Wednesday, February 27, 2019

E Is For España

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Day-Old Sparkler Wows

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

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

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Etna Rosso For Eggplant

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

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

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

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

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Millennial Winemakers From West Side Paso Robles

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Roaring Good Monterey County Chardonnay

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

Hess Select Monterey County Chardonnay 2016

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

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

California Sauvignon Blanc With Complexity

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Cabernet Franc From Sierra Foothills

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

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

Ironstone is marketed by Quintessential Wines in Napa Valley.

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

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Wente: First Family Of CA Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Michigan Riesling: Old Mission Peninsula

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

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

Château Grand Traverse Dry Riesling 2017

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

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

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Pink Wine With Plenty Of Complexity

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

Nuts To Dry January - I'm Drinking Wine

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

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

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

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

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