Friday, June 28, 2013

Tasting Santa Barbara County: Firestone Vineyards

A Sunday drive from Los Angeles to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail brought us to Firestone Vineyard's winery and tasting room.  Just a few minutes from Grand Avenue in Los Olivos - jammed with tasting rooms - the visit to Firestone offered a nice wine country experience with a picnic lunch in the front yard.

It was the kind of wine country trip I like - one with minimal planning.  We had planned a stop at the Trader Joe's Milpas Street location while coming through Santa Barbara, but that was about it.  A few cheeses, some avocados and a baguette later, we were fully equipped for a wine country snack.  A group consensus put us on the road to Foxen Canyon, and we ended up at Firestone.

The day was beautiful, the picnic was enjoyable and we were chillin' - some of us more than others.  Hey, it was a tough week!

All the wines on the tasting flight - $10 - are estate wines.  Firestone also offer a reserve flight for $15.

Sauvignon Blanc SYV 2011
Tropical fruit - pineapple, mainly - great acidity and a citrus finish made this a great choice for the lunch pairing.  The Santa Ynez Valley grapes are stainless steel fermented.  We bought a bottle and took it outside.  $14

Chardonnay SYV 2011
This one is aged 83% in stainless steel and 17% in French oak.  Apples and tropical flavors are touched with oak spice, a nice toasty vanilla.  It's not a big, buttery Chardonnay, but not steely either.  $18

Gewürztraminer SYV 2010
Aromatic is the word here, with floral and herbal notes on the nose and bright fruit on the palate.  It's off-dry and as fresh as can be.  $15

Riesling SYV 2011
One of several extras our pourer splashed, this Riesling has notes of petrol and sweet flowers on the nose and sweet apples on the palate.  2.25% residual sugar.

Dry Rosé SYV 2011
Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache combine with a dollop of Gewürztraminer.  There's a slight funk on the dark cherry nose and savory fruit on the palate.

Merlot SYV 2009
A bright red, spicy nose leads to cherries on the palate and a cinnamon finish.  $20

Cabernet Sauvignon SYV 2010
The nose is very light and perfumed with fruit, while palate shows a spicy angle as does the Merlot.  It's very tasty, but probably a little lightweight for me if I'm in the mood for a Cab.  $22

Syrah SYV 2010
Mostly Syrah, there is a three percent touch of Grenache in the blend.  The nose is wonderful, full of smoked meat and dark fruit.  The spicy palate is bright, not moody.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wines From Spain: Castilla-La Mancha

The land of Don Quixote has a lot more than windmills to tilt.  Wine glasses, for instance.  The Castilla-La Mancha region is located just below the central portion of Spain.  It's a big wine region - the biggest in Europe.  The specialties of the casa are wines made from Tempranillo and Airen grapes.  However, there are 23 white grapes and 23 red grapes permitted, so choosing a favorite may be difficult.

In early June, the La Mancha region brought its wine to Los Angeles for a tasting event - appropriately - at The Bazaar by José Andrés, in the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills.  I didn't get to taste from every table, and each stop I made offered more delights than the one before.  Here are some highlights:

Vinos & Bodegas - The company was founded in 1997, but the Cantareto family's wine roots go back five generations.  Their Imperium Vini Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is produced without the use of oak, so it has a fresh flavor that is all fruit and herbs with a dash of citrus zip.  The Barón de Larrainz Red Semisweet 2011 is just slightly earthy Tempranillo with a nice touch of sweetness.

Arrayan - This winery in the northwestern part of the region has an unoaked Syrah/Merlot blend - La Verdosa First Wine 2011 - that is dark and fresh tasting.  The Arrayan Rosado 2012 uses the same grapes to their pink advantage.  Very fruity with a nice acidity.  The Arrayan Syrah 2009 is very savory and earthy, while their Petit Verdot 2007, with a year in oak, is savory and dark.

Bodegas Santa Cruz poured a pair of Verdejo wines - produced in different styles - that provided a great side-by-side comparison.  Santa Cruz de Alpera White 2012 shows great minerality and salinity, while its sibling - Santa Cruz de Alpera Partially Fermented Must White - is on the sweet side, with a bigger acidity.  I'm told that must wines need not carry a vintage, but this one is 2012.

Encomienda de Cervera not only makes wine, but olive oil and Manchego cheese, too.  Their 19th-century winery has been restored to modern standards.  The Soto de Zemtinar White 2011 is a surprisingly earthy Chardonnay loaded with minerality.  Vulcanus Syrah Rosé 2010 is deeply pink with a huge nose, great acidity and a mouthful of plums.  They saved their best for last, the 1758 Selección Cencibel 2010.  This vibrant red is Tempranillo under its La Mancha name, Cencibel.  The 50-year old vines contribute an amazing spice character which is even more interesting when you note that it is unoaked.  It's an incredible wine.

Domino de Punctum Organic and Biodynamic Wines' Viento Aliseo Graciano/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 has an enormous nose and a palate of red fruit, graphite and oak spice.  It has a great backbone, too.

Bodegas Romero de Ávila Salcedo wins awards all over the world, which may explain why their export department speaks several languages.  Their Portento Tempranillo 2011 is a no-oak wonder, with bright and fresh red berry flavors.

Altolandon's altitude - 3,600 feet - makes for a cool-climate area.  Altolandon White 2010 mixes Chardonnay with Petit Manseng for minerals, herbs and fruit on the nose and palate.  The L'Ame Malbec 2010 is a perfumed, bold, spicy red.  Rayeulo 2009 is made from the locally popular Bobal grape.  It should be popular in more places.  This rather brawny wine sports a juicy, red nose with a slightly sour touch and plum flavors galore.  Great tannic structure, too.

Finca Los Alijares is a relative newcomer in a land with as much history as La Mancha - founded in 2005.  The Finca Los Alijares Viognier 2012 is pure fruit - a floral nose and lemon zest in the mouth make for a great sip.  Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2010 is earthy, plummy, clean and pure in the mouth.  There is a touch of roses on the cherry flavors.

Bodegas Cristo de la Vega produces the Marques de Castilla line.  Their White Airen 2012 puts a savory angle on the white peach flavor and offers stirring acidity.  Their Rosé of Tempranillo and Garnacha 2012 made me wish the tasting had been held out in the warm sun.  The Reserva Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 shows caramel notes on the nose and is fruity and elegant on the palate, with a touch of smoke.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Groundwork Grenache Blanc From Paso Robles

Dinner with friends in Manhattan Beach at Chez Soi was a very good experience for three reasons.  First, the good friends with whom we shared our evening are always a blast.  Second, the food and wine at Chez Soi are first rate.  Third, it was a pleasure to be able to hear our conversations at the table.  Chez Soi does not go in for the current restaurant trend of turning the music up to eleven.  The menu by executive chef Mark Gold (formerly of Eva) is small and focused.  The wine list stretches out a bit and has some very interesting offerings.

One of them is the Groundwork Grenache Blanc 2012.  An $11 selection by the glass, this wine is really worth writing home about.  From Sans Liege winemaker Curt Schalchlin, this project shouldn’t stay on the side.  It’s ready for prime time.  The wine retails for $16 - that’s an incredible price for such a great wine.

Made from grapes sourced in Paso Robles’ El Pomar District - Beato, Kopack and Last Frontier Vineyards - the wine keeps the alcohol reasonable at 13.8% abv.  It’s aged in stainless steel for five months and is bottled under a screwcap.

The first thing is obvious - this wine has beautiful color, tinged with golden copper.  One sniff confirms it has a nose that lives up to expectations.  The floral and herbal bouquet is quite expressive, while the touch of citrus peel invites a food pairing.  The palate shows plenty of the minerals one expects in a Paso white.  The acidity is racy and fresh.

I had two tentacles of grilled octopus with the Groundwork Grenache Blanc, and it couldn’t have been a better pairing.  The acidity and mineral profile will no doubt make it a great wine to pair with many different foods.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

2011 Vintage Port Declaration


Port wine - produced in Portugal's Douro Valley - is typically a blend of several vintages of wine.  When exceptional vintages are identified, a vintage port is declared.  Winemakers usually make this determination about two years after the vintage.  Vintage port makes up only about two percent of total port production, so the wines are rather rare and usually rather expensive.

You may have seen wines made in America bearing the name "port," and that's because the US does not recognize port as a protected style.  The European Union does, however, so any European wines made in the style of port may not carry the name unless they come from the Douro Valley.

The Douro is the world's oldest official wine region, having attained that status in 1756.  It predates Bordeaux as a recognized appellation by nearly a hundred years.

Port wine is made by adding a grape spirit to the wine during fermentation.  That stops the fermentation and provides a good deal of residual sugar along with a higher alcohol content than is usually seen in wine.  Port generally registers about 20 percent alcohol.

There are over a hundred grapes permitted in the making of port, but it usually boils down to five grapes: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz - known across the border in Spain as Tempranillo, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.

The Event

One of three stops across America for the five major port houses, the Los Angeles event showcasing the 2011 vintage ports was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in early June 2013.  The hotel is a pretty swanky joint, known for its Polo Lounge - as in, "I'll take my calls at the Polo Lounge."  Although it's not such a necessity since the advent of cellular technology, it must have been quite a bit of social bling to have a waiter bring the phone to your table there, back in the day.  Now, you're just another cellular idiot ruining everyone's restaurant experience.

We gathered in the hotel's Sunset Room to feast on the recently declared - and widely hailed - 2011 vintage ports.  As an added attraction, there were vertical tastings of the other declared vintages of the past decade.  Represented were The Fladgate Partnership - Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft - Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira.  Quinta, I learned, is the Portuguese word for "estate."

The 2011 Vintage Ports

The elegant booklet provided at the tasting contained a paragraph on what makes the 2011 vintage so special that it was declared.  "The 2011 harvest was preceded by a cold, wet winter, providing ground water reserves which allowed a balanced ripening of the grapes during the hot, dry summer."  The description goes on to call 2011 a "textbook viticultural year."

Croft 2011 - Five thousand cases of this wine were produced, which is down from eight thousand cases produced of the Croft 2009 Vintage Port.  Croft is known for its opulent ports, and this one follows suit, with beautiful, ripe fruit and a satiny texture.

Fonseca 2011 - The big, bold nose is quite complex.  There is massive fruit here, tinged with a savory aspect.  The black currant flavor is colored with notes of chocolate and anise.  It's wine has great tannic structure.

Quinta do Noval 2011 - Dark aromas mix with floral notes, giving a delicate feel to a powerful wine.  It's a great wine to ruminate on, if one is so disposed.

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2011 - The Touriga Nacional grapes used in the making of this rare wine - only 125 cases were made - grow on Portuguese rootstock.  Ungrafted and never affected by phylloxera, the vines are considered national treasures.  2011 is this vineyard's first declaration since 2003.  The wine has extremely dark color and an explosive nose full of dark fruit.  The tannins really reach out and grab me.

Quinta da Romaneira 2011 - This wine shows a brambly edge on the nose and dark fruit on the palate is so concentrated it can be called bright.  It feels very fresh in the mouth.

Taylor Fladgate 2011 - Here is another very dark wine - dark in color, aroma and taste.  The winemaker calls it "textbook Taylor Fladgate."  It's an elegant quaff which finishes warm and vibrant.

Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2011 - A big and very focused wine, there is a surplus of dark fruit in the forefront and a nice, mellow finish.  It is exceptional.

Other Vintages

At the Croft table I was told that not everyone declared in 2009.  The Fladgate Partnership felt it was notable, though, and the Croft 2009 shows why.  Pungent herbal notes, leather and cedar mark the nose, while the tannins provide great structure.  The 2007 vintage has a great nose and a delicious blueberry finish, while 2003 shows a savory side to the currant flavor.

The Fonseca 2009 is almost black and displays huge fruit on the nose and palate.  A eucalyptus note shows through in the 2007 while 2003 delivers minty cherry flavors.

Taylor Fladgate's 2009 is drinking extremely well now.  It's big and powerful, with cherries and blackberries notable.  In their 2007 vintage, forest floor underlies the black currant.  Wonderful fruit defines the 2003 as well.  The Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2004 is a showboat of black cherry, cassis and chocolate, with a particularly strong finish.

Quinta do Noval 2008 shows lots of spice in its bold, savory fruit.  Their 2007 gives lovely aromas and bright, fresh fruit flavors.  The 2004 vintage really has the spicy notes coming forward.  The Quinta do Noval 2003 also shows the spice, while giving a really nice, soft feel to the fruit.  Their Nacional 2003 has big fruit and even bigger minerals.

Quinta da Romaneira 2008 has a deep floral nose and a dark, sweet show of fruit.  Winemaker Christian Seely told me he is "an eccentric declarer," explaining why only his two houses declared in 2008.  Their 2007 is loaded with expressive dark fruit aromas and flavors tinted with a savory edge.  Great finish.  The 2004 vintage is mineral-laden and delicious.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cabernale Beer/Wine Hybrid

Maximiliano, a restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of Highland Park, had an interesting product on their beverage menu that I just had to try.  It is a fruit beer, brewed with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

This hybrid comes from Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing Company.  Founder/brewer Mark Jilg has come up with an interesting intersection of my two favorite drinks, beer and wine.  It sells at Maximiliano for $8 by the eight-ounce glass.  The alcohol content sits somewhere between beer and wine at 8.6% abv.

Jilg tells me that the reaction to Cabernale has been favorable, if not too detailed.  He says, "It seems to be easy for people who drink beer regularly to enjoy Cabernale and have a lot of fun with it.  It's a little more challenging for wine drinkers to find it interesting."

"We do a lot of fruit beers at Craftsman and a fair number of beers that use non-traditional ingredients.  We use plums, oranges, all sorts of citrus, persimmons.  I got fascinated with the idea of doing a beer with a lot of tannins after a a buddy of mine who is a home winemaker called me over to experience the miracle of winemaking.  We've been making Cabernale since 2004, 2005."

"Over the years we have fiddled with the recipe as to how the grapes interact with the beer.  We're trying to stretch out how much we can extract from the fruit, so the grapes were in the beer for five months.  We do a second beer with the pressings, Sour Grapes, which will probably be released in the fall."

Jilg says in the past he has sourced his grapes from Paso Robles.  "This time, due to scheduling issues, we got grapes from the Los Olivos area, from Brander.  It takes two tons of grapes for a thousand gallons of beer."

Served well-chilled in a tulip glass, Cabernale looks like dark purple wine, kind of cloudy with a trace of foam on the rim.  An earthy nose shows grape notes and an oak influence, while the taste comes across as a cross of beer and wine as promised.  It's very refreshing with notes of grape-flavored Sweet Tarts.  The wine notes hit early, and it finishes like beer.  The fruit does play heavily in the flavor profile.

I enjoyed Cabernale, but it falls into a no-man's land for me.  If I want a beer, I probably wouldn't order it.  If I want a wine, probably not, either.  It worked very well as a novelty cocktail for me, and was certainly a welcome addition to a warm L.A. afternoon.  After tasting Cabernale, I want to try some of Craftsman's more traditional brews.  That will mean getting over to the brewery in Pasadena, or back to Maximiliano.  Jilg says they keep five or six of his beers on tap there.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Westerly Sauvignon Blanc

I usually don't like it when a favorite spot is jettisoned by something new, especially when that something looks trendy.  One of my favorite Las Vegas hangs, Nora's Wine Bar and Osteria is no more.  Its replacement, Honey Salt, is a worthy successor to the strip mall space.

While the wine list at Honey Salt can't touch the one curated by Nora, they do have a few interesting choices.  The food is quite good, too.  Again, it's a small menu but it is centered on fresh and delicious offerings.

With my octopus Niçoise I had the pleasure of the Westerly Sauvignon Blanc.  I had a little difficulty finding a website for them and ran across one mention that the winery had closed.  The wine was listed for around $15 online.

Yellow-green in the glass, the bouquet shows a slightly grassy tone with tropical fruit and tangerine.  The palate is a laden with citrus, peach and mango.  A wonderful acidity is zippy and fresh.  Props to Honey Salt for serving it chilled, not refrigerated.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Pink Zinfandels From Dry Creek Valley: Just Don't Call Them White

Let me be clear.  I don’t have anything against White Zinfandel.  I don’t drink it much, but for those who like it, cheers!  I pitched a wine story to a magazine editor once who promised to “cut off all communication” with me if I ever brought up White Zinfandel again.  I didn’t, but he hasn’t called lately anyway.

A lot of folks do like White Zin - that wine type accounts for one out of ten bottles taken out of U.S. supermarkets.  If you sat in the back of the math class in high school, that works out to ten percent, and that’s a lot for one variety.

I do like old vine Zin, though.  White Zinfandel’s incredible popularity since its accidental invention in the early 1970s probably spared many an old Zinfandel vine which may have otherwise been pulled out of the ground to make way for more Cab, or Chardonnay, or Moscato, or insert trendy grape here.  But when ten percent of grocery store sales are White Zin, you keep that old Zinfandel growing, and for that I am grateful.

A publicist reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try three Zinfandel rosés from Dry Creek Valley - not White Zin, mind you, but true, dry, Provence-style rosé made from the Zinfandel grape.  I said, “Sure, I would.”

Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is known for its Zinfandel wines, so it stands to reason they should be known for those of a lighter hue, too.  These true rosé wines offer the acidity and refreshing nature of a white wine, while maintaining the heft and flavor of red wines.

Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012

The Pedroncelli family has been producing a rosé since 1951.  The word “dry” was added to its name in 2007, in order to draw a distinction between it and White Zin.

The grapes for their Signature Selection Dry Rose come from the Pedroncelli vineyard as well as another vineyard, unnamed in the media material I saw.  These grapes are picked in mid-September - a little early for Zinfandel, but just right for keeping the sugar down and retaining acidity.  Free-run juice joins 30% saignée in stainless steel fermentation.

This magenta marvel's color sits between pink and rosado - it's so brilliant it looks more like Kool-Aid than wine.  That's where the similarity ends, though.  This dry rosé smells like strawberries right off the vine, with an herbal note layered onto it.  In the mouth, the focus on acidity is readily apparent.  The fruit flavors are true to the varietal, with red berries aplenty and a nice weight in the mouth.  It’s lively, but carries a reasonable alcohol number of 13.9% abv.  I might have guessed it to be from the Rhône Valley - it has a sense of Cinsault about it, I think.

Dry Creek Vineyard Petite Zin Rosé 2012

The blend is 80% Zinfandel and 20% Petite Sirah, with alcohol at 13.5% abv.  Juice is drained from the skins after about four hours of contact time, and that s plenty to give this blush the bold look of a rosado.  Grapes from vines averaging 16 years of age are harvested from flat benchland vineyards with some hillside influence.  2012 is the fifth vintage for this pink Zin, which retails for $18.

The wine shows impressively as a deep, rosy red in the bottle and the glass.  Fresh strawberries, cherries and raspberries burst from the nose and palate, but don't let the fruity come-on fool you.  A White Zin fan would have a siezure upon sipping it.  The ripping acidity and strong tannic structure make it clear that this wine intends to go to dinner, and it intends to have a New York strip.  Well, at least a pork chop.

Mill Creek Santa Rosa Rosé 2012

Zin plays only a supporting role here, with 92% Merlot against 6% Zinfandel and 2% Cabernet Franc, all from the Mill Creek estate vineyards.  Alcohol gets up in the 14.5% range, while retailing for $19.
Winemaker Jeremy Kreck uses stainless steel fermentation - there's no mention of oak.

The wine, like the Pedroncelli, is so pink it's red.  Brilliantly colored, the Santa Rosa Rosé smells great, too.  Cherries, watermelons and strawberries all leap to mind without much of a struggle.  The palate shows similar fruit choices and slips a little spicy note in for good measure.  Acidity is not a problem, so it can go with most all kinds of food.

I still think the grapes of the Rhône Valley make the best rosé, but the Zinfandel grape can certainly hold its own without some of its color.  These three dry rosés made from Zinfandel show that it's possible to make Pink Zin without making it White Zin.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fog Dog Chardonnay

The California coast is known for its fog, and wineries are generally known for having a dog or two on the premises, so it was only a matter of time until the two merged in a wine named Fog Dog.

Actually not named for a cute little four legged creature at all, the wine's namesake is a white or clear spot in fog seen along the horizon.  It is said to go along with fog the way a dog goes with its owner.

Fog Dog Chardonnay - from Joseph Phelps Vineyards - is 100% Sonoma Coast Chardonnay sourced from the Freestone estate vineyards - only five miles from the Pacific - and the Dutton Ranch Mill Station Vineyard.  It retails for $35 and I think I paid about $14 for a glass at Embers Grill and Spirits in Las Vegas.

It was an enjoyably cool evening west of the strip in Summerlin, and the wine was perfect with a snack of garlic hummus, caprese salad and goat cheese and fig crostini.

Very golden and rich looking in the glass, the nose offers a good bit of oak spice with tropical fruit and floral notes.  On the palate, Fog Dog is lush with just the right amount of oak to lend a nice tone of vanilla to the fruit.  A great acidity makes for a refreshing and food-friendly glass of wine.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Finger Lakes Wine Month Celebrated On Twitter

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance continued their series of virtual wine tasting events on May 25, 2013, with a wine tweet-up in honor of Finger Lakes Wine Month.  Dubbed the Finger Lakes Wine Hour - really four-hours - the FLWA encouraged all to grab a bottle of their favorite wine produced in New York’s Finger Lakes region, taste it and get social about it.

The FLWA made it pretty easy on me - I was one of nearly two dozen media representatives supplied with samples.  Hundreds of other folks participated with wines which they bought with their own hard-earned money - money well spent.

New York’s Finger Lakes are a collection of long, deep, narrow lakes that were clawed out of the earth by glaciers.  Those lakes now provide the moderating influence needed to balance the cold winters in upstate New York for the growing of grapes.

Established as an AVA in 1982, the Finger Lakes region really got started in the 1950s, when Dr. Konstantin Frank set out to prove the skeptics wrong.  He figured it couldn’t be any harder to grow European vinifera grapes in New York than it was in the Ukraine.  His perseverance paved the way for all the other Finger Lakes growers to follow in his successful footsteps.

Best known for their distinctive and delightful Riesling wines, the winemakers of the Finger Lakes region also like to grow and make Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot - in addition to native and French hybrid varieties.

Wagner Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 

The folks at Wagner say they only produce this wine in top growing seasons, and they say 2010 was one of those seasons.  A lot of folks say that around the Finger Lakes, in fact.  Some say the 2010 vintage was God’s way of making up for the 2009 vintage.

The grapes for this Pinot Noir are grown in a single vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake from the eastern shore.  On Twitter, Katie Roller - @PR4Wagner - told me that “most of the wineries in the Finger Lakes region are so small that all their wines are single vineyard.”

Wagner was founded in 1979, and is one of the older wineries in the region.  There is no residual sugar in this wine, and the alcohol hits 12.8% abv.  Winemaker Ann Raffetto ages it in French and American oak for a year.

This is a spicy little number.  Notes of cinnamon, allspice, pepper, and anise join the raspberry aromas and flavors.  Hints of tea come forth on the palate, along with a ripping acidity.  It would no doubt leave a fairly delicate remembrance if it were not for its incredibly zippy freshness.

Thirsty Owl Wine Company Dry Riesling 2012 

The grapes for this varietal wine come mostly from newer estate vineyards on the western shore of Cayuga Lake, but there is fruit from some 30-year-old vines as well.  The tech numbers show alcohol at 11.2% abv and residual sugar at 0.4% - so it’s very dry.  Shawn Kime is the winemaker and vineyard manager for Thirsty Owl.

The wine is very pale in the glass and its nose smells of pears and tart apples.  In the mouth, it’s an austere Riesling, with green apple and a citrus zing on the palate and a freshness that’s bracing.  The clean, angular feel is steely and nervy.

On Twitter, @wild4wawine noticed a nice note of apple cinnamon that appeared on the finish.  The winery’s twitter feed - @TheThirstyOwl - told me, “This was bottled not too long ago. I expect the fruit to come up more over the next few months.”

Standing Stone Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2010 

Minerality is expected here, since the Standing Stone vineyards are planted shallow over a solid bed of slate on the eastern side of Seneca lake.  This Gewürz has only 1.0% residual sugar and 13.3% abv.

The huge, expressive nose trumpets not minerals but honeysuckle, jasmine, fresh peaches, pears and oranges.  Those notes repeat on the palate, which is abetted by some of that great Finger Lakes acidity.  The finish leaves a trace of tropical fruit behind.

Lakewood Vineyards Chardonnay 2011

Established in 1988, some of the Lakewood vines actually date back to 1952.  Winemaker Chris Stamp uses a mixture of American, French, Hungarian and 65% New York oak in the aging program for this Chardonnay, while the alcohol clocks in at 13.4% abv and there is no residual sugar.  It retails for $13.

The wine is undeniably oaky, with spiciness crawling all over it.  In addition to a creamy texture in the mouth, there is a racy acidity that doesn’t give up until well past the finish.  This is not a Chardonnay that just lets itself be sipped away.  This is a Chardonnay that takes umbrage it’s not paired with brisket and slaps the taste buds silly.

One Twitter user who seemed to wander into the Finger Lakes fray unaware - @maria_fulmer - commented, “Not a big wine drinker, but I am apparently missing out on this #FLXWine.”  That’s right, Maria.  If you are not already on the Finger Lakes bandwagon, it’s never too late to jump on.  There are plenty of hands to help you climb aboard.  Start with @FLXWine.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Vino California Italian Wine Event

Arriving late to a wine event is not a charge I usually plead “guilty” to, especially when the event covers the whole of Italy.  Every region and, seemingly, every grape were on display in Los Angeles in May - and I was so late to the event I had to come up with a Plan B while I chatted with friends who were on their way out the door.

The Vino California Italian wine event on May 14th, 2013 at the Skirball Cultural Center was heavily attended - and rightly so.  Dozens of producers were represented mainly at importer tables, and a few producers were on hand to pour and speak proudly about their wines themselves.

Lacking the time to make the full circuit, the Plan B I devised was to hit the islands - find all the wines from Sardegna and Sicilia that I could.  I did manage to taste quite a few, and even got to try a few grapes for the first time ever.  Hats off to the event’s producer, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West, in collaboration with Blue Lifestyle and The Tasting Panel magazine.


Cantine Sardus Pater

Terre Fenicie DOC 2012 - 100% Vermentino, this one is a classic.  Citrus on the nose, carried in by the smell of the ocean.

Is Solus DOC 2009 - Here’s one for your quest to join the Wine Century Club: 100% Carignano di Sulcis.  Dark with plum and raspberry, a cranberry finish leaves a lighter memory.

Foras DOC 2011 - 100% Cannonau.  Don’t be scared, that grape usually goes under the name of Grenache.  This unoaked version brings the fresh cherry aromas and flavors all the way home.

Jankara Vini
Vermentino di Gallura DOCG 2011 - An oyster shell nose defines this beautiful example of the variety, with grapefruit and lemon peel on the palate making me wish there were oysters in those shells.

Bresca Dorada

Mirto di Sardegna - Two beekeepers on the island also had a penchant for making liqueur from Myrtle berries.  They had to be talked into making it commercially available, but after tasting the aperitif, I wonder why they waited.  The 30% abv beverage has a very intense nose of wild berries and flavors that are plummy and savory-sweet.



Lighea Sicilia IGT 2011 - 100% Zibibbo, which is what Muscat of Alexandria is called on the island.  The fruity and floral nose gives way to a touch of sweetness layered on the minerality.

Tancredi Sicilia IGT 2008 - This mixture of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other red varieties has smoky oak on the nose and a big, bold palate showing savory black cherry and plenty of tannins and acidity.  It screams to be paired with food.


L’Isola dei Profumi Bianco Sicilia IGP 2011 - A 60/40 blend of Grecanico and Inzolia grapes, it’s smoky on the nose with a mouthful of minerals.

L’Isola dei Profumi Rosso Sicilia IGP 2010 -  This wine is 70% Nero d’Avola, aka Calabrese, and 30% Perricone, which is also known as Pignatello.  The nose of cherry, raspberry and oak spice is beautiful, while the savory black cherry minerality on the palate is a dark delight.

Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGP 2010 - The nose is leathery and it’s a very smooth and easy-drinking wine.

Ninfea Sicilia IGP 2010 - The 60% Grillo in the blend really takes over the Chardonnay, but it still reminds me of a Blanc de Blancs without the bubbles.

Fina Vini

Grillo IGP 2011 - A very golden color suggests lots of skin contact.  The nose is rather yeasty and gingery, while the palate throws a very different slant on mineral salinity.  Quite distinctive.

Taif Zibibbo Secco Sicilia IGP 2011 - All Zibibbo, the nose displays a slight grassiness and perfumed minerals.  It tastes a little like a Sauvignon Blanc, but more savory.

Kike’ Traminer Aromatico/Sauvignon Blanc Sicilia IGP 2011 - It’s heavy on the Traminer, with just a 10% splash of Sauv Blanc.  More Austrian than Italian, there are spices, flowers and grasses.

Cantine Intorcia

Intorcia Marsala Superiore Semisecco Riserva DOC 1980 - Yes, that says 1980.  A thirty-three year old Marsala that is nothing like the Marsala you might find in granny’s kitchen, unless granny is a wine connoisseur.  Nutty raisins and brown sugar on a dry palate make me think more of tawny port than cooking wine.

Feudo Maccari

SAIA 2009 - This 100% Nero d’Avola is really fresh-smelling despite 12 to 14 months in a French oak barrel.  Excellent acidity.

Azienda Agricola Gregorio de Gregorio

Enjambèe Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 - 40% Catarratto and 60% Insolia, this organic white has great weight and big minerals.

Catarratto Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 - A 100% Catarratto bottling, the organic wine has a nice salinity with a hint of fruit peeking through the ocean minerals.

Inzolia Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 - Made entirely from Inzolia grapes, it’s also organic.  The smoky, savory salinity scores again.

Magalì IGP Sicilia 2012 - The Nero d’Avola is softened with 20% Merlot in a stainless steel wine.  Lavender perfume and bright cherry flavors.

Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGP 2012 - All Nero d’Avola, this is also fermented in steel tanks.  Beautiful cherries abound and the acidity is fantastic. This organic wine may have made me want some food to pair with it more than any I tried at the event.

La Canneta Sicilia IGP 2009 - For those who like a little wood with their wine, this Nero d’Avola varietal vino was aged in barriques.  Smoky leather on the nose, spicy cherries on the palate.

I did have time to seek out a few other grapes that are off the beaten path

Emilia Romagna

Cantina Braschi

Romagna Albana Secco DOCG 2012 - 100% Albana grapes, which are pretty much only grown in this region of northern Italy.  I was told it is the oldest white wine grape in Italy.  I was also told it is one of only a few white wines with tannic structure.  Presumably, this is due to the ancient production technique.  It’s a white made like a red, with plenty of skin contact.  The beautiful golden color is eye-catching, and the flavors - while a bit strident - are palate pleasing.

Alba del Monte Vino da Uve Albana Stramature 2010
This late-harvest Albana is even more beautiful in the glass, and comes on like peach cobbler.


Azienda Agricola Ceraudo Roberto

Dattilo Val di Neto IGT 2009 - 100% Gaglioppo, the wine carries a beautiful oak spice from two years in wood.  Great acidity, grip, finish.

Petraro Val di Neto IGT 2007 - Gaglioppo and Cabernet Sauvignon in a half-and-half blend.  It’s two years older than the previous wine, and a bit smoother.

Casa Vinicola Criserà
Nerone di Calbria IGT 2008 - 70% Nerello balanced with Sangiovese, it’s loaded with dark, smoky cherries.

Costa Viola IGT 2012 - Half Greco, the other grapes are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Peache and pear flavors are touched by minerals.

Lige IGT 2012 - Nerello Calabrese grapes are joined by Gaglioppo.  The rosé wine has a strikingly deep magenta color, and the tannins show up, too.  Great acidity.

Duale IGT 2011 - All Nerello Calabrese, it’s simply gorgeous, with a wonderful acidity.

Cantine Viola

Rossoviola Calabria IGP 2011 - This is a varietal wine made from the Magliocco grape.  It is often mistakenly called Gaglioppo  The wine is Viola’s first vintage of the grape.  Red fruit and flowers on the nose lead to a very dry cherry flavor with great tannic structure.


Pileum Società Agricola

Il Passito IGT 2009 - A beautiful white wine from an all-female wine company.  The grapes are Passerina.  The minerals don’t outshine the fruit in this easy-drinker.


Antichi Vitigni

Pallagrello Nero Terre del Volturno IGT 2010 - This 100% Pallagrello wine is easy to drink.  I love its cherry minerality.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ferrari - Carano Fume Blanc

Mother’s Day found us in Las Vegas, taking Denise’s mother, Verna, to an early dinner at Spiedini Italian Ristorante.  It’s a place we have enjoyed for years in the Rampart Casino in Summerlin, out west of the strip where things are a little less crazy.

Gustav Mauler’s eatery has never disappointed me, even when it’s simple.  Grilled calamari and capellini pomodoro tasted great on this day.  I had the Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc.

A 100% varietal wine, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes were taken from the various Ferrari-Carano Sonoma County vineyards.   The wine is fermented about two-thirds in stainless steel, one-third in neutral French oak.  The wine in the barrels is aged sur lie, or with the spent yeast cells still in the wine.  This gives more weight to the finished wine and creates a fuller mouthfeel.

A greenish tint marks this white wine in the glass, and the nose is steely and nervy.   Citrus aromas dominate, with a hint of smoke wafting over the transom.   The palate is mineral-laden and also citrusy.  The flavor of lemon peel carries through the sip and into the finish.

I don’t know if there was a wine on the Spiedini list which would have gone better with my grilled calamari or my mother-in-law’s buttery clams.   Later, in the elevator, a fellow guest told me, “If it makes the mother-in-law happy, it’s worth whatever it costs!”

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Cantele Negroamaro 2010

Cantele Negroamaro is an Italian wine from the Puglia region with an I.G.T. Salento classification.  It is produced in the heel of the Italian boot, Salento, in the province of Leece, in a town called Guagnano.  It’s 100% Negroamaro, a grape known for a bitter quality in the taste.  I hear that amaro is Italian for bitter, but the grape’s name is more likely a combination of two words meaning black.  More Negroamaro grapes are grown in Puglia than anywhere else.

The 2010 Cantele Negroamaro was ordered at Cube in Los Angeles, where it cost $10 by the glass.  Denise and I love to get a cheese and charcuterie plate with a nice Italian wine.  The wine list is loaded with good Italian selections at Cube.  We had four cheeses - Camembert, vintage cheddar, benedictine and bleu - with prosciutto, sopressata and salumi mole also on the plate.

The dark red wine is aged in stainless steel, so the freshness of the fruit is not cut by oak.  Aromas of blackberry and black cherry fly unfettered from the glass.  A big, dark and fruity palate shows plums, blackberries and a nice earthy element that fits perfectly.

The unoaked quality of this wine is so impressive - I wish more red wines in the US were made that way. The freshness and the pairing with the food are heightened in the absence of oak treatment.

Whenever I have Italian wine with food, I am always struck by how well the two go together.  It was the same at this meal, with the wine bringing out highlights in the meats and cheeses.

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Friday, May 31, 2013

A Wine For Spring And Summer: Stepping Stone By Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Rosé 2012

For a good rosé wine, you have to look to Provence, right?  Tavel and Bandol are two places cited in the Stepping Stone press literature where “they make rosé like they mean it.”  Pink in California, they imply, is better left for breast cancer awareness than wine.  Pink in California means White Zin, and that means the wine aficionados need no help getting those noses turned up in the air.

But here’s the thing: pink doesn’t mean sappy and sweet at Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley.  Their Stepping Stone Corallina 2012 rosé is a bone-dry, oak-aged full-fledged wine that doesn’t apologize for its lack of pigmentation.  It flaunts it, in fact:

“Conceived as a rosé from the beginning, every farming choice throughout the year is made with only one goal in mind - rosé worth thinking about.  Harvest is timed solely around the complexity of fruit flavors as we don't need to worry about ripening the skin tannins.  The beautiful Napa Valley climate provides us with luscious fruit with more than enough color so no other skin contact is necessary than the three hours or so it takes the fruit to be gently pressed.”

At a suggested retail price of $20, the price isn’t high for a good rosé.  And it is a good rosé.  A 100% Syrah wine, it’s a single vineyard wine, too.  The grapes come from Crane Ranch Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley.  The wine spends five months in French oak, picking up added complexity along the way.  The alcohol sits at a lofty - for a rosé - 14.1% abv.  419 cases were produced.  That’s not a lot, and the summer is long.  Just a word to the wise.

This true rosé wine looks pretty and pink in the glass, with not too deep a shade.  Corallina’s nose is as fragrant as a garden.  There are herbal accents, but the focus is on the fruit salad aromas that come forth.  Strawberry and melon are right in front - I get honeydew and cantaloupe plus the factory-standard watermelon.  There’s a lot more at work here, though.  The Syrah makes itself known despite the pinkish hue, with whiffs of spice and faint blackberry.  I swear there’s some cocoa in there, too, plus a bit of something earthy coming through.  The palate is a fresh fruit basket with ripe cherries piled upon raspberries, apples and tangerines.  Wait, this is still Syrah, right?

The cost of that vacation in Provence just got knocked down to twenty bucks a day.

By the way, the label is a work of art.  Really.  The work is called "Wine Dance" by artist Janet Ekholm.  Cornerstone spokespeople say “the brilliant colors and intermingling of subject, landscape and sky into a harmonious whole is the perfect reflection of our vision for Corallina Syrah Rosé.”

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Missouri Wine From Stone Hill Winery

My recent visit to Texas afforded me an unexpected meeting with a wine from Missouri.  Stone Hill Winery's Hermannsberg Brand is labeled as a Missouri Dry Red Wine.

On my brother and sister-in-law's porch with uncharacteristically great weather in southeast Texas that day - dry and sunny with a cool breeze blowing - I took a bit of relaxation.  Their insanely quiet neighborhood provided a welcome respite from life in Los Angeles.

This blend of Norton, Vincent and Chambourcin grapes hits 13% abv and shows a lovely medium-ruby color.  On the nose, black cherry and roses move aside for a savory note.  A little chocolate mocha comes through after it opened up a bit.  The palate is fruity, with dusty cherries and a cranberry edge.  It hit me rather like a Gamay, but with a little more muscle.  Good tannins make for easy food pairing: bring on the brisket.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Hitching Post Gen Red Cabernet Franc Blend 2010

Hitching Post wines are created in California's Central Coast by owner/chef Frank Ostini and former fisherman Gray Hartley.  Gen Red is a Cabernet Franc blend made from grapes grown in several Santa Barbara County vineyards.  The Cabernet Franc, some Merlot, and Syrah are from Alisos Vineyard, there's Merlot from McGinley and Buttonwood Vineyards and Cabernet Franc and Valdiguie from the French Camp Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County.

As the website decribes, "The Cabernet Franc adds the intense aromatics, the Merlot adds body and roundness, and the Syrah and Valdiguie add color, richness, and fruitiness."

The wine is medium-ruby in color with an extremely fresh nose showing brilliant cherry fruit and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.  The palate is full to bursting with bright cherry flavors, some cedar notes and a great acidity, which lends this wine its freshness.  I'd love to get this for the holidays and right now I am going to write myself a note reminding me to do so.

Gen Red was on the wine list at the Westside Tavern, which is the best excuse to see a movie at the mall on Pico.  The restaurant is just down the escalator from the theaters, so it's great for grabbing a bite or a sip before or after a film.  The wine cost $10 by the glass and $32 by the bottle, and both are pretty good prices in the realm of Los Angeles restaurants.  Westside Tavern's wine program is one of the better efforts in L.A., and the food is out of this world.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Spanish Wine: Rioja

The wines of Spain's Rioja region are varied and always a delight.  From crisp, young whites to fresh rosados to bright and cheery young reds and those with some age and oak influence, the wines of Rioja never fail to impress while showing off their terroir.

The Rioja region lies between mountain ranges in the north-central part of Spain and is separated into three main sub-regions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa.  Tempranillo is the main red grape, although you will often see Graciano, Garnacha (Grenache) and Mazuelo.  For white wines, Viura is popular, with Malvasia playing a supporting role.

Tempranillo wines are defined four different ways.  Cosecha are young wines, one or two years old.  Crianza wines are in at least their third year, with a minimum of one year in oak.  Reserva wines are aged a minimum of three years, two for whites, with at least one in oak.  Gran Reserva refers to selected wines from great vintages.  They have spent at least two years in oak and three in the bottle.  Whites are aged at least four years. It may sound a little complicated, but the system defines the wines of Rioja well.

Not only do Rioja wines have a generally high level of quality, but they deliver it at very affordable prices.  Most of the wines I will mention here are in the $10 to $20 range.  A few went as high as $30, and some are under $10.

Here are some of the standouts I tasted at a Rioja tasting sponsored by Vibrant Rioja at Fleming's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills on May 7th, 2013.

It's not a Rioja tasting without a stop at the Lopez de Heredia table.  WineWise had these, and the whites are simply outstanding.  The Viña Gravonia Crianza Blanco 2003 is 100% Viura and has four years in the barrel and four in the bottle.  The Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva 1998 has six years in the barrel and is 90% Viura.  These well-aged whites are really unbelievable.

Ole Imports, distributed by Angeles Wine, had two fresh wines by Cortijo.  The 2012 Rosado is all Tempranillo with brilliant acidity while the 2011 Tinto has 20% Garnacha thrown in, with only three months in oak.  Field blend fans should take note of the El Brozal 2010 - roughly 80% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 10% Garnacha, grown together in the 1938 vineyard and co-fermented.  There is an intriguing, savory nose and fabulous acidity.  The VSL Graciano 2010 - the only 100% Graciano I saw at the event - is savory.  It is fermented in concrete and spends only three months in oak.

I found Undiscovered Wines in the far corner of the room.  Rodriguez Sanzo's Lacrimus 5 is all unoaked Tempranillo, fresh and juicy, while their Lacrimus Rex blends Garnacha and Graciano for a dark, vibrant red that was one of my favorites.  The Zinio Garnacha is lovely - a bit more savory than I expected - and the fruity, funky nose of the Heredad Garblo Crianza mixes four red grapes - Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano.

Importer CIV USA had some excellent wines from Conde de Valdemar.  Their Sierra Cantabria Blanco 2011 is 100% Viura, aged three to five months in French oak.  It has a distinctive floral aspect on both the nose and palate.  Their 2011 Rosado is a pink-tinted blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, from vines pushing 70 years old.  Great acidity is the highlight, with an herbal strand and a nice touch of oak.  Their Crianza 2008 has an exceptional nice oak effect and a savory side that dominates.

Dinastia Vivanco Blanco 2012 is a mix of Viura, Malvasia and White Tempranillo.  The pourer told me, with a laugh, that the last grape is nothing like White Zinfandel.  It is a natural mutation of the red Tempranillo grape and was not discovered until 1988.  This wine displays a huge streak of citrus.  Their Rosado 2012 is Tempranillo and Garnacha, showing a garden of strawberry.  The Vivianco Crianza 2008 has lively, young fruit while their Vivianco Reserva 2005 is a mature blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha.

From Fine Estates of Spain, Jorge Ordonez Portfolio, comes a nearly perfect Sierra Cantabria Rosado 2012, with strawberry, cherry and fantastic acidity in the Tampranillo/Garnacha/Viura blend.  They also poured the Finca Allende Blanco 2009, a 90% Viura/10% Malvasia mix.  The nutty, floral nose anticipates a great, savory palate.

Folio Wine had the unbelievably refreshing Palacio Remondo Placet Valtomelloso 2011.  This unoaked Viura wine has fruit all over the nose and an herbal touch on the palate.  The Palacio Remondo La Montessa 2009 is a Garnacha/Tempranillo blend - heavy on the Garnacha - which spends 18 months in oak, yet is still light, bright and refreshing.  The Artadi Vinas de Gain 2009 is a savory 100% Tempranillo wine.

Frederick Wildman &Co. Splashed a nice white, the El Coto Blanco 2012 - 100% Viura aged in steel with a sweet, floral nose.  Also unoaked is the El Coto Rosado 2012, all Tempranillo with lovey strawberry and herbal flavors.  The fruit-forward red, El Coto de Imaz Reserva 2005, makes a great everyday wine.  The Baron de Lay Gran Reserva 2004 has dusty fruit and great tannic structure.

Grape Expectations Imports poured the Bodegas Lan D-12 2009, a light and delicious Tempranillo.
Vinos Libres Wine Merchants splashed a taste of the Luis Alegre Koden Semi-Crianza 2010.  Not an official designation, the importer calls it semi-Crianza due to its six months in oak.  It is an elegant and savory Tempranillo.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Friendly Skies Not So Wine-Friendly

Airline wine.  What a disappointment.  Two choices, red or white.  Fox Grove Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon or Red Tree Chardonnay, I think it was, shoved at me by the flight attendant who was a lot more concerned with getting her cart down the aisle than discussing the merits of the wine in her plastic drawer that served as her airborne cellar.  I didn't expect a sommelier 's attention, but it was quite a soulless exchange.  "May I have your credit card please?"  With a swipe of it, I was the proud owner of an Australian Shiraz-Cabernet in a tiny plastic bottle.

Fox Grove Shiraz-Cab is a Southeastern Australia blend of 70% Shiraz and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, clocking in at 13% abv.  I could find little else about it online, and frankly I didn't really want to.  The jug wine formula name (iconic image + nature reference) does not bode well.

An oaky nose with blackberry and cherry aromas leads to a palate that's full and juicy with not much complexity.  There is red berry and black pepper, so at least it tastes alright.  The oak I discovered on the nose is not as pronounced as I feared it would be, but still a tad overdone.  The bite of the tannins are more suited for beef than bar nuts.

It was a welcome return to wine grapes, as my stay in Texas had been heavily populated with fruit wines and Muscadine, not that those options are bad in and of themselves.  I would not, however, seek out this wine if more than two choices were available.  I was left wondering if maybe the Red Tree Chardonnay might have been a more enjoyable choice.  Or a Muscadine.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Texas Wine At IAH

Waiting at Houston Bush International Airport for my return flight from Texas to Los Angeles, there was one more Texas wine for me to try.  CapRock Moscato was $10 by the glass at Bubba's Bar and Grill in Terminal C.

Founded in Lubbock in 1988, CapRock Winery is in the Texas High Plains AVA.  Sold earlier this year - for the second time in three years - CapRock is one of Texas' biggest wineries.  Like many Central and West Texas wineries, CapRock specializes in Spanish, Italian and Rhône grape varieties.

This Moscato has a yellow-green tint and an aromatic nose of flowers, pears and peaches with a slightly herbal note underneath.  I was surprised by the little hint of petrol in the background, very much like a Riesling.  It's on the sweet side and the fruit is the star of the palate.  Sweet peach, nectarine and pineapple juice flavors reside in a nectar-like setting.  It's rather viscous, and completely delicious.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer Wines From Tower 15 Winery

Tower 15 Winery was launched in 2011 by Tim Perr and Scott Knight, the guys behind the Pinot Noirs of Pali Wine Co.  Having already shown what they can do with the fruit of Santa Barbara County, they let their Lompoc-based Tower 15 line explore grapes from the Westside of Paso Robles.  Winemaker Aaron Walker and consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz do great work with the Pali Pinot, and they show their expertise with warmer-climate varieties, too.  The iconic label art for the Tower 15 wines is done by by Santa Monica artist Michael Giliberti.

In the same way that the name for Pali Wines is the nickname of Perr and Knight's hometown, Pacific Palisades, Tower 15's name also comes from nostalgia.  Lifeguard tower 15 - along the Pali coastline - has been a family meeting point through the years, and it serves as the inspiration for the label and is a symbol of friendship and good times.

The Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is made from 100% Paso Robles Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  The wine spends three months in neutral oak barrels and was bottled in February 2013.  Retail price is $18.50.

This is a great summer wine, and it's not bad for spring, either.  Three months in neutral oak lends a bit of weight, while the acidity is really the main attraction here.  Fresh, grassy aromas join tropical pineapple, lime and banana on the nose.  The palate also shows the oak's effect, with gentle spices layering the fruit in the flavor profile.  The brilliant freshness remains a player into the finish.  I also note a slightly frizzante quality, with bubbles clinging to the side of the glass for several minutes.

Sunset Rosé 2012

A salmon-pink blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre from Paso Robles, Sunset rosé spends four months in neutral oak barrels.  It was bottled in February 2013.  The retail price is the same as its sibling, $18.50.

Sunset's nose features wonderful, earthy notes alongside the smells of strawberry, cranberry and melon.  As in the Sauvignon Blanc, the acidity takes center stage on the palate.  It's razor sharp at room temperature and only slightly less when carrying a chill.  There is also some bubbling around the rim, as in the white wine.  Flavor-wise, it's a pretty meaty rosé.  It displays a slightly lighter resemblance to the red grapes used to make it.  There's cherry, raspberry, a hint of cranberry and just a little savory undercurrent.  Pair it with a salad for sure, but make it a tri-tip salad.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wine Country Texas - Bruno And George Winery

On my recent trip to Southeast Texas, I had the good fortune to meet winemaker Shawn Bruno at his winery and tasting room in Sour Lake, Texas - just 13 miles west of Beaumont.  Bruno is a very outgoing former actor and former football star at the high school I attended a few years before him.  The school is now just a memory, a victim of consolidation, but it was named after a well-known wine lover, Thomas Jefferson.

When the keeper of the old school mascot passed away, Big Buzz the yellow jacket was entrusted to Bruno.  Alumni will be happy to note that he had it completely restored and is ready to loan it to all class reunions.  You have to pick it up and return it yourself, but that's not a problem in Texas, where everybody seems to have at least one pickup truck.  If you are without one, it's your good fortune that in Texas, everybody wants to help.

Bruno decided to follow his heart and continue his family tradition of making raisin wine.  His great-great-great grandfather, an immigrant from Sicily, made it and Bruno's father and uncles passed the tradition to him.  It was not an easy path for Bruno, though.  He quickly found that it was against some Prohibition-era law to make wine from dried fruit in Texas.  Not one to be defeated easily, Bruno worked for two years to have the law changed to allow raisin wine.  Then-Governor George W. Bush signed the bill in 1999 and Bruno has a declaration of it hanging in his tasting room, along with a treasure trove of family memorabilia.

Bruno and George Winery opened in 2000 and is distributed well in Texas.  Bruno bought out his partner and the wine labels now show "Bruno Collection," although the winery's name still has George in it.  The big liquor/beer/wine chain Spec's carries his product, as do other locations.  The tasting room is not open all the time, but Bruno is more than happy to schedule a tasting by appointment.  Call 409-287-1212 or 409-963-8235 to schedule your trip today.  Don't go in thinking that the tasting will be over in a half-hour or so.  That was my mistake.  Our tasting was a three-hour affair.  One of Bruno's favorite expressions is, "I've got a story about that, too!"

I had a medium-sized group of family members in tow, and we had a great time tasting the wines - so great a time that a big lasagna dinner for the whole family had to be postponed until the following night.  The text that went out to other family members on the way home read, "No lasagna tonight.  Mama's drunk."  It was probably not the first time that a message like that was conveyed in the great state of Texas.

Here's the tasting menu for Bruno and George Winery:

Candlelight Strawberry - Fruit wine made from California strawberries, it shows real strawberry flavor with great earthy and herbal notes.  $12

Big Buzz
White Orchard Pear - Florida pears go into this one.  Floral aromas and the taste of full-bodied pear juice.  Refreshing.  $12

Signature Peach - The peaches come from California, and the wine hits 12-13% abv.  Schnapps on the nose with a big peach flavor on the finish.  $12

Holiday Blueberry - This is Bruno's only fruit wine currently made with Texas fruit.  A very deep blueberry flavor is impressive.  It's not like a juice at all.  Bruno pours this with the sidebar that it's "always a holiday at Bruno and George."  $12

Arapaho Blackberry - Huge blackberry flavor all the way through in this one.  $12

Yellowjacket Raspberry - Named after our high school mascot, the Yellow Jacket has a big fruit expression, and is a hit with dark chocolate.  $15

Shawn Bruno
Cardinal Cranberry - Maine fruit makes up this great holiday wine.  Big cranberry taste is just slightly tart.  A sucker for mascots, Bruno named it for the mascot at the Beaumont university, Lamar.  $12, a top seller.

Salvatore's Red Plum - Made with Italian red plums, Bruno was not allowed to state that on the label.  Alcohol regulators thought it would make people think it was an Italian wine.  Bearing an ancestor's name instead, the wine shows an excellent rosé quality.  It's reminiscent of Provence, with very nice, earthy finish.  $12

Other Than Standard Raisin - Other Than Standard is the category this wine fell into before Bruno lobbied for a change that made his raisin wine of higher than 14% legal.  It reaches 16.3% abv.  He can now claim it's a dessert raisin wine on the label.  The wine has actually won awards in the Port category. Vinified in a single fermentation, the wine is not overly sweet - it's nothing like Vin Santo.  It has a nice viscosity and is aged in a steel tank for three to four years.  Made from California raisins, it has a beautiful, rich color while the nose shows raisin, brown sugar and caramel. $12

The Bruno Collection fruit wine is non vintage, as prescribed by alcoholic beverage regulations.

One of the many stories Bruno told us during the tasting concerned an old vase.  It seems that during the construction of the tasting room, the old, green vase - adorned with grapes - was unearthed.  "They didn't hit anything else during all the digging, just that vase," says Bruno.  "I like to think it was divine intervention.  The way the raisin wine happened, there must have been somebody on my shoulder."  The vase still has a place of honor on the tasting bar, even if it is as a dump bucket.  I think his grandfather would be proud.

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