Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: Fields Family Century Block Vineyard Zinfandel 2012

The winemaking community in Lodi is hard at work, slicing a piece of the California appellation pie for themselves.  Family-owned vineyards are the rule in Lodi, with generations upon generations of farmers working the dirt there.  They are getting out the message in every way possible that Lodi is a wine region of note, and Zinfandel is their calling card grape.

A new collective of Zinfandel producers - Lodi Native - has been formed.  The six winemakers have banded together to bottle some single-vineyard Zins under their collaborative banner.  Their mission is to accent Lodi’s heritage plantings – many of them dating back to the late 1800s – through sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices.  Native yeast fermentation and use of no new oak help put the focus on Zinfandel’s terroir - on the taste of vineyards rather than varietal character or brand.

Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.

The six wines of Lodi Native were recently discussed in a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  Here is one of them, from Fields Family Winery.  Their 2012 Century Block Vineyard Zinfandel was produced by winemaker Ryan Sherman.

Just under 14% abv, this focused, fruit-driven Zinfandel is made from some very select grapes grown in Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA, east side.  The Century Block Vineyard is only three acres small, but it is planted in Zinfandel vines that have been there since 1905.  According to the Lodi Native website, this wine is the first in all that time to feature the vineyard's name on the label and "shows what maximum attention in the field and minimal intervention in the cellar can do."  Sherman feels the same way, as expressed on the Fields Family Winery website: "Our goal is to craft wines that showcase the vineyards from where they come and employ a minimalistic approach to winemaking."  Here, that goal is met.

This deep, red Zin smells of blackberry, plum and chocolate, and richly so.  The palate is lovely, with cherries, plums and a hint of raspberries.  Extremely fine tannins and bright acidity make for an absolutely delightful experience, with a finish that is lip-smackingly good -  the raspberry flavor lasts longest.  This red is great for ham, chicken or pork dishes - it would even hit it off with a grilled salmon or swordfish steak.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer White Wines: Acquiesce Winery Viognier, Lodi

Another virtual wine tasting event took hold of Twitter for an hour recently, and a large contingent of Lodites took to their favorite social media platform to swirl, sip and spill the beans about the amazing white wines of the Lodi AVA.  The comments put forth by the participants can be found under the hashtag #LodiLive, while full details of the event and the Twitter stream is found here.

Lodi makes about 24% of the wine produced in California.  On Twitter, @BrixChix_xan says “75 wine grapes are grown in Lodi and Lodi is leading producer of chardonnay, pinot grigio and Sauv Blanc in state of CA.”  @Lodi_Wine tells us that “Lodi grows some 20-30 different white wine grapes.”  @LusciousLushes chimes in, “There are some GORGEOUS whites in Lodi, Particularly Rhone & Iberian styles.”  @50StatesOfWine recommends, “ if you like the whites and reds of @Lodi-Wine, check out the rosés, amazing!”  @WineJulia agrees, “Yes, Lodi is NOT just red wine country. #lodisummerwhites.”  @CharlesComm informed us that “Of 300+ Lodi farmers, roughly 50-75 are at least 3rd generation winegrape growers.”

Under the guiding hands of Susan Tipton, Acquiesce Winery produces only white wines and rosés of the Mokelumne River appellation.  Her wines are all about the grapes - handpicked and whole-cluster pressed - with no influence of oak to alter what nature has given.  The Acquiesce Viognier 2013 retails for $23, carries an alcohol number of 12.1% abv and comes bottled under cork.  By the way, you may find it hard to throw away or recycle Tipton's pretty, French bottles.

Twitter user @MsPullThatCork noted during the tasting event - with tongue in cheek - that “Sue Tipton is new to Lodi, only 14 years ago!”  On the wine, @norcalwines tweeted, “Intense, pretty nose: peach skin, honeysuckle, green tea.”  From @dvinewinetime we hear of  “sweet pineapple; peach & rose petals. lemon; grapefruit & honey.”  @pullthatcork loved the Viognier's “ huge orange blossom flavor,” while @cellarmistress found the “Tangerine flavor very prevalent! Very Summertime-like!”

A nice healthy glow shows in the beautiful clear bottle.  Aromas of ripe yellow peaches and apricots mix with a floral note to produce an absolutely lovely nose.  Nice minerals - and plenty of them - are set off in a citrus orange peel scent.  The palate shows a bit more of the citrus - mandarin orange and lemon zest - with a fresh acidity that refreshes but doesn't overwhelm.  The whole cluster pressing of the grapes shows nicely in the slight herbal element.  The wine finishes with a lemon zing.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Vertical 2009-2011

In the summertime, Sauvignon Blanc is as popular on wine-loving patios as is an Arnold Palmer at a golf course restaurant.  The dynamic white grape variety is light, crisp and refreshing, making it a perfect choice for the warmer months.  But it can be a lot more than something cool to wash away the heat.

It’s a popular grape all over the world, and the styles produced in France, New Zealand, South Africa and California vary greatly.

Craig Camp, Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner, feels that Sauvignon Blanc is the white grape which is most at home in the Napa Valley.  “We're serious about Sauvignon,” Camp says.  Due to its relatively inexpensive cost and the notion that its rather untamed personality means its not really a wine for the masses, Camp says that “savvy wine buyers all know that it's the best deal in serious white wine on the wine list.”

Why Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc?  Camp goes to bat, claiming “the generous, warm climate of the Napa Valley is custom made to create sauvignon blanc of richness, depth and complexity.”  Cornerstone made a vertical tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc wines available to me - 2009, 2010 and 2011 - to show this style’s ability to age into something even greater than its beginning state.

Camp promises, "In the 2011 you'll find the racy, mineral freshness of a young wine, while in the 2010 the developing richness that can only come with bottle age and in the 2009 the round, mouth-filling complexity of a fully mature wine."

The wines look serious, even before they are opened.  They are in dark bottles, not the usual clear style which house most Sauvignon Blancs.  Camp says this is done specifically because the wines are made to age, and the dark glass protects the wine from light.  The wines spent nearly six months aging in barrels, then another year in the bottles.

These three vintages of the Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc are made from grapes grown in the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena, 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  The vines in this mature vineyard average over twenty years old and are dry-farmed.  All three wines underwent a slow and cold fermentation in stainless steel, then were racked into French oak barrels for five months of aging sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast cells.  This adds richness and complexity to wine.  Winemaker Jeff Keene gets great fruit from the vineyard and makes the most of it in the winery.

For pairing suggestions, Camp says Cornerstone makes their Sauvignon Blanc “for lobster and crab, not oysters.”

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 

The 2009 vintage was mild, with spring rains that brought the vines to lush life and nice, even ripening throughout the summer.  The wine carries a restrained alcohol content of 13.9% abv and is now available only from the Cornerstone library at a price of $70.

Of the three wines here, this one has the darkest color.  A very smoky nose is bursting  with extremely ripe peaches and apricots and layered with hints of grass and herbs.  This wine is drinking very well.  The fruit elements almost have a whiskey flavor to them, so great is the barrel and aging influence.  Citrus, green apple, and apricot take on a smoky sensibility.  The acidity is positively gripping, and refuses to quit until the sipper is refreshed.  A white wine with some barrel age is a fine and elegant thing, and this is a prime example.

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 

The 2010 vintage was unusually cool, with cloud cover lasting through the summer and extending the growing season.  The crop was smaller than 2009, and the grapes show more intensity as a result.

The alcohol content is a little higher in this one, 14.1% abv.  The wine retails for $50 and is also available only from the Cornerstone library.

The color of this wine is much lighter than that of the ‘09.  An explosive nose sports tons of tropical fruit, like pineapples and mangoes, with a layer of grass underneath.  The palate shows grapefruit that is sweetened by the tropical side.  A bit of cantaloupe also appears.  The grapefruit minerality lingers on the palate, with some of that melon along for the ride.  The smoky side is starting to come through, but it is still just a savory notion.  Make no mistake, it is a dry wine, but the sweetness on the palate is simply remarkable, as is the bracing acidity.

Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 

The alcohol content is about the same as in the ‘10, at 14.1% abv.  The wine retails for $30 per bottle.

Of the three wines in this vertical, this one shows the lightest color, but it is very close to the shading of the ‘10.  Its nose is fresh and grassy with tasteful hints of citrus and apple.  A very subtle palate is sumptuous when compared to what is usually delivered by Sauvignon Blanc.  Flavors of citrus and apple carry traces of the oak aging, which is just starting to make itself known.

This is a wine with enough acidity to handle lunch pairings, but smooth enough to just sip.  And sip.  The finish is quite lengthy and pleasant, marked by Meyer lemon.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

California Grenache: Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas 2011

So, the wine pundits have concluded that Syrah has not fulfilled its promise as the Next Big Thing in California grapes.  Which variety will step up and claim that open position as the great purple hope?

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly in the cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to make some noise.

We have sampled some California Grenache wines from different parts of the state in this series.  There have been some all-Grenache varietal wines as well as some blends.  Today's entry in the California Grenache sweepstakes is a four-grape mix with Grenache playing the lead.

"Tablas Creek Vineyard," their website explains, "is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The families created a partnership in 1985 and in 1989 purchased a 120-acre property in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Châteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain."  The vine cuttings for the property were brought over from the celebrated French locale and propagated in the on-site nursery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas 2011 - a blend of Rhône varieties - is made of 49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 8% Counoise.  The alcohol tips in at 13.5% abv and 1,560 cases were produced.  It is listed as "sold out" on the winery's website.  Neil Collins is the Tablas Creek winemaker.

They also explain there how the different grapes contribute to the wine: "Like most wines of the Southern Rhône, it is a blend of varietals, featuring the fruit and spice of Grenache balanced by the spice and mineral of Syrah, the appealing briary wildness of Counoise, and the structure of Mourvèdre."  All the grapes are grown in their 120-acre, certified organic vineyard.  The grapes are fermented separately in both steel and wood fermenters.  After blending, the wine is aged for one year in a 1,200-gallon French oak cask.

Medium dark in the glass, the wine's nose shows plenty of Rhône-style funkiness.  Savory and spicy aromas are met with a little bit of black cherry.  On the palate, the dark fruit is layered thickly with tar, tobacco and anise.  The minerality is awe-inspiring while the acidity gets the juices flowing nicely.  There are ample tannins to handle pairing with a meat dish, but the sipping is so smooth you may get sidetracked and forget to throw the steaks on the grill.

This wine shows its terroir about as well as any wine I have tried.  Paso Robles limestone is all over this remarkable creation.  The bottle provided great pleasure over three nights tasting, becoming darker and funkier each night.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Let Your Franc Flag Fly: Stepping Stone By Cornerstone

Cabernet Franc is not exactly a problem grape, but it does like to let its franc flag fly.  They know about that around Chinon, in the Loire Valley.  The grape’s tendency to display aromas like cassis and raspberry are okay with most folks, but some American palates find the bell pepper and tobacco notes a little off-putting.

Cornerstone Cellars' managing partner Craig Camp writes in his Wine Camp blog about letting Franc be Franc.  Camp writes, “Many wineries seem to want to tame the cantankerous cabernet franc's edgy personality, but we don't. In fact, we revel in its idiosyncrasies. Being Franc is everything to us.”  Francly speaking, when the wine wants to walk on the wild side, let it.

“Not wild like crazy, but like nature,” he explains.  And a bit like the Cornerstone philosophy, too.  The winery states clearly that they don’t make wines for just anybody.  Camp continues with his Cab Franc 101 class, “Cabernet franc should have an edge aromatically showing wild herbs and mint and a firm structure that grabs your attention. Like most really interesting things, it's not for everyone.”

The Cabernet Franc grapes for this wine come from Napa Valley vineyard sites in St. Helena, Oakville, Coombsville and Carneros.  A touch of Carneros Merlot rounds out the wine.  Camp says the spice of the Merlot echoes the natural wildness of the Cabernet Franc with a cool-vineyard herbal note.  He starts to get a little overheated about here, claiming, “I don't know if we make a sexier wine.”  In the black label, it's certainly one of their better-dressed offerings.

The 2011 vintage was a cool one in Napa Valley, and Camp states that some people who look for high-octane, fruity wines were disappointed with it.  “If you took the weather we had in 2011, and gave it to Bordeaux,” he writes, “ they would be drinking Champagne and slapping themselves on the back.”  I have found that many 2011s from Napa Valley are giving me exactly what I look for in a wine - complexity and restraint.

A sample of the Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Black Label Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2011 was made available to me for the purpose of this article.

This Cab Franc is inky dark and has the aromas to back that up.  Brooding black currant fruit is smartly outfitted in herbs - sage and eucalyptus - and a hint of bell pepper.  The palate continues the dark thread, with flavors of blackberry and black raspberry.  There is an herbal streak here, too, with savory notes matching the fruit.  The tannins are right out front and the acidity is mouthwatering.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Finger Lakes Riesling

The Finger Lakes Wine Region recently hosted another in a series of live virtual tasting events featuring participation via Twitter.  The virtual tasting event is a great way to gain exposure to a new wine or winery, and it’s a great way to mingle with folks who are as inquisitive about wine as you are.  Like many wine regions, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance uses the social aspect of virtual tastings to their great advantage.

In May 2014, the FLWA staged a virtual event featuring a large variety of wines, not just one or two.  Participants sipped at home and joined in during a four-hour marathon. (Most virtual tasting events only run an hour or so.)  I was supplied with several white wines to sample, and today I’ll focus on the Wagner Vineyards Caywood East Vineyards Riesling Dry 2012

Wagner Vineyards is one of oldest wineries in New York's Finger Lakes region.  Located on the slopes of the east side of Lake Seneca, the winery is in the Banana Belt, where the climate is several degrees warmer than areas to the north and south.  Winemaker Ann Raffetto has been with Wagner for over 25 years, and she makes her mark on the wines made from estate-grown fruit.

This dry Riesling is made from Riesling grapes grown in the Caywood East Vineyard, south of the winery on a steep slope overlooking the middle part of Seneca Lake.  Grapes have been grown here for 90 years, so they predate the advent of vinifera grapes in the 1950s.  The vineyard was replanted to Riesling in 2005 and is comprised of three Riesling clones: 90, 110, and 239.  If the clone numbers mean anything at all to you, consider yourself a true wine nerd.

With a residual sugar of just one-half of one percent, the wine is marked as dry on the IRF scale, used by all the wineries in the Finger Lakes region.  It clocks in at 13.2% abv in alcohol.  While very restrained, it is actually a little stiffer drink than one normally finds in the Finger Lakes.  1,045 cases were produced and the wine retails for $15.  This Riesling has won gold medals at wine competitions in the east, west, and points in between.

Wagner Vineyards Caywood East Vineyard Riesling Dry 2012 has a very pale tint in the glass, with a nose of flowers, peaches and minerals.  The palate shows clean flavors dominated by minerality, with peach, pear and Meyer lemon and a beautiful acidity joined by a great citrus mineral finish.

The folks at Wagner suggest pairing the wine with fish, seafood, chicken, pork and mild cheeses. They say you should try it in place of Champagne at your next brunch, and that's a pretty good idea.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

California Grenache: Zaca Mesa Grenache 2011

Since the glow fell off the love affair between the wine biz and the Syrah, folks are looking around for the Next Big Thing.  They are poking around in vineyards, peeking under grapevine leaves, playing with winemaking technique - or leaving it out altogether.  If you want a Next Big Thing, why not Grenache?

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly the cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to make some noise.

In the Now And Zin California Grenache series, we are sampling some of the choice Grenache wines from around the Golden State.  Today we look right in my SoCal backyard, in Santa Barbara County.

The estate grapes for the Zaca Mesa 2011 Grenache are sustainably grown in their Santa Ynez Valley vineyards.  This wine is all Grenache Noir, from their Cushman F Vineyard, with well-drained soil over gravelly beds of silt and clay at an elevation of 1500 feet above sea level.  The cooler nights at that altitude make for great natural acidity in the wine.  2011 was a cool vintage, anyway, with harvest starting two weeks later than normal.

Winemaker Eric Mohseni oversaw the destemming of the grapes and the steel tank fermentation on the skins.  The wine aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 18% of which were new.  At 15% abv, it's a wine with some weight behind its punch.  Only 376 cases made, and they retail for about $35 per bottle.

The wine shines with a medium ruby glow and smells of cherries and raspberries.  A bit of smoke holds the aromas together like a savory string.  There is a floral note that struggles to grow through the darkness of this nose.  The palate is bold and brassy, as we might expect from a high-octane wine.  Don't be too quick, though, to paint "fruit bomb" on the label of this complex juice.  The ripe fruit is masked by touches of licorice and cigars while firm tannins scratch at the taste buds.

The winery suggests pairing this Grenache with mild cheeses, grilled salmon, or lamb kabobs.  I say it would fit well in those scenarios as well as with any sort of red meat.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Warm Weather White Wines: Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc 2013

Three new white wine releases by Dry Creek Vineyard were shared with me recently, and they are perfect for springtime and summer consumption.  Personally, I enjoy whites all year long.  ‘Tis the season, though, for outdoor meals and bottles of whites on ice to pair with them.  We will cover the Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc soon and we have already had their Sauvignon Blanc.  Today, their Dry Chenin Blanc.

Dry Creek Vineyard has produced Chenin Blanc since 1972, and proudly so.  The fruit for this wine comes, as it has since the '80s, from the Clarksburg appellation in the Sacramento Delta.  The winery says sandy soils, warm days and cool nights make Clarksburg a perfect place to grow Chenin Blanc.  The 2013 vintage benefitted from nearly perfect growing conditions, and it was one of the driest on record.  A mild winter and moderate summer extended the season.

This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc which was fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The alcohol is restrained at 13% abv, and a better buy would be hard to find - $12 retail.

A pale straw tint makes for a delicate sight, while the aromas come on a little more forcefully.  Big, delicious smells rise from the glass - apple, pineapple and lime with a healthy dose of wet rock minerality.  The palate is dominated by flavors of green apples and lemon-lime with that awesome blast of minerals making another appearance on the tongue.  The acidity is just perfect: very noticeable, but it's not going to carve up your taste buds.  The sip finishes so clean and zippy with the sense of lemon zest lingering long afterward.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer

The Finger Lakes Wine region recently hosted another in a series of live virtual tasting events, with a video feed and participation via Twitter.  A virtual tasting event is a great way to gain exposure to a new wine or winery, and it’s a great way to mingle with like-minded wine folks.  The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance uses the social aspect of virtual tastings to their great advantage.

In May 2014, the FLWA staged a virtual event featuring a large variety of wines, not just one or two.  Participants sipped at home and joined in during a four-hour marathon. (Most virtual tasting events only run an hour or so.)  I was supplied with several white wines to sample, and today I’ll focus on the Dr Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Gewürztraminer 2013.

The Twitter crowd fell in love with the Rieslings and Canernet Francs, but Gewürztraminer was not forgotten, least of all by @DrFrankWine: "Believe it or not we released that wine only a month ago. Imagine how good it will be with more bottle age!"  Many tweeters thought the Finger Lakes is a great spot for a getaway: "#FLXwine region makes for a perfectly relaxing and delicious vacation."  @MiddleSeatView was afraid the credit card may have been too taxed while there: "I think we may have bought too much wine in the Finger Lakes..."  A picture showing a ten-bottle lineup was attached.

Dr Konstantin Frank's vision helped lift the New York wine industry to a preeminent level, hence his nom de vin as the "Father of Vinifera in the eastern U.S."  He was responsible for the "vinifera revolution" in the Finger Lakes region, insisting that European grape varieties would grow and thrive in the cold climate of upstate New York.  It turned out that it was the rootstock, not the cold climate, that was the problem.  His persistence proved him right, and now northern European varieties are planted all over the area - Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner.  Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars now employs a team of winemakers from New York, Virginia, Austria and Germany.  

For the Dr Konstantin Frank Gewürztraminer 2013, the wine saw skin contact for 24 hours, while fermentation was stopped to retain some residual sugar.  This wine is off dry on the IRF scale, with RS at just 0.7% and alcohol balanced at 13.2% abv.  This Gewürztraminer comes bottled under a screw cap and retails for $15 per bottle.

The wine has a golden tint, and slight bubbles clinging to the glass.  Aromas of jasmine, honeysuckle, peach and apricot are abetted by a citrus minerality.  The palate features beautiful fruit - peach, nectarine, apricot, lemon and lime - while minerals play a huge part and acidity is zippy.  It is completely refreshing.   This Gewürztraminer finishes clean and is loaded with citrus minerals. A little savory kick is in there on the finish, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Casey Flat Ranch CFR Red Blend 2010

The spring releases from California winery Casey Flat Ranch were featured in a virtual tasting event recently.  PR firm Charles Communications staged the Twitter tasting, which was also on a live video stream which is archived here.  Casey Flat Ranch Managing Partner Alison Garrett and winemaker Laura Barrett hosted, while those who joined in sipped and commented on four CFR wines.  Today, we cover the 2011 CFR Estate Red Blend.

Casey Flat Ranch sprawls for 6,000 acres, and a 24 acre vineyard sits at the 2,000 foot level above Capay Valley.  In case you have not heard of Capay Valley, it is the next wine region over to the north and east of Napa Valley.  That part of the ranch not under vine, is under a couple hundred head of Texas Longhorn cattle.  They have plenty of room to roam.

Tweeters who were tasting at home chimed in with lots of favorable notes on the Casey Flat Ranch CFR Estate Red Blend.  @cliffordbrown3: “blackberries, dried herbs, cassis, minerals, cedar, tobacco and dried violets. I need a piece of juicy meat, hot off the grill to go with the CFR Estate Red.”  @Luscious_Lushes: “Red Wine blend, kitchen sink - deep, dark, brooding. Coffee -- 75% new French oak. Black cherry, blackberry notes - anise. ohh yes, Earl grey tea in there.”  @WineUpdate: “Spice cake, plum, blackberry-balsamic, peppercorn, black tea. Balanced oak. Excellent!”  @BigNoseWino: “big herbal, berry bomb nose w/ a savory mid palate & lightly acidic, tannin finish.”  @WineJulia: “$35 is an outstanding price for this red blend. It's lush."

The CFR Estate Red Blend 2010 is a four-variety mix of grapes that are pretty well-known in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley:  44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Franc and a four-percent drop of Mourvedre.  2,233 6-pack cases were produced, and the wine retails for $35.  Alcohol is a hefty 14.8% abv.

CFR is one dark wine.  Calling it "indigo" or "inky" sells it short.  If it were not for the sliver of purple around the rim, it would look like a glass of motor oil.  It is - in appearance - the Guinness stout of grape-based beverages.  As expected, the darkness carries through into the wine's aroma package.  Concentrated black plums and blackberries are shaded by spices - clove, cinnamon and pepper.  The palate reveals more darkness, laid on with a trowel.  The black fruit is explosive, the notes of licorice and strong tea have no trouble competing for attention and the tannins are muscular.  This is not a wine which will be sipped idly, without note.  This is a wine that demands - and deserves - your attention.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Drink Pink: Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2013

Cornertone Cellars’ managing partner, Craig Camp, has some strong feelings about wine being being pink.  He writes, “Just because you’re pink does not mean you’re a rosé.”  He cites White Zinfandel as a case in point.  A great place to start your wine journey, he muses, but the sweet, sappy flavor of many White Zins leaves him colder than a half bottle of Sutter Home in the back of the fridge.  “Unfortunately, because it’s pink (or kind of pink anyway) too many people think that all pink wine is sweet plonk.  Also, it’s a problem, as you can actually make a lovely real rosé from zinfandel.”

Camp goes on to talk about the saignée method of making rosé wine.  This is how many rosés are made, by bleeding off the juice from the grapes, leaving a more concentrated red wine behind.  This type of rosé is a winemaking byproduct, useful in cool regions mostly.  Camp says, “The downside of producing a pink wine in this manner is that you are harvesting your grapes at ideal ripeness levels for red wine, but not for pink wine. When done in a warm climate you get the candied flavors, higher alcohols and odd neon colors that you see in so many pink wines.”

So what's so great about great rosé?  They know a little bit about the pink stuff in the south of France, and Camp tips his hand about the inspiration for Stepping Stone's Corallina rosé.  "Real rosé wines," he writes, are "made in the classic tradition of Bandol and Tavel.  Vineyards are selected to be for rosé from the start and farmed to create ideal fruit for this type of wine.  The grapes are picked when the flavors are fully ripe, but you don’t have to wait for the skin tannins to ripen like you would when making red wine. This means you can pick at higher acids and lower sugars that will give you a balanced, elegant and complex rosé.  The best of these real rosé wines then spend a short time on the lees in mature oak barrels to broaden flavors and develop a rich, creamy texture.  Such a wine is our Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé.”

Cornerstone winemaker Jeff Keene got some great grapes to work with - 100% Syrah from the Crane Ranch Vineyard on the west side of Napa Valley's Oak Knoll District.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel and saw five months aging on the lees (in contact with the spent yeast cells) in neutral French oak.  Only 417 cases were produced and alcohol is a restrained 13.1% abv.  The beautiful label art is called “Wine Dance,” by the talented Janet Ekholm.

Corallina is tinted that color between coral and orange that is sometimes called salmon.  Bushel baskets of strawberries and cherries are on the expressive nose, as fresh as spring.  There is a green streak running through the fruit aromas like a big, crisp stem.  That's thanks to the whole cluster pressing of the grapes, stems and all.  A hint of spice rounds out an exemplary sniffing experience.

The wine feels great in the mouth, full and rich, with perfect acidity.  To say Corallina is flavorful is to cheat the wine of the praise due it.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up.  Strawberry and raspberry are in the forefront, but there is a beautiful hint of what I can only call a floral taste.  I've never tasted flowers, but this is what I imagine they would taste like.  Citrus and savory notes round out a palate whose complexity will make some red wines green with envy.  Pair it with something pretty - like a nice piece of salmon.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Finger Lakes Whites

The Finger Lakes Wine Region recently hosted another in a series of live virtual tasting events, with a video feed and participation via Twitter.  These events are becoming so popular that if you try to take part in every one that comes along, you’ll have a pretty full dance card.

The virtual tasting is a great way to gain exposure to a new wine or winery, and it’s a great way to mingle with folks who are as inquisitive about wine as you are.  Like many wine regions, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance uses the social aspect of virtual tastings to their great advantage.

In May 2014, the FLWA staged a virtual event featuring a large variety of wines, not just one or two.  Participants sipped at home and joined in during a four-hour marathon. (Most virtual tasting events only run an hour or so.)  I was supplied with several white wines to sample, and today I’ll focus on the Villa Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Riesling 2012.

On Twitter, @travel4foodfun carried the sentiment of all by tweeting, “We are now doing our virtual tasting from our friends @villabellangelo and It's a definite Wow!”  @jeffal66 commented on the wine: “Nice mix of melon, fall fruit on the Bellangelo. Pear for sure. Minerality.”   The winery of the moment, @villabellangelo, offered a glimpse behind the bottle.  They wrote, “Geek out on the Gibson Vineyard  - the source for our 1866 Reserve Riesling.” and “Check out our background history on the 1866 Reserve series at:"

This release marks the debut vintage of a Riesling that shows why New York’s Finger Lakes Riesling is known for that grape.  The fruit came from a single vineyard - Gibson Vineyard, just north of the winery on the west side of Seneca Lake.  The date in the wine’s name - 1866 - is a tip of the winegrowing hat to Dr. Byron Spence, an early grape grower in the region

With residual sugar at just 1.9%, this Finger Lakes Riesling clocks in on the dry side of medium dry.  Finger Lakes Rieslings all bear the Riesling Taste Profile scale designed by the International Riesling Foundation.
It’s easy on the alcohol - 11%.abv - and only 99 cases were produced.  My bottle was number 87 of 1188.

The 1866 Reserve Riesling gets a special touch in the winery, aging half in stainless steel tanks and half in oak barrels sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast cells - for eight months.

The light straw tint is pretty, and the nose is even more so.  Floral notes, pear and  nectarine aromas are not shy about getting out of the glass.  The mouthfeel is full and creamy and the acidity is on the gently side, making it a great wine to sip.  Flavors of pears and white peaches provide plenty to ponder while doing so.  This wine would be nice with spicy food, like a Thai dish or even Mexican food with a bit of heat to it.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

California Grenache: Bonny Doon Clos De Gilroy

In a recent article about California Grenache, Jon Bonné called Grenache "the Jan Brady of grapes."  He wrote that Grenache, when left to its own devices, is sometimes responsible for wines that are just not pretty enough.  He did offer, of course, that there are some great examples of California Grenache wines that are plenty pretty on their own.  Complex, even

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly in cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to make some noise.

Today in the California Grenache series, we sample the Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos De Gilroy Monterey County Grenache 2013.

Bonny Doon "President for Life" Randall Grahm’s scent of humor comes to the forefront on the labeling of this wine - see below.  Gilroy is the garlic capital of California - a town that truly does telegraph its whereabouts to travelers on the nearby freeway.  Think what you will, but the town is amazingly vampire-free.  

After laying on a few aioli-related puns, Grahm gets to the business end of the wine.  Made up of 75% Grenache, 17% Syrah and 8% Mourvèdre, Clos De Gilroy's grapes hail "from the Alta Loma vineyard in Greenfield (a particularly cool site for grenache) the gravelly Alamo Creek Vineyard near Santa Maria and some truly ancient mourvèdre vines in the sleepy Sacramento Delta town of Oakley, CA. "

These grapes - together with Grahm, although he claims minimal intervention - produce a wine with an absolutely brilliant nose.  Aromas of cherry and plum are dusted with a leathery layer of anise and tobacco.  The palate is big and dark, with multiple shadings of the fruits involved.  The cherry of Grenache leads the way, followed by the dark fruit and spice of the Syrah with Mourvèdre's savory notes and tannins.  There is a brooding funkiness to this wine that I find riveting.  I think it is a little too masculine to be comfortable when called "pretty," but it definitely wears its complexity well.  

And, it was another vampire-free night at chez Now And Zin.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Warm Weather White Wines: Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Three new white wine releases by Dry Creek Vineyards were shared with me recently, and they are perfect for springtime and summer consumption.  Personally, I enjoy whites all year long.  ‘Tis the season, though, for outdoor meals and bottles of whites on ice to pair with them.  We will cover the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc and Fumé Blanc soon.  Today it’s their flagship wine.

Dry Creek Vineyard founder David Stare was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.  Fittingly, that grape variety carries the banner for the winery some four decades down the road.

Produced by the second-generation of the family’s wine workers, Kim Stare Wallace and her husband Don, several different lots of grapes contributed to the wine.  It is anchored by 91% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, while a 9% splash of clone Sauvignon Musqué sails in for depth and richness, adding a tropical flavor and a full mouthfeel.  At 14.1% abv, it is a fairly hefty white, but the price tag comes in at just $18.

The winery says 2013 offered near perfect growing conditions featuring a mild winter and a moderate summer, and was one of the driest vintages on record.  These factors gave Dry Creek Vineyard some great fruit with which to work, and they made the most of it.

Possessing a very pale color, the wine gives a beautifully pungent aroma package of fresh grassiness, pineapple, pear and grapefruit zest.  The palate’s first name is savory - a gorgeous salinity is the first thing to hit my tongue.  The minerality is almost overwhelming, and I mean that in a good way.  River rocks come to mind as they are washed along in a wave of citrus.  Orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit all squeeze a little character into the flavor profile.  Pair it with an avocado salad or a plate of oysters.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Virtual Wine Tasting: Charles Krug

A May virtual tasting event under the BrandLive banner featured Charles Krug Wine proprietor Peter Mondavi, Jr. tasting and tweeting about his family’s stake in the Napa Valley.  The Charles Krug winery and vineyards have been around since 1861.  The Mondavi family bought it in the 1940s and have run it since.  Within a decade they cemented the Mondavi name as a Napa Valley synonym.  Charles Krug is the oldest winery in California and Peter Mondavi, Sr. is perhaps the state's oldest vintner.  He is within swirling, sipping and spitting distance of the century mark.

2011 was the 150th vintage for the Charles Krug label, and three of the wines on the tasting list for the event are from that vintage, their Napa Valley Merlot, Family Reserve "Generations" blend and Family Reserve "Howell Mountain" Cabernet Sauvignon.  See the video of the tasting here.

Twitter came alive for the event.  I heard that the Twitterverse was trending with the hashtag #CharlesKrugLive, at least for a bit. During the virtual tasting, @WineJulia commented on the wine’s drinkability, messaging that "the lower alcohol keeps these elegant, while the complexity & tannins bring them to life!"  @WineFashionista tweeted, "Interesting that of these four wines Merlot is Charles Krug's best seller!"  While on topic, @WineHarlots mentioned of the Merlot, "Miles has left the building."  @JamestheWineGuy found the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to show "rose petal, violet, bay leaf, blackberry; profound nose"  while @martindredmond discovered that wine to be "killer with grilled lamb!"

Today we cover the Charles Krug 2013 Limited Release Estate Sauvignon Blanc.

This is the third vintage of the wine, which is crafted by winemaker Stacy Clark entirely from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  The fruit is grown on a 45-acre plot of estate vineyard which was planted in 2005.  On the Charles Krug website, the '13 vintage was proclaimed to have been nearly perfect, much like 2012.  The quality of the fruit certainly shows in the wine.

This wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged in contact with the spent yeast cells - sur lie, it's called - for seven months.  This imparts a rich, creamy texture to the wine while maintaining the snappy acidity that defines good Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine sports a moderate 13.6% abv alcohol level and retails for $35.

The light, straw color is just a notch above pale in the glass.  The wine's nose is grassy and full of peaches and tropical fruit - it really grabs me.  On the palate, peach flavors come on a bit stronger than those aromas did, and the citrus takes a prominent role, too.  Acidity is quite fresh and food-friendly, while the finish leaves a lemon-lime-grapefruit taste behind.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thirsty For Wine From Hungary

In the U.S., it’s probably a safe bet that the name Tokaji doesn’t register a very high recognition factor - even with wine aficionados.  The Tokaji region of Hungary is best known for the sweet dessert wines produced using grapes which have been blessed with botrytis - the noble rot which causes the grapes to be ultra ripe and super sweet.  So beloved is this type of wine, it is name-checked in Hungary’s national anthem.  I do not speak the language, but I am told the name is pronounced "TOE-coy."

The area does produce dry wines, too.  I recently had the opportunity to order one by-the-glass at Manhattan Beach restaurant Post.  The South Bay hotspot is in a repurposed post office building a couple of blocks from the beach.  I don’t often ooh and aah over restaurant food, but I did join my table mates in a round of high praise for each small sharing plate that was brought to us.  It’s very popular, but I was told they hold 40% of their tables for walk-in traffic.  We were able to sit right away at about 6:00 on a Saturday evening.

From the wine list I was attracted by a Hungarian wine made from Furmint grapes, the premier grape of the Tokaji region.  Furmint grapes have very thick skins initially, but as the growing season progresses, the skins become thinner.  This allows the sun to evaporate the moisture in the grape, making for more concentrated sugars.  A second skin then grows to protect the grape from botrytis, although the noble rot will eventually make its mark on the grape.  For dessert wines, the grapes may be harvested as late as December or January.

The dry 2011 Furmint I had was produced by Royal Tokaji, and is a 100% varietal wine made from estate grapes.  The winery’s first vintage for this type was in 2003, so it's still a newborn by European wine standards.  The wine costs $10.50 by the glass at Post.

The wine is a pale straw color with a bit of a greenish tint, very fresh looking.  On the nose, fresh pears and herbal scents are backed up by a strong sense of minerality.  The palate shows a beautifully refreshing acidity and a very fresh collection of fruit flavors, notably pear, apricot and citrus.  The wine finishes with a lemon-grapefruit zing and leaves a slightly nutty sensation, much like a Roussanne does.  I paired the wine with diver scallops, Hoisin sauce green beans, grilled Brussels sprouts and an amazing bacon and cheese biscuit  with no problem at all.  It was perfect for each dish.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: m2 Wines

Lodi, California is rooted in family-owned vineyards.  The winegrowers and winemakers there are hard at work, getting out the message in every way possible that Lodi is a wine region of note.

The grape variety for which Lodi has become known is Zinfandel, and a new collective of Zinfandel producers - Lodi Native - has been formed.  The six winemakers have banded together to bottle some single-vineyard Zins under their collaborative banner.

Their mission is to accent Lodi’s heritage plantings – many of them dating back to the late 1800s – through sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices.  Native yeast fermentation and use of no new oak help put the focus on Zinfandel’s terroir - on the taste of vineyards rather than varietal character or brand.

The group’s mission statement makes it clear they intend to get the public up to speed on Lodi wine:  “To demonstrate ... that distinguished, distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in Lodi, similar to other great wine regions of the world.  To encourage preservation and appreciation of old vine plantings – well as of Lodi’s long tradition of grower/custodians – by focusing more attention on vineyard sites, vis-à-vis real and tangible sensory expressions in each bottling.  To build professional camaraderie, a culture of information sharing, and new challenges for Lodi’s Zinfandel specialists.

Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.

Lodi Native recently held a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  Here is one of the wines discussed.

m2 Wines 2012 Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel - Winemaker, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines) - Grower, Kevin Soucie

Terroir is the name of the game at m2 Wines.  They promise to create every thing that has terroir, from  “Lodi Zinfandel to classic Napa Cabernet to exciting Rhône wines from the Sierra Foothills, m2 wines are created to fully express the character of the vineyard and the fruit of the vine as wine that is true to itself.”  You can’t ask for more than that.

This Mokelumne River wine shows its terroir from an arm's length away.  Tinted medium dark red, the wine gives off wild aromas of spice and herb in large quantities.  Nutmeg, mint and eucalyptus fragrances wash over the blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fruit.  The palate brings these elements forward even more, and the spices actually ride herd over the fruit.  Black cherry and raspberry flavors take the lead, but are pushed along under the whip of minty spices, sage, cinnamon, cola and tea.  There is a darkness here, too, but not an empty darkness.  It’s a darkness of plenty.  It’s the darkness of a forest of tall trees.  Of the wines I am privileged to taste each year, one always hits me as a Christmas wine.  This is the wine I want over the holidays.

Please do give this wine time to breathe.  It opens up amazingly.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

California Grenache: Lee Family Farm Grenache 2011 Monterey

As California winemakers accept that Syrah was not the Next Big Thing, they are looking for another contender.  Why not Grenache?

The Grenache grape is thought to have originated in Spain - as Garnacha - before running off to France - that's where it picked up the name Grenache - and Sardinia, where it goes under the name Cannonau.  It was one of the first varieties brought to Australia, where it did not feel the need to assume a nom de vin.  It was only natural the grape would come to California for a long vacation and decide to stay for awhile.

The buds break early on Grenache vines, and they take their sweet time about getting ripe.  Often one of the last grapes out of the vineyard, Grenache fruit tends to make a high-octane wine, which is why it has a habit of taking on a support staff.  Syrah and Mourvèdre finish off the Rhône trio of GSM.

Grenache grapes seem well-suited to California, particularly in the cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to become that Next Big Thing in California wine.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll sample some California Grenache from different parts of the state.  I hope you will check out the wines with me.  Most of the wines in the series will be varietal wines, all or mostly Grenache.  Today's entry - Lee Family Farm Grenache 2011 - comes from Morgan Winery in Monterey.

Morgan Winery claims their Monterey home is among the most perfect places for Grenache grapes to grow, even pointing out the boldness of that assertion.  "Grenache is the world’s most widely planted red grape," they say on their website, "and is responsible for some of the finest wines, from France’s southern Rhone Valley to the Priorat in Spain.  Monterey is now on the list for producing great Grenache."

Lee Family Farms is a label created under the parentage of Morgan Winery.  Dan Morgan Lee planted vineyards in Moterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands back in 1996.  Today he uses those grapes for his Morgan and Double L labels.  For his Lee Family Farms bottlings, he sources fruit from other quality growers.

The grapes for the Lee Family Farm Grenache comes from three different Monterey County vineyards - Wildhorse, Cedar Lane and Ventana.  All three benefit from the cooling marine influence of Monterey Bay.  The breeze and fog help lengthen the growing season so the grapes are picked as ripe as possible.

2011 was a cool vintage, and it shows in the acidity.  The cooler the growing season, the better the acidity.  The wine spent ten months in a French oak - 20% of which was new.  Alcohol clicks 14.3% on the scale and a bottle sells for $24.

Showing a medium garnet hue in the glass, a sniff of this wine at rest gives a faint smokiness, almost like a very light incense.  Swirl it a few times and the fruit wakes up - big, bright cherry and strawberry aromas blast from the glass like you scared them.  A note of lilacs in bloom follows.  The flavors are just as bold as the aromas.  Cherries and raspberries steal the show on the palate, but a very nice vanilla component plays in and makes a bit of a Creamsicle impression.  The acidity is fresh and delightful, while the tannins make a good effort, too.

Pairing the 2011 Lee Family Farm Grenache with chicken or sausage is a brilliant idea.  Even if the meat is a little lackluster, the wine's generous gifts will dress it up.  The finish isn't terribly long, but it is cherry-laden and dusted with anise and nutmeg.  It leaves you wanting more.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dessert Wine Undergoes Drastic Change In Five Years

A business trip to Sonoma County about five years ago resulted in a side trip to Calistoga, and a stop at the Bennett Lane Winery tasting room.  An impressive sample list was capped off with the Bennett Lane Dessert Wine, which I liked so much I bought a bottle to take home.  We just opened it recently, and discovered the wine had undergone quite a change.

The Bennett Lane website bills their dessert wine as a “traditional port style wine, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Carignane and all of the classic Portuguese varietals.”  While I remember it tasting very Port-like at the time of my visit in 2009, it now more closely resembles a dry sherry.  My notes on the wine I tasted in the Bennett Lane tasting room say, “Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas.”  It still does, only in a different way.  The promised fruit has become more of a coffee/caramel/raisin show.

Bennett Lane Dessert Wine carries the subtitle of "After Feasting Wine," and that is still a perfect time for its consumption.  At 7.41% residual sugar, it is sweet enough - but not too sweet.  At 18.5% abv, it has the kind of kick that caps off a fine meal in style.  At $60 for a 375ml bottle, it qualifies as a real splurge.  Hopefully it won’t turn into a $30 sherry while it waits its turn under the corkscrew.

What once was a rich red drink is now showing deep browning in the glass.  The opaque wine smells of raisins and alcohol.  The palate is luscious - raisin notes are draped heavily in burnt caramel.  The alcohol does show prominently, but it comes off more like a drink that is much stronger than wine.  There is quite a bit of grape residue in the bottom of the bottle.  Pairing this wine with the standard spread of pies at holiday time is a natural even in its decline, maybe even more so than when it was in its youth.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cimarone Wines' 3CV Bank 2012 Red Blend

Cimarone Wines and Three Creek Vineyard were the 2001 “retirement project” of Roger and Priscilla Higgins.  Those who know how difficult it is to grow grapes and make great wine may pause here for a little chortling and snickering.  If there’s a rocking chair on the premises, it’s just for photo opportunities.

The vineyard is in the recently named AVA called Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County, located in the warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Both the vineyard and the winery facility were sold in 2012, but Mr. and Mrs. Higgins kept the right to use the fruit in their Cimarone and 3CV wines.  The wines are now produced by renowned winemaker Andrew Murray at his Los Olivos winery.

Murray’s Twitter handle used to be “@gotrhones” but he has since broadened his scope with the more official sounding name of @AMVwine.

The 3CV Bank 2012 is basically a blend of Bordeaux grapes which are giving a buddy from the Rhône a ride to the Valley.  It’s a party, and all grapes are invited - 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Merlot and 6% Syrah is the varietal makeup.  The wine retails for $20 and has an alcohol content of 14.3% abv.

Bank opens the tiller with a great, dark fruit nose that is rich and dark.  Cassis and hints of leather, pepper and anise create the olfactory fireworks, while the palate is also extremely dark and fruity.  More savory notes peek through here - spices and tobacco notably - but the blackberry and currant fruit flavors are fully in charge.  The wine has a great mouthfeel, with enough tannins to tame a bite of steak, but not enough to pick your teeth with afterward.

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