Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Pleasure From Portugal: Vinho Verde Wine

The Vinho Verde wine region in northern Portugal is home to some of the best white wines this side of Albariño.  Vinho Verde means, "green wine," which is not a color reference but a suggestion that the wine is quite youthful.  The white wines of Vinho Verde typically have a wonderful acidity and a slightly fizzy nature.  The lower alcohol content makes them great choices for summer sipping by the pool, but they work quite well as aperitifs at holiday parties and pair graciously with cheese plates or pasta.

The Portuguese wine company Casal De Ventozela has winemakers Fernando Moura and Pedro Campos work with grapes from their estate vineyards to create compelling white wines.

Produced in the Vinho Verde sub-region of Vale do Ave, the 2018 Casal De Ventozela Loureiro utilizes Portugal's Loureiro grape.  I love Portuguese grape names. I know a bit about wine and grapes, but when I read through a list of Portuguese grapes, it always holds some surprises for me.  Some grapes always arise with which I am not familiar.  Here are the grapes grown on the Casa de Ventozela estate: Loureiro, Trajadura, Fernão Pires and Arinto (Pedernã), Padeiro de Basto, Espadeiro and Vinhão.

The Ventozela wines are sustainably grown, with no chemicals used and hand harvested.  They are vegan and the wines are fined with bentonite.  The 2018 Loureiro has alcohol at 12% abv and an incredibly affordable price of around $10.

This Vinho Verde wine is all citrus on the nose - Meyer lemon with a smidge of grapefruit.  It's a fairly stunning bouquet.  The palate shows a crisp sensibility and more of that lemony presence.  A fantastic acidity closes out what is a fabulous white wine experience from Portugal.  The wine will remind the sipper of summer, but it has the weight and complexity to make it just as valuable over the holidays, with ham, turkey and stuffing.


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Monday, December 9, 2019

Israeli Shiraz Reminds Of Rhône Valley

Carmel is Israel's largest wine producer, makers of about half of the wine from the country.  It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, whom you may know as the owner of Château Lafite in Bordeaux.  Chief Carmel winemaker Yiftah Perets is listed on label along with his signature.  The wine is mevushal - flash-pasteurized - and is kosher for Passover. 

The winery has released a trio of premium reds under the banner Private Collection, which recognize Israel's 137 years of modern winemaking. 

The grapes for Carmel’s 2018 Private Collection Shiraz were grown in Shomron, the Hebrew name for Samaria.  That is where God instructed vineyards to be planted on the hillsides, according to Jeremiah. The wine was aged for only eight months in French and American oak barrels, hits 13.5% abv and retails for $17.

This wine may come from Israel, but it smells like the southern Rhône Valley to me.  Tastes a bit like it, too.  There is a liberal amount of tar on the nose, along with black olives, beef jerky and a whiff of cigar shop.  The palate is juicy and ripe, with a mouthwatering acidity.  Flavors of blackberry and blueberry get a slight touch of oak spice.  The tannins are fairly gentle but the wine finishes quickly.


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Friday, December 6, 2019

Green Wine For The Holidays

The Vinho Verde wine region in northern Portugal is home to some of the best white wines this side of Albariño.  Vinho Verde means, "green wine," which is not a color reference but a suggestion that the wine is quite youthful.  The white wines of Vinho Verde typically have a wonderful acidity and a slightly fizzy nature.  The lower alcohol content makes them great choices for summer sipping by the pool, but they work quite well as aperitifs at holiday parties and pair graciously with cheese plates, pasta or holiday dishes.

The Portuguese wine company Quinta da Lixa is run by the Meireles family.  They employ winemaker Carlos Teixeira to create wines like the 2018 Aromas Das Castas Grande Escolha Vinho Verde.

This wine is a blend of Alvarinho and Loueiro grapes from the Vinho Verde sub-regions of Moncao and Melgaco.  Half of the grapes are Alvarinho and 50% half are Loureiro.  The Loueira grape gives the wine its wonderful floral note, while the Alvarinho brings the fruit. At 12.5% abv, the alcohol content is a little higher than usually found in Vinho Verde wines.

This yellow-gold wine smells like a fruit basket.  Lemon, lime, peach, nectarine - a cornucopia.  There is also a beautiful floral note which is almost washed away in the tidal wave of fruit.  The palate shows plenty of lemon and lime, with a brisk acidity and finish that stays in the mouth a long time.  The stone fruit aspect brings a slight sweetness to the wine to differentiate it from, say, a Sauvignon Blanc.  Great summer sipper?  Sure it is.  But a wine like this will serve well at holiday parties and alongside turkey and ham.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Oakless Red Wine: No Complexity, No Problem

The Caldora winery is in the community of Ortona, in Italy's Abruzzo region, just above the "ankle" on the back of the "boot."  It's close enough to the coast to enjoy the effect of the Adriatic Sea.  The winery has a special arrangement with the many small growers in the two coastal provinces of Teramo to the north and Chieti to the south.  They say they don't actually buy grapes from these growers, but rather rent the vineyards and use the fruit for their wines.

If you like your red wines simple and unadorned, the 2017 Caldora Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is for you.  It is a 100% varietal wine, with no oak aging used in the making of it.  Alcohol is easy to take at 13% abv and the wine retails for $12.

The Caldora carries a subdued nose, rather like a toned down Syrah.  It's certainly a clean nose, with no oak to color the fruit.  The Montepulciano grapes take center stage, showing blackberry and plum aromas and similar dark fruit flavors.  The acidity is fresh and lively.  The lack of complexity is not a problem, as the wine sips just fine.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Wine-Based Cocktails For The Holidays

The holidays provide us with a perfectly acceptable reason to add a little booze into our daily lives.  You can hear the corks popping off sparkling wine bottles at every lunch, brunch and after-work social in town.  Our friends at the Wine Institute remind us that wine - particularly California wine - is a great way to start a cocktail.

Me, I prefer to start my cocktails with gin.  I am, however, open-minded enough to give wine a chance to serve as the basis for a lighter beverage.

California Wines has released a new free ebook, California Wine Cocktails for the Holidays.  It features recipes for creative seasonal drinks like the California Gold Rush - a blend of Chardonnay, lemon juice and lemon-thyme honey - and the Cranberry Rosé, made with dry rosé wine, cranberry juice and orange bitters.

Christopher Longoria, beverage program director at Che Fico in San Francisco says, "Wine can create a lot of versatility in a cocktail.  It can bring characteristics such as fresh and dried fruits, tannins, roundness and structure." 

The ebook allows everyone to be a bartender, to create a savory drink with complex, spicy notes, or a light cocktail brightened with winter citrus.  The Wine Institute promises that the reference will come in handy not just now, when spirits are naturally high, but all year long.

Recipes include:

California Gold Rush: An herbaceous blend of Chardonnay, lemon juice and lemon-thyme honey

West Coast Warm Winter Wine: A fruit-forward spin on mulled wine, accented with pomegranate and fresh citrus

Cranberry Rosé: Dry pink wine meets cranberry juice and orange bitters

Red Apple Sangria: Red wine and apple cider get a spicy twist with cinnamon and fresh fruit slices

Vineyard Mule: A refreshing take on the Moscow Mule, featuring white wine

Raspberry Port Sparkler: Port-style wine and bubbles mingle with muddled raspberries

Red Wine Hot Chocolate: Chocolate and full-bodied red wine chase away winter chills

To download a free copy of California Wine Cocktails for the Holidays, visit http://discovercaliforniawines.com/holiday-cocktails

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Port For The Holidays - Or Anytime, Really

Port wine is a favorite wintertime drink for folks who live in colder climes.  As the holidays approach, the following is another fine possibility for your fireside sipping. 

In Los Angeles, we are still waiting for winter, a winter which may not come until February, if at all.  I'm not complaining, although many people do miss the seasons of their home states.  Those people have forgotten what it was like to shovel their car from under a mountain of snow on Easter morning. 

I drink Port no matter the outside temperature, as often as possible.  It's like Champagne.  Why wait?  Also, I have it on the best authority that if you want to leave a beverage for Santa near the Christmas tree, save the milk for your porridge.  He wants Port.

The arrangement of six grapes shown on the label of Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Porto refer to the company's symbol which marks the best lots, the ones that could end up as vintage Port.  The grapes came from the same five vineyards used for vintage Port, including the flagship Malvedos.  The Six Grapes brand is made from the remainder of the lots which did not go into the VP.

Six Grapes is youthful and fruity, and pairs well with chocolate or blue cheese.  Alcohol is "portly" at 19.5% abv and the retail price is $24.

This Port's nose carries plenty of big red and black fruit, with the characteristic notes of brown sugar, caramel and earth.  The palate is fruit forward with a zingy acidity and firm structure.  The is nothing like a Port, and Graham's Six Grapes is a great reminder of that.


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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Three Big, Red Grapes From Israel

Yatir is billed as one of Israel's premier boutique wineries, releasing some 12,000 cases of wine each year.  The winery works with select vineyards which showcase the terroirs of Israel's Yatir Forest in the southern tip of the Judean Hills.  The Yatir kosher wines have won high praise from critics internationally.  Yatir's general manager, Yaakov Ben Dor, says wine presses existed in the region more than 3,000 years ago, so the heritage is there.  The winery itself has been around for fewer than 20 years, and Israel's present wine industry is very young.

The 2016 Yatir Creek is a red blend made from 76% Syrah, 12% Tannat and 12% Malbec grapes.  The fruit was harvested at elevations of 2100 to 2900 feet above sea level, where the soil consists of chalky clay.  The wine was aged in large oak barrels for 12 months and matured in the bottle for two years, and winemaker Eran Goldwasser says it will age and cellar well for five to 10 years.  The wine's alcohol content hits 14.5% abv, and it retails for around $50. 

This inky wine's nose is a strong blast of dark fruit, and I do mean dark.  There is spice and oak, along with a strong element of forest floor, perhaps that of the Yatir Forest.  The palate is fruit forward, dark fruit forward.  The Syrah takes the lead, but the Tannat certainly makes itself known.  Even the Malbec's spicy character can't hide behind the Syrah.  There is a grapey note in the background which reminds me of Lambrusco a bit.  The tannins are firm, but not as forceful as I expected. 


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Thursday, November 21, 2019

SBC Dessert Wine, From Santa Ynez Valley

This bottle of dessert wine had been lying about for a couple of years, since Denise and our friend Guido landed at the Casa Dumetz tasting room in Los Alamos.  I had tried it back then, liked it, but never got around to popping the cork on the one we brought home.

Sonja Magdevski is a self-described journalist-turned-winemaker, although that journey has spanned her years.  She told me in 2017 that she started with a small patch of grapevines, before having a revelation.  While trying to put some blends together a couple of years ago, Magdevski says she discovered that she was trying to do something the fruit "didn't want to do."  She then realized that "you can't control nature."  She decided to concentrate on varietal wines, often single-vineyard efforts that showcase the diversity of Santa Barbara County's various climates and terroirs.

Magdevski says she sources such a small amount of grapes that "the fruit has to be great."  As for working in an area which sports at least 50 different grape varieties, she said "I can't even name 50 grapes."  She produces a very limited amount of wine – most of which is sold through their tasting room in Los Alamos.

The 2013 Casa Dumetz Late Harvest Viognier is from her ground, grapes, grit line.  It was made from grapes grown in the Estelle Vineyard in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley.  Put simply, the wine rocks.  It is sweet, but not cloying, with earthy apricot and floral elements.  Its nose shows a full blast of stone fruit, draped in a cloak of sweet oak spice.  The palate is rich and honeyed, the mouthfeel smooth and viscous, the acidity lively and ready for pairing with sweet or savory foods.  Alcohol tips at 14.3% abv and, if memory serves, the small bottle cost about $30, but it is almost certainly no longer available.


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Monday, November 18, 2019

If Sherry Is Milk, This Is The Cream

Billing itself as The Bristol Cream since 1882, when wine merchant John Harvey was importing what was known as Bristol milk, Harveys Bristol Cream was named after the British port city through which the product passed.  It's a sherry, not a liqueur, and it is the only Spanish product with a Royal Warrant from the Queen of England, which was issued in 1895.  As I understand it, that is much more desirable than having a warrant issued in your name by the district attorney's office.

Harveys Bristol Cream is a blend of four different sherries from the solera - the racks of barrels where sherry is aged for up to two decades.  The four sherries used in Harveys Bristol Cream - Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez - are of different ages, all made from 80% Palomino grapes and 20% Pedro Ximénez, in the home of sherry, Jerez, Spain.

The company advises you to serve The Bristol Cream "chilled or over ice in a wine glass with a slice of orange."  The iconic blue glass bottle now has one of those labels with a logo that turns blue when the perfect serving temperature is reached.  I find that no refrigeration is required, especially if the weather is cool.  It carries an alcohol content of 17.5% abv and sells for about $15.  It could be the best $15 you'll ever spend.

This sherry has a gorgeous chestnut brown color and an aromatic nose for days.  Raisins, brown sugar, dried apricots.  It's all on the palate, too - complex in an easy-to-understand way.  The sip is smooth but the acidity is quite useful if you want to pair it with food,  and the finish won't stop.


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Friday, November 15, 2019

Great Red, Great Price - From Southern France

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He sniffs out good wine which has already been produced by established makers, then buys it on the down-low with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club - he calls it 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.

Cameron Hughes Lot 681 Cesseras, Pays D’Oc Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2017

The Pays d'Oc IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) covers most of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southwest France.  IGP classification offers winemakers more freedom than the tightly controlled AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) regulations.  This wine hails from the tiny rural community of Cesseras, in the Minervois AOC.  Smart seekers of wine bargains know to look to the south of France for great deals on great reds.

The Cameron Hughes Lot 681 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend clocks in at 14% abv and sells for $13.  Hughes says it is his first French lot release in more than five years.

This is a dark wine, one with some heft to it, and a brawny feel.  The nose is full of blackberry and plum aromas, laced with earth, vanilla and mocha.  The palate is a burly delight - fruity with a savory, herbal edge, firm tannins a healthy acidity.  If you want steak, get this wine.  It's ready to pair.


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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tempranillo By Any Other Name

Bela is located in the village of Villalba de Duero, in the Castilla y Leon region of Spain's rugged Ribera del Duero appellation.  Bela is produced by CVNE, Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana.  Their vineyard is some 2600  feet above sea level, and features mostly clay and sandy soil. 

The 2017 Bela Ribera del Duero was made from grapes harvested in the estate vineyard.  The Tempranillo grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged for six months in barrels of American and French oak.  Some of the casks were new, some were one year old.  Alcohol hits 14% abv and the retail price is an enjoyable $18.

This Tempranillo is dark and savory on the nose.  Black fruit meets tar over a cup of coffee.  The palate is fruit-forward, with a healthy dose of earth, licorice and spice.  The tannins are firm, but it's still an enjoyable sipper.  The mouthfeel is full, even lush, and the acidity makes for a wine which will pair well with meat dishes, especially heartier autumn meals. My wife used it in a delicious tomato sauce she made, and it brought a deep, earthy facet to it.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Champagne For Celebrating - Or Not

I had a bottle of Delamotte Rosé Champagne all ready to celebrate the Houston Astros 2019 World Series victory.  That did not materialize, but since it had been on ice since game seven's 4th inning, I enjoyed it anyway.  That's what I get for planning a celebration too early.

Delamotte is a small Champagne producer which works under the eaves of the House of Laurent-Perrier group.  The House of Delamotte was founded in 1760, and is the fifth oldest in Champagne.  They are located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, which their importer describes as one of the most prized Grand Cru Villages of the Côté des Blancs. 

For this pink sparkler, Pinot Noir grapes were sourced from Grand Cru vineyards on the South-East slopes of the Montagne de Reims - namely Bouzy, Ambonnay, and Tours-sur-Marne.  The Chardonnay grapes were picked in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  The wine was made in the saignée method to achieve just the right tint and the two wines were co-fermented.  Alcohol hits the usual 12% abv and it sells for around $75.

This Champagne looks rosy-pink in the glass and offers aromas of ripe cherries, strawberries and toast with a hint of earthiness.  The palate is a creamy delight.  A slight tartness balances the sweetness of the fruit, while a yeasty note hangs in between.  The acidity is great, and the bubbles are festive while they last.


Friday, November 8, 2019

Lodi Merlot Fits Into Holiday Meals

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 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 Ironstone 2016 Merlot is made from three different Bordeaux grapes, grown in Lodi.  The wine is 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.  The Merlot grapes were sustainably grown in several sub-appellations of Lodi, with differing soils and climate.  The wine sat in French oak for only two months, it has an alcohol level of 14.5% and it sells for $12.

This wine is great for fall food pairing, with its fruit forward appeal and limited oak effect.  It will pair nicely with turkey and ham, which just may find their way onto your holiday table this season.

This is a very dark wine, showing a nose of black fruit, smoke, forest floor, tobacco and vanilla.  They say it aged in oak for only three months, but that’s hard for me to believe.  The palate is juicy and ripe, with oak spice aplenty.  The tannins are firm, but not toothy.  It's an affordable choice to pair with Turkey and ham over the holidays.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Time For A Toast? Try Madeira

Madeira was the wine of choice for many of America's founding fathers.  John Hancock and the other representatives of the 13 colonies, it is said, toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Madeira.  George Washington reportedly celebrated his inauguration as president of the young country with the fortified wine.  They say Thomas Jefferson toasted the Louisiana Purchase with it.

Miles Madeira is part of the Blandy family's Madeira Wine Company, produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira since 1814.  Madeira is made from the Tinta Negra grape, originally from Andalucia in the south of Spain and introduced to the island of Madeira during the 18th Century.  The Miles Madeiras are made in several different styles.

Miles Madeira Rainwater Medium Dry is lighter and drier than most Madeiras and has some of the longest aging potential in the wide world of wine.  It is fermented off the skins in stainless steel tanks, and fortified with the introduction of a grape spirit after five to six days.  This stops the fermentation at the desired sweetness level.  Aging takes place in the tanks, which are enveloped by hot water sleeves to replicate the effect of aging on board a ship during a long voyage.  The Rainwater's alcohol content hits 18% and the three-year-old wine retails for $17.

The characteristic aromas of raisins, brown sugar and dried fruits leap from the nose, while orange peel and notes of wood are found on the palate.  There's a wonderful acidity, so don't think you can only sip it - try pairing it with dinner - like our forefathers did.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Italian Wines On Display In L.A.

If you don't know Italian wine, shake hands with your new best friend.  Italian wine is what goes with Italian food, from pasta to pesto, scampi to scungilli.

The Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour 2019 is underway, spreading the gospel of Italian wines to big cities across the nation.  The Los Angeles stop was held in October on the terrace garden of the fabulous SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.  I was invited to attend the walk-around tasting session, and here are my notes.  All the wineries mentioned here are seeking U.S. importers.

Italy's terroir is varied, and I have always found that nothing tastes like an Italian wine - even a wine of the same grape, grown somewhere else.  Wine regions like Piedmont, Veneto, Lazio, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna, Sicily, Tuscany and others were on display.

Cantina Sociale di Trento poured their 2018 Teroldego Dolomite Vineyard.  The grapes were grown at 600 meters and above and were vinified in stainless steel.  The wine shows good color and savory cherry and plum flavors.  The freshness is amazing.

Zell's 100% Chardonnay bubbly spent 30 months in the bottle.  It has a wonderful nose and palate, great acidity and bubbles from the traditional method.

Casa Vinicola Carminucci offered two wines.  The 2018 Belato Pecorino is made from grapes grown in Offida, the only DOCG in La Marcha.  The nose is light citrus and it's a wine made for food.  The 2018 Grotte sul Mare Rosato is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Montepulciano.  Cherry, strawberry, nice acidity, quite refreshing.

La Fortezza has the 2011 Aglianico Riserva, which aged for three years in oak and one in the bottle.  Lovely fruit, savory earth.  The 2015 Aglianico got 8-10 months of oak and six months in the bottle.  The 2018 Falanghina has beautiful florals, citrus and savory plum.

Azienda Agricola Zaglia Giorgio's 2018 Pinot Grigio is from Friuli.  Savory on the nose and palate, its presentation is earthy - not on pretty side.  The 2018 Prosecco is extra dry, not as sweet as one usual finds the style.  Their 2018 Rosato is made of Merlot from Venezia Giulia.  It has a beautiful salmon color and fruity cherry.

Manvi's 2017 Myra Rosso di Montepulciano is all Sangiovese with no oak treatment to get in the way of the grape.  The 2014 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is also a varietal Sangiovese, but it spent two years in oak and another in the bottle.  I get plums. Prunes and a savory finish.  The 2015 Ojas Riserva Montepulciano will pair well with game or lamb.  The name is Sanskrit for vitality.

Matteo Soria showed off their 2018 Soria, a delightful Moscato which is bubbly, fresh and fruity. It aged for nine months on the lees in the tank.

Azienda Agricola Sordo Giovanni brought their 2015 Sordo Barolo - light in color, lovely nose, easy sipper, nice tannins but not too firm.  Their 2009 Sordo Barolo Riserva Perno has better structure and a deeper color, showing some bricking on the edges.

Vignetti Repetto of Piedmont poured the 2017 Equilatero, a steel-made Barbera.  The 2017 Rosso is a red blend which also saw no oak.  The 2018 Derthona Quadro Timorasso Colli Tortonesi has a lovely salinity after steel vinification and aging on the lees.  The Timorasso grape is difficult to grow and almost went extinct in the 1980s.  Plantings in the area have gone from two acres to 350 in 30 years.  Derthona is the Roman name of the village. 


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Friday, November 1, 2019

A Beast Of A Cabernet

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.  In any case, Americans are drinking more Australian wine than vice versa.

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 Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

The 2018 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% McLaren Vale Cab, so it's not elegant as in Napa Valley, it's a brute, as in Australia.  The winemaker calls it "rich, brooding and powerful," and that just about nails it.  Alcohol hits 14.2% abv and the retail price is $33.

This wine is inky dark.  The nose is full of plums, blackberries and cherries, with a touch of bacon grease and earth.  More than a touch, actually.  The palate hits a sweet note amid the dark fruit and oak spice, although the latter stays in the background.  The tannic structure is young and firm, but not overpowering.  Tasted blind, I probably would have guessed Syrah instead of Cab. 


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Israeli White Wine Deserves Spot At The Table

Yatir is billed as one of Israel's premier boutique wineries, releasing some 12,000 cases of wine each year.  The winery works with select vineyards which showcase the terroirs of Israel's Yatir Forest in the southern tip of the Judean Hills.  The Yatir wines have won high praise from critics internationally.  Yatir's general manager, Yaakov Ben Dor, says wine presses existed in the region more than 3,000 years ago, so the heritage is there.  The winery itself has been around for fewer than 20 years, and Israel's present wine industry is very young.

The grapes for the 2017 Yatir Mt. Amasa White - 52% Viognier, 33% Chenin Blanc and 15% Roussanne - were grown in the Judean Hills wine region.  The wine was fermented and aged for five months in a mix of concrete, steel and huge oak barrels.  Alcohol hits only 13.5% abv, and it is imported by Royal Wine Company.

The nose on the Israeli white wine is quite nice.  The usual suspects from Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Roussanne show up - citrus, floral, nuts - and there’s a savory salinity to it as well.  The palate is a delight, with the savory aspect again rivaling the fruit.  The acidity is wonderful, so it's food friendly and would be welcome on the table for any holiday feasts on the calendar.


Monday, October 28, 2019

BDX Grapes Right At Home In Livermore Valley

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 on making.  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

All of the Bordeaux varieties used in the 2017 Murrieta's Well The Spur were largely grown in the Sachau vineyard, where the soils consist of mostly gravelly, coarse sandy loam.  A portion of the Cab came from the Louis Mel Vineyard, while the Petite Sirah grew in the Hayes Vineyard.  The percentages look like this:  64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 14% Petite Sirah and 9% Petit Verdot.

Meyer calls The Spur a "survey of the property."  He says the PS adds deliciousness and fleshes out the juiciness of the blend.  He put it under cork rather than a screwcap "due mainly to aesthetics."
The Spur was fermented in steel and aged for 24 months in French oak, 40% new, 40% second use, and 20% third use.  Alcohol tips in at 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $35.

The Spur has a nose that won't quit.  Plum, blackberry and black cherry aromas are as dark as the wine's color.  Whiffs of leather, anise and mocha layer onto the fruit.  The palate follows suit, with earth notes and a wonderful tannic structure and acidity to boot. 


Friday, October 25, 2019

Albariño - Oaked And Aged

Albariño wine is usually put on the market immediately after production.  Like many white wines, it is presented young and given a short window of drinkability.  This one came to me by way of a publicity person, and it has a few years on it.  I like to have white wines with some aging, so this was a pleasant surprise. 

Viña Nora winemaker Eider Rodriguez used Albariño grapes which were grown in the estate's rocky, granitic soil, full of river stones.  The winery is located in the land of Albariño, the Rias Baixas DO, in the Condado do Tea subregion.

The 2015 Nora da Neve was fermented and aged in French oak barrels.  The juice was stirred for five months to keep the lees suspended, in much the same way that Chardonnay is handled in Burgundy.  The practice is called bâtonnage, and it imparts weight and character to a white wine.  Alcohol tips 13% abv, and you should prepare to pay in excess of $30 for a bottle.

This wine is so golden yellow, it’s incandescent.  The nose really jumps, too, with the floral and citrus aromas expected in Albariño plus whiffs of fennel, white pepper and herbs.  The palate shows lemon, tangerine and oak spice, something which is not normally found in this grape.  This was fermented and aged briefly in French oak barrels, not steel tanks.  Acidity is a tad flat, but it doesn’t ruin the fun of sipping it.


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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Petit Verdot For $15? Gimme.

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He sniffs out good wine which has already been produced by established makers, then buys it on the down low with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club - he calls it 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.

Cameron Hughes Lot 638 Petit Verdot Yakima Valley 2016

You generally see Petit Verdot used in red blends, rather than a stand-alone grape.  It's a small, bold berry which is so tough to handle that many growers stay away from it.  Hughes says that he found one who didn’t stay away, one who was planning to sell the wine for $40 a bottle.  Hughes sells it for $15.  Alcohol hits 14.4% abv.

It's a grape for big-flavor people.  If you pepper your eggs heavily before tasting them, Petit Verdot might be for you.  If you say the espresso would have been great if only it were a little stronger, Petit Verdot might be for you. 

This inky Washington wine smells like plums and vanilla with a lacing of leather and lavender.  The palate is deep and complex, full of dark fruit - plums, blackberries - and spices, herbs and anise.  The tannins are firm enough, but not overpowering.  It’s a great wine for a roast or just for sipping.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Tuscan Vermentino

Lunch in Los Angeles is a beautiful thing, when the weather cooperates.  That's not a lot to ask in a city where the main export - behind entertainment - seems to be sunshine.  Those days right at the beginning of autumn, when the temperatures barely crack 70 degrees, are the best lunch days.  A calamari and scungilli salad at our favorite place at the top of the Hollywood Hills is made for those times.  Oh, and a glass of Vermentino.

Antinori says they began producing Vermentino from the Guado al Tasso vineyard in 1996, just a year after the Bolgheri DOC was approved.  The wine resulted in an effort to reintroduce an indigenous grape variety from that part of the Tyrrhenian coast.

The 2018 Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Vermentino shows great salinity, for a Tuscan Vermentino.  The savory nose and palate are a delight, as are the wonderful citrus notes.  The acidity is a bit light, but there’s enough there to allow for pairing with salads or pasta in oil.


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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.