Friday, December 29, 2017

Beautiful Napa Cab From Historic Vineyard

The Inglenook vineyards began in 1879, when a Finnish sea captain decided to make a European-class wine estate in landlocked Rutherford, California.  His nephew inherited the place after it had already been noticed by the rest of the wine world.  Film director and writer Francis Ford Coppola, along with his wife Eleanor, bought Inglenook and moved there in the 1970s.  According to the Inglenook website, they "have spent forty years reuniting the original vineyards, returning winemaking operations to the chateau, and restoring Inglenook's illustrious heritage."  Coppola works with wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt and Managing Director and Winemaker Philippe Bascaules to create wines, now under the original trademark of Inglenook.  The six-time Oscar winner has been making wine for nearly as long as he’s been making movies.  He’s been quite successful at both, and reportedly used the profits from "The Godfather" to buy the Inglenook property.

This wine is from the Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley, made from 85% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Merlot, grown in the Cohn, Red Barn and Chateau vineyards.  It was aged in 90% French oak barrels, more than a third of which was new oak.  Alcohol hits the typical 14.5% abv mark, while the wine retails for a hundred bucks.

The winemaker describes the 2012 vintage like this: " of the best vintages in recent history because of near perfect climate conditions. The entire season was marked by moderate temperatures, which lasted through September and October. Having no heat spikes or rain to contend with in the fall allowed the fruit to hang on the vines longer, giving the grapes better concentration and ripeness as well as more textural dimension and flavor complexity."

This dark wine bursts with rich cassis, vanilla and tobacco notes on the nose.  Black fruit flavors are met with minerals and spice and the tannins are a step away from youthful, vibrant yet showing a soft side.  The Cabernet Franc shows up wonderfully spicy with a green note in tow, while the Merlot even sneaks in a whiff of smoke.  It's a pleasure from sniff to swallow, and the lengthy finish reminds one to go back for another sip. 

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mom-In-Law Comes Through With Choice Stout

Old jokes about mothers-in-law don't apply here.  My wife's mom loads me up with booze at Christmas, for which I am grateful.  There were two nice bottles, one of gin and another of vodka, and she knew I liked craft beer so she threw one of those into the stocking.  It was an imperial stout that she probably picked up at random.

Or not. A true Las Vegas resident, Verna loves the trappings of Sin City, and a beer called Sin Tax surely beckoned her.

Handcrafted in Vista, California, north of San Diego and east of Oceanside, this beer comes from a great area for the craft style.  When I lived in San Diego decades ago, there weren't so many options, but what was there was choice.  Today, you can hardly miss with a San Diego County bottle or can.

Mother Earth Brew Company makes the Sin Tax Imperial Stout with "premium British crystal and roasted malts melded with a Maris Otter base and American hops."  It's dry at 8.1% abv and they call their flavor-laden creation a "guilty pleasure."  "Don’t let it fool you," they say.  "This is an imperial stout first and foremost.  The peanut butter is simply featured to augment what is already there…a fantastic example of a legendary beer style."

This crazy brew has a nose that knocked me down.  Shades of blackstrap molasses hit first, then brown sugar, then caramel, then coffee.  Talk about aromatic and expressive, this is it.  The medium mouthfeel isn't creamy, but almost - it's smooth and gentle.  Flavors of espresso, Mexican chocolate and cocoa beans fill the flavor profile with dessert ideas.  I had one large bottle, and it satisfied both my sweet tooth and my taste for beer.

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

We at Now And Zin Wine are taking a couple of days off to open all those gifts, snack on that stocking full of cashew nuts and dine on that roast beast before the Grinch gets it.

May you and your loved ones enjoy the happiest of holidays, filled with joy, wonder and love.

May you enjoy wine to the fullest in the coming year, finding new wines to love and loving your old favorites even more.

And while we are at it, a very smart man once offered a seasonal comment that bears repeating more now than ever: "A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear."

Merry Christmas, and cheers!  

From Now And Zin Wine.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sweet Bordeaux For The Holidays

Sauternes is a Bordeaux appellation exclusive to sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes.  Sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert, especially over the holidays.  Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses.  Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of Sauternes wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.  Hosted by Snooth's co-founder and chief taster Mark Angelillo and wine educator Fred Swan, the event drew raves from those who participated in it.

Chateau Lapinesse Bordeaux Sauternes 2014

Chateau Lapinesse is in the Graves section of Bordeaux, but they have a Sauternes property from which they produce this incredible wine.  It's a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc that is sweet, but not too much so.  The alcohol is restrained at 13% abv, and it retails for 40 bucks.

The online tasters couldn't get enough of the Chateau Lapinesse 2014 Sauternes.  One called it "a stunner with exotic fruit and floral notes," while another raved, "HOLY MOLY this Lapinesse is awesome!"  They were actually being somewhat reserved.

This sweet Bordeaux wine carries gentle aromas of apricots and flowers, with a trace of honey in the mix.  The viscous mouthfeel outweighs a perky acidity and flavors of apricot and orange peel are a delightful pair.  The finish is lengthy, but not nearly as lengthy as I wished it to be.  So, have another sip and refresh that feeling.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cab-Heavy Sonoma Blend Means Business

Four Ferrari-Carano wines were recently featured in an online virtual tasting session, of which I was invited to be a part.  The presentation was hosted by Chelsea Kurnick of McCue Communications and associate FC winemaker Rebecka Deike.  She handles the winery's red wine program.  She says she started out wanting to be an optometrist, but she saw her focus change to a wine career.

The point of the tasting was to highlight what great wines the selections are for the holiday table.  Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay both served very well at Thanksgiving, and their Trésor red blend is well-suited for December festivities.

2013 Tresor, Sonoma County

The 2013 Trésor, features the five Bordeaux grapes in a Cab-heavy setting with big flavor and a little more new oak used in aging. Lush, the wine certainly lives up to its name as a "treasure."

The blend of five noble grapes from Bordeaux has 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.  The wines are vinified separately in oak barrels, then aged there for 21 months before blending.  Forty-two percent of the oak was new.  Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv and Trésor retails for $55.  If you're into label art, Marco Sassone's work on Trésor is beautiful.

Tresor is a deep ruby wine that lets the Cab come through.  The nose is laden with black and blue berries, cassis, oak spice and some pencil shavings.  The palate is beautifully savory, with a cloak of olives, cigars and coffee grounds comforting the dark fruit.  A little spice and a little smoke from those supporting grapes plays very well.  The finish is lengthy, acidity is perfect and the tannins are medium-strong.  Online tasers liked the idea of pairing Trésor with ribs, lamb, duck or strong cheeses, and so do I.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Greek Rosé Via Sonoma County

Georgós Zanganas founded Nu Greek Wines of Sonoma after moving to the U.S. and having trouble finding the Greek wines he left behind. He noticed that California wines gave him a headache, while his Greek faves never did.  His solution is in this bottle, and I'm told it sells at Northern California Whole Foods Markets and on restaurant wine lists in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  For the Georgós "Farmer" Ios Aphrodite's Kiss Rosé, Zanangas imports the bulk wine from Greece to Sonoma County, where it is bottled at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood under the direction of winemaker Robert Rex.

Zanangas says in a publicity Q&A that it's a pretty nifty trick to make wine this way.  "It comes by boat in 1,000-liter and 24,000-liter bladders from Greece," he says.  "Once the wine is harvested in Greece, we get it into a stable form so it does not get spoiled during its 45-day voyage from the ancient port of Piraeus in Athens to Oakland and then by truck to the winery in Sonoma.

"We blend and age our red wines in Sonoma," he continues.  "Once they are bottled, we wait four to six months before we release them to market.  We bottle the white and rosé right away, which is 100% wine from our Greek vineyards."

Of course, this wine is straight up Agiorgitiko, or Saint George, grapes.  It's reportedly one of the most widely planted grapes in Greece, but one top wine expert says most of the vines in the country are virused. 

The publicity team claims the Georgós wines are healthier because of the lower alcohol, sulfites and histamines.  Those qualities are said to eliminate the headache often caused by wine.  They also promise softer tannins and high antioxidants.

The wine is is billed as a sort of halfway point between Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  If that sounds a little odd to you, you're not alone.  I've often wanted one or the other, but never have I wished to be somewhere in between.  It's unoaked and retails for $23.

The color of this rosé is almost like bourbon, a nearly burnt orange that tends more to brown than pink.  It doesn't look much like rosé, and it doesn't smell that way, either.  First whiff, I get an earthiness that borders on foxiness, as in wines made from North American grape varieties.  Strawberry with an intense mineral overlay then takes over.  The palate offers plenty of cheerful fruit and earthy minerals but little acidity, which is reportedly an issue with Agiorgitiko grown in lower altitudes.  Ios is not what most American consumers would expect in a rosé, but more adventurous souls won't be disappointed. 

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Argentine Wine: Norton Malbec Reserva

The Malbec grape grows all over the world, but nowhere as in Argentina.  They grow about three-quarters of the world's Malbec grapes.  If Cab is king in the U.S., Malbec is monarch in Argentina.  Poorer wine producers in the country sometimes can't afford enough French oak barrels to go around for all their wines.  If a wine has to go naked, or unoaked, to stretch the peso, it'll be Cabernet Sauvignon that does without, not Malbec. 

Often relegated to the status of "blending grape" in France, Malbec is revered in Argentina and used most often in varietal wines.  The Argentines sometimes mix it with Bonarda, a South American treasure that has yet to break out globally, but watch out when it does.  It's a beautiful grape, too.  Malbec grows better and maintains its acidity in higher elevations, so you find it often in mountainous regions.

Bodega Norton sits in the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza's Lujan de Cuyo region, a place known for its Malbec plantings.  Their five vineyards in the First Zone of quality are planted with vines that average 30 years old, but some are as old as 80 years.  They were reportedly the first winery in the area some 120 years ago.  Norton is possibly the most familiar Argentine label for American wine lovers. 

The 100% Malbec wine is aged 12 months in French oak, then more in the bottle.  Alcohol is restrained, at 13.5% abv.  It retails for $19.  The Reserva Malbec consistently gets high ratings from those who attach numbers to wines and made a leading "Best Of" list last year.  It's one of Norton's new line of signature wines, and they also are unveiling a Privada Family Blend line which reportedly were once reserved for their private cellars.

This Norton is pitch-dark with a red rim and carries dark aromas on its nose.  Blackberry, blueberry and currant are predominant, with smoke and a rack full of holiday spices completing the scene.  On the palate, rich bold fruit comes forward on a wave of pepper and minerals.  The acidity is bright and the tannins are perfect, enough for a meat feast but not too much for sipping.  It’s a delightfully smooth quaff.  The savory aspect lingers medium-long on the finish.  It drinks like a youthful wine that is beginning to take on the character of its few years.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Wine: Sweet Wine From Bordeaux

France's Bordeaux region is more than just Cabernet and Merlot.  It is also features sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes.  Sweet white wine is not everyone's cup, but sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert.  Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses.  Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.  Have it with the pumpkin pie, sure, but try it with the ham and turkey, too.  You'll be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of such wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.

Chateau du Cros Loupiac  2014

The Chateau du Cros has been in the Guyenne province since the 12th century in the high ground of Loupiac, overlooking the Garonne Valley.  The oldest vines on the property date back to 1907, which their website says is a rarity.  With vineyards also in Cadillac and Graves, the grapes for this wine were grown in Loupiac.

Loupiac is a region in Bordeaux that is known for its sweet wines.  It's close to Sauternes and right between Cadillac and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, if you’ve been there.  If you’ve never had a sweet wine graced with the mineral effect of limestone soil, you’re in for a treat.

Those grapes are 90% Semillon, with 5% each Sauvignon and Muscadelle rounding out the blend.  The roots reportedly reach down through nearly two feet of limestone clay to get water.  The Loupiac terroir of this vineyard is prized by the Michel Boyer family who have run the chateau in modern times, and it is revered in the region.  Aging took place in oak barrels for a full 12 months, something I understand is a fairly recent adaptation.  The sweet wine hits just 13% abv in alcohol content and retails for about $15.

This sweet Bordeaux pushes all the right buttons for a wine style that wants to be known as "more than dessert."  The rich golden hue beckons, while the nose of candied fruit is draped in a cloak of minerality.  The palate certainly wants to be more than an after-dinner afterthought.  The viscous mouthfeel, bracing acidity and mineral-driven flavor profile form a trio unlikely to be caught traveling together in most sweet wines.  They have been doing it in Bordeaux for centuries.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Zinfandel Fail

Reid Klei is the winemaker for the new Motto wines, owned by Ste. Michele Wine Estates.  He makes wines that carry the "California" appellation, a ridiculously large and over-reaching tag.  It could mean that the grapes came from more than one great appellation, but more often it means that several lesser appellations are being disguised.

The 2015 Motto Unabashed Zinfandel is made from grapes grown in "vineyards across California"s sun drenched valleys," as their website states.  In fact, this wine tastes like the grapes were grown in a cool climate, as tartness is the word.  It's mostly Zin, with some Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.  Alcohol stands at 13.9% abv and it sells for $15.

This wine is medium-dark ruby and smells of cherry and smoky oak spice.  There's a lot of oak spice here, and it follows the same way on the palate.  The fruit is in the forefront, but it seems that it doesn't want to stay there.  Or someone, should I say, didn't want it to stay there.  It's a bit tart, which is unusual for a Zinfandel.  Even so, the effect of the oak aging takes this wine in its grip and delivers a chokehold.  The fruit, however good or bad it may be, is masked by a massive cedar plank note and a rack of spices that don't really seem to fit.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tam O'Shanter's Dickens Dinner

The Tam O'Shanter bills itself as Los Angeles' oldest restaurant operated by the same family in the same location.  It's a member of the Lawry's family of restaurants and a mainstay on Los Feliz Boulevard.  If you have some Scottish ancestry, you may find your family tartan among the extensive collection that decorate the walls.  I know a guy who likes the Welsh rarebit there, and my wife loves the Scotch whisky display case.

The Tam once again provided a holiday feast filled with special menus and Dickens-style entertainment.  The legendary Dickens Dinner experience just wrapped up its 33rd year.  The three-hour experience books only 60 people per performance, so you don't feel crowded while enjoying the live, interactive dinner theatre that features an acting troupe performing a consolidation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

To go along with the show, the Tam's Executive Chef offered the following menu items:

Holiday salad with mixed market greens, candied walnuts, blue cheese, cranberry vinaigrette.
Roasted Prime Ribs of Beef 6oz. cut, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, horseradish; 
English-Style Goose mashed potatoes, traditional stuffing, sautéed vegetables, sage gravy; 
Pan Roasted Scottish Salmon parsnip puree, fennel, kale, pearl onions, pomegranate seeds; 
Vegetarian Entrée.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Seasonal Cocktails
Maple Old Fashion
Elijah Craig, Whistle Pig bourbon barrel maple syrup, black walnut bitters
Scotch Lodge 
Highland Park, Cynar, cherry herring, orange bitters
Irish Goodbye 
Irish whisky, amaro, Lillet blanc
Tam's Toddy 
Applejack, chamomile liquor, demerra, bitters
Autumn Negroni 
gin, Cynar, sweet vermouth

The show is fantastic and the actors are very involved with the audience.  The food service is even incorporated as part of the act.  They've been putting on this show at the Tam O'Shanter for longer than I've been living in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t believe I had never experienced it.  It will be a part of my future holiday plans each year.

Tam O'Shanter General Manager John Lindquist says the Dickens Dinner is like "travelling through time," and he’s right.  It's a truly unique experience in a city that sometimes seems to be bursting at the seams with uniqueness.  L.A. as a Victorian holiday wonderland?  Please, suh, may I have anuthah?

By the way, Scotch lovers may want to look at Tam O'Shanter's unique "Scotch Passport," which gives "explorers" access to one of the most extensive Scotch collections in the U.S.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Beekeeper Zinfandel

From the vaults, 2012.  Ian Blackburn talks about his winemaking effort, Beekeeper  Zinfandel. It's one of the most amazing Zins I've ever tasted.  It could knock a Cab off a steakhouse wine list.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Arroyo Seco Sauvignon Blanc

In the same way that rosé gets a seasonal shun when the weather turns brisk, wine lovers sometimes forget about Sauvignon Blanc over the fall and winter.  I admit I'm guilty of letting Sauvignon Blanc fall into that "harbinger of spring" category.  It performs extremely well there, but Sauvignon Blanc also has a place at the holiday table, not just the picnic table.  In the coming weeks we'll be covering some nice choices from the Arroyo Seco AVA of California's Monterey County.

The Arroyo Seco AVA is centered around the Arroyo Seco River.  It's described as a seasonal waterway that brings rain and snowmelt from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Salinas River.  Commercial grape growing started in 1961 and has grown to some 7,000 acres under vine.  The region is about 40 miles away from the deep waters of Monterey Bay and parts of it get direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean through the Salinas Valley. 

Luli 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Arroyo Seco

Sara Floyd partnered with the Pisoni family to create her line of Luli wines.  The Sauvignon Blanc grapes were grown in Griva Vineyard, a cold, windy, ancient riverbed with soil full of shale.  Winemaker Jeff Pisoni fermented the wine in neutral barrels, not stainless steel, so the mouthfeel is a little weightier than one might expect from a Sauvigon Blanc.  It was selling for about $18, but the winery lists it as "sold out."  That's no surprise.  Alcohol is a middling 14.2% abv.

This wine's nose offers up more of that wonderful grassy aroma than I usually find in California SauvBlancs.  There's a touch of orange peel and lemon zest in there, too.  The mouthfeel is medium full and graced with a zippy acidity.  There is a rich minerality here, as expected, with tropical fruit flavors trying their best to overshadow the stark rocks.  The rocks win.  Lay out an olive and cheese plate if you don't have any shellfish lying about.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cabernet From The Warm Heart Of Calistoga

The wines of Cornerstone Cellars have been around for nearly three decades, and the company has seen its share of change through the years.  One thing that appears to have stayed the same is their commitment to crafting excellent Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Napa Valley.  The recently added winemakers in Yountville, Charles Thomas and Kari Auringer, are guiding the good ship Cabernet now at Cornerstone.  Thomas has a 30 year track record in the Napa Valley, and Auringer is in her second go-round with the winery.

The Cornerstone 2014 Calistoga Cab shows off what it's all about in Calistoga - ripe fruit and a whole bunch of it.  Calistoga is the warmest place in the Napa Valley appellation, so there’s enough opportunity for the grapes to become sweet and juicy.  The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are fermented and aged in French oak, 70% of which was new.  Despite all that new wood, the fruit controls this wine from sniff to sip.  The wine hits an alcohol mark of 14.5% abv and sells for $75.

This wine is dark and deep, and smells that way.  Blackberry, black cherry and plum dominate the nose.  There's only a hint of wood influence - unusual for Napa Cabs - with barely noticeable traces of cedar and spice, almost no graphite.  On the palate, it's a smooth ride with gently firm tannins, if that makes any sense.  The flavors are as fruity as the nose, but they are just as dark.  The wine finishes long and leaves dark fruit and licorice as a calling card.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Wine: Sweet Bordeaux Sainte Croix du Mont

What are the holidays without some sweet wine?  Well, they'd still be pretty great, but they'd be short on sweet wine, which would be a bad thing.  The lovely Bordeaux region of Sainte Croix du Mont sits right across the Garonne River from Sauternes, which produces probably the most famous French sweet wine.  In Sainte Croix du Mont, however, they also work wonders with Sémillon grapes.  Sweet white wine is not everyone's cup, but anyone who likes a good dessert and a good glass of wine should not object to having them in the same serving.  However, sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert. Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses. Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.  Have it with your holiday pie, sure, but try it with the turkey, too.  You might be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of Sauternes wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.  Hosted by Snooth's co-founder and chief taster Mark Angelillo and wine educator Fred Swan, the event drew raves from those who participated in it.  Swan, especially, won kudos all around for his vast knowledge.

 The sweet wine of Chateau La Rame comes from the vineyard in Sainte Croix du Mont.  The vines average 50 years of age and the Sémillon grapes are hand harvested with successive pass-throughs.  The soil contains fossilized oyster beds which seem to impart a distinct minerality to the wine.  It's aged mainly in stainless steel tanks, with a little less than a third aged in French oak barrels. It retails for $20.

As for the Chateau La Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2014, this rich, golden, sweet wine smells like honey and dried apricots. There's a layer of earthy minerals, a chalkiness, that beautifully counterpoints the sweetness.  On the palate, a viscous mouthfeel carries marmalade-like fruit flavors along on a subtle wave of acidity.  This is dessert on its own, but why limit such a wonderful wine? Have it with hard cheese, almonds or a lobster roll.

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