Sunday, January 15, 2012


Around Australia in 80 Sips

Wine lovers looking to broaden their horizons and learn a little more about wine regions they don't try very often should keep an eye open for events like this one.  Around Australia In 80 Sips - held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood on January 12, 2012 - offered a chance to travel around Australia in a wine glass.

80 Sips is part of a series of tasting events - held in different American cities every so often - in which participants can discover different facets of the wine world.  This time, Australia was the topic.  Wine Australia and G'Day USA combined to bring a few dozen Aussie winemakers to the US to pour some sips and open some doors.  Additionally, the event served as a fundraiser for St. Vincent Meals On Wheels.

About a year ago I attended an Australian wine dinner which was also presented by G'Day USA.  This event, however, was a walk-around wine tasting, which offered a chance to sample many more wines than in a dinner setting.  The downside, no dinner.  That's alright, I came for the wine.

The way this event was set up was a table-to-table exploration of the different wine regions of Australia.  This allowed tasters to get an isolated view of each region's grapes and terroir.  There were 40 or so wineries participating in the show, each featuring multiple examples of their efforts.

The McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley of South Australia were represented by almost half the wineries present.  Having had ample exposure to those regions, I tried to focus on the ones that were unfamiliar to me in the time available.

Tasting notes:

Western Australia
The Margaret River region seems to be the Napa Valley of Australia, with so many Cabernets and Chardonnays featured.

Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion, Margaret River - Very nice, grassy nose, quite fresh.  Herbal notes on the palate, too.  Refreshing.  $15

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling, Margaret River - Not terribly fruity, but a very nice acidity.  $22

Plantagenet Unoaked Chardonnay Omrah 2009 - Very clean taste. Would have sworn there was a bit of wood, at least.

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Margaret River - Rosy nose, black cherry on the palate.  Great tannins.   Was told '05 is a good year.  Can't argue that.  $30

Heathcote's cool climate Shiraz lead the way here.

Jasper Hill Occam's Razor Shiraz, Heathcote - Biodynamic. Very dark, full of minerals and dust, blackberry and spices.  $38

Tahbilk Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes - Oldest winery in Victoria.  Tropical fruit, salinity, nice acid, nutty finish.  $14

Mt. Lahgi Ghiran Shiraz 2004 - Big jammy nose, very dark fruit, black cherry cola finish.

Yarra Valley
Look for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in this region.

Bindi Chardonnay 2009 - Lightly oaked, great finish.  From a high elevation vineyard.

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay - A little heavier on the oak.  $35

* Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley - Lively strawberry nose, strawberry soda on palate with a kick of lemon zest. $20  A great buy.

New South Wales
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in Orange, Semillon and Shiraz in Hunter Valley.  A fellow named Mark poured me through these, and he was by far the best teacher at any table.  Mark would come around pour from in front of the table so he could show on the map where the wines were produced.

Brokenwood Semillon, Hunter Valley - Nice zip.  10% abv.  Distinct mineral nose, pears and tropical fruit on palate.  From lower Hunter Valley, which Mark cited as a  "crap place to grow grapes."  due to heat and humidity.  They try to harvest early and beat the monsoons.  Heard it called the "anti-chardonnay."   $19

Eden Road Wines Hilltop Shiraz, Canberra - Chalky mineral nose, tastes big with black fruit, good acidity  $22

* Inkberry Shiraz Cabernet, Central Ranges -  From a hilltop vineyard.  60% Shiraz, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Floral nose, spicy plum and cherry palate very, very smooth  $14  Unbelievable value.

Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, Mudgee - Beautiful, dry, light pink, strawberry and raspberry flavors.  $19

Clare Valley
This region is known for Rieslings which are dry and ageworthy.

Kilikanoon Mort's Block Riesling 2009, Clare Valley - Big petrol play on the nose and palate   $20

* Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Clare Valley - BIG mint and eucalyptus aromas, great tannic structure and acid.  $17  Great value.

Limestone Coast 
Coonawarra's Cabs show great character.

Henry's Drive Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Padthaway - A refined nose, beautiful raspberry/cassis with mint on finish.  $40

* Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz 2007, Padthaway - Brambly, brawny, blackberry nose, palate raspberry and blackberry, very masculine, burly.  $35  Well worth it.

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra - Floral minerals with a big grip.  $26

McLaren Vale
This South Australia region likes ripe Shiraz and savory Grenache.

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache, McLaren Vale - Cherry, good acidity, big tannins.  $27
d'Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale - Big cassis and clove notes.  $65

Mr Riggs Shiraz, McLaren Vale - Elegant and huge, tobacco on the nose.  Tastes rich and red.  $66

Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek
They like their Sauvignon Blanc in Adelaide Hills but it was a red from Langhorne Creek that grabbed me.

* Brothers In Arms Shiraz 2002, Langhorne Creek - Very much like a Cab with graphite on nose and palate.  Great tannins.  $20  A steal.

Penfolds Thomas Hyland Riesling 2011, Adelaide Hills - Fruity with nice acid.  $14

Wakefield Estate Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills - Violets.  $17

Zonte's Footstep The Lake Doctor Shiraz/Viognier, Langhorne Creek - Nice floral with black fruit.  $16

Eden Valley
Riesling is cited as the big thing here.

Barossa Valley
The South Australia region wows 'em with Shiraz and Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre blends.

I didn't see any Tasmania wines, but they may have been represented on the sparkling wine or dessert wine table - I ran out of time before reaching those delights.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies with

If you spend a lot of online time, you probably have an affinity for the low-budget horror films of the 1950s.  Off-kilter story lines, scenery chewing, on-screen gaffes - not a problem!  In fact, bring 'em on!  That's what we came here for.

"Daughter of Dr. Jekyll" is right in your wheelhouse.  It's low-budget horror of the highest degree.

Gloria Talbott learns she is Dr. Jekyll's daughter and, not surprisingly, her life takes a downward turn.  Fearing a split personality which mirrors that of the good doctor/bad doctor, she thinks she's a monster who "prowls the night, lusting for blood," as the trailer indicates.  She's fairly distraught about all this.  She's not sleeping well.  Mysterious stains appear on the nightgown, and it's not spilled wine.  People are beginning to ask questions about the gruesome murders that occur at night after she closes the bedroom door.

The film was released in 1957 on a double bill with "The Cyclops," and that's a great way to watch it even today.  Oddly, both films star Gloria Talbott.  It's that split personality thing.

John Agar - who was apprently in between John Wayne movies at the time - wears a striped jacket that makes him look like a cross between a circus barker and a soda jerk.  I can only guess that he must have shown up at the wrong wardrobe department on the first day of shooting.  Make a drinking game out of his appearances in that silly getup and you may end up with a split personality in addition to a splitting headache in the morning.

Pairing wine with this movie might be as easy as grabbing the first thing you see where you keep your booze.  "John Agar's jacket is driving me to drink!"   But we always take a little more care than that when selecting our pairings.  Not much, but a little more.

Let Gloria Talbott play the bad daughter.  Good Daughter Wines has a Chardonnay to balance out the picture.  It's made from what the winery calls "gently farmed grapes" in cool climate North Coast California vineyards.  There's just enough oak from which to fashion a stake in case things get out of hand.  It's low budget, too - about $11 per bottle.

More drinking daughters:

Farmer's Daughter Wine - From Australia's Mudgee region, northwest of Sydney, the Farmer's Daughter line ranges from $18 to $30.

Channing Daughters Winery - These wines hail from the North Fork of New York's Long Island.  $17 - $42.

Seven Daughters Wine - California wines that pair beautifully with their cheesy website.  $14

Rancher's Daughter - A wine store in Montgomery, Texas featuring only Texas wines.  Operated by a pair of rancher's daughters, no less.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


New Jersey's wine industry is the seventh largest in America, producing over 1.7 million gallons of wine in 2009.  According to the Press of Atlantic City, New Jersey's wine industry has exploded over the past ten years, with four times as many wineries opening their doors over the past decade.

Wine making in New Jersey dates back to the 18th century, although the Garden State's first commercial winery - Renault - didn't open until 1864.  In 1981, state laws limiting the number of wineries were changed.  Now New Jersey boasts over 40 wineries.

January 2012 should see a legislative vote on direct shipping in and out of the state, which would be a boon for New Jersey winemakers.  Here's a Wine Spectator article on that legislation. 

Valenzano Winery is a family-operated vineyard located in Shamong, New Jersey, in the New Jersey Pinelands less than an hour east of Philadelphia.  They produce wine from  grapes grown in Southern New Jersey.  The winery was licensed in 1996, taking the winemaking 
hobby of Tony Valenzano, Sr. to the commercial level.  The Valenzanos now have three locations, and they aim to produce 30,000 gallons of wine - quite a growth from the 500 gallons produced in their inaugural year.  

From the Valenzano website: "We produce both Merlot and Chardonnay, along with a selection of vitis-labrusca varietals and hybrids that are unique and specific to the southern New Jersey microclimate.  For the past decade, we’ve also been working with dozens of different varietals in accordance with our soil, climate and growing season.  ...Cynthiana, also known as ‘Norton,’ the only North American varietal which can produce a big, bold, old-world style table wine, has garnered us the coveted Governor’s Cup two years in a row -- a first in the Governor’s Cup competition!"  Valenzano also produces a signature red wine from Chamboucin and wines made with Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Their vineyards are mainly in the Shamong area, but they also source grapes from vines at a number of other small farms in New Jersey.

Valenzano Winery states that they aim to produce wines not to please critics, but to please wine drinkers.  They make a big claim: "We would match any of our wines against any wines produced in California or Europe in the same price range."  The Valenzano wines range in price from eight to 17 dollars.

Valenzano Winery was kind enough to provide me with four of their wines to sample, and they were quite impressive overall.

Valenzano Merlot 2008Valenzano Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, 2008
This Merlot is touted as a "West-coast style," although it has only a 12.5% abv number.  It sells for $15.  Medium dark in color, light goes through it easily.  The nose is very rich and loaded with fruit.   Blackberry, plums and cassis stand out.  There is a good deal of American
oak spice also prominently displayed.  On the palate, smoke, licorice and cinnamon show strongly.  Flavors of strawberry and blackberry with the aforementioned smoke are joined by a hint of an herbal note.  This green quality is in the background behind the fruit and spice the first night the bottle was open.  The herbaceous quality took over on second night and stood as an equal to fruit on the third.  It reminds me of Cabernet Franc quite a bit. 

Valenzano Merlot 2010Valenzano Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, 2010
This more recent vintage of Merlot again shows a terrific nose full of fruit.  The wine is extremely dark, black almost.
Very aromatic black cherry, mocha and chocolate dominate. There is a vegetal angle which is quite dark - not green, but like black olives. The palate is rich and dark, too, with currant, blackberry, black pepper and black olives in a setting of strong tannins and fantastic acidity. The lengthy finish is much appreciated.

Valenzano Cabernet/MerlotValenzano Cabernet/Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, 2010 
The bottle shows the 2008 vintage stricken in magic marker, with 2010 written in its place. The label also shows a blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, but Anthony Valenzano tells me the '10 has 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. 

On the nose, this very dark-hued wine displays an incredible array of dark fruit and baking spices.  There is also a green element, as if the grapes were whole-cluster pressed.  The Cab Franc makes its way to the front of the olfactory show without trouble, while Merlot and 
Cabernet Sauvignon assist. 

Very clean and appealing on the palate, the Valenzano Cab/Merlot is vibrant and fresh. There's no mistaking the flavor of the Cabernet Franc, or the lip-smacking acidity. The Merlot's spice makes a play, as does the minerality of the Cabernet Sauvignon.  There is a sour cherry flavor that lingers beautifully into the finish. Tasting this wine on an 80 degree Los Angeles day made the illusion of spring more vivid.  I envision this wine will also be great when chilled a bit and served outdoors at summer picnics. 

The wine is great for sipping - medium bodied and easy to drink - but has the necessary qualities to make food pairing easy.  It grew darker in flavor over the course of several days open.  After enjoying it for a while, it hit me that I was drinking a $10 bottle of wine. It's quite a value at that price.

Valenzano Jersey DevilJersey Devil Port 
This Port-style wine is made with Cynthiana grapes - known as Norton in some places - and is fortified with brandy and oak-aged for three years.  It carries a whopping 19.5% abv and sells for $16.

I smell greenness behind the dark fruit.  I also smell a lot of that brandy, which is actually a 93% oak-stored grain alcohol.  I have loved Norton on the occasions I've tried it, and find the grape somewhat masked by the other factors involved here.  This a wine that should find favor with people who like to sip hard liquor.  That is what comes through the strongest. 

The Port-style was not much to my liking, but the Merlot based wines were outstanding.  In fact, the Cabernet/Merlot is one of the best wines I've had in the past year or so.  The Valenzano website shows a number of wines - made with both grapes and other types of fruit - which look quite interesting.  Apple cider, cranberry and blueberry wine catch my eye, as do wines made from grapes like Chambourcin, Cynthiana, Vidal Blanc and a Cabernet Franc blush!  

Valenzano is winery that definitely has some interesting ideas about wine and is worth a look.


Pasadena PinotFest 2012

The new year brings a wealth of great opportunities to taste wine in Southern California, and one event Pinot Noir lovers always make it a point to attend is the Pasadena PinotFest.  The 2012 edition is the 4th annual for the event which celebrates "Pinot Noir and all things that go with it."

The Grand Public Tasting will show off the Pinot Noir of 100 different producers and the cuisine of some of the top restaurants in Pasadena.  It's a gourmet delight.  The wine promises to be superb, and the chance to talk with the winemakers about the Pinots they're pouring is not to be missed.  Parking for the event is free, and so is the shuttle which will take you to the Altadena Country Club.  Tickets are $89, $119 for VIP tickets.

The Grand Public Tasting event will be held Saturday February 11, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. at the beautiful Altadena Country Club.  There are several mini tastings slated in the weeks preceding the event at Noir Food & Wine Bar in Pasadena.  These tastings will be held on the four Saturdays before the Grand Public Tasting, from 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.  In addition, four winemaker dinners will be held at the Altadena Country Club, AKA Bistro, Bistro 45 and The Raymond.   The Grand Kickoff Dinner is set for January 15th, so you'll have plenty of time to get yourself ready for the big tasting event.

Check the Pasadena PinotFest schedule of events to make sure you can grab the ones you like best.

The Pasadena PinotFest benefits Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, one of the largest, nonprofit, private children’s mental health and welfare agencies in Los Angeles County.  They provide services to over 8,000 children and families annually in the greater Los Angeles area.

Monday, January 9, 2012


This Is E11even Wines Presents Purple Haze

Santa Barbara County winemaker Andrew Murray created an incredibly big, aromatic Syrah/Viognier blend he calls Purple Haze.  He sells this rock-targeted wine under the banner of This Is E11even Wines, a nod to the Spinal Tap reference of "turning it up to eleven."  It's a Central Coast red wine - at once brawny and elegant - which, oddly, takes inspiration from the wines of the northern Rhône.  Purple Haze may be an Old World blend, but it is a New World wine through and through.

Murray explains Purple Haze on his website:

"Purple Haze is inspired by the incredible wines of Côte Rôtie in the extreme northern reaches of the Rhône Valley.  There, Viognier is intentionally planted amongst or adjacent to the Syrah vines.  Syrah is a dark, spicy, and fruity red that benefits from the delicacy, perfume, and "lightness" of the Viognier.  The Syrah for this wine comes from Verna's Vineyard on Cat Canyon Road from a block planted to the French clone, simply named 383.  It is one of my favorite clones of Syrah; unfortunately it is not very widely planted.  We only harvested enough to craft three barrels of this wine.  The wine was open-top fermented with frequent punch-downs yielding an impossibly dark and concentrated Syrah.  It always seemed like a distillation of I thought that it needed something to truly shine.  We did some trial blends and found that about 10% Viognier added to the wine acted to both soften the wine and elevate the aromatics."

The aptly named Purple Haze - Murray says the Viognier "puts a spell on the Syrah" - is a very dark purple which gets only barely lighter around the edge.  Blueberry jam on the nose does not do a solo act.  It's joined by aromas of cassis, and tobacco - so aromatic it makes me think of pipe tobacco.  A floral note makes a peace sign from behind the fruit.  The smell is intense, like a perfume.

The wine shows every bit of its 15.9% alcohol level upon pouring, so let it sit a while before enjoying.  Wonderful, dark fruit flavors explode on the palate, with deep and rich blackberry and plums.  Firms tannins and a delicious acidity round out the concert.  I was struck after the bottle was open a while by the way it had smoothed out.  Incredibly dark and delicious, Purple Haze made me forget all about the Crosstown Traffic.  'Scuse me, while I finish off the bottle.

I notice on the website that both of the This Is E11even wines - Murray also makes a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah - are sold out.  Happily, he has an encore planned.  Murray tells me a white and a red E11even are coming soon.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Genuine Risk Merlot at Little Dom's

A holiday gathering of friends found me back at Little Dom's in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.  It's a cozy little spot with good food and a wine list which features a lot of labels I don't run across every day.  Their selection of wines, for me, is enough of a reason to drop in occasionally.  The food is an added bonus.

We were still getting our Christmas weather in L.A. - a little chilly.  The sunbathing warmth that always occurs in time for the Rose Bowl had not yet arrived.  Coat racks at the end of each booth - mere decoration for most of the year - were actually in full use this evening.  It made me feel for a minute like it really was winter.

Genuine Risk is produced by Black Sheep Finds, the Lompoc-based wine project of the husband and wife team of Peter Hunken and Amy Christine.  You may be familiar with their fabulous line of Holus Bolus Syrah and Pinot Noir.

The Genuine Risk '07 Merlot is actually a Bordeaux-style blend of 49% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.  All the grapes hail from a single vineyard in Ballard Canyon, in the Santa Ynez Valley portion of the beautiful Santa Barbara County wine country.  It sells for $14 by the glass at Little Dom's - around $23 per bottle retail.

The wine is dark in color and sports a nose which is dense and dark as well.  Tons of blackberry and blueberry aromas just about knocked me over, with a trace of herbal and olive notes adding complexity.  It's a brawny quaff, with a good tannic grip.  The fruit is right up front on the palate and a slightly smoky bramble accent really sets it off.  I think I had a pizza with it, but it was just something to pick at.  The wine really stole the show.

Only 250 cases of Genuine Risk were produced, and Hunken tells me they have now moved into their '08 vintage, which blends the same grape varieties but in a more Cabernet-heavy fashion.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Pinot Days

One of the great Pinot Noir events in America is coming to Southern California in January, Pinot Days 2012.  It will be the third annual Pinot Days for SoCal, and Pinot lovers already have the date marked in bold font on their digital calendars - or circled on the wall calendar from their insurance agent.

Pinot Days is staged by the Bay Area Wine Project in an effort to spread the love about Pinot Noir, many wine lovers' favorite grape.  They also put on Pinot Days events at other times of the year in San Francisco, Chicago and Dallas.

The Grand Tasting will happen on Saturday, January 28th, but there are three winemaker dinner events on the Thursday and Friday preceding, two at The Wine House Upstairs in West Los Angeles and one at West Restaurant at Hotel Angeleno in Santa Monica. 

Pinot Days promises "serious wine, serious fun"  for attendees and, judging by the previous two Pinot Days shows in Southern California, for the winemakers, too.  Fight your way through the crowd at the Clos Pepe table to witness Wes Hagen preaching his Pinot and you'll see what I mean.  He turns a wine tasting into a revival with the flair of a carnival barker.  His show is not to be missed.  His wines are pretty darn good, too.

Winemakers from California, Oregon and France's Burgundy region will pour their Pinot Noir in the big Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport.  Click here to see all the participants for this year's event.

The tickets are only $60 for the Grand Tasting, which a deal for an event of this nature.  Check the Pinot Days website for pricing on early admission and the other winemaker events.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Blood Of The Vines

It would happen this way:  You may be walking one day and a car will slow down beside you.  A door will open and someone you you know - perhaps someone you trust - will smile and offer you... a bottle of wine.

The 1970s brought a new kind of spy movie to us - the kind where the government wears the black hat.  These modern spies are corporate killers who do what they do not for love of anything.  They do what they do because that's what the memo said to do.

Robert Redford may not be the spy in "Three Days of the Condor," but he sure has the thrill-a-minute life foisted upon him.  This guy can't pick up the mail without dodging bullets.  Of course, nowadays that's not so unusual.  Don't watch this movie if you skipped giving your mailman a holiday tip.

Redford's character - a CIA researcher - wants to come in from the cold, only to find he's already in and the air conditioning is stuck on 32.  He's so cold he has to open the fridge to get warm - not to mention there might be a postman in there.  It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Redford's code name is "Condor," and the tactics the government uses in trying to keep him quiet sure have him feeling like an endagered species.  Max Von Sydow will make you feel like that.  Blood doesn't run colder than that of his character.  Things do heat up a bit for Condor when Faye Dunaway realizes things could be worse than playing hostage to a guy who looks like Redford.  

Now the car slows down, and the smiling man offers a refreshing drink of wine.  

Condor's Hope Vineyard is named for its location in Santa Barbara County where condors are released into the wild.  The winery releases big Zinfandels and Shiraz into the wild, but only 400 cases at a time.  Most of their wines sell for under $20.  They might be a little hard to find, but that's how condors are.  If you order some, you might want to get it sent by FedEx.

I spy some other wines:

Condor Wines Northwest - I love wines with a purpose, and the purpose of this eastern Washington winery is hunger relief in Peru.  The wines are produced and bottled by Elk Cove Vineyards of Gaston, Oregon.  They are named after the condor, the national bird of Peru.  Their 2008 Barbera is $25.

Penley Estate Condor - Located in the Coonawarra Valley in the southeastern part of Australia, The Condor wine is a bold Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon blend, so named for the strength and stamina of the condor.  $20

Spy Valley Wines - From New Zealand's Marlborough region, there's a good variety of wine for under $20.

Wine Spies - An online wine retailer that sells it "spy-style," with operative notes and descriptive dossiers on their offerings.

Spy Wine Cooler commercial - Here's what happens when too many condors fly over your car.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages

Jadot's Beaujolais Villages 2010 is labeled as red Burgundy wine, even though the Beaujolais region is its own appellation.  Beaujolais is situated in both Burgundy and the Rhône, and  the Beaujolais Villages region is located in the southern Beaujolais, near Lyons, between the Beaujolais appellation and the Crus.  Beaujolais Villages is a little more Burgundian in its terroir.  The soils are mostly granitic. 

The Jadot maison was founded in 1859 and bears the founder's name.  It's customary in Burgundy for winemakers to work with single varieties, and Jadot follows that plan.  They utilize Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in their Burgundian bottlings and Gamay grapes for their Beaujolais wines.

Commenting upon the Jadot methodology in the vineyards, their website exclaims,  "we have, for the past 20 years, banished all use of synthetic products (fertilisers, herbicides, etc) on our vineyards soils and have taken up traditional practices instead.  Our work is done either by tractor or, for the most inaccessible vineyards, by horse.  We don't work our soil deeply but prefer to concentrate on surface actions in order to preserve its innate structure.  We encourage our vines to grow their roots in such a way as to enable them to mine the soil's minerality.  This allows them to fight disease naturally and more efficiently."

Jadot's 2010 Beaujolais Villages is a wine which is available widely in the U.S., at price points well under the $20 mark.

The nose offers an aromatic fruitiness, with cherries and strawberries in the forefront.  Rich ruby hued, the wine is not dark.  Light passes through easily.  The palate shows the same red fruit with the mark of minerals on it.  The tannins are subdued - elegant, if you will - and the acidity is wonderful.  It's very easy to drink, at 13% abv, and is quite light on the palate.

Pairing the Jadot Beaujolais Villages with cheese is a natural.  If you pick up a bottle at Trader Joe's, grab some Madrigal cheese to go with it.  Light meats will also pair quite well with it.

Monday, January 2, 2012


You may not be aware you've had wine made by the Wagner family.  If you've had Conundrum or Caymus, Mer Soleil, Meiomi or Belle Glos, you've had a Wagner wine.

The Wagners - Charlie, Lorna and son Chuck - carved out their place in Northern California's Monterey County in the early 1970s.  Charlie passed a few years ago, Lorna is in her nineties and enjoying the Pinot Noir named after her, and that 19 year-old who
helped his folks get things started is now running the show.  He's the same Chuck Wagner, just not 19 anymore.

The tasting package provided by the Wagners allowed me to sample their wines - most of which were already familiar to me - and also try out the mail-order samplers bottled by TastingRoom, Inc of Santa Rosa.  The package contained six small screwcap bottles, each holding 50ml of wine - just enough for a taste - and the label bears a “Best Enjoyed By” date.  TastingRoom makes quite a few tasting packages, most of which sell for somewhere between $20 and $30.  The entire package and contents are 100% recyclable.  Here's what was in the Wagner Family Selection:

Conundrum 2009 - Labeled as “A Proprietary Blend of California White Wine,” Conundrum is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Semillion and Viognier with a 13.5% abv number.  Jon Bolta has been heading up the white wine side of the
Wagner Family's repertoire since 1988, and Conundrum was his pet project.  The first vintage was released in '89.  The "conundrum" is figuring out which grape varieties make up the blend.  It's not too much of a puzzle to figure out that it pairs well with Asian food. 

The pale golden wine is fairly complex, showing aromas of white flowers, tropical fruit, a few drops of honey and a bit of honeydew melon.  It's nice and full in the mouth, with oak present.  Pear juice and a trace of pineapple are the main flavors, while a good acidity level makes it a great choice for pairing with seafood.  Conundrum is lush, with full malolactic fermentation adding softness.  I like it with lobster, while Chuck Wagner likes it with crabcakes.

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2009 - This beautiful white from Monterey's Santa Lucia Highlands is fermented in small cement tanks imported from France.  No French oak here, just French cement.  Chuck's son, Charlie Wagner II, handles the production for Mer Soleil.  He's a 5th generation winemaker.  The Mer Soleil Vineyard lies in the Santa Lucia Highlands, in the cool, dry part of Monterey County.  This Chardonnay carries a hefty 14.8% abv level.

A pale golden color in the glass, Silver has very fresh aromas of peaches and nectarines.  The stately palate is not all tricked up.  It has a very clean and fruity taste, with peaches, melons with a trace of the rind, tropical fruit and citrus joined by some nice
minerals.  There's a very food-friendly acidity here as well.

Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008 - This one is also from the Santa Lucia Highlands.  The alcohol level is 14.5%.  This "oaked" Chardonnay is a little more golden than the unoaked version.  There are peaches and nectarines on the nose, joined by
some wood spice.  It's a full-bodied, California-style Chardonnay.  On the palate, the oak is in the forefront, and a sense of movie theater popcorn butter lingers on the finish.  The acidity is even better than in the other two whites.

Belle Glos Pinot Noir 2009 - One of three single-vineyard Pinots by this arm of the Wagner Family of wines, the fruit was sourced from the Clark and Telephone Vineyards in Santa Barbara County's Santa Maria Valley.  Joseph Wagner - another 5th generation
winemaker - produces Belle Glos wines, which are named Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, wife of founder Charlie and Chuck's mother.  This 100% Pinot Noir is her favorite wine.

This dark wine brings an alcohol level of 14.4% abv to the glass.  The nose presents dark and burly fruit - black and blue berries - a familiar profile in red wines from the Santa Maria Valley.  The palate boasts black cherry cola - slightly sour - with a hint of minerality.  It's full in the mouth and sports great acidity.

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2009 - Joseph Wagner is also the winemaker for Meiomi, which means "coast" in ancient Indian languages.  Meiomi's vineyards are located in some nice coastal regions, Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties.  This Pinot has a lighter complexion than the Belle Glos with a  lighter alcohol content, too - 13.9% abv.

The nose is much brighter than the Belle Glos, with cherry and anise aromas in a very fruit forwrd manner.  A huge cherry expression dominates the palate and there's a nice tannnic structure with a great finish that darkens a bit, showing some coffee notes.  I'd have this with a steak.

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - The Caymus Vineyards are where it all began back in '72 for the Wagner Family.  Chuck Wagner is the winemaker for Caymus.  The famous Caymus Cab is produced using Napa Valley grapes - about one-fourth hillside fruit and three quarters from the valley.

Medium dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a fabulous nose with aromas of cassis and coffee - even an almost candy-like caramel component that wafts in and out while sniffing.  The currant comes through on the palate as well, and the wine is rich and full.  The tannins are forceful and beg to paired with a great steak.  The alcohol content is a big 15.2% abv.  The Caymus Cab lists for $68.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Exploring Beaujolais

Nicole Chanrion, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Côte de Brouilly 2009 is made from 100% Gamay grapes, has an alcohol content of 13% and retails for $19. 

Kermit Lynch imports this wine to the US, and he tells a rather compelling story about the winemaker on his website. 

“When Nicole Chanrion began her career in the 1970s, convention relegated women to the enology labs and kept them out of the cellar - even her mother thought winemaking was man’s work - but she would not be deterred from her dream of becoming a vigneronne.  With six generations of family tradition preceding her, she grew up helping her father in both the vineyards and the cellar in the Côte-de-Brouilly, one of the southernmost crus of the northern Beaujolais. 

"Ever since taking over the family domaine in 1988, she works all 6.5 hectares entirely by herself, from pruning the vineyards and driving the tractors to winemaking and bottling, all without bravado or fanfare. 

"In 2000 she became president of the Côte-de-Brouilly appellation, a position of respect and importance among peers. It’s small wonder then that she is affectionately referred to as 'La Patronne de la Côte,' or the Boss of la Côte."

The Côte-de-Brouilly appellation is a small part of the larger Brouilly Cru.  Lynch describes the Côte-de-Brouilly appellation as sitting "on the hillsides of Mont Brouilly, a prehistoric volcano that left blue schist stones and volcanic rock along its slopes. These stones yield structured wines with pronounced minerality and great aging potential."

According to Lynch, the traditional methods of the Beaujolais are employed by Chanrion -hand harvesting, whole cluster fermentation, aging the wines in large oak foudres for at least nine months, and bottling unfiltered.  "The resulting wines," says Lynch, "are powerful, with loads of pure fruit character and floral aromas.”

An intriguing fruity nose shows blackberry and currant.  There's dark fruit on the palate too, joined by some really nice oak spices, like clove, anise and some vanilla.  There's a very nice acidity and a healthy dose of minerals, too.  The tannins are noticeable but not too strong.  The wine is quite dry and has a lengthy finish that is more than welcome to stay awhile.