Friday, December 30, 2016

French Vermentino - Rolle In The Rhône

This interesting white blend is from France’s Rhône Valley. Its composition is nearly equal parts Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, and very small amounts of Marsanne and Clairette. Vermentino - called Rolle in the Rhône neck of the vineyards - is a grape better known as a denizen of Italy, but it works largely the same when it’s grown in the Costiere de Nimes AOC. The 2014 Chateau Mourgues du Gres Les Galets Dorés costs $8 by the glass and an astounding $29 by the bottle at L.A.'s Belle Vie. In a restaurant, that counts as a huge deal.

The wine takes its name from the stones - galet roulés - that were plentifully dropped of by glaciers eons ago. François and Anne Collard run the business and make the wine in a place that belonged to the Convent of the Ursulines before the French Revolution. François tells us that Mourgues means nuns, while grès means pebbles.

It looks pale gold in the glass. The nose is bright, with citrus, salinity and the smell of wet rocks. On the palate, big minerals. Stones. Zest. It brings everything you like in these two grapes.

At Belle Vie, I paired my glass of this beautiful wine with grilled octopus, one big tentacle curling around the plate. It was perfect.

It was so perfect that I decided to try one of the reds from the wine list afterward. The 2013 Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon from Côtes De Bourg AOC, Chateau Falfas, listed at $47 per bottle.

The grapes are vinified in stainless steel after bio-dynamic farming. Smoke comes through loud and clear, with various shades of dark fruit and big minerals. There's no oak in the way, so you get all the pure fruit that went into the bottle.


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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mulled Wine, Not For Me

This is from the archives. It originally ran in 2011.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

California, Oregon, Provence In One Rosé

Elouan Rosé promises "the opulence of California, the elegance of Oregon." The problem is, there's not a word about Provence anywhere in that blurb. That's what the wine brings to mind for me.

Elouan is not just a California winemaker packing a carpet bag and heading north to explore different terroir. It's a man about wine, Joseph Wagner, practicing Pinot in places north of his usual stomping grounds. He calls his Oregon outfit Copper Cane Wine & Provisions, and he furthers his familiarity with Pinot Noir in a region that has become famous for the grape.

Wagner says that "Oregon’s coast offers great diversity, giving us the ability to select a range of vineyards that give us versatility in style and a broad range of characteristics to enhance the final blend." From the Willamette Valley comes acidity, from the Umpqua Valley a richness, from the Rogue Valley, ripe flavor. The warmer Rogue region is where most of the grapes were grown, so the cool-climate savoriness is muted.

"This is a bespoke rosé where grapes were grown and harvested with the specific intention of making rosé," Wagner writes, "and not a saignée rosé, which can be a by-product of making red wine." And don't you just love people who use the word "bespoke?"  The wine retails for $22.

It's a beautiful rosé, with an almost brilliant pink-orange color that says, "This is gonna be fun." A nose full of strawberries and limes promise good things, and when you take a sip, there they are. Cherries, strawberries, citrus and fresh acidity grace the mouth, just like they are supposed to in a great rosé. I want this with sandwiches made from leftover turkey. And ham. Right, like there's leftover ham.


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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wine For "Bell, Book And Candle"

This is from the archives. It originally ran in 2011, from my days of pairing wine with movies for TrailersFromHell.com.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cooler Side Of Australian Shiraz

The McPherson MWC wines were shared with a collection of wine writers in a Twitter-based tasting session.  Winemaker Jo Nash was on hand to give us all the information we craved. Nash celebrated her fifth year as the head of the cellar at McPherson in 2016.  She’s also married to a winemaker and they have a brood of grape-stomping kids at home.

Andrew McPherson's family started the wine business in 1968 in New South Wales. In 2000, he found some land he liked near Nagambie in central Victoria and that’s where the winery is today.

Victoria is the Australian state in the extreme southeastern part of the land mass, just north of Bass Strait from Tasmania. This location results in a cooler expression than you may be used to with Australian wine. Their Sinclair Vineyard, along the Goulburn River sits next to the winery. The Croftwood Vineyard is in the huge Murray Darling region.

The MWC line was introduced two years ago and is just now making its breakthrough in the U.S. They call the wines "rustic" and say they are, "soft, savoury, earthy styles with a European influence."

The video stream featured Nash live in Australia with Henry Hudson of Hudson Wine Brokers. It was 5 p.m. in L.A., but 11 a.m. in Victoria. It was noted that it's always 5:00 somewhere.

Jo talked a bit about her inspiration. Like a lot of wine folks, she worked in bars and restaurants in college, tasting lots of wine along the way. Then, a trip to Europe prompted a winemaking class. Hooked.

As far as grapes go, she says she likes Chardonnay and Shiraz the best, and she works a lot with both of them. She tries to "capture the grape's varietal expression in the glass" and likes to "allow the vintage to speak in the wines." She credits her status as a female for causing her to be attracted to more elegant, balanced wines. "Cooler climate means slower ripening," she explains of the weather in her part of Victoria. The Australian state is about the size of Oregon.

How does she like having her creations under a screw cap? "We steered away from cork due to inconsistency," she said, while Hudson noted that "almost all the 45 wines we bring in are under screwcap." Tom chimed in that he has “seen waiters who looked like they wished there was a screw cap” on a bottle that was giving them trouble.

Hudson thinks the Shiraz/Mourvèdre  is a good wine to make people think of something other than the jammy style people may expect from Australia.

The MWC Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2014 is 93% Shiraz, 5% Mourvèdre and 2% Viognier, although the label omits the Viognier and calls it 95% Shiraz. It gets between six and 12 months in French oak.  Alcohol sits at 14% abv and the wine retails for about $20.

This Shiraz/Mourvèdre blend has big fruit on the nose - cherry, black cherry - with notes of campfire smoke and lavender popping in. It's medium dark in color, but gets a bit deeper on the palate. Fruity, definitely, but not a bomb. In fact, there are dark savory flavors carrying the black cherry flavors along. The finish is savory and quite long-lasting. Acidity is nice and fresh, and the tannic structure is firm.


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Friday, December 23, 2016

Drink Pink: LBD Rosé Blends Red, White Grapes

This is an unusual rosé blend, in that it is made up largely of white wine grapes. The mix is 54% Gewürztraminer, 23% Muscat, 14% Chardonnay, 5% Zinfandel and 4% other white varieties. For every time I have had a beginning wine lover ask me, "So, rosé is just red and white wine mixed together, right?" I wish I had a sip of this one, which really is one of those imagined pinkies.

The Little Black Dress folks like to say, "Confidence turns heads and sophistication is the rule," when talking about their wines. They are confident, and with good reason. Even without a fancy, single-vineyard label - actually, with only "California" to describe the wine’s origin - they manage to put a really distinctive wine in the bottle. They did it with the Chardonnay, and damned if they didn't do it with the rosé as well. Winemaker Margaret Leonardi makes good juice for this Mendocino winery.

The LBD Rosé shows only a faint salmon-pink hue in the glass. The nose is defined by the Gewürztraminer, all flowery and springlike. There's a cherry/strawberry note from the Zinfandel and a bit of apricot from the Muscat, so it's really a complex rosé bouquet. On the palate the Zin hardly shows up at all, giving way to the fancy, floral white grapes with whom it is no doubt unaccustomed to working. It's off-dry, maybe even medium, but it is no White Zin - if that has you worried. The Gewürztraminer carries the flavor profile, too.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sweet, Aged Wine

The Terrasous aged sweet wine series features a range of their natural sweet wines that have been aged for at least six years. The wine is fortified to 16% abv and sells for about $25. That's for a nice, full-sized wine bottle, too, not a little "sweet wine" size.

The wine is made of Grenache Blanc grapes grown in France's Rivesaltes region of Roussillon, just north of Spain and west of the Balearic Sea.  It's surely sweet, but with the beautiful tart edge that makes dessert wine so approachable and food friendly. Pair with pastries or enjoy on its own as an aperitif or a finale.

The Terrasous Les Vignobles de Constance Vin Doux Naturel is slightly copper-colored and has the aroma of concentrated dried apricot and honey, with a palate to match. There are other notes that come through on the nose, like that of oak spice, so it's nice and complex. It is a very sweet wine, but not cloyingly so. The mouthfeel is creamy and viscous, as rich as you want dessert to be.


Monday, December 19, 2016

One Wine Worth 1000 Stories

There seems to be one story in particular that stands behind 1000 Stories Wines.  It’s the story of America's heritage, what the company’s website calls "a heritage woven with one thousand stories, unique traditions, and a pioneering spirit."  The buffalo is the iconic imagery here, and Zinfandel is what’s in the bottle. Talk about heritage. Talk about pioneers.

The small batch Zinfandels are aged partially in charred bourbon barrels, which seems to be the new way of making the old way new. As far as heritage goes, pioneering winemaker Bob Blue says when he started out in the business he found it expedient and more cost-effective to buy old bourbon barrels instead of new oak containers.  Some of the barrels used to age this wine formerly housed bourbon for more than a dozen years.

The grapes in Batch 11, the 2014 blend I was given to sample, come from Mendocino, Dry Creek Valley, Lodi, Contra Costa and Colusa counties. It’s mainly Zinfandel, with some Mendocino Petite Sirah rounding it out. The wine stands at 15.5% abv and sells for under 20 bucks.

The 1000 Stories Zinfandel is very dark looking and smelling. And tasting, too. Plum and blackberry flavors get a savory working over from the bourbon barrels, but not as much as I had feared. Or hoped. I don't know which way to lean on this kind of oak influence. On the one hand, too much oak is bad. On the other, too much bourbon oak might be just enough. The savory streak plays through on the palate with a hint of that bourbon-laced oak pushing it along. There’s vanilla, pepper and leathery cherry as well.


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Friday, December 16, 2016

Sicily's Favorite Grape: Catarratto

White wine should be interesting. There are plenty of them out there, those savory, salty, sometimes fishy white wines that refuse to be ignored. "I will NOT be Pinot Grigio," you can almost hear them scream.

It was a pleasure to discover a new Italian grape - well, it was new to me, but it’s been on Sicily for millennia. The Catarratto grape is native to Sicily, and is reportedly the most widely planted grape there. It goes by many other names, which all seem to involve a place name. Catarratto is parented by the Garganega grape.

I tried the Feudo Montoni Catarratto del Masso at Terroni in Los Angeles. I have mixed feelings about that restaurant. I love the food - and the wine - but they insist on serving their pizza unsliced, as a whole pie. You have to cut it with a knife or rip off a piece. Either way, I always end up with a slice that looks like Florida.

The grapes for the Vigna del Masso - Masso is the name of the cru where they are grown - are raised in iron-rich soil full of sand and rocks. The 55-year-old vines produce grapes which are fermented in cement containers. It checks in with alcohol at 13.5% abv.

I love the nose. A great savory aspect dominates, which my wife says smells like salami. That’s savory enough for me. The  palate leans the same way, with rocks, lime and minerals so strong. A great acidity makes for a wine that’s easy to pair with food. I had mine with the fritatta alla salsiccia. It’s a wine that was seemingly made for eggs and sausage.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Loire Rosé On Wonderful L.A. Wine List

The wine list at Los Angeles restaurant Market Provisions is a good one. Not too fancy, not at all pedestrian and always loaded with choices that show the care with which they are made. I love the whites and rosés there, all of them as food-friendly as you could want, with savory, shimmering acidity.

The 2015 Rosé Chinon by Jean-Maurice Raffault is one of those wines, perfect for seafood, cheese or salad.  The Loire Valley Cabernet Franc grapes are grown in gravelly soil along the Vienne River, two-thirds pressed and one-third saignée for the pink wine. The Raffault family is into its 14th generation of making wine in Chinon.  Their rose cost $12 for a glass at the restaurant.

It carries a light pink color and a fruity, strawberry nose.  The cherry palate is not only tasty, but shows good acidity as well before a little melon on the finish.

It was great with the Moroccan olives, but my wife liked her Pinot Blanc so much with that app she didn't even sip the rosé.  She also really enjoyed her Uruguayan Albariño. That choice displayed a savory quality and an acidity I have never found with that grape. The rosé was just fine with my smoked scallops, too.


Monday, December 12, 2016

First Wine Of The Harvest

Holiday time always brings on the Beaujolais. If you follow such things, you get that little pre-Thanksgiving kick of the Beaujolais Nouveau release. It happens on the third Thursday of November, every year, giving a small window of opportunity before tastes move on to other delights, like cru Beaujolais.

The Nouveau is a young wine, made from Gamay grapes and meant to be consumed while young. To be blunt, it’s not getting any better in the bottle.  I have always found BN to be a dull, drinkable wine that is often quite grapey, but others seem to revel in its simplicity. Personally, I don’t see the need to rush the wine out the door immediately after harvest, but I understand it started as a marketing ploy, and lives on as that today. "The First Wine of the Harvest."

‘Tis the season, anyway. So I tried the Georges Duboeuf 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau with no anticipation at all. Never having enjoyed a vintage of the style, I was fully prepared to be nonchalant about it. The 12% abv wine shows a Rieslingesque "dryness scale" on the back label that indicates this one comes in as "medium dry."

The wine looks very dark and smells it, too. Blackberry aromas dominate the nose and palate, with a fair amount of complexity in the forms of minerality. A grapey taste stands front and center with shades of earth showing nicely. The finish is plain and unfettered by nuance. It's good this year, but it's still not a wine to think too much about, it's a wine to absent-mindedly swirl and sip over good conversation.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Pinot Grigio You Can Really Love

Alto Adige Valley is where some of the best white wines in the world come from, if you ask me. I realize that you didn't, but it's my article so I'll continue.

While Alto Adige holds a very high place of esteem for me, Pinot Grigio does not. I have no major problem with the grape, I just don't happen to find the wine made from it to be terribly interesting. I don't "heart" Pinot Grigio. Usually.

The Giovanett family runs the Castelfeder Winery as they have for four generations now. The area is in the Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, which also encroaches a bit on Veneto. But it is mainly in Alto Adige, in far northern part of Italy, in the shadow of the Alps.

Their vines in the hillside vineyards have to work harder for water, which means they produce grapes that are more concentrated in aroma and flavor. They grow there in the north, under the Alpine sun and under the naked moon. The Luna Nuda tips the hat to the lunar influence on growing things.

Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2015 is fermented all in steel tanks and reaches a 12.5% abv alcohol content. The winemaker notes say, "This is not your standard Pinot Grigio" which means it may actually have some interesting qualities, if you can take a little more Pinot Grigio-inspired snark. Insert smiley face emoticon here. The website claims that the wine tastes "the way Pinot Grigio used to taste before it became so popular." That statement probably lost something in the translation from Italian, but I get their drift.

This Pinot Grigio is, in fact, "not your standard" stuff. The pale golden wine is aromatic enough, with a floral sensibility and a prominent overlay of minerals. A smoky character clouds those flowers and a basket of limes joins the aroma of wet rocks. The palate is pretty exciting, and I don’t have to qualify that statement with "for a Pinot Grigio." It’s loaded with lemon and lime zest and strident acidity with a delicious salinity on the finish.


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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cru Beajolais: Fleurie

Domaine de la Madone is in the Beaujolais cru called Fleurie, a pastoral area - aren’t they all? - in France’s Gamay grape region. It is squeezed in between Moulin-à-vent and Morgon.

The name of the domaine comes from a little chapel on the highest hill in Fleurie. The vineyards are composed of granitic earth on the region’s hillsides, and the vines are between 70 and 100 years old.

The wine is aged for a year in oak, then another six months in vats. Alcohol hits 13% abv and the retail price is around $20.

Nice and dark, the Fleurie looks like the serious wine that it is. Aromas of violet's and strawberries are joined by pepper and cardamom. The palate offers a zesty acidity and a fruity flavor profile, with enough minerality to justify that dark color. It has a hint of bitterness on the finish, probably due to the granite in the soil. The wine is perfect for meat dishes, tomato sauces or grilled vegetables.


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Monday, December 5, 2016

Drink Pink: Pinot Noir Rosé From Anderson Valley

Lazy Creek Vineyards a subsidiary of Healdsburg's Ferrari Carano Winery. It’s located about an hour north, in Mendocino county’s Anderson Valley. It is at this facility is where the company's full Pinot Noir production is centered.

A recent online tasting session introduced the 2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir to a group of wine writers, myself included. We were all provided samples of the wine for review. The session was moderated by publicist Chelsea Kurnick and featured winemaker Christy Ackerman. You can see the Ustream broadcast page here.

Christy Ackerman makes all of the Lazy Creek Vineyards wines, and all of the Pinot Noirs for Ferrari-Carano. She says she feels "very lucky" to work with Pinot Noir in general, and especially the grapes from the Lazy Creek estate vineyards.

Ackerman says the thing that makes Anderson Valley special is that it is "cooled by the ocean but at the same time protected from the ocean."  The cooling marine influence, so critical for growing perfect Pinot, is mitigated by the landscape. The best of the ocean is brought home without the harshness of the sea directly.

Sustainability is a growing concern at most vineyards, Lazy Creek included. Ackerman says they reworked the winery with an eye toward the environment. They cut water use by half, use cooling jackets for tanks and employ the natural cooling of their cave. They are big into recycling, they made packaging improvements that reduce their carbon footprint and even instituted a ten-hour day for the employees. She says that gives the Lazy Creek workers an extra day off to spend with their families.

Owners Don and Rhonda Carano describe Lazy Creek Vineyards as one of the smallest, and oldest wineries in Anderson Valley. The bottle a Gewurztraminer and the rosé under the Lazy Creek banner, but all the rest are Pinot Noirs.

Making a specific rose, not a saignee in which the juice is a byproduct of a red wine, allows for everything to be directed toward the making of the wine. It’s 100% Pinot Noir, carries alcohol at 14.2% abv and retails for $22..

The Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir is a fairly bright salmon color and it has that lovely rosé nose of fresh strawberries and cherries. The flavor profile leads with cherry and pulls a tart little savory red wagon behind it. Slight hints of citrus zest and lemongrass make for a rather interesting rosé palate, more interesting than I usually find. Pair it with any sort of salad, or seafood. If you’re a snackmaster like me, cashews or nut roll are great with it.


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Friday, December 2, 2016

Beaujolais: Duboeuf Morgon

You’ve heard Georges Duboeuf's name before, I know it, even if you know very little about French wine. The Duboeuf name is synonymous with Beaujolais, especially the Nouveau that is released just in time for Thanksgiving each year.  Duboeuf also dabbles in the higher end Beaujolais wines, from the various crus of the region. Here, we explore his Morgon bottling from the vineyards of the late Jean-Ernest Descombes, whose daughter runs the business now.

Nicole Descombes says the Morgon produced from the Gamay grapes of the Descombes vineyard shows "the fruit of Beaujolais, the charm of Burgundy." The family has been at it in Morgon since the French Revolution.

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 dominate the nose, with an earthy veil that is the hallmark of the vineyard.  The palate is beautiful, with a cheery acidity and firm tannic structure - but not too firm.  The dark fruit flavors are tinged with a hint of peppery orange peel, with minerals in plain sight.  You can put this on the holiday table without a worry, but it will pair just as nicely with a baguette and some cheese.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Beaujolais Nouveau

Holiday time always makes me turn a little more toward Beaujolais. If you follow such things, you get that little pre-Thanksgiving kick of the Beaujolais Nouveau release. It happens on the third Thursday of November, giving a one-week window before tastes move on to other delights.

The wine ends up on millions of Thanksgiving tables each year in the U.S., not to mention being the drink of choice in French cafés toward the end of each year.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a young wine, made from Gamay grapes and meant to be consumed while young. To be blunt, it’s not getting any better in the bottle.  BN is usually a dull but drinkable wine that I often find quite grapey, but others seem to revel in its simplicity. Personally, I don’t see the need to rush the wine out the door immediately after harvest, but I understand. It started as a marketing ploy, and lives on as that today.

The better choices are the wines from the crus of Beaujolais, the ten villages that all offer their own separate and distinct terroirs. They don’t cost much more than BN, but the difference is like night and day. There was a Brandlive online tasting event recently which featured Franck Duboeuf and Steve Kreps Sr. of Quintessential Wines, the exclusive US importer of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. Charles Communications founder Kimberly Charles moderated.

@WineHarlots summed up the difference between BN and cru Beaujolais nicely during the Twitter tasting: "Beaujolais Nouveau for a day. Cru Beaujolais for a lifetime."

The wines tasted will be written up here in future posts. The record of the live stream may still be here, if you’d like to watch and listen.  http://cca.yourbrandlive.com/c/georgesduboeuf


Wines:
2016 Beaujolais Nouveau (SRP $11.99)
2015 Beaujolais-Villages (SRP $12.99)
2015 Domaine La Madone Fleurie (SRP $19.99)
2015 Morgon Jean-Ernest Descombes (SRP $21.99)


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Monday, November 28, 2016

"Oldfangled" Wine

Bonny Doon's winemaker and guiding light Randall Grahm talks a lot about the "life force" of a wine, and about how his winemaking style seeks that quality. He calls his style an "oldfangled, unaffected manner" which eschews overripe fruit and the resulting high alcohol. His wines tend toward the "savory" side of the wine-o-meter. His wines don't shout from the hillsides about their time in oak. His wines allow the grapes to be the speaker, not the barrel, not the man.

Grahm writes that the Bonny Doon 2014 Grenache that he calls Cuvée R is made from grapes that are actually a "very special clone" from the Château Rayas vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These grapes were grown in his former estate vineyard, Ca' del Solo, now known as Rancho Solo Vineyard in Soledad.  He notes that "Soledad is not the easiest place to grow grapes," yet he feels that Cuvée R shows the "great potential of Grenache to produce wines of real elegance in the Central Coast." Grahm is now growing the same Grenache clone at an Estate vineyard in San Benito County, "with the greatest expectations."

This wine sells for $48, and only 270 cases were produced. Alcohol sits at the customary Calfornia setting of 14.5% abv.

Cuvée R is medium-dark in the glass and has those great savory nose notes that Grahm seems to pack into every bottle of wine he makes. Leather, black olives and smoke are the first to escape. The palate stays on Savory Street with a big olive play on the dark fruit. Acidity is positively mouth-watering and the tannic structure is quite firm. Pair it with pork or fowl easily. I had mine with an honest-to-god Pennsylvania nut roll and almost hallucinated. It was that good.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Sweet Wine: Rivesaltes

This is one of those French wines that drive typical American drinkers crazy. The appellation is Muscat de Rivesaltes Protégée. "Burgundy" just rolls off the tongue so much easier. The sweet wine - as in "dessert" - is made from half Muscat of Alexandria grapes and half Muscat Petits Grains. "Pinot" is so much less to remember. Rivesaltes is the AOC for naturally sweet, fortified wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. With that forgotten, let's move on to the estate.

The Cazes vineyards are biodynamically free of pesticides and insecticides, and they claim to act upon "the true expression of the soil and the plant in their natural environment." They make Vins de Pays, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes wines at the Cazes facility.

This natural, sweet wine is juiced up to 15% abv. By "juiced up," I mean that the wine is made by stopping the fermentation halfway through by adding wine-based alcohol. That kills the yeast so that a large part of the grapes’ sugar remains, giving the wines its sweetness. This wine is six years old, but Cazes makes them with much more aging. We’ll take a taste of some of those in the future.

The Cazes Muscat de Rivesaltes 2010 smells of sweet peaches and apricots, but an earthy layer drapes over the candy-like aromas as if to try and mask them. On the palate, stone fruit is there, too, and a note of orange zest plays into a rather nice acidity level.  It's great as an aperitif, but pair it with cheese. It's nice with creamy Brie, better with smoked farmhouse cheddar. They advise matching the color of the wine with the color of your dessert.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Versatile, Stylish Wine

My wife tells me that a little black dress is perfect for any occasion. That’s something you learn in Girl School, I guess. I took shop class and learned how to make an ugly key rack that looks like an oversized wooden key, walnut stain.  Perfect for no occasions. I grew up to wear my shirttail out whenever possible and comfortable shoes with all outfits. I think girls were probably given much more useful information in their youth.

Little Black Dress wine is intended to be the booze equivalent of that garment, a no-brainer, easy choice that solves problems on the spot. As they say, "Good taste is your call. It's something you wear proudly and pour boldly. It's your own personal flavor. And it looks amazing."

Margaret Leonardi is the winemaker in Mendocino County. I don't know if she wears a little black dress or a pair of old jeans, but she certainly knows how to make a wine that’s right for all occasions.

The winery likes to say that "a good bottle of wine is the best accessory," and I will concur. It's certainly a much better accessory than a tiny black purse that only holds a couple of credit cards. It's better than a belt that's six inches wide and shiny. It's better than shoes that hurt your feet. Of course, pretty much everything is better than shoes that hurt your feet.

California is the region, shown on the label, which doesn't narrow it down much. I'm guessing that either there were several regions from which the grapes gathered, or one rather undesirable region. A multitude of sins can be obscured with just the word "California" on a wine label.  This Chardonnay has no need to hide its upbringing in shame, though.

It sits at 13.5% abv and sells for around ten bucks. The Chardonnay grapes make up the bulk of the wine, with the rest noted only as "complementary white wine grapes."

It looks yellow-gold in the glass and smells of citrus, mainly. Meyer lemon, grapefruit and tangerine mix in with tropical stuff like guava and pineapple. Mmm. On the palate, we have a fairly delicious wine here. There is maybe a touch too much oak for me, but that's just me. Those austere, naked Chardonnays are good in the summer, but they're like white slacks. November is way past time to give them a rest.  A little extra wood fits in nicely with the holiday season.


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Monday, November 21, 2016

Australian Pinot Noir

The McPherson MWC wines were shared with a collection of wine writers in a Twitter-based tasting session.  Winemaker Jo Nash was on hand to give us all the information we craved. She celebrated her fifth year as the head of the cellar at McPherson in 2016.  She’s also married to a winemaker and they have a brood of grape-stomping kids at home.

Andrew McPherson's family started the wine business in 1968 in New South Wales. In 2000, he found some land he liked near Nagambie in central Victoria and that’s where the winery is today.
Victoria is the Australian state in the extreme southeastern part of the land mass, just north of Bass Strait from Tasmania. This location results in a cooler expression than you may be used to with Australian wine.

Their Sinclair Vineyard, along the Goulburn River sits next to the winery. The Croftwood Vineyard is in the huge Murray Darling region.

The MWC line was introduced two years ago and is just now making its breakthrough in the U.S. They call the wines "rustic" and say they are, "soft, savoury, earthy styles with a European influence."

The MWC Pinot Noir 2014 is 100% Pinot Noir and has alcohol at 14% with a retail price of about 20 bucks. This wine is medium-dark and aromatic. It smells a bit of raspberry, but cherry notes and strawberry come through, unusual for a Pinot Noir. It's ripe on the tongue, too. Rich, juicy cherry and a slightly dark, slightly tart mouthfeel deliver a fairly solid experience. While it won't knock a Russian River Valley or Sta. Rita Hills Pinot off the top shelf, it can stand on its own with most other California Pinots.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Trick Or Treat In L.A.

The horror of Halloween disappeared 12 stories up at a friend's apartment in a tower at Park La Brea. Safely ensconced far away from the echoing cries of the neighborhood ghosts, goblins, pirates and princesses, we drank some good wine. We looked out through the descending darkness at the Hollywood hills, sniffing and swirling as we enjoyed no trick, just treat.

As is her wont, Elaine directed me to the chiller to "pull out anything you see that you like." Elaine really decorates for Halloween. I had to make my way past the mad butler, the angry granny, the spiders and the shrunken heads to get there, but I arrived at the small box and just reached in a pulled out a winner.

Linne Calodo was started in 1998 by Matt Trevisan in Paso Robles' Willow Creek District. Sustainably farmed vineyards produce the grapes he uses to make his blends.  Trevisan, I’m told, is quite selective about who gets his wine. I heard an anecdote that he sometimes refuses to supply a restaurant with his wines if they have snubbed him in the past. It sounds like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld… "No wine for YOU!" But whether it’s true or not, I admire his allegiance to his wines.

Linne Calodo Sticks and Stones 2014 is a Paso blend of Rhône grape varieties: 71% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 9% Cinsault and 8% Mourvèdre. Alcohol sits at a lofty 15.8%  

This wine has a really pretty nose that sports a floral cherry sensibility. On the palate, expansive dark fruit are joined by savory touches of leather and cigar. Great tannic structure shows well in this big and brawny wine.

We also opened a bottle from the Santa Ynez Valley of beautiful Santa Barbara County. The Consilience Grenache 2012 is a Sanger family wine. The alcohol number is a typical 14.5% abv.

There is a beautiful cherry nose here with lavender notes. A very floral palate also displays cherry with a leathery thing going on as well as coffee flourishes.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Carmel Valley Pinot: Jarman Wines

Jarman Wines are made by the fine folks at Holman Ranch, in California's Carmel Valley. The land has changed hands many times since it was carved out of the "Crown of Spain" as a mission grant. Though many have claimed it through the years, Holman Ranch is now the property of Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased it in 2006. "Recently retired," the website explains, "Thomas and Jarman decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to make estate grown wine and olive oil." So much for the rocking chair.

The label indicates that the wine was hand harvested and hand sorted and that 12 barrels were made. Pinot Noir clone 115 grapes were used, which were organically estate-grown there on the ranch. The juice was aged for ten months in half-new, half-used French oak. Alcohol sits at 14.3% abv and it retails for $75.

The Jarman Pinot Noir 2013 is medium dark in the glass with a rosy brick-colored shade along the edge. Aromas of tart, dark berries and coffee come up immediately. The nose is anything but shy. On the palate, tartness and a coffee note also play large, with a mild acidity and gentle tannic structure. It's a big wine - not as elegant or as subtle as I want a Pinot Noir to be, but in California it seldom is.


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Monday, November 14, 2016

Sicilian Red Wine: Nero D'Avola

The Stemmari winery is located in the western side of Sicily, Italy's island just off the mainland. It's the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. There, indigenous Sicilian grape varieties are grown, like the white Grillo and the red Nero d'Avola.

The farming is sustainable at Stemmari's vineyards, in two sites, Sambuca di Sicilia and Acate. EMAS 2 certified, they achieved the European credential for environmental sustainability and management in 2002. You may recognize a couple of their other brands, Mezzacorona and Rotari.

The Stemmari Nero d’Avola 2015 is a full varietal wine at 13% abv. It reportedly likes the clay earth of Sambuca di Sicilia.  Once used for adding color to wine, Nero d'Avola is as dark as you like, and richly flavored. The wine is aged six months in French oak barriques.

The Stemmari Nero d'Avola is darker than a serious bruise and offers a nose that means just as much business. Black fruit, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, leather, cigars, black olive, mocha - I mean, what do you not smell? It's a downright savory palate, too. Forest floor leaps out with plums and licorice in tow. There is a distinct mineral presence and the tannins work, if they really have to. They aren't going to get up just to make the sip harsh. This rustic wine will fit naturally with pecorino cheese, arancini, eggplant stew or even pasta and sardines. Stemmari recommends a true Sicilian dish, or course, like Spaghetti alla Norma, with eggplant, and smoked ricotta cheese.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Pink Italian Bubbles

Italy’s alpine Trento DOC is a sparkling wine region in Trentino. Rotari, along with Ferrari and Cavit, are one of the larger producers in Trentino. They use the traditional method of making wine bubby - Metodo Classico - and conduct a second fermentation in the bottle. There, the wine ages for 24 months. This Brut Rosé is vintage dated 2013. It sels for less than $20, so even the price tag is pretty.

Rotari Rosé is made from 75% Pinot Noir grapes and 25% Chardonnay, grown in the foothills of the Alps. It fizzes like crazy and maintains its bubbles nicely. Pink? It's practically orange. The nose is a beautiful floral spray of roses, lilacs and lavender. A sweet apple aroma comes from beneath that and brings lovely cherry and strawberry smells. The palate brings that wonderful Alpine terroir and acidity, with a touch of toast. It's as dry as a bone, yet with an underlying sweetness that faintly peeks through.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wine And Whiskey, Not So Risky

From Modesto, California - the home of big-batch wines - comes a small-batch, limited release red blend that is aged in charred, white oak whiskey barrels for 60 days. The barrels were home to whiskey for years before having their way with Inferno, and the effect is dramatic. The press blurb says that "Apothic Inferno blends the red and dark fruit flavors of its wine with layers of maple and spice, giving way to a long, clean finish." Winemaker Debbie Juergenson says Inferno has attitude. "It may not have whiskey in it," she says, "but it's wine with a whiskey soul."

The marketing department talks about "defying convention" and a "rebellious attitude." They even remark that the label art has a "fiery style," which is like pointing to an open flame and mouthing the word "hot." The alcohol hits high, at 15.9% abv, but the price isn't bad at all - just $17 retail.

Speaking of marketing, I sent an email to Apothic, asking what grape varieties were used in the wine. It's a question I have asked hundreds of winemakers without being rebuffed. There is, however, a first time for everything. Their reply was cheery, if uninformative. "Due to strict company policy we are unable to provide you with the processes or ingredients used in our products as this is considered proprietary information -- our secret recipe. We hope you understand." Not really, but if you're that afraid that some other company will steal your idea of using red wine grapes to make a red wine, I suppose it's alright.

Apothic Inferno 2014 appears as a dark ruby vision in the glass and waves at the beholder with a nose born in whiskey and campfire smoke. The palate is also soaked in that boozy barrel, with the flavor of liquor coming through without the heat. The plum and raspberry notes have to fight for notice, and they barely get a signal through, although it does come, with an added hint of rosemary. Tannins are quite firm and will serve a ribeye steak quite well, especially one that's fresh off the grill.

As a wine, I'd have to say the wood has far too much influence, but that is by design. As a beverage, it's a wild delight, bringing together the best aspects of table wine, port and liquor.


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Monday, November 7, 2016

Wine Your Own Beeswax

The wines of Bonny Doon Vineyards are all about complexity. They are all about savory. Sometimes, they’re all about beeswax.

The 2013 Le Cigare Blanc is composed of 57% Grenache Blanc grapes, 27% Roussanne and 16% Picpoul Blanc. Those Rhônish varieties are grown with organic care in the Beeswax Vineyard of Monterey County's Arroyo Seco appellation. Three varieties, a single vineyard.

Bonny Doon chief Randall Grahm says the '13 vintage of the pale analog of his amazing Le Cigare Volant is richer than the "lean, taut '11" but has the hallmark complexity we've come to expect in his wines. It rides in at 14.5% abv and retails for $28. Grahm made 1,757 cases

The wine is a pale, greenish-gold in the glass. It smells, notably, of beeswax - not surprising given that the grapes were grown in the namesake vineyard. A light lanolin creeps over with a bit of yellow melon and a chalk minerality. The nose is elegant, not forceful. On the palate, its savory aspect is apparent, with waxy and nutty flavors presiding over the citrus and minerals. The mouthfeel is full and the acidity is just enough. Year after year, it’s one of the best white wines I taste.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Great Syrah, Carignan Blend From Roussillon

I spoke recently with Eric Aracil, the representative for the Roussillon Wine Council, the promotion arm for the French wine region at the country’s southern border with Spain. You can read about my conversation with him here.

Organically farmed in the Côtes du Roussillon Villages region in the south of France, the 2012 Domaine Seguela Cuvée Jean Julien comes from the northern part of Roussillon.  It  is made from a 65% share of Syrah grapes, 30% Carignan and a 5% splash of Grenache. It registers its alcohol content at 13.8% abv and sells for about $20.

Jean-Pierre and Trinidad Seguela run the place with an eye toward quality. They organically grow limited yield crops with high concentration and continue that care into the cellar.

The wine is inky dark, with no light passing through the glass. A nose showing smoke, black olives and leather is as inviting as it sounds. The palate is savory and dark. Cassis and blackberries are nearly buried, gratefully, by those olives, some licorice and a hint of molasses. Tannins are quite firm and eagerly await a plate of charcuterie or a lamb stew.




Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Carmel Valley Chardonnay

Jarman Wines are made by the fine folks at Holman Ranch, in California's Carmel Valley. The land has changed hands many times since it was carved out of the "Crown of Spain" as a mission grant. Though many have claimed it through the years, Holman Ranch is now the property of Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased it in 2006. "Recently retired," the website explains, "Thomas and Jarman decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to make estate grown wine and olive oil." So much for the retirement rocking chair.

This Carmel Valley wine is Monterey County born and bred, made from two different Chardonnay clones, 95 and 76. It is aged in new French oak barrels for five months, and the touch of wood is just about perfect. The alcohol hits a lofty 14.2% abv. Well, it would be lofty in Burgundy. In California, it's about normal. The organic and certified sustainable grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, and only seven barrels were made. It runs $45 at retail.

The wine is a pretty golden color and smells very much like citrus and earthy minerals with a faint hint of smoke thrown in. It's a titillating nose for a Chardonnay. The palate holds up the promise of the aromas. There is a strong sense of minerals up front, which gives way momentarily to a butterscotch flavor. That flavor in turn hands off to lemon-lime and notes of fresh stream water that has run over sandstone rocks to get to you. The oak make itself known, but in a very polite way. Fresh, zippy acidity feels perfect for a picnic or the Thanksgiving table.


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Monday, October 31, 2016

SoCal Brew Puts Out The Fire

When you need to put out the fire, call a fireman.  The Southern California brewery created by firefighters has a refreshing beverage for sale in 16-ounce cans.  After putting out a brush fire, they reportedly hit upon the idea to have a beer - go figure - and one thing led to another. Anaheim’s Fireman’s Brew makes this India Pale Ale at 6.5% abv. It will douse your thirst as well as it did theirs.

Hops are what makes an IPA the crisp and breezy drink that it is. The little flowers for this beer are Cascade, Columbus, Chinook and Galena varieties. Cascade brings aromas, Columbus and Galena hops are for bittering while Chinook offers spice and pine notes.

The nose on this Fireman’s Brew IPA is like a pine forest, with lovely citrus aromas that make summer seem sooo close. Lemon comes in on the palate, as well as a floral sensibility and a hint of allspice. It's a fairly complex beer. It's a very refreshing beer. It puts out the fire.


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Friday, October 28, 2016

From Big Waves To Big Wine

ZIOBAFFA is an Italian wine, and its creators - Jason Baffa and Chris Del Moro - have brought their passion for filmmaking and surfing to wine. Their search for world-class waves in the Mediterranean Sea landed them in Tuscany, where the Castellani family took them in and made a vintage which was captured on film.

Baffa is an award-winning filmmaker who chronicled his love of surfing in the film, "Bella Vita," developed with his friend Del Moro. The pair shared plenty of good food and beverage while getting those gnarly waves on celluloid. It was a natural - organic, in fact - transition to ZIOBAFFA (in Italian, Uncle Baffa.)

The press blurb says "ZIOBAFFA is bottled and labeled with eco-friendly material, crafted with a biodynamic focus and organically produced grapes, with a focus on sustainable, zero waste production and environmentally friendly bottling, including the innovative Helix reuseable cork closure."

The unusual cork, which looks like a cross between a sparkling wine cork and a liqueur stopper, requires no mechanical assistance for opening. You can access the wine barehanded, even though it is worth some trouble.

The Ziobaffa Toscana is made from grapes organically grown in the Poggio al Casone vineyard, 80% Sangiovese and 20% Syrah. Visually this wine is a black hole - no light gets through at all. Aromas of black berries, plums and currants are soaked in a savory setting of cigars and spice. The palate is fresh and lively, with enough tannins for anything Bolognaise, for sure. You might even grill a steak for it. Dark fruit flavors are laced with a leathery licorice layer that does not disappoint.

I paired it with an amazing cheese by Italian cheesemaker Beppino Occelli, Occelli al Barolo.  After nine months of aging, the wheel is coated with a Barolo grape must, then soaked for two months with another wine, Langa Marc. The Sangiovese fits nicely with the Nebbiolo influence of the cheese. It also plays very well with Occelli’s Testun al Foglie di Castagno, which is wrapped in chestnut leaves.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

San Diego Beer - Sculpin IPA

Sometimes those 22-ounce bottles of beer come in pretty handy. If you're a beer lover, and you're only having one beer, this is a good one to have. Either this or a 40. It's a good size for anyone who is the recipient of stares that say without speaking, "You’re having another one?" Well, if you can only have one without "getting into it," this is certainly a good choice.


Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits is one of the better reasons to go to San Diego, Temecula or Long Beach.  They have a lot of tasting rooms open in Southern California, but it all started in the place Angelenos like to think of as "Iowa by the sea." The thinking there is that Midwesterners, when listing places where they'd like to escape a bitter winter, have only place on the list. Fortunately for them, San Diegans make a lot of good beer.

This zippy Sculpin India Pale Ale carries a chestnut golden color and a slight head of fine white froth, which clings to the glass. The nose is loaded with fresh pine needles and lemon zest, with a hint of grapefruit running behind. The palate is creamy and very hoppy with a floral trace on the more beery notes. The Sculpin is a perfect example of why I like IPA enough that I'll often go without a beer if one is not available. And that's a big sacrifice for a beer lover to make.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Roussillon Wine: Grenache Blanc, Gris

Le Clos de Paulilles Collioure is in the south of the southernmost region in France. It's so far south, it's almost Spain. In fact, it once was Spain. Besides being a valuable military point in the old "stormin' the castle" days, it also has some mighty nice vineyards in the hills. Some of them produce wine for the Banyuls dessert wines you may have enjoyed.

Collioure is also famous for its anchovies. Mark Kurlansky says they are the best in the word in his book, "Salt."

This white wine is made using 70% Grenache Blanc grapes and 30% Grey Grenache. Roussillon's Eric Aracil notes that the grey variety is the "used to produce white, dry rosé wine or Vin Doux Naturel (fortified sweet wine)." He says it "produces powerful, rounded, elegant, voluptuous wines with hints of aniseed and minerals."

The vineyard terraces of the clos go right down to the Mediterranean, picking up notes of the sea and salt spray. The 14% abv content is quite manageable, although a little higher than usually found in France.

This wine looks golden in a carafe, but pours up yellow-gold in the glass, very close to a faint, faint rosé. Take a sniff and it’s mineral time. Wet rocks and lemon peel, lime and even some tangerine appear on the nose. The sip brings all that into focus with a hint of grapefruit and pineapple thrown in. Acidity is top-notch, but not abrasive. The finish leaves me wishing for a beautiful spring day.

Have it with trout almondine, or just the almonds. I think I would like it with a Caesar salad, extra anchovies.


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Sweet Roussillon Wine

Rivesaltes is the AOC designation for naturally sweet, fortified wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France.

The Roussillon region allows nearly two dozen grape varieties to be used in winemaking. The Cazes vineyards produce such grape varieties as Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Petit Grain, Macabeu, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Viognier and Carignan.

The Cazes vineyards are biodynamically free of pesticides and insecticides, and they claim to act upon "the true expression of the soil and the plant in their natural environment." They make Vins de pays, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes wines at the Cazes facility.

The 1997 Ambré is described as a natural sweet wine, of vintage 1997.  100% Grenache Blanc juice is aged in oaken vats for 15 years, and is fortified to 16% abv.

This wine is beautifully brown - Cazes calls it amber, of course - and it looks even darker in color than a Newcastle. The nose is a dessert unto itself. Baked raisins, brown sugar and molasses are right up front, and the top of the glass throws a little smoke our way. The palate is as rich as we might expect after getting a whiff of the aromas. It is fairly viscous and has medium-high acidity, with a sherry-esque flavor that highlights the raisins. A salty note sails right into the finish, which is just as much a delight as the nose and the palate.

Pair it with a thick slice of cinnamon-raisin bread for either a lush dessert or a holiday breakfast.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reveling In Roussillon

Eric Aracil is the representative for the Roussillon Wine Council, the promotion arm for the French wine region at the southern tip of the country, at the border with Spain.

Roussillon Wines promotes themselves as "The Other French Vintage Wine," although I think  the region needn’t concede so much to the better known areas like Bordeaux and Burgundy. For years I have sought out wines from the south of France as being more in my own personal wheelhouse, and for better value.

I spoke with Aracil recently, and he gave me some insight into the region as a whole, and into several samples that had been provided to me for the purpose.

Roussillon is usually tossed into the collective region of  Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées, but it occupies the southernmost point in that conglomeration.

Aracil told me that terroir diversity is Roussillon’s calling card. The wide variety of terroirs allow for many different grapes to be used, 23 in all, including four kinds of Grenache. The region produces about 95% still wine.

As you might expect, Roussillon winemakers are working from a heritage that stretches back centuries - 28 centuries, in fact. This, added with the relative "grape freedom" of the area, means that Roussillon’s winemakers have one of the most wide-open fields for exploration and experimentation in France.

Aracil likes to point to the growing of the grapes in Roussillon as the jumping-off point for great bottles of wine. The vines, he says, send their roots down ten meters or more to gather in the nutrients offered by the subsoil and gain protection from the dry climate. He says the vines tend to have a low yield, which is always a good news/bad news joke for winegrowers. The good news is the aromas and flavors are more concentrated in a low yield. The bad news is you have fewer of those remarkable grapes to sell.

Each vineyard, Aracil says, has its own set of microclimates. The contour of the land gives different exposures to the sun, and altitudes range from the valley floor to the mountains, from the seaside to inland. This offers a wide array of acidity levels and ripeness.  Generally, he says, Roussillon winemakers like to avoid overripeness, over extraction and overoaking.

In coming articles, we will explore some specific wines from the region.


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Monday, October 17, 2016

Leisurely Lambusco

From the Banfi family of wines, this northern Italian red is, as the name Rosso Dolce suggests, on the sweet side. Not sweet as in dessert, but sweet as opposed to dry.

Bell'agio Rosso Dolce is made by blending two grapes of Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino. The vineyards are in the province of Reggio Emilia, located between the Po River and the hills of the Apennine mountains.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel and given a second fermentation, which imparts a bit of frothy fizz to the wine. Alcohol is incredibly restrained at just 8% abv. It sells for about 10 bucks, less in some places.

This is a very purple wine. It looks purple, it smells purple and it tastes purple. The nose is grapy and earthy, with not a whole lot of complexity. The palate is also rather simple, - pleasant, though, with gentle tannins. It's like a wine with training wheels, something to put in your glass until you're ready for the hard stuff.

That shouldn't be taken to mean the wine is not worthy. It is, quite, in fact. Its simplicity is its grace. It's a classic bistro wine, the stuff to drink when the person across the table is of greater interest that the bottle on the table.

You can pair this wine with very spicy foods, as the tannins and acidity are rather tame. It goes well with pasta, burgers, cheese or even pastries.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Pushing The Syrah Envelope

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one's own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that lost in it, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent.

That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." Connecting only with the Steppenwolf song, I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That's some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it's well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur  uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black. It's savory on the nose. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It's a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Italian Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is too often relegated to "special occasions," due in part to its festive appearance and in part to its sometimes hefty price tag. This is a splashy and affordable bubbly that can be used to celebrate every day, regardless of its special nature. After all, every day is special and should be greeted as such.

Italy's alpine Trento DOC is a sparkling wine region in Trentino. Rotari, along with Ferrari and Cavit, are one of the larger producers in Trentino. They use the traditional method of making wine bubbly - Metodo Classico - and conduct a second fermentation in the bottle. There, the wine ages for 24 months. This Brut is vintage dated 2013.

It’s a Blanc de Blancs, meaning it’s made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in the Dolomites area, "in the shadow of the Italian Alps." It has alcohol at the sparkling standard of 12.5% abv and sells for under $20.

This Italian sparkler has bubbles for days. Well, at least for the good part of a minute. The pour produces a white, frothy head that looks like it won't dissipate, although it eventually does. The nose and palate both evoke crisp apples and the acidity is as fresh as the proverbial daisy. The toast note is more like a good piece of sandwich bread or boule. It paired well with my wife’s delicious autumn vegetable soup and a crusty bread.


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Monday, October 10, 2016

101 Cider House: India Pale Cider

We had a hankering for some healthy food recently - yes, that does happen now and zin - so we went to one of the longest-running vegan food restaurants in Los Angeles, Real Food Daily. It features a menu full of items you’d find in many restaurants, but they are made meatless, eggless and usually anything but tasteless. There are lots of soy-based products to take the place of meat in dishes like lasagna, tacos, tuna salad and barbecue. Yes, meatless barbecue. Welcome to Los Angeles.

I broke the water tradition I usually employ at RFD and went with an alcoholic beverage to pair with my La-La lasagna. It was a hard cider from L.A. suburb Westlake Village. 101 Cider House uses "apples and quince grown up and down the 101" freeway that runs along the California coast like a fault line.

The version I had - they make a handful of different varieties, all sour - was called India Pale Cider and is dry-hopped. It hits 6.9% abv on the alcohol scale.

It’s a cloudy yellow - the probiotics, I'm told - with a quickly dissipating head. The nose is fruity and crisp, with a strong sense of apples. It is reminiscent of Prosecco or Albarino, except with a more floral element. It's super dry, very refreshing and loaded with citrus, apples and hops. There is also a lovely, dry finish.


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Friday, October 7, 2016

Pushy Central Coast Syrah

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Bonny Doon Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one’s own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that carried away, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent. That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." The label art makes me think of the Steppenwolf song by that name. I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That’s some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it is well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing, and accounts for that slightly stunned and displaced look.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black, and the nose is savory. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It’s a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.


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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wine Movie: "A Year In Port"

When I see a picture of a vineyard in France, Italy, or Spain I may not recognize it as such. A vineyard in Portugal, or anything in Portugal for that matter, is unmistakably Portuguese. David Kennard's movie, "A Year in Port" brings that point home solidly. The camera work captures the innate beauty of Portugal perfectly in some scenes, while displaying its lovely capriciousness in others.

Following "A Year in Burgundy" and "A Year in Champagne," this film makes a wonderful trilogy of wine movies. It presents the feeling of Port wine as well as the tradition of it.

While opening on the activity in the coastal city of Porto, where Port wine is blended and marketed, the film quickly moves into the valley of the River Douro, where Port wine is grown. That starts about a hundred miles away and goes all the way to Spain. There, we get to see how young winegrowers are trying to carve out a place for themselves by growing, and making, table wines instead of Port.

The movie shows that the way Port is made is so expensive that young winemakers can't hope to get a foot in the door. The blends involve barrels that are as much as a hundred years old. These upstarts are putting their future into table wines. This makes a way for them to get into business, but it also means lower prices for the growers in a region where it is very expensive to grow and harvest grapes.

Is the future of the Douro Valley in Port, or is it in table wines? The Port producers are certainly trying to hold onto their traditions - and market share - while debating whether table wines are the wave of the future. It's an "old world" versus "new world" battle unfolding within the same small wine region.

The movie is definitely worth a view for anyone who has an interest in Port, or for anyone who has an interest in how tradition adapts itself to the future.

:A Year in Port"is also available as a trilogy with the other two companion films. iTunes is offering the trio for a special price of $14.99, which I assume will go away at some point. Find it here.


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