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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