Friday, August 23, 2019

Worlds Collide In Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc

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

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

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

Murrieta's Well Sauvignon Blanc 2017

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

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


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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Wine Condoms

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Zinfandel And 18 Months Of Oak

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

California Vermouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Provence Is For Rosé

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

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

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


Friday, August 16, 2019

Lodi, Sierra Red Blend Swings Both Fists

The town of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi , an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

Obsession is one of those brands, and the thrust of the label is a semi-sweet white wine made from Symphony grapes and a red blend.

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

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


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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chilean Pinot Noir Speaks Of The Ocean

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

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

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


Monday, August 12, 2019

Bordeaux Via Michigan

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state's main body into Lake Michigan.  Situated on the 45th parallel, about the same latitude where you find Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point. 

They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, which produces what they call a "lake effect" which I am told protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

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

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

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

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


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Friday, August 9, 2019

Elevating Zinfandel 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Watch Out For This Duck, Hunters

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Rioja Red

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

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

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


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bonny Doon Cigare Grape Shakeup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, August 5, 2019

Sweet Italian Sparkling Wine

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

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

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


Friday, August 2, 2019

Viognier Tames Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

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

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

Ironstone Sauvignon Blanc Lodi 2017

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

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


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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Spain Rescues White Godello Grape

The Valdeorras region in Galicia was named by the Romans, who mined a lot of gold there.  After they had finished their mining days, they planted grapevines in the area.  The 2017 Pagos del Galir Godello is a full varietal wine made from a reclaimed grape.  Godello was figured to be native to Valdeorras before DNA testing showed its Portuguese roots.  The grape was re-introduced to the region during the 1970s.

The white Godello grape, writes Eric Asimov, has been "rescued" by Spain, particularly the area of Valdeorras, in Galicia.  Plantings of the grape have risen markedly in recent years, and its grapefruit-tinged flavor profile and wonderful acidity make it a great wine to pair with food, especially summer salads, seafood or even sweet corn tamales.

2017 was one of the DO's shortest vintages on record, and was affected by April frosts.  The wine rested on its lees - spent yeast cells - for five months before bottling.  Alcohol is moderate at 13.5% abv and it sells for $17.

This was my first experience with the Iberian Godello grape.  I expected something quite fruity from this wine, but was surprised to find a nose of lanolin, sage and a savory nuttiness.  The palate is just as intriguing, with savory herbs and a distant grapefruit flavor in the background.


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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Face Of Toro Tempranillo

"Strength, nerve and courage" is on the label of the Matsu wines from Spain's Toro region.  Matsu means "wait" in Japanese, says the winery.  It's a tribute to "all the viticulturists who have been working" - and waiting - "in the vineyards for generations."   The label also features images of real life viticulturists, to a somewhat startling effect.

D.O. Toro has a dry climate, extreme temperatures and 100-year-old vines which combine to make for some pretty bold juice.  Matsu's 2015 El Viejo is made from Tinta de Toro grapes.  That's what they call Tempranillo in Toro.  The wine was vinified in concrete tanks and aged in new French oak barrels for 16 months.  Alcohol tips 15% abv and the sticker price is $47. 

This wine's color is medium-dark ruby in the glass.  The nose displays huge black fruit - berries and plums - with savory leather, smoke and cigar box notes.  On the palate comes blackberries and sweet oak tones.  The tannins provide great structure, begging for a pairing with beef.


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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Cal-Italia Aglianico From Lake County

At first glance, the name Prima Materia doesn't look 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."

Prima Materia Aglianico 2014

Buttitta says the Aglianico grapes were planted in 2003 and have evolved into his signature variety, along with Barbera and Sangiovese.  The grapes were grown in soil laced with deposits from Mt. Konocti's past volcanic eruptions.  Does that make the Kelsey Bench the Sicily of California? 

The 2014 Aglianico vineyard is interplanted with 7% Montepulciano grapes.  The wine was vinified and aged on its lees in Hungarian oak, 225-liter vats that are anywhere from two to ten years old.  Alcohol tips 14.3% abv, while the wine retails for $38.

This wine is quite dark in the glass.  A whiff of nail polish remover greeted me when I opened the bottle, but after sitting a bit, the more expected aromas of dark fruit, white pepper, spice and trampled leaves overtook the problematic initial whiff.  The alcohol came on strong in the sip, and the tannins need time to smooth out.  There is definitely an Old World feel to the wine, and I am reminded of other excellent Aglianicos I have had from Santa Barbara County, Texas and, oh yeah, southern Italy.  I'd love to try it in ten years, when aging will have softened its rustic edges.



Monday, July 29, 2019

Albariño, Please. Hold The Flowers

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 Pazo Pondal winery is in the Galicia area of northwest Spain, the Miño Valley, the Rias Baìxas wine region, the Condado do Tea subregion.

The 100% 2016 Albariño grapes were harvested from the lower altitude Leira Longa plot, carefully crushed and the juice fermented in both stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels.  These particular grapes are grown with less acidity and more body than those from higher elevations.  The vines are as young as 20 but as old as 60 years.  The wine stayed in wood, on the lees, for some ten months.  Alcohol is a restrained 13% abv, and the wine sells for $20.

This wine carries minerals and Meyer lemon on the nose, and plenty of both.  The palate shows citrus and a great salinity, with none of the floral notes Albariño is known for, the notes that generally push me away.  The savory aspect of this one is very different from most Alabariños, and it really sets the wine apart.  The mouthfeel is quite full, almost creamy.


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Friday, July 26, 2019

Spanish Wine: Rioja To The Rescue

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

Under the umbrella of Bodegas González Byass, Bodegas Beronia operates sustainably in La Rioja as well as Rueda.  The 2013 Beronia Rioja Reserva was made from 95% Tempranillo grapes, 4% Graciano and a 1% dash of Mazuelo.  The wine was aged for three years, in French and American oak barrels and in the bottle.  Alcohol is pretty reasonable for Rioja, at 14% abv and it sells for about $20, not bad for a wine of this quality.

The Beronia Rioja Reserva is a dark garnet in the glass, with a nose of black cherries and plums, abetted by leather, vanilla and a nice oak spice.  The palate is rustic and savory, its age showing already.  Black fruit tangles with tobacco and earth notes.  There’s a good tannic structure and a lengthy, savory finish.  Pair it with pork, sausages and Manchego cheese.


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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand was spotlighted in a recent online virtual tasting event, specifically Villa Maria winery.  Winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec guided us through a half dozen of her creations, including the Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough is located on the north end of New Zealand's South Island.  It's New Zealand’s sunniest spot.

For the 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Villa Maria took grapes from their estate vineyards in the cool-climate Awatere Valley as well as the warmer Wairau Valley.  Alcohol stays reasonable at 12.5% abv and the wine sells for less than $10.

The 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc shows the expected grassy, herbal nose with tropical fruit and minerals included.  The palate is also full of those mineral notes, as well as lemon, lime and guava flavors.  Acidity is brisk, and the lengthy finish is fresh and citrusy.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Zinfandel For The Barbecue

Artezin winemaker Randle Johnson is billed by the Hess Family as a "champion of heirloom varietals," which makes him a likely guy to work with some ancient California vines.  His 2017 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel was made from grapes pulled out of vineyards in Mendocino County, off of vines which were planted by Italian and Swiss immigrants - whose families still tend the crops today. 

The winery says the old growers would plant Zinfandel around the perimeter of the vineyard, to hide from sight the other grapes they were growing.  They apparently considered their field blends to be proprietary information.

The wine consists of 85% Zinfandel grapes and 15% Petite Sirah.  The folks at parent company Hess Family Wine Estates says this Zinfandel is as good at a summer barbecue as it is at Thanksgiving - just throw it in a cooler for a half hour or so before grilling.  The wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels, hits 14.8% abv on the alcohol scale and sells for $16.

The 2017 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino is medium-dark and sports a playful nose of strawberry and boysenberry with a cinnamon twist.  On the palate, raspberry and cherry play off of one another in front of a spicy backdrop.  The tannins are smooth.  The wine drinks young and breezy.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Great Cabernet From Atlas Peak

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.

The 2014 Stonum Napa Valley Cabernet is made from grapes grown in the Atlas Peak appellation.  The wine hits a rich 16% abv in alcohol, but does not taste boozy.  It sells for $60.

This wine is dark purple around the rim and nearly black everywhere else.  The nose gives off smoke, blueberries, cassis and a faint graphite note.  The palate shows a delicious dark fruit profile, with a savory streak of leather, rosemary and spice running through it.  The acidity is lip-smacking and the tannins are firm without taking over.  You won't forget it - the finish won't let you.  Pair with a steak or roast, of course, but pork or roasted chicken will work as well.


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Friday, July 19, 2019

Nice Cab From Nice - California

The little town of Nice, California sits on the northern shore of Clear Lake in Lake County, northwest of Sacramento.  Wikipedia cites a source saying that the town was originally named Clear Lake Villas, until Charles William Bayne renamed the spot after his former hometown in France, around 1930.

Dennis Kreps owns the Samuel Charles label there along with his father, Stephen.  The brand's name comes from the names of Dennis' sons.  Noted winemaker Bob Pepi creates the wines.  The brand is reportedly launching nationwide distribution for the first time this year, with a separate single-vineyard Cab and a Sauvignon Blanc, both sourced in Lake County.

The 2017 Samuel Charles Cabernet Sauvignon is all North Coast grapes - 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec - grown in volcanic soil about 2,100 feet up in the mountains.  The wine was aged for nine months in French and American oak barrels, about a third of them new, and alcohol sits at 14.2% abv.  The Cab retails for about $30.

This North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon blend has a dark and savory nose with a bit of a chemical smell poking through the black fruit and spice.  The palate is better, still dark and savory, with a rustic edge which reminds me more of Paso than Napa - but is actually somewhere metaphorically in between.





Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Dark Horse Merlot

The Dark Horse marketing department calls winemaker Beth Liston a renegade.  They say she mixes classic technique with game-changing innovation.  Her colorful tattoos up both arms are not exactly outlaw territory anymore, and she claims a fairly sedate wine-family upbringing.  Liston says she grew up in vineyards and was always covered in mud.  She also resists taking full credit for the Dark Horse wines, choosing to spread the love amongst the entire winemaking team.  The Modesto winery produces a full line of wine styles, including a Merlot, which I sampled. 

The grapes for the 2015 Dark Horse California Merlot are harvested before the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, which the winery says is an unconventional move.  The Merlot is blended with Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Dornfelder to help bring a bigger, bolder flavor profile.  Dornfelder, by the way, is a grape created by German horticulturists and is used to beef up the red wines of that country.  Aged in French oak, this Merlot's alcohol tips only 13.5% abv and the wine sells for around $10.

This wine comes on strong, with a nose of blackberry and anise, joined by lesser touches of smoke and leather.  On the palate, watch out for those early tannins.  They bite, but settle down considerably after the bottle's been open for awhile.  Jammy dark fruit carries a ton of spice notes with it.  Oak is noticeable, to be sure, but it's a sweet effect rather than a savory one.  The wine is medium-dark ruby in color at the edges, blackening nearer the core.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lodi Pinot Noir

The tiny town of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills.  It may be out-of-the-way, 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 Pinot Noir Lodi 2017

The 2017 Ironstone Pinot Noir shows as almost medium-dry on the back label scale.  The wine spent only three months in new French oak, hits 13.5% in alcohol and sells for $14.

This Lodi Pinot colors up medium dark ruby n the glass.  The nose features black cherry, tea and light spices, while the palate is borderline bold, with cherry, raspberry, clove and cola. It's a bit brawny for my taste in this grape, but it is easy drinking with light tannins and a smooth dark finish.  The winery suggests you try it with cedar plank salmon, mushroom dishes, pork, lamb or game birds.


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Monday, July 15, 2019

CA Négociant Delivers Great Rosé At A Bargain

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 sustainably farmed grapes for the 2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 639 Rosé were grown in California's Central Coast region, specifically the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County.  Hughes says the pink wine was made by "perhaps the most famous producer on the entire Central Coast," without giving up the identity.  Hughes claims he's selling the wine for nearly half its original price.  The grape is Valdiguié, which not commonly found outside of the south of France.  Alcohol tips in at a reasonable 12.8% abv and the wine sells for $13.

This rosé is a rich salmon pink, a really beautiful hue.  The nose shows ripe cherry and melon aromas, while the palate brings strawberries and apricots to the table.  It's a very complex pink wine.  The acidity is gentle, so it's a great sipper.  However, you can pair it with a salad, light appetizers or white meat with no problem. 


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Friday, July 12, 2019

Grandma's Red Wine

Bella Grace Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills region of California's 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. 

Bella Grace Bella's Red Wine, Amador County 2015

The 2015 Bella's Red Wine blends 41% Barbera grapes with 38% Zinfandel, 13% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.  Aging took place over a year and a half in Frenck oak barrels, but only a fifth of them were new.  Alcohol tips 14.4% abv and the wine retails for $20.

Let it open up, and you are rewarded with a nose of cherry, leather, tobacco and clove.  The palate offers black cherry, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice.  It's a real showstopper, a tough thing to find at the price point.  It paired beautifully with roasted rosemary chicken.


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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Naked Michigan Chardonnay

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'll find Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point. 

They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, that produces what they call a "lake effect" which I am told protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

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

The Bowers Harbor wine business was established in 1991, four years after the Old Mission Peninsula was granted AVA status.  The estate sits on a former horse farm, with 20 acres of grapes now growing.  The vines include Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  The property is owned by Linda Stegenga and her son, Spencer.

The 2017 Bowers Harbor Unwooded Chardonnay presents the grape unadorned by the effect of oak barrels.  The stainless steel fermentation includes full malolactic creaminess at a very reasonable alcohol level of 12% abv.  The wine sells for $16, and is a steal at that price.

This straw-colored Michigan Chardonnay smells of nothing but fruit, since it was never introduced to oak.  Meyer lemon, stone fruit and tropical notes rise up from the glass.  On the palate, that's where it really takes off.  The fruit flavors jump right out, but it's the full malolactic fermentation that steals the show.  The wine is so full and creamy, you'd swear there had to be some oak barrels somewhere along the way.  Racy acidity adds to what is already an embarrassment of riches.


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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sparkling Albariño

The Laxas bodega has been in the family since 1862, and they watch over their 13-acre estate vineyard with careful eyes.  The vines grow on steep terraces which look south over the Miña River in sandy, mineral-laden soil.  Winemaker Jorge Dominguez Hervella works with great fruit and makes the most of it, producing an Albariño that speaks of its land.

The 2016 Sensum Laxas Sparkling Albariño is made from 100% estate-grown Rias Baìxas Albariño grapes. It is fermented in the traditional method, the way it’s done in Champagne.  Alcohol tips 12.7% abv, and the price hits nearly $30.

This sparkler has intense bubbles and a nose of green apples, citrus and floral notes.  On the palate, minerals abound.  There’s a very nice acidity, with a creamy aspect on top of it.  This wine will pair with any type of seafood, but try it with oysters.


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Monday, July 8, 2019

Reborn Zinfandel

The back label of the Saucelito Canyon Estate Zinfandel says grapes were first planted at Rancho Saucelito in 1880, on the ocean side of the coastal range in the cool-climate Arroyo Grande Valley of California's Central Coast.  The Zinfandel vineyard survived Prohibition, but it was abandoned in the 1940s, then ravaged by fire and animals.

Although the vines were decimated, the roots kept sending new growth shooting upward each spring, and the original vineyard was restored in the 1970s by Bill Greenough.  His son, Tom, now makes the wine from those revitalized, dry-farmed grapevines.  The 2015 Estate Zinfandel hits only 14.1% abv and sells for around $35.

This deep, ruby red wine has enough black pepper on the nose to prompt a sneeze.  There's a ton of intense black fruit as well, along with licorice, tobacco and some rustic oak.  The palate shows off its country side, too, with black and blue berries and an oak treatment that does not go overboard.  Tannins are not extremely forceful, but there's enough structure to make it worth your while to pair it with lean meat dishes or pasta.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

New Mexico Wine Toasts Feminist Artist

A New Mexico winery is toasting feminist artist Judy Chicago with a wine bearing her name.  Jaramillo Vineyards is releasing the wine this month in New Mexico's Middle Rio Grande Valley.

Owners Robert and Barbara Jaramillo met when he was stationed with the Navy in Long Beach, California.  After a career as an airline pilot, Jaramillo decided to grow grapes and make wine, continuing a family precedent.  His father was a home winemaker, but his grandfather had been the largest producer of wine in the area before Prohibition.

Jaramillo Vineyards has plantings of the Norton Cynthiana grape, which has reportedly not been grown west of Missouri until now.  Norton is considered to be "America’s grape," and was championed by Thomas Jefferson.

Judy Chicago's art will be shown on July 20-21, 2019 at the opening of the Through the Flower Art Space in Belen, New Mexico.  Chicago and her husband have lived in Belen for a quarter century, and the town is also the home of Jaramillo Vineyards.  The art space is right across the street from the tasting room. 

The winery plans to release the Judy Chicago red and white wines on July 21st.  Both will feature a label and bottle design conceived by the artist herself.  She chose a cobalt blue bottle which she feels compliments her label design.  Chicago was personally involved in selecting the final blend for each wine.  I haven't tasted them, but I'm told the Judy Chicago red will be a Petit Verdot blend and the Judy Chicago white will be a dry blend of Chenin Blanc and Arneis. 

You can read more of the Now And Zin effort to taste wine from all 50 states in the Wine Country series.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Spanish Red To Drink Quickly

The 2016 Pagos de Galir Mencia is made in the Spanish region of Valdeorras from 100% Mencia grapes. Mencia is the main red grape in the DO, which is in Galicia's Ourense province in the northwestern part of the country.  The Romans mined for gold in the area, then planted grapevines when they felt they had gotten all the precious metal out of the earth.

The 2016 harvest was down by nearly a third from the previous year, thanks to spring rains, hot temperatures and summer hail. The wine spent six months aging in American and French oak barrels, and another six in the cellar.  Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for a reasonable $17.

Mencia grapes once produced a relatively light and fragrant wine, but in recent years winemakers have been getting much more concentration.  In fact, this wine is downright inky. 

Upon opening, this Spanish wine has a tight nose that offers only a whiff of red fruit and bit of spice.  After breathing for awhile, things loosen up considerably.  Six months barrel aging didn't take over the fruit.  There are plenty of those Mencía grapes to smell.  Plenty to taste, too, although the oak spice comes through a tad stronger on the palate.  Tannins are firm initially, and the wine feels fresh and young in the mouth.  However, the structure softens quite a bit after a couple of hours in the glass.


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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Get Your Wine Kicks With D66

Dave Phinney's Department 66 Grenache hails from the Cotes Catalanes region in Languedoc-Roussillon, in southern France.  The wine is made by Dave Phinney, who says he fell in love with the land around Maury on his first visit there.  He boasts that the red soil is peppered with black schist, granite and limestone.  He not only fell in love with the dirt, but also the people.  So much so that he has a home there.

The vines used in sourcing grapes for this wine range from 10 to 65 years old.  The blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan was aged for a year and a half in French oak barrels, nearly a third of which were new.  Another five months aging took place in the bottle.  Alcohol is heavy at 15.2% abv and the wine sells for $38.

This is a big, bold wine.  On the nose, blackcurrant and blueberries take a lot of leather, tobacco, allspice and licorice along for the ride.  The palate is rich with blackberries and plums, with savory aspects equally forceful.  The tannins are somewhat stiff, but would be welcome with a big, fatty steak on the plate.  A zippy acidity embraces the wine’s minerality, providing a lip-smacking refreshment.


Monday, July 1, 2019

Spanish Vermouth Deserves Larger Role

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

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

The Jerez firm of Gonzalez Byass produces a pair of fine and surprising vermouths, dry white and sweet red.  The winery claims the century-old recipes are kept under lock and key.

La Copa Vermouth Extra Seco - the white - is made from 100% Palomino grapes - Fino sherry, actually - which was aged an average of three years in American oak casks in the traditional Solera system.  In addition to the grapes, La Copa Extra Seco includes wormwood, clove, cinnamon and the herb called savory.  Red fruits were added for a "balsamic aftertaste."  Alcohol in the extra dry vermouth tips in at 17% abv and it retails for $25.

This is completely different from every other white Vermouth I've tried.  It is aromatic and flavorful to a fault.  I smelled smoke, I smelled burnt caramel, I smelled thyme, cinnamon, clove, jasmine.  I tasted a burnt caramel or maple sap note.  It was actually one of the more expressive and interesting wines in my experience.  It sure as hell livened up a martini.  Don't spend extra on the gin - let La Copa white vermouth do the work.

La Copa Vermouth Rojo is made from 75% Palomino grapes and 25% Pedro Ximénez variety.  It's produced from Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez soleras, more than eight years old.  As in the Extra Seco, wormwood, savory, clove, and cinnamon are in the mix, along with orange peel and nutmeg in the sweeter blend.  Alcohol sits at 15.5% abv and it retails for $25.

The red vermouth smells of burnt raisins and tangerine.  The palate is sweet with a savory sword cutting down the middle.  The fact that it’s made from sherry is inescapable.

I used these vermouths in cocktails made with Beefeater London Dry Gin, which contains botanical elements like juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root and seed, licorice, almond, and orris root.  In a three-to-one gin blend, the white overpowered the gin.  I used the red in a one-to-one blend, which let the gin speak for itself but still allowed the sweet vermouth to contribute amply.  Both are also fine to sip all on their own.


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Friday, June 28, 2019

Oregon Trio Makes Tasty Chardonnay

It was only six years ago when three brothers formed Marshall Davis Wines in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Oregon's Willamette Valley.  They don't get top billing over the wine, though.  Sean Davis, Ryan Marshall and Matt Marshall are shown only in silhouette on the label.

The website offers that winemaker Davis is a minimalist, "letting each vineyard express itself, with more attention paid to textures and tannin management."  A sample of the 2017 Marshall Davis Estate Chardonnay was made available to me, and I can tell you he makes a pretty good one.

The Chardonnay grapes came from the Marshall Davis Vineyard.  The wine is fully oaked for 16 months, but only 20% of that wood was new.  Alcohol tips in at 13.2% abv and the bottle retails for $39.

This wine's nose comes on with bright citrus and stone fruit, and plenty of it.  Oak is apparent, but not overdone, thanks to the neutral oak.  On the palate, a savory streak paints the grapes with an even hand and provides a counterpoint for the ripe fruit.  The acidity is very lively.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lodi Pinot Grigio

One of America's biggest wineries is in the tiny California town of Murphys.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in the Sierra Foothills.  It may be an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance that you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery's corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.  They are also longtime equestrians, hence the name on the Leaping Horse Vineyards label.

Leaping Horse Vineyards is one of their brands, and their 2017 Pinot Grigio, reportedly sourced in Lodi but labeled with the California appellation, is actually 80% that grape, with 5% splashes of Viognier, Chardonnay, Symphony and Chenin Blanc.  The winery says it was sustainably farmed and is vegan-friendly.  Produced in stainless steel, the wine hits 12.5% abv for alcohol and rings up at $14 on the cash register.

The pale straw color leads to a floral and tropical nose, with citrus, green apples and pineapple on the palate.  Acidity is nice, but not ripping.  On the finish are red apples and lemons.  It's probably best as an aperitif or a sipper on a hot summer afternoon.  A pairing with chicken or a tuna salad should be okay.


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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

White Wines Spotlighted At Los Angeles Event

Any lover of white wines would appreciate a tasting event geared specifically to their taste.  Those get-togethers are few and far between, unfortunately.

Recently, Los Angeles wine educator Ian Blackburn turned his WineLA spotlight at the Peninsula Hotel on the fairer side of the wine world.  Blanc de Blancs focused on whites, rosés and sparklers in a walk-around tasting which was beefed up by seminars on more specific topics.  Attendees were asked to wear white, but the photo shows some Angelenos can't go out in anything other than black.

Here are some of the standouts, with their suggested retail price and a brief tasting note included:

Maison Les Alexandrins Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2017 - $29 - Marsanne/Roussanne blend shows a savory note. 

Famille Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2017 - $15 - Great minerals in this mix of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier..

Tablas Creek Esprit Blanc Paso Robles 2016 - $48 - Savory, great salinity, aged in huge oak vats.  Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc.

Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles 2017 - $34 - Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne.  Fabulous.

Chateau de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone Coudoulet Blanc 2014 - Marsanne, Viognier and Clairette grapes grown on a part of the estate that’s literally across the street from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Domaine de l’Olivier Muscadet, Sevre et Maine 2016 - $16 - Big minerals from the Melon de Bourgogne grapes.  Ready for oysters.

Seigneurie de Posanges Chardonnay, Meursault Les Cras 1er Cru 2013 - $115 - Great touch of new oak.  I'm told the winemakers of Meursault never received their barrels back after shipping, as other regions did.  Therefore, they always used new oak.  They had no previously-used barrels.

Weingut Friedrich Becker, Estate Pinot Blanc, Pfalz Germany 2017 - $21 - Estate borders Alsace, and they have the minerals to prove it.

Weingut Okonomierat Rebholz, Riesling, Ganz Horn, Pfalz Germany 2014 - $79 - Much petrol.

Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco 2017 - $30 - Musqué clone from the Griva Vineyard, grapes that were planted at the request of Bernardus.  There's a splash of Semillon.  Aromatics aplenty, slight grassiness.

Bernardus Chardonnay, Sierra Mar Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2016 - $50 - Only 400 cases produced.  Twelve months oak, doesn't show it.

Bernardus Saignée de Pinot Noir Rosé, Santa Lucia Highlands 2017 - $25 - The juice was bled from their six Pinots.  Great fruit, gentle acidity, perfect for the porch.

Mail Road Wines Chardonnay, Mt. Carmel Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills 2013-2015 - $100-$125 - Aged in a three-way combo of new and used oak and steel, and the wood hardly shows.

BOLD Wine Co. Albariño, Arroyo Seco 2018 - $25 - From Seabold Cellars.  The minerals dominate.  Their 2017 Dry Riesling from the same AVA shows a bit of petrol.

Law Estate Wines Soph 2015-2017 - $80 - Roussanne is one of my favorite grapes, and all three of these vintages are heavy with it, Marsanne and Clairette Blanche added, all from the Law Family Vineyard in Paso Robles.  Great stuff here.

Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley 2017 -$35 - Dry and steely, and quite Burgundian.

Stony Hill Vineyard Chardonnay Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley 2016 - $54 - Lots of minerals, six months neutral French oak, on the lees with no stirring.

Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris 2017 - $19 - Salinity now!  So nice to get something other than flowers from a grape that can show beautifully, which it does here.  From Alsace.

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Saering 2015 - $29 - Beautiful petrol note.

Famille Hugel Riesling Grosse Laüe 2011 - $76 - Petrol



Monday, June 24, 2019

Michigan Sauvignon Blanc

Northern Michigan's Black Star Farms sits on the 45th parallel, like some other great wine regions worldwide.  It's on the Leelanau Peninsula, that claw of land which sticks up into Lake Michigan.  Owned by Kerm and Sallie Campbell, with Vladimir Banov as the winemaker, Black Star not only produces wine, but also has an inn, fine dining and stables on the property.  It started as an equestrian facility.  They also make brandies from cherries and other fruit. 

The grapes for their Arcturos Sauvignon Blanc were grown on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas.  It's possible the name of the wine is derived from the legend of Icarius.  It is said he gave wine to mankind, but was murdered by them.  The story claims the folks weren't accustomed to being drunk, and thought they were poisoned.  Icarius supposedly then became Arcturus, who now resides with those other Greek legends in the night sky.

Late rain during the 2016 vintage necessitated some judicious picking and sorting.  The wine is completely dry, as indicated on the dry/sweet scale on the back label.  Alcohol tips 13% abv and the wine sells for $18.

This pale yellow Sauvignon Blanc shows new world grassiness on the nose, along with lemon, grapefruit and minerals. On the palate there is citrus, intense minerality and great acidity.  The finish bears a clean citrus note.  It's very drinkable, and very pairable. 


Friday, June 21, 2019

RRV Chardonnay

With estates in Argentina and South Africa as well as California, Hess Winery really gets around.  Founder Donald Hess staked out a claim on Napa Valley'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.

The Hess line includes Panthera Chardonnay, which takes its name from an east Asian word meaning yellowish animal.  The word also describes the genus of the cat family which contains its largest members.

The 2016 Panthera is 100% Chardonnay from the cool-climate Russian River Valley, aged for 15 months in French oak, more than a third of which was new.  Alcohol tips 13.3% abv and the wine sells for $45.

The wine has an intriguing nose which shows apricot, Meyer lemon and tropical fruit.  The palate shows why people like California Chardonnay.  Tropical notes highlight the flavors, with a strong layer of minerals underneath.  The 15 months of oak don't interfere as much as one might think, adding a noticeable - but not dominant - aspect to the profile.  Racy acidity begs for a food pairing, and I'm thinking swordfish.  The finish carries the fruit, not the oak.



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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Los Angeles County Wine

Alonso Family Vineyard
Small-production commercial winemakers are breathing new life into Los Angeles County's wine scene.  The urban sprawl of Southern California makes it hard to imagine that it was once a thriving wine region sporting a hundred vineyards that produced wine for the world.

I received some information about L.A.'s wine region rebirth from Melanie Webber, who works with the Garagiste Festival.  The Garagiste Festival showcases small producers at events all over California, and their Urban Exposure event is slated for June 21-22, 2019 in Glendale.

Webber says the Los Angeles wine industry was born as early as 1784, when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards near Glendale.  It wasn't until 1833 that Frenchman Jean-Louis Vignes put some Bordeaux cuttings in the dirt near what is now Union Station, starting the Southern California commercial wine biz.  He would become one of the world's largest wine producers by 1850.

By the time Prohibition killed off the wine industry in many states, urbanization had already forced most of the vineyards away from L.A.'s downtown area.  Today, small production - garagiste - winemakers are driving a SoCal Renaissance in winemaking, sourcing only from local vineyards, all proudly proclaiming Los Angeles County on their wine labels.  There are vineyards all over Los Angeles - from Malibu to Bel Air to the Antelope Valley to Palos Verdes.

Los Angeles Syrah
Two L.A. winemakers are part of the newly formed LA Vintners Association, and are working to  highlight the true potential of Los Angeles terroir and positioning Los Angeles as a premier wine region.

Angeleno Wine Company is in downtown L.A., its vineyard just an hour north of downtown, in Agua Dulce.  The land is farmed by Juan Alonso, who is referred to by Angeleno's owners as the winery's "real winemaker."  He planted lesser known Spanish grape varieties from his native Galicia.  Alonso's Tannat, Graciano, Godello, Loureiro, and Treixadura make it into Angeleno wines each year.

Moraga Estate
Byron Blatty Wines sources its wines only from vineyards in Los Angeles and runs a pop-up tasting room in Silver Lake. 

L.A.'s oldest winemaking operation is San Antonio Winery, but they source grapes from other parts of California and the world.

Moraga Estate makes wine from grapes grown amid the mansions of Bel Air.  Owned by Rupert Murdoch, they've been at it - small but steady - at about a thousand cases per year for nearly three decades.  Most of their production is dedicated to a club and a mailing list.

Malibu Wines and Rosenthal also make wine from grapes grown on their respective estates in the Santa Monica Mountains.


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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

South African Wine: More Than You Think

A cadre of winemakers from South Africa are trying to put a face on a region that is completely foreign to many U.S. consumers.  South African wines are somewhat hard to find, at least in Los Angeles, unless one shops specialty stores or huge wine inventories.  The region is not likely to be found on the supermarket shelf or very many restaurant wine lists.

Capensis winemaker Graham Weerts organized the tour, in which he and five friends are talking up South Africa, where a big shift in winemaking has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years.  Weerts and his pals say they are representing the country's 750 producers and putting their best wines forward.  I was invited to attend their event at the Los Angeles restaurant Republique.

Weerts, standing, his colleagues lined against the wall.
Weerts outlined some of the difficulties South Africa's winemakers have faced.  The embargo during apartheid prevented the export of red wines, causing many vines to be ripped up. However, plenty of old-vine white grapes remain.  That's because the white grapes were used for distilling at the time.

Weerts bristled as he spoke of big U.S. producers which have gone to South Africa in the past, telling winemakers to "make a funny little wine and put a funny little cat on the label" - failing in the process.  Now the focus is on quality, and Weerts says South African winemakers won't be told how to live their own lives, "won't be told what to do."

Considering the effort involved in bringing their story to California, it's no surprise that the eleven wines showcased during the masterclass were of the highest imaginable quality.  The reds all had the mark of minerals on them and the whites were among the most elegant sips I've ever had.

Reds

A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgras 2017 - Adi Badenhorst was reportedly fired from a previous job for having a bad attitude.  He says he has "shed his German heritage and habits of punctuality and precision" in favor a more free-form method of making wine.  He claims that his Swartland region is "a very free place to make wine."  His Ramnasgras is 100% Cinsault from vines planted in 1963, aged for one year in a large wooden vat.  Alcohol tips 13% abv and the wine retails for $45.  It has a floral nose with minerals on the palate, almost a rusty quality.  Great acidity.

Sadie Family Wines Soldaat 2017 - Eben Sadie says says "modern winemaking is like instant coffee, safe and secure," while real winemakers take chances.  He walks the walk, with one of the more varied plantings outside of a laboratory.  Sadie's Swartland Mountain Areas vineyards are full of grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Chenin Blanc, while experimenting with fruit such as Verdelho, Palomino, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Pontac, Alicante Bouchet and more.  His Soldaat is made from 100% Grenache Noir grown in Piekenierskloof, north of Swartland, in 48-year-old vineyards.  He says the high altitude gives Grenache the sun radiation it needs without the high temperatures.  The wine was aged in concrete vessels, carries alcohol at 13.5% abv and sells for $75.  It has an awfully pretty nose and a very savory palate with good fruit showing.

Storm Vrede 2016 - This wine is 100% Pinot Noir grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, an hour and a half east of Capetown.  The wine was aged over eleven months in French oak barrels, 25% of which were new.  13.9% abv, $55.  A sharp nose, mineral-laden and peppery is a bit of a surprise.  The palate is tart and savory, with a tea note.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2016 - Abrie Beeslaar is billed as the "king of pinotage," a dubious honor considering the low regard the South African grape has found in the U.S. due to subpar efforts in previous times.  His wine is 100% Stellenbosch Pinotage grown in shale soil, aged 19 months in French and American oak.  14.4% abv, $55.  A perfumed nose of dark fruit and soy sauce, opens up to a palate that’s chalky with minerals and drenched in savory cherry flavors.  Needless to say, it's markedly nicer than the Pinotage wines I've had before.

Kanonkop Estate Paul Sauer 2015 - Beeslaar's Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape in a place known as the "red wine bowl" of South Africa.  This Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc was aged for two years in new French oak.  14.5% abv, $60.  It has a big, red fruit nose, a bold palate and an elegant herbal note.

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2015 - This is 100% Swartland Syrah, grown in red slate soil and aged for 18 months in big vats and barrels.  13.9% abv, $65.  The nose was rather tight, but pepper shows up after a minute or two.  On the palate are flavors of blueberry, raspberry, and minerals with a fantastic acidity.  The first vintage of this wine was in 1997 and was the last for 20 years.  The story goes that the vineyard was paved over for a golf course parking lot, and it took the winemaker two decades to find suitable replacement grapes.

Whites

Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2018 - Sebastian Beaumont focuses largely on Chenin Blanc in the Bot River region.  Hope Marguerite was aged on its lees for ten months.  12.5% abv, $45.  A beautiful nose of stone fruit and citrus leads to a palate which is elegant, gorgeous, full and creamy.  Meyer lemon and tangerine flavors join a great acidity.

Capensis Chardonnay 2015 - Weerts explores Chardonnay on South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, from old vines in old soil.  He says the Western cape is either the "oldest new-world wine region or the youngest of the old-world."  His Capensis is 100% Chardonnay from the Western Cape, tank fermented with nearly a year in French oak.  14% abv, $80.  There is citrus and oak on the nose - almost a smokey, buttery feel.  The palate is possibly too oaky for some tastes, but it hit me just right.  It's the kind of Chardonnay I like to drink at Christmastime.  The fruit shines through.

Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2016 - A blend of eleven different grape varieties from 17 vineyards across Swartland, this wine is aged for two years in amphorae, concrete eggs and oak vats.  13.5% abv, $150.  The nose is tight, but light citrus on the palate adds to an elegant acidity and a savory angle.  Nothing seems to take charge, but everything works together.  Worth $150?  I don't know, but it's built to age for 10-15 years.

Vergelegen Flagship GVB White 2016 - This wine is 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc from Stellenbosch, grown close to the coast, "where the wind blows like a banshee."  It spent nine months in a barrel.  13.9% abv, not available in the U.S.  A big herbal nose, rivals New Zealand for grassiness.  There’s a new world palate, too, with more herbal notes.

Klein Constancia Vin de Constance 2015 - This dessert wine comes from 100% Muscat de Frontignan grapes grown in Constancia.  It was aged in a mix of French and Hungarian oak and French acacia.  13.9% abv, $95.  The wine is very gold in the glass and has a viscous mouthfeel, showing a nose and palate of honeyed apricots, peaches and nectarines.  No botrytis here, the grapes were vine-dried.