Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Burgundy, En Francais

Jadot is one of those names, one of only a few, that signify French Wine. Even if you don't know French, even if you don't know wine, you can still know Jadot.

This Maison Louis Jadot wine, 2014 Bourgogne, is made not from Chardonnay and not Gamay grapes. That leaves the other main grape in Burgundy, Pinot Noir. The venerable Jadot winery was established in 1859, but the family was digging around in the Burgundy soil a good 30 years before that. I wonder if any of them envisioned a 2014 vintage? Probably. I doubt that they spent much time working on a fallback position, in case the wine thing didn't work out.

The Pinot Noir grapes for this Bourgogne came from Burgundy's Côte d'Or and the Côte Chalonnaise regions. The wine was aged in French oak for nine months and hits 12.5% abv, in typically restrained Burgundian style.

Jadot’s 2014 Bourgogne Pinot Noir sits medium dark and pretty purple in the glass. There is raspberry and cranberry on the nose, with a little whiff of smoke high over the glass. It's a fruity aroma package adorned with just a bit of minerality. The minerals come forward really strong on the palate, elbowing the tart little berries right out of the way. Acidity is predictably wonderful while the tannins stay mostly in the shadows.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cal-Italia: Mosby Sagrantino

Monday, March 27, 2017

Wood You Like Some Chardonnay?

Dierberg Vineyard is just 14 miles from Pacific Ocean, in the southern part of Santa Maria Valley. Mary and Jim Dierberg came west from Missouri, where they had made wine for decades. They landed in Santa Barbara County in 1996 and grow some fine grapes in the Dierberg and Drum Canyon vineyards as well as the warmer Star Lane Vineyard.

The 2013 Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Dierberg Vineyard sets alcohol at a very California-esque 14.6% abv. It sells for $32, which isn’t cheap, but isn't exactly the high limit for a good Chardonnay, either. It aged for 16 months in French oak, only 15% of which was new. The 2013 vintage was warm and dry with an early harvest period from August into September.

This golden Chardonnay is more than three years old, something I don't get to sample too often. I'm usually asked to taste newer vintages. A little age goes quite well on this grape, though. It smells of almost pungent tropical fruit - guava, mango, pineapple - and has a good deal of vanilla spice in there, too. Over-oaked? It's not shy, but you be the judge. I can take it fairly well from either end of the spectrum, but this much oak generally hits me better in cooler months. The palate gives a nice framework for the apples and pears and peaches to be dunked in vanilla, too. There's a great savory aspect to the wood that keeps it from being "ordinary," and places it in an arena where the $32 price tag looks like bargain hunting.


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Friday, March 24, 2017

Locations Wine: P Is For Portugal

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, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

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.

P is for Portugal. Phinney’s Portuguese effort is a "blend of Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, and Touriga Franca sourced primarily from the northern region of Douro, with the remainder coming from the Alentejo region to the south."

The old vines of the northern Douro Valley are sheltered from the impact of the Atlantic Ocean by the Serra do Marão mountain range, and very little rain falls on the "steep, rocky slopes." As a result, the grapes are concentrated and aromas and flavors are huge and expressive. The southern grapes are by nature fruity and fresh. Phinney says the blend allows for a silky, layered wine that hits a big 15% abv and is aged in French and American oak.

The wine is dark and juicy, with black currant and black raspberry aromas, but the nose has a distinct savory side to it, with cedar, olives, smoke and sassafras. Chocolate and meat also play into the olfactory delight. The palate brings a textbook darkness, with earth for miles and miles and miles. It's just about pitch black, and that's okay, because I've got a flashlight. There is a heavy note of oak spice, a tongue-teasing acidity and a tannic structure that wants to exert its influence over meat, make that steak, make that ribeye.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More White Wine For The Money: Le Cigare Blanc Réserve

The 2013 Réserve is the same wine as the 2013 Le Cigare Blanc "normale," but it is aged in five-gallon glass demijohns. The aging occurs while the wine is still in contact with the spent yeast cells, which lends weight and texture to the finished product. Winemaker Randall Grahm writes that the wine has a "very different textural aspect from the normale, with an extreme level of umami, or savoriness from the absorption of the lees."

It's still 57% Grenache Blanc, 27% Roussanne and 16% Picpoul from Beeswax Vineyard in Monterey County. It was stirred monthly while aging and was bottled unfiltered. Only 275 cases were made, and it sells for $45.

The wine is a lovely and rich greenish gold, much the same as the "normale," but maybe a little more vibrant. Aromas are predictably savory - beeswax, lanolin, minerals, citrus - and flavors walk that same path. The tropical fruit hits hard, with that Roussanne nuttiness right behind. The earthy, almost soapy, note stays long after the sip while acidity holds a high threshold. You could spend $45 on a Chardonnay very easily, but this wine gives you something much more interesting for your investment.


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Monday, March 20, 2017

Locations Wine: I Is For Italy

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, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

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. Locations I is an Italian red wine bottled at the company’s headquarters in Spain.

Phinney notes that he had 2,000 indigenous grapes from which to choose in Italy, but he whittled it down to four. The non-vintage wine is made from Nero D'Avola and Negroamaro grapes from Puglia, Barbera from Piedmont, and a bit of Tuscan Sangiovese. Alcohol sits at a big 14.5% abv and it retails for about $18.

He describes what each of those varieties does. "Powerful and rich fruit from Puglia (Torricella and Manduria) serves as the base with a lively vein of acidity from Barbera (Alba) that stabilizes things in just the right way." Aging takes ten months in a barrel before bottling.

This dark Italian has black cherry and raspberry on the nose, with a solid grounding in soil. Spices and herbs decorate the aroma profile, with allspice and anise predominant. On the palate, it's a bold showing of dark fruit and currant accompanied by a savory, black olive edge. Those savory notes last long into the generous finish.


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Friday, March 17, 2017

Locations Rosé: F Is For France

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, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

These Locations 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.

F is for France, and it's a beautiful rosé, sourced in "the south of France." That’s as specific as it gets, but that's enough for me. Southern France is where some of the best rosé in the world is made. The Grenache grapes are taken from different locations within that general parameter. It hits 14.5% abv - kinda rich for rosé - and retails for $17 - not bad.

This rosé could be called salmon in color, if weren't for the fact that it's downright orange, not pink. It is undeniably beautiful, though. The nose is fresh and herbal, with berries in the bottom of the basket, stems and leaves on top. On the palate, there's an acidity that tingles. There are cherry and strawberry flavors that mingle with spice and sage. It's a delightful rosé, even if its origins are slightly obscure. It's France, the south, Grenache, so I won't quibble too much.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Get Doon With Rosé

Bonny Doon Vineyard's winemaker Randall Grahm says he’s "pretty happy" with his latest vintage of the pink Vin Gris de Cigare.  That’s underselling a magnificent product if I ever heard it. I eagerly await his annual offer of a taste.

As usual, the 2016 "pink analogue to Le Cigare Volant" is about half Grenache with smatterings of Grenache Blanc, Mourvèdre and Carignane. He says there's a slight twist this time around, as the Alta Loma Vineyard Grenache was allowed "a teensy bit more skin contact time."  That resulted in a nice bit of black currant in the profile. He made 21,000 cases and retails it for about $16. Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv.  Grahm says there are plantings in the works that he hopes will allow him to use "such grapes as Grenache Gris, Clairette and possibly Tibouren into the blend." Bring it on.

The light pink color is very Provençal, and the nose falls into line with it. Aromas of strawberry and watermelon are in the forefront, with plenty of herbal influence. On the palate, it drinks more red than pink, with cherry, currant and licorice on display. The acidity is plainly perfect, and a nutty savoriness just peeks through and lingers on the finish.


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Monday, March 13, 2017

New Zealand Single Vineyard Pinot Noir: Craggy Range

Craggy Range Owner Terry Peabody makes wine from various regions on New Zealand. The Te Muna Vineyard of Martinborough, where these Pinot Noir grapes were grown, is at the southern end of the northern island.  The volcanic and clay soils impart some wonderful things to those grapes, even though the scientists say you can’t taste the ground in the wine. We know different, don’t we?

Warm, dry summers and mild winters in Martinborough make good growing conditions for the region’s top grape. The Te Muna hits a respectably controlled 13.5% abv and retails for $43.

The 2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir from Te Muna shows a medium dark tint in the glass while displaying some fairly dark and earthy traits on the nose. Black fruit, cola, tea and coffee all appear, along with a wisp of smoke. The palate is also dark, but accessible. There is an elegance to the wine that beckons, does not stiff arm. There is a rustic element, it's natural in New Zealand’s expression of Pinot Noir.


Friday, March 10, 2017

A Little Cabernet With That Oak, Please

JaM Cellars stands for John and Michele, second-generation vintners who happen to run this Napa Valley wine biz.

The blurb says this wine is "all about the fruit," but it’s really mostly about the oak. Cellared and bottled in the California town of Acampo, the 2014 JaM hits the black keys, mainly.

It's dark to a fault, almost black in the glass and loaded with blackberry and black plum aromas. The nose also shows the oak that is used to chisel off the edges of this 15.1% abv wine. Sweet vanilla is the predominant aroma. It's also a big player on the palate, which maybe helps a high alcohol wine smooth out a bit, but it buries the grape. A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine should have plenty of Cab to spare, but here it's hiding behind a few staves of oak. It's pleasant enough, though, if you like - as Crosby, Stills and Nash said - "wooden music."


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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Put A Party In Your Glass

JaM Cellars stands for John and Michele, second-generation vintners who happen to run this Napa Valley wine biz.

JaM says you can "put a party in your glass any day of the week" with their bubbly, as long as the day ends in "y." This Chardonnay brut carries alcohol at 12.5% abv and retails for $25. Cellared and bottled in Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

This California sparkler has a rich, golden color and medium-sized bubbles that are fun while they last, and they stay around a good length of time. The nose shows a lot of the toasty note that is advertised in the name, with Meyer lemon and peach on the side. The mouthfeel is full and creamy, while also displaying great freshness. A lemony apple flavor certainly refreshes, while the fruit - and toast - last into a lengthy finish.


Monday, March 6, 2017

California Pinot From The North And South

They say Adler Fels is German for "Eagle Rock," which plays into their location "high in the Mayacamas Mountains." From there, they look across California, spyglass to eye, searching for the great grapes they want to use. Of course, nobody needs a mountaintop watchman to find those locations. Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Monterey County, Santa Barbara County - they are hardly off the beaten path. Those grapes make what they term, "artisan wines with intense varietal character."

The Alder Fels 2014 The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Aaron Bader, is a beauty. Bader calls the making of good Pinot "both a physical and mental exercise." He’s not shy about tooting his own bottle. "It's sexy, luscious, with that sweet perfume, a hint of maple syrup, and lush fruit." Wait a minute. Maple syrup? I can have that for breakfast!

For this wine, he blended three-quarters Sta. Rita Hills Pinot from Santa Barbara County and one-quarter grapes from the Russian River Valley. It checks in with 14.4% abv and retails for $28.

The Pinot is hefty and dark, with a nose that exudes black raspberry, black olive, coffee, tea and anise. Maple syrup? Well, now that it's in my head, it's in my nose. On the palate, wow. Ripe fruit, those olives, black tea and black pepper. The savory angle continues into the finish and carries plenty of sweet oak spice with it.


Friday, March 3, 2017

F Is For France

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, although I don't really agree with the philosophy of blending wine across a nation. Specific locations are important because of what they are, where they are, why they are. Can't deny.

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.

F is for France, and it's a beautiful rosé, sourced in "the south of France." That’s as specific as Phinney gets. The Grenache grapes are taken from different locations within that general parameter. It hits 14.5% abv - kinda rich for rosé - and retails for $17 - not a bad price.

This rosé could be called salmon in color, if weren't for the fact that it's downright orange, not pink. It is undeniably beautiful, though. The nose is fresh and herbal, with berries in the bottom of the basket, stems and leaves on top. On the palate, there's an acidity that tingles. There are cherry and strawberry flavors that mingle with spice and sage. It's a delightful rosé, even if its origins are slightly obscure. It's France, the south, Grenache, so I won't quibble too much.


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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Crocker & Starr Malbec

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 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon is heavy on the Malbec, 92%, with equal splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The grapes for Casali came from St. Helena in the Napa Valley and it's the seventh edition of this blend. Casali, the winery notes, means "farmhouse," and it was inspired by Pam's trip to Mendoza, Argentina.  Only 500 cases were produced, it hits 14.4% abv and sells for $80.

This beautiful ruby red wine smells like black cherry and smoke, with notes of sweet oak and vanilla oozing down the sides. I could sniff at it for hours. In the mouth, it's a red wine lover's dream. Rich fruit - cherry, blackberry, plum - and firm, supple tannins combine for a taste that compels and satisfies. There’s plenty of backbone here, but it's not dangerous, or anything like that. Pair with steak, go ahead. You'll be happy. The wine will be happy. The steak will be happy.


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