Friday, May 26, 2017

South African Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé

Everything's coming up rosé at Whole Foods Markets. It is the time of year when people love to turn to a nice, refreshing pink wine, although that time of year never stops for me.. Whole Foods has a slew of pink wines that are easy on the palate and the pocketbook. This wine is one of several that were offered to me for review. Whole Foods beverage guy Devon Broglie calls this one of the wines from their "rosé garden."

The Mulderbosch winery was started in 1989, and this rosé was introduced a decade later. It was a time when South African rosés were usually a byproduct of red wine production. This one has always been produced as pink, from vine to bottle. It is 100% Coastal region Cabernet Sauvignon, and the winery says that once the grapes are pressed after early picking, "the juice is handled as per Sauvignon Blanc." Alcohol content is restrained at 12.5% abv and it sells for $12 at Whole Foods.

The color of the Mulderbosch rosé is rich, a deep ruby-pink that looks almost like rosado. The nose is just as rich, black cherry and earth wrapped around an herbal note that hits just right. In the mouth, a zippy acidity made me forget this is a Cabernet Sauvignon. Red fruit takes a back seat to herbs and earth. The savory edge is so great, the spice so understated, the greenness just green enough. This is a classy rosé, and for 12 bucks, it should be on your patio well chilled.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Spending Money On Wine



Here's a repeat from the vaults. May 2011.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Look Who Makes This New Zealand Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir is from New Zealand, Central Otago to be more specific. High above the Awatere Valley, to be even more specific. Their mountaintop perch is so beautiful that it prompts the marketing department to wax poetic; "the peace lifts you above your troubles." The winemaking philosophy is one of "low intervention" that allows the terroir to speak. This terroir, in a warm area of the region, speaks in a robust language.

The winemaker, Kim Crawford, has moved on from the company which he and his wife built on Sauvignon Blanc. Loveblock is their current brand. Their 2013 Pinot from the Someone's Darling vineyard clocks in with alcohol at 13.8% abv and retails for around $27.

It's a dark wine, and a fragrant one. Blackberry and raspberry dominate the nose with allspice, tobacco and vanilla wafting in. The palate shows plenty of freshness, great acidity, dark fruit and spices. It's a little muscular for my Pinot taste, but it carries its weight well and settles down a bit after opening. There is a nice, tart finish. It should be a great match with roasted meat or a soft cheese.


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Monday, May 22, 2017

Pink Wine From Bordeaux

Everything’s coming up Rosé at Whole Foods Markets, and that's good news for people looking for wines to pair with spring and summer get-togethers. They have a slew of pink wines that are easy on the palate and the pocketbook. Their marketing department offered a sample of a half dozen of their favorites, and I took 'em. Whole Foods beverage guy Devon Broglie calls this one of the wines from their "rosé garden."

"Je vois la vie en rose." I see things in a rosy light. What a lovely thought, especially when that light shines through a glass of rosé. Rosé wine makes "everyday words turn into love songs."

There is a decided lack of information available on the French Blue Bordeaux Rosé.  It comes from a region that is typically not known for its pink wine as much as for its reds. Grapes? Possibly Cabernet Franc, but I'm guessing Merlot. Alcohol is quite restrained at 12.5% abv, and the French Blue retails for around 11 bucks at Whole Foods.

This simple pinkie has a muted, yet ripe, nose. Strawberry aromas are not so green as in many other rosés, not so herbal. The color is almost nonexistent, too. An extremely light onion skin hue is pretty, though. On the palate, a ripping acidity is right up front, while the sweet-tartness that was MIA on the nose shows up ready for action. If you want some oysters, this wine will help you with them.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris

In the 1970s, an Italian immigrant in California's Bay Area taught his grandson how to make wine. Fred Cline took the information and ran with it, starting a winery and eventually moving the operation to Sonoma County's Carneros Valley.

Cline Cellars now has sustainably-grown ancient Zinfandel and Rhône varieties in Oakley, more Rhône grapes in Carneros and Pinot Noir in the Petaluma Gap.  Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos produces wines that, according to Cline, "express the unique qualities of California fruit, and their specific sense of place."

Baseball fans may want to know that Cline partners with Wines by Design on a San Francisco Giants Pinot Gris. It's sourced from the winery's Sonoma Coast estate vineyard, and they say it’s a "hit."

The Cline Estate Pinot Gris is also sourced from the Petaluma Gap vineyards and is fermented and aged in stainless steel.  It hits 14% abv and sells for $15.

This California Pinot Gris is lightly tinted with a yellow-green hue. It smells of apples, peaches and apricots with some lemon zest adding to a complex nose. An earthy aroma underlies all else and provides a base from which the other aromas work. The acidity is fairly bracing, and will welcome seafood. Flavors of apple, lemon, and tangerine come forward with stone fruit on the finish.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rosé Wine - Folie En Provence

Everything’s coming up rosé at Whole Foods Market, where you’ll find plenty of pink wines to liven up your spring and summer. Folie en Provence Rosé is a Côtes de Provence wine from the south of France. The Provence region is pretty much the mothership for pink wine. It’s nearly all they make and virtually the only thing that comes up in France when a rosé is ordered.

"Folie" translates to concepts like madness, craziness, lunacy and folly. Maybe the original vintner had a little trouble at home after announcing “winemaking” as a career. Maybe he had just consumed a white Zinfandel and was temporarily driven insane by sugar. Maybe it was just one of those nutty, Provençal days.

The demand for pink wine in general, and specifically from Provence, has blown up in recent years. Everybody wants rosé, even manly men are going pink with the brosé movement. Provençal rosé, by the way, is always very dry, not sweet, and usually displays remarkable acidity.

In the Folie en Provence, the alcohol is very reasonably restrained at 13% abv and it retails for about 13 dollars.

It's a beautiful shade of pink and smells just as lovely. Cherries, strawberries and watermelons come to mind. The palate displays a fine acidity and light flavors of red fruit, with an herbal touch. A summer salad on the porch would be great with it.


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Monday, May 15, 2017

Organic Rosé At Organic Brunch

Suzanne Hagins and Chris Condos are the proprietors of Horse and Plow. They both started as cellar rats in the wine biz and started their own label in 2008. They source only organically farmed grapes from  Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. They say their "wines are made naturally with no synthetic nutrients or additives, no GMO’s, are vegan and contain low sulfites." The pair also make cider and they pour their delights in a Sebastopol tasting barn.

I had the opportunity to sample their rosé at the Inn of the 7th Ray in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon. It’s fitting, because, the Inn would no doubt be a place where a couple of post-hippie organic winemakers could feel right at home. The setting is entirely anti-Los Angeles, out in the Topanga woods, with seating areas actually carved out of the natural space. A deer came up to the fence separating the diners from the trees while I was eating Easter brunch. The chef utilizes seasonal, organic foods.

The Carignane grapes for the Horse and Plow rosé came from some of the oldest organic vineyards in California. The alcohol is super low at just 12.5% abv and the juice spent eight hours in contact with the skins, so it has a nice, rosy color. It was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and retails for $20.

The aromas of fresh strawberries and tart cherries burst from the glass, even outdoors where the wind more often than not blows the smells away. Fruity and completely dry, the wine has plenty of acidity for chicken or pork, but I had mine with the dessert selections.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Drink Pink: Meiomi Rosé

Everything’s coming up rosé at Whole Foods Markets, and that's good news for people looking for wines to pair with spring and summer get-togethers. They have a slew of pink wines that are easy on the palate and the pocketbook. Their marketing department offered a sample of a half dozen of their favorites, and I took 'em.

Meiomi Rosé 2016 is from all over California, 48% from Sonoma County, 43% from Monterey County and just nine percent from Santa Barbara County. Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse worked predominantly with Pinot Noir in this inaugural vintage.

The wine is produced in the saignée method, in which the juice is drained away from the skins and fermented in stainless steel tanks.  Alcohol is quiet, at 13.2% abv and the bottle retails for $23.

Light salmon in color, the Meiomi Rosé is so full of strawberry aromas my first inclination is to pick it, not drink it. There is a fresh greenness in there, too, along with a twist of orange peel. On the palate, strawberry leads light notes of cherry and currant. An invigorating acidity begs for a grilled calamari salad, or even oysters. The finish is slightly and deliciously tart, and lasts a long time. It’s a little more expensive than most of the rosés at Whole Foods this spring, but it is worth it.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Locations Wine: CA Is For California

CA is for California, a white wine from select "locations" in the Golden State. Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort. At first, I wasn't on board with the philosophy. I felt specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. After sampling through a few locations, though, I will not question Mr. Phinney's expertise any further.

The Locations California White wine is composed of grapes that were grown in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. Grape varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne come together in what Phinney says "perfectly reflects the diversity and potential of California." It gets barrel aging in oak that is nearly one-third new. The 14.5% abv number for alcohol content will surprise no one who is familiar with California wine.

The nose of this white blend really shows off the savory aspect of the Roussanne, with a salinity I can smell. The citrus minerality of the Sauvignon Blanc also shines, as do the floral notes from the Viognier. There’s plenty of oak on the nose, too. On the palate, get ready to hop in your Chardonnay time machine. CA takes me back to the days of big, fat, oaky Chardonnay and makes me love it all over again. The inclusion of Roussanne in this wine is a masterful stroke. There are honeyed apricot flavors, spice all day long and more acidity than I expected in so round a wine. This type of full, rich white is what I generally gravitate to in cooler months, but it'll certainly work on the picnic table with a shrimp salad, too.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Everything's Coming Up Rosé - El Terrano

Everything’s coming up Rosé at Whole Foods Markets, and that's good news for people looking for wines to pair with spring and summer get-togethers. They have a slew of pink wines that are easy on the palate and the pocketbook. Their marketing department offered a sample of a half dozen of their favorites, and I took 'em. Whole Foods beverage guy Devon Broglie calls this Spanish pinkie one of the wines from their "rosé garden."

Garnacha, Spanish for Grenache, are the grapes that make the El Terrano Garnacha Rosado 2016. They are grown in Cariñena, in the Aragon region of northeast Spain. Traditionally, the wines were heavy on the alcohol, but winemakers in the area began to go more for balance a couple of decades ago. Winemaker Ana Becoechea definitely leans that way with this entry at 13% abv. It sells at Whole Foods for about ten dollars.

The Spanish wine has a beautiful copper-pink color. The nose is not exactly overpowering, but offers up some pleasant strawberry and cherry aromas. There's a slight herbal tint, too. On the palate, the medium weight is abetted by an easy acidity. Red fruit flavors ride out front, while a barely chalky minerality makes things a little more complex. It's not a wine to write home about, even though I am doing just that, but it serves well as an afternoon sip or a companion to a salad or sandwich. Or tapas.


Friday, May 5, 2017

E Is For España

Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort. At first, I wasn’t on board with the philosophy. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. After sampling through a few "letters," I'm on board.

Yes, the letters. These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas. The wines are bottled at the Locations headquarters in Spain. Or, in this case, España.

E is the fourth release of the Locations wine from the Iberian locale. Phinney uses Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Cariñena (Carignane) grapes grown all over the Peninsula. The locations for this wine include Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja and Ribera Del Duero. Grapes from low-yielding, old vines, assure that the aromas and flavors are concentrated.

Carrying alcohol at 14.5% abv, the wine was aged in barrels for ten months. It retails for around 20 bucks.

Aromas of currant produce an elegant first whiff of this incredibly dark wine. Layer in some tobacco, pepper and sweet oak and you have a nose worth remembering. It brings to mind great wines I’ve had from the varied regions, er, locations of Spain. The sip is lush with black fruit, and spiced with white pepper, mocha and a hint of vanilla. There is enough tannic grip here to tame a steak right off the grill.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Plymouth Gin

Plymouth Gin comes from the seaport town of Plymouth, England, and there is only one distillery there making it. It has changed hands a few times since its birth in the 18th century, but the recipe has remained a prize of British history.  I was invited to an interesting evening in Los Angeles in which the atmosphere of their Refectory Cocktail Bar was created at a pop-up at the Lost Property bar on Vine Street in Hollywood.  Master Distiller Sean Harrison and International Brand Ambassador Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge were on hand to give the joint an even more British flair.  The fleet of bartenders were creating and pouring all 32 drinks from the Refectory Bar menu, and I sampled a few of the more definitive ones.

Plymouth Gin is slightly less dry than the London style and has a more herbal quality to it along with a juniper flavor. I'm not an expert on gin, but on this evening I didn’t have to be. I just had to like it. Easy.

Gin is actually Dutch, not British. In fact, British soldiers discovered the spirit while in Holland and brought it back home with them. If you are ever going to use the phrase "for medicinal purposes" as an excuse to drink, it had better be with gin. British sailors used gin mixed with lime juice to prevent scurvy while on long sea voyages. Gin and bitters help settle an upset tummy. Quinine fights malaria, so have a gin and tonic.

The "Marguerite" is made from Plymouth Gin, French dry vermouth and orange bitters.  It is stirred chilled and served straight up in a gimlet glass. The lemon spray leaves a vigorous citrus aroma and the drink shows off its herbs to the fullest. Light and smooth, it's a great "anytime" cocktail.

The "Pink Gin" comes three different ways. The Modern Long is mixed in a tall glass with soda, on the rocks.  The Gin Pahit apparently originated in Britain's colonial days in India, with more Angostura Bitters. I ordered the Classic, which is like a very dry martini, served in the same type of glass. Citrus spray again makes a refreshing nose and it’s quite a bit more dry than the dirty martini I favor.

The "Gin Pennant" adds Plymouth Sloe Gin to orange and lemon juice, syrup, soda and a dash of apricot liqueur to the Plymouth Gin base.  It's built in a very unusual glass and served on the rocks. It's a sweet and easy cocktail with a straw. You get a nose full of mint when you go for the sip. It reminds me of the sweet drinks I would concoct in my college days, only far, far better.


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Monday, May 1, 2017

Corsican Vermentino


Corse is a Corsican white wine made by Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. His Locations label focuses on the great winemaking regions of the world. This one is a little different, as it is not adorned with the country-sticker label familiar on his other Locations wines. Also, Corsica is not a very well-known wine region.

The vineyards which produced the Vermentino grapes for Corse are on Corsica - an island which is adjacent to, but protected from, the salty Mediterranean sea spray. The vines grow on steep hillside slopes in soil of granite and red clay.

A product of France, bottled in Spain, from an American winemaker. It’s a United Nations in a bottle. The 100% Vermentino grapes were vinified in stainless steel tanks to an alcohol level of 13.7% abv. It sold online for just under 20 bucks.

This Corsican wine’s delightful nose has the sea spray mist in it that I love in Vermentino from the Italian isles. It also has a healthy scent of lanolin and a trace of orange peel. Minerals are abundant on the palate, as is a fresh level of acidity. The finish holds those savories for quite awhile. The wine is simply made for oysters or calamari or scungilli, grilled to perfection.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Flying Cigars And Wine

This is the wine that started it all for Bonny Doon Vineyards. First produced in 1984, Le Cigare Volant's blend of California-grown Rhône grape varieties made Randall Grahm's Rhône Ranger persona.

In 1954, the community leaders in Châteauneuf-du-Pape began to worry about flying saucers - they called them flying cigars, cigares volant - landing in the vineyards and tearing up the precious grapevines. So they passed a law making it illegal to land a flying cigar amongst the vines. And for more than 60 years, it has worked. All the flying cigares are from California.

Grahm calls the 2012 Cigare a "stylistic departure from recent more Grenache-centric vintages." True enough, the 2012 is top-loaded with Mourvèdre grapes. Grahm says that variety is "quite pronounced and expressive" here. That 39% is joined by 33% Grenache, 26% Syrah and 2% Cinsault. Alcohol hits a modest 13.5% abv, 4000 cases were made and the wine sells by the bottle for $45.

The nose of a LCV should be savored, always. The black olive... my god the black olive. The leather, the cigar box, the campfire. Savor the savory. Nobody does savory like Randall Grahm. Fruit? Oh, yeah, I smell fruit, too. It's all that other stuff I live for, though. The Mourvèdre-heavy mix of the 2012 vintage has balls. The blackberry and plum flavors are forceful, magnificent. Tannins are strong, but with enough give to make a good sipper. I usually am not called to have a steak with LCV, but this time I am. Spices fight for attention, and get it. There is cardamom and cinnamon, sage and rosemary. The oak spice is like a dollop of whipped cream on top of dessert, light and tasty.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A GSM Wine That's Actually SMG

The 2013 Chateau Planeres La Romanie comes from the Les Aspres area is in the southern part of the Roussillon region. The wine is a GSM, half Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache. Those are the grapes in the mix, as is found often in this part of France. The wine stays in contact with the grape skins for 40 days. Aging happens in French oak for 12 to 18 months. Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv. It sells for about $15.

This wine has a wonderfully complex nose. Aromas of blueberry, tobacco, leather and smoke all clamor to get out first. Some anise and tar straggle a bit for freedom. The palate offers a pleasing fruit presentation, but some savory bits and pieces come forward as well. Olives and cigar meet jammy dark fruit and a floral sensibility, with fresh acidity and firm tannins. It's a steak-ready wine that has the tools with which to work.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Little Black Dress Cabernet

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 with the rosé as well. Winemaker Margaret Leonardi knows how to make good juice for this Mendocino winery.

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 made to look 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."

The grapes for the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon are 84% Cab and 16% "other red varietals." Alcohol comes in at a modest 13.5% abv.

The nose smells of minerals and earth, layered upon blackberry and plum fruit aromas. There are traces of licorice in the medium-dark wine, and a note of lilacs. On the palate, it's a pleasant enough quaff. There is almost no tannic grip, so it goes down very easily. There is enough backbone to go with some meat dishes - marinara, stew - but I would save the ribeye for a more muscular wine. 

Upon tasting after the wine had been open a day, things went downhill. An unpleasantly tarry character took over and it tasted sour, not savory. This dress only looked good when first worn, not after a washing. Maybe it needs dry cleaning. 


Friday, April 21, 2017

Beer: Mayberry By The Sea

The notion of having a drink while watching a movie is a great one. Why shouldn't we be allowed to enjoy ourselves a little, since everyone else in the theater seems bent on taking it the other way. The popcorn bag-rattlers, the slurpers, the texters, the talkers - their only purpose in life is to ruin the movie experience for everyone. Not to mention the 24-year-old who is in charge of taking complaints about the air conditioning being a little too aggressive. Hey, I know how a/c works, Jered. I know how 500 bodies warm a room. I also know what an arctic wind feels like in my face. I can tell when everyone in my row is uncomfortable. How about I wait here while you go get a responsible adult?  I’ll be having a beer at the bar.

Denise loves to see movies, and gets even more agitated about the ruination of that experience than I do. She doesn’t drink very much, though, the poor thing. She just has to suffer through it, over and over again.

She likes to see movie after movie after movie. We have spent many a fine Saturday or Sunday in movie theaters, enjoying the best that Hollywood has to offer. When that does not come with a drink, it feels considerably less enjoyable than it could have been.

We were at the end of a three-movie Saturday, at West L.A.'s Landmark Theater, awaiting "Life." We had already seen "Kong: Skull Island" and "Beauty and the Beast" that day, so it was getting a little tiresome for me. "Kong" is a good popcorn movie and "Beauty/Beast" is, well, very Disney. Very extremely Disney. A lot more Disney that I would ever be seeking out on my own.  The slug line for "Life" is a good one, and it sums up my feelings about watching movies in public. "We were better off alone."

Mayberry IPA comes from El Segundo Brewing Company and is really enjoyable. I always like finding a good Southern California beer, and there seem to be plenty of them these days. Add Mayberry to the collection.

The 7% abv beer reportedly uses Mosaic hops, which I had never had before to my knowledge. The more familiar Cascade and Chinook are also in the mix. The Mosaic flowers apparently give a sense of tropical fruit to the light colored, fruity smelling brew. There is a great nutty edge on the citrus and pine flavors, and a smidge of bitterness on the finish. The head was nice and white, but it seemed thin to me and didn't last long. The beer's name is taken from the nickname of El Segundo, known in some circles as "Mayberry by the Sea."


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Nielluccio Grape From Corsica

A restaurant with a good wine list is something to cherish. In Los Angeles, where I find favorite restaurants closing up shop with increasing regularity, that is doubly true. Little Next Door is billed online at "the best French restaurant in Hollywood," although it’s not actually in Hollywood. The Third Street location puts it right along with many other eateries in the food-rich area, but it is definitely not just another resto. It’s casual and fancy at the same time and offers an outdoor seating area that is predictably popular with the L.A. crowd.

The wine list is understandably French-heavy, but there are some gems from other areas, too. I spied a Moroccan wine, which I had tasted some months ago, in the wall-display behind our table. For this meal we both enjoyed a pink wine from Corsica.

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean, just north of Sardegna. It is a French territory, but it has a lot of similarities to Italy due to its location. There are nine wine regions on the island.

The Domaine Poli rosé is labelled on the list as l'Île de Beauté, which means "island of beauty," I'm told. It's a faintly copper-colored rosé made with organically-grown Nielluccio grapes. That variety is widely planted on Corsica and used primarily for rosé. It is also speculated that it might actually be Sangiovese in disguise. The wine has a fresh nose and a palate to match, with lovely acidity. Grapefruit and strawberry flavors mingle delightfully.


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Monday, April 17, 2017

Relaxing In Santa Ynez With A Glass Of Verdelho

A great day trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara wine country should always involve bagels in Camarillo, the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, lunch at Sides and a final glass at a pastoral setting. Take care of those incidentals and the wine will take care of itself.

Kalyra's Australian-born owner/winemaker Mike Brown uses grapes from California and Australia for his line. They offer quite a few dessert wines which are outstanding, but they also feature dry wines of the red, white and pink styles. I skipped the tasting menu and simply enjoyed a glass on the porch at the winery in Santa Ynez, although they also operate a tasting room in nearby Buellton.

A glass of wine on the porch can lead to all sorts of interesting talk. This time, I discovered that a joke I had heard Orson Bean tell on the "Tonight Show" in the 1970s was the same one Johnny Carson had told decades earlier on "Who Do You Trust." The joke took forever to tell, and "I can't believe it's Thursday" was the punchline.

Kalyra's 2014 Verdelho - a Portuguese variety - is light and crisp with a nose of flowers, spices and minerals. The palate is soft and easy, showing earth, pepper and stone fruit. It sells for $22.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Los Olivos Tasting Room: Carina Cellars

A great day trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara wine country should always involve bagels in Camarillo, the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, lunch at Sides and a final glass at a pastoral setting. Take care of those incidentals and the wine will take care of itself.

At the Carina Cellars tasting room in Los Olivos - the one they share with Tensley Wines - I chatted through the tasting menu with Sandy. She is very knowledgeable on wine in general and in particular the wines made by Joey Tensley. We had an enjoyable volley of comments about dirt versus earth. It’s just a matter of PR preferences, I think.  The word earth looks better on a label than plain old dirt.

Rhone varieties rule at Carina, but they also produce some Zinfandel. Even a Tannat, which is unusual in this part of the world. Grapes are sourced in Santa Barbara County and at their Paso Robles estate

I tasted through a half-dozen or so wines that were quite impressive, and after a bit of deliberation I called the 2012 Clairvoyant as my favorite. It’s a GSM - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre - but it’s heavier on the Syrah. It retails for $28.

The wine is very approachable, with dark fruit, mostly currant. There’s a hint of savory, but the crowd-pleasing fruit is the star of the show.


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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Darkness Becomes You

The name "Apothic" is inspired by the Greek word, apotheca, which is defined as a repository or storeroom where wine was kept. There are wines named after natural beauty, mythological creatures and spaceships in France, but not too many named after a warehouse.

The grapes are from Lodi. I'm led to believe the varieties are Petite Sirah, Teroldego and Cabernet Sauvignon. Alcohol is actually a little low for that area, at a mere 14% abv. It retails for about $12 and comes bottled under a synthetic cork. Black, of course.

Apothic Dark is frightfully dark, enough so that we can just go ahead and call it black. As in a black hole, as in no light gets through. As in the pot and the kettle are green with envy. The aromas peg the needle on the dark side as well. Blackberry, black currant, black plum and - for variety - blueberry. Flavors are in that same realm, with a dollop of oak spice on top.  Other Apothic wines throw that element in with too heavy a hand for me, so it was a relief to find the oak effect more restrained in the Dark.


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Monday, April 10, 2017

Rivesaltes Sweet Wine, 1995

Rivesaltes is the French AOC 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. There we find 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.

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.

Terrassous Les Vignobles de Constance Vin Doux Naturel Hors d'âge

The Terrassous aged sweet wine series features a range of their natural sweet wines that have been aged for at least 6 years. This one is from 1995, an 18-year-old wine. 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 and Grenache Gris 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 18 year bottling is dark like bourbon, deep brown with an orange glow. The nose is fabulous, raisiny and brown sugar sweet, with oak notes showing plainly. On the palate, don't think you're getting away without acidity. It’s ripping fresh still, even at its advanced age. Brown sugar immediately coats the tongue and the mouth is full and round. A wave of raisins follows and the combination stays on the honeyed, lengthy finish. The wine seems perfect for a dessert pairing, but I just sipped it, like the after dinner drink it is.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Landing A SoCal IPA

The best thing about the craft brewery explosion is the abundance of truly magnificent IPAs out there. It seems hard to even imagine a world with only the big American lagers, which is the world where I started drinking beer.

Hangar 24 is a Redlands, California craft brewery. It's way out in the part of Southern California that we call the Inland Empire, east of L.A. by an hour if the traffic is flying. The brews of theirs that I have had are impressive, and that's saying the absolute minimum. Normally, when I have one of their creations I gush.

Hangar 24's Iconic Double IPA is brewed with four American hops - Centennial, Citra, Columbus and Simcoe - five malts and local Inland Empire orange blossom honey.

The color is gorgeous, deep and rich gold. The nose is all about oranges and pine cones. On the palate, it's lush and flavorful, with a lot of bitter and a smidge of honey.


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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

L.A. Winemakers Conduct Paso Robles Stormwatch

Stormwatch is made by the Riboli family, who run the oldest winery in Los Angeles, San Antonio Winery. They are celebrating their centennial this year. The Ribolis use grapes from their estate vineyard in Paso Robles for this one on their San Simeon label. Winemakers Anthony Riboli and Arnaud Debons crafted the wine in L.A., but they now have a winemaking facility in Paso Robles.

The Bordeaux grapes were grown in Paso's El Pomar district and the wine was aged 18 months French oak. It retails for $70.

It's a Bordeaux-styled blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 21% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Personally, I would have flipped the Cabernets, more Franc than Sauvignon, but what do I know? It's not like anybody ever asked me to figure out the final blend for them. And that's probably a good thing.

The Paso Robles Cabernet - Sauvignon, that is - smells earthy as usual. Paso Cab has a great aroma, I think. Full of mineral, limestone and dirt. This one gets an infusion of mocha, chocolate, and sweet smoke. The palate is robust and tasty. Let's mention those tannins right off the bat. They are not to be ignored. The fruit is rather demanding as well, with big, dark berries, as ripe as you want. Herbal notes that sing bring some anise along into the oak spice. The finish doesn't know when to stop, and we can be glad about that.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Cherry Dessert Wine From Italy

Visciola is a traditional aromatic beverage from the Marche region of Italy, made by Luigi & Giusti Visciola. It's 65% wine and 35% cherry juice. Two different types of cherries are used - sweet and sour. One is fermented in the sun for 40 days and both are mixed with the wine. It takes about six months to make this wine, then it's aged for a year and a half. The grapes come from Lacrima Morro d'Alba. I had not heard of the Lacrima grape before, so it was a good learning experience.

It’s a dessert wine, but alcohol hits only 12.5% abv. The 500 ml bottle cost about $30. It’s imported in the U.S. by Vinity Wine Company.

It's sweet, but with a tannic kick. Earthy, with sour cherry notes that belong in a Pixy Stick. The gumball flavors ride high and pronounced with that earthy base solidifying the feel. The finish is lengthy and forceful. Pair it with chocolates, I figure.


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Friday, March 31, 2017

Big Cab From Napa

Crocker and Starr Wines Co-owners Charlie Crocker, who handles the grape growing, and winemaker Pam Starr are beginning their 20th year with the winery.

The 2014 Crocker and Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon hits 14.4% abv.  It sells for $120 per bottle.

This is why Napa Cabernet brings the big bucks. Inky in the glass with indigo trim, the wine smells of a thousand different feelings at once. Cassis, blackberry, pencil shavings, cedar, vanilla. The palate is just as complex, just as delightful. Very dark fruit goes hand-in-hand with minerals and oak spice. The tannic structure is firm enough to make a vegetarian want a steak. Quite a trick, because, as I understand it, it’s bacon they crave.


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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Burgundy, En Francais

Jadot is one of those names, one of only a few, that signify French Wine. Even if you don't know French, even if you don't know wine, you can still know Jadot.

This Maison Louis Jadot wine, 2014 Bourgogne, is made not from Chardonnay and not Gamay grapes. That leaves the other main grape in Burgundy, Pinot Noir. The venerable Jadot winery was established in 1859, but the family was digging around in the Burgundy soil a good 30 years before that. I wonder if any of them envisioned a 2014 vintage? Probably. I doubt that they spent much time working on a fallback position, in case the wine thing didn't work out.

The Pinot Noir grapes for this Bourgogne came from Burgundy's Côte d'Or and the Côte Chalonnaise regions. The wine was aged in French oak for nine months and hits 12.5% abv, in typically restrained Burgundian style.

Jadot’s 2014 Bourgogne Pinot Noir sits medium dark and pretty purple in the glass. There is raspberry and cranberry on the nose, with a little whiff of smoke high over the glass. It's a fruity aroma package adorned with just a bit of minerality. The minerals come forward really strong on the palate, elbowing the tart little berries right out of the way. Acidity is predictably wonderful while the tannins stay mostly in the shadows.


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Wood You Like Some Chardonnay?

Dierberg Vineyard is just 14 miles from Pacific Ocean, in the southern part of Santa Maria Valley. Mary and Jim Dierberg came west from Missouri, where they had made wine for decades. They landed in Santa Barbara County in 1996 and grow some fine grapes in the Dierberg and Drum Canyon vineyards as well as the warmer Star Lane Vineyard.

The 2013 Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Dierberg Vineyard sets alcohol at a very California-esque 14.6% abv. It sells for $32, which isn’t cheap, but isn't exactly the high limit for a good Chardonnay, either. It aged for 16 months in French oak, only 15% of which was new. The 2013 vintage was warm and dry with an early harvest period from August into September.

This golden Chardonnay is more than three years old, something I don't get to sample too often. I'm usually asked to taste newer vintages. A little age goes quite well on this grape, though. It smells of almost pungent tropical fruit - guava, mango, pineapple - and has a good deal of vanilla spice in there, too. Over-oaked? It's not shy, but you be the judge. I can take it fairly well from either end of the spectrum, but this much oak generally hits me better in cooler months. The palate gives a nice framework for the apples and pears and peaches to be dunked in vanilla, too. There's a great savory aspect to the wood that keeps it from being "ordinary," and places it in an arena where the $32 price tag looks like bargain hunting.


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Friday, March 24, 2017

Locations Wine: P Is For Portugal

Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas. The wines are bottled at the Locations headquarters in Spain.

P is for Portugal. Phinney’s Portuguese effort is a "blend of Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, and Touriga Franca sourced primarily from the northern region of Douro, with the remainder coming from the Alentejo region to the south."

The old vines of the northern Douro Valley are sheltered from the impact of the Atlantic Ocean by the Serra do Marão mountain range, and very little rain falls on the "steep, rocky slopes." As a result, the grapes are concentrated and aromas and flavors are huge and expressive. The southern grapes are by nature fruity and fresh. Phinney says the blend allows for a silky, layered wine that hits a big 15% abv and is aged in French and American oak.

The wine is dark and juicy, with black currant and black raspberry aromas, but the nose has a distinct savory side to it, with cedar, olives, smoke and sassafras. Chocolate and meat also play into the olfactory delight. The palate brings a textbook darkness, with earth for miles and miles and miles. It's just about pitch black, and that's okay, because I've got a flashlight. There is a heavy note of oak spice, a tongue-teasing acidity and a tannic structure that wants to exert its influence over meat, make that steak, make that ribeye.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More White Wine For The Money: Le Cigare Blanc Réserve

The 2013 Réserve is the same wine as the 2013 Le Cigare Blanc "normale," but it is aged in five-gallon glass demijohns. The aging occurs while the wine is still in contact with the spent yeast cells, which lends weight and texture to the finished product. Winemaker Randall Grahm writes that the wine has a "very different textural aspect from the normale, with an extreme level of umami, or savoriness from the absorption of the lees."

It's still 57% Grenache Blanc, 27% Roussanne and 16% Picpoul from Beeswax Vineyard in Monterey County. It was stirred monthly while aging and was bottled unfiltered. Only 275 cases were made, and it sells for $45.

The wine is a lovely and rich greenish gold, much the same as the "normale," but maybe a little more vibrant. Aromas are predictably savory - beeswax, lanolin, minerals, citrus - and flavors walk that same path. The tropical fruit hits hard, with that Roussanne nuttiness right behind. The earthy, almost soapy, note stays long after the sip while acidity holds a high threshold. You could spend $45 on a Chardonnay very easily, but this wine gives you something much more interesting for your investment.


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Monday, March 20, 2017

Locations Wine: I Is For Italy

Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas. Locations I is an Italian red wine bottled at the company’s headquarters in Spain.

Phinney notes that he had 2,000 indigenous grapes from which to choose in Italy, but he whittled it down to four. The non-vintage wine is made from Nero D'Avola and Negroamaro grapes from Puglia, Barbera from Piedmont, and a bit of Tuscan Sangiovese. Alcohol sits at a big 14.5% abv and it retails for about $18.

He describes what each of those varieties does. "Powerful and rich fruit from Puglia (Torricella and Manduria) serves as the base with a lively vein of acidity from Barbera (Alba) that stabilizes things in just the right way." Aging takes ten months in a barrel before bottling.

This dark Italian has black cherry and raspberry on the nose, with a solid grounding in soil. Spices and herbs decorate the aroma profile, with allspice and anise predominant. On the palate, it's a bold showing of dark fruit and currant accompanied by a savory, black olive edge. Those savory notes last long into the generous finish.


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Friday, March 17, 2017

Locations Rosé: F Is For France

Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

These Locations wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas. The wines are bottled at the Locations headquarters in Spain.

F is for France, and it's a beautiful rosé, sourced in "the south of France." That’s as specific as it gets, but that's enough for me. Southern France is where some of the best rosé in the world is made. The Grenache grapes are taken from different locations within that general parameter. It hits 14.5% abv - kinda rich for rosé - and retails for $17 - not bad.

This rosé could be called salmon in color, if weren't for the fact that it's downright orange, not pink. It is undeniably beautiful, though. The nose is fresh and herbal, with berries in the bottom of the basket, stems and leaves on top. On the palate, there's an acidity that tingles. There are cherry and strawberry flavors that mingle with spice and sage. It's a delightful rosé, even if its origins are slightly obscure. It's France, the south, Grenache, so I won't quibble too much.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Get Doon With Rosé

Bonny Doon Vineyard's winemaker Randall Grahm says he’s "pretty happy" with his latest vintage of the pink Vin Gris de Cigare.  That’s underselling a magnificent product if I ever heard it. I eagerly await his annual offer of a taste.

As usual, the 2016 "pink analogue to Le Cigare Volant" is about half Grenache with smatterings of Grenache Blanc, Mourvèdre and Carignane. He says there's a slight twist this time around, as the Alta Loma Vineyard Grenache was allowed "a teensy bit more skin contact time."  That resulted in a nice bit of black currant in the profile. He made 21,000 cases and retails it for about $16. Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv.  Grahm says there are plantings in the works that he hopes will allow him to use "such grapes as Grenache Gris, Clairette and possibly Tibouren into the blend." Bring it on.

The light pink color is very Provençal, and the nose falls into line with it. Aromas of strawberry and watermelon are in the forefront, with plenty of herbal influence. On the palate, it drinks more red than pink, with cherry, currant and licorice on display. The acidity is plainly perfect, and a nutty savoriness just peeks through and lingers on the finish.


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Monday, March 13, 2017

New Zealand Single Vineyard Pinot Noir: Craggy Range

Craggy Range Owner Terry Peabody makes wine from various regions on New Zealand. The Te Muna Vineyard of Martinborough, where these Pinot Noir grapes were grown, is at the southern end of the northern island.  The volcanic and clay soils impart some wonderful things to those grapes, even though the scientists say you can’t taste the ground in the wine. We know different, don’t we?

Warm, dry summers and mild winters in Martinborough make good growing conditions for the region’s top grape. The Te Muna hits a respectably controlled 13.5% abv and retails for $43.

The 2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir from Te Muna shows a medium dark tint in the glass while displaying some fairly dark and earthy traits on the nose. Black fruit, cola, tea and coffee all appear, along with a wisp of smoke. The palate is also dark, but accessible. There is an elegance to the wine that beckons, does not stiff arm. There is a rustic element, it's natural in New Zealand’s expression of Pinot Noir.


Friday, March 10, 2017

A Little Cabernet With That Oak, Please

JaM Cellars stands for John and Michele, second-generation vintners who happen to run this Napa Valley wine biz.

The blurb says this wine is "all about the fruit," but it’s really mostly about the oak. Cellared and bottled in the California town of Acampo, the 2014 JaM hits the black keys, mainly.

It's dark to a fault, almost black in the glass and loaded with blackberry and black plum aromas. The nose also shows the oak that is used to chisel off the edges of this 15.1% abv wine. Sweet vanilla is the predominant aroma. It's also a big player on the palate, which maybe helps a high alcohol wine smooth out a bit, but it buries the grape. A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine should have plenty of Cab to spare, but here it's hiding behind a few staves of oak. It's pleasant enough, though, if you like - as Crosby, Stills and Nash said - "wooden music."


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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Put A Party In Your Glass

JaM Cellars stands for John and Michele, second-generation vintners who happen to run this Napa Valley wine biz.

JaM says you can "put a party in your glass any day of the week" with their bubbly, as long as the day ends in "y." This Chardonnay brut carries alcohol at 12.5% abv and retails for $25. Cellared and bottled in Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

This California sparkler has a rich, golden color and medium-sized bubbles that are fun while they last, and they stay around a good length of time. The nose shows a lot of the toasty note that is advertised in the name, with Meyer lemon and peach on the side. The mouthfeel is full and creamy, while also displaying great freshness. A lemony apple flavor certainly refreshes, while the fruit - and toast - last into a lengthy finish.


Monday, March 6, 2017

California Pinot From The North And South

They say Adler Fels is German for "Eagle Rock," which plays into their location "high in the Mayacamas Mountains." From there, they look across California, spyglass to eye, searching for the great grapes they want to use. Of course, nobody needs a mountaintop watchman to find those locations. Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Monterey County, Santa Barbara County - they are hardly off the beaten path. Those grapes make what they term, "artisan wines with intense varietal character."

The Alder Fels 2014 The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Aaron Bader, is a beauty. Bader calls the making of good Pinot "both a physical and mental exercise." He’s not shy about tooting his own bottle. "It's sexy, luscious, with that sweet perfume, a hint of maple syrup, and lush fruit." Wait a minute. Maple syrup? I can have that for breakfast!

For this wine, he blended three-quarters Sta. Rita Hills Pinot from Santa Barbara County and one-quarter grapes from the Russian River Valley. It checks in with 14.4% abv and retails for $28.

The Pinot is hefty and dark, with a nose that exudes black raspberry, black olive, coffee, tea and anise. Maple syrup? Well, now that it's in my head, it's in my nose. On the palate, wow. Ripe fruit, those olives, black tea and black pepper. The savory angle continues into the finish and carries plenty of sweet oak spice with it.


Friday, March 3, 2017

F Is For France

Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas. The wines are bottled at the Locations headquarters in Spain.

F is for France, and it's a beautiful rosé, sourced in "the south of France." That’s as specific as Phinney gets. The Grenache grapes are taken from different locations within that general parameter. It hits 14.5% abv - kinda rich for rosé - and retails for $17 - not a bad price.

This rosé could be called salmon in color, if weren't for the fact that it's downright orange, not pink. It is undeniably beautiful, though. The nose is fresh and herbal, with berries in the bottom of the basket, stems and leaves on top. On the palate, there's an acidity that tingles. There are cherry and strawberry flavors that mingle with spice and sage. It's a delightful rosé, even if its origins are slightly obscure. It's France, the south, Grenache, so I won't quibble too much.


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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Crocker & Starr Malbec

Crocker & Starr Wines Co-owners Charlie Crocker, who handles the grape growing, and winemaker Pam Starr are beginning their 20th year with the winery. She still feels a special kinship to the vines and loves working with their grapes.

There was a Brandlive virtual tasting with Crocker & Starr in early February. You can check out the video of the presentation here. It was hosted by publicist Kimberly Charles and livened up by Starr herself.

The wines tasted were
2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $34)
2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc (SRP $80)
2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $120)
2014 Crocker & Starr "Casali 6" (SRP $80)

The 2014 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon is heavy on the Malbec, 92%, with equal splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The grapes for Casali came from St. Helena in the Napa Valley and it's the seventh edition of this blend. Casali, the winery notes, means "farmhouse," and it was inspired by Pam's trip to Mendoza, Argentina.  Only 500 cases were produced, it hits 14.4% abv and sells for $80.

This beautiful ruby red wine smells like black cherry and smoke, with notes of sweet oak and vanilla oozing down the sides. I could sniff at it for hours. In the mouth, it's a red wine lover's dream. Rich fruit - cherry, blackberry, plum - and firm, supple tannins combine for a taste that compels and satisfies. There’s plenty of backbone here, but it's not dangerous, or anything like that. Pair with steak, go ahead. You'll be happy. The wine will be happy. The steak will be happy.


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Monday, February 27, 2017

Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc

Crocker & Starr Wines Co-owners Charlie Crocker, who handles the grape growing, and winemaker Pam Starr are beginning their 20th year with the winery. She still feels a special kinship to the vines and loves working with their grapes.

There was a Brandlive virtual tasting with Crocker & Starr in early February. You can check out the video of the presentation here. It was hosted by publicist Kimberly Charles and livened up by Starr herself.

The wines tasted were
2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $34)
2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc (SRP $80)
2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $120)
2014 Crocker & Starr "Casali 6" (SRP $80)

The 2014 Crocker & Starr St. Helena Cabernet Franc is delightful. Starr likens the grapes to herself, "not easily tamed." She says the grapes are more easily molded than she is. These grapes came from the Crocker Vineyard in Napa Valley, 20-year-old vines that are sustainably farmed. Retail is $80.

The wine is dark and mysterious, like Cabernet Franc should be. Blueberry aromas dominate the nose, with a lovely bell pepper note bubbling underneath. Flavors of dark fruit, coffee and black pepper on the palate are joined with firm tannins and a sweet oak influence. Tobacco on the finish is a delight.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Napa Sauvignon Blanc From Crocker & Starr

Crocker & Starr Wines Co-owners Charlie Crocker, who handles the grape growing, and winemaker Pam Starr are beginning their 20th year as wine partners. Starr met Crocker's vines before she met him. She still feels a special kinship to those vines and loves working with their grapes. She says, "There’s something incredibly special about experiencing what goes into a memorable and delicious bottle of wine that’s made from a single vineyard like this one."

There was a Brandlive virtual tasting with Crocker & Starr in early February, one which I was invited to attend online but couldn't due to a surgery. Believe me, I would much rather have been tasting on that evening. You can check out the video of the presentation here. It was hosted by publicist Kimberly Charles and livened up by Starr herself.

The wines tasted were:
2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $34)
2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc (SRP $80)
2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $120)
2014 Crocker & Starr "Casali 6" (SRP $80)

The winery claims old vines, and with good reason. They say the land has been continuously farmed since 1870. Starr "designs" the estate's Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec blend and Sauvignon Blanc to capture the "terroir of the vineyard."

The grapes for the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc are a combo of two Napa vineyards: primarily the Crocker Vineyard in St. Helena and to a lesser degree the Las Trancas Vineyard in northern Napa. It's fermented and aged in steel, oak and concrete egg after a whole cluster pressing, and gets sur lie aging with the spent yeast cells left in the mix for weight and complexity. They made 1200 cases and the bottles sell for $34. Starr credits Associate Winemaker David Sheffer for putting this blend together.

It's a pale golden wine and it carries a lovely nose of fresh grassiness and sweet lemon. The palate shows very nice acidity and a mineral-laden flavor profile. Starr says, "Yes, we have minerality in Napa." The finish lays long and lovely. When does spring happen? Because this wine is ready for it.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not Lazy, This Pinot Has Been Working Out

Burgundian technique in the winemaking process does not necessarily make a Burgundian wine. Even in the cool Anderson Valley, the grapes get far too ripe for that sort of expression. It’s the main reason California Pinot Noir is so different from that of Burgundy.

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 latest Lazy Creek Vineyards vintages 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.

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.

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

The Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day Pinot Noir 2014 is a well-made, although brutish, wine that strikes the California alcohol level of 14.5% abv and retails for $35.

Lazy Day is a medium dark ruby red in the glass and is scented with dark raspberry, earth and some fairly serious smoke. The cool climate of Anderson Valley put its stamp on this one. Flavors are dark, but fruity, with an anise and eucalyptus note. The palate is loaded with earthiness and acidity. It's a bold one, so if you like California Pinot, try it. If you prefer a more elegant approach, this may not be your cup. But if you like a bit of brawn, sign up and call it a $35 bargain.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Paso Robles Wine: AronHill Vineyards

A quick stop at AronHill Vineyards, along 46 West outside Paso Robles, produced these fast tasting notes. All the non-estate grapes used come from Paso's westside as well.

2015 Estate Primrose - A new release, Primitivo rosé. The nose is floral and cherry-laced, with nice acid, good tartness and red fruit on the palate.  $28

2010 Estate Primitivo - From the AronHill library collection. There’s pepper and raspberry on the nose, with great acidity, tannins and flavors of smoky dried plums and boysenberry.  $40

2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Cherry vanilla aromas, earthy cherry flavors with a minty note $40

Berrichon - BDX blend. 40% Estate Cabernet with 30% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 10% Petite Verdot.  It smells and tastes of bright, earthy cherry and has a eucalyptus note.  $48

Kickass Britchen Red - Estate Primitivo, Zinfandel and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose has a light cherry-and-orange zest angle, while the palate is a zippy cherry-raspberry experience with an herbal note.  $32


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Friday, February 17, 2017

Paso Robles Wine - Rocky Creek Cellars

A visit to wine country isn’t really complete without an encounter with a unique personality at the tasting bar. John Somogyi was that personality for me on a recent trip into California's San Luis Obispo County. Rocky Creek Cellars is a great place to stop while driving the lovely 46 West in Templeton, near Paso Robles.

The convoluted roads twist and turn around the little building that houses him and his wines. You can see it, you just don’t know how you'll get to it. Suddenly, a well-traveled back road appears and you're parking the car.

Somogyi’s stories pile one on top of another until disbelief makes way for amazement.  His dad and uncle were both Olympic athletes. He was sent to Oakland as a 12-year-old to live with relatives after the Hungarian revolution of 1956. He has worked in construction, lumber, and smiles broadly while telling of his adventures in Big Sur that led him to settle in the Central Coast. Somogyi - suh MO jee - left behind climbing 300-foot tall trees to open the winery. He still likes to build things from wood, and the bar in his tasting room was crafted by his own hand.

Somogyi likes to age his wines - all are cellared for at least three years - and he likes wine with food. He’ll go on for a good while about how recent health issues have limited his diet, and it’s easy to tell from his protestations that he’d give anything to have his preferred cuisine routine back with him.

Many of the grapes he sources very locally are grown in a microclimate that he says gets 29 inches of rain yearly, as opposed to less than eight inches a few miles over in Paso Robles. His York Mountain location in Templeton is where most of his fruit is grown

Rocky Creek 2009 Pinot Noir - Ripe, several years in barrel, smooth and earthy $30

Rocky Creek 2010 Sangiovese - Delightful, bright cherry $30

Rocky Creek 2006 Syrah - Medium dark, earthy, grapey $28

Rocky Creek 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon - Excellent, smooth and silky with good ol’ Paso earth $34

Rocky Creek 2009 Petite Sirah - Soft and lovely $30


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