Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Aggie Wine

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."


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter


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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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."


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Santa Barbara County Wine: Presqu'ile

Driving California's Central Coast offers so many great places to stop and enjoy life that volumes have been written about them. The wineries of the region are just one facet of the joy of the Central Coast. On a recent long weekend that found us staying at Cambria's Moonstone Beach, I sampled the Presqu'ile white wines in their gorgeous and elegant Santa Maria tasting room.

I had tasted some of winemaker Dieter Cronje's bottlings before, but only his red wines. Sticking with the whites on this occasion gave me a chance to try the other side of his talents.

Their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Maria Valley is made from estate fruit and vinified in three cuvées, in steel, oak and concrete egg.  The nose is fresh and a bit grassy with a palate full of minerals and citrus.  $22

The 2014 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley was aged for 12 months in oak and six months in steel.  The nose features lemon and vanilla while the flavor profile shows Meyer lemon and creme brulée. It's absolutely gorgeous.  $35

The Presqu'ile 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir gives off lovely strawberry, citrus and a tiny bit of grapefruit. It's an earthy wine, and got a rave review from Karen MacNeil, who called it "refrigerated sunlight." It's a superior California rosé.  $20

Two single vineyard Chardonnays really steal the show.  The debut vintage of the 2013 Presqu'ile Vineyard has a nose of lemon chess pie and a palate of vanilla and lemon zest. It's aged for 18 months in oak and features great acidity yet a very soft mouthfeel.  $45

The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay is from San Simeon, just up the coast a bit. It's very much like a Chablis, with soft citrus and tropical fruit and a mineral-driven palate.  $40


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, February 13, 2017

Catching A Cab From Australia

The McPherson MWC wines are crafted by winemaker Jo Nash, who just 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.

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."

Nash says of the weather in her part of Victoria, "Cooler climate means slower ripening." The Australian state is about the size of Oregon.

The MWC Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is a full varietal estate wine from Victoria's Goulburn Valley. Their Sinclair Vineyard offers "old vine" - 16 years - Cabernet planted on sand.  The wine was aged between six and 12 months in French oak barriques, with alcohol sitting at 14.5% abv. It sells for about $20.

The wine is extremely dark, black, with no light coming through it. The nose offers blackberry fruit aromas and earthy minerals, with a slight anise and eucalyptus note coming through behind it all. The palate has a minty sense as well, but that dark fruit and extreme earthiness steal the show. The herbal aspect rises again on the finish to cap a delightfully different Cab experience.

Pair it with meat, of course, or even a strong cheese. after dinner, do some chocolate with it.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter



Monday, February 6, 2017

Message In A Bottle

Randall Grahm says the 2014 Old Telegram "is arguably the most interesting Old Telegram" he has made in years. He says he used a "very clever trick" he borrowed from the winemakers of Veneto - indoor air-drying the 100% Mourvèdre grapes for about four days, before foot-stomping them.

Grahm says even that length of time "results in a certain degree of concentration of flavor, sugar, and most significantly, a transformation of the stems of the clusters from green to brown, with the disappearance of green, stemmy flavors."

Old Telegram sells for $45 and 277 cases were produced. Alcohol is 13.9% abv. The grapes - Grahm likes to call the Mourvedre fruit Mataro -  hail from Contra Costa County's Del Barba Vineyard, 56 acres of vines at an average age of 73 years.

The extremely dark wine smells of black pepper, burnt cherries, licorice, meat and smoke. It's a beautiful nose. Savory squared. Flavors of dark fruit power over the earth and coffee and mint.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pinot, Hit Me One More Time

Owner and winemaker Joe Wagner runs his Copper Cane Wine and Provisions out of Oregon, where he makes the delightful Elouan Rosé. The 2015 Böen Pinot Noir is from one of California's great regions for Pinot, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

Produced and bottled in the Napa Valley, this wine carries an homage to farmers on the back label. It's a quote from Senator Daniel Webster, extolling the virtues of growing things in the ground. "When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization." And you thought they were just raising food.

The 14.3% abv number is a bit high for my liking, but that's California wine for you. When the fruit gets really ripe, the wine can get really alcoholic.

The Russian River has deposited volcanic and bedrock remnants over the millennia, so the mineral aspect of the growing area is great, while the cool, foggy conditions that typically last much of the day are what Wagner calls "ideal" conditions for growing Pinot Noior grapes.

The 2015 Böen Russian River Valley Pinot Noir really comes on strong, but it does so in a very affecting way. California Pinot is always too ripe for me, too dark, too strong. But this wine is a savory gem that begs you to find its eccentricities appealing. Black as a moonless night, the Böen gives some of the strongest aromas of cola and black tea that I've ever noted in Pinot Noir. Heavy blackberries and plums also are in there. On the palate… well, just be ready is all I can tell you. It packs a wallop. The alcohol is predictably high, but it's more the intensity of the flavors that grab me by the lapels and slap me around. If you like Burgundy, this is probably overload. If you like Syrah, get on board.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cava: Fun In A Bottle

Made from Spanish varieties, the Segura Viudas Brut Réserve Heredad Cava consists of Macabeo (67%) and Parellada (33%) grapes. They are grown at estate vineyards in the Penedès region outside of Barcelona. The estate - or, heredad - dates back an actual millennium. The bubbly wine is light on its feet at 12% abv and comes in a decorative bottle with pewter embellishments. It's a heavy bottle, too, and can stand in as a doorstop when the party’s over. It’s imported by Freixenet, if that makes a difference to you. That's a pretty reliable name for Spanish sparklers.

The wine is made from nine different cuvées, vinified separately then blended. Aging takes place over 30 months, which means it takes three years to make this wine, grape to glass.

It's a fun sparkler that sits pale in the glass and smells of lemons and limes, with none of the toasty notes one gets in a Champagne. That's not the only difference between Cava and Champagne, either. Check the prices. The palate does show some earthiness along with the citrus, apples and minerals, which are dominant.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Santa Barbara County Riesling - Why Not?

Pierre Lafond started the first winery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition. He did that in 1962, and the second one wouldn't come for another decade. So, Lafond is a big name in Santa Barbara County wine. It's always worth a visit when the car is anywhere near Buellton.

The 2013 Lafond SRH is a lively Riesling, from a land known more for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Sta. Rita Hills Riesling comes from the cool part of Santa Barbara County, so Riesling should figure bigger here than it does, I've always thought.

The grapes were grown in the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in the transverse valley that sucks in the cool Pacific air and shuttles it inland. The winery says the Sta. Rita Hills region is the southernmost cool-climate region in the northern hemisphere

If this one is any indication, a lot of winemakers are missing the boat.

The pale wine gives a beautiful apricot and peach aroma on the nose, with just a touch of gasoline coming on. I love that part of Riesling with a few years under its belt. The palate has stone fruit, too, and some truly edgy earth from the Lafond estate.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, January 27, 2017

Big, Badass California Pinot Noir

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery was founded in 1981 on a small patch of land in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. Don and Rhonda Carano started small, but kept thinking big as they snapped up grapevines over the years. They say they now have 19 estate vineyards in six different California appellations. The company operates as a Certified California Sustainable Vineyard.
Winemaker Christy Ackerman makes 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 estate vineyards.

The Heritage and Dijon clones of Pinot Noir grapes for this wine came from their Anderson Valley ranches.  Steel fermentation started things off, and French oak aging for ten months took place in 38% new oak, 62% older barrels. The wine underwent full malolactic fermentation, offering the benefit of a creamy and full mouthfeel. It costs $38 retail.

This dark, brooding 2014 Pinot Noir is bigger and badder than I like my Pinot to be, but I’m going to pretend it's something else - say, Syrah - and just enjoy its powerful assets. The black and blue berry aromas show off the cool-climate origin of the grapes with notes of forest floor, motor oil and black olives. The savory show continues on the palate. Big, dark fruit turns to one side and lets the leathery, musty flavors mix with tea and coffee. Happily, the cola note is too shy to get through the door. Big wine, big finish, with the fruit outlasting the savory, but not by much.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wanted: More Torrontés

It’s a wide world of grapes out there. There are many grapes in this bountiful vineyard of a world that I have not sampled in the form of wine, many that I have. Many are there that I return to over and over, and many that I ignore for long stretches of time. Torrontés, I’ll try to do better by you in the future.

Sometimes, oftentimes, the premier white wine grape of Argentina does not find its way onto restaurant wine lists. It’s rarely on a "general consumer" type of shelf. When I go to specialty wine stores, it seems I’m always searching down another aisle. Maybe I just need to hit more Argentine restaurants for dinner.

I was at Gaucho Grill in Brentwood recently, about to dig into their superb Argentine cuisine for the first time in a while. Gaucho was once an easy roll on the craps table of dinner in L.A., but they closed the one most convenient to us, and it became geographically undesirable. I’ll just have to drive a little longer from now on.

The Atlas Cumbres Torrontés 2015 from the Lagarde Winery made me realize how much I missed the grape. The wine is made from 100% Torrontés grapes, sourced from a third-party vineyard in Cafayate, Salta, in the northern part of Argentina. There is no malolactic fermentation and and they employ only pure steel tank aging. They also let the wine age for up to two years in the bottle. It carries alcohol at 14.7% and sells for about $12 online.

This Torrontés is lightly tinted and smells of beautiful flowers, minerals and citrus. Perhaps my favorite white wine aroma is that of wet rocks in a stream, and there’s plenty of that here. On the palate, citrus meets peaches amid a low, earthy note that anchors the wine like the best bass player you ever heard. It’s perfect with sea bass and grilled zucchini and blended nicely with Gaucho’s new chipotle-infused chimichurri.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Keep An Eagle Eye Peeled For Great $20 Chardonnay

Adler Fels is reportedly 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. Adler Fels makes what they term, "artisan wines with intense varietal character."

The Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay 2015 is made from half Sonoma County grapes, half Monterey County. Winemaker Linda Trotta likes her Chardonnay "luscious and lively." She says she likes to "tease the nuances from the variety" and make wine that stays off the extremes it is known for while exploring the virtues of the variety and the terroir. It’s a $20 wine that tastes much richer. The alcohol level is 14.4% abv.

The wine is a masterful rendition of what Chardonnay can be, what lovers of the variety want it to be and what those who disdain it wish it were. The mouthfeel is full and lovely, with a bountiful acidity considering the lushness. Tropical fruit plays into wonderful citrus peel notes and peaches follow along the trail laid out by the minerals. I admit I feel less adventurous than I want to feel when contemplating a bottle of Chardonnay. This is the kind that makes me glad I pulled the cork.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, January 20, 2017

Enough Oak To Build A Warehouse

This a tough wine about which to write, because it is designed from the ground up for a completely different consumer than myself. It's off-dry - not my thing - and oaked within an inch of its very existence. It's pleasing somebody, though. I was taken aback by the numerous four- and five-star reviews online for Apothic Red. It's supermarket-priced at right around ten bucks.

The name is inspired by the Greek word, apotheca, which is defined as a repository or storeroom where wine was kept. I've seen wines named after natural beauty, mythological creatures and spaceships in France, I've never before seen one named after a warehouse.

It's very dark in the glass, black almost. A purple ring around the edge is the only thing differentiating the color from, say, motor oil. The nose is amazingly oaky. Fire, smoke, burning things - all these traits come across with the fervor of a four-alarm blaze. Those grapes are there - Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon - but it's like "Where’s Waldo" to find them. Sweet oak is what you taste. And put the emphasis on sweet. This is one of those wines made exclusively for millennials who just got rid of the training wheels last week, so pardon me if I don't seem too enthusiastic. The oak isn't supposed to be the whole show in a wine.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Santa Maria Valley Pinot Blanc

A New Year's Eve day trip to Santa Barbara County brought us, once again, to Sanford Winery's outpost west of Buellton. It was raining in L.A. when we departed in the morning, but the day turned amazingly beautiful once we arrived in wine country.

Sanford's Pinot Blanc is a bit of an oddity on their menu, in that it's not Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. This 2013 was the first vintage of the wine, made from a grape they say can be as hard to manage as the Noir variety. The wine retails for $34.

This wine carries a 14.5% abv number and had no malolactic fermentation at all. Still, it has a nice, full mouthfeel due to the aging in neutral French oak. The Sierra Madre Vineyard, from which the grapes come, is in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. It's one of my favorite wine regions, as the earth and mineral aspects always seem to come through so strongly, especially in the whites.

The cool climate of the Santa Maria Valley also makes for a delightfully refreshing acidity. This one actually is somewhat reserved in that department, but it has enough acid to make for a good pairing with food. The nose and flavors are quite dark and earthy, with a savory mask placed over the fruit to give great complexity.


Monday, January 16, 2017

If You Pass On Pinot Grigio, Try This One

Brothers Luigi, Ercole and Fernando bought what is now the Pighin estate in 1963, and it became a full-fledged winery four years later. Fernando and his wife and kids have run the place since 2004.  The building on the property dates back several hundred years. They say the "vineyards of Grave del Friuli overlook the north shore of the Adriatic Sea."

Kobrand, the wine’s importer, notes the relationship between the name and the soil: "Like the gravelly Graves region of Bordeaux, Grave del Friuli owes its name to the gravel in the subsoil, which forces the roots of the vine to grow deep into the earth in search of water. As the vine struggles, its fruit grows richer, resulting in full, well-structured wine with remarkable minerality."

This Fernando Pighin Pinot Grigio is one of those Pinot Grigios for people who think they don’t like Pinot Grigio. Flat, unimaginative juice this is not. It carries an alcohol number of 12.5% abv, and sells in the $10 to $15 range.

This wine a bright and beautiful yellow-gold in the glass. The nose is fruity and floral, with Meyer lemon and tangerine zest. Stone fruit and white flowers complete a delight for the nostrils. On the palate, there is ample fruit balanced with earthy minerality. The acidity is quite good. I enjoyed mine with lentil soup, and the winery also likes it with fish and risotto.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, January 13, 2017

Chardonnay That Melts In Your Mouth

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

The blurb for their Chardonnay says, "This wine melts in your mouth," which is only natural for a wine called "Butter." It’s made from 100% Napa Valley Chardonnay grapes and sells for an eye-popping $16.

Butter is a delightful wine, showing a rich, golden color and an expressive, complex nose. It features the exotic side of tropical fruit, mango, guava and, as the folks at JaM Cellars put it, baked lemons. I've never baked lemons, so I can't be sure, but there is some citrus in there, baked or otherwise. The "touch of oak" is probably a little more than that, but it's nothing to fear. It's a nice, uh, buttery, flavor that mixes in quite well with the citrus and peaches. Vanilla finish, beautiful. Acidity, fresh. California Chardonnay, just like you remember it. Only a little leaner. Just a little.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Sultan Of Savory Puts Freshness In The Mix

Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm points out that the Réserve is "precisely the same wine as the '12 Le Cigare Volant (normale), but texturally quite different, and with possibly a bit more depth and complexity." Doesn't figure, since this one is aged in glass, not oak.  Grahm feels that the Réserve Cigares "are perhaps more 'meditation' than food wines." It retails for $60 and 840 cases were produced.

After a "short tenure in barrel" the wine spent 20 months in glass carboys, which brings a freshness to it that usually disappears after being soaked in oak. The 2012 Le Cigare Volant Réserve is made from 39% Mourvèdre grapes, 33% Grenache, 26% Syrah and 2% Cinsault.

It's a savory wine, the way I like it and the way Grahm usually makes it. Dark and mysterious, it smells of meat and olives and earth, with a little black fruit thrown in just to make it palatable for everybody else. There is, however, a "cleanliness" to it that in other wines is often obscured by oak. It's just the same way on the palate, with flavors mimicking the aromas. The finish lingers comfortably and provides plenty of anticipation for the next sip. Meditate on a piece of dark chocolate while sipping this.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Chardonnay Under The Sequoias

It's a story we never tire of, isn't it? Family turns 110-year-old Napa Valley barn into a winery, now they're working on their fourth decade as winemakers. Sequoia Grove's 24-acre Estate Vineyard and 50-acre Tonella Ranch Vineyard are both located in Rutherford, in the heart of the Napa Valley. They boast of their terroir, "the superb climate and gravelly-loam soils impart distinct flavor in the Bordeaux varieties."

Company president Michael Trujillo knows the lay of the land, a knowledge that comes with 30-something years of experience. Winemaker Molly Hill is a simple girl - she just wants to make great wine. "Balance to me means nothing stands out—not alcohol, not tannin, not acid, nor fruit nor barrel."

The Chardonnay grapes for this wine come "mostly from Dijon and Wente clones grown in the renowned, cool-climate Carneros District in Napa Valley." Growers like the Haire vineyard, the Ghisletta vineyard, and the Cunat vineyard in Oak Knoll contributed fruit.

The grapes were whole-cluster pressed for full flavor and wonderful acidity. There was no malolactic fermentation allowed, but the wine took on a creamy feel from sitting on the lees, the spent yeast cells, while in the barrel for ten months. Thirty percent of the oak used was new French. Alcohol hits 14.1% abv and it retails for just under 30 bucks.

Sequoia Grove Chardonnay gives a green-gold hue in the glass. It's almost glowing. The nose hit me like a good ol' California Chard, big and oaky, but full of tropical fruit, too. Pineapple, guava, lemon, lime, tangerine - there's a little bit of it all. The wine is barrel fermented, as well as aged in French oak. It has a very full mouthfeel, but the acidity is quite fresh, too. The oak plays prominently on the palate and is abetted by lemony minerality and the flavor of white peaches. Oak stays through a rather lengthy finish, like an old friend who just had another hour open up in the schedule. No need to leave just yet.