Showing posts with label Riesling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Riesling. Show all posts

Monday, October 2, 2023

German Riesling On A Budget

When I brought the Schmitt Söhne Riesling out of the grocery bag, the blue bottle caused my wife to say, 'What do you have there, Blue Nun?' No, but close. The wine is cited on the front label as being 'crisp and fruity,' and that is a fairly accurate description. 

The Schmitt Söhne winery has a line of five Rieslings, ranging from dry to quite sweet. This one falls in the middle. The Riesling grapes come from regions that will be familiar to fans of the grape - Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheinhessen, mainly. This wine's alcohol level hits only 9.5% abv and the price sticker is less than $10.

This wine has a pale yellow tint once it's out of the blue bottle. The scent of stone fruit and honey dominates the nose, with traces of citrus minerality coming through. The palate has plenty of the fruit and enough acidity to make things interesting. The off-dry style is not a favorite of mine, but this wine would serve very well in a pairing with seafood or salad or as a sipper before dinner. 

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Riesling - Whatever The Reason

Healdsburg winery Ten Acre made a limited production of their 2016 Ten Acre Riesling. The grapes were grown in the Sonoma Coast AVA - a good region for Riesling - where the afternoon breeze gives the fruit the cool climate it craves. The wine's alcohol content clocks in at a low, low 10% abv and the retail sticker reads $30 for the small bottle.

This pale yellow wine offers a nose which is highlighted by lanolin, Meyer lemon, apricot, salinity and a beautiful floral note. The palate is off-dry - 3% residual sugar - and tastes of citrus and apricot, quite muted. The is a healthy dollop of minerals in play and a finish that brings back that soapy salinity. It is not a dessert wine, despite the 375ml bottle, but more of an aperitif. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Washington State Riesling

Wine importers Mack & Schühle have made a name for themselves, searching out wines from across the world and bringing them to U.S. wine lovers.  One of their latest discoveries did not require much travel.  United Ink has three wines from Washington's Columbia Valley and an Oregon Pinot Noir.  Today, the Columbia Valley Riesling.

United Ink Riesling 2020

The 2020 United Ink Riesling is all Columbia Valley Riesling grapes, made dry by winemaker David Forsyth.  The winery says, "the majority of the 2020 Dry Riesling comes from skirted vineyards across a hill line surrounding the Yakima Valley."  The region is known for its semi-arid conditions.  Alcohol tips only 12% abv and the wine retails at a super-low $12.

This Riesling is yellow-green in the glass and offers a very attractive nose dominated by citrus and minerals.  The palate keeps it going, with the flavor of Meyer lemon dancing along with minerals and a bit of peach.  Acidity is good and fresh, but it won't take taste buds off of your tongue.  The winery recommends this one as a pairing with salmon, but anything from the sea will do.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Two Incredible German Riesling Wines

Two wonderful Riesling wines have come my way as part of an online virtual tasting event, each of which demonstrate what there is to love about the different styles of Riesling wine.

Many consumers have a difficult time buying Riesling wines, in part because of the labeling of German wines.  American Riesling producers often put a "sweetness meter" on the label, to help show the wine buyer what's in the bottle.  That is a seldom-seen help on German bottlings.

Schloss Johannisberg bills themselves on the label and the website as "the first Riesling wine estate of the world," born from "1200 years of wine culture."  During the 18th century, the grapes were brought back from harvest to the winery late, infected with noble rot.  Surprise … they liked it that way.  They liked it so much, they put up a statue of the tardy grape carrier.  This wine has an extremely low alcohol content of 8% abv.  It retails for $60.

The 2016 Schloss Johannisberg Rheingau Grünlack Spätlese Riesling wine is made from late-harvested grapes, so it is sweet (spätlese.)  However, it is sweet in a different way than a dessert wine is sweet.  There is no layered sugar, no raisiny note.  I get the sweetness of the grapes, but also the minerals which accompany them.  Stone fruit is apparent, as is the smell of a wet driveway, a whiff of ozone and the faint petrol notes that begin to show in Rieslings over time.  This may be one of the best sweet examples of the grape that I have had. 

The 2018 Schloss Johannisberg Silberlack Trocken is Rheingau Riesling done in the dry style (trocken.)  The wine has a higher, but still quite reasonable alcohol content of 12.5% abv.  It retails for $90.

This wine is dry.  Its nose gives minerals, apricot, a bit of lemon and some slate.  On the palate, acidity is fresh and the minerality is up front.  It is a great Riesling to pair with oysters or crab cakes.  

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Delicious WA Riesling To Pair With Spicy, Salty Foods

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He buys already produced wine from established makers on the down low, with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club, which he calls a wineocracy, bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman-distributor-retailer chain through which store-bought wines must pass.

Cameron Hughes Lot 622 Columbia Valley Riesling 2016

Hughes says this Riesling was sourced "from the top program of a high-end Columbia Valley winery and crafted by a winemaking staff with a wildly impressive international resumé."  No names are given, as is customary with Cameron Hughes wines.

2016 was reportedly a great vintage with early budbreak and cool summer temperatures.  Alcohol hits only 11.8% abv and the wine sells for $12.

This golden Riesling has a nose that is laced with stone fruit, citrus and a whiff of petrol.  The palate is semi-sweet, with a nice bit of acidity and luscious fruit galore.  I’d pair it with a spicy dish, maybe Thai food or a bánh mí sandwich.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Sweet Wine, But Not Too Sweet

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state's main body into Lake Michigan.  Situated on the 45th parallel, about the same latitude where you find Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point. 

They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, that produces what they call a "lake effect" which I am told protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

I've tasted Michigan wines before and found them to be of very high quality, so I had high expectations when the OMP reps sent some of their wines to me for review.  I was not disappointed.

The 2016 Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling is made from Riesling grapes which were harvested from the Hawkeye Vineyard.  It was vinified in stainless steel and spent six months there, aging.  The wine is not as sweet as many late harvest wines, but I found that makes for a wine which is sweet enough to be fun, but not so sweet as to become overbearing.  The sweetness meter on the back label shows it fully in the sweet range.  Alcohol tips in at a super-low 8.5% abv and the wine retails for $19.

The late harvest Riesling has a yellow-green tint and a somewhat muted nose of citrus, honeydew and a light tropical note.  On the palate, the melon is stronger and is joined by honey and minerals.  Light acidity brings a tingle and the sip finishes sweet and brisk.  It's pleasantly sweet, but is not a dessert-level sweet wine.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Riesling From CA's Central Coast

Oh, how I love a Riesling with that petrol emotion.  The smell that reminds me of swimming near the flat-bottom boat with the Evinrude on the stern, dripping oil and gasoline into the water.  It's not environmentally sound, but it's from my teenage years on a lake in east Texas and I'm sorry about the water, but I loved that smell. 

Francis Cutruzzola and his partner Lisa Miller were longtime Sonoma County residents who merely visited the Paso Robles area - a lot.  One visit turned into a stay when they bought a vineyard outside of Cambria, where they grow two acres of Riesling grapes and five of Pinot Noir.

They work there with winemaker Stephen Dooley, who in 2019 will mark his tenth year on job.  My wife and I also like visiting the little town, and early on we were confused by the different pronunciations it received, with both a short and long "a" sound.  We gradually settled on the short.

Dooley is a U.C. Davis graduate who, the website says, has worked "the Napa Valley, the Australian outback, and the South African Cape."  His personal winemaking style has been shaped by those experiences.

Petrol.  This 2015 San Luis Obispo County Riesling from the Riven Rock Vineyard has that smell in spades, the smell that I long for in every Riesling I try.  It's so strong it's on the palate, too. There's also a wallop of wet driveway here, and even a hint of gin & tonic.  A nice acidity helps the wine be food-friendly, a natural for Riesling, anyway.

Friday, October 12, 2018

German Riesling A Winner

German wines tend to fall beneath the U.S. wine drinker's radar.  Aside from Riesling, you'll be hard-pressed to find a German grape variety or even a German version of a more familiar grape, on a supermarket shelf.  Specialty wine stores will dig deeper, but depending on their inventory they may not have a very wide coverage.  With this in mind, I was thrilled to be asked to participate in an online tasting event involving German wines, with Matthew Kaner, wine director and partner at several wine bars in the Los Angeles area.

Kaner says of the new world of German wine, "there's more than just Riesling," and he went on during the event to cover a Muller-Thurgau, a Pinot Blanc and a Pinot Gris as well as a Riesling.

Another invitee, Dezel Quillen (@myvinespot) commented that he appreciates "the brightness, raciness, and lower alcohol levels in these wines. But those characteristics are trademarks of Germany's refreshing, cool-climate wines. Not to mention their food-friendly nature."  He knows what he's talking about.

Kaner spoke about German Rieslings, with their ability to age incredibly.  He said they are "time capsules" that can age for a century and called them the "archetype of an age-worthy white wine."  He also offered up an interesting tidbit for wine travel buffs, that the best way to experience Pfalz wine country is to "fly into Frankfurt and make the drive. It's quicker than LA to Santa Barbara."

The Von Winning 2015 Riesling called "Winnings" is a good way to do just that.  Imported by Skurnik Wines of New York, the Terry Theise selection scores big while delivering its attributes in a most understated way.

The Von Winning Weingut has been around for awhile, since 1849.  Leopold Von Winning really started the emphasis on quality wine in 1907, practically current times by European standards.  The team is led today by Stephan Attmann, whom Theise calls an "obsessive winemaker" on the Skurnik website.  The Von Winning grapes are farmed organically while the wines are fermented in oak barrels and handled as little as possible, often bottled unfiltered.

This Riesling from the Pfalz region hits 11.5% abv and sells for about $20.

The 2015 Winnings Riesling shows a golden tint in the glass and a nose which makes me glad I inhaled.  It's austere, with huge slate notes backed by hints of petrol that are starting to show and a whiff of citrus zest to finish off the scent.  The palate is smart and savory, with a sedate acidity softened by the almost creamy mouthfeel.  The finish stays long and leaves tangerine notes to remind the sipper of the pleasure.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

"O" Is For Oregon, Orange

There's change underway at Troon Vineyards in southern Oregon's Applegate Valley.  Some folks say "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," but the folks at Troon said, "let’s make it better."   Winegrower Craig Camp tells me it’s not just a new label for the 2017 Riesling Orange Wine Whole Grape Ferment.  They have worked for several years to convert the estate to biodynamic farming and winemaking.  Camp says, "As we bring our soils and vines back to health each new release from Troon Vineyard will gain in complexity and pleasure."

The orange Riesling is an unusual wine, to be expected from a winery which has experimented freely with grape selection and even produced a co-fermented "blend."  The designation of "whole grape fermented" was used because Camp says "skin fermented" sounded "kind of yucky."  As always, the grapes from the estate's Kubli Bench were crushed and fermented with native yeasts.  The "whole grape" means the skins stay in there, which is what gives the wine its interesting orange tint and incredible herbal notes.  Alcohol sits easy at 11.5% abv and the wine retails for $20.

The 2017 Troon Vineyard Riesling, Orange Wine, Whole Grape Ferment, Applegate Valley, Kubli Bench Estate Bottled - now that's a mouthful - offers a light touch of tannins, a vibrant acidity and crisp dryness that makes it an extremely refreshing sip.  It's one of the more complex white wines I've tasted.  There's a strong herbal whiff on the nose, backed up by stone fruit.  The tartness hits the perfect middle ground and the wine is as dry as the proverbial bone, so put this wine on the dinner table with full confidence.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Oregon's Orange Riesling

From southern Oregon's Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyards has released a Riesling to contemplate. The 2016 Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment doesn't look like a Riesling. It has a faint burnished orange color, like apple cider. It's not made like most Rieslings, either. I’ll let General Manager Craig Camp tell you about that. He came to Troon from Napa Valley last year, and this incredible wine is one that "fully reflects" his winemaking goals.

In this wine, as in all from the 2016 vintage, Camp says it was all about "native yeast ferments, no additives (enzymes, acids, sugar) and no new oak barrels."  He says the orange Riesling was "produced essentially the same way" as the winery's red wines. The grapes were "first crushed by foot, destemmed, then it was transferred to one-ton fermenters. The native yeast fermentation started after 48 hours and completed in ten days. The fermenters were punched down by hand once a day. It was then pressed into neutral French Oak barrels for three months. That's it." And that's enough.

The wine staff made the decision to bottle earlier than planned to maintain freshness, and it is a fresh wine. Camp says the wine "should be consumed young and fresh, but as this is the first time we've made it we really don't know how it will age, I'll be keeping some bottles around to see how it develops." I wish I had that kind of patience.

He likes the Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment with tapas, but its freshness and structure would allow a pairing with a wide variety of dishes. This Riesling offers alcohol at only 12% abv and retails for $20.

The wine’s orange color is immediately interesting. The nose is beautiful - orange blossoms, peaches and pears, oh my. On the palate it drinks like a red wine, full and flavorful. There even seems to be tannic structure. The fruitiness I expected revealed itself instead as savory. Salinity drapes the apple flavors beautifully. I should mention, it's dry, by the way. And the acidity is fresh and lively.

Camp tells me that Troon will continue the "orange wine" program this year with a second vintage of the Riesling and a Vermentino done the same way. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Santa Barbara Wine On An L.A. Wine List

When I see a Santa Barbara wine that I am not familiar with on the menu, I'm sold. Tatomer is a label I had not seen before, but it was the Summer of Riesling inside Kali. I tried. I liked.

I had the Tatomer Vandenberg Riesling 2013 at Kali in Los Angeles, where sommelier Drew Langley watches over an immaculately curated wine list. Does "Summer of Riesling" do it for you? It does for me, especially when they are such good examples. My wife had a German Kabinett, but I had this Vandenberg example from Santa Barbara County. They listed it as "dry and medium bodied," which is good advice for a Riesling. This one, though, has a nice touch of petrol - I mean, why order Riesling unless it has that? - along with some surprisingly extreme minerality and a muted citrus note. I paired it with the Niçoise salad to great effect. It was also a hit with the wife's roast pork, Pennsylvania native that she is.

Winemaker Graham Tatomer got one taste of Austrian Riesling and signed on to work there, anywhere. He brought his obsession with Riesling - bone dry Riesling - to Santa Barbara County. He says,  "The sites that excite me have been the coldest ones, lending to wines of lighter weight, nuanced flavors, and bracing acidity. Riesling is the ultimate grape to pursue these characteristics. No other grape conveys its region's character and varietal flavor with the power, focus, and beauty the way Riesling does." Amen, Graham. 

His Vandenberg Riesling - so named for the nearby Air Force base - comes primarily from the Kick-On Ranch, and the grapes are selected for their infection with botrytis, the rot that makes grapes a bit sweeter. I did not notice any unusual sweetness at all in this wine, but that’s okay. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More Evidence Of Lodi's Value To Wine World

Lodi, California never ceases to amaze me in its efforts to prove itself worthy of inclusion in the the Great Wine Region discussion. Generations upon generations of agriculture flows through the Mokelumne River, and the growers like to proudly stand in the delta dirt and talk about how Lodi wine has grown up. Lodi has worked tirelessly to throw off the "jug wine" perception, work that probably started when they rebranded themselves from the "Tokay Capital of the World" to the "Zinfandel Capital of the World." The Lodi wine industry stepped up so bravely that it was was recognized as Wine Region of the World by Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2015.

The folks at LoCA, the Wines of Lodi, work with Brandlive to periodically stage virtual tasting events designed to get a few dozen wine writers excited about the region’s wineries. They needn't try so hard - we are already excited about Lodi. So much so that the annual Wine Blogger’s Conference 2016 is set to be held there in August.

The most recent virtual event focused on wines made from grapes in Lodi's noted Mokelumne Glen Vineyard.  In case the word looks unfamiliar to you, or even if you think you have it figured out, Mokelumne is pronounced Mo-KUL-uh-me, according to the vineyard's website. Once again, the event was hosted on a video feed by Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission. On either side of him were Markus Niggli, winemaker at Borra Vineyards and Markus Wine Company and Brett Koth, Vineyard Manager at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. I was provided with samples of the wines for the purpose of the event.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards is a small, family-owned vineyard specializing in grape varieties that originated in Germany and Austria. They are in the Lodi Appellation as well as the Mokelumne River sub-appellation.

There are more than 40 different grape varieties growing in their sandy, granitic soil, including Riesling, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Zweigelt and Bacchus. The last one, I had never even heard of until this event introduced it to me.  Their collection of vines is reported to be the largest gathering of German and Austrian grapes in the U.S.

Koth spoke knowledgeably on his grapes, while Niggli offered his take as a winemaker who uses their fruit regularly. The vineyard only sells their fruit to a handful of vintners, so Niggli feels fortunate to get his hands on some.

The grapes involved in this tasting are largely thought of as cool-climate grapes, while Lodi has a warm, Mediterranean climate.  Koth told us, however, that it’s cooler than people think where his grapes grow because of the delta effect and the proximity to the river. “Temperature fluctuation is the key, “ to maintaining these varieties, he said. That and early picking to ensure the high acidity for which the grapes are known.

Holman Cellars Uncharted Bacchus 2015  $25
An earthy white wine, what could be better? Whites need to be earthy, I feel. Terroir gives them character in a much more visceral way the with reds. Winemaker Jason Holman is based in Napa, and the Holman Cellars "micro-winery" produces wines in extremely small lots. They like to make great wines from forgotten grapes. Forgotten? As I said earlier, I never even knew about Bacchus before this.

The grape represents only 2% of Germany’s plantings, so it is apparently not that well-known even over there.  They made 45 cases of this 100% varietal wine, which is about two barrels worth. The three days of skin contact is followed by stainless-steel fermentation.

It’s a pale wine and has an earthy lanolin note on the nose. There’s a waxy quality on the palate that fits well with the apricot and nutmeg shadings. The acidity is very good in this most unusual wine. I thought it reminded me somewhat of the Symphony grape, but more muscular and not as sweet.

Markus NIMMO Lodi White Wine 2014  $22

Markus is Niggli’s own label, and the name NIMMO originated from his time in Perth, Australia. When he was new there, he remembered his way home by making a word of the first letters of the streets he needed to travel to get there. Australia plays a big part in Niggli’s career - it’s where the Swiss native was bitten bu the wine bug.

This white wine is made from 71% Kerner grapes, 13% Gewurztraminer, 11% Riesling and 5% Bacchus, all from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. It is fermented in 60% new oak and aged there for nine months. The alcohol sits at 13.8% abv

Gewurz and Riesling in oak? Brett was shocked when he heard Niggli’s plans for those grapes, but he says the winemaker convinced him to "get on board."

Native yeast “brings higher alcohol at lower brix,” says Niggli. He says he thinks of the Kerner grape as "the unknown," and was intrigued by it enough to use it as the base for this wine. Three days skin contact before vinification gives good color, made richer by the use of oak.

The pale golden straw color is appealing, while the nose certainly isn’t scaring anyone away. Clean earth notes define the apple, papaya and lime aromas beautifully. The palate shows off-dry pear, apple and Meyer lemon flavors on a bed of acidity. Finishing long, it’s the earth and citrus that stays around after the sip. The wine’s body makes it a lot more versatile that just "salads and sipping." Niggli recommends you pair it with anything off the grill.

Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt 2015  $24

Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars is the result of several wine enthusiasts putting a winemaker’s skill to good use. The website shows that winemaker Dan Fishman also creates the bottlings of the Donum Estate and Stemmler, but with Santa Rosa-based Hatton Daniels he works with small vineyards to produce elegant, focused wines.

The vintners say this Zweigelt is "vibrant and alive," and is "meant for drinking in large, glorious quantities." They also say it’s a zero-sulfur wine, which some claim prevents hangovers. They say they make "no claim in this regard, but further study is recommended." Only 72 cases were made.

This wine is a tart little blast of cool-climate German grape, grown in Lodi. The earth that shows on the nose is mind-blowing. Raspberry fruit, oh yeah. Coffee grounds? Yep. Cola? Mm hmm. Meat? There’s some of that. The palate shows just as savory and just as dark, with tart berries, black tea and pepper.

M2 Wines Belle Etoile Blanche 2014  $24

For those who didn’t take four years of French in high school, and for those who did but have forgotten most of it, Belle Etoile Blanche means "beautiful white star." The m2 wines late-harvest dessert creation blends four German grape varieties grown in Mokelumne Glen Vineyard , 35% Rieslaner, 25% Weissburgunder, 20% Riesling and 20% Gewurztraminer. This wine is naturally sweet and is not fortified. Three months fermentation was accomplished half in neutral French oak barrels and half in a stainless steel tank. Alcohol is light, at 13.3% abv and there is less than 10% residual sugar.

Layne Montgomery is the winemaker, and he had the grapes picked as late as the first day of November and whole-cluster pressed to add character to the flavor. Koth notes that it’s the only sweet wine produced the grapes of his vineyard.  The consensus seemed to be to pair this wine with any "stinky cheese" you prefer.

M2’s Belle Etoile Blanche is a delightful dessert wine that is pleasantly sweet without overdoing it. The nose is honey and apricots, while the palate shows a crisp and acidic palate that draws a line against cloying and stands well apart from it. The fruit is clean and ripe - certainly - and leaves a citrus and stone fruit finish after the sip. This will pair with cheese in a heartbeat or a fruit tart in about the same time.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Koehler Winery

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this trip. We pass the roughly two hours in the car by making our own little version of the Algonquin Round Table. Bon mots and witticisms are the rule. And one of them would stop me here to note that a bon mot IS a witticism. Touché. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives.

This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Koehler Winery is just north of Los Olivos, at the very beginning of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. This route winds through the hilly terrain from Los Olivos all the way to Santa Maria. There are around 18 wineries through this stretch, so it makes sense to divide it up over two or more visits You can start from Los Olivos on one visit, then go up the 101 to Santa Maria and head back down on the next.

Ten different grape varieties are grown on the 100-acre Koehler estate. Winemaker Colin Murphy and vineyard manager Felipe Hernandez work together to ensure grape quality and make the best wine possible.

Koehler’s rustic tasting room is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Two tasting menus are offered, one featuring limited production wines for $15, and the other showing estate selections for $10. The tasting includes a complimentary Koehler Winery logo glass. Tastings for groups of eight or more require reservations.

 Tasting Room Manager Dan Zurliene can help you reserve a group tasting.

I was tasting only whites and rosés on this trip, in preparation for summertime, and I thank the tasting room staff for accommodating me.

Koehler’s 2013 Savignon Blanc is a stainless steel delight. The nose is aromatic with herbs and fruit, while the palate shows wonderful tangerine and lemon notes amid the minerals. It is a clean and brisk wine with great acidity and it sells for $19.

Their 2011 Grenache Blanc comes from what they call their “one-acre patch of paradise.” As expected with the variety, the nose offers savory notes with great fruit and acidity. There is a nutty quality, and the finish is decorated with salinity. $24 retail.

More great savory notes come in the Koehler Viognier 2012. A slightly floral nose gets a nice peach element, too. Melons and peaches are on the palate, and the fabulous salinity noticed in the Grenache Blanc makes an appearance, for a delightful nutty, salty experience. The wine sells for $25.

The Koehler Chardonnay 2012 is a 50/50 mix of oak and steel aging. It spent six months getting older and more nuanced. The nose shows those oak notes just right, with the savory aspect of Koehler’s fruit in play once again. There is a very nice level of acidity and lots of savory notes in the flavor profile. The impact of the oak on the palate is pitch-perfect, while tropical fruit and lemon peel last into the finish. The $24 price tag seems a bargain. 

Guido loved this wine and paused to ask why are there so many bad Chardonnays. I have seen before how boring it is for someone on the peripheral of the wine world to suddenly be given what is charitably known as "too much information." I gave the short answer, "That’s a good question!"

The ‘14 vintage of Koehler’s Rosé of Grenache is the third vintage of this saignée pinkie. The salmon tint is gorgeous, as are the lovely cherry and herb aromas. The palate displays beautiful strawberry and cherry tones while a fantastic acidity keeps this far away from cloying sweetness. Retail is $22.

Blends are always interesting to me, and Koehler’s 2012 Quartette White is a doozy. The grapes include 37% Riesling, 28% Chardonnay, 28% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Viognier. The nose is wonderfully funky - like a Grenache Blanc - while the palate follows suit, more savory and nutty than fruity. Again, an outstanding acidity makes the wine a refresher. Retail price: $30.

Wrapping up the tasting on the sweet end, the 2012 Riesling actually shows only one percent residual sugar. Light fruit on the nose is met with that Koehler salinity and the savory nutty notes appear on the palate as well, cloaking the beautiful peach and pear fruit. There is great acidity in this wine. It’s very good, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not a Riesling.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dinner Party Wine Surprise: Riesling

You've been there before. In unfamiliar territory for dinner - not in a restaurant, with a wine list and plenty of choices, but at a friend's mother's cousin's place - with no choices. "Don't bring anything - we have the wine." Hmm. Well, how bad could it be?

Well, it could be cheap Chardonnay. It could be cheap Cabernet. It could be Pinot Grigio of any price. It could be (gasp) White Zinfandel! And what do I say when an offense is offered? I don't like wine? They know I write about the stuff - they'll never buy it. I'm on antibiotics? Not even a sniffle. Religious objection? Riiight.

So it really is fantastic when it all works out. "A Riesling?” I gush. “Oh, by all means, open the Riesling!" Who would have expected that some previous dinner guest had left a Riesling behind? We're spared from all that Pinot Grigio that must surely have been hiding behind it in the refrigerator. Spared from having to knock back half a glass to be polite, then dumping the rest in a planter when no one is looking.

It wasn't even an expensive Riesling, either. Santa Barbara Landing 2013 Riesling sells for about five bucks at Trader Joe's, from the Bronco Wine Company. Say what you will about the heritage, but the wine is actually pretty good.

The pale color is no surprise, like the herbal/floral scent it gives off. But wait, is that a hint of petrol in there? A little whiff of gasoline? Surely not, in such a young Riesling. But I will swear it was there. On the palate, pears rule, and the full mouth is juxtaposed against a wonderful acidity. At 13% abv, it is fairly relaxed, too. I would have this again anytime, particularly chilled on a hot summer day.

We were also treated to a bottle of La Granja 360 Verdejo/Viura 2013. From Spain’s Castilla y León region, I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, I do not have too much to say about it. Grapefruity and a little tart, it was not as memorable as I had hoped it would be. The acidity was pretty fantastic, though.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Sweet Finger Lakes Wines For Your Sweetie

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a good time to pop open a dessert wine or two - sweets for your sweetie.

Fresh from receiving accolades as the top wine region of 2014 from Wine Enthusiast magazine, the wineries of New York’s Finger Lakes held a virtual tasting event featuring some of their notable dessert wines.  You can read about the bubbly by clicking here, and below is a listing of the dessert wines featured in the event, staged by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance with samples provided to me for the purpose of participating.

Goose Watch Winery Classic Cream Sherry

Goose Watch Winery is owned and operated by Dave Peterson’s family, stewards of the vineyard since 1997.  They also own Swedish Hill Winery, so they keep pretty busy in the winemaking biz.  Goose Watch overlooks Cayuga Lake, providing a scenic backdrop for vineyard manager Rick Waite and winemaker Derek Wilber while they work.

The Goose Watch menu includes Viognier, Pinot Grigio, and Merlot with some unusual varieties like Aromella, Traminette, Melody, Diamond and Lemberger thrown into the cool-climate mix.

Classic Cream Sherry by Goose Watch is made using both red and white grapes, and plenty of them.  Native American, hybrid and vitis vinifera varieties are included - everything from Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc to Cayuga White and Catawba contribute to this wine.

It is produced using a solera process.  New barrel-aged vintages of the sherry components are introduced each year, so the blend grows by a year each vintage.  It's the aging that gives the wine its incredible flavor.  New additions are warmed, then oxygen-injected over six weeks or so, which "gooses" the aging process.  In the barrel, the wine is exposed to extreme temperatures - both hot and cold - to further stimulate the aging.  Most of the barrels used in this process are old and well worn, to avoid imparting too much oak influence to the wine.

Alcohol is hefty, at 18% abv, while the 12% residual sugar more than justifies the wine's categorization as a dessert type.  At $16 for the half bottle, it's one of the better dessert wine buys you are likely to find.

The Goose Watch Winery Classic Cream Sherry looks fabulous.  The deep amber-brown color is even darker than bourbon.  The high alcohol content is noticeable on the nose, but so is a strong whiff of raisins, caramel and burnt brown sugar.  The mouthfeel is full and lush, with a very soft essence that plays counterpoint to the heat of the alcohol.  Raisins, caramel, baked apples, mocha and a splash of lime decorate the palate, with the fruitier aspects lasting into the finish.  The moderate acidity feels a little lively on the tongue, but the softness isn't spoiled.

Boundary Breaks 2012 Late Harvest Riesling #90

The east side of Seneca Lake offers somewhat milder weather in New York's Finger Lakes region due to the depth of the lake and the prevailing winds.  The extremely deep, glacier-cut lake features a churning effect, in which the colder and warmer waters exchange levels and help moderate the temperatures in the vineyards.

Boundary Breaks Winery resides on that eastern shore.  Established by Bruce and David Murray in 2007 - on a farm that never had a vineyard on it - the winery specializes exclusively in Riesling, in five different styles.

Vineyard manager Kees Stapel assists several moonlighting winemakers at Boundary Breaks:  Peter Bell of Fox Run, Kelby Russell of Red Newt and Ian Barry of Barry Family Cellars.  All contribute to the various wines in Boundary Breaks' cellar, but Barry is the winemaker of record for this late harvest Riesling.

The Boundary Breaks 2012 Late Harvest Riesling #90 is named - er, numbered - for the Riesling clone from which it comes: Neustadt #90.  The wine underwent a slow fermentation in stainless steel tanks and reports an alcohol level of 14.2% abv and a whopping 12.7% residual sugar number.  The winery's website comments on the mid-December harvest for these grapes: "At this time of the year, the fruit has become a bronze color and many berries have de-hydrated and wrinkled into raisins. This produces a dense Riesling nectar that retains its acidity alongside its flowing richness."  An apt description.  It retails for $30 per half bottle.

A light golden color, the wine smells a bit like pears and a bit like apricots, with a lovely, light note of honeyed petrol coming through.  The taste is gorgeous, as befits a dessert wine.  The sweetness is not cloying, thanks to a nice acidity - not razor-sharp, but noticeable.  It is, to be sure, dessert.  It also fits well with salty almonds.

Standing Stone Vineyards 2013 Riesling Ice Wine

Standing Stone Vineyards has an old school look about it - farmhouse and all - but Marti and Tom  Macinski founded the business in 1991. Marti is the winemaker, assisted by Jess Johnson.

The vineyards were planted in the early 1970s, and a notable block features a planting of Saperavi, an old vinifera grape that makes a dark red wine.

The 2013 Riesling Ice Wine is one of four dessert wines they make - they also sweeten up Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Vidal grapes.  They are not true ice wines, in that the grapes are not harvested frozen but frozen after picking late in the season.

Production is limited, at just 198 cases.  The retail sticker shows $25 for the half bottle.  The wine has an incredible 20% residual sugar and shows 12.4% abv on the alcohol side.

This is one beautiful wine, the color of a very rich apple juice or bourbon.  The aromas are just as beautiful, with apricots, pears and tart apples bursting from the glass.  The palate follows suit, with the apple flavor showing a little stronger and some peaches thrown into the mix.  The acidity is delightfully zippy, but the mouthfeel is oily and viscous.  This wine is fresh and clean and makes a great, light dessert.

Wagner Vineyards 2013 Riesling Ice Wine

Winemaker Ann Raffetto has been with Wagner Vineyards for three decades, but that only qualifies her for newby status there.  As one of the oldest Finger Lakes wineries - and the first on Seneca Lake's eastern shore - There have been five generations of grape growers toiling in the 200-acres of vineyard-with-a-view, a quarter of which is planted to Riesling grapes.

The grapes for the Wagner 2013 Riesling Ice Wine were not taken while frozen, but picked after traditional harvest and frozen after picking.  They say this process helps the grapes retain their natural acidity.  At 24% residual sugar, this wine is super-sweet and with alcohol at 12.1% abv, it is very near the same content as a table wine from this area. 1400 cases were produced, and the half-bottle sells for $25.

The Wagner Ice Wine shows pale gold in the glass, with a nose of dried apricots and a beautiful floral aspect.  Alcohol also hits the nose a bit stronger than I would imagine, at just 12.1%.  The palate has a lovely layer of the earth filtering the sweetness of the peach and tropical fruit flavors.  The wine is rather viscous and sports a great acidity.  Pair it with an apple pie or drizzle it on vanilla ice cream. Or both.

Knapp Winery and Vineyard 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Knapp Winery is located close to Seneca Falls, on the shores of Cayuga Lake.  It opened for business in 1984, and winemaker Steve DiFrancesco, vineyard manager Chris King, and cellar master Richard Iddings combine to make wines that showcase the great terroir of the Finger Lakes.

The Vidal grapes for this sweetie were picked in late November, when the temperature was 14 degrees Fahrenheit.  They were pressed while frozen, which results in more concentrated aromas and flavors.  This is the sweetest of the wines featured here, with residual sugar at 24.7%.  Alcohol is slightly reduced, at 11.36% abv.  Only 54 cases were produced and the half-bottles retail for $25.

The Knapp wines I have experienced really show a great earthy quality, and the Vidal Ice is no exception.  The earthiness does sit a bit farther behind the fruit in this dessert wine, though.  There is plenty of fruit on the nose - pineapple, pear and peach are draped in honey - while a beautiful floral aspect leads the way.  Extremely viscous in the mouth, the Vidal does not disappoint in sweetness.  It's a beautiful and delicious wine, with flavors of pear, peach and tropical fruit.  The finish lets a bit of the earthiness linger with the sweet for an amazing counterpoint.

The winery says you can enjoy the Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine on its own or with a ripe cheese.  Any kind of savory tidbit - salty pretzels, almonds - will be set off beautifully against the counterpoint of the sugar found in this wine.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Finger Lakes Dry Riesling: Knapp Winery

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance recently celebrated the launch of the 2013 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings with a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  This was shortly before the state of New York was announced as a certain wine publication's recipient of their Wine Region of the Year award.  The state is understandably proud of the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes - the calling-card wine of the area - but they also make some extremely interesting reds, a mean sparkling wine and some pretty heavenly dessert wines there.  Let's get our eyes back on the Riesling, now.  This one is from Knapp Winery and Vineyard.

Close to Seneca Falls and easily accessible from "the New York State Thru-Way, man" - as Arlo Guthrie might say when properly motivated while visiting upstate New York - Knapp makes a Riesling that I have been tasted on for several vintages now, and it always impresses.

There is no reason why it should not.  Knapp Winemaker Steve DiFransesco has brought in 33 harvests in the FLX.  Vineyard manager Chris King has 15 years experience among the vines.  They work together well to produce a good bottle of wine each year.  It's what they do.  Knapp has grown Riesling grapes since 1983.

For the 2013 Dry Riesling, the crushed grapes remain in contact with the skins overnight to enrich the aromas.  The alcohol content is only 12% abv and 302 cases were produced.  Hitting just over one percent residual sugar, it clocks in on the Riesling Scale at "dry."

During the virtual tasting event on Twitter, @WineHarlots tweeted that “The Knapp Winery Dry Riesling 2013 is exquisite. Subtle and nuanced, it is wine that whispers instead of screams.”  And so, lean in a little closer - let me tell you what I think in as quiet a voice as I can manage.

The golden straw tint is fairly light, while the nose is not so shy.  Crisp peach, apricot and nectarine aromas are up front, with notes of flowers, then lemon, then minerals appearing in descending order.  There is almost none of the distinct earthy quality I have noticed in other Knapp Rieslings, but the fruit plays its lead role well.  On the palate, the lemon aspect comes in larger than on the nose.  It's not a zestiness, but a sweet lemon flavor that takes the spotlight.  It is dry, as advertised on the label, and the acidity is better than moderate.  It's one of the more sippable Rieslings I have had in a while - but it fares well in pairing with lighter dishes.  I had mine with a Thai curry that was somewhat spicy and it fit just fine.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bonny Doon's Heart Has Its Rieslings

The wines of Randall Grahm are so good,you may wonder why he feels the needs to funny them up with eye-catching iconic images and puns.  To sell them, of course, is the answer.  Any wine producer will tell you how hard it is to get the attention of the wine-buying general public, and they'll tell you this with lots of hand-wringing and brow-mopping included.  

Grahm - Bonny Doon Vineyard's winemaker and President For Life - gets written up a lot as the rodeo clown of the wine world, and that is unfair. What he is, is a world-class winemaker who happens to know a little about marketing that product.  To hear him tell it, a little is all he knows.  He's a quiet and reserved guy when it comes to self-promotion - but when it comes to extolling the virtues of his wines, and presenting them in an appealing, attention-getting manner, he is Barnum and Bailey rolled into one wine-soaked ball of "Step right up!"  He's the Mad Men of the grape world.  He knows how to get it out there.

He also knows that no matter how good the wine is, if it doesn't catch the eye of the casual shopper, it won't jump off the shelf on its own.

So, we get great label art, we get great notes - he's an acclaimed writer - and we get puns.  Now, I'm not sure how well puns sell anything.  I remember a Halloween party I attended, dressed in a full black cape with a plastic fish head strapped over my nose.  All night long I got, "What the hell are you supposed to be?"  My answer - "Cape Cod!" - didn't exactly win me any new friends.  It may have even cost me some old ones.  Never dress as a pun for Halloween - it simply isn't appreciated.

On the wine bottle, things may be different.  If kittens, toilet plungers and a bear in a rowboat sell wine, why not a pun - and a pretty good one, at that - with some great label art and a cool back-label paragraph thrown in for good measure.

The Heart Has Its Rieslings gets it out there.  It's a name that pulls in the wine shopper, and is paired with art that is good to look at as well.  Will it sell?  We'll see.  If it doesn't, it's a shame - but Grahm will have a cellar full of great Riesling aging away doon under the house.

This Riesling is a 2013 cuvèe of grapes from two spots - Ventana Vineyard in Monterey County and Wirz Vineyard in San Benito County.  It comes in at a super-low 9.5% abv and has residual sugar measuring three percent.  

The nose is just about dead-on perfect, with slightly honeyed pear graced with an earthy measure and just a little touch of petrol.  It's really a beautiful sniff.  On the palate, just a hint of sweetness lies on the beautiful peach, pear and apple flavors with a strident streak of acidity running through it.  The wine finishes earthy, sweet and luscious.

Fans of Riesling that pushes the needle to the sweet side of the meter will love this.  Grahm states on the label the wine is made from "every so botrytised grapes" and should "reward a long-term commitment to cellaring."  Good luck making that commitment.  Buy extra bottles.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Bonny Doon Vineyards

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard has been providing holiday-worthy wines for more years than I have been drinking them - at least more years than I have been obsessed with them.

Grahm - the eloquent Rhône Ranger - has his own obsessions with which to grapple.  A pioneering spirit if there ever was one, he is currently obsessed with growing grapevines from seeds, rather than from cuttings.  His experimentation in that arena is rather new, so there's nothing to report.  Yet.

Being late in the year, he has been keeping himself busy lately with the rigors of harvest and the business of bottling his latest releases.  It is those we put forth as suggestions for your holiday table - or your holiday chair, if you prefer.  The man's wines are not only a cinch to pair well with food, but they also go down real well in sipping and thinking mode.

From his recent email, all descriptions by Grahm:

"Harvest 2014 came and went like a freight train through California, and apart from apocalyptic intimations of drought-related devastation/ruination, it was a very good, relatively abundant, if not preternaturally early vintage.

2013 Le Cigare Blanc, "Beeswax Vineyard"  $28
(55% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul)  We've made a very slight label change with this vintage.  An echo of the mineral character that we were able to express in the wonderful '11, but perhaps a tad richer on the palate. 1,965 cases produced.

2012 Syrah, "Le Pousseur"  $26
(48% Alamo Creek, 18% Bien Nacido, 18% Spanish  Springs, 16% Ventana)  From a number of cool climate sites, a fair amount of whole  clusters included, this is a savory Syrah of great restraint.  2,126 cases produced.

2013 Clos de Gilroy  $20
(75% Grenache, 17% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre)  Grenache from the impeccable Alta Loma vineyard in the Arroyo Seco (a relatively cool site in every sense),  a rather textbook Grenache, with a lovely mineral aspect.  3,400 cases produced.

2013 A Proper Claret  $16
(46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13.5% Petit Verdot, 7.7% Syrah, .8% Petite Sirah)  Nothing of course "proper" about this wine; it is the febrile imagining of what a restrained, elegant Cabernet-based wine might taste like in the New World.  15,920 cases produced.

2010 Le Cigare Volant  $45
(28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, 16% Carignane)  Continuing in our series of "Burgundian" vintages of Cigare with old-vine Cinsault playing a very important role in keeping the Syrah in check.  Yes, Carignane ain't a proper grape for faux-Châteauneuf.  We knew that, (but it does provide the wine a nice steely exoskeleton).  1,344 cases produced.

2010 Le Cigare Volant Réserve, "En bonbonne"  $79
This wine began life as precisely the same wine as the "normale," but was subject to élevage in glass, which has imparted a most unusual textural element and a great degree of savoriness. (Yeast lees are very rich in glutamate.)  547 cases produced.

2012 Contra  $18
(56% Carignane, 17% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 11% Mourvèdre, 1%  Cinsault)  Some (former) colleagues and wholesalers were not so keen about the old  "couch label" and persuaded me to change it to something a bit slicker and more  commercial (perhaps too kool for skool?).  We added a bit of cool climate syrah and grenache to the very old vine Carignane and Mourvèdre.4,720 cases produced.

2012 Grenache, "Cuvée R"  $48
This is a "special" selection of Grenache grown at what was formerly our "Ca' del Solo" Vineyard in Soledad, and is available exclusively to our DEWN Club members.  It seems to produce an extremely complex and concentrated Grenache.  (We're planting it at our new vineyard in San Juan Bautista and it looks incredibly promising).  593 cases produced.

2011 Syrah, "Bien Nacido Vyd., Block X"  $50
The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones.  463 cases produced.

2013 The Heart Has its Rieslings  $16
(52% San Benito County, 48% Monterey County)  From the Wirz Vineyard in San Benito and the Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco, this is a Kabinett style with 3% residual sugar.  2,912 cases produced.

2013 Vinferno  $24/375 ml.
(100% Grenache Blanc)  Not air-dried, frozen or botrytised, this is just very late harvested Grenache Blanc, but has appropriately enough, taken on a certain honeyed/beeswax character.  987 cases produced.

2011 Sparkling Syrah  $36
(Méthode traditionelle)  It's lately been an aspiration of mine to explore the wine styles that are most challenging to me.  I've always adored the idea of Sparkling Syrah (or Shiraz), but even James Halliday couldn't find one that I could abide.  Maybe it's maturation on my part or just a sudden shift in consciousness, but this is one I adore.  Only one small caveat: The wine is very, very fizzy, so please open with caution.  378 cases produced."

Randall Grahm
Bonny Doon Vineyard
Tasting Room: 450 Highway 1, Davenport, CA 95041

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Joshua Klapper

A series on wines for the holidays.

A sommelier who became a winemaker, Joshua Klapper, is one of those vintners you will see a lot if you attend wine tasting events in Southern Californa.  He pours his La Fenêtre and À Coté wines with the fervor of a revivalist.  Most of the time, he is preaching to the choir.  That does not cause him to call off the sermon, though.  His name has become widely known since he joined the Santa Barbara County wine scene almost a decade ago.

Klapper's focus at La Fenêtre is making food-friendly wines.  He respects the Old World techniques and embraces the terroir of California's Central Coast. His wines are source fruit from some of the most famous vineyards around and he lets those grapes do most of the talking.

Klapper made a splash with his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has now turned his talents to the Riesling grape as well.  He suggests a red and a white - always looking for balance - to make your holiday meal even more memorable.
2013 Dr Klapper Riesling, Santa Barbara County $22.50

"Nothing says holidays like Riesling. It is the best wine for thanksgiving as the acidity and touch of residual sugar make it pair well with everything on the table from turkey and stuffing, to mashed potatoes, to candied yams and cranberry sauce. Literally the perfect holiday wine."

"Pale straw color, with a hint of ‘spritz’ from the cold fermentation, the nose is bright with notes of lychee, white flowers, white pepper, and orange blossom. On the palate the entry has a hint of sweetness with vibrant acidity. The palate includes green apple Jolly Rancher, honey suckle, dried stone fruits (apricot and peach), and a touch of viscosity. The acidity makes the extremely long finish hint of fresh lemon, lime, and orange zest. Drink now-2016 (or cellar for a very long time cause old Riesling ROCKS!)"

2011 La Fenetre Pinot Noir, Presqu'ile Vineyard   $45

"Ditto for Pinot Noir, literally perfect with holiday fare.  Turkey, ham, fall root vegetables and mushrooms all pair extremely well with this wine.

"Planted in the late 1990’s (when the vineyard was called Addamo) the section our fruit comes from is one of the most perfectly manicured blocks of Pinot Noir I have ever seen. All clone 777, this part of Santa Maria, called the Solomon Hills, has been long recognized as a perfect terroir for dense, powerful, yet distinctly elegant fruit, which is the hallmark of the region.  Again for 2011 we did part of the fermentation whole cluster, which is a big component of this wine.

"Deep red, this wine has quite a bit of power.  The nose hints of cherry cola, cinnamon, and baking spices and the whole cluster adds a spicy, earthy element not unlike the smell of soil and red flowers after a warm spring rain.  I know it sounds crazy, but hey… this is what I do!  The palate is full, with a good amount of grip and fine tannin to balance the lushness of the Dijon Clone 777.  The long finish evokes cloves, a touch of vanilla bean, and almonds.  Drink 2014-2025+."


Joshua Klapper
La Fenêtre Wines
2705 Aviation Way #100
Santa Maria, CA 93455
Phone: 310-977-5615 • Fax: 888-834-1686