Monday, September 30, 2019

Look To Livermore Valley For California Merlot

Murrieta's Well Estate Vineyard, in California's Livermore Valley, has a history almost as long and rich as the state of California itself.  The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate 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, winemaker Robbie 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.

The Murrieta's Well 2016 Small Lot Merlot was made from grapes taken out of the gravelly, coarse, sandy loam of their Sachau Vineyard, from elevations of 615 to 845 feet.  Rains that year provided more ground water for the vines than in previous few vintages.  The wine is nearly all Merlot, with a 5% dash of Cabernet Sauvignon mixed into the batch.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks before its was transferred to French oak barrels for a year and a half of aging.  A little more than half of the oak was new.  Only 35 barrels were made.  Alcohol tips in at 14.1% abv and the wine retails for $46.

This Merlot-heavy blend (5% Cabernet Sauvignon) has a generous nose of smoke and dark fruit.  The palate is rich with black cherry, mocha, vanilla and floral notes.  Tannins are firm enough, but the sipping is still easy.  It’s a really good, single-vineyard Merlot that deserves a hot, juicy ribeye. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

An Italian Pinot Grigio To Love

Hot weather doesn't necessarily mean rosé wine - although it's always a great choice.  Any cool, refreshing white wine could serve as a summer sipper, especially Pinot Grigio.  It's one of the more popular grapes for consumers in the U.S., and Italian winemakers have adopted the grape of French origin as their own.  Everyone seems to like the lime, apple, pear and melon flavors found in typical Pinot Grigios, and the pairing possibilities fall right into the summertime wheelhouse - light pasta, salads, ceviche and sushi.

The 2017 Gradis’ciutta Pinot Grigio hails from the Collio hills of northeastern Italy, in the Friuli-Venezia region's Collio hills.  The winery says visitors to their estate are greeted with a home cooked meal by owner and winemaker Robert Princic's mother, Ivanka.  And there's wine, too?  That sounds like living the dream.

This grapes for this wine were grown in the vineyards of Budignacco, Pozar and Dragica, at elevations from 325 to 475 feet above sea level.  Vinification in stainless steel tanks is followed by a period of aging on the lees, the spent yeast cells, which imparts weight and depth to the wine.  Alcohol hits 13.5% abv and the wine retails for about $22.  The wine was provided to me by its importer, Vineyard Brands.

This wine smells of apricot and lanolin, an earthy nose that does not scream "Pinot Grigio" to me.  It's a subtle and elegant nose, and definitely on the savory side.  Vegetal notes come through on the palate, along with stone fruit.  I'm not a big PG fan, but this one I would have anytime.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Sauvignon Blanc: Cat Pee And Green Beans

Kalfu‌ ‌means‌ ‌blue‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌language‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Mapuche,‌ ‌the‌ ‌indigenous‌ ‌people‌ ‌of‌ ‌Chile.‌  ‌It's‌ ‌a‌ ‌reference‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Pacific‌ ‌Ocean‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌west,‌ ‌which‌ ‌establishes‌ ‌the‌ ‌cool‌ ‌climate,‌ ‌the‌ ‌breezes‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌fog‌ ‌which ‌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 2018 Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc is made from 100% Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc grapes, grown in the granitic clay soil of the Las Terrazas Vineyard.  Stainless steel tanks were used in making the wine, and the juice sat on its spent yeast cells for three months in the process.  Alcohol hits 12.5% abv and the wine sells for $19.

There is an herbal quality in this wine which stops just short of the proverbial cat pee made famous in some New World Sauvignon Blancs.  The nose borders on it, but it smells, to me, more like a bushel basket of fresh green beans.  It rather tastes like green beans, too, but there is enough grapefruit and lime on the palate to mask the flavor somewhat.  A very savory wine with a long finish of citrus… and green beans. Nice acidity.

Monday, September 23, 2019

NZ Sauvignon Blanc Shows Tamer Side

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.  He's 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 grapes for Duck Hunter’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc were grown mainly in Comely Bank Vineyard, down Waihopai Valley Road, in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley.  The winemakers eliminated much of the extreme grassiness that marked New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for years, and gave it a riper, sweeter appeal.  Alcohol hits 12.7% abv and I see it selling online for $19.

This is NZ SauvBlanc with the edge taken off of it.  The grassy nose is only slight, showing more herbs than cat pee.  The sip is remarkably restrained as well, with trademark citrus sharing the stage with melon, cucumber and peach.  The wine is not very tart, by SB standards, but it's not sweet, either.  It's a Sauvignon Blanc for people who normally shy away from it. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Italian Grapes Via Lake County

Prima Materia doesn't sound at first 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."

The Prima Materia 2016 Sangiovese is made from four clones of the grape, grown in the volcanic soil of the region.  The winery claims that it reflects the growing area and respects its Italian heritage.  The grapes were nearly dry-farmed, with no pesticides used.  Buttitta refers to the 2016 vintage as "almost boring," but the fourth consecutive drought year brought just enough rainfall.

The Sangiovese is abetted by 8% Aglianico grapes.  The wine was vinified and aged 18 months in neutral barrels of French and Hungarian oak.  Alcohol tips 14.1% abv, a little heftier than most Italian Sangioveses, and it sells for $25.

This Cal-Italian grape expresses itself well.  The effect of the oak barrels is apparent on the nose, with delicious vanilla, clove and spice notes wafting upward.  Red fruit shows up, too, but it's the accessories that draw attention first.  The palate brings the cherry flavor forward in a dramatic presentation, elegant and a bit rustic at the same time.  The oak may be a bit overplayed, but it's an attraction, not a distraction.  The wine finishes fresh, clean and fruity.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

This Willamette Pinot Gris - Just Wow

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 2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 631 Pinot Gris is Hughes' first such varietal in nearly ten years.  It has been on the competition circuit and has collected awards along the way.  The grapes came from an unnamed, family-owned Willamette Valley estate, and are certified biodynamic.  The wine was made in stainless steel tanks and rested on the spent yeast cells for four months, gathering weight and creaminess in that time.  Alcohol is restrained, 13% abv, and the wine sells for $12.

The pale wine has a beautiful salinity on the nose, draping itself over the citrus flavors.  It smells like the ocean, almost like a Sardegna Vermentino.  The palate is just waiting for shellfish.  Great acidity, great fruit and all the sea you can drink.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Steel Sangiovese Shows True Colors

Citra Vini covers a lot of ground in the Italian Chieti region - about 15,000 acres.  The winegrowing group - an association of unified wineries in Abruzzo established in 1973 - is located between a limestone massif in the Apennine mountain range and the Adriatic Sea.  Some 3,000 growers contribute grapes to the Citra effort. 

Their website explains a bit of the storied history of the Montepulciano grape.  Hannibal gave the wine to his soldiers for its supposed restorative powers, and Ovid praised it in a poem.

The making of the 2017 Citra Sangiovese Terre di Chieti was overseen by renowned enologist Riccardo Cotarella.  The wine was vinified and aged a bit in stainless steel tanks, not oak vats.  Alcohol hits a moderate 13% abv and and this would appear to the Citra bargain brand, as it sells for about ten bucks.

This Sangiovese is a lightweight wine with an appealing nose and palate.  Aromas of cherry and raspberry are fresh and cheery.  The red fruit flavors are bright and natural, owing to stainless steel vinification and aging.  No oak.  The finish pales quickly, but it's an enjoyable sip.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Awesome Albariño

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.

A recent Snooth-sponsored virtual tasting event had wine writers gathering together online to sample a few selections.

Other writers commented on the great pairings they were having during the event.  A Spanish omelet, chicken and waffles, bouillabaisse, roasted fish with citrus and turkey are just a few of the inspired pairings that sprang from the tasting.

Wine writer Lyn Farmer notes that the Rias Baixas region in Spain's northwestern corner  has a sense of tradition, but is not bound by it.  Half of the area's winemakers are women.

One of the best of the offerings of the event was the Marqués de Frías Albariño 2017.  Winemaker Carlos Blanco vinifies this 100% Albariño wine in stainless steel to 12.5% abv.  It sells for a super-low $13, a steal considering the high quality.  The estate vineyard is composed half of granitic soil with the rest divided between clay and sand.

This wine has a rich, golden tint and shows not the fruity, flowery nose one expects from the grape, but a savory salinity more often found in Roussanne, Marsanne or rare Pinot Gris bottlings.  The palate follows suit - salinity carrying the apricot and pear notes - with a wonderfully food-friendly approach.  The acidity is zippy and the finish falls barely on the tart side.  If all Albariño wines tasted like this one, I'd drink more Albariño.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Italian Scores With Spanish Sherry Cocktail

Courtesy Tio Pepe
Spanish wine company Tio Pepe sponsors a yearly contest to see which bartender around the globe can come up with the best cocktail utilizing their Tio Pepe Jerez Xérès Sherry.  I'll admit, I was sort of pulling for the barkeep from Las Vegas, who made it to the finals.  In the end, Europe took the honor.

Italian mixologist Marco Masiero, left, was proclaimed the winner of the International Final of the Tío Pepe Challenge 2019.  Masiero's signature cocktail is called "El Beso de la Flaca."

The Bodega Gonzalez Byass has been in Jerez - southern Spain, the Andalusia region - for nearly 200 years.  Tio Pepe Jerez Xérès Sherry is named after the founder's uncle Pepe.  The vineyard soil in Jerez is chalky, all the better to hold moisture during the long, hot summer.

Tio Pepe is made from 100% Palomino Fino grapes, and is fortified to 15% alcohol.  Any higher and the flor could not form, the yeasty layer that covers the wine while it's in American oak barrels and prevents oxidation for the four to five years of aging.  The Solera method is used, with wines blended from vintage to vintage.  The types of sherry and their production is much more complex than my limited knowledge.  If you're interested, please read up online.  You'll be glad you did.  The sherry sells for $20.

This sherry has a golden-yellow tint and a forceful nose.  That wonderful resinous sherry smell is there in spades, along with walnuts and anise.  The sip offers similar wonders, with a completely savory approach.  It's as dry as a bone, provided the bone was lying in the desert sun for a while.  There's not a lick of sweetness, so it's not Grandma’s sherry.  The chalky vineyard soil seems to speak through what these Palomino Fino grapes have wrought.  There are notes of hazelnut, lemon and the all-important yeast layer - flor - that sits atop the wine in the barrel for five years.  The acidity is decent, but not too forceful, and afterward, the finish lingers with anise lasting the longest.  Wow, is all.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Rias Baixas Albariño Celebrates Women

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.

Albariño wines tend to show up online a lot, in virtual tasting events where wine writers gather together with a sponsor - in this case, Snooth - to sample a few selections.

Other writers commented on the great pairings they were having during the event.  A Spanish omelet, chicken and waffles, bouillabaisse, roasted fish with citrus and - yes - Thanksgiving turkey are just a few of the inspired pairings that sprang from the tasting.

Wine writer Lyn Farmer notes that the Rias Baixas region in Spain's northwestern corner  has a sense of tradition, but is not bound by it.  Half of the area's winemakers are women.  Wine writer Dezel Quillen says if your wine shop doesn't carry Rias Baixas Albarino, they need to.  He says, "These Spanish wines are quite versatile and extremely food-friendly—especially with seafood dishes."

Nai E Senora Alabarino Val Do Salnés

From the Terra de Asorei winery comes Nai E Señora Albariño, a beauty of the Rias Baixas region.  The winery explains that the name derives from Nai e Señora - Mother and Lady - an expression used by poets in the early 20th century "to pay homage to working women who guaranteed the independence of the family and the Galician society and their motherland: Galicia."

The Salnés Valley is located on the left bank of the estuary of Arousa.  Winemaker Jorge Hervella works with Albariño grapes grown in rocky clay soil studded with pink granite.  The apparently non-vintage wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, carries alcohol at 12.5% abv and sells for less than $20.

This yellow-gold wine has aromas that are more herbal than floral, with savory dill bolstering the citrus and stone fruit.  The palate carries much citrus along with savory balsamic notes.  Acidity is great, and makes for a lively pairing with a variety of salads and seafood.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Pinot Noir From Michigan's 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 had 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.

Brys Estate Pinot Noir Reserve 2016

In a story heard over and over again, Walt and Eileen Brys (sounds like eyes) caught wine fever in the Napa Valley and decided to get out of their retirement rockers.  They ended up leaving Florida to start their careers as vintners less than a mile from the shores of Lake Michigan.

Their 2016 Brys Estate Pinot Noir Reserve is made entirely from grapes grown on the cool climate estate, the first ones picked at harvest. For the technically savvy, Brys grows Dijon clones 91,115, 667, 777 and 828, planted on rootstock 3309 and 101-14.  Winemaker Coenraad Stassen employs fruit grown on the 80-acre, one-time cherry orchard, which was reworked as a vineyard beginning in 2001.  The wine was barrel aged in French oak for 12-14 months, tips 13.7% abv and sells for $32.

This medium-ruby Michigan Pinot Noir has a savory nose featuring cassis and coffee, with a touch of smoke wafting up.  The bold palate shows blackberry and white pepper in force.  The lively mouthfeel is more tannic than expected in a Pinot, making this a great pair with a meat dish, from pork to bolognese pasta.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lodi Cab Is Quick On The Draw

The Delicato family named their Three Finger Jack Cabernet Sauvignon after an outlaw from California's Gold Rush days.  The Lodi wine's label proclaims that the juice inside is "outlaw by nature."  There's no confirmation that Jack Dunlop had a three-fingered hand, but it's true that the former Texas cowboy found robbing banks and trains to be more lucrative than corralling dogies.  It also proved to be his end, as he died from a gunshot taken in his last heist.

There appear to be no outlaws in the Delicato family tree, though.  Their website says the winery's founder, Gaspare Indelicato, "came to America more than a century ago and planted a vineyard just south of Lodi," which reminded him of Sicily, his grape-growing home.  The family still runs the business, now training a fourth generation to take the reins. 

The 2016 Three Finger Jack Cabernet Sauvignon is made from grapes grown on Lodi's East Side Ridge, at the foot of the Sierra Mountains, in low-nutrient soils which stress the vines and make for a more intense wine.  Part of the wine was aged in French and American oak, while the remainder was aged in steel tanks.  Alcohol hits 15% abv and it sells for $22.  The squatty bottle stands a good three inches shorter than a typical wine container, but holds the standard 750 ml.

This wine plays the outlaw image to the hilt.  Lodi Cab faces off in a dusty street against Napa Cab, the fastest gun in town.  They both shoot straight, but in different directions.  Three Finger Jack has a nose of rustic black fruit, tar, forest floor, with only a hint of graphite.  The palate leans in a more elegant direction, but still stands its ground as an "outsider."  It's a delightful drink, with plenty of pairing power and the tannic structure to prove it.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Lodi Zinfandel From Old Vines

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.

The 2016 Ironstone Lodi Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel is 90% Zin and 10% Petite Sirah, with an alcohol level of 15% and a retail sticker of only $28.  Grapes from five different "old vine" vineyards in the Mokelumne River AVA were used to make the wine.  The gnarled and twisted vines range in age from 60 to 80 years old.  It was aged for 12 months in small French oak barrels.

This is a fun Zinfandel, if not one that bowls me over.  The nose is complex enough, with dark fruit, spice, smoke and black pepper.  The palate shows plenty of blackberry and plum with oak spice and licorice.  A long finish leaves the mouth a bit tart.