Friday, July 21, 2017

Italian Wine Dinner In Torrance

Italian wine producer Tenuta San Guido came to Southern California recently, to Torrance, in fact. It was a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with the winery's tasty offerings and to discover a wonderful Italian restaurant in a neighborhood that is a little off the beaten path.

Primo Italia's wine is looked over by sommelier Grace Giovannetti - her husband Lou owns the place.  Their restaurant is only about eight months old, but is already a big hit with the locals, as the dining room was packed and the wine dinner was sold out. Rat-pack music is piped into the front room, while the wine event is held in a private back room by the wine cellar.

The five-course Tuscan-style dinner from Chef Michelangelo Aliaga featured food that was farm fresh, homemade and wood-fired. Chef Aliaga said, "Tuscany is a rustic, hunting area and these dishes are authentic." He served Florentine-style tripe, fish pancotto and pici pasta with hare ragu. The latter was two days cooked, with red wine. Venison with fruits of the forest was followed by grandmother's cake, "Torta Della Nonna."

Tenuta San Guido is in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany, and they specialize in the so-called "Super Tuscan" style of wine which utilizes Bordeaux grape varieties, grown in Tuscany. The Marchese Mario Incisa was introduced to the wines of one particular vineyard near Pisa in the 1920s.  He strove to create his own "thoroughbred" wine and used cuttings from that special place.  It marked the birth of the Super Tuscan style.What the marchese called the "Nose of Bordeaux" comes from the gravelly soil in the area. He produced wines for two decades that didn’t leave the property. They were for private consumption only.

Here's what we drank:

Salviano Orvieto 2015 - A pale gold wine from Umbria, the nose displays minerals, citrus and I swear I got seashore notes in this landlocked Italian white. Great acidity in the mouth, with lemon zest.  It was wonderful with tripe and bread, although the acidity fought a bit with the spicy tripe. Grapes include Trebbiano, Grechetto, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Le Difese 2014 - 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese here. The nose shows roses, cassis and minerals, with a palate of black fruit, licorice and earth. Lovely acidity and tannins. It went well enough with the seafood stew, but I preferred the white.

Guidalberto 2015 - 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese grapes. Big red fruit, sage and eucalyptus aromas meet flavors of red fruit and soft tannins with an herbal note and finish. It was a great pair with the pici pasta.

Sassicaia 2013 - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc grapes. Red fruit and minerals on the nose are joined by a bit of herbal note, white pepper and cedar aromas. The palate is smooth and rich, with savory minerals, quite elegant. It was remarked on by several around me at the table that it was hard to believe the wine was only four years old. Perfect with the venison. By the way, Sassicaia has its own appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia D.O.C.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Rioja Blanca

Hacienda López de Haro wine is made at Bodega Classica, in the Rioja Sonsierra region. The winery says it's in the heart of Rioja, with the Toloño Mountains to the north and the River Ebro on the south. Their vineyards - spread out over Rioja - average 50 to 80 years in age, some of them older than a century.

The white Rioja wine contains Viura "and other varieties," as the winery coyly puts it. It hits 12.5% abv for alcohol and saw three months aging in French oak barrels.

This white Rioja wine shows a pale golden tint in the glass. The nose is beautiful. Citrus and tropical fruit abound, with a stony minerality laced into the fruit. On the palate, the acidity is extremely refreshing and the flavors of tangerines and lemons are again presented in mineral fashion. The finish is lengthy and the tropical fruit seems to last the longest.


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Monday, July 17, 2017

Château de Pommard Dinner

Château de Pommard has been a Burgundy institution for nearly three centuries.  The Micaults, the Marey-Monges and now the Famille Carabello-Baum have all gotten dirty feet and purple hands in the vineyards and cellar of the domaine.

A recent dinner at L.A.'s Katana Robata introduced me to CEO Michael Baum and winemaker Emmanuel Sala, pictured.  Baum's family are the first American owners of a wine-producing château in the Côte d'Or.  They have brought a more open attitude to Burgundy from their California roots. They even had a music festival this summer, Rootstock.  Baum didn’t come to Los Angeles to talk about tunes, though.

He came to talk about wine, specifically what his part of Burgundy is doing to educate people to the wonders of the region. Baum said Château de Pommard has launched six immersive wine experiences designed to "untangle the web that makes Burgundy the most envied wine region in the world."

He must be a real character in Burgundy. Not only does Baum carry a Silicon Valley pedigree, and looks a little like Bill Mahr, he even speaks highly of Oregon's Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. As for the guy in the cellar, Sala's 28 years in winemaking has led him to "focus more on soil than wine." Here's what we tasted during the dinner:

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 - Peaches and minerals grace the nose, while the palate shows nice heft with citrus and fresh acidity. Made from grapes that came from 25-year-old vines, this blanc aged for 24 months in 15% new oak.
Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru 2013 - Softer than the 2012, it pairs better with Asian dishes and shows more earthy qualities than minerals.

Maranges Premier Cru "Les Loyères" 2013 - Medium ruby in color, this one has a gorgeous nose of soft black raspberry and tea. Very soft tannins make for an extremely elegant drink. It's as mellow as it gets, from a challenging vintage. Baum says, "To make beautiful wine, you have to like bad weather." The wine pairs perfectly with tuna carpaccio.

Vivant Micault 2013 - From the oldest vines in the clos, there's black tea ahead of rustic minerals on the nose. A gentle structure is carried forward on the palate by an even stronger note of tea. It's a great pairing with shrimp tempura.

Clos Marey-Monge 2012 - A very earthy nose full of black tea leads to a bit more tannic structure on the palate, but it’s still smooth. Raspberry, mineral and a bit of cola are notable. I found it reminded me somewhat of California Pinot, and it went well with spare ribs and pork belly.

Simone 2013 - More cola notes come around on the nose here with the expected black tea and minerals. The palate showed the biggest of the evening's selections. Muscular, but still elegant. This was paired with the chocolate lava cake at dessert, and pleased the crowd.


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Friday, July 14, 2017

Los Alamos: Casa Dumetz Tasting Room

Casa Dumetz Wines is a boutique producer of wines featuring Rhone grape varieties sourced from Santa Barbara County locations.  The tasting room on Bell Street in Los Alamos is situated right next door to their Babi's Beer Emporium, where ciders are also on tap.  Sonya Magdevski is admittedly in love with Grenache, an often misunderstood grape that is sometimes bashed for not being elegant enough. While trying to put some blends together a couple of years ago, Magdevski discovered that she was trying to do something the fruit "didn't want to do." She then realized that "you can't control nature." She decided to concentrate on varietal wines, often single-vineyard efforts that showcase the diversity of Santa Barbara County's various climates and terroirs. 
 
Magdevski says she sources "such small amounts that the fruit has to be great." As for working in an area that sports at least 50 different grape varieties, she says "I can't even name 50 grapes."
  
Casa Dumetz Rosé is all Grenache, from the Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. The wine now wears the Clementine Carter label. Sonja says it's "almost dangerously good." The nose shows rose petals, strawberry and citrus. On the palate, cherry, citrus and a slightly savory tomato. Great acidity. 
 
Casa Dumetz Grenache Blanc was made in a mix of neutral oak and stainless steel containers. It has a nutty aroma and a savory palate that also reminds me of nuts.
 
Casa Dumetz Roussane hails from the La Presa Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. I smell lilac and anise, and I taste nuts, lemon citrus. It's zippy, but has a full mouth. Neutral oak, 
 
Casa Dumetz White uses grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, all cofermented. The nose has a nutty, citrusy aroma and the palate is a dry, refreshing, lemon delight.
 
Casa Dumetz 2015 Grenache was grown in the Flower and Vine vineyard in Los Alamos, a single vineyard Grenache. Medium tint, beautiful cherry nose, earthy and elegant. The fresh and vibrant palate shows youthful cherry in a "soil-heavy" manner.
 
Casa Dumetz Late Harvest Viognier rocks. Sweet, not cloying, with earthy apricot and floral elements.
 
Casa Dumetz Pinot Noir 2014 is from Mormann Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills. It's as elegant as California Pinot gets.
 
This Casa Dumetz Grenache comes from five different vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. Medium-dark with a cherry and strawberry nose, great acidity and a mouthful of cherry and earth. Delightful.
 
Cider was a surprise. Grenache rosé and apples pressed together. What a lovely mix. There's a slight fizz and it's very pink and quite refreshing .
 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Surprise Me"

A good wine dealer is a great thing to have. I can simply tell Roberto at Wine Expo in Santa Monica how I feel and he always seems to have "this interesting little wine over here" that perfectly complements my mood. This time I just told him to surprise me, and he did.

Krohn Port Rosé is a style of wine I'd never had before, didn't even know it existed. It's called "pink Port" and contains Portuguese grapes like Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. Fernando Carneiro makes this non-vintage wine. Roberto told me it is often drunk chilled or enjoyed in a long drink with tonic water, ice and lemon. Alcohol is port-like at 20% abv. He was selling it for about $18 a bottle.
The Krohn Port Rosé has a dark raspberry color with some browning.  The nose is much like port, but not so sweet. The earth note is very pronounced, and there is a slight medicinal edge. On the palate, I'm again reminded of full-color port, but with a lighter feel on the mouth. It's not quite so thick or syrupy, but is sweet and refreshing.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Jadot Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay 2015

The venerable Jadot winery was established in 1859, but the family was digging around in the Burgundy soil a good 30 years before that. His Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay is ubiquitous. I'm convinced some people think Jadot is French for Chardonnay.

The Louis Jadot Macon-Villages comes from the Mâcconais region in the southern part of Burgundy, a place of limestone-rich soil, just made for Chardonnay. The Mâcon-Villages appellation consists of more than 40 different communes which provide grapes for the Jadot wine.

The wine is predictably high-quality, 100% Chardonnay, vinified without the use of oak. Clean and lean, the citrus and mineral notes come through vividly. Refreshing acidity, only 13% abv. Drink up.


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Friday, July 7, 2017

Surprising White Wine From The Livermore Valley

Murrieta's Well is a Wente property in California's Livermore Valley. They take great pride in being one of the Golden State's "original wine estates." The property was founded in the late 19th century, with cuttings from the Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux in France. The place was bought in 1933 by Ernest Wente. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso "partnered together to revive the winery." Winemaker Robbie Meyer does a great job of turning the fruit entrusted to him into magnificent wines that tell the story of the land.

A virtual event recently put Murrieta's Well into an online tasting session, which is documented here. My thanks to those involved in putting on the show for inviting me and providing samples to taste.

Small Lot Livermore Valley Muscat Canelli 2016

The Muscat Canelli grapes for this wine were grown in the Hayes Vineyard portion of the estate. The winery says that plot features a wide array of soils and elevations. The wine was vinified in stainless steel tanks, with five months aging in same. 2016 was the fourth drought vintage in a row for those grapes, and the concentration of the fruit shows the struggle the vines went through. Only 150 cases were made, at 14.2% abv, and they advise that a couple years of waiting will reveal a wine with even more body. The body it has right now ain't bad at all. It sells for $35.

The wine comes on like a basket of flowers and Meyer lemons on the nose. The palate veers away from "sweet" and heads toward "minerals," though, with a nice streak of acidity ripping through it. Summer's here. Lobster, crab, oysters, bring 'em on.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bearish On ZInfandel

Beran owner and winemaker Joseph Wagner is a fifth generation California wine person, carrying on the family tradition passed down to him from his dad Chuck. Already the originator of Belle Glos and Meiomi, his Copper Cane Wines and Provisions has that millennial ring to it. Beran is under that umbrella. Director of Winemaking John Lopez grew up knee deep in grapes, too.

These grapes of California's heritage variety came from all over the Napa Valley. They were grown high on Atlas Peak and down on the valley floor in Calistoga. Some old vine Petite Sirah is in the mix, as well.

The winery headlines its website with "Strength, conviction, Zinfandel." It’s a stance that Zinfandel drinkers appreciate, the ones who look at Zin the way Texans look at the Alamo. Aging took place in French and American oak barrels over the course of a year. The Beran's alcohol level is super-ripe at 15.4% abv, and the retail price is $48.

The Beran Napa Valley Zinfandel 2012 is inky black, with no light getting through at all. The nose is deep and black - blackberries, blueberries, cassis, tar, leather - it's rich. But when the sip hits the tongue it's amazing. That dark fruit gets a nice treatment from the oak and displays wonderful spice notes. There's more than just vanilla at work - pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, the whole rack fell into the cask, it seems. The tannins are plenty firm enough for pairing with grilled meat, but the wine, as if it is showing off, is smooth.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Livermore Valley: Whipping Up A Wonderful White

Murrieta's Well is a Wente property in California's Livermore Valley. They take great pride in being one of the Golden State's "original wine estates." The property was founded in the late 19th century, with cuttings from the Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux in France. The place was bought in 1933 by Ernest Wente. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso "partnered together to revive the winery." Winemaker Robbie Meyer does a great job of turning the fruit entrusted to him into magnificent wines that tell the story of the land.

A virtual event recently featured Murrieta's Well into an online tasting session, which is documented here. My thanks to Snooth and all those involved in putting on the show for inviting me and providing samples to taste.

The Whip White Wine Blend 2015

This white is 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, 30% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier and a splash of Muscat Canelli, all grown in the Murrieta's Well Livermore Valley estate vineyard. The wine has 13.5% abv and sells for $24.

They say they look each vintage for aromatics and food-friendly freshness. They certainly found them in this edition of The Whip. Here's what the winery writes about how the wine is crafted. "A small portion of the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc were fermented in small oak barrels over the course of approximately two weeks to add a roundness to the blend. The remaining Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the Semillon, Viognier, and Muscat Canelli were fermented cold in stainless steel tanks as individual components for approximately three weeks. This maintains the wine's natural acidity and vibrant freshness."

The nose features a complex mix of honeysuckle, Meyer lemon and sweet peach. A stirring acidity frames citrus, minerals and nectarines in a food-friendly canvas that’s ready for spring and summer salads. If you’re snacking, it hits a walnut just right.


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Friday, June 30, 2017

Livermore Valley: Dry Rosé From Murrieta's Well

Murrieta's Well is a Wente property in California's Livermore Valley. They take great pride in being one of the Golden State's "original wine estates." The property was founded in the late 19th century, with cuttings from the Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux in France. The place was bought in 1933 by Ernest Wente. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso "partnered together to revive the winery." Winemaker Robbie Meyer does a great job of turning the fruit entrusted to him into magnificent wines that tell the story of the land.

A virtual event recently featured Murrieta's Well into an online tasting session, which is documented here. My thanks to Snooth and all those involved in putting on the show for inviting me and providing samples to taste.

Murrieta's Well Estate Vineyard Dry Rose 2016

The pink wine is 55% Grenache and 45% Counoise, so Rhônophiles can get their geek on here. Both varieties were cold-fermented separately and blended after about two months in the tanks. Alcohol hits a bit higher than in most Rhônezays, at 14.1% abv. The wine retails for $30. If that seems a tad high for a pink wine, just remember that you get what you pay for. More, even, in this case.

This rosé strikes a lovely pose in the glass, all salmon pink and lightly tinted. Its nose give plenty of fresh strawberries and raspberries with some green stems thrown in and bit of earth as well. The ripe red fruit really shines on the palate and the zippy acidity is refreshing. The grapes, Grenache and Counoise, really make a very Provençal pinkie.


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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pinot Noir That's Tough, Elegant

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 Rhone varieties in Oakley, more Rhone 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."

Cline Estate Pinot Noir 2015

The wine was aged for seven months in new, medium toast French oak barrels and clocks alcohol at 14% abv. It retails for just $15.

The nose of this medium-dark wine is beautiful, all ripe and red, with notes of vanilla and tobacco woven into the fruit. A high minty element makes things interesting. On the palate, it walks the tightrope between elegant and muscular. The alcohol is somewhat restrained and the acidity is refreshing. There is some brawn there, but it stops just short of being the kind of California Pinot that tries to masquerade as Syrah.


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Monday, June 26, 2017

California Cab And A Bookshelf Of Grapes

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard stopped messing around with Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1980s, about the time he was anointed as the Rhône Ranger. One simply couldn't fly the Rhône banner with one hand while doing trade in the Bordeaux varieties with the other. Since his "come to Syrah" moment, Grahm has reportedly held "indifference, occasionally bordering on amused disdain," for Cabernet Sauvignon.

A Proper Claret 2014 is an oddity in the house of Doon, described by the winemaker as "lean, neither overly alcoholic … nor overly extracted, nor overly oaked." Grahm figures if you gotta drink a Cab, drink this one.

The blend of grape varieties sorts out this way: 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 22% Tannat, 9% Syrah, 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Sirah. I think the healthy shot of Tannat is what made this Cab blend slip in with Mr. Grahm's somewhat grudging blessing. It carries alcohol lightly, 13.2% abv, and retails for a similarly light 16 bucks.

The cross-dressing bookworm on the label is a Bascove creation, one that Grahm's veddy, veddy Proper alter-ego considers a "tasteless monstrosity." Nonetheless, it's there on the bottle.

Bonny Doon wines always carry a note of sophisticated savoriness, unlike any Brand X you may care to compare. A Proper Claret 2014 adds a violet sense to the nose, possibly as a result of the healthy drop of Petit Verdot. Blackberry and leather aromas also decorate the scene. On the palate, APC shows a Pinotesque restraint and even a little tartness reminiscent of Pinot Noir. Savory cuts a wide swath through the abundant dark fruit, with black olives, dried tomatoes and smoked meat making appearances. The finish is rather long and the savory stuff stays longest.


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Friday, June 23, 2017

Onward's Mendocino Pinot

A recent BrandLive virtual tasting featured the wines of Napa-based Onward Wines. They are what the PR department calls, "single-vineyard, site-driven wines crafted by one of the most exciting winemakers out there." They’re talking about Faith Armstrong-Foster, whose "mantra" is, "I could never make a wine I couldn’t afford to enjoy myself." She grew up in British Columbia, a good little Canadian girl who went to school every day in a tiny boat called - wait for it - the Onward.

She says her wines are site-driven, and she owes part of her success to the growers with whom she has partnered - Hawkeye Ranch, Cerise Vineyard, Capp Inn Ranch, Casa Roja Vineyard, Ledgewood Vineyard, Knox Vineyard and Babcock Vineyard. A smaller part of her success could probably be attributed to that little boat. Onward Wines was created in 2009 and she has another line, called Farmstrong.


Hawkeye Ranch Redwood Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Hawkeye Ranch is where these cool-climate Pinot Noir grapes originate, grown by Peter and Stephen Johnson, fifth-generation winegrowers in Mendocino County. The grapes come from vines that were planted in the 1970s, some of the oldest in the vineyard.

The wine was aged for a year in French oak, 20% of which was new. Malolactic fermentation was encouraged, and the juice sat on the spent yeast cells - both practices add to the rich fullness in the mouth. It sells for $38.

It's a dark wine, dark in color, dark in aromas and dark in flavors. The nose offers abundant blackberry and black raspberry notes with an earthy base. There is an element of smoke at the top of the glass. The palate is deep and rich, dark fruit joined with a sense of black olives and tea. It leans toward savory, but not without taking the fruit with it. The wine finishes with a little raspberry tartness and a lot of berries that stay for a medium length. It's not too much of a bruiser as far as Pinot goes, rather elegant. It's also easy on the alcohol, a treat for California Pinot. Let your kitchen staff know you’d like a grilled pork chop for dinner.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Italian Bubbly That's Not Merely Festive

Every now and then, a wine gets lost in the rack. It's not really lost, but it just becomes part of the scenery. You see it every day and say "I need to open that bottle one of these days." The Pa Kettle imitation becomes a routine, done daily without thinking. There's nothing wrong with the wine. It's just as desirable as the day it was purchased, but it never seems to hop out and get into a glass. This nice Italian white sparkler was bought for a Hollywood Bowl concert last summer, but somehow didn't make the trip. So let's finally open it already.

The Monte della Vigne sustainably farmed vineyards run from an elevation of 300 meters down to the Taro River in Parma, I.G.T. Emilia. According to their website, the winery is underground, cool, dry and soundproof.

This frizzante wine is made entirely of Malvasia di Candia aromatica grapes. It's made using the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in a big steel tank, rather than in the bottle. Its alcohol content is only 11.5% abv and it sells around the low side of 20 bucks.

This pale gold Italian sparkler, Malvasia Classica 2013, smells of lovely, yeasty lemons and apples with bubbles to spare. Actually, they dissipate quickly but are very festive while they are there. The palate is so full of fizz, it's almost lighter than air. Acidity is quite good and the yeast carries through in the flavor and finish. After the bubbles die down, a certain funkiness takes hold, which I find fascinating, but some may not. That earthy quality separates the wine from a simpler, but equally festive, prosecco. This one has the bubbles, but it also means business.


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Monday, June 19, 2017

Field Blend Carignane

A recent Brandlive virtual tasting featured the wines of Napa-based Onward Wines. They are what the PR department calls, "single-vineyard, site-driven wines crafted by one of the most exciting winemakers out there." They’re talking about Faith Armstrong-Foster, whose "mantra" is, "I could never make a wine I couldn’t afford to enjoy myself." She grew up in British Columbia, a good little Canadian girl who went to school every day in a tiny boat called - wait for it - the Onward.

Armstrong says her wines are site-driven, and she owes part of her success to the growers with whom she has partnered - Hawkeye Ranch, Cerise Vineyard, Capp Inn Ranch, Casa Roja Vineyard, Ledgewood Vineyard, Knox Vineyard and Babcock Vineyard. A smaller part of her success could probably be attributed to that little boat. Onward Wines was created in 2009 and she has another line, called Farmstrong.

Charles Communication, the PR folks who staged the virtual tasting, tweeted "Faith fell in love with #wine while shoveling a fermenter - that's #truelove for you."

Casa Roja Carignane from Contra Costa 2014

The grapes for the Casa Roja Carignane come from Contra Costa County, a field blend vineyard planted in the late 1800s and overseen today by Dan Gonsalves. It's mostly Carignane, but there's a smattering of Mourvèdre and Malvasia Nero grapes mixed in. The wine sells for $30.

This extremely dark wine is dark on the nose and on the palate as well. Aromas of black fruit and oaky spice meet flavors of the same style, with earthy mineral notes underneath. It is undeniably a fruity wine, despite the heft and brawn that it brings. Tannins are tall and toothy, so get that grill fired up and throw a ribeye on it.


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Friday, June 16, 2017

Got Festive? - Fizzy Malvasia Bianca

A recent Brandlive virtual tasting featured the wines of Napa-based Onward Wines. They are what the PR department calls, "single-vineyard, site-driven wines crafted by one of the most exciting winemakers out there." They’re talking about Faith Armstrong-Foster, whose "mantra" is, "I could never make a wine I couldn’t afford to enjoy myself." She grew up in British Columbia, a good little Canadian girl who went to school every day in a tiny boat called - wait for it - the Onward.

Armstrong says her wines are site-driven, and she owes part of her success to the growers with whom she has partnered - Hawkeye Ranch, Cerise Vineyard, Capp Inn Ranch, Casa Roja Vineyard, Ledgewood Vineyard, Knox Vineyard and Babcock Vineyard. A smaller part of her success could probably be attributed to that little boat. Onward Wines was created in 2009 and she has another line, called Farmstrong.

Charles Communication, the PR folks who staged the virtual tasting, tweeted "Faith fell in love with #wine while shoveling a fermenter - that's #truelove for you."

Pet Nat of Malvasia Bianca, Pétillant Naturel 2015

Pétillant Naturel is a type of sparkling wine made in the méthode ancestrale. This means the wine is bottled before the primary fermentation is finished, no additional yeasts or sugars, as in méthode champenoise. The wine is typically cloudy, funky, low in alcohol and sealed under a crown cap, like a bottle of beer.

The grapes, Malvasia Bianca, are from the Capp In Ranch in Solano County's Suisun Valley. The wine retails for $24, or at least it did until it sold out.

This pet-nat, as the style is called, is very cloudy, very yeasty and thoroughly enjoyable. The earthy, musty nose is as savory as can be, yet with a strong citrus element. On the palate, acidity is racy and the flavors lean toward the savory side of lemon-lime. Strong minerals provide a nice underpinning. The fizziness is somewhat less than found in other sparkling wines, but there’s enough there to qualify as "festive." This is a great wine to have as an aperitif or just because, but the acidity and mineral aspect will allow pairings with a wide range of dishes involving vegetables or light-colored meat.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Onward For Malvasia Bianca

A recent Brandlive virtual tasting featured the wines of Napa-based Onward Wines. They are what the PR department calls, "single-vineyard, site-driven wines crafted by one of the most exciting winemakers out there." They’re talking about Faith Armstrong-Foster, whose "mantra" is, "I could never make a wine I couldn’t afford to enjoy myself." She grew up in British Columbia, a good little Canadian girl who went to school every day in a tiny boat called - wait for it - the Onward.

Armstrong says her wines are site-driven, and she owes part of her success to the growers with whom she has partnered - Hawkeye Ranch, Cerise Vineyard, Capp Inn Ranch, Casa Roja Vineyard, Ledgewood Vineyard, Knox Vineyard and Babcock Vineyard. A smaller part of her success could probably be attributed to that little boat. Onward Wines was created in 2009 and she has another line, called Farmstrong.

Charles Communication, the PR folks who staged the virtual tasting, tweeted "Faith fell in love with #wine while shoveling a fermenter - that's #truelove for you."

Suisun Valley Malvasia Bianca 2015

The Malvasia Bianca grapes came from the Suisan Valley in Solano County east of Napa Valley, from Brian and Rob Capp's Capp Inn Ranch. Their great-grandfather was named Giuseppe Caporicci before changing it to Joe Capp when he came to America. Armstrong loves their Malvasia Bianca grapes and also makes two other wines from them, a tank-aged still and a bubbly. This one is light on the alcohol and sells for $20.

Armstrong calls this wine "Tahiti in a glass," and it really is much like a liquid vacation. It's a pale, straw-gold color with a nose full of flowers, citrus and wet stones. It's not terribly acidic at first, but the freshness really comes on as the wine lingers in the mouth. It feels lean and clean on the palate, and leaves a green apple flavor on the finish. Not strictly a sipper, this wine can handle salads, fish and chicken.


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Monday, June 12, 2017

Mendocino Pinot Pink

A recent Brandlive virtual tasting featured the wines of Napa-based Onward Wines. They are what the PR department calls, "single-vineyard, site-driven wines crafted by one of the most exciting winemakers out there." They’re talking about Faith Armstrong-Foster, whose "mantra" is, "I could never make a wine I couldn’t afford to enjoy myself." She grew up in British Columbia, a good little Canadian girl who went to school every day in a tiny boat called - wait for it - the Onward.

Armstrong says her wines are site-driven, and she owes part of her success to the growers with whom she has partnered - Hawkeye Ranch, Cerise Vineyard, Capp Inn Ranch, Casa Roja Vineyard, Ledgewood Vineyard, Knox Vineyard and Babcock Vineyard. A smaller part of her success could probably be attributed to that little boat. Onward Wines was created in 2009 and she has another line, called Farmstrong.

Charles Communication, the PR folks who staged the virtual tasting, tweeted "Faith fell in love with #wine while shoveling a fermenter - that's #truelove for you."

Rosé Hawkeye Ranch, Redwood Valley 2016

The Hawkeye Ranch rosé of Pinot Noir features the cool-climate version of the grape, as if there is another type. Grown by Peter and Stephen Johnson, fifth-generation winegrowers in Mendocino County, the grapes come from vines that were planted in the 1970s, some of the oldest in the vineyard. They were picked specifically for rosé and the whole clusters were pressed to make the juice. It sells for $22.

The wine glows pale salmon in the glass, and smells of fresh cherries, light raspberries and a soft touch of Meyer lemon, which was a bit of a surprise. The mouthfeel is fresh and rich, with a zippy acidity and a full mouth. Cherry flavors dominate, but a mineral aspect does not try to hide. This is a delicious rosé that’s as good at the dinner table as it is on the porch.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Spanish Wine Comes To L.A.

The Familia Martínez Bujanda winery was established in 1889. Today, it's run by Carlos Martínez Bujanda and his sister Pilar. The family has estate vineyards in Rioja, La Mancha and Rueda. I recently had the great fortune to meet Marta Bujanda, Pilar's eldest daughter and the first of the fifth generation to join the family business.

Marta is the export manager, an important position for a wine producer which sells 70% of its wine abroad. Marta came to Los Angeles to pour her wines for a few wine scribes like me, Anthony Dias Blue and Brett Anderson. A swingin' night out with that crew may sound like a full-on vacation, (pause for chuckles) but Marta was in work mode. She enjoyed herself, it was clear, but I believe that had less to do with table mates and more to do with the chance to expound on her family's wines.

The Bujanda wines poured at dinner - at Michael's in Santa Monica - were all single-vineyard wines, driven by their respective terroir. From Rioja, there are the Viña Bujanda and the Finca Valpiedra wines, from Rueda comes the Finca Montepedroso line and out of La Mancha are the wines of Finca Antigua.

I got to the restaurant a little early and had the chance to enjoy a drink from Michael's bar. I opened with a barrel-aged Martinez, 47 day.  It's gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino, angostura and orange bitters with a lemon twist. It has a lovely cherry red color, and flavors of black cherry, herbs, citrus and vanilla spice. For this cocktail, it should be Christmas.

Here are my impressions of the wines poured during the dinner.

Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2009 - A Tempranillo from Rioja, made by winemaker Lauren Rosillo. It's a Graciano and Maturana blend. Great tannic grip, beautiful fruit, savory notes. This is the steak wine. $40

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 - 100% Tempranillo from Rioja.  Perfumed and delicious. Smooth, with 22 months on oak.

Viña Bujanda Gran Reserva 2010 - 100% Tempranillo from Rioja, fermented in steel and aged 24 months in French and American oak, 39 months in the bottle. Smooth, helluva 30 dollar wine.

Vina Bujanda Crianza 2014 - All Tempranillo from Rioja. It spent a year in American and French oak. Grapes from 20-60 year-old vines. Red fruit and vanilla spice, beautiful with the Bronzini.

Finca Antigua 2013 - Cabernet Sauvignon from La Mancha. $10. Here's where you do a double-take. Response at the table was "Ten buncks? Get out!" Fresh and fruity. Fermented in steel, aged 10 months in new French oak. Great structure.

Finca Antigua 2016 - 100% Viura from old La Mancha vines. Grapefruit nose, flavors of distinct earth and citrus. Very savory white wine. Spent five months on lees.

Finca Montepedroso 2016 - 100% Verdejo from the Rueda vineyard named for its "mountain of stones." Grapefruit and lime, less savory than the Viura, but just a little. 2500-foot elevation vineyard planted in 1980. Five month on lees.

Both whites age well, according to Marta, over 12 years at least. Virua is the better ager, she says, and it even picks up some petrol notes with age.


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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

South African Chenin Blanc

Lubanzi Wines is named for a wandering dog who led the winemakers on a six-day journey along South Africa’s Wild Coast. Founders Walker Brown and Charles Brain have only two wines in the line at the moment. One is a red blend, made of Shiraz, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre and a white, which is 100% Chenin Blanc. Both South African creations retail at about $15.

Brown and Brain - not South African themselves - are working with two of the country's more noted winemakers. Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jack were asked to be "forward-thinking, socially responsible and innovative" in making the Lubanzi wines. Brain says they're aiming at the millennial market, a demographic that he thinks has the buying power to lift South Africa's underrated status. He says they want to make a wine that "punches above its weight."

The owners are directing some of the proceeds back to those who helped make the product. Half of their profits will go towards The Pebbles Project, an NGO that works with low-income families on South Africa's wine farms.  The Brown and Brain say the group focuses on families "by providing resources and improving access to health & high-quality education."

 The Lubanzi Chenin Blanc  2016 is made of grapes grown in Swartland, just north of Cape Town. It has an alcohol content of 12.5% abv

The pale wine gives off an aromatic nose that's loaded with minerals and dressed up with a smoothly savory bit of lanolin. Lemon sneaks in almost unnoticed. The palate shows citrusy minerals and a clean, bracing mouthfeel with plenty of fresh acidity. The finish hangs around a good while, and lets that citrus flavor work its magic.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Oregon's Orange Riesling

From southern Oregon's Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyards has released a Riesling to contemplate. The 2016 Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment doesn't look like a Riesling. It has a faint burnished orange color, like apple cider. It's not made like most Rieslings, either. I’ll let General Manager Craig Camp tell you about that. He came to Troon from Napa Valley last year, and this incredible wine is one that "fully reflects" his winemaking goals.

In this wine, as in all from the 2016 vintage, Camp says it was all about "native yeast ferments, no additives (enzymes, acids, sugar) and no new oak barrels."  He says the orange Riesling was "produced essentially the same way" as the winery's red wines. The grapes were "first crushed by foot, destemmed, then it was transferred to one-ton fermenters. The native yeast fermentation started after 48 hours and completed in ten days. The fermenters were punched down by hand once a day. It was then pressed into neutral French Oak barrels for three months. That's it." And that's enough.

The wine staff made the decision to bottle earlier than planned to maintain freshness, and it is a fresh wine. Camp says the wine "should be consumed young and fresh, but as this is the first time we've made it we really don't know how it will age, I'll be keeping some bottles around to see how it develops." I wish I had that kind of patience.

He likes the Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment with tapas, but its freshness and structure would allow a pairing with a wide variety of dishes. This Riesling offers alcohol at only 12% abv and retails for $20.

The wine’s orange color is immediately interesting. The nose is beautiful - orange blossoms, peaches and pears, oh my. On the palate it drinks like a red wine, full and flavorful. There even seems to be tannic structure. The fruitiness I expected revealed itself instead as savory. Salinity drapes the apple flavors beautifully. I should mention, it's dry, by the way. And the acidity is fresh and lively.

Camp tells me that Troon will continue the "orange wine" program this year with a second vintage of the Riesling and a Vermentino done the same way. 


Friday, June 2, 2017

Pink Wine From Sonoma Coast

Sonoma-Cutrer is located in the cool Sonoma Coast appellation, and it's been there since 1973. Mick Schroeter is the third head winemaker to serve at Sonoma-Cutrer, and this rosé is his Winemaker’s Release.

The Pinot Noir grapes from the estate Owsley Ranch were whole cluster pressed for this 2016, the first Rosé produced by the winery. The grapes were grown with pink wine in mind. They grow in sandy loam, blanketed by the cool fog from the Bloomfield Gap. Alcohol sits just a shade under 13% and the wine retails for $25.

This rosé is more red than pink. Its color is brilliant and rich and flits between orange and flame red. The nose is all earthy strawberries, and the acidity is as fresh as spring. Flavors are fruity - strawberry and cherry - with a streak of the green stems thrown in. It is a completely enjoyable rosé of Pinot Noir.


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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two Wonderful White Wines

It’s always nice to discover a casual place with a carefully curated wine list. With a few minutes to kill in downtown Los Angeles, I looked around and spied "Pitchoun!" It is described on the signage as a bakery with a French flair, so I stepped in for lunch.

It’s run by Frédéric and Fabienne Souliès, who hail from Provence and Monaco, respectively. The name of the place is a term of endearment used by French grandparents, say, in referring to their grandkids. It’s like "kiddo," or something similar. A little pinch on the cheek.

My Niçoise salad was the usual mix of tuna, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, olives, radicchio, delicate greens, bell pepper, celery, cucumber, green onions, anchovies and vinaigrette. It was tasty, but it’s the wine I was attracted to. Oh, by the way, they also serve Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant at Pitchoun, so they got high marks from me before I even saw a wine list.

Sean and Nicole Minor started their own winery 12 years ago, after years of experience with some fairly big-name outfits. Minor's wine consultant, Will Bucklin, is similarly well-traveled. Minor's Four Bears Chardonnay has a golden tint and offers apples and apricots on the earthy nose. Minerals define the palate, with bright peach and pear forming a taut and focused flavor profile. It’s lean, but not mean. The acidity is quite nice, almost bracing. It always stuns me to find such nice freshness in a wine with so round a mouthfeel. Alcohol sits at 13% and some of the juice underwent malolactic fermentation, to soften the feel a bit. It finishes clean and snappy.

In the extreme southwest of France, in the Bas Armagnac AOC, is the Domaine de Menard. It has been a source of grapes since the 1920s, but not until a decade ago or so did the family begin wine production under their own name. They grow Petit and Gros Manseng and harvest the grapes late to produce a sweeter style of wine. The Gros Manseng is not a full-blown dessert wine, but does have a pleasant taste I think of as semi-sweet, or off-dry.

The Domaine Menard Gros Manseng also shows golden in the glass, offering a pungent slate of earthiness and wet rocks. The semi-sweet palate has apricots, honey and plenty of minerality. This wine, too, has a full, creamy mouthfeel as well as generous acidity and a clean finish.


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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Spanish Refresher

Albariño is a grape of Spanish origin, and in the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain it is pretty much king. Ninety percent of all the wine made in the area is Albariño.

Kobrand, the U.S. importer of Don Olegario Albariño, writes that Olegario is an "artisanal winery begun in the 1950s by Adolfo Falcón," and it's still a family affair. In the 1980s, Adolfo's son Olegario pushed the bodega to its present status as a top producer of Albariño. His five offspring now run things, with Roberto Carlos Falcón handling winemaking duties, while Fernando grows the grapes. María, Vanessa and Mónica are also involved in the day-to-day operation.

This wine has served up as one of the more enjoyable whites I drink all year for several vintages now. This reliable wine is tasty vintage after vintage. The 13% abv alcohol number makes for a light and easy sip, but it’s no pushover. The thread that runs through each vintage is that of minerality and acidity, so bring on the oysters.

The 2016 is pale gold and fresh-smelling. Green apple and lemon aromas are braced by a strident minerality. Those minerals really come forward on the palate, as do the apple and citrus flavors. The wine is ever so slightly frizzante in the glass, and the acidity rips across the taste buds.


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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

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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