."  "It doesn't age," says Duboeuf, "it 'morgonates.'"  He goes on to say that this Morgon shows "the fruit of Beaujolais, the charm of Burgundy."

The wine is all Gamay grapes from the Descombes domain.  Alcohol is typically Burgundian, at 13.0% abv.  The grapes are fermented whole cluster, unstemmed, and the wine spends less than two weeks in contact with the grape skins.

Aromas of blackberry and black cherry meet with a mix of sweet and tart.  The palate is beautiful, with a refreshing acidity and firm tannins that do not overwhelm.  The dark fruit flavors are tinged with a hint of orange peel and pepper, while minerals play through it all.  This wine is not as dark or earthy as the Foillard, but delights in a different way.  A "jug" of this would be perfect with "a loaf of bread and thou," but slip some salami into the loaf and it gets darn near unbeatable.

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