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.

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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