Friday, April 19, 2019

Rosés For Spring: Vin Gris De Cigare

Hey, is it rosé season already?  Maybe it creeps up on me because it's always rosé season at my place.  We are taking a couple of weeks to spotlight some worthy pink wines which will help get us in the swing for spring.

Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," is heading into spring with another vintage of its beautiful rosé.  Randall Grahm calls his Vin Gris de Cigare the "pink analogue of  Le Cigare Volant," the flagship wine of the Dooniverse.

The 2018 vintage, maybe the 35th or so, is made from 38.5% Grenache grapes, 30.5% Grenache Blanc, 12.5% Carignane, 10% Cinsaut, 6% Mourvèdre, 2% Picpoul and a dash of  Vermentino.  For me, it's a rite of spring, and a rite I would love to have on Thanksgiving, too, if I could hold off that long on opening the bottle.  Grahm says the pink wine will improve in the screw-top bottle for several years, by the way.  He sorts the grapes this way:

"The Grenache for our Vin Gris came in large part from bespoke sections of the Alta Loma Vineyard, a cool climate site in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County that gives us grapes with a distinctive black currant character.  The Carignane, responsible for the fundament of the wine, derived from very old vines from Antioch in Contra Costa County.  A substantial percentage of the wine is composed of the elegant Grenache Blanc variety, adding a lovely richness and foundation to the '18 vintage.  The Cinsaut,... ah, a delicate cherry top note."  He also notes that the lees were stirred to give a creamy mouthfeel.

The '18 Vin Gris de Cigare is very pale pink in the glass, quite lovely in fact.  The nose shows red fruit and a light floral note with a savory mineral edge.  The palate displays cherries and apples, with a very light and creamy mouthfeel, yet with a wonderful acidity.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rosés For Spring: A Spanish Rosado

Hey, is it rosé season already?  Maybe it creeps up on me because it's always rosé season at my place.  We are taking a couple of weeks to spotlight some worthy pink wines which will help get us in the swing for spring.

Founded in 1970 by Enrique Forner, Marqués de Cáceres is now run by his daughter, Cristina Forner, the fourth generation of the wine family.  The bodega is located in the community of Cenicero in La Rioja Alta region of Spain.

The 2018 Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Rosado is made from 96% Tempranillo grapes with a 4% splash of Garnacha Tinta.  Alcohol clocks in at 13.5% abv and it sells for less than ten bucks.  It isn't a terribly complex rosé, but it is quite tasty and ready to be chilled for picnics and barbecues.

This dependable rosé is a rich, pink salmon color, with a mineral-laden nose featuring strawberry and cherry aromas.  The palate is dry, fruity and laced with minerals.  A good acidity provides for excellent food pairing and a refreshing demeanor on its own.  There's a touch of orange peel on the finish.


Monday, April 15, 2019

NZ Is For New Zealand

Great wine is all about location.  The location of the vineyard makes all the difference in the end product.  Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame, in which he makes wines from all over the world.  These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two, depicting the place of origin, much like those European bumper stickers - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, and NZ is for New Zealand.

Phinney sold the Locations brand this past summer to Modesto's E and J Gallo, two years after selling off the Orin Swift brand.  A price wasn't announced, but Phinney will reportedly stay on as the winemaker "indefinitely."

The NZ7 vintage features 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes which were grown in three valleys in the Marlborough region - Wairau, Awatere and Waihopai.  Phinney says the grapes from the Wairau offer the fruity, grassy framework, with the Awatere grapes adding minerality and the Waihopai fruit supplying the "final layer of complexity."  The wine was made in stainless steel tanks and aged a minimal amount of time.  Alcohol hits 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $20.

This wine shows a light golden color in the glass and a grassy nose with peach aromas, but not full-blown Kiwi herbal.  The palate also offers peaches, apples and herbs.  The nice acidity doesn't exactly zip, but gets the job done.  There's an herbal finish, which again does not overpower.  The wine should go great with salmon and salads.


Friday, April 12, 2019

Trebbiano From Abruzzo

Citra Vini, an association of unified wineries in Abruzzo established in 1973, covers a lot of ground in Chieti.  The winegrowing group is located near the Majella, a limestone massif in the Apennine mountain range, Gran Sasso - the highest peak around - and the Adriatic Sea.

Their website explains that the Trebbiano grape goes by a number of names, each one utilizing the area in which the grape is grown.  The Citra umbrella shades a lot of labels, and this would appear to their bargain brand, as it sells for less than ten bucks.

There was scant information available about the wine, but a winemaking team of 19 worked on it, so at least they had a lot of experience in the cellar.  Alcohol hits a reasonable 12% abv.

The 2017 Citra Trebbiano d'Abruzzo barely colors up - it's a very pale gold green in the glass.  The nose gives off soft floral notes with a hard edge of minerals.  The palate is tart and refreshing, with apples, earth and those wonderful minerals.  A great acidity leaves the mouthfeel crisp and dry.  Have it with oysters or crabs.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Weissburgunder - Call It German Pinot Blanc

German wines tend to fall beneath the typical U.S. wine drinker's radar.  Aside from Riesling, one could be hard-pressed to find a German grape variety or even a German version of a more familiar grape, on a supermarket shelf.  Specialty wine stores will dig deeper, but depending on their inventory they may not have a very wide coverage. 

Los Angeles wine expert Matthew Kaner says of the new world of German wine, "there’s more than just Riesling," and he cited the Koehler-Ruprecht Pinot Blanc as an example.

Kaner commented during an online event that people should be drinking more Pinot Blanc.  Usually a sommelier suggests Riesling, it seems.  However, the grape known as Weissburgunder in Germany has some serious food friendliness of its own.

The history of Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht goes back to the 18th century, with Bernd Phillipi overseeing the place for three of the most recent decades.  Like his grandfather, Phillipi uses no irrigation, fertilizers or herbicides in his vineyard, and anti-pest and anti fungal treatments are kept to a minimum.  In the cellar, fermentations happen in large, old German oak barrels with the spent yeast cells - lees - in the mix for fullness.  He uses sulfur before bottling.

Phillipi is a busy guy, with winemaking activities on three continents competing for his time.  He has brought up Dominik Sona to handle most of the cellar duties in Germany. 

In addition to Pinot Blanc, the estate has vines full of Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Scheurebe on three different terroirs - Saumagen's chalky limestone, sandstone-based Steinacker and Annaberg.  The 2016 Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) is trocken - dry - has alcohol at 12% and sells for $20.

The 2016 Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Blanc shows yellow-gold in the glass.  The nose is laden with minerals, like a driveway freshly rained upon.  There are pears and peaches, but they fight to get through the wet rocks.  The palate also puts minerality first, with pear juice coming through.  The acidity is not very strong, but is zippy enough to carry a salad or shrimp cocktail. 


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Monday, April 8, 2019

Amador County Zinfandel

Bella Grace Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills region of Amador County.  Run by Michael and Charlie Havill, their vineyard sits on 20 acres in those granitic rolling hills.  The winery says Michael is "one of the few elite female winemakers in California," while husband Charlie is credited with being the mastermind behind the vines.  The winery was named for their two grandmothers.

The Havills grow Primitivo, Zinfandel, Grenache, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre, sustainably without pesticides, as well as three types of olives.  Nearly seven acres of the estate are devoted to four different clones of Zinfandel grapes.  This one is not an estate wine, but the 100% Zinfandel grapes all hail from Amador County.  It rings the alcohol bell at 14.2% abv.  It's a Double Gold winner in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The 2016 Bella Grace Zinfandel is dark garnet in color and smells of blackberry, plum, slight cranberry and a healthy dose of bramble, with a layer of sweetness as counterpoint.  On the palate, deeper dark fruit and raspberry comes across in a rustic fashion with a zing of oak.  The wine drinks smoothly, with fine tannins and a medium mouthfeel.  Earthy, dark fruit lingers on the finish.


Friday, April 5, 2019

Wine Marketing Targets Rebel Middle Sisters

Some wines are marketed not by what's in the bottle, but what's on the bottle.  Label art, a normally enjoyable addition to the wine in the bottle, often replaces wine quality and aims to appeal to consumers as they shop.  Sometimes they are called "critter" labels, with cute or magnificent animals capturing the shoppers attention.  The practice has spread to include eye-catching images or text of any sort.  The 19 Crimes line shows pictures of actual criminals, with associated smartphone apps to let them "tell their story."

There's a wine out there that takes the label appeal issue a step farther, targeting their demographic directly.  The Middle Sister Rebel Red label says birth order determines psychological development, and claims that middle sisters are better suited to having a wine named after them because they were "born lucky."  A new study reported last month differs with that opinion and says birth order does not affect a person's adult behavior.  The stick-figure middle sister pictured on the wine's label says, "I've never crashed a party, I AM the party."

The Mendocino County company also offers wines named Goodie Two Shoes, Drama Queen, Sweet and Sassy and Smarty Pants, while touting that they "give back to causes women care about."  Marketing issues aside, they have little to say about the liquid in the bottle, except that it's a "top secret blend of delicious red varieties."  An online search for info showed that they're pretty good at keeping that varietal secret.  Alcohol clocks in at 13.5% abv and the wine sells for about $10.

The non-vintage Middle Sister Rebel Red California Winemakers Blend is medium-dark ruby in the glass and displays a nose of strawberry, cherry, vanilla and oak spice.  On the palate, one finds angular, tart red fruit, stiff tannins and a fairly heavy dose of oak.  It's faint praise to say that it's not horrible, but Rebel Red is probably better suited to making sangria or serving chilled at a cookout than pairing with a meaningful meal.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

An Elegant Pinot Noir From New Zealand

New Zealand's Villa Maria winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec recently guided a group of wine writers through a half dozen of her creations during an online virtual tasting event.

Aotearoa is Māori for New Zealand, and being a full-flavor kinda guy I'm usually pleased with the bold, delicious wines made there.

Villa Maria was founded by George Fistonich in 1961 as a five-acre vineyard in Auckland.  He and his wife ran the show themselves until he expanded in the 1970s.  They now have estate vineyards on both the North and South islands.  Sir George was knighted by his government in 2009 for his service to the nation’s wine industry.  He took Villa Maria 100% screwcap in 2001.

The 2017 Villa Maria Marlborough Pinot Noir was made from grapes grown in the Awatere and Wairau valleys, in the Marlborough region on New Zealand's South Island.  Alcohol is extremely manageable at 12.5% abv and the wine retails for just $20.  I found this wine surprising because it didn't fit my expectations of a bold and dark Pinot, like the ones I've had.

This wine has a light ruby color to highlight its elegant look.  The nose pops of light violets and roses with strawberry and cranberry aromas playing through. In the mouth, this Pinot is as elegant as it looks.  Flavors of cherry and a faint tea note are playful in this easy drinker.  Semi firm tannins back up all those attributes and get to work on meat dishes from foul to feast. The winery suggests a smoked salmon pairing.


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Monday, April 1, 2019

Fogo De Chão Unveils Spring Menu Meats, Drinks, Wine

The fantastic, Dallas-based Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão is now serving new menu items for the spring season.  If you've never been to a Fogo location, it's been described as a "meat parade," in which servers keep those choices coming until you throw out the stop sign. 

Fogo has introduced seven new seasonal dishes, a new cocktail and a new red wine.  The new meats include Pork Picanha - butchered and prepared with the same simple style as traditional Picanha, then carved tableside - and a new spicy Linguiça Sausage - pork with red pepper, garlic and fresh onion.  I was invited to sample the menu recently at the Beverly Hills location, with manager Sevenir Girardi guiding me along.  Girardi told me the BH store was the fifth in the nationwide chain when it opened 14 years ago.

The new pork meats are excellent, especially the Linguiça, which was an overwhelming favorite for a sausage-lover like me.  The sirloin was done to perfection, as was the Frango - chicken marinated in beer and brandy and wrapped in bacon.

Fogo's CEO Barry McGowan says "Brazilian cuisine focuses on harvesting and serving fruits and vegetables when they are in season and have reached peak flavor," and the revamp also shows up on the salad bar, or Market Table.  I'm not a particularly big fan of carrot ginger soup, but I'll have the Fogo version anytime.  It's vegetarian, gluten-free and delicious, with a bit of a spicy kick to the coconut milk.  The Brazilian kale and orange salad is also fresh, as is the roasted cauliflower salad.   The Bosc pear slices pair nicely with bleu cheese.

Dessert also got a new dish, one that Girardi says came straight from Brazil.  The Crème de Coconut combines freshly-shredded coconut with condensed milk and cream, baked in the oven and served warm with ice cream and a little lime zest.  I had this instead of my typical Key lime pie, and was glad I did.

There's a new cocktail at Fogo de Chao for spring, the Blood Orange Manhattan.  The bartender mixes Buffalo Trace Bourbon with a splash of Carpano Antica, a dash of blood orange and angostura bitters.  It is served over rocks, and the loads of citrus and its easy-drinking nature make it a great seasonal choice that should be a fave right through summer.

Fogo also unveiled Eulila, a Chilean red wine blend from the Cachapoal Valley (Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) specially created exclusively for Fogo by the award-winning winemakers at Viña Vik that pays tribute to Eulila "Selma" Oliveira, Chief Culture Officer of Fogo de Chão.   It's a great pairing with Fogo faves like the dry-aged steak offerings: Bone-In Cowboy Ribeye, 24-ounce New York Strip, 32-ounce Tomahawk Ribeye.

Born and raised in Brazil, Oliveira moved to the United States in 1985, determined to achieve the American dream. Following a chance encounter with the founders of Fogo de Chão while in Dallas, she joined Fogo as the brand's first female manager and, eventually, executive.  She's considered today to be the heart and soul of the organization, affectionately known as the Fogo matriarch. 

Created by Viña Vik for the Fogo de Chao restaurant chain, this wine blends 48% Carmenere grapes, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Syrah into a food-friendly delight.  The wine smells of earth and dark fruit and has a savory edge to the fruitiness on the palate, with excellent acidity and tannic structure.  It hits 14% abv on the alcohol scale, a little lighter than wines of this type usually are, and it sells for $76 bottle in the restaurant. 

Fogo de Chao is not a seasonal choice for me - I’ll go anytime, no arm-twisting required - but their springtime focus adds a few new reasons to stop by.


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Friday, March 29, 2019

Michigan Rosé

"From wine what sudden friendship springs."  British author John Gay wrote that, likely for his book entitled, "Wine," but I like him for writing his own epitaph, which is carved into his Westminster Abbey resting place: "Life is a jest, and all things show it, I thought so once, and now I know it."

The former quote today floats across the website for Hawthorne Vineyards, on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula.  Founder Bruce Hawthorne and his wife have deep roots in northern Michigan and planted a vineyard through their interest in agriculture.

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state’s main body into Lake Michigan.  It's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, which produces what they call a "lake effect."  That protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

Winemaker Brian Hosmer turns the grapes into wine, which the Hawthornes label as their passion.  They say the grapes are a product of the 26-acre vineyard's complete terroir, from the soil to the climate to the plot's proximity to the lake.  From their tasting room's beautiful porch guests can see the blue water of Grand Traverse Bay's West Arm.

Hawthorne's 2016 Rosé is made using the saignée method, in which the juice is bled from the newly-crushed grapes.  The blend reportedly includes 40% Cabernet Franc, 26% Pinot Meunier, 13% Merlot, 12% Pinot Noir, and 9% Gamay.  It hits 13.2% abv and goes for $12 a bottle.

This wine looks, smells and tastes like an elegant Pinot Noir despite the fact that the grapes gets fourth billing.  Cabernet Franc, Pinot Meunier and Merlot lead the way, with Gamay bringing up the rear.  The color is very strong for a rosé, and the Meunier brings a note of Champagne to the mix while the Cab Franc is pronounced on the palate.  This drinks like a red wine without the tannic structure.  It's very pleasant and leaves a bit of tea on the finish.  Quite nice.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Pretty Good Nine-Dollar Cab

The little hamlet of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills along Highway 4 north of Douglas Flat, Vallecito and Angels Camp.  It may be an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The 2017 Leaping Horse Cab is one of those brands, a subset of the Obsession label.  They make a handful of styles, including a California Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grapes are 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 3% Tannat.  Aging took place over only four months in new French oak barrels.  Alcohol clocks in at 13.5% abv and the wine sells for about $9.

This very dark wine offers a jammy plum nose with oak spice and pencil lead.  On the palate, there are black plums, currant, vanilla and tobacco.  There's a very savory, and rustic, finish.  I didn't have very high expectations for a nine-dollar Cab, but this one actually beats them.  It's nothing to write home about, but that didn't stop me from posting here.


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Monday, March 25, 2019

Perfect Wine For Spicy Foods

The little hamlet of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills along Highway 4 north of Douglas Flat, Vallecito and Angels Camp.  It may be an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

Obsession is one of those brands, and the thrust of the label is the semi-sweet wine made from Symphony grapes.  Symphony is a California-bred cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris, which produces a rather simple wine with low acidity, perfect for spicy dishes like those found in Thai and Indian cuisines.

The grapes were grown by the Kautz Family in the Lodi and Sierra Foothills AVAs.  They are fourth-generation growers, and the family-run winery is exactly that, where the corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.  Alcohol in Obsession Symphony  is fairly low at just 12% abv and the wine retails for about $14.

The 2016 Obsession Symphony has a pale green tint with a nose of white flowers, peaches and nectarines. The mouthfeel is medium, while the flavors are semi-sweet renditions of the same sort of fruit.  A very light acidity makes for the spicy-food-friendliness, and the sweet finish is pleasant, but not long-lasting.


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Friday, March 22, 2019

New Zealand Wine Reimagined

Erica Crawford is best known for her work in building former brand and namesake, Kim Crawford Wines, the sale of which enabled her and husband-winemaker Kim to buy their own vineyard land.  After a contractually-mandated time away from competing, the Crawfords returned with a new take on New Zealand wine, Loveblock.  

Crawford hosted a small lunch for several wine writers in Southern California recently, and while enjoying the farm-to-table fare at Fig Santa Monica, she explained how Loveblock Vineyards came about.  

Her wild ride in the wine industry began in the 1990s, when Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc took off like a rocket and helped define the New Zealand flavor profile for that grape.  Crawford credits that unique, bold flavor with establishing the brand, and points to their use of screwcaps as a secondary factor in their success.  That sold-off brand now produces more than two-million cases annually, while the new Crawford brand, Loveblock, turns out some 28,000. 

While seemingly sailing along on the crest of a good wave, Crawford found that various family and business problems began to drag her down.  She credits a turn toward organics for improving her well-being, from the food she ate to the way she cared for her skin.  This interest in organics carried over into the Loveblock vineyards.

Crawford says she's like other people, particularly millennials, who want to know where and how their food is grown.  She says she and her husband strive to make wines that are elegant, restrained and complex.  "Elegant" and "restrained" are words that were probably used by no one, ever, to describe the Sauvignon Blanc that made them famous.  However, that was then and this is now.

Those big, New Zealand grassy aromas are not completely gone in the Loveblock Sauvignon Blancs, but they are less powerful than in previous efforts. The grapefruit and grass that her husband's wines helped establish as a profile are now muted in favor of what she terms a sweeter sense of canned peaches. That change happened in the vineyard. Crawford explains that a compound which delivers the green component is lessened by sunlight, so an alteration in crop management reduced the leaf canopy on the vines, allowing for riper fruit.

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc and 2018 Pinot Gris are sourced from the Crawfords' own Loveblock vineyard perched on top of the hills overlooking Marlborough's Awatere Valley.  Crawford says the land is "far from the agricultural bustle below ... I can almost see the end of the planet.   I have always believed this site - with its unique aspect and crazy mad wind - could create wine of extraordinary character and flavor."  The 2017 Pinot Noir is sourced from the Crawfords’ 15-acre Someone's Darling Vineyard nestled among the mountains of Central Otago.

The 2018 Loveblock Pinot Gris is a Marlborough wine, with the grapes sourced entirely from the organic Woolshed estate vineyard.  It's dry and aromatic and completely a wine with which to fall in love.  Alcohol hits 13% abv and the retail price hits $23.  The mineral-driven nose suggests a wet driveway, apples and limes, with slightly savory edge.  There are great minerals on the palate, too, and an easy acidity leading to a great savory finish  

The 2018 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc shows 12.5% abv and sells for $22.  Crawford says, "New Zealand's signature varietal tends to be bold and big," thanks in no small part to her husband.  This wine, she says, "focuses on texture rather than enhanced aromatics."  It went through 25% malolactic fermentation in order to soften the wine.  Sure enough, it’s tamer and fruitier on the nose than their previous efforts.  The minerals are still there, but the sometimes overwhelming greenness is replaced by a great fruit flavor.  The 2017 vintage is a little grassier on the nose and palate, but still mild in comparison to the earlier profile.

The 2018 Loveblock Pinot Noir is all Pinot Noir, and is one of the most restrained and elegant examples of that varietal that I have tasted from New Zealand.  The label may say Central Otago, but the wine suggests Burgundy.  It's aged eight months in used oak barrels, hits 13.5% abv and sells for $30.  The nose is light and beautiful.  Crawford seemed apologetic when describing it as an odd vintage, but I think she would have more on target to be boastful.



Wednesday, March 20, 2019

O Rosal! Rias Baixas Albariño!

The folks from the Spanish wine region Rias Baixas have a great product to push.  Albariño is not only a delicious white wine on its own, but it's one of the more food-friendly grapes you'll find in the world.  In fact, Albariño seems to crave a food pairing so it can show its best. 

Albariño wines tend to show up online a lot, in virtual tasting events where wine writers gather together with a sponsor to sample a few selections.  In a recent online tasting, writers commented on the great pairings they were having in real time.  A Spanish omelet, chicken and waffles, bouillabaisse, roasted fish with citrus and turkey are just a few of the inspired pairings that sprang from the tasting.

The various grapes in the 2017 Santiago Ruiz Albariño wine were grown in the O Rosal area of Rias Baixas.  The blend consists of 76% Albariño, 11% Loureiro, 5% Treixadura, 4% Godello and 4% Caiño Blanco.  Alcohol checks in at the customary 13% abv and the bottle retails for $20.

The charming map on this wine's label dates back several decades, when the winemaker’s daughter sketched it for the benefit of those attending her wedding at the estate.  I can't vouch that carrying the bottle on a journey to San Miguel de Tabagón will keep you from getting lost, so stick with the GPS. 

This wine - more than simply Albariño - offers the scents and flavors of the grapes that make up a quarter of it.  It offers a pretty nose of white flowers and apples.  The palate adds stone fruit to the green apple notes.  The acidity lags a bit, but is still zippy enough, while there's a nice finish that is genuinely refreshing.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Michigan Wine: Gamay Noir

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state's main body into Lake Michigan.  Situated on the 45th parallel, about the same latitude where one finds Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point.  They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, which produces what they call a "lake effect."  I am told that protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

There's a thriving wine AVA on that strip of land, along with breweries and distilleries.  I've tasted Michigan wines before and found them to be of very high quality, so I had high expectations when the OMP reps sent some of their wines to me for review.  I was not disappointed.

Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir 2017

This wine is made from the grape of Beaujolais, Gamay, but grown on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula.  It is estate grown and bottled in Traverse City.  The grape was first planted on OMP in the late 1980s. 

The wine has a medium ruby hue and smells of the earth.  Coffee and tea notes dance across dark fruit on the nose and palate.  Acidity is quite fresh and the finish lasts a good while.  Just another fine bottle from a state that really needs to get more recognition for its wines.


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Friday, March 15, 2019

Wine From Spain's Northwest Corner

If you want Albariño wines, look to Spain's Rias Baixas region of Galicia.  Albariño is a lovely white wine grape that is predominant in the Spanish northwest corner.  It's the reason they get out of bed every day in the Rias Baixas region.  I love Albariños for that reason - not because it's spring, or summer, or because I'm having a salad.  Although each of those reasons would have been enough of a convincer.

Wine writer Lyn Farmer notes that the Rias Baixas region has a sense of tradition, but is not bound by it.  He says half of the area's winemakers are women.  Wine writer Dezel Quillen says if your wine shop doesn't carry Rias Baixas Albarino, they need to.  He tweets, "These Spanish wines are quite versatile and extremely food-friendly—especially with #seafood dishes."

O Rosal is home to Paco & Lola Albariño.  It's a little piece of land butted up against the Miño River to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.  The grapes were estate-grown and vinified to 13% abv.  The 2017 vintage is selling for about $18.  In a nod to their labeling, the winery boasts that they are "the polka-dot wine."

An earthy nose masks the floral arrangement one expects.  There are some herbal elements there, but more along savory lines.  The palate shows apples, peaches and a shovel of the earth of Rías Baixas.  Nice acidity and a pleasantly earthy finish cap a wonderfully different style for the region.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Asti Sweeties For The Summer Porch

Wines with a gimmick generally leave critical wine tasters flat.  Tropical Moscato has a gimmick, and the gimmick is fruit.  The Moscato wine from Italy's Asti region is infused with real fruit, aside from grapes. 

Tropical's wines are made with Moscato grapes grown in vineyards that sit some 200-300 feet up in the hills of Santo Stefano Belbo in Piedmont.  The sparkling effect comes from the charmat method, in which the second fermentation happens in the tank.  Then comes the blending with real fruit.

The mango variety of Tropical Moscato is made from 88% Moscato grapes, 10% mango pulp and 2% passion fruit pulp, while the passion fruit is 95% grapes.  There is now also a strawberry version, which I did not sample.

Both are sweet and fruity on the nose, with a strong floral sense.  They're sweet on the palate, too, and low in alcohol at just 5.5% abv.  The passion fruit bottle shows a nose that's a bit earthier.  Honestly, I knew which was which and I couldn’t really tell the difference.  Both are sweet and simple and don't require much in the way of thought.  I'm guessing they'll be best served quite chilled, outdoors, on a hot summer day.  They will probably make a good base for a summery cocktail or two, with some gin or vodka in the mix.


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Monday, March 11, 2019

Oregon Pinot Noir - On The Nose

Lenné Estate is in Yamhill County, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  They say "site is everything," and they have a minimalist approach to making wine.  They say the grapes are good enough to do the heavy lifting themselves.  They boast of having some of the poorest soil in the county, which makes the vines work harder to squeeze out their tiny, concentrated grapes.  The 20-acre vineyard produces three different lines of Pinot Noir, and this is about their estate brand.

Their website proclaims "deep root Pinot Noir," which I don't think has anything to do with Dr. Cross Deep-Root Hair Oil, a late-night mainstay on some flamethrower radio station across the border from Texas.  If it does, I stand corrected.

I don't know who belongs to the "nez" on the label, but it’s quite distinctive.  Maybe it's Len the hen's profile, the guy who started his family's migration from London to Oregon, maybe not.  It makes me think of Danny Kaye, but I doubt that’s who it is.

This Oregon Pinot Noir is extremely dark in every way.  It's tough to see through a glass of it and it's tough not to notice the blackness in the nose, too.  Black currant, black tea and black coffee dominate.  The palate is also shrouded from light.  The tea note is perky and the dark fruit lively.  Nice acidity and a lengthy finish put a nice bow on the package. 


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Friday, March 8, 2019

Don't Be Sheepish Abut Pecorino

A ferzo is a patch of fabric stitched together with others to form a sail or a flag, and it's the central idea behind Ferzo's patchwork of vineyards.  Ferzo says their wines grow out of  "small-scale, highly selected viticultural operations in the skillful hands of local vintners."  The grapes come from Abruzzo, in the broad province of Chieti.

The Winebow Group explains, "the vineyards that source Ferzo Terre di Chieti Pecorino are found in the rolling hills that stretch between the Adriatic Sea in the East to the Appenine Mountains in the West.  The relationship between mountains and sea is always felt in this part of Italy as temperature variations yield a constant breeze known here as the "brezza di terra".

The Pecorino grape is named for sheep, which apparently like munching on this particular fruit. The varietal wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel, getting three months in the tank and one in the bottle.  The alcohol clocks in at 13% abv and it retails for $26.

The nose comes on with a healthy whiff of lanolin and citrus, salinity on the side.  It's a savory sniff, with the ocean taking the forefront while the fruit plays a lesser role.  On the palate, the salty feel stays the course, while apricot, lemon and orange come through on a wave of nuttiness.  The wine finishes tart and refreshing.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

French Sweetie

Monbazillac is in France's Côtes de Bergerac region, in the southwest part of the country, along the Dordogne River.  Bordeaux is to the west, with its more expensive cousin wine, Sauternes.

The wines of Monbazillac are sweet, white wines made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes.

It's a pretty good bet that a wine produced in a land that's been making wines since the Middle Ages will be a good one.  Even better when it's a sweet one, too.

Château Tirecul La Gravière Monbazillac 2013

Claudie and Bruno Bilancini leased the Monbazillac property in 1992 and bought it '97, during a time of rebirth in the Monbazillac AOC.  One of the more noted wine writers compares the outfit to Château d’Yquem, a fairly noted outfit on their own.  Their wines have been fully organic since 2012. 

The Cru de Tirecul sports, on average, 40-year-old vines of Semillon and Muscadelle.  They are harvested late in clusters showing advanced botrytis, or noble rot.  That's where the sweet comes from.  The wine bears some resemblance to the wines of Sauternes, but with less oak effect.  The wine was aged for 25 months in French oak barrels, hits 12% alcohol and retails for around 20 bucks.

This golden sweetie smells succulent, with the nose showing honey, apples and chalk.  The palate is pure dessert, with some razor-sharp acidity thrown in just to make us want to pair it with a steak or something crazy like that.  It's all sweet all the time, yet does not even go near the "cloying" signpost.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Dow's Port

Before the Port season slips away, here's a 2012 Vintage Port you should try.  Of course, it's always Port season for some, but the style does fit better with cooler - colder - weather and more robust meals.

Houston Porter writes on Petaluma360 that Port is just one in the family of fortified wines, which includes Madeira, Marsala, sherry and vermouth.  True Port wine comes from Portugal, although many wineries use the term to market their own bottlings.  Technically, Porter writes, to be called port the grapes must be grown, crushed, fermented and initially aged in Portugal's Douro Valley, the world’s "oldest demarcated wine region."

Port wine blossomed in the 1700s when England was at war with France and sought to replace the French wine they couldn't get anymore.  Many Port houses still have English names, like Dow.  The reds are made from grapes with names like Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional.

Port requires at least two years aging.  Ruby Ports are aged mostly in bottles, while the tawny style is aged in barrels.  Ruby generally shows more fruit flavor as a result, and tawny is a more savory wine.

Dow 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Port

Late Bottled Vintage Port is made from a single vintage of Ruby Port and gets up to six years in the barrel before being bottled and released.  Dow's says they only produce Late Bottled Vintage Port from the best of years, passing over lesser vintages.

Dow's 2012 LBV comes from the Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira vineyards.  The Symington family winemakers have tended those plots for five generations. I'm told that 2012 was a very dry year in the Douro Valley, but cooler-than-average summer temperatures helped offset the drought.  The alcohol hits a typical 19% abv level and the wine retails for $24.

I won't beat poetically around the bush.  This vintage Port (2012) is nothing short of astounding.  It's got the savory nose one expects on a tawny, but bigger, blacker, more brutish.  A heavy whiff of smoke never goes away, and the earthy aromatics stay right behind.  The palate lets the fruit shine through, sweet and sultry, with an amazing level of acidity and oh-so-firm tannins.  It's a great sip, but I'm saving the last glass to have with a steak.


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Friday, March 1, 2019

Wine In Cans, Right Now

Canned wine, I'm told, is the fastest growing trend in the wine industry.  No longer a fad or gimmick - well, maybe it's still a gimmick - wine in cans is a 45 million dollar business.  U.S. sales of canned wines jumped by 43% in the year leading up to June 2018.  Stupendous CellarsDavid Weitzenhoffer told Forbes that the market for wine in cans has been doubling every year, and he expects it to more than double this year.  He calls cans "the greatest democratization of wine in our lifetime."  Who's buying it?  Those millennials, I guess, with all their white-water rafting and Himalaya climbing.  They need a wine that's portable as well as potable.

If one can get past the packaging, cans really are a pretty good idea.  No open bottles because it's a single serving.  Fully recyclable along with all your other aluminum cans.  No fuss no muss getting those darn corkscrews to work right.  This is starting to read like one of those cable commercials where the person gets all flustered trying to do a simple, easy thing, then breathes a gigantic sigh of relief when the product appears that makes everything simpler and easier.

Right Now wines are sold in cans, fairly classy looking ones at that, and contain wine that's actually pretty good.  None of the four I sampled were big thinkers, but they tasted fun, and when you need wine while skiing down a black diamond run you don’t want that darn glass getting in the way.

Winemaker and Master of Wine Olga Crawford did a good job with the Right Now collection of red, white, rosé and shimmer.  They taste good, have a nice level of acidity and pair well the sort of fun food one finds at a barbecue or a tailgate party.  They sell for $24 for a four-pack

Alpine Stream White is made up of 85% Pinot Gris, 10% Viognier, 3% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Vermentino.  Alcohol lays low at 12.5% abv.  The pale gold wine has mineral driven stone fruit, nice refreshing acidity.  It's a bit earthy on the palate, which I like.

Shimmer Lightly Sweet Rosé is carbonated pink wine at 13% abv.  Zinfandel grapes account for 40% while Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot make up most of the rest.  Nine percent are written off as assorted varieties.  It has quite an interesting look in the glass, dark pink-orange, and offers a nose of slightly candied cherry and strawberry.  It tastes really sweet, Jolly Rancher cherry, with light bubbles for fun and a nice acidity for pairing.

Dry Rosé has California on the can and alcohol hits easy at 12.5%.  The grapes are 35% Zinfandel, 32.8% Syrah, 30.2% Barbera and a 0.4% dollop of Merlot.  This wine shows a nice salmon color, with a muted nose of cherry  It's earthy, tasty, not too complex and has a wonderful acidity.

Red Number 8 is labeled as California, but contains a 63% share of Lodi Zinfandel, along with Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah.  Alcohol sits at 13.5%.  It’s very dark, with an earthy nose of brambly black berries.  The tannins are good, the acidity is great and the fruit is dark  A bit of a short finish, but it's the best of the bunch.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

E Is For España

Great wine is all about location.  The location of the vineyard makes all the difference in the end product.  Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame, in which he makes wines from all over the world.  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, and E is for Espana, much like those European bumper stickers.

Phinney sold the Locations brand this past summer to Modesto's E and J Gallo, two years after selling off the Orin Swift brand.  A price wasn't announced, but Phinney will reportedly stay on as the winemaker "indefinitely."

E5, the fifth vintage for his Spanish red blend, combines Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell and Cariñena.  Those last two you might know better as Mourvèdre and Carignan.  Phinney says unabashedly that E5 is all about the "interplay of provenance, artistry, freedom, and creativity" with the Iberian peninsula as a backdrop.  Five regions are represented by the grapes in this wine, Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero.

That guy Parker loved a previous vintage, throwing around adjectives like full-bodied, opulent and voluptuous in his wine-porn style.  The wine was aged in barrels for ten months and hits 14.5% abv for alcohol and retails for about $20.

For starters, this is an aromatic wine.  The nose blasts dark fruit and a drawer full of savory aromas.  There are cigars, trod-upon leaves, tar and an old catcher's mitt in that dark liquid.  Herbs abound, with thyme, sage, nutmeg and peppers leading the way.  On the palate it's blackberryland, with a heapin' helpin' of currant and licorice.  The flavors are rough-cut and rustic, as is the tannic structure.  This wine needs a big, fatty steak to give it something useful to do. 


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Monday, February 25, 2019

Day-Old Sparkler Wows

Why does sparkling wine always seem better after it's gone flat?  Is it just me, or do the festive bubbles seem to get in the way of the aromas and flavors?  I like a sparkler when it's been open for a day and has just a bit of frizzante left to it.  It seems then more like a real wine.  It also seems to allow the wine's full complexity to surface and be savored.  That's how it was with the Valentin Bianchi Brut.

This Argentine wine was made in the traditional method, Champenoise, meaning it got a second fermentation in the bottle.  It was aged for a year in the bottle with the spent yeast cells, a method called sur lie, which imparts more weight and creaminess to a wine.

The grapes - 62% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 5% Viognier - came from Bianchi's Dona Elsa Estate and Las Parades Estate.  The sandy soil sits 75- meters above sea level in San Rafael, Mendoza.  Alcohol registers 12.5% abv and it retails for $22.  Bianchi is imported by Quintessential Wines.
 
This is one complex sparkler.  I have been taken aback in the past by several South American Chardonnays, which sometimes have led me to think of Champagne.  Bianchi Brut comes on with some Meyer lemon and tangerine, which is quickly greeted by a toasty note, then squeezed aside by a smokey aspect.  There's a lot going on in there.  The palate is simply delicious, with savory overtones on the fruit flavors.  Acidity zips right along, but doesn't make a nuisance of itself.  Pair away with, you know, anything - it's a bubbly - but I'm just going to sip this until it's gone.


Friday, February 22, 2019

It's A Wine - It's A Beer - It's Both!

The Paso Robles mainstay, Firestone Walker Brewery, was born a couple of decades ago on the Firestone family vineyard.  Adam Firestone and his brother-in-law David Walker craft a host of beers in the city that's made a name for itself as one of California's wine capitals.

Their first brews were fermented in old wine barrels, and it took two for their leadoff bottling, Double Barrel Ale.  Brewmaster Matt Brynildson now oversees the making of the suds.

They call Rosalie "the rose lover's beer."  It's part of their Terroir Project, an experiment into a marriage between beer and wine.  They say Rosalie blurs the line between beer and wine.  To make it, 100 tons of Chardonnay grapes were harvested by Castoro Winery specifically for Rosalie, with smaller amounts of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Muscat used as well.  They used souring techniques on the beer to give it an acidity not usually found in those made with yeasts and malts.  Hibiscus flowers were thrown in during the whirlpool phase, when hops are usually poured in.  After both the beer and the wine juice were made, they were co-fermented using Pilsner malt and judicious hops.  They proudly say it's a true beer-wine hybrid.  Alcohol hits a low, low 5% abv.

I approached Rosalie with trepidation, because I'm not a fan of flavored beer.  I generally feel you can keep your pumpkin-raspberry-hibiscus beers and give me some hops, lots of ‘em.  This beverage surprised me.   It has a rich orange color, more electric than in either beer or wine.  The nose comes on with plenty of floral notes and a sour edge.  The palate shows the malt and hops as well as the hibiscus.  There's a nice acidity, a lighter feel than beer and a little more weight than wine.  I like it, hibiscus and all.


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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Etna Rosso For Eggplant

Italian food belongs with Italian wine, but be careful with the grape you choose.  I generally order a Sangiovese wine with any Italian dish, whether tomato or meat-based.  However, I discovered another grape the other day that simply didn't hit it off with spaghetti, but paired nicely with eggplant.

The Benanti Etna Rosso is made with two grapes named Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, 85% the former and 15% the latter.  They are both believed to be related to Sangiovese.  Eighty-percent of the wine was aged in steel tanks, the rest in French oak barriques for ten months.  Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and retail looks to be around $20.  

James Lawrence writes that the property has been in Giuseppe Benanti's family for centuries.  He revitalized it in the 1980s and handed it down to his sons, Antonio and Salvino.  The vines grow in Viagrande, Sicily - on the slopes of Mt. Etna - an active volcano that has wiped out the towns below it seven times already.  Giuseppe shrugs off the threat and says there's no point in worrying about it. 

This wine smells and tastes like Burgundy with a volcano in it.  The nose carries earthy-yet-floral notes on a mineral base.  The palate is not exactly like Pinot Noir, but not exactly like Sangiovese, either. It paired much better with the involtini than it did with the tomato sauce spaghetti.  I guess those Sicilian grapes like eggplant better.  It showed a bit of brown around the edge, not something you see often in a young wine.


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Monday, February 18, 2019

Millennial Winemakers From West Side Paso Robles

We have a guest today, Patricia Applequist, who writes about the Central Coast and Bay Area out of Paso Robles.  You can visit her at her blog, A Day Off Now.

The Paso Robles tasting room on Pine Street at 13th, just west of the 101 Freeway, is unassuming, but it's a doorway into a new generation of winemaking.  The building has housed many before Serrano Winery filled it with their wares, but it's now all about the wine.  Millennial winemaker Sarah Garrett and husband and self-described vigneron Brice each have specific roles to play, but they dabble in each other's areas a bit, too.

They make wines from grapes which are grown in the rolling hills of Paso's cooler West Side, in the Willow Creek District.  The Garretts say the soil is chalky and rocky, full of fractured shale, rocks and even fossils from the area's time as an ancient seabed.  The Russell Family Vineyard is 1,800 feet above sea level now.  Vineyard owner Erich Russell is described as a careful and specific planter, who researched the area fully before putting the vines into the ground in 1996.

The Serrano Wines feature individual grapes and unique blends to appease the tannin resistant tongues of new wine drinkers.  Their 2017 Viognier has the softest citrus nose and follows through on your tongue.  In their 2016 Pinot Noir the grape shines in the glass with a crimson color that translates to a nice pepper-berry mouthfeel.

Sarah and Brice were curating the vines when I visited in January, pruning as their dog, Sam, supervised.  The Pinot Noir grapes enjoy the fog layer on cool mornings and the heat of the noon sun, even in winter.  This two person team utilizes a strong work ethic that started when they trekked across the country and created Paso Pure gourmet beverages for Rabbit Ridge in 2015.


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Friday, February 15, 2019

Roaring Good Monterey County Chardonnay

The lion on the Hess label represents the winery and its founder Donald Hess.  With estates in Argentina and South Africa as well as Napa Valley, this winery really gets around.  Hess staked out a claim on Napa’s Mount Veeder in the 1970s, when there was still room to move around.  He retired in 2011 and passed the torch to the 5th generation of the family to carry on old traditions and forge new ones.  Dave Guffy is only the second person to lead the winemaking team at Hess. 

Hess Select Monterey County Chardonnay 2016

The grapes for the 2016 Hess Select Monterey County Chardonnay came from the family's 352-acre Shirtail Creek Vineyard in Monterey.  Guffy calls it a new take on the most popular wine around, and identifies tropical notes as its hallmark.  He feels that Monterey's cooling fog and Pacific coastal breezes, drawn across the Gabilan Mountains into the Salinas Valley, are perfect for Chardonnay.

This golden wine smells of tropical fruit like mango and pineapple, with apple and sweet oak thrown on top.  The palate shows that oak, but in an even-handed way.  It works.  The mouth is full, and the acidity is zippy. 


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

California Sauvignon Blanc With Complexity

Dan Morgan Lee was making wine from other people's grapes in the 1980s, and bought the Double L Estate - for double luck, twin daughters - in the 1990s.  The ink wasn't even dry then on the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA papers.  The vineyard is certified organic by  Monterey County Certified Organic, and it's certified sustainable as well.

Winemaker Sam Smith carries out the minimalist vision that produces what they call wines of "balance, elegance and distinction."

The Morgan 2016 Sauvignon Blanc utilizes grapes from the Monterey AVA, with more fruit from the Arroyo Seco AVA than before and more of the aromatic Musque clone as well - 80%.  There's a small amount of Semillon - 6%, and a scant five months spent in French oak, 8% of which was new.  Alcohol tips the meter at 13.5% abv and the retail sticker reads $18.

The pale golden wine shows the oak fairly well, and offers a nose that shows an earthy twist on the expected grassiness.  In fact, most Cali SauvBlancs I find are rather fruity smelling.  This one has plenty of character.  The mouthfeel is quite weighty for the variety, and has savory edges which frame the fruit perfectly.  This is not a simple sipper or salad wine.  It has gravitas and complexity.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Cabernet Franc From Sierra Foothills

The town of Murphys, where Ironstone Vineyards is located, lies in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range halfway across the state from San Francisco and farther east than Lodi.  The Kautz Family is a fourth generation of winegrowers and makers, and their company shows the full involvement.  The place is brimming with Kautzes: John, Gail, Stephen, Kurt, Joan and Jack all have jobs at the winery.

The 2016 Ironstone Reserve Cabernet Franc is composed of 85% Cabernet Franc grapes, 8% Petite Sirah, 4% Zinfandel and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  They were grown in the estate's Hay Station Ranch Vineyard, some 2,400 feet up in the Sierra Foothills.  The soils range from decomposed granite to volcanic sediment to red clay.  Fermentation was extended and aging took place over 24 months in small barrels made of oak, both French and American.  Nearly two thousand cases were made and the alcohol sits at 14.5% abv, customary for a California red.  It retails for $25 and is a steal at that price.

Ironstone is marketed by Quintessential Wines in Napa Valley.

This wine is very dark, practically black, in fact.  The nose is complex, offering smoky blueberries along with cigar tobacco, vanilla and an herbal note which is very faint.  On the palate is primarily black fruit, with a cherry aspect that sweetens the flavor.  Oak is noticeable, but it isn't a distraction.  The tannins are quite firm and the acidity is juicy.  The finish is lengthy and laden with smoke.  Very tasty.  Pair it with any type of meat dish or even with a cheese plate, especially blue cheeses.


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Friday, February 8, 2019

Wente: First Family Of CA Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards in the Livermore Valley changed California Chardonnay forever.  The grape clone which is used to make 80% of American Chardonnay is here thanks to Wente.  In 1912, German immigrant C.H. Wente planted a cutting from from the vine nursery at France's University of Montpellier.  That Chardonnay plant became the Wente clone of the grape.  The Wente family was the first in California to produce a varietally labeled Chardonnay in 1936 made from their heritage Wente clones.

To get a bit geeky, In viticulture a "clone" refers to vines descended from a single plant by taking a cutting or bud.  Each vine grown on a clone is said to be genetically identical to the original vine.

Wente is the country's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, now run by the family's 4th and 5th-generations.  A virtual tasting event was hosted recently by the family historian, Phil Wente, and winegrower Niki Wente, who walked a group of virtual tasters through five different styles of their line, which defines California Chardonnay.

The 2016 Morning Fog Chardonnay from Wente is made nearly completely from estate-grown Chardonnay grapes, with a 2% splash of Gewürztraminer to sweeten the mix.  The wine was fermented half in neutral American oak barrels and half in stainless steel tanks.  The oak provides hints of vanilla and enhances the mouthfeel while the steel preserves its fruit flavors.  Aging took place over five months sur lie, or in contact with the spent yeast cells, stirred monthly and adding a creaminess to the wine.  Half of the steel portion was racked with no aging.   Alcohol content is restrained at 13.5% abv. 

The name of Morning Fog not surprisingly references the coastal blanket pushed by Pacific winds into the bowl of the San Francisco Bay and lured inland by Livermore Valley's traverse, or east- west, orientation.  The wine sells for $18.

This yellow-gold wine rings the "old-style Cali" bell in all the right ways.  A nose of apricots, mangoes and apples is helped along with the smell of buttered popcorn.  Oak treats the palate as well, draping over the tropical fruit like a sunshade.  The acidity is zesty, yet the mouthfeel tends toward creaminess due to the wine sitting on the lees for five months.  The oak is a definite part of the wine, but the effect is softened enough so that it's a pleasure, not a pain.



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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Michigan Riesling: Old Mission Peninsula

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state's main body into Lake Michigan.  Situated on the 45th parallel, about the same latitude where you find Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point.  They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, that produces what they call a "lake effect" which I am told protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

There's a thriving wine AVA on the strip of land, along with breweries and distilleries.  I've tasted Michigan wines before and found them to be of very high quality, so I had high expectations when the OMP reps sent some of their wines to me for review.  I was not disappointed.

Château Grand Traverse Dry Riesling 2017

Château Grand Traverse was founded by Edward O'Keefe Jr., who reportedly made the first large-scale planting of Vitis vinifera grapes in Michigan.  He also started the AVA in the 1980s, when he had the peninsula all to himself.  They say the 1987 Chateau Grand Traverse Johannisberg Riesling Ice Wine was served at the White House, at the George H. W. Bush inauguration.

This bone-dry Michigan Riesling is a mineral-driven wine.  Light golden in color, it has a nose of citrus peel and a wet driveway.  The aromas aren't terribly complex, but as Spencer Tracy said, "What's there is cherce."  On the palate there are flavors of apple, lemon and lime with a brisk, chalky minerality.  Acidity is almost racy, certainly zippy enough to handle a sandwich or salad.  The finish is lengthy and reminiscent of an older vintage Riesling, quite nice.


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Monday, February 4, 2019

Pink Wine With Plenty Of Complexity

Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," knocks me out every year with their releases, the red, the white and the pink.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm makes a great variety of rosés, of which this is probably the leader and the pink flag of the Cigare line.  It's the Reserve version of the rosé, but vinified in five-gallon demijohns instead of larger containers.  The bottle is adorned with the classic aliens-in-the-vineyard artwork that identifies the full line of Cigare Volant of all shades. 

The 2016 Vin Gris De Cigare Reserve is composed of 50% Grenache grapes, 15% Grenache Blanc, 12% Cinsault, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Carignane and 3% Roussanne.  Labeled as Central Coast pink wine, the grapes came from eleven vineyards, principally Rancho Solo. 826 cases were made with alcohol hitting 12.9% abv.  Grahm advises, "Be careful not to serve it too cold."

This is a rosé for people who don't drink rosé because they feel there's no complexity there.  This is loaded with complexity, starting with the color - is it pink, salmon, copper, onion… - and continuing on the nose, which offers up a hint of funk along with a host of saline, herbal aromas.  The palate shows more fruit, but stays in the savory range.  Zesty acidity tops off this piece of perfection with poise.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Nuts To Dry January - I'm Drinking Wine

Dry January is so unnecessary.  And so unhappy.  If someone drinks so much that they need to take a month off from it, I feel for them.  Please, drink less and enjoy more.  It was during this social media-driven hiatus that I was given a wonderful Italian wine by Elizabeth and Joe.  I don’t think they were dumping it because it was January, though.  It was a very nice New Year's gift from them.  Movie buffs - especially fans of the horror genre - will want find out more about them at Trailers From Hell.

Fortunately, I hadn't stopped drinking for the month so I opened it right away and swigged from the bottle.  Just kidding.

Here's the story Il Valentiano tells of its history, made short and sweet.  Savino Ciacci got married at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Then came a child, Dino, then a world war which claimed Savino's life.  Ten-year-old Dino became the head of a family, and later a tenant farmer.  Silvano was born, then another war.  After WWII, Dino was able to buy the land he'd been working for so long and handed it over to his son.  In the 1970s, Fabiano was born and now leads the business as the next generation in the town of Montalcino.  His wife, Valentina, is reortedly one of the only true scientists in the area.  "Il Valentiano" is a mashup of her name and her husband's.

The 2013 Il Valentiano "Campo di Marzo" is a Brunello di Montalcino, a Sangiovese wine made in Tuscany.  The grapes are crushed by foot, fermented and aged for two to three years in oak.  A bottle retails for around $30.

This wine is a beautiful Sangiovese, dark and smelling of cherries soaked in vanilla, spices - the whole rack - and leathery tobacco pouch.  The mouthfeel is lively and tannic, with cherry and plum flavors on the palate.  A a savory taste goes hand in hand with the fruit, earthy and brawny.  I'll have it with a Bolognese dish, or steak.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Aussie Cab Means Business

The South Australian winery Shirvington was founded in 1996 by Paul and Lynne Shirvington and their sons.  A plot of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines became their first vineyard, Redwind.  The red clay and limestone soil is in Willunga, just south of McLaren Vale.  There they grow Cab, Shiraz and Mataro, better known as Mourvédre.

Peter Bolte takes care of the vines, while Kim Jackson lends her Sonoma and Burgundy trained knowledge to crafting the wine.  The 2014 Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon tips the alcohol scale at 13.5% abv and it retails for about $32.

This extremely dark wine offers a nose of rough-hewn blackberry with a tiny wisp of freshly sanded wood.  It's a fairly muscular package of aromas, and that heft carries onto the palate.  It's a pleasing bunch of flavors, but I wouldn't call any of them elegant.  This a Cab for a steak that's been bad and needs corporal punishment.  Dark fruit plays for the front row with some oak spice for support.  The fruit is fairly pure, though, and has an interesting dark flair which I find captivating.


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Monday, January 28, 2019

The Pleasure Of Garnacha Blanca

Wine regions that go back centuries always make me wonder what the wine tasted like back then.  I can't imagine that it was anything like today's wine, but who knows?

The Corona D'Aragon folks say that the Corona de Aragón - Crown of Aragon - spanned territories from the east of Spain to the south of Greece between the 12th and 18th centuries.  Winemaking may not have been tops on their list of things to do, but they did enough of it to earn a reputation, especially in Cariñena.

Cariñena is known for its distinct stone soils and its old-vine Garnacha and Cariñena.  It's right in the heart of the Ebro Valley in Spain's northeast region of Aragon, bordered by the Pyrenees and France to the north, and Catalunya to the east.

Today, the grapes that grow in the vineyards' stony soil are mostly Garnacha and Tempranillo, but there is some space allotted to the mineral-laden white version of Garnacha and a bit of Chardonnay.  This wine is 87% Garnacha Blanca - enough to get top billing on the label - and 13% Chardonnay.  Alcohol clocks in at 12.5% abv.  The wine is bottled by Grandes Vinas y Viñedos and shipped right out the door, with no aging.

This beautiful Spanish white wine - the 2017 Corona D'Aragon Garnacha Blanca - features a golden tint with a nose of apricots, oranges, limes and a wet driveway.  Most of that probably comes from the Garnacha Blanca, but on the palate there's a hint of tropical fruit from the 13% Chardonnay.  Minerals are in play from start to finish and the acidity rips at about a medium.  You may want some oysters or octopus with this.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Saint-Amour Beaujolais

By now, you've no doubt been through the fall supply of Beaujolais Nouveau.  If not, get to work - it's a wine that's meant to be consumed while young.  To be blunt, it's not getting any better in the bottle.

I greatly prefer the wines from the crus of Beaujolais, the ten villages that all offer their own separate and distinct terroirs.  They don’t cost much more than BN, but the difference is like night and day.

The Gamay grapes for Duboeuf's 2016 Château de Saint-Amour Beaujolais were grown in the granite and clay soils in the northernmost cru of Beaujolais.  The Siraudin family owns the estate and has worked with Georges Duboeuf for many years.  The wine was vinified in steel, and is never influenced by oak, so it's all about the grapes. Malolactic fermentation happened in full, which gives the wine a fullness, but the freshness is preserved.  Alcohol hits 13% abv.  It's imported to the U.S. by the fine folks at Quintessential Wines, who provided the sample.

This 100% Gamay wine is from the Saint-Amour cru of Beaujolais.  It smells earthy and grapey with a note of smoke and tastes bold and full.  The dark fruit is almost jammy and there's a splash of tartness that fills the gap.  The wine has a delightful acidity and a firm set of tannins. 
 

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