Monday, March 30, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Pedernales Cellars

The key for success of the Texas wine industry has been identifying the right grapes to grow. The first drip of perspiration during the long, hot Texas summer made someone think about Spain's Tempranillo grape, and the rest is history. Texans have had some luck with Italian and Rhône varieties, too, but Tempranillo sure seems like the most logical choice to me.

The sixth-generation Texans at Pedernales Cellars makes wines that are "100% Texan," no matter that the grapes in question originated in Spain - or France, in fact. Those grapes for the Texas Tempranillo 2012 are all Texan now, some grown in the Texas High Plains and some in the beautiful Hill Country. Their trophy case must be ready for remodeling since they have raked in awards from a wide variety of wine competitions.

By the way, the pronunciation of the town - and river - from which the winery takes its name is "Per-den-al-ess, according to natives of the area. I seem to remember Lady Bird Johnson using the term, "If the lord's willing and the creek don't rise," but I know I recall her - or maybe Fannie Flagg's impersonation of her - making it, "If the lord's willing and the PERdenales don't rise." Fact check me on that, if you like, and let me know if I'm correct.

This ten-gallon Tempranillo has a really strong smell of alcohol on the first whiff - and quite a few whiffs to follow. And this was after it had been decanted for a day. The wine only carries a 13.2% abv number, so it was disconcerting to find the alcohol so prominent. It's a bucking bronco of a wine, and needs to be busted before you can expect a quiet ride.

An hour in the glass, with a lot of swirling, brought the oak-spiced cherry aromas into focus. A little cedar, a little clove, a little pipe tobacco and you've got yourself a nose. Sipping is a treat, too, once the tannins are tamed. Brilliant cherry and blueberry flavor washes along the spicy notes that result from the oak aging.

The wine compares quite favorably to Rioja in both taste and mouthfeel. That acidity is really mouthwatering, and a steak or a pork chop would be great with the Pedernales Tempranillo.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bonny Doon Minds Its Own Beeswax

Le Cigare Blanc is the white counterpart to the always awesome Le Cigare Volant red blend, named for the alien spacecraft "banned by decree of the village council of Châteauneuf-du-Pape." The flying cigars may not be allowed to land in France, but they land in my place a lot. They are welcome visitors from another appellation far, far away. Well, just a bit north of me, anyway.

The 2013 Le Cigare Blanc, "Beeswax Vineyard," is a combination of 55% Roussanne grapes, 26% Grenache Blanc and 19% Picpoul grapes from Monterey County's Beeswax Vineyard. Roussanne and Grenache Blanc get around a bit in California, but I'd love to hear of another Cali wine sporting Picpoul.

Bonny Doon Vineyard winemaker Randall Grahm states, "We've made a very slight label change with this vintage. An echo of the mineral character that we were able to express in the wonderful '11, but perhaps a tad richer on the palate." Minerals are good, richer is good. I'm looking forward to sipping. The wine hits 14.5% abv on the alcohol scale and sells for $28 per bottle. 1965 cases were produced, and if there are any left at this time it's an oenological crime.

The '13 Le Cigare Blanc shows in the glass just slightly richer than pale gold. Aromas of quince and peach are smacked with a delightful salinity - not quite the smell of salt water, but pretty close to it. There's a note of candle wax in there, too. The palate is exquisite, with lovely white fruit flavors and a decent acidity which is tempered by the wine's mellow mouthfeel. Traces of a floral sense melt into a slightly saline feel on the finish.

It fits so well with a pasta salad featuring mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and capers that it seems incredible to think that the wine wasn't made with that dish in mind.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oregon Pinot From Napa Winery's Northern Branch

The folks at Cornerstone Cellars have been putting corks in bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for quite a while. In addition to their Bordeaux fascination, you may know that they also have a Burgundian side - a side which necessitated that they open a shop a little further north.

Cornerstone/Oregon has received the winery's white label treatment with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for some time now. It was with barely contained enthusiasm that Cornerstone's managing partner Craig Camp announced a more colorful Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The Cornerstone Oregon Stepping Stone Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 is a mouthful, in more than just name alone.

This Pinot spent 14 months in French oak, 18% of which was new oak. Alcohol is up there in this ripe wine, at 14.1% abv. 500 cases were produced and the wine has a $30 retail price. As part of the Cornerstone artist series, the label is beautifully adorned with Oregon artist Janet Ekholm's "The Color of Life."

The wine is a fairly dark ruby that stops short of opaque. A very hefty nose sports big, dark fruit and a faint whiff of eucalyptus. The wine drinks hefty, too, packing some punch, as a wine from a very warm vintage is supposed to do. But it's not all brawn - there is charm there as well. It doesn't hit you and take your wallet, it sits you down to talk, then slips your phone out of your pocket while you're looking away.

The simplicity of this Pinot is beguiling. There are plums, blackberries and black cherries, too. But the herbal aspect rather sneaks up on you after you've stopped paying such close attention. Thyme and sage try to float away right under your nose, leaving a slight mocha note to explain why those guys didn't hang around. The intense fruit flavor leads one away from the Pinot trail, but there are enough hallmark characteristics of coffee and tea to keep you on track. The wine drinks both easily and heartily at the same time.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Wine Country Wisconsin: Wollersheim Winery

When a young man leaves Beaujolais after wine school to travel to America and take an entry-level job at a winery, you might expect him to go to California. After all, the Golden State - as far as wine is concerned - is the France of the U.S. Second choice? New York, maybe. Or Oregon, or Washington. Possibly Virginia.

When Wollersheim Winery's winemaker, Philippe Coquard, came to the United States as an exchange student he chose Wisconsin. Over thirty years later he still considers it the best move of his life, and not just because he loves the Marechal Foch grape.

Coquard grew up in Beaujolais with twelve generations of winemakers preceding him in the family tree. Immediately after graduating from wine school, he traveled to Wisconsin as an exchange student. There, he hired on with Wollersheim, fell in love with the vintner’s daughter and got married. The rest, he says - without a hint of irony - is history.

The Wisconsin winemaker tells me, "Wisconsin is a bit colder than Beaujolais {!} but I use the same grape growing and cellar methods that I learned in France. It's the same approach I would use in Beaujolais with Gamay or Chardonnay grapes. Looking at wine globally, rather than regionally, he says "I could make wine anywhere using these techniques."

Marechal Foch - Coquard calls the grape “one of the most noble hybrids of all” - is “closer to a Côtes du Rhone than a Pinot Noir,” he says.  In fact, it has been around Europe a few times and thrives now in America’s cold Midwest.

In addition to Coquard's pet grape, the Wollersheim vineyards are full of French-American hybrids like Marquette, La Crosse, La Crescent and Frontenac. The winery was founded in 1847 by Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian who later founded one of California's first commercial wineries.  Wollersheim closed its doors for Prohibition and did not reopen until 1972.

Wollersheim does source some grapes from gentler climates - their Carignane comes from Lodi and they also buy grapes buy from Washington and New York. Aside from these outside grapes, everything they use comes from within a mile of the winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The lion's share of the winery's production is distributed in-state, with about five percent ending up in the Chicago area.  Very little goes to the twelve states to which they ship.

The fine folks at Wollersheim kindly provided a sample of two of their home-grown wines for the Now And Zin Wine Country series.

Wollersheim Domaine Reserve 2013

This wine is a perfect example of why the winemaker has a favorite grape. Estate-grown - 95% Marechal Foch and 5% Millot - the Domaine Reserve shows the terroir of the Lake Wisconsin American Viticultural Area. The grapes are destemmed before crushing and the juice undergoes a long, warm fermentation. After twelve months of barrel aging in half American and half French oak, the wine has aging potential of five to ten years, according to the winery. Alcohol stands at 13.5% and it retails for $25. They have made this wine since 1976.

The winery says Domaine Reserve is "among the rare single-field wines, using only grapes from our oldest vines located on our steepest slopes."

Dark garnet color, the nose displays blackberry, plum, spices and herbs with an amazing, mouthwatering mocha angle. On the palate, there is dark berry, herbs, coffee, and a tart acidity to make this a great wine to have with dinner. The tannic structure gives the green light to beef, but its spicy side says pork.

Wollersheim Prairie Blush 2014

This deep pink semi-dry, dubbed "white Marechal Foch," is made completely of Wisconsin-grown Marechal Foch grapes. It gets a cold fermentation, with a natural residual sweetness achieved by stopping the fermentation. The winery advises we enjoy it young, within two years of bottling. It sells for $10 and carries an 11% alcohol content..

This blush - the Midwestern word for "rosé" - has a beautiful, ruby-red glow and a fresh-as-spring nose full of strawberry, raspberry and cherry aromas. The Wisconsin earth comes through as well, but does not overwhelm the fruit. The flavor is rather like a fruit salad, too, with good acidity on a palate that hits a step drier than the "off-dry" meter reading suggests. It goes great with cheese - in Wisconsin, it had better go great with cheese - and it is perfect for picnics.

You can hear my three-part interview with Coquard on the Now And Zin Wine Report: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wine Country Virginia: DuCard Vineyards

During the effort of trying to taste wine produced in all fifty states, some states bear another visit - and another.  DuCard Vineyards is our third sampling of Virginia wine in Now And Zin's Wine Country series.  The Old Dominion state was one of the first in the series, and one of the more recent.

DuCard owner Scott Elliff says he started out innocently enough, growing grapes for sale to a neighborhood vintner.  On the winery's website, Elliff remembers, "We initially sold our grapes to a winery up the road, and wines that included our grapes won a number of awards, including the Virginia Governor’s Cup as the best wine in the state and the Best Wine in the East (out of 1,400 entries) in another competition."

Elliff avoided the proverbial ton of bricks and put two and two together quickly.  "We decided to begin bottling a small amount of wine under our own label, exclusively for friends and neighbors and a small but growing email list of “fans and followers.”  The value of his decision was realized when his wines sold out in his first three vintages.

Not only is DuCard a source of great wine, they are also a leader in Virginia's green business community.  DuCard was Virginia's first solar powered winery, and was awarded the Virginia Green Travel Star designation for its environmentally sound and socially conscious practices.

The winery composts grape waste for use in fields and gardens, uses reclaimed hardwoods from barns and other Appalachian sources for flooring and tasting room bar, employs organic alternatives to  chemical sprays whenever possible and recycles wine bottle corks for use in their flooring.

The label on DuCard's 2013 Signature Viognier reveals that grapes from the estate are whole-cluster pressed, then barrel-fermented and aged in neutral oak.  Alcohol tips the meter at 13.7% abv and the retail sticker of $26 per bottle may price the wine out of some "everyday wine" budgets, but there's always the weekend.

The wine's very pale, golden color is not too inviting - but don't stop after a glance.  The nose send showers of vanilla peaches out in a cloud of soft oak and floral scents.  On the palate, rich peach and pear mix with a slight taste of orange peel.  The acidity is striking, and a citrus note clings to the lengthy and delicious finish.  If all it had going for it were the acidity and the citrus angle, the DuCard Signature Viognier would be worth purchasing.  With all its other attributes, it should be in every wine rack in Virginia - and beyond.

Pair the DuCard Viognier with all the seafood you love - scallops, crab cakes and oysters come to mind - or a nice Gouda cheese plate with apple slices.  And, if you can't wait for lunch, have it with a late breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked bacon.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Argentina Via Whole Foods Market: Belgrano Malbec

A recent virtual wine tasting event put on by Whole Foods Markets brought out the wine lovers on social media.  The Twitter-based chat session drew a nice crowd of participants who were sampling some of the bargains offered at the grocery chain.

Several wines were tasted and tweeted about, and the conversation was friendly and animated, as usual with this sort of Twitter tasting.  If you'd like a heads-up when the next Whole Foods event comes to social media, you should follow the Whole Foods wine department on Twitter at @WFMwine.

The Belgrano Argentine Malbec was very popular with the online panel.  On Twitter, @WFMwine noted, "we sell Malbec like crazy. Belgrano is $9, good value. Warm spices, some blueberry, a little smoky note. Like the nose?"  A resounding round of "Yes!" ensued, from others who joined in the event.   @RickGriffin  agreed, tweeting, "Love the mouthfeel and finish of the Belgrano Malbec - GREAT value!"  @estehawk thought the Belgrano was "buttery and earthy with a touch of spice."  @WFMwine  then egged on the crowd a little more: "Belgrano is nice, soft & round. A real crowdpleaser no? goes with anything, burgers, pizza, cold turkey sammie."  @JamesTheWineGuy offered his tasting notes: "Lavender, violets, cassis, dark chocolate, chicory, and baking spices."  The Belgrano Malbec made @lovelemonsfood hungry: "this one makes me want to eat a bowl of spaghetti."

The Belgrano Malbec hits only 13% abv and comes under a synthetic cork.  From grapes grown in the Maipú Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, this wine is a righteous steal at Whole Foods.  It sells there for about $10 and, to my understanding, it's a Whole Foods exclusive.  

The dark color looks quite rich and ruby-red.  Aromas of blueberry, smoke and spice bolt from the glass, leaving a little trail of cedar behind.  The palate is lovely - ripe, red fruit and oak spice are contained in a full and easy mouthfeel with smooth tannins. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wine Country: Ohio - Meier's White Catawba Wine

Grape cultivation started in Ohio in 1825.  That’s when Nicholas Longworth started growing grapes for wine purposes.  By 1860, Catawba grapes were all the rage in Ohio’s vineyards and the state was the nation’s leading wine producer.  Ohio enjoyed a good run at the top of America’s wine industry, a run which came to a crashing halt when Prohibition was enacted.  After the repeal of the ban on alcohol, Ohio was slow to recover its lost wine industry, as were most American states.  They have come on strong, though, and now threaten to break in as one of the top five wine producing states.

Today, there are well over a hundred wineries operating in the Buckeye State.  Ohio wine is produced from a lot of grapes you probably recognize - Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc - and some you may not.  North American hybrid grapes are hardier during Ohio’s frigid winters than vitis vinifera grapes.  Grapes like Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Chambourcin and Catawba may sound foreign, but they lie at the heart of American wines made in the great Midwest.

The Catawba grape is an American fruit thought to be a cross between vitis labrusca and vitis vinifera plants.  Catawba’s place in American wine history was ensured in the mid-1800s, when the aforementioned Mr. Longworth produced sparkling wines from Catawba grapes.  His bubbles won raves even from wine lovers in Europe.

Catawba is no longer very highly regarded as a wine grape due to an essence it displays which is common to many North American grapes.  It is sometimes called “foxy,” and it is not usually given as a compliment.  This earthy characteristic may not be what floats everyone’s wine cork, but I think of it as the mark of America on the wine.  It’s like the funk of the Rhône Syrah or the petrol of the German Riesling - maybe not for everyone, but indicative of terroir.  It tends to wear better in sweeter wines than dry.  The grape is fairly popular - along with the Concord variety - as a source for grape juice, jams and jellies.

Meier’s Wine Cellars is Ohio’s largest and oldest wine producer.  They also make other beverages, grape juice included.  They once grew their grapes on an island in Lake Erie, but now purchase grapes from independent growers in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.

Meier’s White Catawba Wine is made from Catawba and other unnamed grape varieties.  This viscous wine is colored like apple juice and scented with an earthy, Midwestern, broad-shouldered nose.  There is a sweet edge to that aroma, as in pear juice.  Sweet sap on the palate is fruity, and rather delightful in a North American kind of way.  The sense of sweetness remains after the sip, leaving a sticky sweet feeling reminiscent of a dessert wine.  It is actually more off-sweet in taste, but the sweetness tends to be more pronounced on the finish than during the sip.

There is not much acidity to speak of, but it does serve a purpose with food nonetheless.  It's a great wine to pair with salsa and tortilla chips, spicy Asian cuisine or peppery bar peanuts.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Lodi Tempranillo: McCay Cellars

A recent social media virtual wine tasting event featured five great Tempranillos from Lodi.  We have already posted about Bokisch, Riaza, Harney Lane, and m2.  Today we wrap up with McCay Cellars.

The wine tasters who gathered on Twitter were not disappointed in their quest for some great Tempranillo straight out of the Lodi earth.   Comments were tweeted from the likes of  @CharlesComm, who noted "Explosive aromatics on the @mccaycellars #Tempranillo. Bring on those papas!"  @TheWineyMom tweeted, "My first sniff gives out some nutty aromas. BIG nose!!"
 @devinewinetime chimed in with, "Tempranillo - Tons of red fruit; spice & smooth, lingering tannins. Quite sippable!"  Another note from @GrapeOccasions stated, "I'm picking up Eucalyptus  and I like it!"

McCay Cellars Tempranillo Lot 13 Vineyard 2012  $28

Michael McCay does some wonderful things with the grapes that grow in his estate vineyard.  McCay has been a Lodi grape grower since the 1980s, putting his own name on wines for a handful of vintages now.  He loves and lives Lodi, gushing on the McCay website, “Lodi has California’s best climate for producing wine grapes.  The Mokelumne Rivers’s sandy loam soil along with the Delta’s cool breezes provide the perfect and unique environment for growing the best wine grapes in the world.”  His Grenache and Zinfandel speak directly to that claim.  So does his Tempranillo.

At 14.3% abv, the alcohol content of the Lot 13 Vineyard Tempranillo is a bit relaxed by Lodi standards.  Also common in Lodi - and typical for McCay - is a limited production of 179 cases.  This wine retails for $28.

The aromas here really do explode from the glass.  Brambly, dusty cherry is dripping with mocha, chocolate and sage.  The medium density of the ruby hue foretells the easy-sipping mouthfeel.  Flavors of black cherry lead the palate parade, with a great streak of minerals and a fistful of tannins in tow.  A hint of slightly tart raspberry brings the finish into focus.  It's an incredibly enjoyable wine, offering something exciting for at least four of the senses.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wine Country Kansas: Holy-Field Vineyard And Winery

German immigrants brought grapes and winemaking to Missouri in the early part of the 19th century and, by the latter part, wine had crossed the Missouri River into Kansas.  The two states made up a winemaking powerhouse which provided more wine than any other area in the US at that time.  The story went sour quickly, though.

Temperance leader Carrie Nation hailed from the Sunflower State and the relentless work of her movement resulted in Kansas becoming the first US state to adopt a statewide prohibition of alcoholic beverages in 1881 - predating the national era of Prohibition by nearly four decades.

It has been noted that around the beginning of the 20th century - despite the state's prohibition - there were still thousands of acres of grapevines which served Kansas bootleggers and the booming wine industry in neighboring Missouri.  National prohibition killed off the wine industry in Kansas - Missouri, too - and recovery would not begin until the 1980s.

Kansas is known for its fertile soil and long growing season, particularly in the eastern half of the state where most of its 30 or so vineyards are located.  The Holy-Field Vineyards and Winery website waxes poetic about making wine in Basehor, Kansas: "The bounty of the vines springs forth on fourteen beautiful acres tended under the personal touch of owners Les and Michelle Meyer. Holy-Field's ten grape varieties ripen to produce fifteen distinct wines."

The name of the vineyard and winery is inspired by its location at the intersection of 158th Street and 24-40 highway in southern Leavenworth County Kansas.  In bygone years 158th street was named Holyfield Road, and the name offers a tip of the hat to that era.  The vineyard is filled with Native American and French Hybrid varieties

Holy-Field Cynthiana

Also known by the more masculine name of Norton, Cynthiana grapes are thought by many to be America's great lost grape.  It flourished in Midwestern vineyards for many years until Prohibition pulled the carpet from beneath its feet.  The wine industries in these states literally died at that time, taking Cynthiana with them.  The grape - by both names - has undergone a great resurgence and is now grown in several states, Kansas among them.

The Holy-Field Cynthiana shows extreme earthiness on the nose, which is somewhat obscured by the aroma of alcohol, more than the 13.5% abv number would suggest. The taste is brimming with tart - bordering on sour - cranberry, raspberry and cherry.  Spice is abundant, a result of the 12-16 months aging in American oak which the wine undergoes.

Here is a nice article giving a brief history of the Norton/Cynthiana grape.

Holy-Field Amitie

This refreshing white wine blends two French hybrids grapes - Chardonel and Traminette.  The former claims Chardonnay as its parent, while the latter hails from the Gewürztraminer grape.  The wine is done completely in stainless steel, with no oak used to color the beauty of the fruit.  It hits only 12% abv on the alcohol scale

This wine's light golden color suggests a light and refreshing quaff, and the nose adds a hint of sweetness to the expectations.  Aromas of apples, white peaches and a sweetly herbal note are inviting.  The flavors deliver on what has been promised.  Sweet fruit and a slightly spicy edge are wrapped a delicate acidity that tingles just right.  There is just a hint of earth underlying all this, and it stays on the finish.  I am reminded of an off-dry Riesling, which is a good thing to be reminded of now and then.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Duchman Family Winery

The Spanish flag once flew over Texas.  So have the flags of five other entities, but none of the grapes claimed by those other flags have taken to the Texas terroir like Spain's Tempranillo.  In Driftwood, Texas they make a Tempranillo that is worthy of a little flag waving.

The Bayer Vineyard Tempranillo 2011 - the first Tempranillo effort from Duchman (DOOKman) Family Winery is a real family affair.  The 100% Tempranillo grapes come from the Bayer Family Vineyard.  Winemaker Dave Reilly takes a break from the Italian varieties for which Duchman has become known and crafts a Texas-sized gem from the Spanish grape.  Only 682 cases were made, and the wine contains a very reasonable 13.5% alcohol.

The Tempranillo grape is planted worldwide, of course - about 575,000 acres’ worth - and it is the world’s fourth most-planted variety, with some of the oldest Tempranillo vineyards located in Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rioja regions.

There are about 400 acres of Tempranillo planted in Texas, where it stands, arguably, as the Lone Star state's signature grape.  The climate and soil in Texas mimic those qualities of Tempranillo's Spanish roots.

During a Twitter tasting event which featured Texas renditions of the Spanish favorite, @bsvtexas noted that “the Duchman 2012 Tempranillo from Alan Bayer's vineyard in Terry County is wonderfully complex and spicy.”  Texas wine expert Russ Kane - known on Twitter as @VintageTexas - tweeted that the “@DuchmanWinery 2011 Tempranillo (Texas High Plains AVA) is smooth and aromatic with smoky notes, red berry, soft finish.”

This dark Tempranillo smells just how one would imagine a meeting of Rioja and the Lone Star State would smell.  Huge whiffs of blackberry and blueberry are laced with some good ol' Texas dust.  Earth plays a big supporting role, with oak pulling up in third place.  A little bit of vanilla, a little bit of clove and a lot of leather are in its aromatic saddlebag.  The wine's earthiness comes through even bigger on the palate, where it rivals those dark berries. There is an abundance of spice, tobacco and a hint of mint as well.

If the Duchman Tempranillo - paired with a smoked brisket or a nice steak hot off the grill - doesn't make you happy, you should start therapy and make this issue #1.  Less carnivorous folks will love this wine with sautéed mushrooms or roasted potatoes.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Sparkling Syrah Shows Magnified Flavors And Aromas

Bonny Doon Vineyards' owner and winemaker Randall Grahm has made sparkling wine from Riesling, Albariño and Moscato grapes - not to mention his bubbly pear wine and sparkling cider crafted from apples, pears and quince.  This sparkling Syrah mines that adventurous vein further, while adding a page to his illustrious history with the Rhône grape.

The Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011 was released a little over a year ago to Bonny Doon's DEWN club members.  It is now available for $36 retail.  Grahm has high praise for it, if he does say so himself.  “It's my favorite Bonny Doon wine," notes the iconic Rhônemaster.

For the record, it is 83% Syrah from Jespersen Vineyard and 17% Grenache from Alta Loma Vineyard.   This Central Coast sparkler - effervescent, really - shows large bubbles that don't last long and carries an extremely modest alcohol content of 11.9% abv.

It is quite dark in the glass, with an expressive nose and an aggressive palate.  From the Bonny Doon website: "You love the aromas of Syrah, right? Now, get ready to smell them REAL BIG."  That's not a disclaimer, it's a billboard.   Intense aromas of the blackest berries are intertwined with the smell of Kalamata olives and roasted meat.

The palate is so heavily laced with the olive element that I am nearly convinced that I am drinking from the olive jar.  Earth comes through in abundance, as it does in Grahm's still wine Syrah efforts.  There is a note I labored over unsuccessfully, until I saw in Grahm's tasting notes that it is "spearmint Necco wafers."  Really?  This just gets better and better.

In a Twitter conversation with Grahm, he wrote that his sparkling Syrah is "similar to sparkling Shiraz but very elegant."  Grahm adds that the Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah is "lower in alcohol, higher in acid than sparkling Shiraz; cool climate fruit, mintier than get-out."

Sparkling red wine may put one in mind of Lambrusco, but this operates on an entirely different level.  This is the sparkling red for those who feel Lambrusco just isn't enough fun.  As Grahm writes, it is "clearly a Syrah, but rendered in a way that is startlingly unexpected and just totally fun."  Expect some startling fun when you break out the church key to pop the crown cap on this bottle.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Cornerstone Napa Valley Red Wine 2011

Wine is a special thing.  That's why I'm here.  That's why you're here.  For many, the higher the price, the more special it is.  Most folks who have to fit their wine purchases into a budget save the high-priced bottles for special occasions, like anniversaries and birthdays - "splurge wines," they call them.  Today's wine is splurge-worthy.

The 2011 vintage in Napa Valley presented some big hurdles for grapes and grape growers to jump.  Wet winter, wet spring, late bloom, mild summer - not a textbook Napa season.  That was okay for the folks at Cornerstone Cellars.  Cornerstone's managing partner Craig Camp says "we were able to achieve our desired ripeness levels in all of our vineyards in 2011.  For those who aspired to pick at close to 30 brix, it was a difficult year, but for producers like us, who harvest at around 24 brix, the 2011 vintage produced lovely, elegant wines."

The Cornerstone 2011 is a single vineyard wine made from grapes grown in the Oakville Station Vineyard of the To Kalon District.  Three of Bordeaux finest varieties - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot - make up this blend.  The wine spent 22 months in new French oak, and that new oak is apparent in the aromas and flavors, but the oak treatment is perfectly applied.  Alcohol content is 14.4% abv.  It's scarce, as usual - just 104 cases were produced.  The retail price of $150 will keep the riff-raff from scarfing it up, though.

Aromas of cassis, plums, smoke and licorice can't wait to escape the glass.  The deep ruby wine shows black and red berries on the amazing palate, interlaced with allspice and a hint of orange peel.  The acidity is stunning, and the tannic structure is quite firm.  This wine deserves a splurge-worthy cut of meat to allow it to show itself in a setting that fits its heritage, elegance and power.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Cru Beaujolais - Two From Morgon

Morgon is a Beaujolais cru, one of 12 smaller subdivisions of the Beaujolais region.  The main grape of the land in Beaujolais is Gamay, and if all you know of Beaujolais are the Nouveau wines that are released very young in late November each year, do yourself a favor and explore the crus a bit.  Morgon is a great place to start.

I have noted before that in the 14th century, the Dukes of Burgundy invited the Gamay grape out of Burgundy while welcoming Pinot Noir as the new tenant.  Gamay then took root in Beaujolais to the south.  Morgon has a long history with grapes - it was home to the vineyards of the Romans.  The volcanic and granitic rock found in the crumbling soil of the Morgon region supplies the terroir for which the region is known.

These two examples of Morgon were provided to me as samples for the purpose of this article.

Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2012

Jean and Agnès Foillard took over his father's vineyard in 1980.  Mainly planted on the Côte du Py, "the famed slope outside of Villié-Morgon, the granite and schist soil are on the highest point above the town," according to importer Kermit Lynch.

Foillard follows the teachings of Jules Chauvet, a traditional winemaker who went against the more popular commercial trends. Three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet and Guy Breton joined him and were dubbed the Gang of Four by Lynch.  Minimalists, they eschew young vines, synthetic herbicides and pesticides, late harvesting, chaptalization and filtration.  So Foillard's Morgon wines express the true terroir of the region. Lush when young, his wines are also age worthy.

All Gamay, the wine is made from organically farmed fruit borne of vines as much as 90 years old.  Whole cluster fermentation - stems and all - leads to six to nine months aging in used oak barrels from Burgundy.  The wine is delivered as natural as it gets, unfiltered, with no sulfur dioxide used for preservation.

The wine shows extreme earth on the nose, with some smoke wafting out of the glass.  The palate is very fruity, with cherry, blackberry and plum flavors coming forward.  It also has a pretty floral texture, yet it’s dark and earthy, too.  There is acidity to burn.  Foillard makes a wine that is big, especially considering the lighthearted froth by which many people define Beaujolais.

Georges Duboeuf Morgon 2011

Georges Duboeuf is the most recognizable name in Beaujolais wine.  He represents over 400 winegrowers in the region and his name is a mainstay in the French section of supermarket shelves worldwide.  His name is virtually synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau, but his hand is in the crus as well.  Here we explore his Morgon bottling from the vineyards of the late Jean-Ernest Descombes, whose daughter Nicole runs the business now.

Duboeuf says this wine's terroir "intensifies with age."  "It doesn't age," says Duboeuf, "it 'morgonates.'"  He goes on to say that this Morgon shows "the fruit of Beaujolais, the charm of Burgundy."

The wine is all Gamay grapes from the Descombes domain.  Alcohol is typically Burgundian, at 13.0% abv.  The grapes are fermented whole cluster, unstemmed, and the wine spends less than two weeks in contact with the grape skins.

Aromas of blackberry and black cherry meet with a mix of sweet and tart.  The palate is beautiful, with a refreshing acidity and firm tannins that do not overwhelm.  The dark fruit flavors are tinged with a hint of orange peel and pepper, while minerals play through it all.  This wine is not as dark or earthy as the Foillard, but delights in a different way.  A "jug" of this would be perfect with "a loaf of bread and thou," but slip some salami into the loaf and it gets darn near unbeatable.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

A Pair Of Big Wines From The Russian River Valley

Last year carried a double reason for celebrations at Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery.  Not only was 2014 the 30th vintage for their wines, but it marked the first vintage with winemaker Theresa Heredia at the helm for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir releases.

Farrell GM Nancy Bailey says Heredia "was a rising star when we hired her" in 2012, having racked up acclaim as winemaker at Freestone on the Sonoma Coast after a stint in Burgundy.  Bailey says the winemaker is a "warm, thoughtful, deeply engaged person who is helping to forge a new identity for Gary Farrell Winery."  Wouldn't we all like to be thought of so highly by our bosses?

Heredia (below, right) is understandably proud to be in charge of the wines at one of the Russian River Valley's pioneering wineries.  She says the 2012 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are wines of elegance and balance, from a growing season that was long and sunny

The 2012 Russian River Selection Chardonnay is composed of Chardonnay grapes from nearly every quality vineyard in the region.  I tried counting them, and I had two fingers leftover, so the number must be eight.  Pressing for each vineyard was done in accordance with the fruit quality.  A special selection of the juice was left in contact with the lees - the spent yeast cells - for a fuller, rounder mouthfeel.  The grapes were harvested at slightly lower sugar levels to get more varietal character, purity, acidity and terroir from each vineyard.

Here’s how they describe the various vineyards which contributed fruit to this cuvée: "Anchored by the naturally balanced character of Westside Farms with intriguing floral and stone fruit notes from Bacigalupi Vineyard,the wine's great concentration and structure derive from the nearby Rochioli and Allen vineyards.  Olivet Lane Vineyard's Wente clone adds refreshing citrus tones and excellent acidity."  Grapes from Lazy W Vineyard, Martinelli Vineyard and McIntyre Starr Creek Vineyard were also employed.

This 100% Chardonnay wine aged for seven months in French oak barrels, 35% of which were new and therefore offered more oak influence than a previously used barrel.  The wine carries a moderate 13.5% abv alcohol content and 6,902 cases were produced, which sell for $35 per bottle.

This Chardonnay is big but not even a little bit flabby.  The oak and lees contact have given it heft and character galore, while the fruit holds its own.  Aromas that say "oak" are first from the glass.  Vanilla, smoke and earth join apricot, peach and apple for a festive nose.  The palate is about as brawny as a white wine gets.  Tropical fruit and oak toast meet in a delicious battle that neither force can win - they are too evenly matched.

Heredia employed the saignée process in the 2012 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, removing a small amount of nearly clear juice at pressing "to maintain desired concentration, structure and balance."  Small percentages of whole clusters - stems and all - were used for structure and spice, while extended maceration kept the wine on the skins longer to benefit structure and develop more complex flavors and aromas.

The grapes also came from eight different vineyards for this 100% Pinot Noir wine.  The Bacigalupi and Floodgate vineyards are near the Russian River, so they get plenty of foggy mornings, sunny days and cool nights.  The Toboni and Nonella vineyards are in a cooler, foggier sub-region, the Santa Rosa Plains, while the Hallberg and Stephens sites are cooler still, in the Green Valley area.  Grapes from Rochioli and McIntyre Starr Creek vineyards were also used.

The 2012 vintage yielded what Heredia calls "some of the best quality fruit the winery has seen in decades."  The wine aged for eight months in French oak barrels, only about a third of which were new. Alcohol hits 14.1% abv, and 9,206 cases were produced.  The retail price is $45 per bottle.

This Pinot is fairly dark and it smells of bacon fat, smoke, rosemary, white pepper, black tea, vanilla and cafe au lait.  What an array of aromas!  The palate seems almost anticlimactic after all that.  The fruit is pretty ripe, so the classic tartness of Pinot Noir sits in the backseat - driven around by full-bodied flavors of raspberry, cherry and plum.  A savory aspect grows as the bottle is open.  The acidity is lively in the mouth, the tannins firm on the tongue.  This is bombastic, The perfect Pinot for those who prefer a full-bodied wine like Cab or Syrah.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lodi Tempranillo: Harney Lane Winery

Lovers of the grape gathered for another fun social media get-together recently, featuring hosts Stuart Spencer - who wears many hats as the Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Owner and Winemaker of St.Amant Winery, and President of the Board of Directors for TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society) - and Rick Taylor, Owner and Winemaker of Riaza Wines and Director on the Board of Directors for TAPAS.  As you may have already guessed, the topic was Tempranillo.

The gaggle of wine tasters who gathered on Twitter were ready for some Lodi Tempranillo, and they were not disappointed.   Comments were tweeted from @Lodi_Wine, who told us that "Nearly 25 different Lodi wineries produce a Tempranillo."  They also volunteered that "Nearly 900 tons of Tempranillo came out of Lodi in 2013."

The virtual tasting event spotlighted Tempranillo wines from five Lodi producers, Bokisch, Riaza, McCay, m2 and Harney Lane.

Like most Lodi farming families, the dirt is not just on the Mettler family jeans, but in their genes.  Head grower  Kyle Lerner says that "farming is legalized gambling with more variables."  He rolled the dice and married into the Mettler family, though, and he considers that a good bet.  You'll find him in the vineyards, even though he would probably like more time in the tasting room.

The Harney Lane 2010 Tempranillo is fashioned by winemaker Chad Joseph exclusively from Tempranillo grapes grown on the estate.  Nineteen months of European oak aging lend its hand to the 719 cases produced.  A 15% abv number is certainly more Lodi-like than Rioja.  The wine retails for $25.

On Twitter, @Lodi_Wine chirped that "the Tempranillo is Kyle Lerner's favorite varietal wine they produce."  @cliffordbrown3 noted the "well worn leather, plums, blackberries, crushed stone minerals, wood smoke, white pepper, tobacco, dried flowers and a touch of dark chocolate."  Tasting notes chimed in from @dvinewinetime, as well: "full of dark fruit, crisp acid and leather."  @GrapeOccasions broke it down to basics: "Mmm! Big dark fruit/tobacco all around, getting a blueberry explosion!"  @myvinespot loved the "rich, textured profile, ripe purple stone fruit and cedar underpinned by rustic qualities framed in dusty tannins," while @JamesTheWineGuy went for the "suede, game, crushed dried red roses, Marjoram, hint of chocolate."  Something for everybody.

Harney Lane's 2010 Tempranillo is very dark and quite aromatic.  It smells of dark fruit and spice until I think I can't bear it.  There is oak, cedar, vanilla, anise, allspice and a touch of brambly sage to tie it all together.  The flavors are dark and spicy, too.  Blackberry, blueberry and leathery mocha meet a strong streak of minerals over a bed of firm tannins and juicy acidity.  This is a wine that will fit well with anything that comes off your grill.  Structured enough for beef, the flavors will also lift a simple ham and cheese sandwich to new levels.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Paso Robles Terroir On Display In Ancient Peaks Zinfandel

The folks at Ancient Peaks Winery talk a lot about what unique terroir they have at their Margarita Vineyard.  All that talk about dirt is not just a lot of air, either.  The estate vineyard sports five different soil types, from ancient oyster beds to the remainder of ancient volcanos.  Indeed, they sit in the shadow of those ancient peaks.  They boast that the "Santa Margarita Ranch AVA is situated along the foot of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range, roughly 25 miles southeast of the city of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west."  Oh, yeah, that's another claim they now have: "Our estate Margarita Vineyard now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only vineyard located within its own namesake AVA."  Well, isn't that special!  Yes, in fact, it is.

The 2012  Ancient Peaks Zinfandel blends fruit grown in three of those five distinct soil types.  As described by the winery, grapes from the volcanic soil of Block 32 provides a varietal spiciness to the wine, while fruit grown in the shale of Block 49 kicks in some dark fruitiness. From the gravelly soils of Block 39 come the wine's backbone.  91% of the grapes are Zinfandel, while 9% are Petite Sirah.

The individual lots were fermented and placed in oak barrels, 40% French and 60% American, of which 20% were new.  Aging took place over 17 months, so there is plenty of oakiness here..  6,072 cases were produced.

Medium ruby coloring decorates the wine visually.  Aromas of cherries - bright and ripe - lead the nose, with raspberry, vanilla, pepper and hot chocolate adding complexity.  Cherry plays on the palate, too, with blackberry, oak spice, black pepper, mocha, a little black tea in supporting roles.

There is a really great mineral streak here - no big surprise considering the array of rocks and shells apparent in the vineyard.  Juicy acidity and firm tannins make it a great wine to pair with a grilled burger.  It works well with a bit of a chill on it, but the flavors really open up as it warms.  Dessert fans should note that it's awesome with dark chocolate.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Oregon Pinot Noir, Napa Winery, Burgundian Taste

Cornerstone Cellars made their name with Napa Valley wines before branching out into the production of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Oregon's Willamette Valley.  Of  Oregon, Cornerstone's Managing Partner Craig Camp hasn't enough good things to say.  He writes that the region's "limitless potential ... makes it one of the most exciting wine regions in the world."  He thinks that there, "the best vineyards have not even been planted yet. It's a brave new world with no where to go but up."  He also lays it on pretty thick for the Oregon wine team, led by Tony Rynders, named by Camp as "one of the most dynamic winemakers anywhere."

Camp loves to talk vintages, whether in Napa or Oregon.  Of the Willamette Valley 2011 season, Camp notes that "rain and cool weather made fruit sorting an art form if you wanted to make exceptional wines.  We rejected bin after bin and individually sorted and selected each bunch that made it into the fermenters."  He also likes to talk about the wine: "The end result speaks for itself in the beautifully lifted and structured 2011 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, White Label.  The wines from this year are naturally tight and are only now starting to reveal their delicate layers of complexity.  As someone who cut their pinot noir teeth on Burgundy I particularly love this wine."  He thinks you will, too.

This wine was bottled after 14 months in barrels. 1500 cases were produced, and it retails for $50.  Alcohol sits at a level more familiar to Burgundy than Napa, 13.5% abv.  It was made from Willamette Valley Pinot Noir grapes taken from five different areas - 29% Yamhill-Carlton, 29% Eola-Amity, 25% Dundee Hills, 11% Chehalem Mountain and 6% Ribbon Ridge.

The Cornerstone 2011 Oregon Pinot Noir is a medium-dark shade of ruby red.  Its nose gives fresh cranberry aromas, along with a light dusting of spice and a lovely floral component.  The taste is gorgeous, too.  Cranberry is a good descriptor, although the flavor is not quite as tart as it might suggest.  There is a ripeness to it which is unusual, given the cool climate/cool vintage double whammy.  All that coolness does come to bear in a refreshing acidity, with nice, firm tannins to go with it.  There is a splash of spice, a tad of tea and about an atom of anise in the mix on the palate as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Expressive Austrian Red Wine: Blauer Zweigelt

Blauer Zweigelt - one of the names by which Zweigelt is sometimes known - is an Austrian grape created over 90 years ago by viticulturist Fritz Zweigelt.  His crossing of the St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch grapes really took off.  Zweigelt is now the most widely planted red grape in Austria.  It's also popular across much of Eastern Europe. 

This Blauer Zweigelt - from a producer named Brunn - was supplied to me by repesentatives of its US importer, The Artisan Collection, which specializes in small, artisanal producers around the globe.

This wine, labeled as Wein aus Osterreich, from the state of Niederösterreich in Lower Austria is noted as trocken, the German term for "dry."  Trocken is not used much on Austrian wine labels, since most wines in Austria are produced dry anyway.

Brunn is a small, family-owned winery located north of the Danube in Kamptal.  The wine is 100% Blauer Zweigelt grapes, hand-harvested from old vines.  Winemaker Karl Steinschaden produces this red to 13.5% abv. It's really fun to drink - a little bit like a restrained Cabernet Franc or a Pinot Noir gone wild.

The nose exhibits savory spices and tobacco, a tart twist plus a little hint of gunpowder to liven up the show.  On the palate, red berries, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a really nice acidity get things moving, while a firm tannic grip is apparent upon opening.   The tannins soften over time, so pair with a steak right away.

Monday, February 16, 2015

For Syrah, X Marks The Spot

"It smells like dirt."  My wife took in the wine's aroma again.  "I know," I replied.   She insisted, "No, really, it smells like soil."  "That's the idea."

Denise was amazed by the aromas wafting from the bottle after I had opened the wine.  She took the bottle and had a swig.  Oh, it was a ladylike swig, but there she was, my dainty little flower, knocking back a gulp of great wine right from the bottle.  I always think that when a wine has a great nose, I could just sit and only smell it.  But maybe a wine with a great nose should make us grab the bottle and have a blast, unable to wait for niceties like glassware.  It should compel us to have a taste, right then and there.

The Santa Maria soil of Bien Nacido Vineyard is amazing.  It darkens everything that comes from it.  Pinot Noir is roughened, Chardonnay is toughened and Syrah is marked with the X.

The darkness of a wine made from grapes grown in Bien Nacido Vineyard can be overwhelming.  The grapes for Bonny Doon's 2011 Bien Nacido Syrah come from Block X, an older portion of the vineyard planted with the Estrella River Syrah clone.  The wine retails for $50 and only 463 cases were produced.  A year and a half (or so) in French oak left its mark like a line in the dirt; a tic-tac-toe criss-cross map pointing the way to buried treasure.

It's a deep, dark wine with a nose that is nothing if not intense.  Savory meets fruit as tar, tobacco and spice add complexity to plum, blackberry and currant.  The palate carries that interplay further, with that dark fruit colored a little brighter by baking spices, pepper and meat.  And the dirt of Santa Maria.

In a brief (for him) synopsis of his career with grapes, winemaker Randall Grahm writes, "Having tried my hand at Grenache in 1982, it seemed that the following year it was time to further my Rhône education with Syrah.  (I didn’t quite have the financial resources to purchase them both. There weren’t many Syrah options, so I went with Cliff Giacobine’s fruit at the Estrella River Vyd in 1983. We continued to purchase from him until the Bien Nacido Syrah came into production and became our default source for Syrah. Not a lot was understood about Syrah in the day; these vines were terribly over-irrigated, and over-cropped; the blistering hot climate of the east side of Paso tended to really efface varietal character and led to grape musts the acidity and pHs levels of which were totally out of whack."

"The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones."  Grahm notes, "This clone of Syrah has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, supplanted by modern clones that are beefier, darker in color, but lack the distinctive peppery spice of the proper Syrah we love from the Northern Rhône."  Hooray for dirt.  Hooray for Santa Maria.  Hooray for Block X.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sweet Finger Lakes Wines For Your Sweetie

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a good time to pop open a dessert wine or two - sweets for your sweetie.

Fresh from receiving accolades as the top wine region of 2014 from Wine Enthusiast magazine, the wineries of New York’s Finger Lakes held a virtual tasting event featuring some of their notable dessert wines.  You can read about the bubbly by clicking here, and below is a listing of the dessert wines featured in the event, staged by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance with samples provided to me for the purpose of participating.

Goose Watch Winery Classic Cream Sherry

Goose Watch Winery is owned and operated by Dave Peterson’s family, stewards of the vineyard since 1997.  They also own Swedish Hill Winery, so they keep pretty busy in the winemaking biz.  Goose Watch overlooks Cayuga Lake, providing a scenic backdrop for vineyard manager Rick Waite and winemaker Derek Wilber while they work.

The Goose Watch menu includes Viognier, Pinot Grigio, and Merlot with some unusual varieties like Aromella, Traminette, Melody, Diamond and Lemberger thrown into the cool-climate mix.

Classic Cream Sherry by Goose Watch is made using both red and white grapes, and plenty of them.  Native American, hybrid and vitis vinifera varieties are included - everything from Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc to Cayuga White and Catawba contribute to this wine.

It is produced using a solera process.  New barrel-aged vintages of the sherry components are introduced each year, so the blend grows by a year each vintage.  It's the aging that gives the wine its incredible flavor.  New additions are warmed, then oxygen-injected over six weeks or so, which "gooses" the aging process.  In the barrel, the wine is exposed to extreme temperatures - both hot and cold - to further stimulate the aging.  Most of the barrels used in this process are old and well worn, to avoid imparting too much oak influence to the wine.

Alcohol is hefty, at 18% abv, while the 12% residual sugar more than justifies the wine's categorization as a dessert type.  At $16 for the half bottle, it's one of the better dessert wine buys you are likely to find.

The Goose Watch Winery Classic Cream Sherry looks fabulous.  The deep amber-brown color is even darker than bourbon.  The high alcohol content is noticeable on the nose, but so is a strong whiff of raisins, caramel and burnt brown sugar.  The mouthfeel is full and lush, with a very soft essence that plays counterpoint to the heat of the alcohol.  Raisins, caramel, baked apples, mocha and a splash of lime decorate the palate, with the fruitier aspects lasting into the finish.  The moderate acidity feels a little lively on the tongue, but the softness isn't spoiled.

Boundary Breaks 2012 Late Harvest Riesling #90

The east side of Seneca Lake offers somewhat milder weather in New York's Finger Lakes region due to the depth of the lake and the prevailing winds.  The extremely deep, glacier-cut lake features a churning effect, in which the colder and warmer waters exchange levels and help moderate the temperatures in the vineyards.

Boundary Breaks Winery resides on that eastern shore.  Established by Bruce and David Murray in 2007 - on a farm that never had a vineyard on it - the winery specializes exclusively in Riesling, in five different styles.

Vineyard manager Kees Stapel assists several moonlighting winemakers at Boundary Breaks:  Peter Bell of Fox Run, Kelby Russell of Red Newt and Ian Barry of Barry Family Cellars.  All contribute to the various wines in Boundary Breaks' cellar, but Barry is the winemaker of record for this late harvest Riesling.

The Boundary Breaks 2012 Late Harvest Riesling #90 is named - er, numbered - for the Riesling clone from which it comes: Neustadt #90.  The wine underwent a slow fermentation in stainless steel tanks and reports an alcohol level of 14.2% abv and a whopping 12.7% residual sugar number.  The winery's website comments on the mid-December harvest for these grapes: "At this time of the year, the fruit has become a bronze color and many berries have de-hydrated and wrinkled into raisins. This produces a dense Riesling nectar that retains its acidity alongside its flowing richness."  An apt description.  It retails for $30 per half bottle.

A light golden color, the wine smells a bit like pears and a bit like apricots, with a lovely, light note of honeyed petrol coming through.  The taste is gorgeous, as befits a dessert wine.  The sweetness is not cloying, thanks to a nice acidity - not razor-sharp, but noticeable.  It is, to be sure, dessert.  It also fits well with salty almonds.

Standing Stone Vineyards 2013 Riesling Ice Wine

Standing Stone Vineyards has an old school look about it - farmhouse and all - but Marti and Tom  Macinski founded the business in 1991. Marti is the winemaker, assisted by Jess Johnson.

The vineyards were planted in the early 1970s, and a notable block features a planting of Saperavi, an old vinifera grape that makes a dark red wine.

The 2013 Riesling Ice Wine is one of four dessert wines they make - they also sweeten up Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Vidal grapes.  They are not true ice wines, in that the grapes are not harvested frozen but frozen after picking late in the season.

Production is limited, at just 198 cases.  The retail sticker shows $25 for the half bottle.  The wine has an incredible 20% residual sugar and shows 12.4% abv on the alcohol side.

This is one beautiful wine, the color of a very rich apple juice or bourbon.  The aromas are just as beautiful, with apricots, pears and tart apples bursting from the glass.  The palate follows suit, with the apple flavor showing a little stronger and some peaches thrown into the mix.  The acidity is delightfully zippy, but the mouthfeel is oily and viscous.  This wine is fresh and clean and makes a great, light dessert.

Wagner Vineyards 2013 Riesling Ice Wine

Winemaker Ann Raffetto has been with Wagner Vineyards for three decades, but that only qualifies her for newby status there.  As one of the oldest Finger Lakes wineries - and the first on Seneca Lake's eastern shore - There have been five generations of grape growers toiling in the 200-acres of vineyard-with-a-view, a quarter of which is planted to Riesling grapes.

The grapes for the Wagner 2013 Riesling Ice Wine were not taken while frozen, but picked after traditional harvest and frozen after picking.  They say this process helps the grapes retain their natural acidity.  At 24% residual sugar, this wine is super-sweet and with alcohol at 12.1% abv, it is very near the same content as a table wine from this area. 1400 cases were produced, and the half-bottle sells for $25.

The Wagner Ice Wine shows pale gold in the glass, with a nose of dried apricots and a beautiful floral aspect.  Alcohol also hits the nose a bit stronger than I would imagine, at just 12.1%.  The palate has a lovely layer of the earth filtering the sweetness of the peach and tropical fruit flavors.  The wine is rather viscous and sports a great acidity.  Pair it with an apple pie or drizzle it on vanilla ice cream. Or both.

Knapp Winery and Vineyard 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Knapp Winery is located close to Seneca Falls, on the shores of Cayuga Lake.  It opened for business in 1984, and winemaker Steve DiFrancesco, vineyard manager Chris King, and cellar master Richard Iddings combine to make wines that showcase the great terroir of the Finger Lakes.

The Vidal grapes for this sweetie were picked in late November, when the temperature was 14 degrees Fahrenheit.  They were pressed while frozen, which results in more concentrated aromas and flavors.  This is the sweetest of the wines featured here, with residual sugar at 24.7%.  Alcohol is slightly reduced, at 11.36% abv.  Only 54 cases were produced and the half-bottles retail for $25.

The Knapp wines I have experienced really show a great earthy quality, and the Vidal Ice is no exception.  The earthiness does sit a bit farther behind the fruit in this dessert wine, though.  There is plenty of fruit on the nose - pineapple, pear and peach are draped in honey - while a beautiful floral aspect leads the way.  Extremely viscous in the mouth, the Vidal does not disappoint in sweetness.  It's a beautiful and delicious wine, with flavors of pear, peach and tropical fruit.  The finish lets a bit of the earthiness linger with the sweet for an amazing counterpoint.

The winery says you can enjoy the Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine on its own or with a ripe cheese.  Any kind of savory tidbit - salty pretzels, almonds - will be set off beautifully against the counterpoint of the sugar found in this wine.

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