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. 


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.


Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter