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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Look Who Makes This New Zealand Pinot Noir

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

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

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

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Pink Wine From Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rosé Wine - Folie En Provence

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Organic Rosé At Organic Brunch

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Drink Pink: Meiomi Rosé

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Locations Wine: CA Is For California

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Everything's Coming Up Rosé - El Terrano

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

E Is For España

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Plymouth Gin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Corsican Vermentino

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

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

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

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