Friday, June 14, 2019

Wente: California Chardonnay, American Chardonnay

California Chardonnay is what it is today because of Wente Vineyards.  If you love Chardonnay, you probably love Wente, and you may not know it.  The grape clone which is used to make 80% of American Chardonnay is here thanks to Wente.  In 1912, German immigrant C.H. Wente planted a cutting from from the vine nursery at France's University of Montpellier.  That Chardonnay plant became the Wente clone of the grape.

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

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

The 2017 Small Lot Eric's Chardonnay comes from Livermore Valley grapes grown near the cooling influence of San Francisco Bay.  Winemaker Karl Wente used no oak in making this wine.  He says he made it to honor his father, Eric.  Dad preferred his Chardonnay unoaked, so that's the way the son made it.  The juice was aged for four months in steel, in contact with the spent yeast for a fuller mouthfeel.  Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv and it retails for $30.

This unoaked Chardonnay could be described as "all fruit" if it weren't for the minerals.  Apples and apricots on the nose battle for attention with the smell of a wet driveway.  Big fruit on the palate is met with crisp acidity, and the whole thing finishes long and clean. 



Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Award-Winning Lodi Zinfandel

Lodi's reputation as a worthy California wine region is getting better and better.  Harney Lane Winery and Vineyards has a decade of winemaking behind them and recently snagged the prize as one of USA Today's Ten Best Winery Tours.  Their flagship wine, Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel, captured two Double Gold awards, in addition to other laurels for all of their current vintages. 

The Mettlers and Lerners are a farmers-first family.  They've been growing grapes for more than a century.  A decade ago they started producing small-lot, estate wines from the grapes grown on their Lodi property. 

Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard 2015

The 2015 vintage saw light rain, a warm spring and a lighter-than-usual crop, on the way to what the winery touts as a bolder vintage Zin.  This bottling spent 20 months in French oak, hits a lofty 15.7% abv alcohol number and retails for $36.

This single-vineyard Zinfandel is very dark in the glass, and its complex nose offers aromas of brambly black fruit, black pepper, anise, allspice, caramel and sweet tobacco.  Yeah, it really puts on a show.  The palate is a wonderful mix of ripe fruit and savory notes, with the latter taking the lead.  Tannins are firm, not toothy, and the finish is long and satisfying.


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Monday, June 10, 2019

Spanish Albriño, Rias Baixas

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. 

The Rias Baixas Denomination of Origin in Spain's northwest corner was established in 1980, specifically for the Albariño grape.  Of course they had been making wine in the region for centuries before. 

The bodega Altos de Torona is located in Pontevedra, with grapes growing in a vineyard on a south facing slope between the rivers Bravos and Pego.  The plot gets good sunshine for nice ripening in sandy granitic soil for winemaker Pablo Ibañez.

Listed on the bottle as 100% Albariño, I see in other places that three grape varieties are involved, 85% Albariño, 10% Caíño and 5% Loureira.  Aged for four months sobre lias - on the lees - the wine's alcohol content is 13% abv and it retails for $20.

This Rias Baixas Albariño colors up yellow-gold in the glass and offers a beautiful nose of white flowers and Meyer lemon.  The palate brings citrus, apple and a ton of minerals to the forefront, with a great acidity.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Single-Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc From Calistoga

The grapes for the Shipwrecked Sauvignon Blanc were grown exclusively in Towners Vineyard in Calistoga.  It's one of five wines produced by Lodi's Stonum Vineyards for a Nashville duo known as LoCash.  Band members Preston Brust and Chris Lucas are wine guys, something I would imagine is a rarity in Nashville.  They say "a good bottle of wine is like a good song," likening the aromas and flavors to words and music that create and emotional experience.

The 2015 Shipwrecked Sauvignon Blanc hits a rather high note with alcohol, topping 15% abv.  The wine sells for just under $30.

This Napa Valley (Calistoga) single-vineyard SauvBlanc has a nose which is dominated by fruit, primarily tropical and citrus.  An apricot note shows early, but is overpowered by the ripeness of the California grapes.  On the palate, there's no grassiness, but there is a slightly tart herbal aspect that shows up most notably on the finish.   Acidity is bright and fresh, perfect for seafood and salads.  It's boozy - 15.3% - but it doesn't come off that way.


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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Argentine Bubbles Delight, Confound

Recent experiences I have had with bubbles from Mendoza, Argentina have varied widely in quality.  The non-vintage Alma Negra Brut Nature is one of the better ones, if a bit on the unusual side.

The label's U.S. importer, Vineyard Brands, says that Ernesto Catena, the eldest son of Nicolás Catena of Catena Zapata fame, is a fourth generation winemaker.  He is reportedly looked upon as being from the "bohemian" side of the Catena family.  He founded his namesake winery and vineyards in 2002.

Catena produced this sparkling wine, although the translation of Alma Negra, black soul, is a reference to their dark-colored red wines made from Bonarda grapes.

Brut Nature is made from Malbec and Pinot Noir grapes.  I can't remember ever having a sparkling Malbec before.  Now that I think of it, I don't know if I've ever run across a Pinot Noir from Mendoza.  The wine was made in the traditional method for sparklers, spent eight months resting on the lees, has alcohol at 13.0% abv and it retails for about $18.

This NV Argentine sparkler gives an orange tint in the glass.  Fizzy with soapy bubbles, the wine carries almost no toasty notes on the nose and very few on the palate.  Instead, it has an earthy quality, with a lanolin texture on the nose and red fruit on the palate.  The mouthfeel is full and creamy, with an acidity that shows strongest on the swallow.  It's an unusual sparkler which has the complexity of a still wine, but none of the highlights traditionally found in bubblies.  An almost caramel quality makes a fleeting appearance on the finish.


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Monday, June 3, 2019

Portuguese Still Wine: Incredible Douro

Portuguese wine is booming and making a big comeback after a period of decline.  James Halliwell writes on Harper's UK that the growth reported by Wine Intelligence is "driven in part by a rise in tourism and economic recovery after years of financial crisis."  He writes that competition is on the upswing, wine drinkers are moving away from mainstream brands and the up-and-comers are often heavily discounted.

You probably realize that Portugal is known primarily for Port wine, a fortified wonder.  However, you may not be so familiar with the Douro region's still wines, made for the dinner table. 

The Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the great estates of the Douro Superior - the sub-region of the Douro farthest East.  It is home of some of the world's finest Ports, and is one of the region's largest estates, with 336 acres under vine.  It's owned by the Symington family, a fifth-generation Port house.  The pombal, by the way, refers to a pigeon nesting area on the property.

This treasured quinta provides the fruit for the 2015 Pombal do Vesuvio, a blend of three Portuguese grapes: 50% Touriga Nacional, 45% Touriga Franca and 5% Tinta Amarela.  The first two reportedly give backbone and rich structure to the wine, while the latter accounts for acidity and bright fruit aromas.

Winemakers Charles Symington and Pedro Correia describe the 2015 vintage as a troubling, but ultimately satisfying one.  Lots of rain bookended a very dry winter, and the summer was hot.  The vines produced a low yield, good for grape quality.  The wine hits a mere 13.5% in alcohol, was aged ten months in French oak barrels and it sells for $28.

This Douro Valley still red is loaded with character.  The color is so dark I can barely tell it's red.  The nose is full of minerality, earth, cigars and leather.  Oh, yeah, there's a bit of dark, brambly fruit in there, too.  The palate displays the same, with some licorice thrown in as if there wasn't enough happening.  Bracing acidity and firm tannins make for a muscular drink which is begging for a nice, fatty steak.


Friday, May 31, 2019

Sweet Wine, But Not Too Sweet

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.

I've tasted Michigan wines before and found them to be of very high quality, so I had high expectations when the OMP reps sent some of their wines to me for review.  I was not disappointed.

The 2016 Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling is made from Riesling grapes which were harvested from the Hawkeye Vineyard.  It was vinified in stainless steel and spent six months there, aging.  The wine is not as sweet as many late harvest wines, but I found that makes for a wine which is sweet enough to be fun, but not so sweet as to become overbearing.  The sweetness meter on the back label shows it fully in the sweet range.  Alcohol tips in at a super-low 8.5% abv and the wine retails for $19.

The late harvest Riesling has a yellow-green tint and a somewhat muted nose of citrus, honeydew and a light tropical note.  On the palate, the melon is stronger and is joined by honey and minerals.  Light acidity brings a tingle and the sip finishes sweet and brisk.  It's pleasantly sweet, but is not a dessert-level sweet wine.


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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

O Rosal Albariño From Spain's Rías Baixas: Oyster Time

The Albariño grape is the king of the vineyards in Spain's Rías Baixas region, in the northwest corner of the country.  Adegas Valmiñor makes theirs in the sub-region of O Rosal.  It's a little piece of land butted up against the Miño River to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

Winemaker Cristina Mantilla is one of many females in the region who are breaking into the male-dominated industry.  She uses Albariño grapes only to produce this varietal wine. 

Vinified in stainless steel tanks, the wine sees no oak and is aged a short time in the bottle.  It hits 12.5% abv and sells for under $20.

The 2017 Adegas Valmiñor Rías Baixas Albarino is a yellowy green in the glass, with a nose of flowers and earth and a palate of minerals, apricots, grapefruits and peaches.  There's a zippy acidity which, when paired with the minerality, will be a great match for oysters.  The medium finish allows the wine's refreshing character to last a while longer.


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Monday, May 27, 2019

Paying For Your Wine Sins

The 2017 Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc hails from vineyards in Lake County's High Valley appellation.  The 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes grew in volcanic terror at about 2,100 feet.  The winery likens the land to the Rhône Valley's Crozes- Hermitage region, which is known for its cold, wet winters and mistral winds. 

The label art for the wine was done by Jacob DeBacker way back in 1591, and it depicts the "hilarity of inebriation and trauma of morning after."  It's about the penitence we supposedly owe for excessive joy.  Thanks for the buzzkill.  The wine's alcohol hits 13.7% abv and it sells for $17.

The Two Angeles Sauvignon Blanc has a yellow color in the glass and a nose that's lightly grassy, with citrus, stone fruit and herbs in the mix.  The palate shows lots of minerality, lemon and melon and is clean and crisp with a medium finish that highlights the fruit and minerals.


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Friday, May 24, 2019

Oak Hampers Amador Barbera

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

The Havills grow Primitivo, Zinfandel, Grenache, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre, sustainably without pesticides, as well as three types of olives.

The 2016 Bella Grace Amador County Barbera was made using grapes from five different vineyards: Cooper, Baartman, Crain-Sleeper and Wilderotter vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley appellation, and Shake Ridge Vineyards elsewhere in Amador County.  The wine was aged for 21 months in new French oak barrels.  Alcohol hits 14.5% abv and sells for $33.

This wine comes on with a bit too much oak for me.  Bright cherries and spice on the nose are obscured by the wood effect, but it's not so pronounced on the palate.  There's great fruit here when it shines through.  Firm tannins beg for meat.  Sausages?  Bolognese sauce?


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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Chardonnay: More Dry, Less Oak

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.

Ironstone's 2017 Chardonnay is on the dry side, and it's the only Chardonnay I've encountered which has a sweetness scale on the label, as in Rieslings.  This one points to just off medium dry.  In my opinion, I never have much trouble with how dry or sweet a Chardonnay is.  What I'd like to see is an oak meter instead.  This wine spent only five months in French oak barrels.

The 2017 Ironstone Vineyards Chardonnay is made from 90% Chardonnay grapes, 5% Viognier and 5% Chenin Blanc, sourced from several appellations, including Mokelumne River and Sloughouse.  The wine checks in at the expected 13.5% abv and sells for $14.

This Lodi wine is straw-yellow in the glass, with a nose that sports oak predominantly, citrus and tropical notes along for the ride.  The palate gives more fruit than oak, apples, peaches and lemon most notably.  It's very tasty and not weighed down by excessive oak.  Pair with light spring and summer fare or sip it on the porch.


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Monday, May 20, 2019

Anderson Valley Pinot Is A California Masterpiece

The winemaking team of Jeff Lenamon and Bob Pepi have an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that rivals anything Burgundy has to offer.  The Négociant Pinot Noir 2013 blends three Burgundy clones of that finicky grape, grown in the cool-climate Anderson Valley in northern California's Mendocino County.

That fruit is grown where the ocean fog rolls in along the Navarro River, between steep mountains.  The 100% Pinot Noir was aged for ten months in French oak barrels, a third of which were new.  Négociant is made under the Eponymous umbrella, hits 13.8% abv in alcohol and sells for $50.

This Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a California masterpiece. 

Négociant colors up to a medium-dark ruby, showing some browning along the edges.  The nose offers lavender and tea aromas, while the palate is simply elegant.  Beautiful, muted dark fruit is joined by gentle savory notes and easy tannins.  It's a wonderfully balanced wine that finishes lovely and floral.  Pair it with salmon, goat cheese, lamb or mushrooms.
 

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Napa Blend Uses Malbec To Tame Cab

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

Hess Collection Lion Tamer Napa Valley Red Wine 2016

Guffy uses their Malbec to "tame" the powerful tannins of their Cabernet Suavignon.  Lion Tamer contains 40% Malbec grapes, 27% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvèdre and a splash each of Petit Verdot and Merlot.  The wine was aged 22 months in French oak, 40% of the barrels new.  Alcohol peaks at 14.8% abv and it retails for $45.

Guffy explains that the weather for the 2016 vintage was nearly perfect, not too unusual for California grapes.  While consumers go on and on about the taste of a wine, grape people go on and on about how those grapes got here.  "Winter gave us our average amount of rainfall followed by a warm spring that allowed most varieties to set a nice crop," says Guffy.  "August cooled things off and allowed some increase in hang time, and we didn't see any major heat spikes during September and October.  Yields were above average for most."  He hailed the crops for giving fruit of excellent quality.

This dark ruby wine's nose shows bright red cherry and plum, black pepper and a hint of vanilla.  The palate features big fruit, mocha and a nice savory tobacco edge.  Great tannins and acidity make it a wonderful wine to pair with beef.  The oak treatment is beneficial, not overdone.  The wine finishes strong with fruity earth notes.


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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Another Great Wine From Bonny Doon Vineyards

Randall Grahm uses his Bonny Doon Vineyards as a pulpit from which to preach, proselytize and promote about grapes that are off the beaten path, growing on underappreciated vines located somewhere "right doon there."  The 2018 Beeswax Vineyard Picpoul grapes are included in that group.

More closely aligned with southern France's Languedoc region, the Picpoul Blanc grape has taken root in California's Monterey and Sonoma counties, as well as in places like Texas, Arizona and Washington state.

The grape's name has been said to mean "lip stinger" in French, a nod to its high acidity.  However, a blogger named Miquel Hudin picked a bone online about that translation.  The grapes in this wine were picked in the Beeswax Vineyard, in the Arroyo Seco AVA of Monterey County.  Grahm says his grapes are slightly riper, less austere, and more aromatically developed than the French fruit.

Skurnik Wines writes that although it's impossible to smell the sensation of saltiness, the nose of the Bonny Doon Picpoul is "maritime, coupled with a discreet suggestion of peaches, wildflowers and the (we really can’t help it, but it's in there) ubiquitous fragrance of beeswax.  This wine is utterly brilliant with the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab."  Savory salinity is a calling card in many of Grahm's wines.

There's some pretty cool label art on the bottle, done by Wendy Cook.  Alcohol is remarkably restrained at 1% abv and the wine retails for $16.

This Randall Grahm wine gives a pale straw color in the glass.  It smells like apricot and key lime, with minerals and salinity battling for attention.  The palate brings citrus and apples to a savory backbone structured with earth and acidity.  Oysters, crabs and calamari go well with it, but I've always liked the Picpoul grape with a ham and cheese sandwich. 


Monday, May 13, 2019

Great Grenache - It's Garnacha!

Spain's northeast corner contains the little town of Secastilla, in the Aragon region of Somontano.  Government numbers show that fewer than 150 people live there, and I'll bet they all like this wine.

Viñas del Vero's 2010 Secastilla Garnacha should be considered a national treasure.  The wine was made from Garnacha grapes grown on 100 year-old vines, vines discovered in Spain's Secastilla Valley, amid almond and olive trees in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains.  Alcohol hits 14% abv, aging happened over 10 months in new French oak barrels and it's selling for around $30 online.

The dark wine gives some amazing aromas on its nose.  Black cherry, plum and chocolate hit the strongest, while the leather and tobacco I expected to shine took a back seat.  The palate is savory, with the dark fruit carrying a load of earth and minerals.  Tannic structure is still bristling with youth, and the wine finishes with baking chocolate.  Have it with any kind of meat, but keep it on the table for dessert, hopefully something chocolatey. 


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Friday, May 10, 2019

California Chardonnay, Easy Oak

The Sierra Foothills winery Leaping Horse Vineyards is so named for the owners’ love of all things equestrian.  The label - a subset of Obsession, which is a subset of Ironstone -  brands itself as unpretentious and contemporary.  The Kautz family is in its fourth generation east of Lodi in Calaveras County.

The 2017 Leaping Horse Chardonnay was made from 90% Chardonnay grapes and 10% Viognier.  The wine aged for only four months in new French oak barrels, so it’s not sagging under the weight of wood.  Alcohol tips in at 13.5% abv  and the retail sticker reads $10.

The California Chardonnay is straw colored and smells of lemon, guava, apples and vanilla.  On the palate there is citrus, melon and a touch of pineapple with a faint floral note.  It’s oaky, to a point, but not overdone.  The acidity, does not rip, but it refreshes.  The finish is long, with tropical notes.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Chenin Blanc From Lodi

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, and the family-run winery is exactly that, where the corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone Chenin Blanc California 2016

This sustainable California Chenin Blanc is medium dry, but leans a bit to the dry side. The Lodi fruit was vinified in stainless steel tanks.  Most of the grapes came from the Sloughhouse sub-appellation, with a small portion hailing from just west of the river in the Delta within the Clarksburg appellation.  It tips the alcohol scale at 13.5% abv and it retails for $14.

The wine has a light greenish tint and offers a pleasing nose of peaches, cantaloupes and flowers.  The palate follows suit, with stone fruit and melons and an easy acidity.  The wine finishes sweet but crisp.  This Chenin Blanc makes a great sipper for a summer on the porch, but also can pair with lighter fare like salads, seafoods and pasta dishes.


Monday, May 6, 2019

Stonum Lodi Zinfandel

A family member recently alerted me that I needed to try some Zinfandel from Lodi's Stonum Vineyards.  She got a sample of it at an Orange County wine tasting event and loved it so much that she put me in touch with winery reps, who provided a taste.

A seven-acre plot of Tokay grapes was the start of Stonum Vineyards in the late 1970s.  Sibling vintners Mike and Kathy Stonum started making wines in 2006.  Those ancient vines of Mediterranean origin, by the way, were ripped up to make way for Zinfandel.  Lodi Wines says Tokay was once very heavily planted in the region and was primarily used as a table grape, not a source for world-class dessert wine.  Zinfandel is now the hook on which Lodi hangs its ranch hat.

After a stainless steel fermentation, the 2017 Stonum Lodi Zinfandel VI Estate was aged for two years in American oak barrels.  The wine reaches 15.4% abv and sells for $35.

This wine is medium-dark in color, with light getting through the glass.  The nose brings the predictable - white pepper, cherries - and the unexpected - bell pepper, anise.  On the palate, red currant and cherries meet over oak spice and black pepper.  The tannic structure is firm enough, but not so toothy that it gets in the way.  The medium finish is laden with fruit.


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Friday, May 3, 2019

Rosés For Spring: From Italy With Bubbles

Whose springtime isn't made better with a pink sparkler from Italy?  This one lands on the sweet side, and is kosher.

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.

The Moscato grapes for the Bartenura Sparkling Moscato Rosé reportedly came from "all over the greatest regions of Italy."  The wine has an easy-drinking 7% abv number and sells for about $18.

This spumante dolce has about as much alcohol in it as many beers, so it's incredibly easy to drink.  The bubbles rise up festively and last a good while in the glass. White flowers and pears dominate the gorgeous nose, while the palate shows red fruit in all its ripe sweetness.  The wine's acidity is fresh, which gives it some purpose with food pairing, but don't feel bad about just sipping a chilled bottle by the grill.  It'll be gone before you know it.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Rosés For Spring: Rosa Regale

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

Italian wine brand Banfi resides in an 18th century winery purchased in 1979 by John and Harry Mariani.  That's where Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui D.O.C.G. is made.  It's a sweet, sparkling wine made from the Brachetto grape.  The winery says it was cherished by the courts of Europe over two centuries ago, and  Banfi brought it back.

The Brachetto grapes were grown in the La Rosa Vineyard in the town of Acqui Terme, in the Piedmont region of Italy.  The label features a red rose, which is said to represent the wine's single-vineyard origin.  Two to three days maceration gives the 2016 wine its deep color and keeps the alcohol at a low, low 7% abv.  It sells for about $18.

The wine is a bit fizzy and colors up into a nice reddish brown plum color.  The nose offers red flowers and raspberries while the palate is sweet with strawberry, cherry and earth.  Rosa Regale has about half the alcohol of a typical wine, so it makes a great sipper for the porch or backyard.  Banfi suggests pairing it with prosciutto-wrapped dates.


Monday, April 29, 2019

This Rosé Is Not Fragile

From the IGP Côtes Catalanes region in Languedoc-Roussillon, in southern France, Fragile Rosé is a blend of Grenache, Carignane, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes.  The Department 66 wine is made by Dave Phinney, who says he fell in love with the land around Maury on his first visit there.  He says the black soil is full of schist, granite and limestone.  Phinney fell in love not only with the dirt, but also the people, so much so that he has a home there. 

The 2017 Fragile is made largely from Grenache grapes with small percentages of Syrah and Carignan in the blend.  It was vinified in stainless steel tanks.  Alcohol hits a high-for-rosé 15.3% abv and the wine retails for $18.

Fragile - I don't believe it’s pronounced frah-ghee-lay - has a big, bright nose full of big, bright red fruit.  A bit of heat pokes its head through, too, owing to the 15% alcohol content.  That cherry-red fruit comes through on the palate as well, with a boatload of acidity to boot.  The winery notes say Fragile pairs well with lighter fare and warm, sunny days.  I'd have it with pork chops in a heartbeat. 


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Friday, April 26, 2019

Rosés For Spring: One Of The Better Bargains

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

We covered the Perrin family last time, along with their French winemaking company which includes the noted Château de Beaucastel of the Rhône Valley.  The La Vieille Ferme label - it means "the old farm" - houses a bubbly rosé as well as a very nice still rosé wine.

La Vieille Ferme Rosé 2018

This cheap pink wine was vinified in stainless steel before bottling.  the grapes - Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah - were grown "high on the slopes," but the winery does not say where those slopes are.  Alcohol clicks in at 13% abv and the price tag sits below $10. 

This 2018 bargain rosé is light salmon pink in the glass.  The nose shows red fruit with herbal notes.  There is plenty of fruit on the palate, strawberry and cherry, with a light minerality and easy acidity.  The finish is short, but fruity.


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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Rosés For Spring: A Pink French Sparkler

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

La Vieille Ferme Reserve Sparkling Rosé NV

The Perrin family heads up a French winemaking company which includes the noted Château de Beaucastel of the Rhône Valley.  The La Vieille Ferme label - it means "the old farm" - houses a very nice still rosé wine and one that bubbles up in the glass. 

The bubbly one, La Vieille Ferme Reserve Sparkling Rosé, is a festive non-vintage pink made in the same method used in the Champagne region.  The winery website champions the limestone soil in which the grapes are grown, but does not specify where that dirt is located.  The grape varieties are 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Pinot Noir.  After the separate wines are blended, they rest in stainless steel tanks until bottling.  Alcohol hits only 12% abv, while the retail price stays under the $20 mark.

This lightly frothy, salmon hued, sparkling rosé smells of peaches, strawberries and flowers.  The palate falls in line with a sense of wild cherry cough drops sprinkled into the mix.  It's fun and it's refreshing, as well as being a little more complex than I anticipated. 


Monday, April 22, 2019

Rosés For Spring: South African Pink

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

The Wolftrap Rosé 2018

This pink wine comes from Boekenhoutskloof winery, on the Western Cape of South Africa.  They've been in operation since 1776 in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley, less than a hundred years after wine production began in the country.  The winery website indicates that the name derives from words meaning "ravine of the Boekenhout" - pronounced Bookn-Howed.  That's a Beech tree native to the area which is used for making furniture.  The entire winery, vineyards and all, were retooled in 1993.

The Wolftrap Rosé was named after an old wolf trap found on the property.  It must have worked, as there are said to be no wolves anywhere around, although you may spot a leopard from time to time.

This rosé is made from three grapes, 69% Cinsault, 21% Syrah and 10% Grenache.  Winemaker and vineyard master Marc Kent reports that the Cinsault adds perfume on the nose and fresh fruit to the palate, while the Syrah accounts for the spiciness and the Grenache gives the wine a red berry character.  Alcohol is restrained at 13% abv and sells for less than $10.

This wine colors up exotically, a step past salmon and into day-glo orange.  There's cherry and apricot on the nose, along with a healthy helping of earth.  That dirt shows up n the palate, too, with cherry, apple and stone fruit flavors.  I find it an unusual taste, but not off-putting.  It's a bit like some wines I've tried that were made from North American hybrid grapes, although the grapes here have their roots in the Rhône Valley. 


Friday, April 19, 2019

Rosés For Spring: Vin Gris De Cigare

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rosés For Spring: A Spanish Rosado

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

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

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

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


Monday, April 15, 2019

NZ Is For New Zealand

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

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

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

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


Friday, April 12, 2019

Trebbiano From Abruzzo

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Weissburgunder - Call It German Pinot Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, April 8, 2019

Amador County Zinfandel

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

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

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


Friday, April 5, 2019

Wine Marketing Targets Rebel Middle Sisters

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

An Elegant Pinot Noir From New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, April 1, 2019

Fogo De Chão Unveils Spring Menu Meats, Drinks, Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, March 29, 2019

Michigan Rosé

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Pretty Good Nine-Dollar Cab

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

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

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


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Monday, March 25, 2019

Perfect Wine For Spicy Foods

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

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

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

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


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Friday, March 22, 2019

New Zealand Wine Reimagined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, March 20, 2019

O Rosal! Rias Baixas Albariño!

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, March 18, 2019

Michigan Wine: Gamay Noir

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

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

Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir 2017

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

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


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Friday, March 15, 2019

Wine From Spain's Northwest Corner

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Asti Sweeties For The Summer Porch

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

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

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

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


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