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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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

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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