Showing posts with label Rhone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rhone. Show all posts

Monday, December 6, 2021

Beautiful Rhônish Wine From Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles was founded by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands.  They are dedicated to grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.

The 2020 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Blanc is made up of 40% Grenache Blanc, 21% Viognier, 19% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne and 5% Clairette Blanche - sourced from various Paso Robles vineyards which lean in the Rhône direction.  For this wine, those vineyards are Derby, Tablas Creek, Fralich, Creston Ridge and M du R.

They say the wine "marries the richness and vibrancy of Grenache Blanc with the aromatics of Viognier and the structure and minerality of Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette Blanche."

Alcohol tips in at 13% abv and the wine cost around $25 when I bought it recently at a local specialty store.

The golden tint has a green element to it.  The wine's nose is a veritable fruit basket of tropical aromas - pineapple, mango, lemons - and a quarry full of minerals.  The mouthfeel is rich and creamy, yet with a zing of acidity that tingles.  The palate brings Meyer lemon, some tangerine and a touch of apricot to the party.  Delicious. 

The red version - the 2019 Patelin de Tablas - is a blend of four red Rhône varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise. They say it is "based on the dark fruit, mineral and spice of Syrah, with the brightness and fresh acidity of Grenache, the structure and meatiness of Mourvèdre and small additions of Counoise for complexity."

The rouge is medium dark, but light enough that I can see through it.  The nose displays brambly blackberry and black cherry.  On the palate, blackberry and blueberry notes are right up front.  It is very fresh and fruity, and I hardly notice any oak effect at all, although it was fermented in oak and steel and aged for a year in upright oak tanks.  The wine drinks quite smoothly, with tannins that are fairly firm.  The medium finish is all about the fruit.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Concrete-Aged Côtes du Rhône

There's a lovely French restaurant across from L.A.'s Pacific Design Center which serves as a great place to grab a bite and a glass of something French either before or after.  Zinqué has an open feel with lots of natural light in the daytime and a garden atmosphere all around.

They have the 2015 Domaine du Trapadis Côtes du Rhône on the menu for $13 by the glass.  I see it selling elsewhere for $38 per bottle.

The wine is made by Helen Durand, and he uses his young-vine (average age 35 years) organically farmed Grenache grapes from Rasteau and Cairanne.  He sees wine as a "photograph of an environment," a snapshot of the land, climate and cellar, taken by the hand of one person.  The wine is fermented in cement tanks with extended maceration, then aged in those tanks for 18 months.

The 2015 Trapadis Côtes du Rhône shows up dark, in the glass and on the nose.  There's an earthy, Rhône-ish barnyard funk aroma that's extremely fascinating.  The palate displays complex, dark fruit, with big notes of tar, plum and spice.  The fruit gets plenty of play in this wine due to the concrete aging, rather than oak.  The complexity does not suffer and the overall impression is extremely fresh.  The medium firm tannins do what they are supposed to, nothing more, and the wine finishes nicely.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Locations: F Is For France

Great wine is all about location.  The location of the vineyard makes all the difference in the end product.  Locations is an experiment of place for winemaker Dave Phinney, of Orin Swift fame, in which he makes wines from all over the world.  These wines are labeled only with a big letter or two in a white oval, depicting the place of origin - F for France, P for Portugal, I for Italy, and WA is for Washington, much like those European bumper stickers.

Phinney sold the Locations brand this summer to Modesto's E and J Gallo, two years after selling off the Orin Swift brand.  A price wasn’t announced, but Phinney will reportedly stay on as the winemaker "indefinitely."

For the fifth release of "F" Phinney has again tapped some of the best regions in France for grapes, drawing upon his network of growers from Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux.  Phinney says the grapes were grown in "exceptional old vine blocks located in revered sub-appellations."  F5 is a blend of Grenache from the Roussillon, Syrah from the Rhone Valley and assorted Bordeaux varieties.  The wine was fermented in oak vats, barrel-aged for ten months and has an alcohol content of 14.5% abv.  It retails for about $20.

The wine is all Rhône on the nose, with a huge tar element along with anise and the smell of a nice box of cigars.  The medium-dark wine has a palate of the northern Rhône valley, too, and a splash from the Roussillon - just hint of Bordeaux, to my taste.  Dark fruit abounds and the oak usage is a treat, not a detriment.  Tannins are firm enough for a hanger steak and the finish lasts a long time with plums and blackberries lingering.  Phinney says drink it now, or let it evolve for four years or so.

Friday, December 30, 2016

French Vermentino - Rolle In The Rhône

This interesting white blend is from France’s Rhône Valley. Its composition is nearly equal parts Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, and very small amounts of Marsanne and Clairette. Vermentino - called Rolle in the Rhône neck of the vineyards - is a grape better known as a denizen of Italy, but it works largely the same when it’s grown in the Costiere de Nimes AOC. The 2014 Chateau Mourgues du Gres Les Galets Dorés costs $8 by the glass and an astounding $29 by the bottle at L.A.'s Belle Vie. In a restaurant, that counts as a huge deal.

The wine takes its name from the stones - galet roulés - that were plentifully dropped of by glaciers eons ago. François and Anne Collard run the business and make the wine in a place that belonged to the Convent of the Ursulines before the French Revolution. François tells us that Mourgues means nuns, while grès means pebbles.

It looks pale gold in the glass. The nose is bright, with citrus, salinity and the smell of wet rocks. On the palate, big minerals. Stones. Zest. It brings everything you like in these two grapes.

At Belle Vie, I paired my glass of this beautiful wine with grilled octopus, one big tentacle curling around the plate. It was perfect.

It was so perfect that I decided to try one of the reds from the wine list afterward. The 2013 Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon from Côtes De Bourg AOC, Chateau Falfas, listed at $47 per bottle.

The grapes are vinified in stainless steel after bio-dynamic farming. Smoke comes through loud and clear, with various shades of dark fruit and big minerals. There's no oak in the way, so you get all the pure fruit that went into the bottle.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Trick Or Treat In L.A.

The horror of Halloween disappeared 12 stories up at a friend's apartment in a tower at Park La Brea. Safely ensconced far away from the echoing cries of the neighborhood ghosts, goblins, pirates and princesses, we drank some good wine. We looked out through the descending darkness at the Hollywood hills, sniffing and swirling as we enjoyed no trick, just treat.

As is her wont, Elaine directed me to the chiller to "pull out anything you see that you like." Elaine really decorates for Halloween. I had to make my way past the mad butler, the angry granny, the spiders and the shrunken heads to get there, but I arrived at the small box and just reached in a pulled out a winner.

Linne Calodo was started in 1998 by Matt Trevisan in Paso Robles' Willow Creek District. Sustainably farmed vineyards produce the grapes he uses to make his blends.  Trevisan, I’m told, is quite selective about who gets his wine. I heard an anecdote that he sometimes refuses to supply a restaurant with his wines if they have snubbed him in the past. It sounds like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld… "No wine for YOU!" But whether it’s true or not, I admire his allegiance to his wines.

Linne Calodo Sticks and Stones 2014 is a Paso blend of Rhône grape varieties: 71% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 9% Cinsault and 8% Mourvèdre. Alcohol sits at a lofty 15.8%  

This wine has a really pretty nose that sports a floral cherry sensibility. On the palate, expansive dark fruit are joined by savory touches of leather and cigar. Great tannic structure shows well in this big and brawny wine.

We also opened a bottle from the Santa Ynez Valley of beautiful Santa Barbara County. The Consilience Grenache 2012 is a Sanger family wine. The alcohol number is a typical 14.5% abv.

There is a beautiful cherry nose here with lavender notes. A very floral palate also displays cherry with a leathery thing going on as well as coffee flourishes.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Red Wine For Indian Food

Which wine to pair with Indian food is always a hot topic. There's a lot of debate on the subject, with many people, myself included, usually opting for beer. And why not? Beer is just about perfect with spicy cuisine, especially India's pale lagers like Kingfisher or Taj Mahal.

Most Indian restaurants seem to recognize the challenge of pairing wine with their food and give up. Some present a thoughtful wine list full of great choices to complement the meal. In Los Angeles, Cardamom does it that way. Sommelier Stewart Prato's choices are decidedly Francophile, and they all seem to hit the intended target in the bullseye.

On my last trip there I had a Côtes du Rhône with my lamb and spinach dish. I usually go with a white  wine at an Indian restaurant because I feel they work better with spicy food. Since this dish didn't advertise a lot of heat, I tried the red. I'm glad I did.

The 2011 Domaine de la Janasse Reserve is a Grenache-heavy blend that also includes Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Winemaker Christophe Sabon apparently put this cuvée together especially for an importer and is available only in the U.S. It is said to better than the one he sells in France, and it costs under $20 retail.

The Janasse Reserve shows a medium-deep ruby color, and delivers aromas of bright cherry, with a touch of tar and meat. Flavors of blackberry liqueur meet earth and minerals. Tannins are low and the oak is barely noticeable, musts for an Indian food pairing.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Wine: Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare

Summer is generally considered rosé time, although I have noted - many times before - that it will serve us well any time of year. I always say the best day of the year for a nice, dry, pink wine is the day after Thanksgiving. It's a perfect pairing with those leftover turkey sandwiches after hitting the Black Friday sales or watching a few of the dozen or so college football games with a salami and a cheese ball.

The Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare is a perennial favorite, always delightful and elegant, always a Randall Grahm-sized slice of Rhônicity that's pretty in pink.

The '14 Vin Gris de Cigare is made from eight different Rhône grape varieties of the Central Coast - 35% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, 16% Grenache Blanc, 12.5% Roussanne, 8% Carignane, 8% Cinsaut, 1.5% Marsanne - whew - and 1% Counoise. This rosé has a 13% abv number and sells for $18. The iconic label art by Chuck House recalls the red and white relatives of this pink Cigare.

This wine is a very pale pink, like the inside of a sea shell. There is a fair amount of salinity to go along with that shoreline appearance, too. A nose of strawberries and cherries has just a slight green quality to it, while the acidity-fresh palate shows red fruit in a salty, earthy setting. A perfect match for anything from the sea - it's elegant, it's complex, it's refreshing and I'm doon with it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Pair Of Cigares

It is sometimes remarkable to taste the same wine from different vintages back to back. In the case of Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Le Cigare Volant red Rhône blend, the differences are striking. Not only does the growing season show itself, but the actual blend varies from year to year, making for a wine that is not only a delight, but also a surprise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2010 Unfiltered

This flagship wine from the land of Bonny Doon is a Rhônish blend: 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre and 16% Carignane. The grapes were picked from a wide assortment of great Central Coast sites: Bien Nacido Vineyard (27%), Evangelho Vineyard (23%), Alta Loma Vineyard (17%), Bechtold Vineyard (16%), Gonsalves Vineyard (9%), Ca’ del Solo Vineyard (5%), Alamo Creek Vineyard (2%) and Enea Vineyard (1%).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying Le Cigare Volant right now - it’s hard to resist - but it is billed as a wine that will age gracefully for ten to fifteen years from release, which was in February, 2014. Alcohol is a very reasonable 13.3% abv, 1,344 cases were produced and it sells for $45 per bottle.

 A beautiful purple tint looks great in the glass. It is wonderfully fragrant with cherry tart and a touch of spice, a little light clove. A hint of earth peeks through, but in an elegant way - not rustic. On the palate, black pepper meets blackberry. The mouthfeel is quite full and juicy, and earth notes last well into the lengthy finish. There is a sense of dirt, but it's elegant dirt. Cigare’s acidity is refreshing and its tannins are brawny enough for beef,but its flavors are pretty enough for pork.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2011 Normale

The 2011 Cigare is a different mix of grapes: 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault. The Carignane did not make it into this bottle. The vineyard selections are a bit different, too. Again, eight vineyards contribute fruit, with the addition of Ventana, Del Barba and Rancho Solo vineyards joining Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves.

"This is a wine from an extremely cool and elegant vintage,” winemaker Randall Grahm notes, and he figures this 2011 Cigare will age gracefully for ten to 15 years from right now. Alcohol is almost a full point higher, 14.2% abv, and the bottle retails for $45.

The nose is full of red berries, with a dark flair. Raspberry, cherry, and red currant are met with Grahm’s signature savoriness of roasted meat, beef jerky and black olive tapenade. The sip reveals that the ‘11 Cigare is a festival of darkness. The savory aspects come forward in a rush. The forest floor, the olive, the spice - all are cloaked in a dark fruit setting. Black plums, currant and berries work hard to mesh with the wine's earthy character. The acidity is remarkable and the tannic structure is firm.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Wine Event: Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2014

Early September held a great treat for Los Angeles lovers of the Rhône style of wine.  The Rhône Rangers convened for their annual SoCal event at Vibiana in downtown L.A.  The repurposed church is a great place to hold an event for those who worship the grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.  A more irreverent reverence you will not likely find, church or no church.

For the unordained, the Rhône Rangers are an organization formed solely to celebrate the grapes of Rhône, especially as realized in California terroir.  Bring on Syrah, bring on Grenache, bring on Viognier, yeah verily, bring on Roussanne - and plenty of it.  Our prayers have been answered.

Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner Craig Camp (right) poured a single vineyard Syrah rosé, the 2013 Corallina by Stepping Stone.  It's one of my favorite California pinks.  The Napa Valley vineyard from which these grapes come is west of the Oak Knoll district, almost in Carneros.  The aromas and flavors, while fruity, are more complex than those generally found in pink wines.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up for work. It's deeply-colored and richly textured.  It looks pink, but it drinks red.

Camp had been in Maine the previous week on a sales trip.  He noted that "the sales of whites and rosés just fall flat there after Labor Day,” which is a shame, considering how much lobster there is to be consumed there.  Camp says his Corallina rosé does hit it off with lobster, but it will really go great with the Thanksgiving turkey, so there is no need to retire it until spring.

The Stepping Stone 2012 Syrah comes from a vineyard “right at the top” of Atlas Peak in Napa.  It’s beefy and rich with a brilliant acidity.

The Crux Russian River Valley GSM rosé was the next stop.  Terribly warm day out, so plenty of great rosés were more than welcome.  In this one, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend to make a bright and vibrant wine.  Very nice acidity marks this fruity but dry pink wine.  The Crux Viognier has a five percent splash of Sauvignon Blanc.  Floral and fruity, this was another real refresher.

When I told Zaca Mesa’s Dane Campbell of an upcoming Now And Zin series on holiday wines, he said, "Rhone wines go great with Thanksgiving."  The Zaca Mesa Roussanne fits that bill, with a great nutty flavor and bright acidity.  The Zaca Mesa Viognier throws pear and peach flavors into the acidity and comes up with a lovely, savory finish.

Tercero WinesLarry Schaffer (left) always seems to be going for the title of “Hardest-Working Wine Man in the Santa Ynez Valley.”  At every event - and he’s at them all - Schaffer is always pouring.  One more taste for one more potential customer.  It's why my pictures of him always feature one blurry arm.  He pours his reds from huge flasks, which is always an attention-getter.

The Tercero Mourvèdre rosé is “foot-stomped, with only an hour of skin contact,” he says. Great fruit is on display here, with only a slight funkiness.  It’s the funky part that makes this another of my favorite rosés.  Tercero's Grenache Blanc has a bold savory note and great acidity.  The Tercero Roussanne shows complex aromas and flavors, led by almonds and apricots.

Paso Robles producer Summerwood Winery makes a Grenache Blanc which is fermented half in concrete and half in neutral oak.  It's great nose has bushel baskets of peaches and a fabulous savory component on the palate.  The grapes were grown at an elevation of 1,800 feet, and the cool nights makes for wonderful acidity.  It's a really beautiful wine.

Pomar Junction's Rosé of Syrah has a very deep color, quite like a Spanish Rosado.  It is loaded with fruit and flavor.  The Pomar Junction blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier is a natural choice for the holiday table.  It has great body, yet it's fresh and crisp.  The spicy palate is a treat.

The Kenneth Volk table is the one to which the genuine grape nerds always gravitate. Volk was not present at this event, but his assistant filled in ably, chatting with the tasters about vineyards and clones and proper ph levels.  The Volk Grenache has a very nice, light color.  It looks like it may be trying to slip by as a rosé. Fantastic acidity will make this a hit at the dinner table. An unbelievably savory note gives way to a bright cherry flavor in one of the most dramatic start-to-finish changes I have experienced.  Of the few wines time allowed me to taste, this was my favorite.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confessions Of A Syrah Lover: Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010

I love Syrah.  As much as I like Zinfandel, Grenache or a good, smokey Merlot, I always open a bottle of Syrah just a little faster, in anticipation of what's inside.  I get that people may be confused by the difference between cool-climate and warm-climate Syrah, the same way they are confused by the difference between sweet and dry Riesling.  "That other one I had doesn't taste anything like this one!"

Cool-climate Syrah is what I go for, and the darker and funkier the better.   Since Riesling often utilizes a meter on the label to show the wine's relative sweetness, maybe Syrah producers should stop bitching about how nobody buys the stuff and band together to create a Syrah scale that would make it easier for the average wine shopper to tell what's in the bottle.  A Hawaiian shirt could signify the warm-climate side, and a parka the cool-climate side.  Just talking off the top of my head here - a wine think tank could probably come up with more suitable designations.

When I was offered the chance to sample a couple of Syrah wines by Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, I tried to play it cool by simply replying, "Sure.  Love to,"  but the "Warmest Regards" close at the bottom of my email exposed me as a wine writer who will try a Syrah of any clime, anytime.

The Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 is made from estate-grown grapes from five of the winery's vineyards: Chapel F, Cushman A and B and Mesa A and B.  The wines a Rhône-lover's delight, blending 94% Syrah and 6% Viognier.  The red and white grapes are fermented together in small barrels and aged for 16 months in French oak, 19% of which was new.  The alcohol level quite restrained, only 13.6% abv.  12,400 cases were produced and the bottles retail for $25.

The grapes are sustainably farmed by Zaca Mesa, which pioneered Rhône varieties in Santa Barbara County.  Their "40 years of terroir-driven wine" claim is not just idle talk.  They were the first to plant Syrah in the SBC in 1978.  Over half the vines have been replanted since then with new rootstock and clones. The high elevation of the vineyards - 1500 feet - means cooler nights, which means better natural acidity, which means gimme some now.

The winery's website notes that 2010 was a cool vintage and offered a long growing season, for the Santa Ynez Valley.  The usual heat took the summer off and the grapes ripened in slow and steady fashion.

The 2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah carries a medium-dark ruby hue and a burly nose of blackberries, carried along by dusty sage and black pepper.  The cool vintage shows itself in a note of coffee grounds.  The taste is just as complex, with the dark berries joined by spices and herbs.  The wine really does have an amazing flavor.  When I drink Syrah, this is what I want it to taste like.  The acidity is remarkable - lip-smacking good - and the tannins stay busy but don't get in the way of a smooth sip.  It's balanced.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni and the cellar and vineyard team can be proud of this one.

The folks at Zaca Mesa like it with rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary and garlic.  I won't quibble with that.  I'll also have it with beef ribs, pork chops, roast duck and all by itself if we don't feel like cooking.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Drink Pink: Château De Campuget Rosé

Spring is official now, although it may not feel like it yet where you are.  In Southern California, the shading between seasons is not so dramatic as it is elsewhere, but we still know when it feels like a rosé.  Yes, it feels like a rosé pretty much all the time.  Look for some great rosé wines to be featured under the "Drink Pink" heading on Now And Zin Wine as we work our way towards summer.

We grabbed a friend recently to introduce her to Della Terra, a great Italian restaurant on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles.  My meal was heightened the 2012 Château de Campuget rosé.

Château de Campuget has been around for nearly 400 years in the southern Rhône Valley, specifically the Costières-de-Nimes region.  The Campuget property has plenty of the round stones for which the Rhône is known, the stones worn smooth by their glacial trip southward.  The estate also gets their share of the Mistral winds which strafe the French countryside and make it necessary to train the vines low to the ground..

The 2012 vintage was dry and sunny in the southern Rhône, with drought conditions actually affecting some areas.  Those vines had to send their roots deep through the rocks to seek out water in the clay soil far below.  Such work tempers fruit and bestows upon the grapes a higher level of intensity.

This salmon-colored wine is made up of 70% Syrah grapes and 30% Grenache, and it is a fairly serious rosé.  The fun is not lost here, but the wine definitely shows up ready to get down to business.  It costs $12 by the glass at Della Terra.  Online, I saw it offered for as low as eight bucks per bottle.

The nose of the 2012 Château de Campuget rosé is garden-fresh.  Strawberry, watermelon and cherry aromas are dusted with a light touch of anise and just a trace of funk.  The mouthfeel is notable for the mouthwatering acidity this wine brings to the table.  Bright cherry and strawberry flavors are also quite fresh, and the minerality is outstanding.  A great finish of melon and minerals lingers on the tongue.

Pairing Château de Campuget with seafood worked extremely well.  It was a hit with Della Terra's crab cakes, octopus salad and shrimp risotto.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Cercius Côtes du Rhône 2011

This Côtes du Rhône bottling was one of the Top 12 wines for the holidays from the folks at Whole Foods Market.  The Cercius Côtes du Rhône 2011 is labeled as Vielles Vignes Red Wine.  If my high school French serves me well, that means old vines.  And old they are - over 80 years and going strong.

The vines bear Grenache (85%) and Syrah (15%) and the wine is a collaboration of winemaker Michel Gassier, Phillippe Cambie and Eric Solomon.  It is imported by Eric Solomon Selections, which stamps the words "Place Over Process" on their labeling, so it is perfect to find them poking around in the Rhône Valley.

The name of the wine tips the hat to one of the features that make the Rhône Valley unique.  "Cercius" is the Latin name for the north by northwest mistral winds that sweep through the region.

The wine looks dark purple in the glass and smells rather heavily of alcohol upon opening.  Aromas of blackberries and cassis do come through, though, and in a clean, fresh way.  The freshness continues on the palate, with a big mouthful of black cherry and licorice.  Alcohol, however, is a bit of a problem.  At 14.5%, it is higher than I would expect from the region, and it gets in the way until the wine has had plenty of time to open up.

Bottled under an artificial cork closure, Cercius has an alcohol content of 14.5% abv and is vinified and aged six months in concrete tanks.  I tried this wine on three successive nights, and it was best on the third night.  The first night it was fruity, but hindered by the heat of the alcohol.  The second night it seemed even hotter, but by the third night it had settled down and taken on a tarry note.

Here is where Cercius really shines: with food.  On the third night, feeling a little disappointed in the wine, I pulled the leftover penne Bolognese from the fridge for a midnight snack.  I had the pasta the night before with a Valpolicella, and it was great.  Now, the dish cold and stiff, the Rhône wine was an even better match for it.  At last, I really enjoyed this wine.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Paul Mas Wines of Languedoc

The Paul Mas estate was founded in 1892, and over the years they have expanded their holdings in the Hérault Valley, in the Languedoc region in the south of France.  They now have 2400 acres under vines.  Jean-Claude Mas is in charge these days.  He is a fourth generation winemaker who helped his father and grandfather at the age of three.  All three of the wines tasted here are from the Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection, and all three exhibit the characteristics of their unique terroirs.

Paul Mas Chardonnay Saint Hilaire Vineyard 2011

This unoaked, 100% Chardonnay retails for $14 and carries a 13.5% abv number.  The grapes hail from Mas's Saint Hilaire Vineyard near Limoux, in the foothills of the Pyrénées mountains.

It's a straw colored wine with a yellow-green tint and a lovely nose of subdued, sweet tropical fruit, pears and peaches.  A streak of minerality runs through them all.  The palate shows a fruit plate with a savory edge.  Honeydew, cantaloupe, orange, green apple and pineapple flavors are laced with slate-like minerals.  The acidity is not extremely bright, but there is a nice citrus zing and the sensation of wet stones that carry through the lengthy finish.

Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux du Languedoc 2011

One of my favorite grapes from the south of France is Picpoul de Pinet.  This beautiful white wine is 100% Picpoul from the vineyard which lies along the Etang de Thau, which is said to be famous for oysters. limestone and red soils.  It also retails for $14 and has a very manageable 13% alcohol content.

A light golden color in the glass, this crisp white shows a nose of apples and citrus, followed by flavors of the same on the palate.  Minerals play a huge role in this wine, with the lemon zest riding high through the finish.  The limestone soil is apparent in this wine, with the mineral sensation of wet rocks in the forefront and a wonderful salinity on the finish.  Pair with shellfish or any kind of seafood - it's made for that.

Paul Mas G.S.M. 2011

This is a classic Rhône Valley blend of 35% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 30% Mourvédre.  It's not, of course, from the Rhône.  The grapes are grown in Les Crés Vineyard, in the pebbly soil of the upper Hérault Valley, protected by the Cévennes mountains.  Twenty percent of the wine was aged in oak barrels for six months.  It retails for only $16 and has an alcohol content of 14%.

The wine plays its fruit against its funk, although I use the term "funk" mainly in an alliterative sense.  The nose is half devoted to dark berries and half to a delicious savory aspect.  The palate has blackberries and black olives dominating the flavor profile, with the savory tastes edging in front of the fruit.  The three elements contribute equally here - fruity Grenache, spicy Syrah and dark Mourvèdre.  It's a wine that will pair wonderfully with red meat or sharp cheeses.

As good as the Paul Mas Chardonnay is, it is overshadowed by the edgy Picpoul de Pinet and the savory G.S.M.  All three wines deliver a ton of quality at an easy-to-swallow price, and the whites are especially perfect for the season as the weather turns warmer.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A French Wine Puts Oz To Shame

For a little badly needed R&R after a very tough month, Denise and I went for a tried and true escape.  We went to the movies.  Happily, the movie was playing at a theater with a wine bar attached.  As Kris Kristofferson once asked, “You been readin’ my mail?”

We were thinking of the recently passed Roger Ebert.  We both respected him greatly for his social positions, although I must admit I always agreed more with Gene Siskel when it came to movies.  While waiting for “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” the waiter/bartender in the Metallica t-shirt asked me what would make my day.  I thought an Albariño would brighten the Saturday afternoon nicely, but Metallica told me they had expended their allotment of that grape.

“Here’s another dry one,” he offered, pointing to the E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc on the daily specials list.  “I don’t know how to pronounce it, but people say it’s good.”  Well, who am I to argue with people?  Eleven dollars by the glass?  Bring it on, good sir.  Congratulations on knowing your limitations, and may all your dreams be metallic.

Domaine Guigal was founded by Etienne, furthered by son Marcel and now his son, Phillippe, represents the third generation toiling in the Côte Rôtie appellation of the Rhône Valley.  The white Côtes du Rhône is a masterful blend of 55% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, 10% Clairette, 10% Marsanne and 5% Bourboulenc, all vinified in stainless steel tanks.

The 2011 vintage of this wine clearly displays the limestone and granite soil of the estate.  Wet rocks and minerals define the nose, almost to the exclusion of fruit - not that it's a bad thing.  My wife says she can smell the French sunshine in it.  I get lemon and a slight floral note on the nose and lime zest on the palate.  The acidity is quite refreshing.  I wish I had been able to have this at lunch with my calamari and scungilli salad.  Forget Oz, Guigal was the great and powerful one on this day.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009

Wine produced in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of the Rhone Valley always tastes like something special.  Domaine des Sénéchaux dates all the way back to the 1300s.  It’s the oldest in the appellation, which is saying a lot.

The Domaine’s red wine is made from 90% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre, with some other varieties possibly blended in with the Mourvédre.  It is aged for 12 to 15 months in used French oak.

The wine gives a deep purple appearance in the glass, with brick around the edges.  The nose is amazing - cassis, lilac, cedar box, wood spice and a meaty note combine for a very complex bouquet.  The palate shows great grip and acidity, with flavors of dark fruit, tobacco and peppery spices.  The power of this wine is fully apparent upon the first sip.

Sénéchaux, by the way, refers to Middle Ages judicial administrators in southern France.  In the northern part of the country, they would have been bailiwicks.

This wine was provided for review by Wine Chateau, an online retailer based in New Jersey.  They have been offering the $66 wine at $35 recently - quite a deal.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bastille Day In Beverly Hills

If you’re going to celebrate Bastille Day with wine, I suppose it had better be French.  It was quite by chance that I happened to be sitting with a Roussanne before me on the French holiday.  I was in Beverly Hills, and it was a Paso Robles Roussanne, but it still had its roots in the Rhone Valley.  I mentally waved a little tricolour while I sipped.

The Roussanne in question is from Vampire Vineyards.  Their Roussanne provided a nice break from a rather hot afternoon in Beverly Hills.  The Vampire Vineyards tasting room is on Little Santa Monica Boulevard, right across from the Peninsula Hotel.

The nose has notes of tangerine, almond and oak spice.  The oak makes quite a prominent play in this wine.  On the palate, tangerines, peel and all, dominate the flavors.  Some blues on the sound system provided an American twist to the moment.

Later, also quite by chance, I found myself in the bar at the Peninsula.  I figured as long as I was killing time, I might as well have a more internationally suitable wine for the day.

I settled back into the plush couch with a Pascal Jolivet 2010 Sancerre, from the Loire Valley.  Soils of clay, limestone and flint result in a mineral-driven nose of rocks, apples and pears.  The palate is vibrant and fresh. Fruit in the form of golden apples and lemon rind are plain enough, but the minerality is in the driver's seat. The wine is vinified in stainless steel, but picks up complexity during the four to six weeks it sits on its lees.  Sinatra and cool jazz waft from the ceiling while I enjoy my own private Bastille Day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Wine: Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2010

When I ran into Bonny Doon Vineyard’s founder and President For Life, Randall Grahm, at the Los Angeles Rhone Rangers tasting event, he seemed baffled at the popularity of his Le Cigare Blanc.  Grahm told me he never thought he’d see a “wellspring of interest in white Rhone grape varieties,” hypothesizing that it may have been connected with the Mayan calendar and the end of the world.  If that’s the case, drink up.  There’s not much time left to enjoy it.

The grapes for this wine - 55% Roussanne and 45% Grenache Blanc - come from Beeswax Vineyard, a biodynamically-farmed plot in the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County.  The Bonny Doon website describes, “Surrounded on three sides by wilderness and shielded from the cool Pacific Coast winds by the Santa Lucia Mountains, Beeswax Vineyard grows complex, concentrated and mineral intensive grapes, produced from deeply rooted vines."

It’s called, on the label, “white wine of the earth,” and the minerality found in it bears that out.  At a breezy 12.7% abv, this wine refreshes, and won’t leave you feeling woozy on the porch.

For the uninitiated, the name is taken from Bonny Doon’s flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  It’s a reference to a cigar-shaped flying saucer reportedly seen at one time over the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The local government feared these aliens would damage the sacred crop, so a decree was issued banning the spaceships.  It must have worked, as I don’t think the Rhone Valley has been bothered by UFOs since then.  As a remembrance, Le Cigare Blanc comes bottled under a screw cap bearing the likeness of an alien.

The wine shows a nice color - a light golden hue - in the glass.  I smell apricots, tropical fruit, citrus and cantaloupe, with a soft vanilla note from the French oak wafting in and out.  On the palate, pears and apricots are joined by a melon rind minerality.  There’s the suggestion of an almond -butter-and-quince sandwich in there, too, with a savory note on the finish, which lingers long and well.

The acidity is fantastic, and makes me want a pork chop, or a nice soft cheese.  In my brief chat with Grahm, he explained the popularity of Le Cigare Blanc by saying, “white Rhone grapes, especially Roussanne, are fabulous food wines.”  We already knew that, and - presumably - so do the aliens.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2012

"From out of the west with the speed of light and a hearty ‘hi-yo Cinsault’..."

There was no clatter of hooves beating upon the dusty pavement of downtown Los Angeles, no fiery steed, no faithful Indian companion.  There were SUVs revving at the traffic light, parking lot attendants and a pretty good Indian restaurant around the corner.

The Rhone Rangers did, however, ride into Los Angeles to pour their wines on June 2, 2012 at Vibiana, a former cathedral in downtown Los Angeles which has been converted into an event venue.  It’s a sunny and open space with beautiful architectural lines.

In case you are uninitiated, there is an organization of winemakers who are wild about the grapes of the Rhone Valley.  These Rhone Rangers - mostly of the U.S. West Coast - meet every so often to pay tribute to those French grapes.  It’s a tasting event like no other, where the expression of the Rhone grape varieties in other terroir is explored.

Leading Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyards, referred to the event space, Vibiana, as a “decommissioned church” in a tweet before the event began.  It still shows up on Google Maps as “Cathedral of St. Vibiana.”  Like many of us, Mr. Grahm worships at the altar of the vine.

Grahm’s Bonny Doon VIneyards was present, with Grahm himself behind the table.  I had never run into him at a Southern California tasting event before, so it was a real treat to get a face-to-face meet with the witty, erudite, social-media-addicted, original Rhone Ranger of the California wine world.  Since he is noted for his minute-by-minute presence on Twitter, I wasn’t too surprised to catch him in what looks like mid-tweet.  I apologize that I didn't think to get another, more suitable, image in the crush of people around the Bonny Doon table.  I did get the chance to speak with him, briefly, while tasting.  His comments will be featured in an upcoming podcast on the Now And Zin Wine Report.

The Bonny Doon wines are represented by the iconic Le Cigare Volant, described by Grahm as “A blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre with just a soupçon of cinsault.”   I sampled a different kind of red, the Clos de Gilroy, a Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault blend taken from various Monterey County vineyards.  It’s a fresh and vibrant red that’s perfect for summer use.  Speaking of warm weather, the 2010 Le Cigare Blanc, Beeswax Vineyard, is an exciting white blend in which Grahm tips his beret to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Roussanne and Grenache Blanc mix it up with gorgeous expressions of fruit, minerals and acidity.  Bonny Doon‘s 2011 Vin Gris de Cigare rosé shows light cherry and strawberry flavors and aromas in a nice, dry framework.

Winemaker’s daughter Maggie Tillman poured the fruit of her father’s labor.  Bob Tillman is the grower and winemaker for the Paso Robles family outfit of Alta Colina.  Big, attention-getting wines are the rule here, like their 2010 Estate Marsanne.  It spends 18 months in oak and is not a bit shy about it.  This one would be a great choice for the holidays, with its bounty of flavor.  Their refreshing 2011 Grenache Blanc is the first varietal release they’ve done with that grape.  Big bold reds - Grenache, Mourvedre, GSM - round out the menu.

Acquiesce Vineyards, near Lodi, brought some of the more beautiful bottlings I found at the event.  Their wines are packaged in imported French bottles.  Owner and winemaker Susan Tipton says Acquiesce is Lodi’s only all-white wine winery.  There are some interesting facets to their wines.  The herbaceousness and salinity of the Grenache Blanc, the nuttiness of the Roussanne and the memory of snap peas in the Belle Blanc blend of those two grapes are delightful.  The rosé is made from Grenache, and produced like a white wine, not from a juice bleed-off.

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has a rosé that was a big hit on this warm afternoon.  Their 2011 Stepping Stone Corallina comes from their millennially-priced line. Green elements indicate the whole cluster press that was used and this pinkie is also not of the saignée method.  In fact the fruit comes from their dedicated Syrah vineyard intended only for use in the rosé

Ridge Vineyards has been doing great things with grapes since before Apple put the “i” in Cupertino.  They are probably best known for their extensive line of Zinfandels, but for this show they stayed true to the Rhone varieties.  Tart Carignan, brooding Petite Sirah and spicy Syrah all bear the mark of Rhone specialist John Olney, who took charge of the Lytton Springs winery in 1999.

Rhone specialists Curtis Winery of Santa Barbara County brought cool-climate Syrah and Grenache which display a tartness I like a lot. Their Heritage Blanc, a 60/40 mix of Viognier and Roussanne, has a lovely floral aspect and a nice acidity.

Every winery seemed to have a great, floral, aromatic Viognier on hand.  Clayhouse Wines, Adelaida Cellars and Ecluse Wines - all of Paso Robles - are standouts.  Ecluse does theirs in ⅓ steel, ⅔ oak for a full and creamy treat.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011


The Rhone Rangers

The posse of Rhone Rangers rode into Santa Monica, California on August 7.  They were on a mission.  With the 22 grape varieties of the Rhone Valley holstered and ready for action, the participating wineries poured and poured.  They poured Syrah, Viognier and Grenache.  They poured Carignane, Cinsault and - when we thought we’d had it all - they poured Mourvèdre.

The Rhone Rangers came to win converts, but from what I heard they were preaching to the choir.  Pier 59 Studios West was packed with Rhone-o-philes who reveled in the grapes of their favorite valley.  The crowds didn’t seem as heavy as they were at last year’s event, but enough of the faithful were lined up for entry during the VIP/trade/media portion that a line formed outside.

I used a bit of technology that was new to me, the iPhone app from Second Glass.  The Rhone Rangers event was available from a handful of events in the app, and the wineries attending were loaded within the app, along with the wines they were pouring.  It was easy to make notes on each wine using this app, but a few changes and additions would make it just about perfect.

The app requires the user to rate the wine before the "notes" tab can be opened.  I like to make notes before deciding on what rating to give a wine.  If notes could be made before assessing a rating, it would make more sense and speed the process at the tasting table.  I felt a little uncomfortable taking the extra time required.

Some wineries poured wines which were not on the list, which required me to leave the app and go to a separate note-taking app. The ability to add wines which are not on the list would be a great feature.

Also, a picture-taking feature within the app would further streamline things for those who like a photo or two of the goings-on.

The app allowed me to rate the wines as "two thumbs up," "one thumb up" and "meh."  These are the wines to which I gave a "two thumbs up" rating:

Anglim Winery Cameo White Rhone Blend 2008 - Viognier from Bien Nacido Vineyard is quite lean.  Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are from Paso Robles.

Bonny Doon Vineyards Clos de Gilroy 2010 - Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah form a tart bond of raspberry and cherry.

Calcareous Vineyard Viognier 2009 - Big fruit, lots of minerals and a great acidity.

Caliza Winery Syrah 2008 - Spicy red fruit.  Great acid and huge tannins.

Calcareous Tres Violet 2007 - Beautiful raspberry tartness.

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Red 2008 - Rhone grapes meet Lagrein from French Camp Vineyard.  Great acidity and tannins.  Seems to have an Italian feel despite being a primarily Rhone blend.

Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Syrah 2009 - Fabulous acid, with a huge nose and palate.

Curtis Mourvedre 2007 - Very dark nose and palate.  Earthy, chalky, big red fruit from Vogelzang Vineyard.  20% Syrah.

Edward Sellars Vineyards and Winery Mourvèdre 2008 - Huge earthiness, dark fruit and formidable tannins.  Steak mandatory.

Epiphany Cellars Grenache Blanc 2009 - Wonderful minerals and a bracing acidity.

Fess Parker Winery Viognier 2009 - Fruity and floral with a spicy edge.

Fess Parker Winery Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah 2007 - Gigantic nose foreshadows a very dark palate.  Eucalyptus note and a spicy element.

Frick Winery
 C² - North Coast Carignane and Cinsault, tart and delightful.

Frick Winery C³ - Add Counoise to C².  A bit more tannic, just as delightful.

Halter Ranch Vineyard Rosé 2010 - Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre make an earthy nose leading to fresh berry flavors.  Delightfully dry.

Halter Ranch Vineyard Côtes de Paso Red Blend 2010 - Savory notes highlight this Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault blend.

Michael-David Winery 6th Sense Syrah 2009 - Great acidity with spices, coffee, and chocolate flavors.

Michael-David Winery Earthquake Syrah 2006 - Great fruit, acid, with a cocoa edge.

Michael-David Winery Earthquake Petite Sirah 2009 - Chalky feel with chocolate and Christmas spice.  American oak.

I was told Lodi produces more wine than Napa and Sonoma combined. Did not know that.

Niner Wine Estates Syrah Bootjack Ranch 2007 - Smooth, yet the tannins are firm.  Dusty fruit.

Niner Wine Estates Grenache Blanc 2010 - First Heart Hill Vineyard vintage.  Fruitier than Grenache Blanc usually is.  From the cool side of Heart Hill.  Great acid.

Ortman Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2007. Only 4 barrels produced. Dark and deep on the nose and palate. Cassis, raspberry, touch of mint. Big tannins, long finish.

Ortman Grenache Rosé 2010 - Just bottled. Dry, laced with watermelon and red berries.

Tercero Grenache Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard 2010 - Acisity is right on.

Tercero Mourvèdre Camp 4 Vineyard 2008 - Dark and vibrant red fruit with earth piled on.

Tercero Cuvée Christie Red Blend 2008 - Very smooth, strawberry and cherry.

Tercero Cuvée Loco Red Blend 2008 - Larry Shaffer’s kids named this Larner Vineyard product, which is crazy with the dark earthiness.

Tercero's Larry Schaffer told me he is opening a tasting room in Los Olivos, right across from Stolpman.  It shares a walll with the Dragontette room.

Treana Winery Troublemaker Red Blend NV - Great dark nose, excellent acidity.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Ortman O2 Series Cuvee Eddy

Ortman Family Vineyards provided me with their three new wines in the O2 Series for review.  I've already written about the Sangiovese and the Chardonnay.  Today I focus on the Ortman Cuvée Eddy Rhone-style blend.

Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah from three San Luis Obispo County vineyards - Brave Oak, Dino Boneso and Wittstrom - combine in a wine the Ortman's describe musically as "a lot of smooth jazz with a little bit of rock and roll."  Winemaker Matt Ortman, a second generation winemaker - hence the "O2" designation - says the 42% Syrah gives black fruit flavors while the 30% Grenache and 19% Mourvèdre offer a healthy dose of earthiness and the 9% of Petite Sirah chips in some spiciness.  1,500 cases of '07 Cuvée Eddy were produced and it retails for $20.  The alcohol content is 14.2%

Cuvée Eddy pours up medium dark purple in the glass and the nose offers some great dark fruit aromas, and the promised earthiness hits hard.  Blackberry and black plum tread water in a mineral-laden nose which is then echoed on the palate.  The minerality leads the fruit around on a leash.  This is some dark juice here.  It benefited quite a bit from decanting - in fact, it became as smooth as silk.  Do yourself a favor - don’t drink it right after unscrewing the cap.  Give it some breathing time and you will be rewarded.  Richly.

I sampled the wine over a three-night span, and it got better - and darker in texture - each night.  It's a suggested mate with barbecue and pizza, and I can't imagine you could go wrong with that.  The intense mineral profile and lip-smacking acidity make for a very food-friendly beverage