Monday, June 29, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Dierberg/Star Lane

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this two-hour trip. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives. This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Mary and Jim Dierberg came west from Missouri, where they had made wine for decades. They landed in Santa Barbara County in 1996 and grow some fine grapes in the Dierberg and Drum Canyon vineyards as well as the warmer Star Lane Vineyard.

Their tasting room is contained in a big, green barn on the Santa Rita Hills property, Drum Canyon Vineyard, on Drum Canyon Road. They pour  a flight of six wines featuring both the Dierberg and Star Lane wines for $15. Let them know if your group is eight or more. The amazing staff can handle numerous tastings at once, indoors and out.

Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2014: Fresh green apple on the nose with a trace of herbal and flowers. Great acid. Beautiful apple and citrus fruit with a good minerality. $22

Dierberg Chardonnay Drum Canyon 2013: Buttery oak, creamy quality from 3/4 malolactic fermentation. Great acidity and green apple notes. Available through the tasting room and wine club only. $45

Dierberg Pinot Noir Drum Canyon 2012 : Aged in neutral French oak. Just an absolutely lovely nose. Roses, cherries. Delicate and elegant. The palate shows raspberry, cherry and rhubarb. $44

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012: This is from the dark side. Great earthy texture, nice nose of black cherry and raspberry. The palate shows the wonderful SMV terroir. Finishes slightly tart. $37

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Syrah 2012: Explosive nose, big jammy berries with notes of orange peel and smoke.  Earth minerals with a touch of orange zest on the palate. Nice tannic structure. Tasting room only. $65

Star Lane Cabernet Franc 2011: Influence of 35% new French oak shows in the nose of bright fruit and pepper. Red fruit flavor shows pizzazz with a streak of white pepper. Tannins don't weigh down the sip but provide plenty of bite for a steak. $52

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Red and ripe fruit, pepper and pencil lead on the nose. Great acidity and bright red cherry flavors. $46

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Lodi Native Single-Vineyard Zinfandels On Social Media

A recent virtual wine tasting event featured LoCA, the Wines of Lodi and the second vintage release of the Lodi Native project. The event is chronicled on the Twitter hashtag feeds at  #LodiLive and #LodiNative.

In case you are not aware of what Lodi Native is, or what they are doing, please read on. Lodi Native is a collaboration of six winegrowers who aim to highlight Lodi's unique sense of place by focusing on single-vineyard Zinfandel selections from the region. Each wine benefits from native yeast fermentation, zero new oak, and a “hands-off” approach in the vineyards and cellar, allowing the terroir-driven fruit to speak for itself. It's an effort that any Zinfandel purist can appreciate.

The six labels involved in the Lodi Native project - McCay, Macchia, Fields Family, Maley Brothers, St. Amant and m2 Wines - are winegrowers as well as winemakers, as are the majority of Lodi’s producers.

Here are the wines tasted and tweeted about during the virtual event:

  • 2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel (Fields Family Wines)
  • 2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel (Macchia Wines)
  • 2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel (Maley Brothers)
  • 2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel (McCay Cellars)
  • 2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel (St. Amant Winery)
  • 2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel (m2 Wines)

Last year's inaugural releases were astounding. The bar was set high, and the Lodi Native growers and producers jumped at the chance to match - or exceed - the quality of the 2012 wines. These wines are all available at the respective wineries and at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center only. Check here for more information on availability. I was invited to take part in the virtual tasting event and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose.

On social media, @CourtneyC_Walsh remembered "the 2012 #LodiNative wines. Can't wait to see if the 2013's live up to the high reputation!" Would you really expect less? @thisismyhappiness tweeted, "So excited to have the opportunity to taste 6 special Zinfandels of the Lodi Native project tonight!" @MsPullThatCork noted, "no tricks in the cellar in making these #Zinfandel wines, just the vineyards showing off!" @myvinespot thought, "these would all work with bbq - that may be one of the hallmarks of @Lodi_Wine." Quite true. @cliffordbrown3 summed it up nicely: "The Lodi Native project is without a doubt the most exciting project anywhere in the world."

I will cover each of the six Lodi Native 2013 wines separately here in the coming weeks.

The 2013 vintage of Lodi Native's Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel was vinified by McCay Cellars. Michael McCay has proven his ability with the Zinfandel grape many times over, and believes that Lodi is the best place in the world to grow the grape. Bearing the name of the Mokelumne River AVA, this bottling is made from Zinfandel grapes grown on old vines planted in the 1940s, which stand over six feet tall.

On Twitter, @WineUpdate commented on the "Big eucalyptus notes... The finish shimmers." @MsPullThatCork found "intoxicating" aromas on the TruLux, an observation with which I agree wholeheartedly.

Inky dark, the wine has explosive aromas of black and blue berries, smoke and dusty sage and cinnamon. Lively acidity and bright fruit on the palate are matched by that great Zinfandel spice. Excellent tannic structure finishes what is a completely enjoyable wine experience.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Unexpected Napa Valley Wines On Social Media

The Napa Valley Vintners Association teamed up with The Daily Sip and the Sip’s editor-in-chief Karen MacNeil for a virtual wine tasting event which featured a sextet of “Unexpected Napa Wines.” What, exactly, are unexpected Napa wines? @TheDailySip tweeted the answer during the event. “We looked for classic estates making unexpected wines,” they chirped. “The #Napa Valley is a hotbed of American innovation,” they continued. “Traditions thrive and evolve while winemakers explore the new.”

The six wines tasted ranged from a mildly unexpected unoaked Chardonnay to quite unexpected California Albarino, Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot to Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon - which I would say are far from unexpected in Napa Valley.

The #SipWithKaren wines:

  • Alpha Omega 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Artesa 2014 Albarino.
  • Cornerstone Cellars 2013 Chenin Blanc
  • Robert Mondavi Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Robert Mondavi Winery 2013 Fume Blanc
  • St. Supery 2010 Dollarhide Petit Verdot

I was invited to join this party and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose. I will cover them separately here in the coming weeks on Now And Zin Wine.

Alpha Omega 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay

Robin Baggett founded San Luis Obispo producer Tolosa Winery in 1997, and moved to Napa Valley in 2006 with his wife to found Alpha Omega. He has been a grape grower for years and now dabbles in cattle, too. Alpha Omega winemaker Jean Hoefliger is Swiss. His wine education took him from the Alps to Bordeaux and South Africa before landing in Napa. Michel Rolland is the consulting winemaker.

The Alpha Omega Chardonnay Unoaked Napa Valley 2013 prompted plenty of early comment on twitter during the first part of the tasting session. @TheAlcoholProf liked that the wine is "pleasantly acidic with caramel apple & citrus." Our fearless leader, @KMacWine, tweeted, "I like the Unoaked #Chardonnay a lot. It’s a wine that’s effortless to drink all day long." @DrinkWhatULike thought the wine "brings it with texture! Pear and baked apple for days." @timlemke Typed that "Unoaked Chardonnay is not unexpected to me. I expect to see more in the future, because it's awesome." He's right, too. @FeelingDuckie messaged "Must be #summer! All I can think about when I smell this #chardonnay are lemon-lime popsicles." Do I hear the good humor man's music? @TheDailySip cited "Ripe banana, yellow apple, cantaloupe, and a savory touch of squash blossom." On the unoaked aspect, @myvinespot said, "I'm totally expecting to see "Tree Free" on a wine label now instead of un-oaked, naked, or stainless."

The light yellow tint of the Alpha Omega '13 Unoaked Chardonnay foretells the nose of apples and apricots with a touch of Meyer lemon. There is lemon and tangerine on the palate with just a hint of dark earthiness. An excellent acidity and a crisp clean finish carries the fruit a long way. More than simply "clean" or "refreshing," which the wine is, this is a rather complex white that calls for a bit time to ruminate on its attributes.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Wine: Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV Brut St. Hilaire

Continuing our series of pink wines for Spring and summer, here is another one hailing from the south of France, and it brings bubbles. That makes for a festive way to celebrate the warmer months.

Domaines Paul Mas winemaker Jean-Claude Mas is a fourth-generation vintner who took over the wine production for the winery in 2000. He has helped the domaine grow from an 86-acre estate to a 1,000-acre business in the Languedoc region in the south of France.

The Paul Mas website explains that Jean-Claude makes "wines with authenticity and refinement, the end result of which is a family of magnificently charming wines that burst with personality and express their unique terroir."

The grapes used in making the Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV Brut St. Hilaire are primarily Chardonnay (70%) with 20% Chenin Blanc and a 10% splash of Pinot Noir. Stainless steel fermentation is followed by a secondary fermentation in the bottle, then comes a year of aging. The wine has an alcohol content of only 12% abv and sells at retail for $19.

It looks as beautiful and elegant as a sparkling rosé should - pale salmon with fine bubbles. The nose is a basket of summer fruit. The strawberry aromas include an herbal note as if the fruit is still on the plant. A bit of apricot and a hint of orange peel decorates the main event. The tastes of summer are just as prevalent as the aromas. Cherries, strawberries and a few raspberries go arm in arm with a lovely expression of minerality and citrus. It couldn't have come along in a better season.

Friday, June 19, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Andrew Murray Vineyards

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this trip. We pass the roughly two hours in the car by making our own little version of the Algonquin Round Table. Bon mots and witticisms are the rule. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives.

This short series describes some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Andrew Murray Vineyards is now located the property formerly known as Curtis Winery, at the Los Olivos end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Winemaker Andrew Murray leased the estate and the winemaking facility from the Firestone family in an effort to grow his line. He also continues to make a limited selection of wines under the Curtis label. Murray still has his longtime tasting room location on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, but his newly remodeled tasting room at the Foxen Canyon location is simply a delightful wine country stop.

Both tasting rooms offer the Rhone Zone Flight for $15 and the Los Olivos room also has a Current Flight for $12. Sweets fans will want to look into the Chocolate Flight, which features a pairing with Truffles for $20. Group tastings and privately hosted tours are also available.

I was celebrating spring and anticipating summer on this visit, so I tried two whites and a rosé at the winery.

The Andrew Murray Vineyards 2014 Viognier is quite pale in the glass, showing honeysuckle and citrus on the nose. The palate is just great, with a lemon custard flavor and an excellent acidity. The grapes for this wine are from the Santa Maria Valley. $25

AMV’s 2013 Enchanté White Blend is a half and half blend of Roussane and Grenache Blanc. As expected with those two white Rhône grapes, there are aromas of wet rocks, nuts and apricots. Acidity is again outstanding and the palate displays beautiful Meyer lemon which travels seamlessly into a long, nutty finish. The wine is aged half in steel and half in neutral French oak barrels. Murray promises it will “age gracefully for years.” $25

Murray’s Espérance Rosé 2014 has a beautiful salmon color, and is light and delicate. The strawberry nose delights, as do the cherry-strawberry fruit flavors. It's a great dry rosé, made from nearly 100% Cinsault grapes grown on the Curtis estate. Aged in steel, the wine is crisp, dry and completely refreshing. $20

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Koehler Winery

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this trip. We pass the roughly two hours in the car by making our own little version of the Algonquin Round Table. Bon mots and witticisms are the rule. And one of them would stop me here to note that a bon mot IS a witticism. Touché. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives.

This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Koehler Winery is just north of Los Olivos, at the very beginning of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. This route winds through the hilly terrain from Los Olivos all the way to Santa Maria. There are around 18 wineries through this stretch, so it makes sense to divide it up over two or more visits You can start from Los Olivos on one visit, then go up the 101 to Santa Maria and head back down on the next.

Ten different grape varieties are grown on the 100-acre Koehler estate. Winemaker Colin Murphy and vineyard manager Felipe Hernandez work together to ensure grape quality and make the best wine possible.

Koehler’s rustic tasting room is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Two tasting menus are offered, one featuring limited production wines for $15, and the other showing estate selections for $10. The tasting includes a complimentary Koehler Winery logo glass. Tastings for groups of eight or more require reservations.

 Tasting Room Manager Dan Zurliene can help you reserve a group tasting.

I was tasting only whites and rosés on this trip, in preparation for summertime, and I thank the tasting room staff for accommodating me.

Koehler’s 2013 Savignon Blanc is a stainless steel delight. The nose is aromatic with herbs and fruit, while the palate shows wonderful tangerine and lemon notes amid the minerals. It is a clean and brisk wine with great acidity and it sells for $19.

Their 2011 Grenache Blanc comes from what they call their “one-acre patch of paradise.” As expected with the variety, the nose offers savory notes with great fruit and acidity. There is a nutty quality, and the finish is decorated with salinity. $24 retail.

More great savory notes come in the Koehler Viognier 2012. A slightly floral nose gets a nice peach element, too. Melons and peaches are on the palate, and the fabulous salinity noticed in the Grenache Blanc makes an appearance, for a delightful nutty, salty experience. The wine sells for $25.

The Koehler Chardonnay 2012 is a 50/50 mix of oak and steel aging. It spent six months getting older and more nuanced. The nose shows those oak notes just right, with the savory aspect of Koehler’s fruit in play once again. There is a very nice level of acidity and lots of savory notes in the flavor profile. The impact of the oak on the palate is pitch-perfect, while tropical fruit and lemon peel last into the finish. The $24 price tag seems a bargain. 

Guido loved this wine and paused to ask why are there so many bad Chardonnays. I have seen before how boring it is for someone on the peripheral of the wine world to suddenly be given what is charitably known as "too much information." I gave the short answer, "That’s a good question!"

The ‘14 vintage of Koehler’s Rosé of Grenache is the third vintage of this saignée pinkie. The salmon tint is gorgeous, as are the lovely cherry and herb aromas. The palate displays beautiful strawberry and cherry tones while a fantastic acidity keeps this far away from cloying sweetness. Retail is $22.

Blends are always interesting to me, and Koehler’s 2012 Quartette White is a doozy. The grapes include 37% Riesling, 28% Chardonnay, 28% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Viognier. The nose is wonderfully funky - like a Grenache Blanc - while the palate follows suit, more savory and nutty than fruity. Again, an outstanding acidity makes the wine a refresher. Retail price: $30.

Wrapping up the tasting on the sweet end, the 2012 Riesling actually shows only one percent residual sugar. Light fruit on the nose is met with that Koehler salinity and the savory nutty notes appear on the palate as well, cloaking the beautiful peach and pear fruit. There is great acidity in this wine. It’s very good, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not a Riesling.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer Wine: Napa Rosé That Is Made To Be Rosé

Cornerstone Cellars makes a rosé wine that is intended to be a rosé from the moment the grapevines experience bud break in the spring. Rosé wines are sometimes produced as a by-product of red wine. Need a little color concentration on that Syrah? Bleed off some of the lightly-colored juice and use the remaining deeply-hued skins to beef it up. What about that leftover juice?  “Oh, look, we made a rosé!”

That’s not how they do it at Cornerstone. Managing partner Craig Camp writes that their Corallina Syrah Rosé 2014 is “Napa Valley rosé with a purpose.” He says Corallina is made “as mindfully as we make any other wine,” and he says the 2014 vintage is “our most delicious Corallina yet.”

The Syrah grapes for Corallina are grown in Crane Vineyard, in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll AVA. They are pressed whole-cluster, fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for five months in French oak barrels. About 500 cases of Corallina Syrah Rosé are produced each harvest. This year’s wine is vinified completely dry at 13.8% alcohol and it retails for $25.

Corallina's beautiful coral color is striking enough, but wait until you get a whiff. The fragrance of peaches is almost overwhelming. Then come the cantaloupe and watermelon aromas. This isn't just great with a picnic, it is a picnic. On the palate, strawberries and cherries mix with a fresh herbal flavor. Orange peel persists into the finish. It has great weight and acidity to spare. Good, serious fun here.

Corallina is in Cornerstone’s “Wine Dance” series, and features the beautiful label art by Janet Ekholm.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Beaujolais Wine: Two From Moulin-à-Vent

Picturesque Beaujolais is sometimes called "the Tuscany of France," with vineyards covering nearly every hillside.  Beaujolais produces the most single-variety wines in France, and 99% of their production is made from the Gamay grape variety.

Moulin-à-Vent is one of the ten crus of Beaujolais, the French wine region lying between Burgundy and the Rhône valley, claimed by both. The wines of Moulin-à-Vent are robust and some of the most age-worthy wines in Beaujolais.  The soil in Moulin-à-Vent is said to have a rather high manganese content.  This mineral is actually toxic to grapevines in high concentrations.  In Moulin-à-Vent, the manganese level is just high enough to cause the vines to produce limited yields.  This makes the wine’s aromas and flavors quite intense.

The 15th-century windmill in the image overlooks the appellation and gives the region its name.  It has not been used functionally for years, but it serves as one of the most striking visuals in Beaujolais.

Wine importer Kermit Lynch brings this gem to the U.S. It is a widely-held belief that when you see Lynch’s name on the label, you can feel safe that the wine will be good. I've never found a wine that shook that belief. He only imports wines that he feels worthy of being imported. Domaine Diochon Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2012 is one of those wines.

Domaine Diochon is situated literally across the road from the namesake windmill in the photo. What is described on Lynch’s website as the :old-fashioned way" of Beaujolais production has been the story at Diochon since 1935.  Bernard Diochon took the responsibility from his father in 1967. Now, Thomas Patenôtre is the man in charge since Diochon’s retirement eight years ago.

Diochon likes wines with guts, but not too much weight. "I like tannic wines without heaviness; with fruit and floral aromas," he said. "Every vigneron naturally chooses to make wines in the style they prefer." Lynch pulls no punches on how much he appreciates Diochon’s "ancestral methods that distinguish real Beaujolais from the mass-produced and highly over-commercialized juice that floods the market today."

The wine embodies whole-cluster fermentation in cement tanks, oak aging over half a year and unfiltered bottling. Plenty of minerals are given to the wine through the loose, granitic soil in which the Gamay grapes grow on sustainably-farmed vines that range from 40 to 100 years old.

This great example of Beaujolais cru has a beautiful, deep, rich color. Minerals decorate the nuances of the nose, with cherry and black currant taking on earthy notes. True to Diochon's words, the wine feels light in the mouth with a firm tannic structure. Acidity is radiant and it finishes long and luscious.

Pierre-Marie Chermette is described as a pioneer of sustainable wine growing in the Beaujolais. His laissez-faire technique means little or no filtration of the wine and no chaptalization, allowing the grapes to speak of the terroir in their own voice.

Les Trois Roches 2012 brings the terroir of Moulin-à-Vent to the forefront in a lovely wine, purple at its core with a little brick color around the edge of the glass. The nose is explosive with cassis and blueberry, in a perfumed earth framework. The palate has dark fruit and pomegranate flavors, deep and luxurious. Great mineral notes and a bracing acidity again display the region’s strong suits, and firm tannins allow for the wine to take a seat at any dinner table. It finishes with a slight tartness of black raspberry.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Pair Of Cigares

It is sometimes remarkable to taste the same wine from different vintages back to back. In the case of Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Le Cigare Volant red Rhône blend, the differences are striking. Not only does the growing season show itself, but the actual blend varies from year to year, making for a wine that is not only a delight, but also a surprise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2010 Unfiltered

This flagship wine from the land of Bonny Doon is a Rhônish blend: 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre and 16% Carignane. The grapes were picked from a wide assortment of great Central Coast sites: Bien Nacido Vineyard (27%), Evangelho Vineyard (23%), Alta Loma Vineyard (17%), Bechtold Vineyard (16%), Gonsalves Vineyard (9%), Ca’ del Solo Vineyard (5%), Alamo Creek Vineyard (2%) and Enea Vineyard (1%).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying Le Cigare Volant right now - it’s hard to resist - but it is billed as a wine that will age gracefully for ten to fifteen years from release, which was in February, 2014. Alcohol is a very reasonable 13.3% abv, 1,344 cases were produced and it sells for $45 per bottle.

 A beautiful purple tint looks great in the glass. It is wonderfully fragrant with cherry tart and a touch of spice, a little light clove. A hint of earth peeks through, but in an elegant way - not rustic. On the palate, black pepper meets blackberry. The mouthfeel is quite full and juicy, and earth notes last well into the lengthy finish. There is a sense of dirt, but it's elegant dirt. Cigare’s acidity is refreshing and its tannins are brawny enough for beef,but its flavors are pretty enough for pork.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2011 Normale

The 2011 Cigare is a different mix of grapes: 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault. The Carignane did not make it into this bottle. The vineyard selections are a bit different, too. Again, eight vineyards contribute fruit, with the addition of Ventana, Del Barba and Rancho Solo vineyards joining Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves.

"This is a wine from an extremely cool and elegant vintage,” winemaker Randall Grahm notes, and he figures this 2011 Cigare will age gracefully for ten to 15 years from right now. Alcohol is almost a full point higher, 14.2% abv, and the bottle retails for $45.

The nose is full of red berries, with a dark flair. Raspberry, cherry, and red currant are met with Grahm’s signature savoriness of roasted meat, beef jerky and black olive tapenade. The sip reveals that the ‘11 Cigare is a festival of darkness. The savory aspects come forward in a rush. The forest floor, the olive, the spice - all are cloaked in a dark fruit setting. Black plums, currant and berries work hard to mesh with the wine's earthy character. The acidity is remarkable and the tannic structure is firm.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer Wine: Côté Mas Aurore Rosé

Smelling this French pink wine makes me think of the Lee Hazelwood song which he performed with Nancy Sinatra, "Strawberries, cherries and an angel's kiss in spring. My summer wine is really made from all these things."

I think it is an overplayed record, the song that goes "rosé is just for summer." I have them all year long. I think leftover turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving is actually the perfect opportunity for rosé. But the summer connection - even for me - is sometimes impossible to ignore. This summer wine - the Côté Mas Aurore Rosé - certainly has the strawberries and the cherries. Anything more exotic in the flavor profile, I'll leave that for the poets.

Fruit aromas are not shy in this pinkie. The wine smells like the strawberries and cherries do at a farmers' market when you put your face right down in them and inhale. The farmers really hate that, by the way. They say it drives off their customers. Ha. No more than shouting and calling security on someone who is sticking his face down in the fruit and inhaling. Or so I hear.

The point is, the wine smells like a summer day. It tastes like that, too. Juicy fruit flavors straddle a beautiful acidity and ride it into the finish. This sort of freshness is common in wines from the south of France, especially in Languedoc.

Though the Paul Mas brand is overseen by vintner Jean-Claude Mas, he got it from Paul Mas, who got it from Auguste Mas. The land has been in the family forever, or so it would seem when looking at the 1,000-year-old castle on the premises.

The grapes involved in this bottle of pink sunshine are 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault and 20% Syrah. The destemmed grapes were vinified separately using only the free-run juice. Stainless steel fermentation occurred over three weeks, and aging took place in cement vats, the wine staying in contact with the spent yeast cells for added depth and fullness. Those lees were stirred regularly. Alcohol sits at a comfortable 13% abv and it retails for $13.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Two 2011 Napa Cabs From Cornerstone Cellars

Napa Valley is one of the great wine regions for Cabernet Sauvignon, but even great wine regions sometimes have disappointing vintages.  The 2011 vintage was just such a vintage for most Napa Valley winemakers. Wine Spectator said Napa grapes couldn’t catch a break in 2011, "from a cold, wet spring, a late fruit set, a mild summer and a harvest that dragged on into November, bedeviled by rain and rot." They even quoted one winemaker as saying "It was a horrible year for Napa Cabernet." But, not so fast, king-of-grapes breath. It has also been said, "You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Craig Camp, managing director of Napa’s Cornerstone Cellars, knows a thing or two about Cab. He says a cool vintage is a blessing, not a curse. "To say that I have a chip on my shoulder about the 2011 vintage in the Napa Valley would be an understatement," Camp writes in an email. "Anyone who has spent any time in the vineyards of Europe can only be amused by the moaning about what a challenge this vintage was."  Camp feels that challenges are a part of agriculture, but as far as the wines go, "the wines that underwhelm you from this vintage are due more to decisions made by winemakers, not due to the weather."

Most folks have it backwards, Camp writes. "The problems climate presents to winegrowers in Napa are those of over-ripeness, sugars that mature ahead of flavors and lack of acidity. In truth, the hot vintages are the problem vintages in Napa, not the cooler ones. The producers that had the most problems in 2011 are those seeking to make the biggest, most powerful wines possible."

The Cornerstone approach is to shoot for a style of wine driven more by acidity than ripeness or alcohol. That’s why Camp is not singing the blues about 2011. "We were more than able to work with the natural ripeness grudgingly given us by Mother Nature," he continues. "We are very pleased with our 2011 wines and love their balance, freshness and length. That length is ... something that just does not exist without great acidity. Camp cites their '11 Cabs as being varietally correct. "They actually taste like the variety from which they are made. That means our cabernet has that bit of an herbal edge that makes the variety so compelling to me and so amazing with food."

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

The 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is made up of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes taken from Kairos Vineyard, Oak Knoll District, Oakville Station, and Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain with a 12% contribution of Merlot from Oakville Station.

The grapes were harvested throughout October of 2011. Aging took place over 22 months in French oak barrels, 65% new oak. Alcohol rings up at 14.3% abv and the bottle sells for $65.

The various sites from which the grapes were picked are like a Who's Who (What's What?) list of great Napa locales. Cornerstone gets this fruit regularly, and there is a reason for that. The quality exhibited in these grapes is noteworthy, and the folks at the winery took note.

This wine is dark and delicious. Opaque and deep burgundy, the nose brings an elegant package of cassis, graphite and smoke. The flavors are juicy and ripe, with blackberry and currant serving as a framework for the great oak effect. There are spices galore - cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, anise, sage and even a hint of bell pepper. It's not a vegetal wine by a long shot, though. The richness and depth of the aromas and flavors are what I expect from a first-class Napa Valley Cab.

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, White Label 2011

Camp explains why the Howell Mountain fruit is so desirable: "The vineyards of the Howell Mountain AVA are well above the fog line meaning many extra hours of sunshine, which paid off big time in the cooler 2011 vintage. In fact, I believe the wines from this AVA really benefited from the milder weather, which helped restrain the aggressive mountain tannins."

Camp feels their Howell Mountain Cab has great Cabernet structure, should be getting just about perfect in five to seven years and can be expected to develop for decades beyond. This wine hits 14.5% abv in alcohol and sells for $80 retail.

The nose on this Napa Cab is beautiful, and that's an understatement. It starts out bright and perky, darkening with time into a brooding bad boy. The cassis, blackberry and anise aromas develop a tarry sensation that means business. The flavor profile sharpens its focus, too. The red currant and plum turn black and the lighthearted cherry takes on an earthy, licorice note. The tannins are firm but forgiving, and the finish is long.

If the price tag means it's a "splurge wine" for your budget, let the splurging begin.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dry Creek Valley Wine Makes A Social Media Splash

Three fabulous examples of Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc were tasted, talked about and tweeted up during a virtual wine tasting event. The crowd gathered around a Google Hangout video broadcast on YouTube, while Twitter tasters tweeted about the trio 'til their thumbs tired. Here is the video of the tasting, as it appeared on YouTube.

Michelle McCue of McCue Communications moderated the vidcast and led those responsible for the wines in a power hour of lively conversation about what makes Dry Creek Valley good for Sauvignon Blanc. Winemakers Ed Sbragia, Emmett Reed and Tim Bell provided the answers to questions asked by the social media participants. The Twitter event is hashtagged at #DCVSauvBlanc.

Comments were positive from the beginning, with @PalateXPosure commenting on the Sauvignon Blanc wines that were the topic of the event, “the three clearly elevate what can be achieved w/SB.” @KatieEigel agreed that “These wines were all fantastic!” @wineandgoodfood tweeted that there is more than freshness to the variety, typing “A well-made Sauvignon Blanc can indeed age well!” @martindredmond loves SB “because it is the answer to many food pairing challenges like asparagus. Getting hungry! Anyone else like Sauv Blanc with guacamole?”  He must have been starving, as he also turned his thoughts to “raw oysters, scallops and crab!”

Sbragia Home Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

The Sbragia estate 13-acre Home Ranch Vineyard was planted in 1995, so the Sauv Blanc vines are now really coming into their own. The grapes - all Sauvignon Blanc - were picked nine days into September. They are typically the first of the season to be harvested and made into wine at Sbragia, so the Sauvignon Blanc really sets the tone for everything else they do.

This white is 100% stainless steel fermented, hits 13.7% abv and retails for $22. Only 200 cases were produced.

This wine has a lovely golden tint - it looks inviting. A whiff shows a beautiful grassy note - a little more than I expect in California Sauvignon Blanc, but not full-bore grassiness like the New Zealand style. Apples and pineapples follow quickly. The palate displays gorgeous green apple, a twist of lemon-lime and a quarry of minerality. Ripping acidity screams for shellfish or crustaceans.

@foodwinechickie noted the price: “Such a great value at $22/bottle.” She also liked the “citrus notes with hints of grassiness” in the wine. @amylieberfarb agreed with me that “Oysters would be perfect” for this one. Amy also liked the “tropical fruit on nose & palate.” @JamesTheWineGuy wrote of the wine’s “orange/golden citrus zest, hint of ginger, flowers & seashells.” From @PalateXPosure: “I may have found my top summer #wine MUST HAVE. STUNNING effort. Can't believe only 200 cases made. Can I have them all?” @WineCompass sang the praise of the “lemon-honeysuckle aroma, creamy middle & acids galore,” while @martindredmond enjoyed the “wonderful acid w/ lovely grapefruit, passionfruit and lemongrass character.”

Gustafson Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley

Harvested on September 10th from Gustafson’s ​Old Sheep Barn Block, these grapes are a field blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sauvignon Musque. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak, one-fifth of it new. 350 cases were produced and alcohol clicks in at 14.1% abv. The retail price is $22.

Gustafson cites the 2013 vintage as a good one overall in California, but particularly good for them in Dry Creek Valley. The long, dry and mild season meant less water for the vines, but they say the Sheep Barn Block produced “unprecedented growth despite the lack of water.”

They harvested the Sauvignon Blanc during the first week of September and did whole-cluster pressing of the grapes to include the stems and all.Steel fermentation was followed by French oak aging, then finished again in steel.

The yellow-gold tint is cheery and bright, while the nose is a bit funky, with white peaches and a waxy sensation. That wax carries onto the palate and meets a savory note on arrival. The acidity is superb and the finish lingers long with stone fruit the last to leave.

@JamesTheWineGuy liked the Gustafson’s “Comice Pear, Adriatic fig, hint of cinnamon and cashew.” @martindredmond was “Digging the stonefruit, tropical, melon grassy character. Great texture too!”  @dallaswinechick checked in with, “Green melon, peach, nice acidity and a touch creamy.” @winecompass said, “Not your typical Sauvignon Blanc, floral and spicy.”

Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 DCV3 estate Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley

From Dry Creek Vineyard’s single-vineyard series, the 2013 DCV3 Estate Sauvignon Blanc uses Sauvignon Musqué grapes that were picked starting in late August. DCV3, they say, is the original Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. Alcohol is ripe at 14.1% abv and 417 cases were made. The bottles sell for $25.

Pale color matches the delicate nose in this wine, with minerals and citrus wonderfully underplayed. On the palate, minerality rides herd over peaches and apples. Very pronounced acidity makes a wonderful food pair, while a medium-full mouth has decent weight. Meyer lemon graces the finish with a zing.

@JamesTheWineGuy tasted “Meyer lemon pulp, moist stones, white flowers, sunflower seeds,” while @foodwinechickie loved the wine’s “great acidity, refreshing finish,” and “Freshly-cut grass and bright citrus flavors. Medium bodied and not very California-like.” @PalateXPosure got “gorgeous citrus,lemon blossom,exotic fruit,” while @martindredmond called the wine “aromatic with a stone fruit, citrus & pineapple character. Nice minerality. Gorgeous texture.” @amylieberfarb commented, “Citrus, creamy w/ spice on long finish.” @DallasWineChick tweeted, “bursting with melon, tropical fruit and citrus with a minerality. A great food pairing wine.”

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Viniq Shimmery Liqueur

The world is waiting for a drink that shimmers. A drink that tastes good and leaves a pleasant buzz behind is no longer enough. Millennials have spoken, their words clear and resonant from behind their facial hair and tiny hats. There now has to be a visual aspect to the cocktail experience. We always thought that was the intended use for little paper umbrellas.

Enter the E. & J. Gallo corporation, to the rescue.  Their new spirit and wine combination, Viniq, is hailed as "America’s first premium shimmery liqueur." That heading portends a tidal wave of imitators, so try to remember who had the seismic size to start that shimmering tsunami. It was Gallo.

"Viniq is the first of its kind liqueur," reads the press release, "created to offer on-trend Millennial consumers a new spirit with a unique look. Just shake the bottle and watch it shimmer."

This shimmering concoction, the blurb continues, is a "fusion of premium vodka, Moscato, and natural fruit flavors that tastes great and looks glamorous," again commenting on the appearance of the drink. "The unique shimmer in Viniq is the same ingredient that gives frosting its shine on your favorite cake or the sparkle in rock candy and is safe to consume." Safe to consume? Well, that's a relief, if not a very high recommendation.

The marketing approach is so fixated upon the "shimmer" in the drink that it appears as a red flag concerning the taste. Don't think about the flavor - just look at that beautiful shimmer that "grabs attention from across a room. Just what you need to shimmer into the weekend!" The label directions include “shake to shimmer” and “shake well before serving,” so you get the idea that they really want you to make the drink shimmer. The label goes on: “Captivate your friends with the drink that shimmers when you shake it. Refreshingly delicious and smooth with the shimmering appearance that dazzles.” So, dazzle me, already. Shake and shimmer. They sent a sample to me, so here goes.

Viniq blends vodka and Moscato wine to a 20% abv level, or 40 proof. It sells for around $20 per 750 ml bottle. The sample I tried is purple - there is a Ruby version - and the drink smells and tastes boozy and grapey. It reminds me of the drinks we made in college, where taste was less important than the alcoholic effect produced in return for the money invested. I sampled the beverage with and without the shimmery stuff - pouring "clean" juice when the shimmer was settled in the bottom of the bottle - and the shimmery drink did have a high, sweet note in it that I did not find pleasant. Without the shimmer, it was like vodka and grape Kool-Aid.

Speaking of cocktails, Viniq may well serve better as a mixer than a solo drink. I saw some online comments from users which were very favorable. I wish I could be so generous but I am not a Viniq fan. I don't like putting things in wine that aren't there naturally. It is one reason I don't drink Port very much. To me, it often tastes like wine with a shot in it. If I want a Moscato, I would rather have a Moscato without the vodka. I would certainly rather have the Moscato without the shimmer.

Looking online, I find that people actually seem to like Viniq quite a bit. There were only a few negative remarks among a dozen or so raves. The bashers didn’t like the flavor, while the supporters seemed to really get a kick from the drink’s appearance: "It was very chilled and I love it!!!" "My new favorite drink." "OMG Delish!" "Beautiful bottle. Amazing!"

While online, I note that Viniq is available - among other places - at my local Ralph’s supermarket. There, I can also buy vodka, wine, grape soda and cake frosting - in case I want to try my own hand at making a shimmering liqueur.

The publicity sheet I received also contained some recipe ideas for Viniq. Two of them involve Champagne. If I were you, I'd substitute a cheaper sparkle to go along with that shimmer.

The A-List:
3 parts. Viniq®
2 parts champagne
Orange Wheel
Pour all into an ice-filled elegant glass, garnish with an orange wheel.
The Shimmer-tini:
2 parts Viniq®
2 parts cranberry juice
1 part New Amsterdam® Peach Vodka
2 dashes of bitters
Mint sprig, lime wedge, berries
Pour all into a tall glass, stir thoroughly, add ice, stir again and garnish with a mint sprig, a lime wedge and berries.
The Payday:
3 parts Viniq®
1 part lemonade (1/2 lemon juice/half simple syrup)
½ part premium orange liqueur
2 parts champagne
Mint sprig
Pour all into a shaker, stir thoroughly, strain, garnish with a mint sprig and enjoy.

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