Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Port For The Holidays - Or Anytime, Really

Port wine is a favorite wintertime drink for folks who live in colder climes.  As the holidays approach, the following is another fine possibility for your fireside sipping. 

In Los Angeles, we are still waiting for winter, a winter which may not come until February, if at all.  I'm not complaining, although many people do miss the seasons of their home states.  Those people have forgotten what it was like to shovel their car from under a mountain of snow on Easter morning. 

I drink Port no matter the outside temperature, as often as possible.  It's like Champagne.  Why wait?  Also, I have it on the best authority that if you want to leave a beverage for Santa near the Christmas tree, save the milk for your porridge.  He wants Port.

The arrangement of six grapes shown on the label of Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Porto refer to the company's symbol which marks the best lots, the ones that could end up as vintage Port.  The grapes came from the same five vineyards used for vintage Port, including the flagship Malvedos.  The Six Grapes brand is made from the remainder of the lots which did not go into the VP.

Six Grapes is youthful and fruity, and pairs well with chocolate or blue cheese.  Alcohol is "portly" at 19.5% abv and the retail price is $24.

This Port's nose carries plenty of big red and black fruit, with the characteristic notes of brown sugar, caramel and earth.  The palate is fruit forward with a zingy acidity and firm structure.  The is nothing like a Port, and Graham's Six Grapes is a great reminder of that.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Three Big, Red Grapes From Israel

Yatir is billed as one of Israel's premier boutique wineries, releasing some 12,000 cases of wine each year.  The winery works with select vineyards which showcase the terroirs of Israel's Yatir Forest in the southern tip of the Judean Hills.  The Yatir kosher wines have won high praise from critics internationally.  Yatir's general manager, Yaakov Ben Dor, says wine presses existed in the region more than 3,000 years ago, so the heritage is there.  The winery itself has been around for fewer than 20 years, and Israel's present wine industry is very young.

The 2016 Yatir Creek is a red blend made from 76% Syrah, 12% Tannat and 12% Malbec grapes.  The fruit was harvested at elevations of 2100 to 2900 feet above sea level, where the soil consists of chalky clay.  The wine was aged in large oak barrels for 12 months and matured in the bottle for two years, and winemaker Eran Goldwasser says it will age and cellar well for five to 10 years.  The wine's alcohol content hits 14.5% abv, and it retails for around $50. 

This inky wine's nose is a strong blast of dark fruit, and I do mean dark.  There is spice and oak, along with a strong element of forest floor, perhaps that of the Yatir Forest.  The palate is fruit forward, dark fruit forward.  The Syrah takes the lead, but the Tannat certainly makes itself known.  Even the Malbec's spicy character can't hide behind the Syrah.  There is a grapey note in the background which reminds me of Lambrusco a bit.  The tannins are firm, but not as forceful as I expected. 

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

SBC Dessert Wine, From Santa Ynez Valley

This bottle of dessert wine had been lying about for a couple of years, since Denise and our friend Guido landed at the Casa Dumetz tasting room in Los Alamos.  I had tried it back then, liked it, but never got around to popping the cork on the one we brought home.

Sonja Magdevski is a self-described journalist-turned-winemaker, although that journey has spanned her years.  She told me in 2017 that she started with a small patch of grapevines, before having a revelation.  While trying to put some blends together a couple of years ago, Magdevski says she discovered that she was trying to do something the fruit "didn't want to do."  She then realized that "you can't control nature."  She decided to concentrate on varietal wines, often single-vineyard efforts that showcase the diversity of Santa Barbara County's various climates and terroirs.

Magdevski says she sources such a small amount of grapes that "the fruit has to be great."  As for working in an area which sports at least 50 different grape varieties, she said "I can't even name 50 grapes."  She produces a very limited amount of wine – most of which is sold through their tasting room in Los Alamos.

The 2013 Casa Dumetz Late Harvest Viognier is from her ground, grapes, grit line.  It was made from grapes grown in the Estelle Vineyard in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley.  Put simply, the wine rocks.  It is sweet, but not cloying, with earthy apricot and floral elements.  Its nose shows a full blast of stone fruit, draped in a cloak of sweet oak spice.  The palate is rich and honeyed, the mouthfeel smooth and viscous, the acidity lively and ready for pairing with sweet or savory foods.  Alcohol tips at 14.3% abv and, if memory serves, the small bottle cost about $30, but it is almost certainly no longer available.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

If Sherry Is Milk, This Is The Cream

Billing itself as The Bristol Cream since 1882, when wine merchant John Harvey was importing what was known as Bristol milk, Harveys Bristol Cream was named after the British port city through which the product passed.  It's a sherry, not a liqueur, and it is the only Spanish product with a Royal Warrant from the Queen of England, which was issued in 1895.  As I understand it, that is much more desirable than having a warrant issued in your name by the district attorney's office.

Harveys Bristol Cream is a blend of four different sherries from the solera - the racks of barrels where sherry is aged for up to two decades.  The four sherries used in Harveys Bristol Cream - Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez - are of different ages, all made from 80% Palomino grapes and 20% Pedro Ximénez, in the home of sherry, Jerez, Spain.

The company advises you to serve The Bristol Cream "chilled or over ice in a wine glass with a slice of orange."  The iconic blue glass bottle now has one of those labels with a logo that turns blue when the perfect serving temperature is reached.  I find that no refrigeration is required, especially if the weather is cool.  It carries an alcohol content of 17.5% abv and sells for about $15.  It could be the best $15 you'll ever spend.

This sherry has a gorgeous chestnut brown color and an aromatic nose for days.  Raisins, brown sugar, dried apricots.  It's all on the palate, too - complex in an easy-to-understand way.  The sip is smooth but the acidity is quite useful if you want to pair it with food,  and the finish won't stop.

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Great Red, Great Price - From Southern France

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He sniffs out good wine which has already been produced by established makers, then buys it on the down-low with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club - he calls it 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.

Cameron Hughes Lot 681 Cesseras, Pays D’Oc Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2017

The Pays d'Oc IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) covers most of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southwest France.  IGP classification offers winemakers more freedom than the tightly controlled AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) regulations.  This wine hails from the tiny rural community of Cesseras, in the Minervois AOC.  Smart seekers of wine bargains know to look to the south of France for great deals on great reds.

The Cameron Hughes Lot 681 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend clocks in at 14% abv and sells for $13.  Hughes says it is his first French lot release in more than five years.

This is a dark wine, one with some heft to it, and a brawny feel.  The nose is full of blackberry and plum aromas, laced with earth, vanilla and mocha.  The palate is a burly delight - fruity with a savory, herbal edge, firm tannins a healthy acidity.  If you want steak, get this wine.  It's ready to pair.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tempranillo By Any Other Name

Bela is located in the village of Villalba de Duero, in the Castilla y Leon region of Spain's rugged Ribera del Duero appellation.  Bela is produced by CVNE, Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana.  Their vineyard is some 2600  feet above sea level, and features mostly clay and sandy soil. 

The 2017 Bela Ribera del Duero was made from grapes harvested in the estate vineyard.  The Tempranillo grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged for six months in barrels of American and French oak.  Some of the casks were new, some were one year old.  Alcohol hits 14% abv and the retail price is an enjoyable $18.

This Tempranillo is dark and savory on the nose.  Black fruit meets tar over a cup of coffee.  The palate is fruit-forward, with a healthy dose of earth, licorice and spice.  The tannins are firm, but it's still an enjoyable sipper.  The mouthfeel is full, even lush, and the acidity makes for a wine which will pair well with meat dishes, especially heartier autumn meals. My wife used it in a delicious tomato sauce she made, and it brought a deep, earthy facet to it.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Champagne For Celebrating - Or Not

I had a bottle of Delamotte Rosé Champagne all ready to celebrate the Houston Astros 2019 World Series victory.  That did not materialize, but since it had been on ice since game seven's 4th inning, I enjoyed it anyway.  That's what I get for planning a celebration too early.

Delamotte is a small Champagne producer which works under the eaves of the House of Laurent-Perrier group.  The House of Delamotte was founded in 1760, and is the fifth oldest in Champagne.  They are located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, which their importer describes as one of the most prized Grand Cru Villages of the Côté des Blancs. 

For this pink sparkler, Pinot Noir grapes were sourced from Grand Cru vineyards on the South-East slopes of the Montagne de Reims - namely Bouzy, Ambonnay, and Tours-sur-Marne.  The Chardonnay grapes were picked in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  The wine was made in the saignée method to achieve just the right tint and the two wines were co-fermented.  Alcohol hits the usual 12% abv and it sells for around $75.

This Champagne looks rosy-pink in the glass and offers aromas of ripe cherries, strawberries and toast with a hint of earthiness.  The palate is a creamy delight.  A slight tartness balances the sweetness of the fruit, while a yeasty note hangs in between.  The acidity is great, and the bubbles are festive while they last.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Lodi Merlot Fits Into Holiday Meals

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.

The Ironstone 2016 Merlot is made from three different Bordeaux grapes, grown in Lodi.  The wine is 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.  The Merlot grapes were sustainably grown in several sub-appellations of Lodi, with differing soils and climate.  The wine sat in French oak for only two months, it has an alcohol level of 14.5% and it sells for $12.

This wine is great for fall food pairing, with its fruit forward appeal and limited oak effect.  It will pair nicely with turkey and ham, which just may find their way onto your holiday table this season.

This is a very dark wine, showing a nose of black fruit, smoke, forest floor, tobacco and vanilla.  They say it aged in oak for only three months, but that’s hard for me to believe.  The palate is juicy and ripe, with oak spice aplenty.  The tannins are firm, but not toothy.  It's an affordable choice to pair with Turkey and ham over the holidays.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Time For A Toast? Try Madeira

Madeira was the wine of choice for many of America's founding fathers.  John Hancock and the other representatives of the 13 colonies, it is said, toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Madeira.  George Washington reportedly celebrated his inauguration as president of the young country with the fortified wine.  They say Thomas Jefferson toasted the Louisiana Purchase with it.

Miles Madeira is part of the Blandy family's Madeira Wine Company, produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira since 1814.  Madeira is made from the Tinta Negra grape, originally from Andalucia in the south of Spain and introduced to the island of Madeira during the 18th Century.  The Miles Madeiras are made in several different styles.

Miles Madeira Rainwater Medium Dry is lighter and drier than most Madeiras and has some of the longest aging potential in the wide world of wine.  It is fermented off the skins in stainless steel tanks, and fortified with the introduction of a grape spirit after five to six days.  This stops the fermentation at the desired sweetness level.  Aging takes place in the tanks, which are enveloped by hot water sleeves to replicate the effect of aging on board a ship during a long voyage.  The Rainwater's alcohol content hits 18% and the three-year-old wine retails for $17.

The characteristic aromas of raisins, brown sugar and dried fruits leap from the nose, while orange peel and notes of wood are found on the palate.  There's a wonderful acidity, so don't think you can only sip it - try pairing it with dinner - like our forefathers did.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Italian Wines On Display In L.A.

If you don't know Italian wine, shake hands with your new best friend.  Italian wine is what goes with Italian food, from pasta to pesto, scampi to scungilli.

The Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour 2019 is underway, spreading the gospel of Italian wines to big cities across the nation.  The Los Angeles stop was held in October on the terrace garden of the fabulous SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.  I was invited to attend the walk-around tasting session, and here are my notes.  All the wineries mentioned here are seeking U.S. importers.

Italy's terroir is varied, and I have always found that nothing tastes like an Italian wine - even a wine of the same grape, grown somewhere else.  Wine regions like Piedmont, Veneto, Lazio, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna, Sicily, Tuscany and others were on display.

Cantina Sociale di Trento poured their 2018 Teroldego Dolomite Vineyard.  The grapes were grown at 600 meters and above and were vinified in stainless steel.  The wine shows good color and savory cherry and plum flavors.  The freshness is amazing.

Zell's 100% Chardonnay bubbly spent 30 months in the bottle.  It has a wonderful nose and palate, great acidity and bubbles from the traditional method.

Casa Vinicola Carminucci offered two wines.  The 2018 Belato Pecorino is made from grapes grown in Offida, the only DOCG in La Marcha.  The nose is light citrus and it's a wine made for food.  The 2018 Grotte sul Mare Rosato is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Montepulciano.  Cherry, strawberry, nice acidity, quite refreshing.

La Fortezza has the 2011 Aglianico Riserva, which aged for three years in oak and one in the bottle.  Lovely fruit, savory earth.  The 2015 Aglianico got 8-10 months of oak and six months in the bottle.  The 2018 Falanghina has beautiful florals, citrus and savory plum.

Azienda Agricola Zaglia Giorgio's 2018 Pinot Grigio is from Friuli.  Savory on the nose and palate, its presentation is earthy - not on pretty side.  The 2018 Prosecco is extra dry, not as sweet as one usual finds the style.  Their 2018 Rosato is made of Merlot from Venezia Giulia.  It has a beautiful salmon color and fruity cherry.

Manvi's 2017 Myra Rosso di Montepulciano is all Sangiovese with no oak treatment to get in the way of the grape.  The 2014 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is also a varietal Sangiovese, but it spent two years in oak and another in the bottle.  I get plums. Prunes and a savory finish.  The 2015 Ojas Riserva Montepulciano will pair well with game or lamb.  The name is Sanskrit for vitality.

Matteo Soria showed off their 2018 Soria, a delightful Moscato which is bubbly, fresh and fruity. It aged for nine months on the lees in the tank.

Azienda Agricola Sordo Giovanni brought their 2015 Sordo Barolo - light in color, lovely nose, easy sipper, nice tannins but not too firm.  Their 2009 Sordo Barolo Riserva Perno has better structure and a deeper color, showing some bricking on the edges.

Vignetti Repetto of Piedmont poured the 2017 Equilatero, a steel-made Barbera.  The 2017 Rosso is a red blend which also saw no oak.  The 2018 Derthona Quadro Timorasso Colli Tortonesi has a lovely salinity after steel vinification and aging on the lees.  The Timorasso grape is difficult to grow and almost went extinct in the 1980s.  Plantings in the area have gone from two acres to 350 in 30 years.  Derthona is the Roman name of the village. 

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Friday, November 1, 2019

A Beast Of A Cabernet

Terlato Wines tells us that Australia exports more wine to the U.S. than France, but that's a claim for which I could not find any corroboration.  In fact, the wines from Down Under appear to be the fourth most imported by the U.S. in dollars, behind Italy, France and New Zealand.  In any case, Americans are drinking more Australian wine than vice versa.

Australia's wine industry dates back to the 18th century, when vine cuttings were first brought to the continent from Europe and South Africa.  The country has no indigenous grapes of its own.  However, they do refer to Syrah as Shiraz, which has proven so popular that some other winemakers around the world have adopted the name.  Shiraz is the most widely planted grape in Australia.

Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

The 2018 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% McLaren Vale Cab, so it's not elegant as in Napa Valley, it's a brute, as in Australia.  The winemaker calls it "rich, brooding and powerful," and that just about nails it.  Alcohol hits 14.2% abv and the retail price is $33.

This wine is inky dark.  The nose is full of plums, blackberries and cherries, with a touch of bacon grease and earth.  More than a touch, actually.  The palate hits a sweet note amid the dark fruit and oak spice, although the latter stays in the background.  The tannic structure is young and firm, but not overpowering.  Tasted blind, I probably would have guessed Syrah instead of Cab.