Friday, October 18, 2019

Rioja Red Blend Ages Well

Bodegas LAN takes its name from the first letters of the three provinces in the Rioja wine region: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava and Navarra.  Founded in 1972, the winery sits in a bend of the Ebro River, where winemaker and technical director María Barúa and her team work with grapes grown on vines which are 40 to 60 years old.

The 2012 Lanciano Rioja Reserva was made using 90% Tempranillo grapes, 8% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo, all taken from a single estate vineyard.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and reportedly aged for eight months in Russian oak barrels, another 14 months in French oak and yet another year and a half in the bottle.  Alcohol clicks in at 13.5% abv and the wine sells for less than $25.

This seven-year-old Rioja is showing black plums and leather on the nose, with equally dark and savory flavors on the palate. The tannins are no longer youthfully toothy, but still have enough bite to handle a ribeye steak.  The wine will also pair well with fall and winter stews.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Stella Rosa Wine In Cans

The oldest working winery in Los Angeles is getting canned.  The Riboli Family, of L.A.'s San Antonio Winery, now have four styles of their imported Stella Rosa wine available in single-serving aluminum cans.  The winery boasts that Stella Rosa is America's number one imported Italian wine, and their Aluminums line now include a tasty peach flavor.

The Riboli's recommend the Stella Rosa cans for football tailgating.  However, the cans were introduced several years ago at Dodger stadium, so it seems they are a multi-sport phenomenon.
Stella Rosa Aluminums come as 8.5 ounce single serve aluminum bottles in four flavors, Black, Platinum, Pink and now Peach.  They also come in larger format bottles, and all four clock in at a low alcohol level of only 5% abv.  The winery says the cans are not only light weight, easy to pack and smooth to drink but stylish as well.  All bottles are recyclable and stay colder.

They're simple, uncomplicated wines which also make great bases for cocktails.  Stella Rosa has a bushel basket of recipes on their website.

Stella Rosa Il Conte Black is a semi-sweet and semi-sparkling red blend, which the winery says is sexy and seductive.  It has a sweet-n-sour nose which displays a persistent earthiness.  The palate is red currant, slightly sweet and extremely drinkable.  There is almost no tannic structure, so it's very easy to find yourself gulping it.

Stella Rosa Il Conte Platinum is a semi-sweet sparkler which is the only wine I've ever known to promise a more magical life for dreamers and surrealists.  The nose is sweetly floral, as one might expect with a Moscato, but carries an earthy note on the palate which adds a bit of complexity.

Stella Rosa Il Conte Pink is a semi-sweet sparkler which aims to flirt.  The nose is all cherry Jolly Rancher, and the candy motif follows through on the palate. 

Stella Rosa Il Conte Peach is a semi-sweet sparkler which claims to make summer last forever.  The nose is sweet with green apples, peach and pear juice, which dominate the palate.


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Monday, October 14, 2019

Bargain Italian White Wine

Citra Vini is an association of unified wineries in the Italian wine region of Abruzzo.  The group was established in 1973 and their vineyards cover a lot of ground in Chieti - about 15,000 acres.  The winegrowing association is located between the Majella, a limestone massif in the Apennine mountain range, and the Adriatic Sea.  Some 3,000 growers contribute grapes to the Citra effort. 

Their website explains a bit of the storied history of the Montepulciano grape.  Hannibal gave the wine to his soldiers for its supposed restorative powers, and Ovid praised it in a poem.
The Citra umbrella shades a lot of labels.

Citra says the Trebbiano grape has been grown in central Italy since the Roman era.  It was originally used to make wines for the grower's family.  The 2017 Citra Trebbiano d'Abruzzo carries a relatively light alcohol number of 12% abv and it sells for about $10.

This bargain Italian white wine sports a nice nose of citrus and apricot with a savory salinity.  The savory streak takes the lead on the palate for a tasty sip.  There's not a whole lot of acidity here, which hurts food pairing a tad.  Consider this a sipper.


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Friday, October 11, 2019

Fogo de Chão Fall Menu

The Texas-based Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão is now serving new menu items for the fall season.  Fogo has introduced a New York strip steak for autumn, as well as one of their wine partner's bottlings which is now available in all Fogo locations.  I was invited to sample the offerings with the manager of the Beverly Hills Fogo de Chão, Sevenir Girardi.

The meats are all carved tableside at Fogo de Chão.  The New York strip is cooked perfectly and drips with flavor, while the top sirloin is tender and delish.  The beef ribs are tender and moist and my favorite, the spicy Linguiça Sausage, is perfect for a sausage lover.  The specialty of the house is Brazilian center cut beef picanha

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."  That approach shows on the salad bar, or Market Table.  Fogo's butternut squash soup is perfect for fall, full of flavor and creamy rich.  The sweet potato with miso is charred to delight, and the roasted cauliflower is as autumnal as it gets.  Don’t miss the Bosc pear slices with bacon, onion and feta cheese.  Lift the lid on the big pot for the feijoada, a black bean stew with generous hunks of meat in it.

To drink, the 2013 Seven Falls Cellars Merlot, from Washington’s Wahluke Slope is $13 by the glass.  It has a beautiful fruit and floral nose with a lush palate of black cherry, plum and earth.  Fogo's wine partner, VIK, has their La Piu Belle available everywhere now.  It's a blend of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from Chile's Cachapoal Valley.  At $17 by the glass, you get black fruit, leather and lavender aromas, with savory flavors highlighted by earthy plums and great tannins.

The Fogo de Chão 2017 Gran Reserva is a product of Mendoza, Argentina.  It shows spicy fruit on the nose and a deep, dark palate which is on the savory side.

For a fall cocktail, try the Brazilian gentleman.  This sweet and delicious drink sports passion fruit puree, Knob Creek rye bourbon, Ramos Pinto ten-year tawny Port, lemon and honey.  You can open your meal with it, but I enjoyed mine as dessert.


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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Australian Shiraz To Hold With Both Hands

Terlato Wines tells us that Australia exports more wine to the U.S. than France, but that's a claim for which I could not find any corroboration.  In fact, the wines from Down Under appear to be the fourth most imported by the U.S. in dollars, behind Italy, France and New Zealand.  Perhaps they were thinking of exports to the U.K.  In any case, Americans are drinking more Australian wine than vice versa, from a percentage standpoint.

Australia's wine industry dates back to the 18th century, when vine cuttings were first brought to the continent from Europe and South Africa.  The country has no indigenous grapes of its own.  However, they do refer to Syrah as Shiraz, which has proven so popular that some other winemakers around the world have adopted the name.  Shiraz is the most widely planted grape in Australia.

Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2018

Terlato made available to me several Shiraz wines produced under their Two Hands label.  The 2018 Gnarly Dudes is 100% Shiraz, made from Barossa Valley grapes.  That wine region is in the state of South Australia, near the city of Adelaide. 

Gnarly Dudes was aged in French oak barrels for a year, and only 13% of them were new.  The remaining wood was contained in puncheons and hogsheads that were anywhere from one to six years old.  The wine's alcohol content is somewhat restrained, at 13.8% abv, and it retails for $33.

This is one big, bold Shiraz.  The wine colors up as inky black as night and smells of black fruit, leather and meat.  On the palate, it's a large time as well, with plums and chocolate flavors laced with licorice.  Oak is pronounced, but it seems about right considering how brawny this wine drinks.  Tannins are somewhat mellow, however, so it goes down easily.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Delicious WA Riesling To Pair With Spicy, Salty Foods

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He buys already produced wine from established makers on the down low, with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club, which he calls a wineocracy, bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman-distributor-retailer chain through which store-bought wines must pass.

Cameron Hughes Lot 622 Columbia Valley Riesling 2016

Hughes says this Riesling was sourced "from the top program of a high-end Columbia Valley winery and crafted by a winemaking staff with a wildly impressive international resumé."  No names are given, as is customary with Cameron Hughes wines.

2016 was reportedly a great vintage with early budbreak and cool summer temperatures.  Alcohol hits only 11.8% abv and the wine sells for $12.

This golden Riesling has a nose that is laced with stone fruit, citrus and a whiff of petrol.  The palate is semi-sweet, with a nice bit of acidity and luscious fruit galore.  I’d pair it with a spicy dish, maybe Thai food or a bánh mí sandwich.

Lincoln A Federalist In Wine Only

There's a bit of a ragged backstory for this wine, The Federalist Honest Red Blend 2016.  The folks at Illinois-based Terlato Wines say Honest Red pays homage to Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln's reputation as Honest Abe may be true or it may be apocryphal.  After all, he was a politician.  There's no dispute, however, that Lincoln was no Federalist.  Terlato initiated the Federalist line with a nod to Alexander Hamilton, and the link began to fray as they expanded to other historical Americans who were not associated with the Federalist party.  For millennials, presumably, Terlato notes that Lincoln's accomplishments include emancipating the slaves and being assassinated.

Honest Red is composed of 45% Zinfandel, 24% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc - all North Coast grapes, from Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties.  The wine aged for 15 months in oak barrels, 35% of them new.  Alcohol tips 15% abv and it sells for $22.

This North Coast red blend offers up a dark nose of smoke, tar, plums, cigar box, vanilla, cedar and an old baseball glove.  The palate shows huge black and red fruit, also with plenty of oak spice.  BTW, the wine is said to pay homage to Abraham Lincoln.  He may have been Honest Abe, but he was not a Federalist.  But whatever.  You’re not really drinking it for the backstory, are you?  The winery advises having it slightly chilled, with food right off your grill.


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Friday, October 4, 2019

This Muscat Is No Sweetie

Murrieta's Well Estate Vineyard, in California's Livermore Valley, has a history almost as long and rich as the state of California itself.  The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, winemaker Robbie Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres.

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  That something, says Snooth, is food-friendly wine, the stuff of which Meyer prides himself.  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

The 2018 Murrieta's Well Dry Orange Muscat is not a dessert wine.  Made from Hayes Vineyard grapes, Meyer says the wine exhibits the wide variety of soils and elevations found in that parcel. The 2018 vintage was warm with no heat spikes, which allowed for a lengthy hang time.  The grapes had plenty of sunshine to bring out their floral aspects.  Meyer says the decision to make a dry wine from Orange Muscat grapes was partially influenced by the fact that the grape variety is typically low-yielding, both in quantity and berry size.  By the way, he says the "orange" in the grape's name comes from its coloring at harvest.  The wine was steel-fermented and aged for three months.  Alcohol is quite ripe at 14.6% abv and the retail price tag reads $38.

This wine has beautiful floral notes, and considering the grape, one might think a dessert wine is in the glass, or maybe an Albariño or Gewurztraminer.  That's not happening, though.  This Orange Muscat is completely dry.  The palate shows lime notes in an orange-laced and wonderfully acidic setting.  Bring on the shellfish.


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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Dry Rose For Fall

Murrieta's Well Estate Vineyard, in California's Livermore Valley, has a history almost as long and rich as the state of California itself.  The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, winemaker Robbie Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres. 

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  That something, says Snooth, is food-friendly wine, the stuff of which Meyer prides himself with making.  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

The grapes for the 2018 Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé was made from Livermore Valley fruit - 42% Counoise, 33% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre - pulled from their estate vineyards, Hayes and Raboli.  Those grapes were grown, picked and fermented specifically for rosé.  The fruit was whole-cluster pressed, vinified in stainless steel tanks and aged in them for two months. 

Meyer said during a recent Snooth virtual tasting event that he loves Grenache for rosé.  He feels that Counoise mates with Grenache perfectly.  He accentuates the fruit-forward aspect of the grapes in this pink wine.  He calls it a "substantial" rosé, one to be paired with food which is heftier than a salad.  He's thinking of butternut squash and other autumn vegetables.  The wine has alcohol at 13.5% abv and it retails for $32.

Fresh strawberries and cherries burst forth from the nose, with more of the same on the palate. The acidity is fresh and vibrant.  This pale salmon rosé comes at the end of "rosé season," but hang onto a bottle or two for Thanksgiving.  It is substantial enough for fall veggies, or turkey.


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Monday, September 30, 2019

Look To Livermore Valley For California Merlot

Murrieta's Well Estate Vineyard, in California's Livermore Valley, has a history almost as long and rich as the state of California itself.  The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery. 

Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, winemaker Robbie Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres. 

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

The Murrieta's Well 2016 Small Lot Merlot was made from grapes taken out of the gravelly, coarse, sandy loam of their Sachau Vineyard, from elevations of 615 to 845 feet.  Rains that year provided more ground water for the vines than in previous few vintages.  The wine is nearly all Merlot, with a 5% dash of Cabernet Sauvignon mixed into the batch.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks before its was transferred to French oak barrels for a year and a half of aging.  A little more than half of the oak was new.  Only 35 barrels were made.  Alcohol tips in at 14.1% abv and the wine retails for $46.

This Merlot-heavy blend (5% Cabernet Sauvignon) has a generous nose of smoke and dark fruit.  The palate is rich with black cherry, mocha, vanilla and floral notes.  Tannins are firm enough, but the sipping is still easy.  It’s a really good, single-vineyard Merlot that deserves a hot, juicy ribeye. 


Friday, September 27, 2019

An Italian Pinot Grigio To Love

Hot weather doesn't necessarily mean rosé wine - although it's always a great choice.  Any cool, refreshing white wine could serve as a summer sipper, especially Pinot Grigio.  It's one of the more popular grapes for consumers in the U.S., and Italian winemakers have adopted the grape of French origin as their own.  Everyone seems to like the lime, apple, pear and melon flavors found in typical Pinot Grigios, and the pairing possibilities fall right into the summertime wheelhouse - light pasta, salads, ceviche and sushi.

The 2017 Gradis’ciutta Pinot Grigio hails from the Collio hills of northeastern Italy, in the Friuli-Venezia region's Collio hills.  The winery says visitors to their estate are greeted with a home cooked meal by owner and winemaker Robert Princic's mother, Ivanka.  And there's wine, too?  That sounds like living the dream.

This grapes for this wine were grown in the vineyards of Budignacco, Pozar and Dragica, at elevations from 325 to 475 feet above sea level.  Vinification in stainless steel tanks is followed by a period of aging on the lees, the spent yeast cells, which imparts weight and depth to the wine.  Alcohol hits 13.5% abv and the wine retails for about $22.  The wine was provided to me by its importer, Vineyard Brands.

This wine smells of apricot and lanolin, an earthy nose that does not scream "Pinot Grigio" to me.  It's a subtle and elegant nose, and definitely on the savory side.  Vegetal notes come through on the palate, along with stone fruit.  I'm not a big PG fan, but this one I would have anytime.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Sauvignon Blanc: Cat Pee And Green Beans

Kalfu‌ ‌means‌ ‌blue‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌language‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Mapuche,‌ ‌the‌ ‌indigenous‌ ‌people‌ ‌of‌ ‌Chile.‌  ‌It's‌ ‌a‌ ‌reference‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Pacific‌ ‌Ocean‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌west,‌ ‌which‌ ‌establishes‌ ‌the‌ ‌cool‌ ‌climate,‌ ‌the‌ ‌breezes‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌fog‌ ‌which ‌allow‌ ‌the‌ ‌grapes‌ ‌to‌ ‌ripen‌ ‌steadily‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌creation‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌balanced‌ ‌wine.‌  ‌The‌ ‌winery‌ ‌
urges‌ ‌its‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌ocean's‌ ‌strength‌ ‌and‌ ‌freshness‌ ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌wines.‌

The 2018 Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc is made from 100% Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc grapes, grown in the granitic clay soil of the Las Terrazas Vineyard.  Stainless steel tanks were used in making the wine, and the juice sat on its spent yeast cells for three months in the process.  Alcohol hits 12.5% abv and the wine sells for $19.

There is an herbal quality in this wine which stops just short of the proverbial cat pee made famous in some New World Sauvignon Blancs.  The nose borders on it, but it smells, to me, more like a bushel basket of fresh green beans.  It rather tastes like green beans, too, but there is enough grapefruit and lime on the palate to mask the flavor somewhat.  A very savory wine with a long finish of citrus… and green beans. Nice acidity.


Monday, September 23, 2019

NZ Sauvignon Blanc Shows Tamer Side

The New Zealand winery Duck Hunter is a partnership between ex-restaurant man Mark Wilson and former bank manager Rosie Mulholland.  Their wines are made by their winemaking team in Marlborough at NZ Wineries and Zorro Wines.

The label bears an eye-catching image of a duck hunter - that is, a duck dressed camouflage with a rifle slung over his feathered shoulder.  He's the hunter, not the hunted.  The image was done by New Zealand artist Joanna Braithwaite.  Co-founder Wilson discovered the painting and instantly knew that it would be the ideal face for his wines.  Wilson describes the duck in the label art as "the keeper of the estate, protector of the vines and calm champion of the wines."  He also points out that no ducks were harmed in the making of the wines.

The grapes for Duck Hunter’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc were grown mainly in Comely Bank Vineyard, down Waihopai Valley Road, in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley.  The winemakers eliminated much of the extreme grassiness that marked New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for years, and gave it a riper, sweeter appeal.  Alcohol hits 12.7% abv and I see it selling online for $19.

This is NZ SauvBlanc with the edge taken off of it.  The grassy nose is only slight, showing more herbs than cat pee.  The sip is remarkably restrained as well, with trademark citrus sharing the stage with melon, cucumber and peach.  The wine is not very tart, by SB standards, but it's not sweet, either.  It's a Sauvignon Blanc for people who normally shy away from it. 


Friday, September 20, 2019

Italian Grapes Via Lake County

Prima Materia doesn't sound at first like an Oakland winery, but it is.  Winemaker and owner Pietro Buttitta grows his grapes two and a half hours to the north, in Lake County's Kelsey Bench AVA.  He focuses on Italian varieties - from Sangiovese to Barbera to Refosco to Negroamaro.  Buttitta says he planted most of those grapes himself and has worked the vineyard for the last eleven years.  He claims to find a clear Lake County voice for his minimally handled wines, one that maintains a "distinct Old World finish and feel."

The Prima Materia 2016 Sangiovese is made from four clones of the grape, grown in the volcanic soil of the region.  The winery claims that it reflects the growing area and respects its Italian heritage.  The grapes were nearly dry-farmed, with no pesticides used.  Buttitta refers to the 2016 vintage as "almost boring," but the fourth consecutive drought year brought just enough rainfall.

The Sangiovese is abetted by 8% Aglianico grapes.  The wine was vinified and aged 18 months in neutral barrels of French and Hungarian oak.  Alcohol tips 14.1% abv, a little heftier than most Italian Sangioveses, and it sells for $25.

This Cal-Italian grape expresses itself well.  The effect of the oak barrels is apparent on the nose, with delicious vanilla, clove and spice notes wafting upward.  Red fruit shows up, too, but it's the accessories that draw attention first.  The palate brings the cherry flavor forward in a dramatic presentation, elegant and a bit rustic at the same time.  The oak may be a bit overplayed, but it's an attraction, not a distraction.  The wine finishes fresh, clean and fruity.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

This Willamette Pinot Gris - Just Wow

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He buys already produced wine from established makers on the down low, with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club, which he calls a wineocracy, bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman, the distributor and retailer through which store-bought wines must pass.

The 2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 631 Pinot Gris is Hughes' first such varietal in nearly ten years.  It has been on the competition circuit and has collected awards along the way.  The grapes came from an unnamed, family-owned Willamette Valley estate, and are certified biodynamic.  The wine was made in stainless steel tanks and rested on the spent yeast cells for four months, gathering weight and creaminess in that time.  Alcohol is restrained, 13% abv, and the wine sells for $12.

The pale wine has a beautiful salinity on the nose, draping itself over the citrus flavors.  It smells like the ocean, almost like a Sardegna Vermentino.  The palate is just waiting for shellfish.  Great acidity, great fruit and all the sea you can drink.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Steel Sangiovese Shows True Colors

Citra Vini covers a lot of ground in the Italian Chieti region - about 15,000 acres.  The winegrowing group - an association of unified wineries in Abruzzo established in 1973 - is located between a limestone massif in the Apennine mountain range and the Adriatic Sea.  Some 3,000 growers contribute grapes to the Citra effort. 

Their website explains a bit of the storied history of the Montepulciano grape.  Hannibal gave the wine to his soldiers for its supposed restorative powers, and Ovid praised it in a poem.

The making of the 2017 Citra Sangiovese Terre di Chieti was overseen by renowned enologist Riccardo Cotarella.  The wine was vinified and aged a bit in stainless steel tanks, not oak vats.  Alcohol hits a moderate 13% abv and and this would appear to the Citra bargain brand, as it sells for about ten bucks.

This Sangiovese is a lightweight wine with an appealing nose and palate.  Aromas of cherry and raspberry are fresh and cheery.  The red fruit flavors are bright and natural, owing to stainless steel vinification and aging.  No oak.  The finish pales quickly, but it's an enjoyable sip.


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Friday, September 13, 2019

Awesome 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 fact, Albariño seems to crave a food pairing so it can show its best.

A recent Snooth-sponsored virtual tasting event had wine writers gathering together online to sample a few selections.

Other writers commented on the great pairings they were having during the event.  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.

Wine writer Lyn Farmer notes that the Rias Baixas region in Spain's northwestern corner  has a sense of tradition, but is not bound by it.  Half of the area's winemakers are women.

One of the best of the offerings of the event was the Marqués de Frías Albariño 2017.  Winemaker Carlos Blanco vinifies this 100% Albariño wine in stainless steel to 12.5% abv.  It sells for a super-low $13, a steal considering the high quality.  The estate vineyard is composed half of granitic soil with the rest divided between clay and sand.

This wine has a rich, golden tint and shows not the fruity, flowery nose one expects from the grape, but a savory salinity more often found in Roussanne, Marsanne or rare Pinot Gris bottlings.  The palate follows suit - salinity carrying the apricot and pear notes - with a wonderfully food-friendly approach.  The acidity is zippy and the finish falls barely on the tart side.  If all Albariño wines tasted like this one, I'd drink more Albariño.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Italian Scores With Spanish Sherry Cocktail

Courtesy Tio Pepe
Spanish wine company Tio Pepe sponsors a yearly contest to see which bartender around the globe can come up with the best cocktail utilizing their Tio Pepe Jerez Xérès Sherry.  I'll admit, I was sort of pulling for the barkeep from Las Vegas, who made it to the finals.  In the end, Europe took the honor.

Italian mixologist Marco Masiero, left, was proclaimed the winner of the International Final of the Tío Pepe Challenge 2019.  Masiero's signature cocktail is called "El Beso de la Flaca."

The Bodega Gonzalez Byass has been in Jerez - southern Spain, the Andalusia region - for nearly 200 years.  Tio Pepe Jerez Xérès Sherry is named after the founder's uncle Pepe.  The vineyard soil in Jerez is chalky, all the better to hold moisture during the long, hot summer.

Tio Pepe is made from 100% Palomino Fino grapes, and is fortified to 15% alcohol.  Any higher and the flor could not form, the yeasty layer that covers the wine while it's in American oak barrels and prevents oxidation for the four to five years of aging.  The Solera method is used, with wines blended from vintage to vintage.  The types of sherry and their production is much more complex than my limited knowledge.  If you're interested, please read up online.  You'll be glad you did.  The sherry sells for $20.

This sherry has a golden-yellow tint and a forceful nose.  That wonderful resinous sherry smell is there in spades, along with walnuts and anise.  The sip offers similar wonders, with a completely savory approach.  It's as dry as a bone, provided the bone was lying in the desert sun for a while.  There's not a lick of sweetness, so it's not Grandma’s sherry.  The chalky vineyard soil seems to speak through what these Palomino Fino grapes have wrought.  There are notes of hazelnut, lemon and the all-important yeast layer - flor - that sits atop the wine in the barrel for five years.  The acidity is decent, but not too forceful, and afterward, the finish lingers with anise lasting the longest.  Wow, is all.



Monday, September 9, 2019

Rias Baixas Albariño Celebrates Women

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 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 - in this case, Snooth - to sample a few selections.

Other writers commented on the great pairings they were having during the event.  A Spanish omelet, chicken and waffles, bouillabaisse, roasted fish with citrus and - yes - Thanksgiving turkey are just a few of the inspired pairings that sprang from the tasting.

Wine writer Lyn Farmer notes that the Rias Baixas region in Spain's northwestern corner  has a sense of tradition, but is not bound by it.  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 says, "These Spanish wines are quite versatile and extremely food-friendly—especially with seafood dishes."

Nai E Senora Alabarino Val Do Salnés

From the Terra de Asorei winery comes Nai E Señora Albariño, a beauty of the Rias Baixas region.  The winery explains that the name derives from Nai e Señora - Mother and Lady - an expression used by poets in the early 20th century "to pay homage to working women who guaranteed the independence of the family and the Galician society and their motherland: Galicia."

The Salnés Valley is located on the left bank of the estuary of Arousa.  Winemaker Jorge Hervella works with Albariño grapes grown in rocky clay soil studded with pink granite.  The apparently non-vintage wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, carries alcohol at 12.5% abv and sells for less than $20.

This yellow-gold wine has aromas that are more herbal than floral, with savory dill bolstering the citrus and stone fruit.  The palate carries much citrus along with savory balsamic notes.  Acidity is great, and makes for a lively pairing with a variety of salads and seafood.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Pinot Noir From Michigan's 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 had 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.

Brys Estate Pinot Noir Reserve 2016

In a story heard over and over again, Walt and Eileen Brys (sounds like eyes) caught wine fever in the Napa Valley and decided to get out of their retirement rockers.  They ended up leaving Florida to start their careers as vintners less than a mile from the shores of Lake Michigan.

Their 2016 Brys Estate Pinot Noir Reserve is made entirely from grapes grown on the cool climate estate, the first ones picked at harvest. For the technically savvy, Brys grows Dijon clones 91,115, 667, 777 and 828, planted on rootstock 3309 and 101-14.  Winemaker Coenraad Stassen employs fruit grown on the 80-acre, one-time cherry orchard, which was reworked as a vineyard beginning in 2001.  The wine was barrel aged in French oak for 12-14 months, tips 13.7% abv and sells for $32.

This medium-ruby Michigan Pinot Noir has a savory nose featuring cassis and coffee, with a touch of smoke wafting up.  The bold palate shows blackberry and white pepper in force.  The lively mouthfeel is more tannic than expected in a Pinot, making this a great pair with a meat dish, from pork to bolognese pasta.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lodi Cab Is Quick On The Draw

The Delicato family named their Three Finger Jack Cabernet Sauvignon after an outlaw from California's Gold Rush days.  The Lodi wine's label proclaims that the juice inside is "outlaw by nature."  There's no confirmation that Jack Dunlop had a three-fingered hand, but it's true that the former Texas cowboy found robbing banks and trains to be more lucrative than corralling dogies.  It also proved to be his end, as he died from a gunshot taken in his last heist.

There appear to be no outlaws in the Delicato family tree, though.  Their website says the winery's founder, Gaspare Indelicato, "came to America more than a century ago and planted a vineyard just south of Lodi," which reminded him of Sicily, his grape-growing home.  The family still runs the business, now training a fourth generation to take the reins. 

The 2016 Three Finger Jack Cabernet Sauvignon is made from grapes grown on Lodi's East Side Ridge, at the foot of the Sierra Mountains, in low-nutrient soils which stress the vines and make for a more intense wine.  Part of the wine was aged in French and American oak, while the remainder was aged in steel tanks.  Alcohol hits 15% abv and it sells for $22.  The squatty bottle stands a good three inches shorter than a typical wine container, but holds the standard 750 ml.

This wine plays the outlaw image to the hilt.  Lodi Cab faces off in a dusty street against Napa Cab, the fastest gun in town.  They both shoot straight, but in different directions.  Three Finger Jack has a nose of rustic black fruit, tar, forest floor, with only a hint of graphite.  The palate leans in a more elegant direction, but still stands its ground as an "outsider."  It's a delightful drink, with plenty of pairing power and the tannic structure to prove it.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Lodi Zinfandel From Old Vines

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.  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 Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery's corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

The 2016 Ironstone Lodi Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel is 90% Zin and 10% Petite Sirah, with an alcohol level of 15% and a retail sticker of only $28.  Grapes from five different "old vine" vineyards in the Mokelumne River AVA were used to make the wine.  The gnarled and twisted vines range in age from 60 to 80 years old.  It was aged for 12 months in small French oak barrels.

This is a fun Zinfandel, if not one that bowls me over.  The nose is complex enough, with dark fruit, spice, smoke and black pepper.  The palate shows plenty of blackberry and plum with oak spice and licorice.  A long finish leaves the mouth a bit tart.


Friday, August 30, 2019

Bold New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Welcome to Aotearoa - that's Māori for New Zealand - and the bold, delicious wines made there.  I'm a full-flavor kinda guy most of the time, so I've always been most intrigued by the wines of the Kiwi.

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 fully screwcap in 2001.

Villa Maria Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016

Villa Maria's Taylors Pass Vineyard sits next to the Atawere River, with soils ranging from silty loam to stony gravel.  The winery claims the terroir generates an intensely aromatic Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  During an online tasting event, one participant wrote that opening this single vineyard wine is like sticking your nose into a grapefruit cut in half.  Another found a focused display of lemon ice and fleshy melon intertwined with a potpourri of minerals and spice.  Alcohol is in check at 13% and the bottle retails for $26.

The pale, golden-green wine is quite aromatic, grassy with loads of grapefruit and lemon.  The palate shows lots of grapefruit and other citrus, along with a racy acidity.  It finishes clean and bright.



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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Big Wine, Small Price

You'll find one of America's biggest wineries in the tiny California town of Murphys.  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 that you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery's corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Leaping Horse Vineyards is one of their brands, and their 2016 California Red Blend brings a lot to the table.  The mix is 46% Zinfandel, 40% Merlot and 14% Petite Sirah.  That's an interesting lineup, and a winning one.  The wine saw only four months in French oak, but the wood was new.  Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv and the wine sells for $10 or less.

This modest red wine punches above its weight, or more accurately, above its price point.  It's not a status wine by any stretch of the imagination, but there is quite a bit going on for a $10 wine.  The grapes combine for a nose that's magnificent - full of campfire, caramel and a rack of spices.  Dark fruit flavors keep things sweet on the palate, while that four-month smattering of oak leaves a mark, but does not obliterate what the grapes have to offer.


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Monday, August 26, 2019

Warre's Ports, Ruby And White

The Symington family calls their Warre's label "the original British Port House."  Pulling grapes from several superb quintas - Cavadinha, Retiro, Telhada - winemaker Charles Symington's family has been at it for five generations.  The company itself was founded in the 1600s.  They recently declared 2017 as a vintage Port year, just like 2016.  It was the first such back-to-back declaration in the 130+ years the Symingtons have been in charge.

I was supplied with samples of several Warre's Ports, and they should be on your radar, especially with "Port weather" expected to arrive - at some point.  Where I live, in Southern California, it's never really "Port weather," so I drink it whenever I like.  These wines are fantastic examples of why Port is such a damn pleasure to drink.

Warre's Heritage Ruby Porto

Aged for an average of three years in used oak barrels before being blended, filtered and bottled, Warre's Heritage Ruby Porto is a beautiful Portuguese wine at a great price.  It carries 19% alcohol and sells for around $15.

This beautiful Port shows a nose of ripe, red fruit, syrup and smoke.  The palate is young and playful, boasting currant and berries with a viscous mouthfeel and a tannic structure that begs a great piece of cheese.

Warre's Fine White Porto

Warre's Fine White is produced from traditional white grape varieties grown in the Douro Valley - Arinto, Códega, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  The winery explains that fermentation takes place "off the skins," which they say makes for a more delicate wine.  Aging took place at lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia in a combination of oak casks and stainless steel tanks.  The white also hits 19% abv and sells for about $15.

This white Port carries a golden tint and gorgeous nose of sweet caramel and stone fruit.  The palate is sweet and fruity with almond notes and a ton of acidity.  It makes a great aperitif or dessert, and will be a fine base for a cocktail.  It even pairs well with potato dishes, cheese and guacamole.

Warre’s Warrior

The oldest mark of Port in the world, Warre's Warrior has shipped continuously since the 1750's, with the name branded on the casks.

It is made from grapes grown in quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys.  The finest barrels are set aside by winemaker Peter Symington for aging in the lodges at Vila Nova de Gaia.

Alcohol in Warrior is a touch higher than in their Ruby, at 20% abv. It sells for  $46.

This Port wine is inky indigo in the glass.  Its nose conveys dark, ripe fruit with an overlay of leather and tobacco.  The palate is rich and dark with a firm tannic structure and a pleasantly long finish.




Otima 10-Year-Old Tawny Port

Warre's Otima 10 Year-Old-Tawny balances youthful fruit with a decade in seasoned wood.   All that time in oak turns the ruby hue to a brownish color and makes the palate more delicate.  Warre's also makes an Otima 20-year Port.  Otima 10 hits 20% abv and retails for $32.

The nose on this tawny Port is so full of raisins and hot caramel it can mean nothing except dessert.  The palate reaffirms that feeling, with a sweet taste which brings a little savory along for the ride.  There's enough acidity to make pairing possible, maybe with a slice of pumpkin or pecan pie.




Friday, August 23, 2019

Worlds Collide In Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Winemaker Robbie Meyer took to Snooth some months ago to discuss the latest vintages from Murrieta's Well, in California's Livermore Valley, including a Sauvignon Blanc that knocked off my socks.

The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate vineyards were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres. 

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

Murrieta's Well Sauvignon Blanc 2017

This 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine from California's Livermore Valley was fermented in neutral French oak, aged there sur lie for four months.  Alcohol tips at 14.2% abv and it retails for $35.  Thirty barrels were produced.

The wine offers a nose of soft herbal notes and a floral accent, a sort of old-world-new-world combo.  On the palate, there is a ton of acidity along with an ocean of salinity.  The citrus and mineral flavors linger long after the sip. 


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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Zinfandel And 18 Months Of Oak

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 claims 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. 

Bella Grace grows four clones of Zinfandel in their estate block, vines which are eight to 16 years old.  The 2015 vintage was early, from bud break to harvest, but no unusual events were reported.  The Bella Grace Estate Zinfandel Amador County 2015 was a double gold award-winner in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. 

The wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels, a quarter of which were new.  The alcohol level sits at 14.2% abv and the wine sells for $34.

This Zinfandel sports a nose of blackberries and plums, laced with a generous helping of clove, nutmeg, cigar box, smoke and vanilla.  Eighteen months in oak is a long time.  A peppery note lies underneath and carries through, more prominently, on the palate. Flavors of dark fruit mix with herbs and spices for a delightful sip.  The tannins are fairly forceful and the finish plays long and dark. 


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

California Vermouth

Vermouth is an aromatic, fortified wine which is flavored with such things as herbs, roots, flowers, bark or practically anything that grows.  It originated in the 18th century as a medicinal aid.  Over the years, vermouth dropped from the pharmacy to the bar, where it became an aperitif and now resides as a necessary component of cocktails like martinis, Manhattans and negronis. 

White vermouth - dry - is sometimes called French, while the red, sweet kind is called Italian.  Those two countries produce most of the vermouth that you'll find on the shelf, although it's also made in Spain and the U.S., as we will see.

T.W. Hollister and Company makes these vermouths using ingredients sourced in Santa Barbara County, whenever possible.  They say they’re perfect for sipping on their own over ice or in your favorite martini on a hot summer night.  They promise that American vermouth is about to have its moment.

Ashley Woods Hollister describes drinking Oso de Oro vermouth as sipping a bit of California history, sourcing the finest ingredients available and wild foraging select native botanicals from her family's historic ranch in Goleta, on the California Coast.

Their first round came out early this year and reportedly sold out in just one week, prompting an expanded production effort.  Both the red and the white are handcrafted in California, reach 16% abv and sell for $35.

Oso de Oro Dry Vermouth is made from white wine and infused with a dozen botanical ingredients, including orange peel, chamomile and rosehip.

Oso de Oro Red Vermouth is infused with 19 botanicals, some of which grow on the family homestead. White wine is infused with herbs, roots and flowers, then finished with caramel, enhancing the texture and imparting a sweetness to balance the wine's natural acidity.  Blood orange, chamomile and hummingbird sage lend fruit-forward and herbal notes to the complex layers.

The dry Oso de Oro dry (white) vermouth smells as herbal as it gets.  Juniper comes across as well as the rosehips, chamomile and orange.  The palate shows a bit more orange peel and is, as promised, dry as a bone.  The sweet (red) vermouth has an herbal nose with a caramel backbeat.  That treat comes through stronger in the sip.  It's negroni-ready. 

I used these vermouths in cocktails made with Beefeater London Dry Gin, which contains botanical elements like juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root and seed, licorice, almond, and orris root.


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Provence Is For Rosé

Provence's Chateau Roubine is one of only fourteen wineries in the Cotes de Provence region which has earned the esteemed "Cru Classe" designation.  Vigneron Valerie Rousselle bought the estate in 1994 and now grows more than a dozen different French grape varieties in the chalky, clay-limestone soil.

Their 2018 La Rose features 50% Grenache grapes, 35% Cinsault, 10% Syrah and 5% Tibouren.  The latter grape is reportedly often used in rosés of the Provence region, but I've never run across it.  The grapes were macerated for a scant three hours to give the wine its soft pink hue.  Alcohol reports in at 13% abv and the wine retails for $24.  A sample was provided to me by distributor Quintessential Wines.

This Provençal rosé has herbal and floral notes on the nose, with fennel-laced strawberries and cherries.  The palate is gorgeous, with the red fruit abetted by a savory salinity.  The acidity is somewhat tame, but the flavor and finish are a real treat.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Lodi, Sierra Red Blend Swings Both Fists

The town of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi , 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 a semi-sweet white wine made from Symphony grapes and a red blend.

Grapes for the 2016 vintage of Obsession Red came from estate vineyards in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi - grown in iron-rich volcanic soil in the former, sandy loam in the latter.  The wine is composed of 60% Merlot, 30% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Sirah fruit.  Only three months of aging took place in new French oak barrels.  Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $15.  A sample was provided by distributor Quintessential Wines.

This wine's nose gives off a blast of smoke which layers over dark fruit, such as plums and blueberries, and spices.  Most of the spice apparently comes courtesy of the grapes, since minimal oak aging was employed.  The palate suggests more oak, with plentiful spice to join the bold fruit.  It's a bit of a belligerent wine, with the tannic structure to handle a juicy ribeye steak.  Not a bad drink for the price, especially for those who like a bolder style of wine.


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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chilean Pinot Noir Speaks Of The Ocean

Kalfu means blue in the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Chile.  In the framework of wine, it's a reference to the Pacific Ocean to the west.  It is that body of water which establishes the cool climate, the breezes and the fog that allow the grapes to ripen steadily for the creation of a balanced wine.  The winery urges its friends to feel the ocean's strength and freshness in their wines.

The 2017 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir was produced by Ventisquero.  Winemaker Alejandro Galaz used sustainably grown grapes from the Las Terrazas Vineyard in the Leyda Valley, seven miles from the ocean and near the Maipo River.  The 2017 vintage was a little cooler than usual, which made for better aromatics and balance.  The wine aged for a year in French oak barrels, most of which were neutral.  Alcohol hits 14% abv and the wine retails for $19.

This Chilean Pinot Noir offers up a medium tint in the glass and a nose of earthy, smoky musk.  The palate shows black and red fruit with, cola spice and a bit of bramble.  It's more rustic than elegant, and that plays just fine.  Acidity works well and the finish is medium length.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Bordeaux Via Michigan

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, which 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 Old Mission Peninsula reps sent some of the region's wines to me for sample.  I was not disappointed.

Robert and Nadine Begin, along with daughter Marie-Chantal, opened Chateau Chantal in 1993 as a winery and bed and breakfast inn.  Both Robert and Nadine worked in the Catholic religion before shifting gears into other careers, and eventually, into the winery.

The Chateau Chantal Proprietor's Reserve Trio 2016 is made from 61% Merlot grapes, 38% Cabernet Franc and a dash of Pinot Noir.  The wine holds alcohol at 13.5% abv and it retails for $27.

The two Bordeaux varieties and one from Burgundy give the wine its characteristics - smoke and spice from the Merlot, full fruit and herbs from the Cab Franc and a tart finish from the Pinot.  The Pinot shows much more than 1% might suggest.  Smoke, herbs and a coffee-cola note lead the way on the palate, with fresh acidity and smooth tannins accompanying them. 


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Friday, August 9, 2019

Elevating Zinfandel 2019

There's nothing like a good Zinfandel, except maybe a great Zinfandel.  There were plenty of the latter on display at Elevating Zinfandel, a tasting event put on recently in Beverly Hills by Los Angeles wine educator Ian Blackburn.

Beekeeper Cellars is the creation of our host, Mr. Blackburn.  I remember telling him two years ago that his Zin could knock an unsuspecting Cab off of any steakhouse wine list.  And it's just getting better.  Clay Mauritson is on the winemaking team at Beekeeper, in addition to making his own esteemed bottlings.

Beekeeper Zinfandel Montecillo Vineyard, Sonoma Valley 2015 - Awesome, mellow, ripe yet savory.  14% abv.  $65
Beekeeper Zinfandel Secret Stones, Rockpile, Sonoma County 2016 - Similarly elegant as Montecillo, a bit more savory.  $75

When I think of the Zinfandels I really like to drink, Turley Wine Cellars comes to mind quickly.  They draw grapes from a variety of California vineyards, a listing of which reads like a "Who's Who" of grapevines.
Turley Juvenile, California 2017 - 24 vineyards over 12 counties. A floral nose, sweet and smooth.
Turley Kirschenmann Vineyard, Lodi 2017 and Turley Buck Cobb Vineyard 2017 are both extremely elegant.
Turley Dusi Vineyard, Paso Robles 2017 - That trademark Paso limestone shows up here.

Elyse Winery
Elyse Morisoli 2013 - No heat, savory.  $40
Elyse Korte 2013 - 80 year-old vines, savory.  $40

Kreck
Kreck Old Vine Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 2016 - Sweet, light and mellow, raspberry finesse.  $42
Kreck Old Vine Zinfandel Del Barba Vineyard Contra Costa County 2016 - 130 year-old vines from Oakley. Both 15% abv.

Portalupi Winery
Portalupi Old Vine Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch, Russian River Valley 2016 - 112 year-old vines, chambord aromatics, rich and bold.  $52
Portalupi Old Vine Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch Reserve 2016 - The top 2 rows of the hill, 16% alcohol on both.  neither shows heat.  $90

Seghesio Family Vineyards
Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard, Alexander Valley 2015 - Bold, with 7% Petite Sirah.  $60
Seghesio Cortina, Dry Creek Valley 2015 - 1972 plantings, east bench, lovely savory bottom, white pepper.  $33
Seghesio Old Vine Sonoma County 2015 -  Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley fruit.  Notes of chocolate.  $40


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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Watch Out For This Duck, Hunters

The New Zealand winery Duck Hunter is a partnership between ex-restaurant man Mark Wilson and former bank manager Rosie Mulholland.  Their wines are made by their winemaking team in Marlborough at NZ Wineries and Zorro Wines.

The label bears an eye-catching image of a duck hunter - that is, a duck dressed camouflage with a rifle slung over his feathered shoulder.  The duck is the hunter, not the hunted.  The image was done by New Zealand artist Joanna Braithwaite.  Co-founder Wilson discovered the painting and instantly knew that it would be the ideal face for his wines.  Wilson describes the duck in the label art as "the keeper of the estate, protector of the vines and calm champion of the wines."  He also points out that no ducks were harmed in the making of the wines.

The 2018 Duck Hunter Pinot Noir was made from sustainably grown grapes grown in the Comely Bank Vineyard on Waihopai Valley Road, in Marlborough's Wairau Valley.  The wine checks in at 13.3% abv and online prices range from $20 to $30.

This Kiwi Pinot Noir shows a light tint and an earthy nose with a hint of black tea and herbs.  It does not smell bombastic, but there's more stuff there than the color might indicate.  On the palate, dark fruit runs in front, with earth and spice in tow.  Again, not a showoff, but heftier than Burgundy.  It's a real treat which should please Pinotphiles as well as those not so inclined.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Rioja Red

It was Spanish wine that started my own interest in the broad spectrum of vino.  It dragged a self-described "beer-only" guy into the wide world of wine after attending a tasting of Spanish wine on a lark.  I think about that tasting every time I have a glass of Rioja.

The 2015 Beronia Rioja Crianza is made up of 91% Tempranillo grapes, 8% Garnacha and a splash of Mazuelo.  The wine aged for 12 months in barrels with French oak tops and American oak staves, imparting vanilla notes from the American wood and spice from the French, and it's been in the bottle for a couple of years now.  It carries an alcohol content of 13.5% abv and retails for about $20.

This Spanish red is dark in the glass as well as on the nose.  Blackberry and plum aromas abound, with oak spice playing a supporting role.  The palate displays black fruit, sweet notes and powerful tannins.  Bring on the ribeye, hot off the grill.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bonny Doon Cigare Grape Shakeup

One of the California wine world's constant beacons is undergoing a major facelift after 34 vintages.  Bonny Doon Vineyards winemaker Randall Grahm (left) has made some significant changes to his flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant, and its white counterpart, Le Cigare Blanc.

Grahm says the way he made the Cigares previously kept the wines in the cellar for too long, at a time when people are saying that they want the world's finest wines, they want them here and they want them now - to paraphrase from "Withnail and I."

To make wines which are approachable earlier, Grahm dropped Mourvèdre from the red blend and increased the presence of Cinsault, a grape he considers to be greatly underappreciated.  He doesn't see "rock-stardom" in Cinsault's future, but he does feel the grape is "soon to achieve its moment."

Le Cigare Blanc has also undergone a shakeup, with Vermentino replacing Roussanne in the white blend.  Grahm calls that switch a "tectonic shift," saying that while Vermentino "might not have the gravitas of Roussanne ... I've found Roussanne to often be quite ponderous, and we are seeking elegance (and intelligence) above all." 

Grahm has given the new versions of his wines the subtitled name of Cuvée Oumuamua, after a cigar-shaped space object discovered by astronomers on Maui.  The changes are reflected in the label picture, which shows a UFO shining a beam of light upon an unsuspecting vineyard.  Colors have been added to the image, which Grahm says shines "a clarifying, and revivifying light on what had been a somewhat sepia-toned reality."

Both the 2018 Le Cigare Volant and Le Cigare Blanc retail for $20 and carry alcohol at 13.5% abv. Grahm produced 20,000 cases of the red, but less than 300 of the white.  He feels, however, that the new Blanc is a "stylistic harbinger of LCBs of the future."

The 2018 vintage of Le Cigare Volant was made from 52% Grenache grapes, 35% Cinsault and 13% Syrah.  They were harvested from Monterey County vineyards including: Alta Loma, Loma Del Rio, Mesa Verde, Zayante, Rancho Solo and Lieff.

The medium ruby colored wine gives off a fruity nose, a bit of a departure for Bonny Doon bottlings. The savory is not forgotten, but a healthy dose of raspberry, blackberry and red currant comes forward in unbridled fashion.  On the palate, there's a tartness, but also a juicy acidity at play.  To me, it drinks somewhat like a cru Beaujolais, only from Monterey County.  The semi-lengthy finish carries the fruit well.

The 2018 Le Cigare Blanc was made from 54% Grenache Blanc grapes and 46% Vermentino from the Central Coast vineyards Cedar Lane, Paragon and Beeswax.

I'll admit, I miss the Roussanne, a favorite grape of mine.  Fortunately, I love Vermentino, too, and it delivers enough salinity to be a worthy replacement.  The nose threw me, because of its strong fruit'n'floral aromas.  After a few minutes, the salinity came through and even more savory notes appeared on the nose.  As with Le Cigare Volant, the Blanc is probably much more approachable in its new form.  That may be great for sales, but it doesn't make me like it better.


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Monday, August 5, 2019

Sweet Italian Sparkling Wine

This Italian bottle of bubbles, imported by the Royal Wine Company, is Bartenura Demi Sec, which means it is semi-dry.  It's made from a blend of Prosecco grapes, including Glera.  The limited edition, non-vintage, kosher wine carries a low alcohol level of only 10% abv and retails for about $23. 

The Italian Bartenura winery was named for a 15th century rabbi near Forli who was known as The Bartenura for his commentary on Jewish law.  Their wines are kosher.

This Italian sparkler is basically an even sweeter Prosecco than Prosecco.  The nose offers pretty, white flowers and ripe, yellow peaches.  On the palate, stone fruit holds court in a low alcohol - 10% abv - context, with easy acidity and quickly dissipating bubbles.  It's a summer sipper, and a good one at that.


Friday, August 2, 2019

Viognier Tames Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

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.  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 Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery's corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone Sauvignon Blanc Lodi 2017

The grapes for this white blend were grown in the Mokelumne AVA in southwest Lodi.  The label shows a "sweetness meter" which points to "medium-dry."  That is less surprising when you know that the wine is only 88% Sauvignon Blanc, with a healthy 12% portion of Viognier mixed with it.  Alcohol is somewhat restrained at 13% abv, and the wine retails for $14.

This pale Lodi Sauvignon Blanc has a nose featuring earthy minerals and apricots.  The palate shows citrus - mainly lemon and grapefruit - with a sweet edge.  A great acidity goes along with the easy-sipping flavors.   Pair this wine with with seafood, pork, chicken and bean dishes, or have it as an aperitif.


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