Friday, July 12, 2013

Eco-Friendly Artisan Wine Racks

I was recently alerted to a San Diego-based company that produces and markets handmade, eco-friendly wine racks and wine gift boxes, among other items.  Brian Behncke is the founder of ThinkEco2, and works for Briven Construction during the day.  He’s an artisan woodworker by night.

His items have a rustic, rough-hewn look that I’m partial to, and maybe you will be, too.  He states on his website, “We reclaim, reprocess, and repurpose wood that was on its way to the landfill.”  His green wine and garden products are made from 100% recycled wood.  In addition to wine racks and boxes, he also makes patio tables, wedding trays, planters and coasters.

You can find Behncke’s full line of products at

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blood Of The Vines: The Nutty Professor

Blood Of The Vines: The Nutty Professor

Wine goes to the movies with 

Good and evil are depicted to some degree in almost every movie.  I tend to view any character drinking wine as “good,” which leads to some confusion when screening “Rosemary’s Baby.”

In “The Nutty Professor,” Jerry Lewis portrays both good and evil in his dual role as the goofy chemistry prof and his suave, slick alter-ego.  Lewis has stated that the characters represent both sides of the good/evil coin, a coin I received in change at Whole Foods the other day.  President Lincoln is heads, while tails shows Honest Abe mooning us through the columns of the Lincoln Memorial.

Observers have speculated that Lewis patterned Buddy Love after his former partner Dean Martin, but the Clown Prince of France says that was not the case.  He has expressed regret for not making the Love character more overtly evil.  It seems most of the fan mail went to B. Love, not J. Kelp.

While perusing the notion of Jerry Lewis as Jekyll and Hyde, the question arises: What kinds of wine would Julius Kelp and Buddy Love drink?  At least it arises for me, a few more times a day than I’d like to admit.

Kelp - the hapless nerd - probably knows either too little or too much about wine, just like in real life.  Most folks who know just enough about wine seem boring to those at the low end of the spectrum and dimwitted to the other side.

Love - the cool hipster - would probably drink Champagne from a little-known artisan grower, if he drank wine at all.  In the film, Love orders a drink like this: “two shots of vodka, a little rum, some bitters, a smidgen of vinegar, a shot of vermouth, a shot of gin, a little brandy, a lemon peel, orange peel, cherry, some more scotch.”  Paraphrasing the bartender, you can either drink it or take it home and rub it on your chest.

Lewis has brought “The Nutty Professor” to the stage, off-Broadway.  How far off?  Try Tennessee.  It’s the last stage musical completed by Marvin Hamlisch before his death in August 2012 and there are hopes it will make it to The Big Apple.

A natural wine pairing for “The Nutty Professor” is Hugh Hamilton’s Jekyll and Hyde Shiraz Viognier.  The McLaren Vale producer says the wine is co-fermented, both disparate grapes picked and fermented together rather than being blended after separate fermentation.  This is how they prevent unwanted hair growth after consumption.  (You didn’t believe that last part, did you?)

More nutty choices:

Jekel Vineyards - This Monterey County producer has Riesling for the hipster in you, Merlot for that other side.

Hyde Vineyards - In Napa Valley’s Carneros section, this vineyard provides grapes to a number of stellar winemakers.  They don’t have cherries, orange peel, vermouth or scotch.

Jerry Lewis’ Pinot Noir - Sold by an animal shelter in Wisconsin, if this Chilean Pinot has any connection with Jerry Lewis beyond his name on the label, it’s well hidden.

Jekyll and Hyde Coffee and Wine Bar - So which is which?  Before the triple espresso, and after?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Italian Sparkling Wine - Ferrari

A wine from the northern part of Italy - especially the Trentino-Alto Adige region - holds a special place in my heart, and on my palate.  Magnificent minerality and delightful acidity seem to abound there, if the wines I’ve tried from that area are any indication.  The Alpine locale and the Austrian and German influence seem to express themselves explicitly in the wine.

A publicist sent me a trio of sparkling wines from the Trento D.O.C., which is an appellation for sparkling wines made in Trentino.  These wines are from Ferrari Metodo Classico, which has nothing to do with the Italian sports car.  It was a Ferrari named Giulio who brought Chardonnay grapes to this region in 1900.  He learned his winemaking chops in Champagne and decided that Italy should be doing that, too.  Now, the vineyards and winery are owned and operated by the Lunelli family.

The restrictions placed upon Trento producers are actually more confining than those in Champagne.  The Champagne method is used in producing the Trento sparklers, but there are also rules and regulations on the growing, cultivation and harvesting of the grapes themselves.

Ferrari Rosé NV

The Ferrari Rosé NV is made of 60% Pinot Nero, or Pinot Noir, and 40% Chardonnay.  The vineyards from which these grapes are grown in the hillsides around Trentino range from 985 to 1,970 feet in elevation.
They’ve been making this wine since the first vintage in 1969.  It’s aged for at least two years before release and has an alcohol content of only 12.5% abv.  The wine retails for $37.

This sparkler looks amazing in the glass - the salmon hue is rich and eye-catching.  One smell is all it took to win me over.  The funky, yeasty notes wrap around the playful strawberry aromas with an herbal undercurrent carrying the show along.  There's toasty bread on the palate, too, dressing up the cherry and strawberry flavors.  Fine bubbles and a stirring acidity finish this festive wine nicely.

Ferrari Perlé 2006

This Vintage Blanc de Blancs - 100% Chardonnay sparkler - sits at 12.5% abv and is made from grapes grown at elevations of up to 2,300 feet.  Its history dates back to 1971, when the first vintage was released.  It's aged for five years and the retail price is $35.

It's a beautiful yellow-gold in the glass, with medium bubbles which leave a slight trace around the rim. The toastiness that often graces the nose of a bubbly comes across as an earthy scent much like, oddly enough, Chardonnay I've had from Massachusetts.  I guess that must be the influence of the cool weather on the Chardonnay grape.  Tons of stone and tropical fruit reside underneath the minerality.  The palate shows earthiness, too - laden with minerals and driven by acidity.

Ferrari Brut NV

The third bottle is Ferrari Brut NV, also a 100% Chardonnay wine.  This wine has been around since the company was founded - its first vintage was released in 1902.  The present-day brut retails for $25.  It's aged for at least two years and contains 12.5% abv.

Pale in the glass, the bouquet of this wine shows some gentle toast and more out-and-out fruit - citrus and mango.  It's a pleasing nose with just a hint of earthiness.  The taste is a little more earthy, and it's laced with lemon-lime and that racy acidity.  The bubbles aren't too festive, so if that's important to you, it could be a drawback.  For me, the experience is just fine with a slight frizzante.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Infographic: A Toast To Wine

For those of us who love infographics and wine, not necessarily in that order, here's an infographic on America's love of wine, looking at the consumption of vino in the U.S. and its rise in popularity in recent years.

Wine Infographic
Produced by SpareFoot. Copyright 2013.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Stepping Stone By Cornerstone Rocks!

The title of this piece may look like an over-the-top fanboy's reaction, but it's actually just the name borne by the line of everyday wines from Napa's Cornerstone Cellars.  The fact that I am a bit of a fanboy is completely irrelevant.

The Stepping Stone Rocks! wines - both an affordable $18 - bring high quality and low price together like they were made to be that way.  An everyday wine is good only if you actually want to drink it every day, and these wines certainly cover that base.

The grapes utilized by winemaker Jeff Keene are from California's North Coast AVA, an enormous expanse which includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and parts of Marin and Solano counties.

Cornerstone's decision to keep the blend percentages a "secret" is part marketing ploy and part winemaker prerogative.  Their web content says "we want everyone savoring the results vintage to vintage, not the statistics."

Cornerstone partner Craig Camp says, "My love of interesting blends goes back to the now famous Vintage Tunia by Silvio Jermann in Italy's Fruili, which I was among the first American importers of back in the early 1980's.  During the same period I was introduced to the many blended southern French wines by Christopher Cannan.  No one debated too much the exact blends of these wines they way people do now.  They were just enjoyed for what they were - delicious."

So the angle is, they juggle the numbers every year to be playful and fun, which is pretty much how the blends turn out and pretty much what a lot of us look for in a wine that's priced so it can be enjoyed every night.  More likely, they find it cost effective to change the makeup each vintage based on the grapes' availability.  If that brings a bottle of good wine to us for less than a twenty, it's alright with me.
The redesigned packaging for Rocks! is unpretentious and simple, and the move to bottle them under a screwcap was made with picnics in mind.

2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast Red Rocks!

Zinfandel, Merlot and Grenache mix it up in a lively manner, with alcohol at 14.1% abv.  Five months aging in stainless steel tanks gives the wine a brightness and freshness that is noteworthy.  Very dark in color, the nose invitingly displays the brambly Zin, the smokey Merlot and the fruity Grenache.  The palate is dark and fruit forward with a great acidity that is mouth watering and food friendly.  Blueberry, blackberry and oak spice mingle in the flavor profile.  Twist this one open for a backyard barbecue and everybody will be happy, even if you burn the steaks.

2012 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast White Rocks! 

The grapes are Chardonnay and Muscat Canelli, and the latter one sure does make its presence known.  The lightly green-tinted wine shows a lot of sweetness on the nose.  Aromas of sweet flowers and sweet honey burst forth with a trace of minerals underneath.  The roles are reversed on the palate, with the sweetness playing second fiddle.  In the mouth, the White Rocks! has a zippy acidity and a ton of citrus zing - the sweet notes are there, just not as pronounced as the smell would lead me to believe.  This wine is ready for shellfish or salad - or both - and can stand on its own as a refreshing sipper.  The alcohol content sits at 14.1% abv, just like its red sibling.

These two Rocks! entries are both fun, playful, everyday wines that I'm ready for any day.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Blood Of The Vines: Innerspace

Wine goes to the movies with 

by Randy Fuller

It only takes about 20 minutes for a glass of wine to enter your bloodstream and head for the small intestine, pancreas and liver.  It's the liver's company in that sentence that keeps it off my dinner table.

Getting alcohol out of your system takes quite a bit longer.  It's been trying to get out of my system for years and it's losing the battle.

In his 1987 film, "Innerspace," director and TFH head guru Joe Dante does that "into-and-out-of-the-bloodstream" odyssey in 120 minutes.  Navy flyboy Dennis Quaid is shrunk and injected into dweeby Martin Short, embarking him on a voyage that's no less fantastic and quite a bit funnier than this movie's 1966 inspiration.

Quaid's character starts the movie at a party, sloppy drunk, then plays around with a robot that can't pour a drink.  Better the clumsy robot had been working the party instead of the bartender.  Short's wimp opens in a doctor's office, soon to find out that it's not hypochondria if there really is something inside you.

"Innerspace" is the only flick I have ever seen in which a chase scene is interrupted for the bad guy to reload his arm.  Speaking of which, our heroic test pilot has to reload on Southern Comfort while surfing the red corpuscles.  He could have been arrested for driving while inoculated.

It is a spy movie, but the drinking in "Innerspace" lacks the urbane class of James Bond's "shaken, not stirred."  When the characters drink, it's more like "shaking and slurred."

The Oscar-winning special effects were done pre-CGI, and are still so impressive that for much of the inside-the-body sequences I had the irresistible urge to cough up something.  Meg Ryan, as the love interest, is as fresh and perky as a Sauvignon Blanc, while tiny Kevin McCarthy is as cute as a bottle of airline wine.  Let’s pair a wine with "Innerspace" that's as blood-red as the scenery.

Treasure Hunter Black Submarine wine - 3Finger Wine produces this Knight's Valley Cabernet.  I can't help but wonder if they had versions one and two, in which they kept adding fingers.  It's hard to imagine giving one finger to a Napa Cab.  Unless you're from Sonoma.

A few other bytes on the microchip:

Test Pilot wine - Cooper-Garrod Vineyards of Saratoga, California, has a trio of red blends they call their Test Pilot line.  Winemaker George Cooper was a pilot in WWII.  The rest of the Coopers and the Garrods only fly in aircraft equipped with flight attendants.  Are the Test Pilot wines top-shelf or Top Gun?  It'll cost $39 each to find out.

Wine Miniatures - For a movie about a miniature guy in a miniature submarine, how a miniature bottle of wine? offers sampler cases of little 50ml bottles, even tinier than those little wine bottles sold on airplanes.

Bilge Wine (Submarine Style) - This stuff sounds an awful lot like prison wine, and I won't be checking that box, either, on my wine club order form.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tasting Santa Barbara County: Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards

Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards was one of the early entries in the Santa Barbara County wine country.  Founded in 1973, next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first vintage.

This flight costs $10 in their tasting room, just inside from the oversized chess board on their lawn.

Estate Viognier 2010
Floral notes dominate the nose, while a nutty flavor edges the tropical fruit on the palate.  It's aged for three months in new French oak.  $16

Estate Chardonnay 2010
Fermented 60% in steels and 40% in oak, this wine spends ten months aging in barrels.  Pineapple, mango and vanilla spice are in abundance.  $16

Estate Roussanne 2009
Served unchilled, this glorious white shows tropical fruit and almonds with a near-perfect salinity carrying it along.  $25  (The '08 has a more floral aspect to it.)

Estate Z-Cuvée 2009
Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah blend for a nose full of cherry and blueberry with a little oak influence.  $20

Estate Z-Three 2008
Syrah takes the wheel in this blend, with Mourvèdre and Grenache supporting.  Dark berry flavors marry with fine tannins.  $42

Estate Syrah 2009
Cassis, chocolate and pepper - black and white - make a complex nose.  A very nice tannic structure carries the dark berries, smoked meat and spices.  $25

Mourvèdre 2010
100% Mourvèdre, the blackberry and raspberry flavors are light and bright.  It finishes tart.

Eight-Barrel Syrah 2010
The fruit is very bright here, too, with the added thrill of mocha and chocolate.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

French Wine: Vin de Pays

Viognier pairs well with Indian food, so I ordered the Domaine Pennautier Viognier, Vin de Pays, France 2011, to go with aloo gobi.

The Pennautier château has reportedly been in the Lorgeril family since the time of Louis XIII, 1620 to be exact.  Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril are the tenth generation to make wine there.  The estate is in the northern part of the Languedoc region, near the town of Carcassonne in the south of France.

Vin de pays means "country wine.”  These wines occupy a spot in the French wine classification system just above the table wine, but below the AOC level.  The classification allows vignerons to classify wines that were made using grape varieties other than those required by the AOC rules.  It keeps a winemaker from having his wine relegated to vins de table status.  There are six Vins de Pays regions in France, the largest being Vin de Pays d'Oc, which is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Pennautier Viognier is grown and made.

The wine cost $8 by the glass at Santa Monica’s Pradeep on Montana, convenient to the Aero Theater.  It has an alcohol content of 13% abv.  The blurb on the menu promised a fragrant nose, which did not materialize for me.  It was served very cold and in a small, narrow glass - there just wasn't much there.  Plus, it is an Indian restaurant.  Conditions would have to be optimal for a wine's bouquet to overcome the atmosphere of spices.

On the palate, the Domaine Pennautier is lush and fresh with a touch of herbal notes mixing with the flavor of peach.  It's a good wine, and it paired nicely with the aloo gobi and its wonderful array of spices.

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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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