Monday, July 24, 2017

F Is For France

The Locations wines are an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame. It's his attempt at making wine a country-wide effort. It resulted from a conversation he had with a French winemaker about what would happen if one were to simply break all the rules. Would something new arise? Would the wine world spin out of its orbit? Would people buy it?

At first, I wasn't on board with the philosophy of making wine generically. I felt specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. I still feel that way. However, after sampling through a few letters, I'm on board with what Phinney is doing.

Yes, the letters. These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin - E is for Espana, P for Portugal, I for Italy, TX for Texas. Yes, he sources grapes from Texas.

F is for France, and it's the fourth edition of the F series. The wine blends Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals into a heady - 15% abv - wine that comes on strong, then delivers. Ten months of barrel aging seems just about right for this letter.

F4 is dark and jammy, with its heavy black fruit aromas mixing with vanilla, cigar and tobacco notes. The palate is big and rather boozy, with dark berries and plums walking hand in hand with savory, meaty, black olive flavors. Grenache, Syrah and Bordeaux varieties. How’s that for breaking rules?


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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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