Monday, September 29, 2014

Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2011

The 2011 Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay was only $10 by the glass at Westside Tavern, downstairs from the Landmark Theater in the big mall on Pico.  It's $40 per bottle retail, and the winery website shows that it is sold out.

On the nose, citrus, floral, pear and peach aromas put on a show, while the palate has all that lovely fruit plus a slight touch of oak.  The smoky vanilla flavor is fantastic.  There is also a savory aspect which reminds me a little bit of an Italian wine.  The acidity is bright and fresh, and the wine finishes very cleanly and briskly.

That savory touch is described by Brewer-Clifton this way: "a saline quality that promotes an age worthy structure, the uniqueness of a wine region bordered on two of its four sides by the Pacific Ocean is clear."  And, it is true that Santa Barbara County is two sides to the sea, so a maritime influence should be expected.

Three vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills contributed grapes to this wine, 3-D, Sweeney Canyon and Gnesa.  The winery says their goal was to put forth "a comprehensive expression of the appellation," which it seems has been accomplished.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wine Event: Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2014

Early September held a great treat for Los Angeles lovers of the Rhône style of wine.  The Rhône Rangers convened for their annual SoCal event at Vibiana in downtown L.A.  The repurposed church is a great place to hold an event for those who worship the grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.  A more irreverent reverence you will not likely find, church or no church.

For the unordained, the Rhône Rangers are an organization formed solely to celebrate the grapes of Rhône, especially as realized in California terroir.  Bring on Syrah, bring on Grenache, bring on Viognier, yeah verily, bring on Roussanne - and plenty of it.  Our prayers have been answered.

Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner Craig Camp (right) poured a single vineyard Syrah rosé, the 2013 Corallina by Stepping Stone.  It's one of my favorite California pinks.  The Napa Valley vineyard from which these grapes come is west of the Oak Knoll district, almost in Carneros.  The aromas and flavors, while fruity, are more complex than those generally found in pink wines.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up for work. It's deeply-colored and richly textured.  It looks pink, but it drinks red.

Camp had been in Maine the previous week on a sales trip.  He noted that "the sales of whites and rosés just fall flat there after Labor Day,” which is a shame, considering how much lobster there is to be consumed there.  Camp says his Corallina rosé does hit it off with lobster, but it will really go great with the Thanksgiving turkey, so there is no need to retire it until spring.

The Stepping Stone 2012 Syrah comes from a vineyard “right at the top” of Atlas Peak in Napa.  It’s beefy and rich with a brilliant acidity.

The Crux Russian River Valley GSM rosé was the next stop.  Terribly warm day out, so plenty of great rosés were more than welcome.  In this one, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend to make a bright and vibrant wine.  Very nice acidity marks this fruity but dry pink wine.  The Crux Viognier has a five percent splash of Sauvignon Blanc.  Floral and fruity, this was another real refresher.

When I told Zaca Mesa’s Dane Campbell of an upcoming Now And Zin series on holiday wines, he said, "Rhone wines go great with Thanksgiving."  The Zaca Mesa Roussanne fits that bill, with a great nutty flavor and bright acidity.  The Zaca Mesa Viognier throws pear and peach flavors into the acidity and comes up with a lovely, savory finish.

Tercero WinesLarry Schaffer (left) always seems to be going for the title of “Hardest-Working Wine Man in the Santa Ynez Valley.”  At every event - and he’s at them all - Schaffer is always pouring.  One more taste for one more potential customer.  It's why my pictures of him always feature one blurry arm.  He pours his reds from huge flasks, which is always an attention-getter.

The Tercero Mourvèdre rosé is “foot-stomped, with only an hour of skin contact,” he says. Great fruit is on display here, with only a slight funkiness.  It’s the funky part that makes this another of my favorite rosés.  Tercero's Grenache Blanc has a bold savory note and great acidity.  The Tercero Roussanne shows complex aromas and flavors, led by almonds and apricots.

Paso Robles producer Summerwood Winery makes a Grenache Blanc which is fermented half in concrete and half in neutral oak.  It's great nose has bushel baskets of peaches and a fabulous savory component on the palate.  The grapes were grown at an elevation of 1,800 feet, and the cool nights makes for wonderful acidity.  It's a really beautiful wine.

Pomar Junction's Rosé of Syrah has a very deep color, quite like a Spanish Rosado.  It is loaded with fruit and flavor.  The Pomar Junction blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier is a natural choice for the holiday table.  It has great body, yet it's fresh and crisp.  The spicy palate is a treat.

The Kenneth Volk table is the one to which the genuine grape nerds always gravitate. Volk was not present at this event, but his assistant filled in ably, chatting with the tasters about vineyards and clones and proper ph levels.  The Volk Grenache has a very nice, light color.  It looks like it may be trying to slip by as a rosé. Fantastic acidity will make this a hit at the dinner table. An unbelievably savory note gives way to a bright cherry flavor in one of the most dramatic start-to-finish changes I have experienced.  Of the few wines time allowed me to taste, this was my favorite.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Finger Lakes Rieslings To Be Celebrated

The group in charge of marketing New York’s Finger Lakes wine region - the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance - will host a virtual tasting event on Twitter this month.  The event - not that they need an excuse, they’ll talk about wine at the drop of a corkscrew - is the launch of the 2013 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings. The #FLXRiesling Hour is coming up on Saturday September 27, 2014, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. ET.

Wine writers are receiving samples and will hop online to tweet up the '13 Rieslings with Finger Lakes winemakers and fans. You can also check in through the Ustream video channel. All of September, by the way, is dedicated to the Finger Lakes Riesling Launch.

To take part, just get a Finger Lakes Riesling or two and jump in with your tasting notes. Even if you don't have a bottle handy, it's a fun way to connect with other Riesling fans. During the event, use the hashtag #FLXWineVT or direct comments to the FLWA at @FLXWine.

The FLWA bills the Finger Lakes as North America's premier cool-climate winegrowing region.  Located in the east-central part of New York, south of Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes AVA is recognized - by most who offer their opinion - as the best source for Rieslings in America.  The slate soil and microclimates near the three main Finger Lakes make for the good growing of Riesling grapes.
Finger Lakes winemakers say that young Finger Lakes Rieslings show lots of fruit, while more complex notes appear over time.  They also noted that wines from cooler vintages age better than those of warm vintages.
Minerals and citrus are the hallmark notes of Finger Lakes Riesling wines, which can range from very dry to very sweet.  How do you know which are which?  Sometimes, the label will explain the sweetness level in the wine’s name.  There is some help for the consumer, though, when that doesn’t happen.
The International Riesling Foundation has created a "Riesling Taste Profile," which appears on the label of all Finger Lakes Rieslings.  It’s a drawing of a meter, showing the sweetness level of the wine.  It is a concept which might well be adopted by makers of Syrah wines, since that grape shows quite differently from cool and warm climate designations.  It’s a great way to help consumers know what to expect in the bottle.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Behind-The-Scenes Grape Gets Spotlight

If you have more than a casual relationship with wines made from the Cinsault grape, you may already be a grape geek.  On the other purple-stained hand, you may enjoy Cinsault all the time without even knowing it.  It is a grape often blended with other, more famous grapes.  Cinsault will never win a wine Oscar for best grape, but it'll clean up in the taste editor category.  It's a role player in many rosé wines of Provence, it's in the mix of beaucoup Languedoc-Roussillon blends and it even stands alone in Lodi, California.

You can shake hands with some of the best Cinsault in California this week through social media.  The Wines of Lodi will host another in a series of virtual tasting events, held on video stream as well as Twitter.  The topic will be the stunningly complex, ancient-vine Cinsault wines from the famous Bechthold Vineyard.  The hour-long BrandLive event will occur Wednesday September 24th, at 5pm p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET.

Bechthold Vineyard was planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker and the 25-acre plot is not only the oldest producing vineyard in Lodi, but also one of the world's oldest Cinsault plantings.  Bechthold is the vineyard where the Cinsault grapes are grown for the following wines, which will be the subjects of the tasting.  I am told they will be tasted in this order during the event:

1. 2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25)

2. 2013 Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault ($17)

3. 2012 Estate Crush Cinsault ($26)

4. 2011 Onesta Cinsault ($29)

The hosts of the #LodiLive event will be Camron King, the Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Kevin Phillips, the VP of Operations for Phillips Farms and Michael David Winery, and Adam Mettler, General Manager and head Winemaker at Michael David Winery.

When the time arrives, go online - like you won't already be there - and sign into your Twitter account.  Pull up the livestream a little before show time and get ready to pour, swirl and sip.

Once you click on the link, you’ll see a box on the right hand side that says "Questions from the Audience."  Fill in your name and location and type your Comment or Question - the hosts will be able to view what you say immediately.  The Twitter on/off button is below the comment field.  You are encouraged to Tweet your comments.  You just need to log into your Twitter account on a separate tab or window. If you do not want a comment or question to show up on your Twitter feed, click the button to “off” or just hit submit and comment vs. tweet.

To insure that everyone's comments are in a specific stream, use the hash tag #LodiLive and Twitter handle @Lodi_Wine during the tasting.

Virtual tasting events are a lot of fun to do, and the BrandLive events with the folks from Lodi always get some very active participation.  You'll learn a lot about Lodi, a lot about Bechthold Vineyard and a lot about Cinsault.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rattle Them Oak Bones With Boneshaker Zinfandel

Boneshaker Zinfandel - the name is taken from the feel of the ride on a wrought iron bicycle - promises no smoothness, no elegance, no finesse.  Basically, it promises to whack you in the head with an oak barrel stave as you ride by, drunk, on your wrought iron bicycle.  If a bicycle shakes my bones, that's one thing.  It's another entirely when a wine does it.  If the ride on a wine is that rough, I'll leave it for the college crowd - I graduated from that class magna cum gahdahm laude, as David Bromberg sang.

An unusual blend, the 2012 Boneshaker is made from Lodi grapes, 88% Zinfandel and and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It retails for $19.

The two things that make the Boneshaker ride so memorable are alcohol and oak.  15% alcohol content is a little more than I usually like in a wine unless it's a Port, and in that case I want a little more.  Boneshaker also spends over a year in French oak barrels, 70% of which are new.  A barrel made of new oak leaves its mark on a wine much more forcefully than does a barrel that has been used before.  The back label encourages us to "Feel It," so here goes.

This deep ruby wine sports a great nose.  Stick your nose into the glass and you get enough black pepper to prompt a sneeze.  Very dark fruit - blackberry, black cherry, plum - is mated with some fairly forceful oak effect that shoves a toasty barrel stave right into your face.  Not that that's a bad thing, if that's what you like.  The palate goes down the same tree-lined path, with big sweet fruit, big sweet oak and big sweet tannins.  Big is the operative word here, and that may actually fall short as a descriptor.

If I say Boneshaker Zinfandel is oaky to a fault, you could say, "Great!" if you like your Zinfandel to sprout acorns.  Of course, you might also say, "Too much oak is a fault!"  To which fans of the wine could respond, "Not if it's on purpose!" or some such witticism.  Hopefully a discourse of this nature won't degrade into a war of "Is too!" and "I know you are but what am I!" and "Mom, he's hitting me with the barrel stave again!"

Despite my predisposition against a wine this oaky, I can't help but admit it was fun to drink.  I think of it as the wine equivalent of eating candy instead carrots - a guilty pleasure.

The nice folks at Hahn Family Wines say Boneshaker is great when paired with a roast porchetta sandwich or Texas style chuck chili, although both of those dishes may be hard to handle while riding a wrought iron bicycle.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whole Foods Market: Wines Of New Zealand

Whole Foods Market is celebrating wines from New Zealand this fall, and they are taking to social media to alert the wine-loving public.  There are two virtual tasting events set - one on Thursday September 18 and the other on Thursday October 9, 2014.  Both tasting events are scheduled to run from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. CT.

To participate in a virtual tasting event, get the wines at a Whole Foods Market near you, take them home, log onto Twitter and stay ready with the hashtag: #WFMwine.  Using the hashtag in your tweets will channel your comments into the stream with everyone else's.  We always have so much fun that way!  To follow along, set up a search for #WFMwine and save it.  It's very easy to keep in the flow that way.

You can also win a trip to New Zealand in the Whole Foods wine department.  Look here for details on the contest. You have until the end of September to enter for that prize.

Here are the wines which are set to be the topic of both Twitter tastings:

Thursday September 18, 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. CT:

Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc
Oyster Bay Chardonnay
Villa Maria The Red Blend

Thursday October 9, 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. CT:        
Sophora Sparkling Cuvée
Kim Crawford Pinot Gris
Grove Mill Pinot Noir

Get your wines, get set and get ready to tweet about what's in your glass.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, September 15, 2014

Riverbench Mesa Pinot Noir 2011

Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, and for decades it supplied great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to Santa Barbara County wineries.  In 2004 the winery was born, as the new owners decided to start their own label.  The vineyard is SIP certified, Sustainable In Practice.

2011 was a difficult growing season in the Santa Maria Valley, cooler than usual.  Crop yields were down about 30%, so the normally small batches produced at Riverbench got even smaller. Only 395 cases of the '11 Mesa Pinot were made.

The wine is all Pinot Noir - the Martini clone, if you're scoring at home.  The vines are among the oldest at Riverbench, from a four-acre block called "The Mesa."  Alcohol is pretty restrained, at only 13.7% abv.  This makes for a more elegant wine than is sometimes found in California Pinot.  The retail price is $48.  It is splurge-worthy, and gift-worthy, too.

Clarissa Nagy (pictured) became the Riverbench winemaker after Chuck Ortman retired in 2011.  She is perfect in this role, as she is quite a fan of Santa Maria Valley grapes.

The Mesa Pinot is a very dark wine, especially for Pinot Noir.  The Santa Maria Pinots I have sampled always seem to come on a little darker and a little heavier than other Pinots, especially those from Burgundy.  Acidity is usually quite good in Santa Maria Valley wines, too.

The nose gets down to business right away, and it stays busy.  What are your favorite Pinot smells?  They are here, in abundance.  Blasts of cola, black tea, black cherry and raspberry arise, all clamoring to be smelled first.  The palate offers a similar bounty, with the aroma package copied and pasted into the flavor profile.  Spices add to the taste bud workout, with nutmeg and cinnamon playing a big role.  A great minty note ties the tastes together with a bow on top, delivering them to a holiday table near you.

Great acidity means it's food-friendly, and the flavors are at least as festive as homemade cranberry sauce.  I would love it with roast or rack of lamb.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, September 12, 2014

Still Blazing Hot In L.A.: Italian Rosato Helps Out

A warm September Saturday evening, al fresco at Fabrocini’s Beverly Glen, one last rosé before the memory of summer slips away.  Aaah.

Wait a minute, who am I kidding?  It’s early September in Los Angeles.  The really hot weather hasn’t even gotten here yet.  October’s Santa Ana winds and brushfire hell still awaits.  Screw it.  I’ll have the rosé anyway.

Acquagiusta Rosato 2012 is made completely from Alicante grapes, harvested in the Levante Vineyard on the La Badiola estate right in the center of the Acquagiusta Farm in Maremma.  Alicante is also known as Garnacha Tintorea in Spain.  The farm is a 19th-century land management project initiated by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.  With a title like that, one might be expected to do a lot, but could also probably get away with doing very little.  I like to think this particular Grand Duke was a beehive of grand activity.  He was at least smart enough to name the farm after the underground spring located beneath his property.

The grapes of Levante Vineyard are described on the website as vigorous, rigorous and salubrious - descriptive in the peculiar way only a digitally translated text can be.  Alicante grapes are red through and through - not just in the skins - and this rosé is the result of an attempt to make a white wine with them.  They are gently and quickly pressed to minimize color extraction.

The effort to minimize the color leaves the wine a pale salmon tint.  The color may be minimized, but the smells are not.  Big strawberry and melon fruit aromas come forward, along with some of the green stems on which they grew.  There is a beautiful and refreshing acidity which joins the great fruit flavor - light and a bit tart, with a touch of watermelon candy.  The wine feels quite full in the mouth, owing to the vigorous, rigorous, salubrious nature of the Alicante grape.

It goes well with my penne and mushroom marinara.  So well, I’ll keep it mind for that late summer L.A. weather yet to come.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Argentine Cabernet Value From Rutini

There have been some news accounts lately that the current inflation problem in Argentina may cause the great South American values from that country to dry up, while a British importer of Argentine wine says "the market is finally catching up with reality."

The importer is quoted in as saying that he feels Argentine wine producers should survive relatively unscathed, but the potential for difficulties in other areas persist.  “Strike action and domestic unrest are a very real possibility and logistics in Argentina are a constant headache," he notes.

All that will be determined in time, but there are still great values from Argentina.

The Rutini Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab.  The wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, while aging occurred over nine months in French oak barrels - half of which were new and half of which were neutral.  The retail price is only $11 per bottle.

Inky dark, the wine gives a nose which places vanilla notes up against currant and red berries.  The palate shows toasty oak spices draped across the bright fruit and acidity.  Tannins are smooth, but not silky, and a hint of eucalyptus drifts by on the finish.  A delightful sense of minerals is present from the beginning to the end.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Smog City Hoptonic India Pale Ale

When you have an India Pale Ale, do you wonder where it got its name?  There is never anything pale about an IPA’s appearance.  Sit one next to a Budweiser, and it is obvious which of the two has the yellowy tint which prompted Firesign Theater to produce the fake ad for Bear Whiz Beer.  “It’s in the water!”

What is in the water with India Pale Ale is hops.  Plenty of hops.  Hops are flowers which are used in brewing to add a bitter offset to the sweetness of malt.  They also help in preserving beer.  I have always heard that the first India Pale Ale was made because spoilage was a problem on the long ocean voyage from England to India.  It appears that’s not actually correct, if I am to believe Wikipedia.  That source says the highly hopped beer became a favorite in India because of the taste and was given the name due to that popularity.

Wikipedia also offers a listing of the kinds of hops used in American craft IPAs today: “...distinctively American hops, such as Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Tomahawk, Warrior, and Nugget.”  Hop nerds must be the beer world’s equivalent to the wine world’s grape nerds, especially those grape nerds who actually know - and talk openly about - what clone they are drinking.  It might be fun to ask a bartender, "Is this Cascade or Chinook I'm tasting?"  Of course, the bartender might then decide that it's fun to not wait on you anymore.

Smog City Brewing Company was named, no doubt, after the most iconic element of life in Los Angeles - bad air.  They are located in Torrance, in the South Bay area of Southern California, even though I have never noticed too much smog down that way.  We keep our excess smog in the San Gabriel Valley.  It sits well against the mountains there.

Smog City’s head brewmaster Jonathan Porter - great beer name, right? - presides over the brews, collects awards and works with chefs in L.A. to pair his beers with great food.

Smog City’s Hoptonic IPA goes for $7 a glass at Westside Tavern on Pico.  It was hot that day, and a good IPA is one of my favorite warm-weather refreshers, so I drank it pretty quickly.  I did take time to note the aromas and flavors of citrus and a floral hops element that I love in this style of beer.

Smog City elaborates on Hoptonic a little more, citing “the exceptional flavor and aroma of west coast hops with notes of orange, citrus peel, tropical fruit, guava and floral honey. The lightly toasted caramel malt balances the resinous hop flavors and firm, yet balanced bitterness that make this beer a full bodied hop lovers' paradise.”  I'll try to drink it slower next time.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, September 5, 2014

Twin Syrahs From Different Barrels

A tale of two Syrahs, one of which - the Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 - I gushed about in a previous post.  Now I turn to the Zaca Mesa 2010 Mesa Reserve Syrah. 

This 100% Syrah is made from Santa Ynez Valley grapes, estate grown in Zaca Mesa Vineyard's Mesa Block, planted in 2004.  Two different clones of Syrah were used - 174 and 383, if you are an inveterate grape nerd.  I would love to be knowledgeable enough to be able to say with a straight face, "I'd like a little more of the 174 and a little less of the 383," but I usually feel fortunate to be able say with conviction that it's either a red or white wine.

I can say that I would like a little more terroir and a little less oak, though.  This baby spent 17 months in French oak, 62% of which was new.  The other ZM 2010 Syrah spent almost as much time -16 months - in French oak, but the new oak was limited to 19% in that one.  It goes to show that a little matters a lot.

2010 being a cool vintage in the SYV, there is a good bit of spice and acidity.  Despite that, the wine is fruity enough to masquerade as a warm-climate Syrah.  It hits only 13.7% abv on the alcohol meter, 878 cases were produced and it retails for $48 per bottle.

The dark wine has aroma to burn.  Blackberry fruit plays large, while a hefty whiff of alcohol gets out right behind it.  Fans of the funk will love a tar note that grows each night the bottle is open.  As for flavors, what you smell is what you get.  Big, blackberry fruit dominates the palate, but a savory sensation does creep in a bit over time.  Every one of those 17 months in oak is present here, so be prepared for plenty of wood.  The tannins provide plenty to chew on, while the acidity is juicy.  Grab a steak and throw it near fire for a few minutes.  You are now prepared to pair.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Celebrity Wine: Fergie And Dad Make Wine

Ferguson Crest is a six-acre estate winery in the quaint town of Solvang, California.  That’s in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley, where a lot of good wine is made.  Vintner Pat Ferguson and his daughter, Fergie Duhamel, founded the winery in 2006.  Pardon me if I divert from standard journalistic style and refer to Duhamel using the name by which she is more well-known: Fergie.

She has had quite a life so far.  The girl from Hacienda Heights was, according to Wikipedia, a cheerleader, straight-A student, spelling bee champion, and a Girl Scout.  She acted and did voiceover, then took to the stage as a singer, achieving huge fame with the Black Eyed Peas and as a solo artist.  She even has a line of perfume.  And now, with her dad, she’s in the wine business.

Besides having a strong affection for Fergie’s work, I love her for exempting me from sniffing at her “celebrity wine.”  She seems to have a genuine interest in wine, no doubt through her father’s love of it.  The publicity sheet tells me that Ferguson always had a keen interest in learning about different grape varieties and how terroir and climate affected the resulting wine.  He would hold blind wine tasting competitions at his dinner parties for family and friends, the perfect litmus test for determining one’s grape nerd status.  Anyway, I think it’s great when a rich, young celebrity helps dad realize a dream.

Winemaker and Syrah specialist Joey Tensley was brought on board in 2009 and gives his award-winning touch to the estate Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Fergalicious,” a red blend of Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The boutique winery turns out limited-production wines - their 2012 Viognier amounted to only 210 cases.  It’s a 100% varietal wine that hits 14.5% abv on the alcohol scale and rings up at $27.50 on the cash register.  No new oak was used in aging and the grapes were whole cluster pressed.

My first impression: "Damn, this is good Viognier."  I know a little Viognier "never killed nobody," but this is "Beautiful Dangerous."  Tinted gold in the glass, it's a great looking wine.  The nose gives forth some nice pear, apple and honeysuckle scents, with a little herbal essence sneaking up, late in the sniff.  But wait, as they say on the two-minute-long commercials.  There's more.  The taste is truly amazing, and I don't often say that - or even think that - about Viognier.  Super-ripe peaches, nectarines and pears are offset by a wonderful green note.  It's "Glamorous," not "Clumsy."  It's a big wine, and not just due to a substantial alcohol content.  It feels big in the mouth and drinks big going down, with plenty of acidity.  If you are "not a white wine person," you should try this one.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, September 1, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: Macchia Wines

There is a new collective of Zinfandel producers in Lodi - Lodi Native.  The six winemakers involved have banded together to bottle some single-vineyard Zins under their collaborative banner.  Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.

The mission of Lodi Native is to accent Lodi’s heritage plantings, many of which date back to the late 1800s.  They do this through sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices.  Native yeast fermentation and the lack of 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 is to show the world "that distinguished, distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in Lodi, similar to other great wine regions of the world."  They also want to preserve old-vine plantings and celebrate the agricultural heritage of Lodi.

You can find out more about the specific wines here:

2012 Fields Family Century Block Vineyard
2012 m2 Soucie Vineyard
2012 Maley Brothers Wegat Vineyard
2012 McCay Cellars Trulux Vineyard
2012 St.Amant Marian's Vineyard

Today, we are covering the 2012 Macchia Noma Vineyard Lodi Native Zinfandel.

The Macchia Wines Noma Ranch Zinfandel is made by Macchia's winemaker, Tim Holdener.  The grapes are brought to fruition by grower, Leland Noma.

Noma's namesake vineyard is a 15-acre plot of small, old Zinfandel vines.  Noma Vineyard dates back to the early 1900s, which actually makes those vines middle aged by Lodi standards.  The land - on the east side of the Mokelumne River - is completely dry-farmed, producing tiny clusters of highly concentrated, high-acidity Zinfandel grapes.

Macchia is a small, family owned/operated winery.  Holdener makes no bones about it - he's a Zinfandel man and he shows it by producing nearly a dozen single-vineyard bottlings.  Macchia also sneaks around behind the Zinfandel banner to make some fine Cal-Italian wines - Sangiovese, Barbera, and Nebbiolo.

This Lodi Native Zin is medium-dark purple in the glass, as well as on my shirt when I sloshed a bit while swirling.  After blotting up the floor around me, I smelled and received a nose full of peppery raspberry and black cherry.  The black pepper comes through like gangbusters.  The palate shows why Zinfandel reminds me of the Old West.  The black cherry carries so much dust you could hold a rodeo in it.  The pepper is so big it needs a ten-gallon hat.  And the sagebrush - well, podnah, that's real sagebrush in them thar bottles.  The fruit plays large, of course, and the cherry/raspberry flavor carries a dark note of brambly tar.  The alcohol doesn't seem to be as high as listed - 15.8% abv.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sweet Wine From Bonny Doon Vineyard

Sweet wine is not just for the holidays, although many people feel that way.  These may be the same folks who only drink Champagne on New Year's Eve.  Sure, a nice dessert wine with pumpkin pie is great.  A sip or two while unwrapping presents on Christmas morning helps us give a picture-worthy smile even for the gifts we know we'll be returning on Boxing Day.   But does it pair with turkey?  Can we drink it all year long?  Yes, if we can afford to.

At $24 per 375 ml bottle, it's actually a pretty good deal for dessert wine.  Still, if you are serving a group of people it can get pricey to give everyone a good pour.  And everyone wants a good pour of dessert wine.

Bonny Doon's Vinferno 2013 is light on the alcohol - 11.2% abv - and heavy on the residual sugar - 14.6%.  The Grenache Blanc grapes are harvested from the Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco which has been put to such great use by winemaker Randall Grahm in other wines.  And props to Mr. Grahm, while we're at it, for producing a single-vineyard sweet wine.  Vinification took place in stainless steel tanks.

The grapes are air-dried, by the way.   Grahm waited for botrytis to set in - the mold that makes dessert wine sweet - but it never came to the vineyard in 2013.  So Vinferno turned out to be a late-harvest wine, in which the grapes dried on the vine.  It would have made for better marketing copy had the grapes been laid out for three months on top of a carport housing a Citroen, but it was not to be.  Hang time did the trick.

Vinferno is a sweet wine, to be sure, but there is plenty more going on, which lifts it from "dessert wine" status to the level of a great table wine.  First of all, there is a savory aspect to both the nose and palate that keeps it from cloying.  Second, the acidity is bracing, and it's especially noticeable when served unchilled.  It's definitely food-friendly.  Third, the flavors probably go best with fruit or a soft, creamy cheese, but they work well with lightly herbed meats, too.  Even bratwurst.  Salty peanuts.  At this point, you'll need another bottle.

This wine has color to burn.  It's a beautiful, whiskey-tinted amber that is quite enticing.  Aromas of pear, apple, apricot, pineapple and honey have a savory blanket of earth over them.   Fruit flavors come across sweetly, with a complex savory story of their own to tell, too.  The herbal notes are huge, and welcome anytime.  But I want this on Christmas morning.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confessions Of A Syrah Lover: Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010

I love Syrah.  As much as I like Zinfandel, Grenache or a good, smokey Merlot, I always open a bottle of Syrah just a little faster, in anticipation of what's inside.  I get that people may be confused by the difference between cool-climate and warm-climate Syrah, the same way they are confused by the difference between sweet and dry Riesling.  "That other one I had doesn't taste anything like this one!"

Cool-climate Syrah is what I go for, and the darker and funkier the better.   Since Riesling often utilizes a meter on the label to show the wine's relative sweetness, maybe Syrah producers should stop bitching about how nobody buys the stuff and band together to create a Syrah scale that would make it easier for the average wine shopper to tell what's in the bottle.  A Hawaiian shirt could signify the warm-climate side, and a parka the cool-climate side.  Just talking off the top of my head here - a wine think tank could probably come up with more suitable designations.

When I was offered the chance to sample a couple of Syrah wines by Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, I tried to play it cool by simply replying, "Sure.  Love to,"  but the "Warmest Regards" close at the bottom of my email exposed me as a wine writer who will try a Syrah of any clime, anytime.

The Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 is made from estate-grown grapes from five of the winery's vineyards: Chapel F, Cushman A and B and Mesa A and B.  The wines a Rhône-lover's delight, blending 94% Syrah and 6% Viognier.  The red and white grapes are fermented together in small barrels and aged for 16 months in French oak, 19% of which was new.  The alcohol level quite restrained, only 13.6% abv.  12,400 cases were produced and the bottles retail for $25.

The grapes are sustainably farmed by Zaca Mesa, which pioneered Rhône varieties in Santa Barbara County.  Their "40 years of terroir-driven wine" claim is not just idle talk.  They were the first to plant Syrah in the SBC in 1978.  Over half the vines have been replanted since then with new rootstock and clones. The high elevation of the vineyards - 1500 feet - means cooler nights, which means better natural acidity, which means gimme some now.

The winery's website notes that 2010 was a cool vintage and offered a long growing season, for the Santa Ynez Valley.  The usual heat took the summer off and the grapes ripened in slow and steady fashion.

The 2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah carries a medium-dark ruby hue and a burly nose of blackberries, carried along by dusty sage and black pepper.  The cool vintage shows itself in a note of coffee grounds.  The taste is just as complex, with the dark berries joined by spices and herbs.  The wine really does have an amazing flavor.  When I drink Syrah, this is what I want it to taste like.  The acidity is remarkable - lip-smacking good - and the tannins stay busy but don't get in the way of a smooth sip.  It's balanced.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni and the cellar and vineyard team can be proud of this one.

The folks at Zaca Mesa like it with rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary and garlic.  I won't quibble with that.  I'll also have it with beef ribs, pork chops, roast duck and all by itself if we don't feel like cooking.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cimarone Cilla's Blend Red Wine

We should all have retirement projects like Cimarone Wines and Three Creek Vineyard.  Roger and Priscilla Higgins opted for grape crushers instead of rocking chairs for their golden years.  Oh, they have rocking chairs, too - for photo ops.

Three Creek Vineyard is in the happily 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 a couple of years ago, 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 inclusive name of @AMVwine.

The Cimarone website gives big props to their vineyard management company, Coastal Vineyard Care, led by Jeff Newton.  They have farmed the vineyard since 2005, using sustainable farming practices while targeting low yields and high quality.  The vineyard is now planted to Bordeaux varieties, with some Syrah and Sangiovese thrown in for good measure.

The 2012 Cilla's Blend - named for Priscilla, because the wine's elegance rivaled hers - is made from five grape varieties taken from Three Creek Vineyard's Happy Canyon slopes.  It's 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah, 12% Cabernet Franc, 12% Mabec and 1% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol hits 13.9% abv, and aging took place over ten months in mostly neutral French oak.

Medium-dark ruby red, this wine shows its Bordeaux background as well as its Santa Barbara terroir.  Smelling of red berries and black cherries, there is an element of spice on the nose that has me thinking of potpourri.  On the palate, red currant leads the way with traces of oak spice bringing up the rear.  The inclusion of Syrah in the mix really gives the Bordeaux feel a new twist, with a jammy and peppery slant.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mondavi: The Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cab

A recent virtual tasting event under the BrandLive banner featured Charles Krug Wine proprietor Peter Mondavi, Jr. tasting and tweeting about the wine bearing his family name, synonymous with the Napa Valley.  The Charles Krug winery and vineyards have been around since 1861.  The Mondavi family has owned it since the 1940s.  Charles Krug is the oldest winery in California and Peter Mondavi, Sr. is perhaps the state's oldest vintner - within swirling, sipping and spitting distance of the century mark.

The 2011 vintage represents not only the inaugural release of Charles Krug's Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, but also the winery’s 150th vintage.  95% of the grapes used in making the wine are Cabernet Sauvignon, while a 3% bit of Petit Verdot and a 2% splash of Malbec grapes round it out, and all that fruit was grown on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley.  After vinification, the wine spent 19 months aging in French oak with an alcohol content resting at a very reasonable 13.7% abv.  It retails for $75 per bottle.

A cool growing season in '11 made harvest a few weeks later than usual.  The yield was down and the sugar content of the grapes was lower than they like at Krug, but they were thrilled to capture so much flavor despite the obstacles.

The Family Reserve Howell Mountain possesses an inky ruby color, dark enough to block the light from passing through the glass.  Its nose pits cassis and blueberry notes against sweet oak spice, with a tobacco scent making a run for it,  Great fruit on the palate brings a rich berry flavor to mingle with the savory aspects.  The fruitiness is lush, but tempered by an astounding minerality.  The sense of mint, sage and spice is the perfect counterpoint to the dark fruit flavors.

The spicy tannins are delightful, and a great match for a ribeye steak grilled with rosemary.  Every year I find at least a few wines that make me daydream about a holiday dinner.  This wine will be welcome on the table alongside my standing rib roast.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lodi Summer White Wines: Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc

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

Lodi may have made its name with red wines - particularly Zinfandel - but Lodi winemakers produce about 24% of California's wine output and is the state's leading producer of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.   @WineJulia tweeted, during the Twitter tasting, “ Lodi is NOT just red wine country. #lodisummerwhites.”

Heritage Oak Winery's owners, Tom and Carmela Hoffman, are working the land that has been in Tom's family for five generations.  In the 1970s, farming Tokay grapes was the thing.  During the next decade, the focus shifted to Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

They think of acidity as the calling card of their wines, which the terroir and winemaking technique supports completely.  The 2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc is made with grapes harvested from Hoffman Vineyard's Bruella Road Block (80%) and Mokelumne Flood Plain (20%, the Sauvignon Blanc Musquée clone.). Alcohol hits only 13.7% abv.

On Twitter, during the virtual tasting event, @ChasingJen tweeted that the wine shows “mineral preachiness, lemon, grass (soft), refreshing."  @norcalwine cited  “the New Zealand style but dials back the pungency and green. It's good.  Tart & ripe peach, guava, mango, peppery spice & fresh green bean."  @Luscious_Lushes thought the wine was "very subtle & smooth.  Not very tropical- more apple, asian pear, stone fruit. Very easy to drink."  From @dvinewinetime: "Tart & lemony with bright acidity."  @cellarmistress liked the "lemongrass, grapefruit--huge, juicy flavors, my mouth is watering!"

I find the Heritage Oaks 2013 Sauvignon Blanc to be green, but not grassy, showing plant stems and pepper that dominate the nose.  The palate displays bright acidity first and nearly-ripe peaches and apricots second.  The green notes show mightily in the flavor profile, which is great if you like them.  I do, by the way.  Tart grapefruit also makes a strong play on the taste buds.  People who want a wine dripping with sweet fruit need to look elsewhere, but people who want their wine a bit on the savory side and ripping with acidity - food friendly, in other words - should check with Heritage Oak.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Great Value Malbec Wine From Argentina

Felipe Rutini was hired by the Argentine government in 1885 to develop public parks in Mendoza. It didn't take him long to recognize the potential for winemaking in the region, and his family established themselves as winemakers, owning property there for over a century.  In 1994, ownership was transferred and winemaker Mariano Di Paola  has been overseeing the winemaking since then.  In 2008, a winery was opened in Tupungato, in the Uco Valley.

There are hundreds of acres planted to wine grapes now, only 21 miles away from the 21,5000 foot peak of Tupungato volcano, the world's tallest active volcano.  The minerality resulting from the location defines the terroir of the region.  A 25-degree swing in temperature between day and night produces the diurnal effect that makes it a great wine growing region.  Harvest starts at the end of January and ends in early May, making it one of the longest growing seasons in the world.

The Trumpeter brand from Rutini helped open the door for Argentine wine in the U.S., and when people talk about the great values found in Argentine wine these days, this is one that needs to be in that discussion.

Rutini's Trumpeter 2012 Malbec is crafted from 100% Malbec grapes and undergoes full malolactic fermentation, in which all the malic acid turns into lactic acid.  This produces a fuller, richer mouthfeel.  Oak aging is done over seven months in barrels which are 30% new American oak, 30% new French oak and 40% neutral American oak.

The Trumpeter Malbec is extremely dark in color while offering a nose full of sweet oak spice.  The oak shows up, but doesn't overstate its case.  Cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and open onto a seriously deep tar aroma that lies over the dark mixed berries.  The palate really over-delivers, considering this wine costs only $11.  Rich blackberry and currant flavors are set off by the American oak spice rack with the note of tar creeping on the finish.  The tannins are steak-worthy while the acidity makes me want a big, juicy one.  I think of a hearty beef stew for this wine, on a chilly winter day, watching a snowy college football game on TV.  Or, right now will do.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lodi Native Zinfandel: McCay Cellars TruLux Vineyard

Lodi is carving out their piece of the California appellation pie.  The area is rooted in family-owned vineyards, 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.

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.

Lodi Native wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings.  A while back, Lodi Native held a virtual tasting event on Twitter.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate and received this wine as a sample for review.

The TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 was made by Michael McCay, of McCay Cellars.  Winegrower Keith Watts watched over the TruLux vines to insure that great fruit was provided.  The back label of this Lodi Native effort describes the Trulux Vineyard as "a west side Mokelumne River AVA vineyard originally planted in the 1940s on St. George rootstock.  It is distinguished by unusually tall, head-trained vines (topping 6 fett) and a clonal selection producing atypically loose, elongated clusters.  This, and loamy sand, yields dark, meaty fruit qualities with earthy complexity."  The grapes of the 2012 vintage were picked in mid-September, a bit early, when sugar levels were moderate.  Alcohol levels in the reds of Lodi tend to run a bit on the high side, so the 14.6% abv number is actually relatively reasonable.

The TruLux Vineyard Zin definitely shows its single-vineyard terroir in a distinctive manner.  The wine looks inky and smells like a bottle of grape perfume.  Aromas of black and blueberry are joined by a sweet scent of pipe tobacco.  Tar scents come forward after the wine has had time to breathe.  The palate is brilliant, with leaping flavors of cassis and the aforementioned dark fruit - very dark fruit, in fact.  The tar that presents itself on the nose also hits the tongue on the second night open.  Cinnamon spice lasts into the finish, which is luxurious.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter