Monday, February 27, 2017

Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Napa Sauvignon Blanc From Crocker & Starr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not Lazy, This Pinot Has Been Working Out

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

Lazy Creek Vineyards a subsidiary of Healdsburg's Ferrari Carano Winery. It’s located about an hour north, in Mendocino county's Anderson Valley. It is at this facility is where the company's full Pinot Noir production is centered.

A recent online tasting session introduced the latest Lazy Creek Vineyards vintages to a group of wine writers, myself included. We were all provided samples of the wine for review. The session was moderated by publicist Chelsea Kurnick and featured winemaker Christy Ackerman. You can see the Ustream broadcast page here.

Ackerman makes all of the Lazy Creek Vineyards wines, and all of the Pinot Noirs for Ferrari-Carano. She says she feels "very lucky" to work with Pinot Noir in general, and especially the grapes from the Lazy Creek estate vineyards.

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

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

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Paso Robles Wine: AronHill Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Paso Robles Wine - Rocky Creek Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocky Creek 2010 Sangiovese - Delightful, bright cherry $30

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

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

Rocky Creek 2009 Petite Sirah - Soft and lovely $30

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.