Showing posts with label Barbera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barbera. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2022

A Fresh Piedmont Red Wine

If you love the opportunity to try a grape that's new to you, this wine might be right up your alley. The Ray Albarossa by Colle Manora is 100% Albarossa grapes, grown in Italy's Piemonte D.O.C.. Albarossa is a cross between the Barbera and Nebbiolo di Dronero grapes. 

The wine underwent malolactic fermentation and was aged for a year in steel and a year in the bottle. There was no exposure to oak at all. Alcohol hits 14% and the wine sells for about $12 - and it's quite a bargain.

This medium-dark wine has a very fresh nose, dark and full of blackberry fruit aromas. The palate puts me in mind of some of the darker Cru Beaujolais wines. It also makes me think of unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina. This Albarossa grape wine was aged a year in steel and a year in the bottle, so it is fresh and youthful - a very fun wine. 

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Why Albarola? It's Barbera Del Monferrato

Alessio and Romina Tacchino are the third generation to run their family's Tacchino wine business.  The  2016 Tacchino Albarola Barbera del Monferrato DOC is, despite what the name suggests, a 100% varietal wine, made from Barbera grapes grown in Piedmont, in the clay soil hills of Monferrato, in the Comune di Lerma and Castelletto d'Orba.  The name, Albarola, is also the name of a white grape, found mainly in Liguria.  The word was chosen for this wine as a tip of the hat to the last remaining tower on the property, named Albarola.

The wine was first produced in 1999, and was vinified in stainless steel before being aged in big wooden vats (tonneaux).  Romina says 30% of the wine has  oak treatment, because she doesn't like too much wood in the wine.  Alcohol hits almost 14.5% abv and the wine sells for around $15.

The nose is beautiful on this wine - perfumed blackberry, strawberry and plum.  It has some noticeable sweet oak spice with a good whiff of vanilla.  The palate brings flavors of red fruit with a slightly tart edge to it and a very good acidity that is lip-smacking.  There is a savory undercurrent that I find irresistible.  The finish lingers quite a while.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Going For Broke - Zinfandel-Heavy Red Blend

Paydirt winery's Going For Broke red blend embraces the notion that "risking it all brings about the greatest reward."  This is a Zinfandel-heavy mix with six other grapes involved.  The breakdown looks like this: 81% Zinfandel, 6% Grenache, 4% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah, 2% Mourvedre, 2% Barbera and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The fruit came largely from Paso Robles' Westside Hills, but contributions were also made by Napa Valley, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley, Amador, Lodi and Marin County.  Specific vineyard sites include Gravity Hills, Dusi Vineyard, Hastings Ranch, Paso Ono Vineyard, Terra Bella, Clevenger Ranch, Shadow Canyon, and Alta Colina. 

The interesting label art wraps around the bottle and depicts what seems to be a variety of "going for broke" facial expressions in what is likely a coastal California Gold Rush scene.

Winemaker McPrice Myers says the de-stemmed grapes were fermented in stainless steel and small open-top bins with 20 days of skin contact.  Aging took place over 12 months in mostly neutral French oak barrels.  Alcohol is up there - 15.2% abv - and the retail price is $25.

The medium-dark wine smells of ripe, red fruit dotted with peppery, herbal notes.  There are whiffs of vanilla, cedar and cigars as well.  The palate shows the red berries plainly, along with a tongue-tingling acidity and toothy tannins.  A lengthy decant is useful, if not required, before enjoying.  Pair the wine with the red meat of your choice.

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Monday, July 20, 2020

Zinfandel, From Lodi

Whenever I get to take a trip - virtually - to Lodi, I jump at the chance.  John Fogerty may have been "stuck in Lodi," but he should have visited a winery or two.  That would have brightened his view of the locale.

Oak Farm Vineyards is my stop on this virtual vacation.  I took part in a July conversation with Oak Farm's co-owner and Director of Winemaking, Dan Panella.  The get-together was held on Zoom, where everything else also seems to be held in these pandemic times.

Panella talked about his family's three-generation farming claim at Oak Farm, which in Lodi is practically newcomer status.  He spoke of his fondness for the Italian and Spanish grape varieties found on his estate and reminisced about his younger days driving a tractor through the cherry and walnut orchards.  He turned the business into the wine arena in 2004.

Oak Farm itself was founded in 1860, with the Panella coming along in the 1930s.  Today, Panella and head winemaker Sierra Zieter manage a diverse portfolio of wines.

Oak Farm Vineyards Tievoli Red Blend 2018

The Oak Farms Red Blend called Tievoli (I Love It spelled backwards) is made from two-thirds Zinfandel grapes, 8% Primitivo, 18% Barbera and 8% Petite Sirah - all grown in Lodi.  The old vine Zin was grown in the Hohenrieder vineyard, while the rest came from Oak Farm's estate vineyards. 

Panella says, "Zinfandel is the backbone of this blend.  It brings the fruitiness to this wine, while the Primitivo adds earthiness, bringing the spices and earth floor notes.  The Barbera adds the acidity backbone and helps brighten the wine and smooth it out.  Petite Sirah strengthens the color and helps with the structure."

The wine was aged eight months in French and American oak before being bottled.  Alcohol strikes 14.5% and the retail sticker is only $22.

This red blend shows a ripe cherry nose abetted by black pepper and a touch of leather.  The palate has an earthy quality, almost savory, but the Zinfandel fruit stands firm.  So do the tannins, and the wine's acidity is bright and fresh.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Barbera, From Lodi

Whenever I get to take a trip - virtually - to Lodi, I jump at the chance.  John Fogerty may have been "stuck in Lodi," but he should have visited a winery or two.  That would have brightened his view of the locale.

Oak Farm Vineyards is my stop on this virtual vacation.  I took part in a July conversation with Oak Farm's co-owner and Director of Winemaking, Dan Panella.  The get-together was held on Zoom, where everything else also seems to be held in these pandemic times.

Panella talked about his family's three-generation farming claim at Oak Farm, which in Lodi is practically newcomer status.  He spoke of his fondness for the Italian and Spanish grape varieties found on his estate and reminisced about his younger days driving a tractor through the cherry and walnut orchards.  He turned the business into the wine arena in 2004.

Oak Farm itself was founded in 1860, with the Panella coming along in the 1930s.  Today, Panella and head winemaker Sierra Zieter manage a diverse portfolio of wines.

Oak Farm Vineyards Barbera 2017

Panella conveyed the notion that they really like Barbera grapes at Oak Farm.  In this wine, it shows.  The wine is 88% Barbera with 12% Petite Sirah included "for color and structure."  The grapes were sourced from three green, sustainably farmed vineyards in Lodi.  Oak aging over 20 months occurred in barrels made from the wood of France, the U.S. and the Caucasus region south of Russia, 24% of which was new.  Alcohol hits 15% abv and the retail price was $25, until it sold out.

This Italian grape grows dark in Lodi.  The nose gives off black cherry, blackberry, cigar and cedar.  It is a complex and delightful package of aromas.  The palate is also dominated by dark fruit, with plentiful oak effects.  It is a fresh wine, with lively acidity, and the tannins have a bit of bite just after the cork is removed.  Wait a bit and they settle down.

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Monday, July 13, 2020

Rosé, From Lodi

Whenever I get to take a trip - virtually - to Lodi, I jump at the chance.  John Fogerty may have been "stuck in Lodi," but he should have visited a winery or two.  That would have brightened his view of the locale.

Oak Farm Vineyards is my stop on this virtual vacation.  I took part in a July conversation with Oak Farm's co-owner and Director of Winemaking, Dan Panella.  The get-together was held on Zoom, where everything else also seems to be held in these pandemic times.

Panella talked about his family's three-generation farming claim at Oak Farm, which in Lodi is practically newcomer status.  He spoke of his fondness for the Italian and Spanish grape varieties found on his estate and reminisced about his younger days driving a tractor through the cherry and walnut orchards.  He turned the business into the wine arena in 2004.

Oak Farm itself was founded in 1860, with the Panella family coming along in the 1930s.  Today, Panella and head winemaker Sierra Zieter manage a diverse portfolio of wines.  Oak Farms is in Lodi's Mokelumne River appellation

Oak Farm Vineyards Rosé 2018

The Oak Farm Vineyards Rosé is made from an equal share of estate-grown Sangiovese and Barbera grapes.  It is produced as if it were a white wine, not as the bleed-off by-product of red wine.  Aaron Shinn manages the vineyard and takes suggestions from the winemaker on how best to grow the vines.  The rosé went through stainless steel aging, carries alcohol at 13%  and retails for $26.

The Oak Farm rosé has a lively nose full of cherry and strawberry aromas, with some citrus minerality and a floral note also in the mix.  The palate brings red fruit and tropical notes with a pleasant salinity and a zippy acidity.

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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, July 12, 2019

Grandma's Red Wine

Bella Grace Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills region of California's 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. 

Bella Grace Bella's Red Wine, Amador County 2015

The 2015 Bella's Red Wine blends 41% Barbera grapes with 38% Zinfandel, 13% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.  Aging took place over a year and a half in Frenck oak barrels, but only a fifth of them were new.  Alcohol tips 14.4% abv and the wine retails for $20.

Let it open up, and you are rewarded with a nose of cherry, leather, tobacco and clove.  The palate offers black cherry, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice.  It's a real showstopper, a tough thing to find at the price point.  It paired beautifully with roasted rosemary chicken.

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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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Friday, March 1, 2019

Wine In Cans, Right Now

Canned wine, I'm told, is the fastest growing trend in the wine industry.  No longer a fad or gimmick - well, maybe it's still a gimmick - wine in cans is a 45 million dollar business.  U.S. sales of canned wines jumped by 43% in the year leading up to June 2018.  Stupendous CellarsDavid Weitzenhoffer told Forbes that the market for wine in cans has been doubling every year, and he expects it to more than double this year.  He calls cans "the greatest democratization of wine in our lifetime."  Who's buying it?  Those millennials, I guess, with all their white-water rafting and Himalaya climbing.  They need a wine that's portable as well as potable.

If one can get past the packaging, cans really are a pretty good idea.  No open bottles because it's a single serving.  Fully recyclable along with all your other aluminum cans.  No fuss no muss getting those darn corkscrews to work right.  This is starting to read like one of those cable commercials where the person gets all flustered trying to do a simple, easy thing, then breathes a gigantic sigh of relief when the product appears that makes everything simpler and easier.

Right Now wines are sold in cans, fairly classy looking ones at that, and contain wine that's actually pretty good.  None of the four I sampled were big thinkers, but they tasted fun, and when you need wine while skiing down a black diamond run you don’t want that darn glass getting in the way.

Winemaker and Master of Wine Olga Crawford did a good job with the Right Now collection of red, white, rosé and shimmer.  They taste good, have a nice level of acidity and pair well the sort of fun food one finds at a barbecue or a tailgate party.  They sell for $24 for a four-pack

Alpine Stream White is made up of 85% Pinot Gris, 10% Viognier, 3% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Vermentino.  Alcohol lays low at 12.5% abv.  The pale gold wine has mineral driven stone fruit, nice refreshing acidity.  It's a bit earthy on the palate, which I like.

Shimmer Lightly Sweet Rosé is carbonated pink wine at 13% abv.  Zinfandel grapes account for 40% while Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot make up most of the rest.  Nine percent are written off as assorted varieties.  It has quite an interesting look in the glass, dark pink-orange, and offers a nose of slightly candied cherry and strawberry.  It tastes really sweet, Jolly Rancher cherry, with light bubbles for fun and a nice acidity for pairing.

Dry Rosé has California on the can and alcohol hits easy at 12.5%.  The grapes are 35% Zinfandel, 32.8% Syrah, 30.2% Barbera and a 0.4% dollop of Merlot.  This wine shows a nice salmon color, with a muted nose of cherry  It's earthy, tasty, not too complex and has a wonderful acidity.

Red Number 8 is labeled as California, but contains a 63% share of Lodi Zinfandel, along with Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah.  Alcohol sits at 13.5%.  It’s very dark, with an earthy nose of brambly black berries.  The tannins are good, the acidity is great and the fruit is dark  A bit of a short finish, but it's the best of the bunch.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cal-Italia Wine: Barbera From The Sierra Foothills

We'll touch again on Bella Grace Vineyards, located in the Sierra Foothills in Amador County.  The family-run business produces wine from 12 grape varieties harvested there, and they also have three types of olives growing on the estate.  One of those grapes is the Italian variety, Barbera.

I like the expression that the Cal-Italia grapes give in other California regions, so I was anxious to try the terroir of Amador County.  Both wines were made available to me for the purpose of this article.

Bella Grace Montagnaro Amador County 2013

This half and half blend of Barbera - sourced from several vineyards in Amador County - and their estate Zinfandel - was made in very limited quantity, just 360 cases, and it retails at $23 per bottle. The 14.5% abv alcohol number looks ripe and ready. And so it is.

A nose of red berries, mocha, licorice and pepper lead to a tempting palate of bright red cherries, chocolate and an earthy cloak in which it tries to hide. This wine cannot conceal itself, though. It’s bright and playful while remaining sincere and balanced.

Bella Grace Barbera Amador County 2013

Several vineyards in Amador County contributed to this varietal wine.  The alcohol is again a rich 14.6% abv and it has a $30 price tag. 860 cases were made.

The wine has a rustic nose that bears a bit of tar, a bit of bramble and a bit of spearmint. The oak on the palate is sweet and tasty with generous red fruit and holiday spices. The tannins grip enough, but not too hard. The finish carries some rosemary to a lengthy end. Roasted chicken and potatoes, with the potatoes burnt just a bit is what you want with this.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lodi Wine: St. Amant Winery Tools Of The Trade Barbera

A recent social media virtual tasting event hosted by Lodi Winegrowers featured a wine from St. Amant Winery that was made from grapes which originated in Italy. The Barbera grapes grow in a 42-year-old vineyard farmed by Ted Levventini. The vineyard is certified green by Lodi Rules.

The St. Amant Tools of the Trade Barbera 2013 is colored a medium dark ruby that really looks gorgeous in the glass. The nose gives black cherry and licorice aromas with just the faintest hint of a campfire or a fireplace burning. Very lively on the palate, it tastes of cherry and red currant in a very fun manner. There is a hint of red vine licorice and ripe, red plums. The mouthfeel is full, the acidity is striking and the tannic structure is firm, but not beastly. Great for steak, I'm sure, but I would love it with a pork chop. We found some Lodi cherries at Whole Foods, and they were a pretty good match, too.

Enough of what I think. What did the wine lovers on Twitter say? @50StatesOfWine agreed with an opinion expressed by @Cellarmistress: "The Barbera is pruny, smokey and reminds me of bacon wrapped dates. Yum!" @Wine Harlots noted that, "The @stamantwine Barbera is fantastic. And at $18 it's terrific value." It was @NormalWine who tweeted, "Barbera from #Lodi is highly aromatic -- brandied cherry, dried strawberry. Rustic smelling in a good way. Impressive!" @myvinespot called it, "fragrant w/ fresh, sweet red fruit character, streamlined, harmonious in mouth, good length. Appealing."

The price struck a nerve with @AmyCGross, who asked, "how in the WORLD is that St Amant #Barbera only $18?! GORGEOUS! Smooth AND Spicy!" @JamesTheWineGuy worked his senses overtime, "love the label and the contents!" While @gonzogastronomy was smitten. "The Barbera stole my heart tonight."

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scott Harvey Zinfandel Mountain Selection 2011

Scott Harvey makes wines that go great with Thanksgiving dinner.  That's the opinion of Sunset magazine, anyway, who named his 2010 Mountain Selection Zinfandel "the Perfect Zin to pair with a pungent, spicy, fruity Thanksgiving dinner."  It also goes great with dinner the other 364 days of the year.  Add one for leap year.

Harvey has recently released new vintages of three of his Zin's, including the Mountain Selection.  Samples of these wines were sent to me - read about Vineyard 1869 here - and I wish I had received them in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  I had a Hickory Farms Spicy and Savory Beef Summer Sausage for Thanksgiving dinner, and it would have gone great with that.  All spicy and savory and all.

Scott Harvey Zinfandel Mountain Selection 2011 is made with Zinfandel grapes harvested from Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, Syrah from York Vineyard in Fiddletown and Barbera from Golden Vineyard.  It's 88% Zin, 7% Syrah and 5% Barbera.  The alcohol content is not unreasonable, by the standard of the region - 14.5%.  19 months aging in French oak left its mark on the grapes grown in the granite soils of Amador County.

The 2011 vintage in Napa Valley has been cursed by some as too cold, praised by others as just right.  Harvey is in the Goldilocks camp.  "I have always said that when Napa has a cold vintage, Amador has a great vintage."

The wine is dark-colored with a full nose of earthy red fruit getting a spice rack of help from aromas of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.  The acidity is wonderful and the tannic structure is firm.  It's a very food-friendly wine, but it tastes great on its own.  Big black cherry and raspberry flavors are caressed by oak spices.  The finish is long and memorable, with clove and cassis notes the last to leave.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Wine: Uvaggio Lodi Rosato 2010

This wine was one of those “Oh, look what I forgot I had” moments.  This has been sitting in the rack - er - cellar, for over a year.  It’s about time I break it open before summer slips away.  After all, it’s a rosé.

It’s actually a rosato - Uvaggio calls it that in keeping with the Italian grapes used in it.  It’s a blend of 81% Primitivo, 15% Barbera and 4% Vermentino, which are all grown in Lodi, California.

Uvaggio posts on their website that they make “interesting wines from very interesting Italian grape varieties.”  This pink wine is made in the saignée method, by bleeding juice from red wine production.  This one hits below the dozen marker in alcohol - 11.4% abv. The wine is barrel fermented, but malolactic fermentation is blocked.

Earthiness abounds in this wine.  It’s all over the nose and all over the palate, too.  Sniff past the funk and you are rewarded with a healthy strawberry aroma, with herbal notes.  Flavors almost too rich for rosé come forward as red berries and bright cherries.  The acidity comes sailing in on the finish, and the wine is very pretty - a deep magenta.

Interesting?  It sure is.  Good?  Yep.  Keep this stuff coming and I won’t mind summer hanging around awhile.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Wine: Costaripa RosaMara Chiaretto Lombardia 2011

Rosé is always thought of as a particularly good summertime wine, and it certainly is.  I hate to think, though, of all the people who wait from Labor Day until Memorial Day to drink it.  There’s no better choice than a nice, dry rosé to pair with turkey on Thanksgiving - or with turkey sandwiches the day after.  Keep that in mind.

Since we Northern Hemisphereans are enjoying summer right about now, how about a nice pink wine today?

The Costaripa RosaMara Chiaretto is from Italy’s Lombardy region in the northern part of the country, near Lake Garda.  It’s a lovely rosato that shows a rich pink color in the glass.  That alone is worth the price of admission, $18 per bottle at a wine store in Los Angeles, $12 by the glass where I had it.

Four great Italian grapes make up the blend: 60% Gropello, 30% Marezemino, and 5% each of Sangiovese and Barbera.  The wine sees some French oak aging and derives a wonderfully full mouthfeel from it.  I pick up a field of strawberries and an herbal play on the nose, with the palate showing very nice acidity.  It’s fruity and dry, which is what rosé should be.  There’s an element which seems part floral and part herbal in the flavor profile.  The smell of basil from a nearby pizza really seemed to be made especially for it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Palmina Wines of Santa Barbara County

It has always struck me that Palmina wines are made specifically to pair with food - so much so that they might seem a little less than impressive at first sniff or taste.  Their wines are made to pair with food, meaning they are made to complement the food, not show it up.  The full expression of their wines really doesn’t occur until they have been matched with food.  Steve Clifton states on the website, “Palmina is a Californian celebration of the rich, wonderful lifestyle and attitude toward food, wine, friends and family that exists in Italy

Clifton is one of the more focused of the “Cal-Italia” winemakers in the Golden State.  He and his wife, Chrystal, specialize in making wine from Italian grape varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.  They do not, he admits, try to emulate the Italian versions of those grapes.  They do try to allow their sense of place in the Central Coast to shine through.  All the while, they keep in mind the Italian perspective that wine isn’t merely a beverage, but one of the things which helps give life its meaning.  Wine is “an extension of the plate” at Palmina.

The wines of Palmina are notable for their acidity, a must when pairing wine with food.  Their flavors are delicious without overwhelming the palate.  The food is the star in Clifton’s philosophy, wine is the supporting actor.

I had the pleasure of experiencing quite a full tasting of Palmina wines at the Wine Warehouse tasting event on April 24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.  I don’t usually have food at large wine tasting events, but this time I found myself drifting over to an appetizer station between samples.

The Palmina whites are great sippers on their own, but the minerality and acidity found in their Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Arneis and Malvasia Bianca almost make a food pairing mandatory.  The Malvasia Bianca, from the Santa Ynez Valley’s Larner Vineyard, is the one Palmina white that displays a nose and palate that might compete with food.  The floral element in this one is enormous and beautiful.

The Botasea Rosato di Palmina is a beautiful pink blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.  It is not produced in the saignée method, where juice is bled off in the process of making a red wine.  All the fruit for this rosé was picked especially to make this wine.  It’s nice and dry, with a light cherry flavor that could beckon spring on its own.

As for the reds, Palmina’s Dolcetto is light and breezy, the Barbera offers a light touch of smoke and the Nebbiolo is lightweight yet tannic.  Alisos is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot.  It was the first wine made by Palmina, in 1997.  The wine is produced by allowing some of the Sangiovese grapes to dry and become raisins.  They are then vinified and blended with the previously vinified wine.

If you find you really need a wine that packs its own punch, Palmina’s Undici has a big nose of smoke and chocolate-covered cherries.  The Sangiovese fruit comes from the Honea Vineyard, and there are traces of Malvasia Bianca in the mix.  The Nebbiolo from the Sisquoc Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley offers a huge expression of fresh cherries and an array of spices that would fill a spice rack.  TheStolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo has great grip and a palate based in cherry and layered with a host of other delicacies.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Castelvero Barbera

Dinner doesn't always have to be fancy.  Simple and good is a combination that works really well, in fact.  An after-work stop at Mezzomondo in Studio City served quite well to take the edge off a fairly tough day.  The fusilli and sausage with a light cream sauce was perfect and the meat lasagna disappeared before we knew it.  Interesting table talk with Michael, who was overseeing the place, made the meal even more enjoyable.

The wine was a nice enough example of Piedmont Barbera, from Castelvero.  It's not expensive - just under $9 here - and while it doesn't blaze any new trails, it's really doesn't have to.  Simple and good.

The dark ruby color is inviting and the nose of violets and cherries are pleasant enough.  The medium weight and good acidity make it almost ideal for a lot of different foods.  I might have preferred a white with the cream sauce, but I have complaints about how it paired with the sausage.  Earthy blackberry flavors and plums dominate the palate and it drinks very easily.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Chaddsford Propritor's Reserve

It takes a village to hold Denise's family.  Several villages, in fact.  The villages are in the area around Wilkes Barre, PA.  On a recent trip there, we visited with a huge number of family members in quite a few of those villages.

The family is a big Italian group, the kind in which fifty or so people all share three names.  Joe, Steven and Christopher get recycled a lot.  If you are unsure of any male person's name in my wife's family, one of those three will give you about a 30% shot at being right.  Joe, Joey, Chris, Christopher, Stevie, Little Steve, Big Joe, etc.  All those variations make it seem to the uninitiated that they're talking about the same few people.  The ladies have a few more names to work with, but Mary is a favorite that keeps coming up a lot.

One of the family gatherings on this trip to northeast Pennsylvania (NEPA, I think is the abbreviation) took place at the home of Mary Theresa and Jerry.  Jerry and I were lucky – we married into the family and were allowed to keep our own names.

I brought the last of the three wines from the Wine and Spirits store to this buffet dinner.  I had previously had mixed results with Tailgate Red and Clover Hill DeChaunac.  I hoped the Chaddsford Winery Proprietor's Reserve would be the best of the three.

Labeled as Pennsylvania Red Wine from the Brandywine Valley, the Chaddsford records a 12.9% abv number.  Once again, I'm not expecting a big, firebreathing monster.  Also again, I am experiencing a grape which is new to me - Chambourcin.  The Chaddsford is 91.5% Chambourcin from southeast Pennsylvania and 8.5% Barbera from Flowing Springs Vineyard.  The wine sees American oak chips during its stainless-steel tank storage and it experiences 100% malolactic fermentation.

A translucent cherry red in the glass, it looks almost weak.  I have no great expectations for this wine – until I smell it.  Aromas of dark fruit, ripe cherry and smoke jump right out at me.  It's complicated and delightful to whiff.

On the palate, a bright cherry flavor with a brambly feel is a joy to taste.  There's a bit of smoke, too.  I am relieved to find that it's really a pretty good wine.  It tastes and drinks a lot like a Pinot Noir.

Tomorrow on the Now And Zin Wine Blog, a Washington State Riesling.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Lone Madrone

I have sampled the wines of Lone Madrone at several tasting events around Southern California, but have never had the pleasure of a visit to their tasting room.  The Paso Robles AVA currently sports over 200 wineries - 219, according to the Lone Madrone tasting room - so I hope you’ll excuse me for not having stopped in yet.  My friends Anthony and Meri did stop in on a recent visit to Paso, and they brought me a wealth of information I thought I would pass along to you.  They found the wines as mesmerizing as I did, and I think I can safely say they appreciated my recommendation.

Neil Collins is the winemaker for Lone Madrone, and he has been making wines in the area for about 20 years.  He came up with the unusual name after seeing a single Madrone tree on a hilltop overlooking the York Mountain Vineyard.

The current tasting room has been open since 2006 and features not only their wines, but many artisinal items from local artists and points farther away, like Columbia and Africa.  Wood furniture, glass,  jewelry and clay pottery compete with the wines for a visitor’s attention.  It’s said to be a great place for a picnic, too.

The tasting room menu I was given is graced with a quote from Mark Twain:
“There are no standards of taste in wine, cigars, poetry, prose, etc.  Each man’s own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard.”

Here are the wines that were being poured at the Lone Madrone tasting room the day my friends were there:

La Mezcla 2008 - This white blend is Grenache Blanc and Albarino.  There are plenty of tropical notes on the nose and the palate.  I have tasted this one, and their recommendation of pairing with oysters, clams or ceviche is completely justified.

Points West White 2007 - A golden color, a honeydew bouquet and minerals aplenty make this Roussanne a delight.

Rosé 2009 - The notes say the nose is lush with strawberries, cranberries and cherries.

The Will 2007 - Cherry and cassis on the nose lead to a full mouthfeel.  This dark and inky blend of Grenache Noir, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel has a full complement of tannins to work with.  They say it will stain your teeth.  I say you won’t care.

Old Hat 2006 - Zinfandel and Petite Sirah meet in this battle royal, and they both win.  Spice, vanilla and tobacco on the nose, with fruit and spice on the palate.

Barfandel 2007 - This was not on the menu that day, but they poured it anyway, then packaged a bottle that my friends took home.  Zin, Petite Sirah and Barbera combine here for a complex nose they say features candy apple, blackberry, strawberry, white pepper, cardamom and smoke.  They advise you enjoy it with anything grilled or glazed.

The Lone Madrone tasting costs $10 and includes the Riedel glass.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Amanda Cramer

Amanda Cramer was a math teacher before becoming an extraordinary winemaker.  “One particular group of students drove me to drink,” she says.  That statement may have been a vehicle for hyperbole at the time, but if those mathematical underachievers had anything to do with putting Cramer on her present career path, we owe them our thanks.

I had lunch with Amanda Cramer recently.  Well, I and eleven other wine-writer types did.  She’s the winemaker at Niner Wine Estatesin Paso Robles.  The lunch and tasting - at West Hollywood’s Sunset Marquis - showcased seven of the wines Cramer has made for the Paso producer since signing on with them in 2004.  Praise has been heaped upon her by a variety of award-giving interests.  Just this year she won two gold medals for her wines and grabbed the winemaker of the year award at the 2010 San Francisco International Wine Competition.  There, she was up against over 3,000 other wineries, so those kudos are anything but “gimmes.”

Wine Fever

Cramer was bitten by the wine bug at Cornell University.  “I filled out a semester of math and science studies with an elective class: Introduction to Wine and Spirits,” she explains.  “It was a 15-week class that provided basics on grape growing and winemaking plus lots of tasting labs so we could get hands-on experience with wine regions around the world.”  That was all it took to get her interest, even though she pursued her teaching path and got a job in which the chalk was in her hand, not the soil.  Then, along came those disinterested students, pointing the way to her exit from teaching.

In the wine industry, Cramer has worked and learned at Far Niente Winery, Chimney Rock, and Heidi Barrett’s Paradigm in Napa Valley, D'Arenberg in McLaren Valley in South Australia and Casa Lapostolle in Santa Cruz, Chile.  Of her viticulture knowledge, Cramer modestly says, "I know enough to know what I don't know, and I know who does know, so I can call them if I need to.  I don't emulate anybody," she insists - but her love for Carmenere stems from her days in Chile

When she was given the opportunity to help create a winery from the ground up, it was too much to pass up.  The new facilities which she has at her disposal allow Niner to make wines on-site now, rather than trucking their grapes to a crush facility.  That means they can pick grapes at night, and they have time to double sort - sorting both the clusters and the individual grapes.  “Double sorting gets every last stem out of the grapes," says Cramer.  "I like to press ‘sweet’  - without any stems - so the vegetal notes are minimized and the fruit is the main thing."

The newly-opened Hospitality Center at Niner Wines looks like a stone barn, but inside it contains a cutting edge wine tasting facility complete with a demonstration kitchen to be used by visiting chefs.

Her Philosophy

Cramer believes quality wines begin in the vineyard, but they definitely don't end there.  When tweaking is called for, she's an able and willing tweaker.  "We don’t grow grapes, we grow wine bottles.  My goal is balanced tannins, so it's an approachable wine,” she says, adding that her red wines are “nicely aged and built to last."

“With oak, overall we use 75% French, 15%-20% Hungarian and the rest American.  Hungarian is basically the same as French oak, and I can get Hungarian for sooo much less.  Our Italian varieties get new oak and a little less time in the barrel than, say, Merlot.  Our Merlot spends 16-18 months in oak.  One-third of it is new, one-third is once-used and one-third is twice-used.”

The Vineyards

All of Cramer’s wines are estate wines, with the grapes coming, so far, exclusively from Niner’s Bootjack Ranch Vineyard east of Paso Robles.  That vineyard is dominated by Bordeaux varieties.  “It’s got a Cab focus, but the Carmenere is great,” she says.  The only white grape from Bootjack Ranch is Sauvignon Blanc, so that’s the only white wine on Niner’s menu at present.  “That will change when the grapes in our Heart Hill Vineyard start to come in.  We hope to have a Heart Hill flagship wine, and that will be a blend of Rhone varieties.  That vineyard was named for a stand of oak trees that have grown in the shape of a heart.  It’s west of the Paso AVA, about 12 miles from the ocean.  It has a longer, cooler growing season.  2010 will be our first vintage from Heart Hill.”

One of the big attractions for Cramer is the location itself.  The Paso Robles AVA is one of the gems of California’s Central Coast.  It’s said to be the fastest growing wine region in the Golden State, and now boasts over 200 wineries.  Warm days, cool nights and diverse soils which feature limestone, shale and sandy loam all give Paso Robles’ wines a unique character and present the opportunity for many different varieties to be grown.

The Wines

Here are the wines Amanda Cramer poured at the luncheon, along with my notes on them.   All the wines utilize fruit from Bootjack Ranch Vineyard.

Rosato 2008 - It’s a deep red strawberry color with a beautiful cherry nose.  The wine has a fresh and vibrant character with great acidity.  It’s really delicious and mouth watering.  The juice spends about three days on the skins, so the color is darker than in previous vintages.  "Maybe a little too dark," says Cramer.  I disagree, it’s a lovely, rich color.  The grapes are 75% Sangiovese and 25% Barbera.  With an alcohol content of 14.5%, it’s as dry as a bone.

Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - There is a grassy nose with tons of tropical notes.  A mix of steel and neutral oak in the winemaking process adds a lot of character.  I taste citrus - lime and grapefruit.  It’s 14.1% abv with a bracing acidity - quite refreshing and food-friendly.  This is all Sauvignon Blanc, since it’s the only white grape Niner has made wine from - so far.  Cramer explains, “Heart Hill has Grenache Blanc that will be ready this year.  The Marsanne and Roussanne were just planted in 2010.”

Sangiovese 2007 - The Niner family traveled in italy and fell in love with Italian grapes.  They tried Nebbilo, but Cramer says "it didn't work out."  Their Barbera vines developed viruses and had to be yanked out.  “That hurt,” says Cramer.  “Barbera is a part of our Rosato.  The block was replanted to Barbera, so that’ll be okay.”   The Sangiovese shows spicy cherry, black cherry and licorice on the nose, with cherries and dark berries on the palate.  It’s quite dry and full in the mouth.  It’s a blend of 97% Sangiovese and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 14.9% alcohol content does not detract from the aromas or the taste.

Merlot 2007 - This Merlot is nice and dry, too, with smoke on the nose and mouth puckering tannins.  It tastes fruity and dry with a graphite edge.  Cramer says, "We weren't sure about the Merlot, but we blended it with cab and it blossomed in the bottle.”  86% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc.  It’s got the lowest alcohol level of all their wines, at 13.8%.

Syrah 2006 - There is a big, blackberry and blueberry nose with hints of chocolate!  The taste is fruity and dry, at 14.5% abv.  There’s a splash (2%) of Petite Sirah in this blend, with big tannins once again.  “We like to start with 100% Syrah and go from there until it’s right,” says Cramer.  “I've got three different lots of Syrah at Bootjack Ranch, so even at 100%, it’s still a blend to me."

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - There is some Merlot in this big Cab.  Spices and fruit on the nose with a lovely floral streak lead to blackberry, cassis and some graphite on the palate.
It’s a 14.3% alcohol level.

Fog Catcher 2005 - This big red blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot.  The nose shows plenty of dark fruit, with red fruit, minerals, pencil point and smoke on the palate.  It’s dry and dark.  Future vintages of this blend should include as many as six Bordeaux varieties, according to Cramer.  The wine sits at 14.1% abv.