Monday, August 31, 2015

Napa Valley Petit Verdot - Good, But Not Unexpected

A recent virtual wine tasting event featured a sextet of "Unexpected Napa Wines." While Petit Verdot might not be the first grape you think of when someone mentions the Napa Valley, I would hesitate to say that I am shocked to hear of a Bordeaux variety growing there.

This inky wine is created with grapes from St. Supery’s Dollarhide Vineyard. Third generation winemakers, the Skalli family, allow Petit Verdot to carry the load, accounting for 97% of the blend. The rest is Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak aging occurs over 20 months in French oak barrels, half of which are new. There were 590 cases of this wine produced, and it retails for $50.

Dollarhide - the family-owned, sustainably farmed estate vineyard - features about 500 acres of grapevines, with the other two-thirds of the acreage left to its natural state. Vineyard elevations range from 600 to 1,100 feet, which exaggerates Napa Valley’s warm days and cool nights. Thirteen different soil types and a unique microclimate give Dollarhide a unique growing environment for grapes.

On social media, @TheDailySip calls it “a dense, opaque purple. The flavor is incredibly compact as well – blueberry, licorice, and black pepper.” @DrinkWhatULike let us know that Petit Verdot is “one of more notable grapes here in Va. This '10 a big‘un but well balanced. Well done.” @KMacWine tweeted, “I enjoy the blue fruit tones to this @StSupery #petitverdot, as well as its notes of violet and a distinct spiciness.” @SLHousman went gaga: “Wow BIG blackberry pie, allspice, anise w/ a touch of earth in this Petit Verdot.” More on the size from @winerabble: “There is nothing petite about #petitverdot!” @elyserobin rhymed, “Hello Petit Verdot! Blackberry and plum and vanilla, oh my!” We’re not in Bordeaux anymore. We're in the Napa Valley.

The 2010 St. Supery Dollarhide Petit Verdot is dark, as in dark, as in indigo ink. Very dark. Blackberry on the nose is not a bit shy, and is joined by black plum, clove, sage, vanilla and coffee. The palate shows dark fruit cloaked in oak spice and a dusty mineral note, the kind you only find in a single vineyard wine. Big tannic structure and acidity lasts for days. The wine finishes just as bold and brawny as it starts.

Pair with meat? Oh, yes. Think about a big, thick steak or lamb shanks. A beef stew would go just great with this one. Lay off the spices in your dish, because the wine has plenty of its own.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

California Sauvignon Blanc With Enough Nose For New Zealand

On the CrossBarn website, the label is described as “renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs’ innovative winery dedicated to crafting wines of stunning quality and exceptional value using sustainable vineyard practices and traditional winemaking techniques.” Hobbs' love of farm life, inspired by a childhood spent on his 150-year-old family farm in upstate New York, is the impetus behind the name of this label. The "cross barn" holds dear memories for him, and he keeps it alive in this line of wines.

Hobbs has placed the winemaking duties in the capable hands of Greg Urmini. His work with the 2014 vintage was made easier by an even-ripening growing season. Half of the grapes used in the CrossBarn Sauvignon Blanc 2014 are of the Musqué clone, which offers even more aromatics than usual. 87% of this wine was produced using stainless steel tanks, while 13% was ferment in oak barrels. There was no malolactic fermentation allowed, but the wine did rest on the spent yeast cells - sur lie - for four months.

I expected a California Sauvignon Blanc to taste fruity - the opposite of grassy. This CrossBarm Sauvignon Blanc plays the herbal card like an ace-high straight. New Zealandesque? Maybe, a bit. But there is more than the grassy aroma on the nose. The tropical fruit mows the lawn nicely, with pineapple and guava in abundance. A citrusy mineral note also plays into the bouquet. The mouthfeel is dominated a brisk acidity and that citrus angle, with apples and pears to boot. The herbal feel is certainly a major force, but not to the exclusion of the fruit. It is a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc which should please any New World palate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ferrari-Carano Siena 2012 Sonoma County

Don and Rhonda Carano had a dream that involved land, grapevines and the natural result of that marriage. Ferrari-Carano is where the dream lives, and it's the piece of Dry Creek Valley where the wine is made.

The 2012 vintage in Sonoma County offered great growing conditions, with lots of hang time, which translates to the big, ripe flavors found in this wine. Aging for the Siena 2012 was done in 20% new Hungarian oak and 80% older French oak barrels. The alcohol hits 14.5% abv and the wine retails for around $20.

This Ferrari-Carano mix of (mostly) Sangiovese, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon has a medium-dark hue and a nose of red plums, blueberries and sweet oak spice. Stony minerals define the mid-palate. The wine is light in the mouth, with easy tannins. Red berries, cherries and a touch of cola appear on the palate, and it finishes bright and festive with spices - cinnamon and anise - lingering.

The winery says Siena "pairs perfectly with savory Italian food, pasta with flavorful tomato sauces or pizza." Can't argue with that. They also like it with chicken cacciatore, duck salad with raspberries and oranges, or prosciutto on crostini bread.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Everyday Wine You Actually Want Everyday

Everyday wine is, by its intent, meant to be enjoyed everyday - any day - but it also must be affordable. If it isn't, we won't be able to enjoy it everyday. There are many affordable wines out there, but relatively few we would want to have on a daily basis. Cornerstone Cellars' 2013 Red Rocks! is an everyday wine that would be a pleasure to sip everyday.

Red Rocks! was provided to me for review,  and I could review this everyday wine everyday all over again. Cornerstone's managing partner, Craig Camp, says, "The Cabernet Sauvignon clearly leads the other varieties in this blend, but the Zinfandel and Syrah are sure to show themselves." Cab, Zin and Syrah? Sign me up. Camp feels a blend like this is fun, as the different grapes take their individual curtain calls. "The result of this vintage’s blend is a structured wine with just enough bright, zesty fruitiness to take the edge off that structure," he says. "Red Rocks is meant to be the life of the party and a clever one at that." The suggested retail price of Red Rocks! is $15, the same as the white and rosé versions.

The wine is medium-dark ruby in color and presents a big nose of cherries and spice. Smoke also takes a turn. The palate has cherry and red plum in the forefront, with sage and cinnamon tagging along. Some of that smokiness from the nose shows a bit here, too. It is a very pleasant taste, and the fruit lasts long into the finish.

The 2013 Red Rocks! blend will pair nicely with meats from pork to steak, but it also gets a spot at the table with pasta in tomato sauce or roasted vegetables. It matched up perfectly with my wife's herb roasted carrots.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

A Winning White From Sicily

In the last 15 years, Sicily has worked hard to revitalize indigenous grapes, and the region's winemakers are crafting sophisticated and vibrant wines. The Caruso and Minini estate was founded in the late 19th century and is still a family-run business. Their varietal Timpune Grillo Sicilia 2013 is a great match for grilling and summer dishes.

This yellow-gold wine comes from Western Sicily and hits a reasonable 13% abv, seling for less than $20 online.

This Sicilian Grillo has a soapy, earthy nose that leaps from the glass, obscuring the mango and apricot fruit aromas. It is uncompromisingly mineral-driven. The palate is also full of the earth from which it comes, with a savory salinity that runs through the white wines of the Italian islands. The wine has great structure, with acidity enough to handle most food pairings that come to mind for a white wine.

 A dish with a big herbal presence is a natural pairing. Stinky cheese, olives, almonds, grilled seafood or sesame Thai noodle come to mind. Pasta with olive oil and cracked pepper or linguine in a cream sauce would be great with this wine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2013: Wegat Vineyard By Maley Brothers

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.

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.

Here are the six 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. I was invited to take part in the virtual tasting event and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose.

Winegrower Todd Maley  took care of the grape-growing, while Chad Joseph handled the winemaking chores. On social media, @BrittanyCurran commented that this vineyard was "passed down through generations, love it." @Lodi_Wine tweeted that "Wegat Vineyard is a 21-acre plot of head-trained vines planted on St. Jorge rootstock in 1958." Tasting notes from @ReverseWineSnob admired the Zinfandel's "cherry, spice, mint and a nice earthy streak." 

The '13 Wegat Vineyard Zin by Maley Brothers is a worthy addition to the Lodi Native lineup. It is colored very dark and smells that way, too. Blackberry and black cherry aromas do a good job of distracting from the subtleties that lie beneath them. Rich, black earth, minerals, smoke and coffee all appear in turn. The palate turns those aromas into tastes, with a plummy blackberry front, and amazingly earthy middle and a juicy finish that lasts forever. It's a big wine, a brawny drink - not elegant. This wine has broad shoulders, blue jeans, a big belt buckle and dust on its boots. Pair it with lamb or game. If you like cooking, use it in a marinara sauce. You will have the best sauce ever.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Backyard BBQ Bubbly

Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva is a wine made by the folks at Freixenet as an effort to support Spain’s ancient local grapes, Macabeo and Parellada. The cuvée is a blend of nine different base wines.  A bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is added, for better acidity. The blend is produced only when all the proper terroir conditions are in alignment.

Gran Cuvée Reserva is aged for 15 months on the lees - in contact with the used yeast cells. Lower than usual dosage - addition of sugar - so the base wines are given a chance to shine, which they do. The grapes are 85% Macabeo and Parellada, 15% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Alcohol sits at a reasonable 12% abv and the wine sells for less than $10. It’s an amazing value.

This cava was poured for a small group at a backyard birthday BBQ, and it was a real crowd-pleaser. Aromas of peach and toast lead to flavors of honeysuckle and pineapple. It is light and festive with bubbles which dissipate quickly. The wine is fruity enough, but comes with a very earthy complexity which I find captivating.

This complex bubbly can be paired with all fish, ceviche, avocado and sushi dishes. You can also look to braised meats and aged cheeses for pairing ideas. Or birthday cake.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer Wine: Drink Pink With Lula Cellars Rosato

Lula Cellars is an Anderson Valley winery named for the winemaker's maternal grandmother. She must have been quite something, as her description on the website offers a glowing tribute. "This remarkable woman raised three children by herself after the death of her husband, Frank. Her enduring inner strength, faith and love for her children helped guide her and her family through the most difficult of times, and she was an inspiration to all who knew her." I'd hope for something with about two percent of that feeling to be written about me after I'm gone - that would be praise enough.

The 2014 vintage of Lula Cellars’ Rosato is its fifth release of this dry-styled, Mendocino County rosé.  An unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Tempranillo, this wine is produced as a dry rosé; the juice is in contact with the skins for only four hours before fermentation.

Winemaker Jeff Hansen has worked nearly 30 vintages so he brings plenty of experience to the table. He produced only 300 cases of this wine. I was provided with a sample for the purpose of this article.

This pinkie looks more like a red, its brilliant ruby color tinged with a bit of orange. The aromas are fresh, with red cherry - stems and all - joining a floral note. Flavors seems bent more in Tempranillo's direction than Pinot's, cherry in front, spices and fantastic acidity in hot pursuit. There is a late hint of tea that hangs on into the finish, which is lengthy. Pair it with shrimp from the grill or, for brunch with a spinach omelet.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Listen To What The Cabernet Franc Has To Say

Cornerstone Cellars typically blends their Bordeaux grape varieties - it’s what you do with Bordeaux grape varieties. But it was not so with the 2012 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Black Label Cabernet Franc. It's a 100% varietal wine. Cornerstone’s managing partner, Craig Camp, writes, "We did not plan it that way, but the wine insisted and it's our job to listen to what the wine has to say, not tell it what to do."

Camp continues, "Blending trial after blending trial ended up the same way with the unblended Cabernet Franc being the winner. There was simply nothing this Cabernet Franc needed, so we decided to do exactly that - nothing.

"While this wine is one hundred percent Cabernet Franc, it's still a blend as we have combined fruit from three exceptional vineyards for our Black Label Cabernet Franc and each of them adds something special: Our Oakville Station Vineyard in To Kalon adds depth, power and a velvety texture; the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena gives structure and richness; the Carrefour Vineyard in Coombsville brings lift, freshness and classic Cabernet Franc aromatics."

Aging took place over 18 months in French oak barrels, half of which were new. 933 cases of this wine were produced, and it hits 14.7% abv. The retail price is $45.

The '12 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Black Label Cabernet Franc is inky dark and big on the blueberry aromas. Cinnamon and nutmeg add a festive note. The palate shows a decidedly savory aspect of the dark fruit. Minerals, earth and black olive notes add complexity and provide a great backdrop for that bold fruit display. The wine also has great tannic structure and a freshness that's a joy to find in a red wine.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Merlot From The Santa Margarita Ranch AVA

The folks at Ancient Peaks Winery talk a lot about the unique terroir they have at their Margarita Vineyard.  That's not just a lot of air, either.  The estate vineyard sports five different soil types, from ancient oyster beds to the remainder of ancient volcanos.  Indeed, they sit in the shadow of those ancient peaks.  They boast that the "Santa Margarita Ranch AVA is situated along the foot of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range, roughly 25 miles southeast of the city of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west."  Oh, yeah, that's another claim they now have: "Our estate Margarita Vineyard now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only vineyard located within its own namesake AVA."  Well, isn't that special!  Yes, in fact, it is.

The 2012 Ancient Peaks Merlot hails from that distinctive terroir, and AP Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor says the 2012 is even more special that the previous two vintages. "2010 and 2011 were very cold, very challenging vintages" Sinor states in the wine’s video. "With '12, we got sort of a nice weather profile, a nice amount of rain and we could tell very early in the vintage that we had a very special year for Merlot."

The Merlot grapes come from three of their six blocks devoted to Merlot. According to the website, "Block 7 yields dark, intensely flavored fruit with both softness and power. Block 4 produces lighter red fruit qualities with lively acidity, while Block 5 splits the difference with a blend of black and red fruit characteristics." The wine is 85% Merlot, 13% Malbec and there is a two percent splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. Aging occurred over 18 months in French and American oak barrels.  4,501 cases were produced, and it sells online for around $15.

This wine is deep and dark. The inky indigo color telegraphs the nose, exploding with blue and black berries and cassis, a whiff of campfire smoke and a mountain of prehistoric terroir. The palate is laden with dark fruit, too, not to mention spice and earth. The sage and rosemary linger into a finish that won't let you forget them. The tannic structure is fit for meat and aging while the acidity refreshes and causes the mouth to water.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Chardonnay Gives Creaminess, Acidity Equal Billing

Chardonnay is, if memory serves, the most popular white wine grape in the U.S. Despite that rank, Chardonnay is sometimes held in low regard by more snobbish wine folk, who disdain it for its popularity. It is similar to my own failing feelings for a particular musical artist who has hit the big time - it was much more fun backing him before everyone knew about him.

I'm not a Chardonnay hater, even though I will usually opt for something a little racier, a little more daring, a little ... less Chardonnay. Even so, California Chardonnay has become a lot more interesting over the last half decade or so.

No longer typified by flabby, overoaked wines, the Chardonnay segment of wine styles has become nearly as fragmented as that of Riesling. Oak has become less dominant, acidity has become a focal point and it's hard to find a California winery which doesn't produce at least one completely unoaked Chardonnay.

The many different types of Chardonnay - steely, oaky, fresh, full - may call for a scale on the label, a la Riesling, to show the consumer what to expect inside the bottle. Until then, ask your wine merchant what sort of Chardonnay it is that you are buying. Have him or her guide you to the style that suits you.

The CrossBarn Chardonnay 2014 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County wine comes from select vineyards of the cool Sonoma Coast appellation. The grapes are pressed in whole clusters, stems and all, adding a freshness and vibrancy to the wine. Only 10% of the juice feels any oak - the rest is aged five months in steel tanks. The wine is, however, left in contact with the spent yeast cells during aging - with weekly stirring to keep the lees suspended. This imparts a creamy richness without so much reliance on oak. The wine also underwent full malolactic fermentation, which also adds to the creamy texture.

The '14 CrossBarn Chardonnay looks golden in the glass and smells nice and ripe. Peaches, pineapples and lemons burst forth like so much fruit basket. The palate shines as brightly, with wonderful fruit led by apples and lemons. The creamy quality resulting from the production techniques stands opposite an eye-popping acidity. Pair this with salads, soups and seafood anytime, but it can handle a pork chop or roasted chicken just as effortlessly.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Pink Wine That Looks And Drinks Red

We call rosé a pink wine, as it often is. Rosé can be a deeper shade, of course, with a complexity that runs deeper, too. When pink starts to look red, things get interesting. The wine feels fuller in the mouth and richer on the palate, yet it takes a chill just as well as its cousin of a lighter shade.

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has produced a pink wine that’s really red, the Rocks! Rosé. Cornerstone managing partner Craig Camp calls this vintage "a muscular rosé. Richly colored, flavored and dry-as-a-bone our Rosé Rocks! has the guts to take on real food." This vintage of Rocks! Rosé is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Camp pours  it with grilled steaks, chops and sausages after giving the wine a cooling off period, to make it that much more refreshing in the dog days of summer.

The color of the Rocks! Rosé is a pretty, deep ruby red - rosado-style. Aromas of rich, ripe cherries and raspberries are laced with a stemmy green note that hits the fruit just right. Cherries mix with strawberries on the palate, with a bracing acidity holding everything together. The wine has the heft and complexity of a red, while refreshing like a white. It's extremely tasty, and it does pair well with a lot more than salads. This is the perfect wine to accompany a backyard grill.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Telling The Story Of Vermouth

Adam Ford has written a book called Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture. This $24.95 volume tells the strange and fascinating history of vermouth, visits the controversies that have always been a part of vermouth tradition, and offers recipes both old and new to take advantage of the new generation of craft vermouths that are now available. I was given a copy of the book for review.

From Neolithic China to the ancient Silk Roads, to a marketing battle between two Italian producers in the 1700’s to the emergence of a new American vermouth style in the 2010’s, from the boisterous New York City saloons of the 1870’s to the ultra-dry martinis of the 1950’s, the story of vermouth spans the globe and all of recorded history. This book tells the story with style and is a great gift for a lover of mixology as well as a tome that will complete any well-stocked spirits library.

Vermouth is a closer look at a notoriously underrated bar staple. Equal parts fascinating history, useful recipe guide, and gorgeous bar-side display, the book is a treat for anyone who appreciates a well-balanced cocktail. Or a great sipper.

Ford fell in love with vermouth the same way he fell in love with a woman, quite by accident. And the woman was instrumental in his introduction to vermouth, the aromatized wine he discovered while hiking the Italian Alps.

Vermouth is Ford's attempt to write a history of the drink, a history which spans 10,000 years of human events, a history he claims has never been written.

The story's introduction runs through China, the Middle East, ancient Egypt, Persia, the silk routes and the Mediterranean. Then he does a turn on the recent blink of an eye covering the American side of vermouth's history, in which he plays a part by producing a vermouth of his own. Ford also includes a lengthy section of cocktail recipes using vermouth.

It is a drink that offers a lot of surprises as its story unfolds, and a drink that is well worth the time of any wine lover to investigate. This book is a great introduction to a beverage which has much more to it than meets the eye.

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