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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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gallo Spritzer

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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