Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Put Some Sicily On Your Holiday Table

If you are still looking for a nice red wine to place on your holiday table, you should look toward Sicily. The Italian island’s Nero d’Avola grapes are something to cherish, and Morgante has a great one that exceeds expectations.

The Morgante family’s estate is on the western side of Sicily and the vineyard is at a fairly high elevation. Rain from mid-August into September delayed ripening, so extra hang time for the grapes was put to good use. This 100% Nero d’Avola bottling was fermented in steel and saw just a brief maturation period in neutral French oak. Alcohol comes in at 14.5% abv.

Deep in color and fragrant on the nose, the Morgante Sicilia Nero d’Avola 2013 dark, ruby red from Sicily offers a powerful set of aromas: cassis, black olives, cigar box, leather, anise and smoke all come around fairly quickly. This is one of those wines I run across from time to time that smells so good I almost forget to drink it. Almost. The palate is dark and savory. Blackberry and black plum are the most notable fruit flavors, but the Morgante is all about the trimmings. There is a muddy forest floor component and, if you are new to wine, rest assured that it’s a good thing. Minerality comes in abundance and there is a hint of sage there, too, with notes of tea, coffee and root beer finding their way through.

You can pair this with a holiday roast - the tannins are firm enough - or you can go with lamb or goose successfully. Try it with a smelly cheese if you want to really take the experience as far as you can, or a nice sweet cheese to match opposites.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Mother And Daughter Work Together On Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Tasting a wine while in the company of one whose livelihood depends on the impressions left by said wine is not always fun. Sometimes you swirl extra long, swish it around for awhile, searching for something nice to say. Sometimes it’s hard to do.

This time it was easy. Trombetta Family Wines CEO Rickey Trombetta Stancliff (on left) was dragged over my way by a publicist friend to pour wines that were made by her daughter, Erica Stancliff. The pressure was really on. If I don't like them, I insult not only her, but her daughter as well. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Swish, swish, swish.

To be honest, Rickey didn't seem like someone in the middle of a PR tour prior to the Pinot Days Los Angeles event.  She was quite at ease. She broke out the tools of the trade - a map of her growing area and the comfy spiel about its virtues, but not before sitting back in our outdoor setting and commenting, "What a lovely day it is!" I got the feeling she was confident her wines would be well received, that she had fielded all the compliments before. To her credit, she made me feel like my opinions sounded fresh to her ears, even though I knew they did not. Her daughter’s creations in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are completely praiseworthy.

Rickey - and Erica - have a great history in wine. They both worked with California wine guru Paul Hobbs, the result of a chance meeting and friendship that followed. It was Hobbs, in fact, who offered a taste of Merlot to a ten-year-old Erica, who wrinkled up her nose at the idea of tasting wine. She then proceeded to describe that wine as a super taster would, using descriptors like leather, tobacco and pepper. Her palate was revealed, and Hobbs put in a waiver claim on her right there.

Sure enough, Erica followed her nose - and palate - to an oenology education. The rest is in the bottle.

Vineyard 

Grapes for the Trombetta Chardonnay and one Pinot Noir come from Gap's Crown Vineyard, a 100-acre parcel in the Petaluma Gap region, which will hopefully receive recognition as an AVA by summertime 2016. Easy sailing is predicted in the area that boasts more growers than wineries. The Petaluma Gap bridges the gap between the Pacific Ocean and the bay,allowing for a wind tunnel effect blow through, making it a very cool climate area. Smaller, more concentrated berries and great acidity are the results of that cool breeze. The region is contained mostly in Sonoma County, but it dips south into Marin County a bit.

Chardonnay

Trombetta Chardonnay, Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2014 is Erica’s first attempt at Chardonnay. I wish all my first times had been like this. A great growing season in the cool Petaluma Gap region gave some August fog, common on the Sonoma Coast, which helped make for optimal ripening.
Rickey said, "Erica wanted to make a Chardonnay in which the old world meets the new
world." The wine puts me in mind of both worlds. Two barrels saw new French oak, while six were aged neutrally. The wine hits 14.2% abv and runs $50 at retail. 200 cases were produced.

The wine has a rich, golden hue and shows an absolutely gorgeous oak effect, just enough to put me in mind of classic California Chardonnay. There is tropical fruit, lemon chess pie and caramel in the whiff as well. The palate is where the old world comes into play. The acidity is right on the money, and only a slight touch of vanilla comforts the apples, pineapple and citrus flavors. The wine is very well balanced and shows great weight, the result of malolactic fermentation which occurred in the barrels and aging on the lees - the spent yeast cells. Eight months of aging in French oak was just right. About a third of that oak was new, the rest neutral.

Pinot Noir

The grapes for Trombetta's Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2013 hail from Peterson Vineyard, a few miles west of Gap’s Crown. Again, there is very little production from this cool climate vineyard, which means tiny berries and concentrated aromas and flavors. This wine also comes in at 14.2% abv with 272 cases made, selling at $45.

The wine shows a lovely, deep ruby color, and an elegant nose of cranberry, violets, pomegranate and black tea. A savory streak of spices runs through this graceful Pinot. On the palate, there are flavors of cranberry, raspberry and pepper spice, and the acidity is great. Forest floor notes add complexity and depth to this sophisticated wine.

For the Trombetta Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, they went back to Gap’s Crown Vineyard, harvesting grapes grown at an elevation of about 800 feet, the highest point in the parcel. Eight months in oak - 25% new - barely leaves a mark to take away from its charms. Alcohol is still at 14.2% abv, while the retail price is $65.

More color than in the Sonoma Coast offering shows immediately, a deeper and darker shade than the other bottling. The nose is a little more savory, too, with more tea notes but still offering a basket full of bright fruit. The palate shows darker, but it does not go near what we might call "bold." It is deeper and richer, again with food-friendly acidity to die for.


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Friday, December 11, 2015

Chef Duff Goldman Makes Port Style Wine Purr

"Chef Duff Goldman?" My wife asked, all like, you know, incredulous. She suddenly was keenly interested in my PR invitation, a thing that usually fails to raise an eyebrow around here. Usually the PR folks are just offering wine events, but this one had food, too. This one was interesting. "Oh, you have to go! He’s great! He’s over on Melrose! He’s from Baltimore! Julie looooves him!"

Goldman - the pastry chef and televised Ace of Cakes - was destined for a food career. As a kid, he lived in the tiny Cape Cod town of Sandwich. He graduated from Sandwich High School, which is nothing like the Culinary Institute. He claims his early career as a graffiti artist was derailed when he was caught doing it. He turned to welding and learned how to work with metal. That’s where he got the chops to craft his own wood and metal logo sculpture for the wine he is currently promoting. But food would call him back. After finagling a job at a top Baltimore restaurant making cornbread and biscuits, he was hooked.


The Wine

Goldman's new offering is called Steel Kitten, and it comes from the chef's collaboration with Club W Wine. It’s a Port style dessert wine. Syrah grapes were late-harvested in Santa Barbara County’s Alisos Canyon, near Los Alamos. Dark ruby red, the wine sports a big cherry nose, kinda buzzy with alcohol. The expansive, fruity palate shows cherry and red currant, with lots of alcohol but no big bite. It really feels nice in the mouth and goes down without a burn. The tannic structure is firm.

Goldman advises you pair Steel Kitten with "anything gamey" - pork loin in a port reduction for instance. During the PR event, he demonstrated how to create a pear tart using pears poached in Steel Kitten. The recipe is available on the Club W website, as is the wine.


Another Wine

Just a mention: I opened the evening with a sparkling Chenin Blanc - I know, who is saying “no” to that? The wine is called, "Oh Snap!" and it is done in the Prosecco style. In fact, this 2014 bubbly could easily take the place of Prosecco at your next brunch. Oh Snap! is made from grapes grown in California’s Clarksburg region. It sells for $16 through Club W.

Oh Snap! not only gets your attention with a label that looks like millennial bait, it delivers with a fascinating sensation for the nose and tongue. Pretty, fruity aromas of apples and pears are like candy wrapped in a savory salinity. The wine is brimming full of minerals. On the palate, things are sweet and juicy with amazing apple, pear and peach flavors cruising into a toasty, slightly yeasty finish. The bubbles dissipate rather quickly, but the taste is festive enough so you really don’t miss them. If you like your bubbles sweet, this is one you should try.



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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Setting The World On Fire With Wine

John and Karl Giguiere set fire to things in their younger years - matchbooks, their father’s wheat fields - and now they look to blaze into the world of California wine. Let’s hope their arsonist tendencies have abated, so they don't burn down the vineyards.

Matchbook Tinto Rey 2012

50% Tempranillo, 27% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Graciano and 4% Tannat, grown in their estate vineyards "east of Napa, left of center" - Zamora, CA, to be specific - make this blend bold and robust, with an easy-to-swallow price tag of $17. Eighty-five percent of the grapes come from Dunnigan Hills, while the rest is labeled as California. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the wines are aged 26 months in French, American and Hungarian oak and hits 13.9% abv.

This 2012 red blend is inky in the glass and expressive on the nose. Black fruit and oak are what are most notably expressed, with the fruit running second to the vanilla, clove, cinnamon, tobacco and cedar. Must be the 26 months in oak. The palate is brawny and dark, with savory flavors barging into the profile.

Pair Tinto Rey with anything meaty, and the meatier the better. For a more lighthearted suggestion, try it with chocolate cake or your favorite dark chocolate bar.

Matchbook Arsonist Red 2012

A tribute to Prometheus, who gave fire to mankind, this wine is a Bordeaux blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, California AVA. Arsonist is aged for 28 months in French, American and European oak, with alcohol at 13.8% abv and a retail price of $22.

The Petit Verdot comes from Dunnigan Hills, the Cab is principally from Sonoma County’s Chalk Hill appellation and the Merlot is from Lake County.

The 52% Petit Verdot comes from Matchbook’s Dunnigan Hills estate vineyard, the 24% Cabernet Sauvignon is taken mostly from Sonoma County’s Chalk Hills area, while the 24% Merlot hails from Lake County. Production was 2,878 cases, the wine hits an alcohol mark of 13.8% abv and retail pricing is $22.

The nose is big and fruity, with a dark, spicy smoke on it. A fruit-forward palate follows, with notes of sage, anise, coffee and a bit of graphite. Nice tannic grip means fire up the grill, and the finish sings of blackberry and nutmeg.

Pairing options include any kind of red meat, but a pork loin would do nicely, too. Lamb chops, beef stew, roasted vegetables - they will all complement the wine in fine fashion.


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Monday, December 7, 2015

A Chardonnay And Merlot To Hit You Broadside

A few years ago, I saw a Cabernet Sauvignon on a wine list at a Santa Monica wine bar, and I was drawn to order it. I usually don't order a Cab - something a little more adventurous, please - but this one was from Margarita Vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA. The grapes of this vineyard were familiar to me through the wines of Ancient Peaks Winery, so I had to try it. I loved it. It was from a winery called Broadside.

There was a recent virtual tasting event dedicated to a few new vintages of the Broadside line, and those who participated through social media were impressed. The Broadside wines tasted and discussed:

Broadside Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2014 ($20)
Broadside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($18)
Broadside Margarita Vineyard Merlot 2013 ($22)
Broadside Margarita Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($25)

Broadside Wine is actually Paso power couple Brian and Stephy Terrizzi, who hosted the virtual tasting event. Brian is the minimalist winemaker focusing on varietal purity and vineyard expression. Stephy is the viticulturalist waving the banner for bio-organic viticulture in Paso Robles. Jon Bonné writes that she "has become the area’s great alternative vineyardist." When she is not busy with her Broadside work, she wins over Paso grape growers to the side of organic and sustainable farming and certifications.

Broadside Central Coast Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2014
The grapes for this wine are sourced from San Luis Obispo County. The wine hits a moderate 13.5% abv and retails for $20.

This golden Chardonnay has a muted nose - tropical fruit and apple are just noticeable - while the palate has the fruit more pronounced. Pineapple and pear flavors come through, with a hint of apricot. The fruit profile is quite interesting, and an earthy, savory quality adds complexity. The acidity is nice, but not overwhelming. It's not a fat Chardonnay, but it's not real lean, either.

Pair the Broadside Chardonnay with chicken, potatoes, veggies and cheese in any combination. Salads and fish will definitely work in combination with this wine.

Broadside Paso Robles Merlot, Margarita Vineyard 2013

A little more heft in the Merlot, at 14.4% abv and carries a $22 price tag.

Publicity blurbs don't always tell the true nature of their subjects, but the one for Margarita Vineyard does. "You can feel the presence of the Pacific Ocean here," it says, "both in the sudden chill of the maritime air, and the white, fossilized marine shells that pockmark the limestone soils." This patch of Paso Robles land looks different from other vineyards, and the wines it yields allow us to taste that difference.

The ‘13 Broadside Merlot is so dark that no light gets through. The nose is fabulously deep, with big cassis aromas playing fast and loose with coffee, cocoa, licorice, sage and a puff of campfire smoke. Fruit flavors dominate the palate - blue and black berries, plums and black currants. There is a layer of holiday spice on a layer of chunky minerality wrapped in a lovely acidity and tied up with tannins that are almost as smooth as silk.

You can read about the two Broadside Cabernet Sauvignons we tasted in an upcoming article.


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Friday, December 4, 2015

Texas Tempranillo: Brennan Vineyards

Many in the great state of Texas would consider Tempranillo their signature red grape. Texan winegrowers have done a great job over the past decade or so of finding the right grapes for their various terroirs. Mediterranean and Iberian grape varieties are working well, and Tempranillo seems to be a popular favorite in Lone Star vineyards.

A virtual tasting from Texas Fine Wine, a group of four distinctive wineries committed to making quality wines from Texas appellation vineyards, included Tempranillos from Duchman Family Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Bending Branch Winery and Pedernales Cellars.

The Brennan vineyards in Comanche, Texas were purchased in 1997, while the winery opened for business in 2005. The McCrary House Tasting Room & Gift Shop, is one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Texas - built in 1879 - and is designated a landmark by the Texas Historical Commission. Located right at the meeting point of the Hill Country and Texas High Plains AVAs, it is probably the best thing about Highway 16.

The Brennan Tempranillo Reserve 2013 is made from 78% Tempranillo grapes and 22% Mourvedre. Winemaker Todd Webster made it dark and delightful. The nose shows black fruit, but it has to fight its way past the spiciness of the grape and the oak. Vanilla, tobacco and sage come through ahead of the fruit. The flavors also lean to the savory side, with blackberry cutting through the cedar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Great tannic structure calls for a big rib eye steak.

The Brennan Tempranillo 2013 tries to sneak in without being noticed. The muted nose is a little hard to get, but worth it once you do. Black fruit and coffee lead the blunted aromas. The palate offers more strength - tons more - and blows plenty of fruit-forward blackberry and plum your way. A nice dollop of spice augments the full fruital attack, but not as much as the Reserve shows. There are some manly tannins here, so grill a big steak or two for this wine.


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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Big Spanish Garnacha Wine Delivers Value

A virtual tasting event featuring Garnacha wines from Spain hit Twitter recently, with the hashtag #LoveGarnacha serving as a good way to look up the stream. Several Garnacha fans chimed in during the hour, which was moderated ably by @canterburywine. She was full of fun facts, including the info that the earliest known mention of Garnacha was in 1513. Of course, "Garnacha is grown throughout the Mediterranean," she noted, "but it is originally from Aragon in NE Spain."

The wines tasted during the event were Celler Batea Vall Major Terra Alta Garnacha BlancaCare Finca Bancales ReservaCruz De Piedra Selección EspecialPdm Moncayo Garnacha and Marin Old Vine Garnacha@chasingthevine noted that "the wines have an earthy, savory quality that is so different from the fruit-bright purity of California Grenache," which is a great reason to have a Master of Wine candidate in the group.


Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha 2013

This 2013 PdM Garnacha comes from the La Marga Vineyards in Campo de Borja. The wine's great mouthfeel was noted on Twitter by @writeforwine: "Love the mouthfeel of the Moncayo! Bold, rich, think steak, pasta with tomato sauce, savoury stew." Thanks, now I can’t think of anything else!

Located in the Aragon region of Spain, Campo de Borja, in the foothills of the Sierra del Moncayo, Pagos del Moncayo relies upon traditional techniques in winemaking. The grapes - from their estate vineyards - are crushed by foot, then subjected to a more modern crush after vinification has begun.

The '13 PdM Garnacha is a 100% varietal wine, aged for ten months in American oak barrels. Alcohol comes in at 14.5% abv and the retail price is $23.

This Garnacha is brawny and very dark in the glass, with a nose exhibiting blackberry, blueberry and spice galore - allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg are predominant. The palate is fruit forward, with dark berries, sage, thyme, and tons of savory spice showing. Great tannins and a super acidity lend to food pairing.

The wine is great with anything made of meat or tomato sauce dishes. It goes well with prime rib, but lasagna and sausage pasta dishes pair with it as well.


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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Paws That Refreshes - Or Not

If you have ever visited a winery, you know that there are three things you are bound to find there - barrels, old pickup trucks and dogs. Winery dogs are often highlighted in the literature as mainstays in the tasting room, the winemaker's best friend. The common trait winery dogs seem to exhibit is docile behavior - beyond the point of being accustomed to having humans around. They usually seem downright bored to death with us.

It seems every year there is another line of wines dedicated to dogs, with proceeds benefiting them in some way. Rosenblum Cellars gets the chew stick this year, for their Château La Paws wines, which provide a portion of the take to support no-kill shelters.

Château La Paws Sweet Red Blend does not set my tail wagging. The nose, although quite earthy, is also quite grapey - much like a wine made from North American hybrid grapes. The grapes used are actually Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and "other."

The nose is very close to being what one might call "foxy." The palate offers a similar reference to Welches, and a similar foxiness. The label advises we not feed it to dogs - too bad, as they would probably appreciate it more than humans. French and American oak are used in the aging of the wine, and that sweet vanilla oak note could be the best part of the beverage. Retail, $18.

The Château La Paws Sauvignon Blanc label offers no vintage information on this Lodi bottling. It is 97% Sauvignon Blanc and three percent Viognier, hits 13% abv and sells for $18. The wine gives a pale yellow tint and a fresh and grassy, springlike nose. Aromas of golden apples and moderate tropical fruit are joined by a big citrus play. On the palate things are bright and lively, with apple, lemon, minerals and a very nice acidity. It finishes clean and brisk. There is nothing really exceptional about the wine, but it does provide a tasty and refreshing interlude to enjoy while you tell your dog how you contributed to the cause.


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Friday, November 27, 2015

Gift Ideas For Your Wine Lover

Every holiday season, we see our email inbox fill up with gift ideas for the wine lover in your life. Really? Do you know what gift a wine lover really wants? Wine! Or a gift card with which they can buy wine. If you must go the novelty gift route, here are some suggestions for this holiday shopping season. But, really, it’s wine they want.

Homewetbar.com

This online shopping site - and aren’t we all shopping online as much as possible, if only to save the trip to the post office? - offers home bar accessories and gifts designed to please men. The company’s slogan - “Dare to be awesome” - strives to sound hip, while actually sounding kinda kitschy. It works, though, in a weird way. The male-centric gift items come from all over the world, but custom printing and engraving is handled at the company's home in Oklahoma City.

The company’s website states, "Giving back to the community and the military that protects the American heartland lies at the cornerstone of the company's business model." As such, they offer a 10% discount on all military orders shipping overseas.




The Sonoma personalized wine serving tray holds four stemmed glasses and a bottle. It also can have your own personal inscription added to the bamboo wood.









The Rack’Em Up Billiards Shot Glass Set features 15 glasses in a triangular tray. Perfect for the pool room, or for keeping track of how many shots you’ve had.










Beer Cap Maps of the US - or your own home state - let you fill in the holes with bottle caps from your favorite breweries. I've done it. It’s actually more fun than it sounds. At least, accumulating all those bottle caps is fun.






The Green Room Social has a wide range of gift items, and tons of them are tech-oriented.


Zipbuds are "Tangle-free earbuds created with patented Zipperless Zipper Technology™ providing premium sound and unrivaled convenience."

I love the Zipperless Zipper Technology™, but it's the low bass response I'm really after.


Fizzics offers the "world’s first personal beer dispenser that delivers expertly poured draught beer." I like to rely on professionals for that service, but then I usually agree when the warning says "do not try this at home." Reports say that this home bartender is 100% safe! and you don't have to tip it.




Bottles & Wood is a trend-setting eco-design company headquartered in San Diego which has a creative selection of sustainably chic gift ideas. Handcrafted, repurposed jewelry, serveware and home décor use locally-sourced materials.

For the beer lover: A four-glass set of Bottles and Wood’s beer tumbler glasses are made from recycled bottles featuring both national labels and some of San Diego’s favorite craft beer names.

For the wine lover: Bottles and Wood’s reclaimed wine glassware offers a set of tumbler glasses, a nut dish or a cheese plate crafted entirely out of repurposed wine bottles.

For the tippler: Bottles and Wood’s liquor-inspired tumblers, vases, dishes and shot glasses  are made using recycled liquor bottles.

For the jewelry lover: Accessorize with Bottles and Wood’s new line of tastefully upcycled jewelry. Earrings, bangles or a unique necklace are made from liquor, wine and beer brands.



 Vinturi Champagne Stopper


Don't let your celebration go flat. Vinturi says the "spring-loaded design of the Champagne Stopper effortlessly seals your champagne bottles, maintaining the pressure equivalent of the original cork – to ensure your bubbly lasts and lasts." It's available at Williams-Sonoma.




Books for the wine lover...




The Wine Bible (Workman; October 2015), Karen MacNeil answers questions we all need help with from time to time: What bottle to bring to a party? Which wine do I serve with Christmas dinner? Bubbles for New Year's Eve that won't break the bank. Lots of food pairing tips, too.






Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California (St. Martin’s Press, October 2015, Hardcover, eBook), Frances Dinkelspiel goes back in time to uncover the California wine industry’s dark and bloody past. From murder to enslavement to controlling monopolies, California’s "elixir of the gods" has had many unsavory moments in its history. She also looks back at a time when Southern California dominated the wine making business. For fans of true crime, history and of course, wine, it is a gripping tale best savored with a glass of vino in hand.



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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The White Side Of Grenache - Spanish Garnacha Blanca

A virtual tasting event featuring Garnacha wines from Spain hit Twitter recently, with the hashtag #LoveGarnacha serving as a good way to look up the stream. Several Garnacha fans chimed in during the hour, which was moderated ably by @canterburywine. She covered everything from Garnacha Blanca to Garnacha Gris to Garnacha Noir. "There’s 1 other type of Garnacha,” she tweeted, “Garnacha Peluda, whose leaves have furry undersides." I wouldn’t think of holding that against them. She was full of fun facts, including the info that the earliest known mention of Garnacha was in 1513. Of course, "Garnacha is grown throughout the Mediterranean," she noted, "but it is originally from Aragon in NE Spain."

The wines tasted during the event were Celler Batea Vall Major Terra Alta Garnacha Blanca, Care Finca Bancales Reserva, Cruz De Piedra Selección Especial, Pdm Moncayo Garnacha and Marin Old Vine Garnacha. @chasingthevine noted that "the wines have an earthy, savory quality that is so different from the fruit-bright purity of California Grenache," which is a great reason to have a Master of Wine candidate in the group.


Celler Batea Vall Major Blanca

"Vall Major sits in a Valley in Terra Alta," @canterburywine chirped. "This 100% Garnacha Blanca is seriously savory. The vineyards are at a high elevation: 1500-2000 ft. This wine shows loads of high altitude freshness. I'm all for a nicely salted, roasted holiday ham for our white Garnacha Blanca. OR maybe a chestnut soup."

Others found the wine to be food-friendly as well. @chasingthevine liked the "appealing acidity. It's been interesting to see California, notably #PasoRobles, embrace this grape." @GrapeEXP_Cindy checked in with advice for "something salty with the Vall Major - fish stew, ham, manchego cheese."

The history of wine in the Catalonian town of Batea goes back to the Phoenicians, but Celler Batea - a collective of 101 winegrowers - was formed in the late 1950s, with their first vintage coming in 1961. Their 100% Garnacha Blanca comes from 20-year-old vines and is fermented in stainless steel, with the wine in contact with the spent yeast cells for a time. This gives weight to a wine. The Vall Major line also sports a red and a rosé. The Garnacha Blanca has an alcohol content of 13% abv and a retail price of only $8, shocking when the quality is considered. At eight bucks, you may not expect too much. This wine does bring enough to the table to qualify as a very good value, though.

The pale, yellow-gold tint is contained by a ring of faint bubbles around the rim. This white wine delivers that which I want most in a white - savory. There is a delightful scent of lanolin-meets-almonds around the whiff of apples, apricots and nectarines. The flavor profile shows the fruit with a higher profile, but an austere savory aspect still rides herd over the scene. Apricot lasts the longest on the finish. The acidity hits just the right note to make this one a good wine to pair with a holiday ham or a Friday fish.


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Monday, November 23, 2015

Lodi Wines: Outside The Box For Thanksgiving

Pairing wine and food is easy, but many people feel they don’t have adequate skills to select the perfect wine for a holiday feast. It can be as simple as “drink what you like,” or as difficult as you care to make it. Wine is an expansive topic, and it will take up all your extra time if you let research get just a little bit out of control.

For those who don’t have the time - or inclination - to become heavily invested in wine and food pairing minutiae for the holidays, the nice folks at the  Lodi Winegrape Commission put together a virtual tasting experience which examined a few “outside the box” wines for Thanksgiving. The social media event took place on the BrandLive platform, and I was invited to participate.

The tasting session was hosted by Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and featured Layne Montgomery, winemaker at m2 Wines,  Susan Tipton, owner and winemaker at Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards and Adam Mettler, general manager/winemaker at Michael David Winery.

The wines tasted were:

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier 2014
Michael David Winery Symphony 2014
m2 Wines Alicante Bouschet 2013
Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2013

These wines are available from the respective wineries, and also as a set from the Lodi Winegrape Commission’s online store. There is a special price of $80 for all four wines when purchased from LodiWine. The recipes for the pairing suggestions are also available there.



Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier 2014, paired with Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

Susan Tipton fell in love a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and from that point on, she was a white wine fan. Her Acquiesce Winery produces only white wines and rosés of the Mokelumne River appellation.  Her wines are all about the grapes - handpicked and whole-cluster pressed - with no influence of oak to alter what nature has given.  The '14 Acquiesce Viognier retails for $23, carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv and comes bottled under cork. The cuttings from which her vines started are from Tablas Creek, which originated in the vineyards of Château de Beaucastel, in the Rhône Valley. By the way, you may find it hard to throw away or recycle Tipton's pretty, French bottles.

During the virtual tasting event, @MsPullThatCork referenced the soup recipe which was paired with this wine. "We made the bisque," she tweeted. "Great roasted squash, spice, creamy flavors and texture." @Fiery01Red loved the "surprisingly vibrant acidity w/a grape that tends to be low in acidity. Very nice Viognier!" @ThisMyHappiness summed it up with, "Elegant #wine!" Couldn’t agree more.

The Acquiesce ‘14 is one nice Viognier. This is Susan Tipton's calling card. Mellow yellow gold in the glass, the wine gives a beautiful nose of apples and lemons with a floral accent. The palate is as refreshing as you would want a wine to be. Citrus-y apples, a nice savory streak and a strident acidity are a complete joy.

The roasted butternut squash bisque recommended by Lodi Winegrowers is a great match, and so is my wife’s rustic potato, carrot and cabbage soup. Peel and eat shrimp would be fantastic, as would a Cobb salad.




Michael David Winery Symphony 2014, paired with Peach Cobbler and French Vanilla Ice Cream

A true California grape, Symphony was created by UC Davis viticulturist Dr. Harold Olmo. He began the 35-year process of crossing Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris in 1948. The grape was made available commercially in 1981, patented in '83. It registers a low 11% abv on the alcohol scale - Mettler says it is closer to 10% - and carries a retail sticker price of $15.

The '14 Michael David Symphony is frizzante in the glass, showing some fine bubbles around the rim. The golden color looks nice, while the nose gives up some muted apricot and lanolin notes. There is a savory aroma that cuts right down the middle. On the palate, things get kinda sweet, with apples and lemons - but the acidity is fresh and zippy. The finish brings to mind a margarita, go figure. Layne Montgomery quipped during the event that the wine "smells like Thanksgiving in a glass."

You can pair this with spicy dishes - maybe chicken enchiladas or pork in a chipotle sauce. Thai and Chinese food will also serve it well. I would like it with an anchovy Caesar salad. LodiWine likes it with peach cobbler and French vanilla ice cream.



m2 Wines Alicante Bouschet St. Jenise’s Vineyard, 2013, paired with Marinated and Smoked Paprika Grilled Pork Tenderloin

With its roots in France, the Alicante Bouschet grape was widely planted in California in the early 20th century. Winemakers loved the deep pigmentation and used it to add color to wines that appeared too thin. After Prohibition fell, the grape became less popular and it is now a novelty item in just a few California vineyards. Varietal examples that do not limit Alicante Bouschet to the status of a blending grape are pretty rare.

Montgomery explained that "the vines are only six to eight years old, but the wine drinks a lot older." On social media, @camron94 gushed, "Alicante is truly a beautiful and interesting wine that is underutilized as a stand alone varietal." Couldn’t have said it better myself. On the panel, Tipton likened the wine to "a Pinot Noir on steroids." It also reminds her of Sangiovese.

The back label indicates, "this is not a wine for the faint of heart." Robust and meaty, the wine shows only moderate alcohol, 13.7% abv and sells for $26. When asked what he tells his customers to pair with this wine, Montgomery showed his entertainer roots with a fast comeback, "Another bottle!" That’s a pretty good suggestion, too.

The '13 m2 Alicante Bouschet St. Jenise's Vineyard is as dark as dark gets. The inky indigo color does, indeed, look like it means business. On the nose, you get aromas of cassis and a fistful of spice - clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and anise play into the profile. The palate shows monstrous black fruit - blackberry and plum - with plenty of spices getting plenty of play. The spicy character lasts into the finish and stays awhile.

If a rib roast is on your holiday table, this should be, too. It will pair with lamb just as nicely. The Lodi Wine folk say they like it with a smoked paprika pork chop, and now I want some of that.



Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2013, paired with Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs on Creamy Yukon Gold Parsnip Potatoes

Back in the 19th century, French botanist François Durif had a home nursery of different grape varieties, including Peloursin and Syrah. Those two vines cross-pollinated, resulting in a grape that was named Durif, which we know today as Petite Sirah. The US government recognizes the two names as synonymous, although the grapes are technically different. In fact, it is noted that the majority of Petite Sirah plantings in California are actually Durif. It was revealed during the tasting session that the Lodi appellation is the number one producer of Petite Sirah in California.

On Twitter, @wineandgoodfood chirped, "The @MettlerWines Petite Sirah is super rich and ripe," while Montgomery threw out another one-liner:  "If purple had a flavor. this would be it." @winebratsf got all eclectic on us: "It tastes like an AC/DC velvet blanket wall hanging." Kudos, by the way, for the descriptor of the evening.

Six generations of Lodi winegrowers can all be proud of this varietal wine. The ‘13 Mettler Petite Sirah shows very dark color and very dark aromas. Black and blue fruit gets help from a savory streak full of leather, tobacco and black olives. That savory feel carries over onto the palate, which is as dark as the color and smells have advertised. This is a beautiful and complex example of Petite Sirah, sometimes fancy, sometimes rustic. It’s an elegant wine masquerading as a roughneck. It hits 15.5% abv and retails for $25.

This wine will pair well with the short ribs suggested, as it will with any type of beef dish. I would love it with a beef stew on a wintry day.



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Friday, November 20, 2015

A Proper White Wine - Bonny Doon Gravitas

Bonny Doon’s companion wine to their “A Proper Claret” red blend is just as much a delight. As with that red tribute to Bordeaux, Randall Grahm’s salute to white BDX gives old-world winemaking a new-world touch.

The 2014 Gravitas is a blend of 54% Semillon, 43.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 2.5% Orange Muscat grapes from five Central Coast vineyards - Yount Mill, Jack McGinley, Steele, Fortress and Ventana. Grahm advises that this wine will cellar well for another five years. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and Gravitas sells for a modest $16.

Notes on the label, as with A Proper Claret, are provided by Grahm's alter-ego Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite. The notes describe - comically - the difficulty in finding a white wine with proper gravitas, with a few "blimeys" and "crikeys" thrown in for authenticity's sake.

The wine has a pretty golden tint and a savory nose featuring tangerine, Meyer lemon, a touch of lanolin and a bit of a floral note. The palate shows fabulous salinity - a Grahm hallmark - with citrus and an extremely refreshing acidity. The weight is great, too. It fills the mouth fully.

Pair this wine with any chicken dish - a roasted chicken with some roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips, for instance. Pasta with cream sauce, salad with blue cheese dressing or a nice piece of fish will go great with it as well. It’s a natural, by the way, for Thanksgiving.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Private Tasting Event Brings Portugal To L.A.

A tasting of Portuguese wines by Esporão took place in almost speakeasy fashion, at a private residence in Los Angeles. Esporão sales manager Pedro Lopez Vieira and winemaker David Baverstock (pictured) were on hand to describe the wines and their terroir to a casual crowd. It was so casual, I was advised that note-taking might be frowned upon. I did it as surreptitiously as I could, scribbling very small on the business cards of the two representatives.

Herdade do Esporão was founded in 1267 in the southern part of Portugal, across the country east of Lisbon. Portions of the estate built in the 1400s were laughingly referred to as "the new parts." Most of the grapes come from the estate, but they do grab a few from more northern areas of the country when needed.

Bob Blumer, our host for the occasion, prepared amazing bites to pair with the wines, in the style of his televised cooking show, Surreal Gourmet. Blumer's expertise with shrimp bisque, lima bean crostini, cod cake with pink mashed potatoes and duck snow cone - duck in an edible cone - left his guests without adequate words to compliment him.

A wide array of wines were poured:

Verdelho 2014 - Crisp and tart lime, very refreshing.

Assobio 2014 - A white showing great acidity. Grapefruit leads the citrus attack.

Esporão Reserva 2010 (pictured) - This masterful white wine features indigenous Portuguese grapes - Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro - with a bit of Semillon, which the winemaker says is a tip of the hat to his Australian heritage. Alcohol is at 14% - "Higher than I like," says Baverstock, "but that is what the grapes want to do." Forty percent of the wine saw oak for six months, on the lees. It is a great oak treatment, with lovely acidity and citrus all over the place. A savory edge of salinity makes this wine irresistible.

Monte Velho 2014 - Bright red fruition just a hint of oak, produced by sticking some stavesinto the tank.

Assobio 2014 - red bright little oak

Esporão Reserva 2012 - perfumed roses and violets compete with a big show of red fruit.

Quinta dos Murcas - The grapes were stomped - they call it "foot tread" on the label. This old vine red is bold, big and dark.


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Monday, November 16, 2015

Trust Your Importer - Great Wines From Slovenia

Blue Danube Wines is one of those importers you want to check in with from time to time. For those who don't have an extensive knowledge of wines from countries other than the US, a good importer is a good thing to know. Importers tend to find the wines they like, and bring them home to the rest of us. So, if Slovenia, for instance, or some other Central European country catches your fancy, Blue Danube Wines has a full portfolio of wines that are uniformly great.

When I was invited by Blue Danube to attend a tasting reception with Jean-Michel Morel (pictured) of Kabaj Wines, how could I refuse? They had never steered me wrong before. The event was sparsely attended at Culver City's Hatchet Hall, which has a great tasting bar in the back of the restaurant.

Morel is described as a "bad ass" winemaker. He is actually quite personable and very friendly. His wines lifted Kabaj (ka BYE) to be included on Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries list for 2015. The winery is in Goriška Brda, Slovenia, right across the border from Italy’s Collio region. In their respective languages, Collio and Brda mean "hills." Brda’s hills of marl and flysch, are the remains of an ancient limestone seabed. Their steep slopes offer quite a range of micro climates.

For generations, the Kabaj family has grown grapes, but it was not until winemaker Morel married into the family that they started making their own wine. The first vintage of Kabaj wine came in 1993.

The Kabaj wines are produced mainly - 70% - from white grapes, and all wines are aged at least 12 months. When used, French oak is preferred. Morel is nothing if not passionate about his cellar techniques. "Step by step. We do it the right way. It is not to rush out the wine to the market. 2015? No. No." He was pretty emphatic about that, so I would take it as his winemaking philosophy.

All the Kabaj presented at the tasting showed intense minerality and great acidity.

2008 Rebula - You might know this grape better as Ribolla - it is Morel's signature grape.  Lovely savory apricot honey. Great acid, savory lime and lanolin. Fresh, lots of vigor. Great, unusual flavor.

2011 Ravan - This white is flinty from the limestone. Savory saline palate.
2012 Ravan - Less flinty, more apricot and pear.

2012 Sivi Pinot - We would call it a Pinot Grigio. Showing a pink blush, muted strawberry, cherry and lime flavors are persistent.

2010 Luisa - This white wine - orange, actually - shows a beautiful copper color in the glass. Mineral-driven, savory nose, earthy palate.

2010 Merlot - Smoky black cherry and coffee on the nose, with a palate of tart cherry and raspberry. Huge minerals.

2009 Cuvée Morel - Merlot,Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot make a nose of minerals and black cherry. There is a tart edge on the palate with earth, fine tannins and a raspberry finish.

2006 Amfora - This wine stays in contact with the grape skins an amazin one year. The beautiful, golden color is deep and rich. A nose of honeyed apricot, flint and limestone lead to a palate of savory apricot. Lots of age here, showing beautifully. A massive white wine.

Amfora wine has a history dating back thousands of years to the Georgian culture. Ribolla, Malvasia and Sauvignon Vert (Tokai) grapes are destemmed in clay pots and held with the skins after fermentation. In the first month, the wine is stirred six times a day, then the pots are closed for ten months. Then, it goes into oak barrels for another year.


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Friday, November 13, 2015

Tasting Wines From South America

A tasting event staged by Ian Blackburn's WineLA.com gave Los Angeles wine tasters a chance to broaden their palates with some very nice wines from South America. Due a large number of South American wine events held in other US cities during that week, the turnout was smaller than usual for a Blackburn event. Those who made it to L.A. represented their continent well, though. Argentina and Chile were the mainstays, but I also had the chance to sample some Brazilian wines at this event.

Some of the highlights:

Carmen

Gran Reserva Carmenere, Maipo 2012 - There are some very tasty, savory notes among the cherry and strawberry flavors, with plenty of minerals on the side. Minerality was a recurring theme throughout the represented wineries.

Doña Paula

Estate Black Edition, Argentina 2013 - Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot star in this wine. The nose features a beautiful perfume of bright cherry with mineral-driven cherry on the palate.

Los Andes

This small production winery utilizing natural and biodynamic methods is run with an iron fist. Reps told me they have to "yell at the winemaker to make him use sulfur dioxide," which the sales folk like since the wines are shipped to Southern California.

Bucalemu Riesling, Chile 2013 - A great petrol note on the nose and palate, with a wonderful display of earthiness.

Mi Terruño Winery and Vineyards
Female winemaker Maria Eugenia Baigorria, one of several in the event, produces small lots of an incredible Malbec.

Mayacaba Malbec, Argentina 2009 - The grapes come from 100-year old vines, and they make an elegant mix of cherry and minerality.

Bonarda 2013 - There is a beautiful set of aromas here. Violets perfume the nose, bright cherry lifts the palate. Bonarda is my favorite Argentine grape.

Montes

Spring Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2015 - This is their effort at having the first release on the harvest. They think they accomplished that. It has a fresh, grassy nose and an extremely herbal palate with easy acidity.

Santa Carolina Winery

Reserva Pinot Noir, Leyda Valley, Chile 2014 - really complex, with leather on the nose and a great mellow mouthfeel. The wine is dark and delicious, full of the earth.

Reserva De Famiglia Carmenere, Valle de Rapel, Chile 2012 - Earth and tobacco notes on the nose all but cover the cherry fruit, while the palate is dark and mysterious.

Susana Balbo Winery

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel-Fermented Torrontés, Argentina 2014 - A lovely, sweet, floral nose and a palate that surprises with its mineral aspect.

Nosostros Malbec, Agrelo, Argentina 2010 - From 17 vineyard sites, this 100% Malbec was the best of that variety at the event, and there were plenty from which to choose. The nose comes on like a port, with a dark palate showing cherry and black cherry with a beautiful acidity.

Vinicola Perini

The Brazilian entry poured some tasty, if uncomplicated wines - a Moscato, a Merlot and a Tannat.

Macaw Tannat, Vale Trentino, Farroupilha, Brazil 2013 - This wine was much lighter than I would expect of Tannat. Ruby red color was abetted by a bright cherry nose and palate. Very young - would be great with a chill.

Looking for representation:

Lopez

2004 BDX blend - It's old world - they keep the wine in the winery ten years, seven in oak and three - at least - in the bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot are the grapes. The wine has a brick color, a savory cherry nose and earthy fruit with great oak notes on the palate.

DiamAndes

Perlita Chardonnay 2013 - 100% Chardonnay grapes from the estate vineyard. The nose shows pear, peach and lime with a savory salinity on the palate. Argentina.

Costaflores

This Argentine winery is already on the East Coast, but is looking for west coast rep.

MTB Mike Tango Bravo Red 2012
Single vineyard: 55% Malbec, 35% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Big fruity nose with a lively bright cherry palate.

MTB Mike Tango Bravo Torrontés 2014

100% Torrontés, from Mendoza - usually Torontés is from the north of the country. A sweet nose shows a grassy fruitiness, with savory citrus on the palate.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Alto Adige Wine: Gewürtztraminer

A recent online tasting session featuring wines of Italy’s Alto Adige region was put on by Alto Adige Wines and Bottlenotes and was hosted by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and acting editor-in-chief of the daily email blast, The Daily Sip. Participants tasted the eight wines and chatted in virtual fashion about their swirling, smelling and sipping experiences. 


Here are the Alto Adige wines featured during the virtual tasting event:

Castel Sallegg Pulvernai Pinot Grigio 2014 
Alois Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2013
Cantina Terlano Vorberg Pinot Bianco 2012 
Colterenzio Prail Sauvignon 2013 
Cantina Andrian Gewürztraminer 2014
Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pfarrhof Kalterersee Auslese 2013
Erste + Neue Mezzan Pinot Nero 2013
Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus Lagrein 2010


Cantina Andrian Gewürztraminer 2014 (Alto Adige, Italy) $23

This wine, from the Andriano area of Alto Adige, is fermented in stainless steel vats and aged there on the lees for six months. The alcohol hits 14% abv and retail is $23.

During the social media event, @KMacWine commented, "The way @KellereiAndrian jumps out of the glass, how can you not want to dance along with it? Peppery, gingery, not syrupy, bright and delicious. This is the Jackson Pollock of #Gewürztraminer."

I may not know art, but I know what I like. I like this Gewürtztraminer. It is one of the best examples of the variety that I have tried.

The Andrian Gewürtztraminer is a work of art. The floral, honeysuckle nose is right up front, with great fruit aromas - apricot, pear - following behind. The palate is a delight, with zesty acidity and spicy apricot and peach marrying for a full mouth experience.


Pair this wine with pasta - it's great with a cream sauce - or a plate of cheeses and meats. In fact, this wine will be quite versatile on the table, making it a fine choice for Thanksgiving.


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Monday, November 9, 2015

Alto Adige Wine: Social Media Tasters Love Old World Sauvignon

A recent online tasting session featuring wines of Italy’s Alto Adige region was put on by Alto Adige Wines and Bottlenotes and was hosted by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and acting editor-in-chief of the daily email blast, The Daily Sip. Participants tasted the eight wines and chatted in virtual fashion about their swirling, smelling and sipping experiences. 

You may know of Alto Adige by their white wines - aromatic, with wonderful minerality and acidity. Only sixty percent of the area’s wines are from white grapes, however. Pinot Grigio is the leading white grape, and they are probably a far sight better than the Pinot Grigio you may find in the grocery or on restaurant wine lists. Schiava is the most popular red grape, with Lagrein and Pinot Noir also showing well.


Here are the Alto Adige wines featured during the virtual tasting event:

Castel Sallegg Pulvernai Pinot Grigio 2014 
Alois Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2013
Cantina Terlano Vorberg Pinot Bianco 2012 
Colterenzio Prail Sauvignon 2013 
Cantina Andrian Gewürztraminer 2014
Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pfarrhof Kalterersee Auslese 2013
Erste + Neue Mezzan Pinot Nero 2013
Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus Lagrein 2010



Colterenzio Prail Sauvignon 2013 (Alto Adige, Italy) $23

This very nice example of Sauvignon Blanc comes from Colterenzio. The company's website gives a bit of history: "The wines from the hamlet of Colterenzio were favourites of Archduke Sigismund when he resided at Firmiano Castle in the 15th century, though the area was producing fine wines much earlier. Around 15 B.C. a Roman country gentleman named Cornelius settled here and established his "Cornelianum" wine estate and the first wine culture in the area. The Roman name eventually evolved into "Cornaiano", the village Colterenzio calls home. The Colterenzio winegrowers' co-operative was founded by 28 vintners in 1960. Over the years other passionate viticulturalists from diversified micro-zones in the area joined the collective, and today nearly 300 members cultivate approximately 300 hectares of vineyards."

For Prail, fermentation takes place in stainless-steel tanks, with part of the wine fermented in large oak casks. Both new wines refine separately on their fine lees for six months and are blended before bottling. The alcohol level is only 13.5% abv, and the wine retails for $23.

During the social media event, comments were very positive. @thedailysip tweeted, "This #Colterenzio is a perfect example of Old and New World winemaking working together in harmony." @KMacWine noted, "Slightly bitter and green in the best possible way, the #Colterenzio Sauvignon has huge personality. Just the right acidity to #pair with goat cheese." @AltoAdigeWines advised, "Pair the 2013 Colterenzio Prail Sauvignon w/ asparagus dishes, scallops, and fish of all sorts."

This zippy white wine has an invigorating nose of green apples and grass, just like springtime. In the mouth, you notice the acidity first - it is powerful. Flavors of apples, a bit of nectarine and a slight soapy, savory edge adorn the palate. I would have this wine with any plate of oysters in the world. I actually had it with a pepperoni and Swiss sandwich, and it was great.


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Friday, November 6, 2015

A Blend By Any Other Name Is A Cuvée

On the heels of Cornerstone Cellars new line of single-vineyard bottlings on their white label, comes a cuvée. Cuvée is really a fancy word - well, a French word - for a blend.

"Essentially all wines are cuvée blends to one degree or the other," writes Cornerstone Cellars managing partner Craig Camp. "Unless a wine comes from a single barrel or tank that passed from fermenter to bottle with no additions, all wines are are blends. They’re either blends of barrels or vineyards or varieties or all of the above."

After kicking off the White Label series of single-vineyard wines - to allow those sites to "sing in their own voice" - Camp explains that, "sometimes even the finest singers love to sing with others, finding a new harmony and complexity in blending the textures of their voices."

From that notion, Cornerstone Cellars' Michael’s Cuvée was born. Camp states the wine is "a selection from our finest vineyards and varieties, a unique expression of the best of each vintage brought together in a new and distinctive harmony." The wine is named for Cornerstone's founder Dr. Michael Dragutsky.

The 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Michael’s Cuvée is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and nine percent Merlot. The grapes were taken from the Oakville Station Vineyard in To Kalon, Kairos Vineyard in Oak Knoll and Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain. The wine's alcohol tick 14.9% abv and less than 250 cases were made.

The '12 Michael's Cuvée offers an inky appearance and a beautiful set of aromas - blackberry, currant, pencil lead and a touch of violet. Expectations are high after one whiff. The sip delivers on the promise of the nose. Silky smooth and rich - and it's a young wine - it echoes the dark aromas and complexity of the nose. This wine, at $75, might be a luxury for you. Rest assured, you get that for which you pay. The wine is luxurious, the tannins are supple and the finish seems like forever.

Pair this wine with steaks - of course - beef stew and the roasted vegetables of the fall. I would not hesitate to place it on the Thanksgiving table. Be forewarned, your guests will expect you to have it next year, too.



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Eye-Opening White Wines From Italy's Collio Region

A vertical tasting of Zuani wines from Italy’s Collio region opened my eyes and palate to some great white wines.

Collio Goriziano is in the northeast Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, right across the border from Slovenia. Slovenia faces north, Collio south. Over 85% of the Collio production is white wine grape varieties. Reds are usually a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon while the whites utilize grapes like Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. Oak not a big issue in Collio, the accent is on fruit.

Pouring the small lunch group through the Zuani wines were the company’s founder and president, Patrizia Felluga, and Antonio Zanon, who handles export marketing. The Fellugas are a fifth-generation winemaking family, turning grapes into Collio wine for over a century. The two styles of wine made by Zuani are both white blends of Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Chardonnay, 25% each. The styles are differentiated by their vinification and aging. Zuani Vigne is produced entirely in steel, while the Riserva line, Zuani Zuani, is aged for 20 months, but only nine in French oak barrels. The winery produces just under 6,000 cases per year. The Zuani Vigne sells for $24, while the Riserva goes for $37. All are 12.5% abv and are available in the US and Canada.

Here are the wines poured at the luncheon:

Zuani Collio Bianco 2014 - A wet, cooler vintage than usual. The wine has a fruity nose of pear and peach with a chalky note. The palate shows citrus with lovely savory notes.

Zuani Collio Bianco 2013 - This was a more balanced vintage, and the nose has the fruit more subdued, while the palate has a little less acidity than ‘14, but plenty of lime and flint.

Zuani Collio Bianco 2012 - A dry vintage, and it shows the best. There is great age showing in this wine. It’s very savory with a note that is almost like petrol. A more mineral driven palate than the other two, with great citrus and more flintiness.

Zuani Collio Bianco Riserva 2013 - The oak shows softly on the nose, with a bit of spice and muted peach aromas. The palate loads up on citrus and that lovely touch of oak.

Zuani Collio Bianco Riserva 2012 - This is a really great nose, again showing age, with petrol and savory olive notes. On the palate, beautiful oak, very well aged, and savory.

Overall the 2012s were my favorites, all savory and mineral-driven. The ‘13s were more muted, while the 2014 was big and fruity.

Felluga likes the wines served with frico, which is Montasio cheese fried in olive oil to a crisp. Of course, she can also go for some Prosciutto di San Daniele, fish and pasta with this wine.



Monday, November 2, 2015

Sweet Bubbles Of Brachetto!

A sparkling wine brings enough fun to the table simply by turning on that bubble machine. If you throw in a nice, sweet flavor profile, you get a wine that is impossible to drink while frowning. The smile is as natural as the bubbles.

The southern Piemonte winery where Rosa Regale Acqui is made, has been around since 1860.  Castello Banfi bought the property in the 1970s. This is where the Brachetto grapes are grown, in the La Rosa Vineyard in the town of Acqui Terme.

According to Banfi, cold maceration lasts 4 to 5 days, the grapes in contact with the skins for full color extraction. This also allows the wine to develop its characteristic aroma and complexity. "The wine is then filtered and stored at 0°C," they continue. "Refermentation follows in stainless steel tanks in the Strevi cellars, where this special wine achieves its final sweetness and sparkling character." Alcohol is extremely low - just seven percent - and the wine retails for around $17.

Rosa Regale's medium-dark red color carries a brick tint with it, giving the impression that this non-vintage wine is much older than it appears. Moderate bubbles provide a celebratory feel - it is spumante, not frizzante. On the nose, muted black cherry and raspberry aromas ride under a dominant earthy note. The palate displays some beautifully sweet cherry and pomegranate flavors. The taste of the earth presides again, with an undercurrent of toast. A nice acidity and a firm tannic structure complete what is a very attractive picture. The wine finishes sweet and delicious.

Banfi suggests pairing with fresh strawberries, fruit cakes, fruit salads, pastries and chocolates. It’s an ideal aperitif as well, so acquiring some for the holidays would be a great move for entertaining.


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