Friday, May 24, 2019

Oak Hampers Amador Barbera

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

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

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

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


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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Chardonnay: More Dry, Less Oak

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, May 20, 2019

Anderson Valley Pinot Is A California Masterpiece

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

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

This Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a California masterpiece. 

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

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Napa Blend Uses Malbec To Tame Cab

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

Hess Collection Lion Tamer Napa Valley Red Wine 2016

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

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

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


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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Another Great Wine From Bonny Doon Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, May 13, 2019

Great Grenache - It's Garnacha!

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

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

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


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Friday, May 10, 2019

California Chardonnay, Easy Oak

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Chenin Blanc From Lodi

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

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, and the family-run winery is exactly that, where the corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone Chenin Blanc California 2016

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

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


Monday, May 6, 2019

Stonum Lodi Zinfandel

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

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

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

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


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Friday, May 3, 2019

Rosés For Spring: From Italy With Bubbles

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Rosés For Spring: Rosa Regale

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

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

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

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