Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tempranillo Willing And The Pedernales Don't Rise

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.

Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo 2014

Stonewall, Texas offers a great view of the lovely Pedernales River valley. That is where Pedernales Cellars has helped pioneer the Lone Star State’s embracing of Tempranillo as one of the top grapes to grow there. The Pedernales website crows that the boutique winery is owned and operated by a sixth-generation Texas family and employs "ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable practices."

This Texas Tempranillo is a blend of Tempranillo grapes from the Hill Country and High Plains AVAs. The alcohol content strikes 13.3% abv. For pairing purposes, they like their Tempranillo with grilled rabbit and Alamo-style Texas redfish, as described on the site.

It’s a dark wine, inky, nearly black. The aroma package is brambly and rustic, full of black fruit and oak spice - toasty vanilla, aromatic cedar, smoke. It's also a brawny wine, big on the tongue. Black plums, blackberry and anise color the wine as dark as night. Tannins are big, too, but not so imposing that they upset the enjoyment of the sip.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Garnacha: Cruz De Piedra

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 factoid 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 were Celler Batea Terra Alta Vall Major 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.

Cruz de Piedra means “Cross of Stone” in Spanish, and the name refers to the stone crosses that mark the Pilgrim's Road to Santiago de Compostela, which runs through the collective’s vineyards.  Selección Especial is made of 100% Garnacha grapes from bush vines in Calatayud that are up to 100 years old.

The grapes are fermented in concrete tanks, then transferred to new oak barrels, where malolactic fermentation occurs. The wine is in oak for a total of about 17 months. Alcohol hits 14.5%, and the retail price is $10.

It is a dark colored wine, inky indigo with no light able to break through from the other side of the glass. The is a bit of alcohol on the nose, which makes me wonder if it might not be a higher content than indicated. Aromas of blackberry, plum, vanilla and a puff of smoke make for an olfactory delight. On the palate, big dark fruit dominates even with plenty of oak spice trying to take over. There is a savoriness to it that "prettier" Grenache wines don't show. The mouthfeel is full and the tannins are quite toothy. It’s not a gentle wine. - to the extent that sipping it may offer some discomfort to tender mouths.

Better to have it with meat - meat that has fat literally dripping from it. The fat will give the tannins something to do besides prick your taste buds. A heavily marbled ribeye or smoked ribs come to mind.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Bitters, Bottle For One

When people gift wine to someone they know is a bit eccentric in their tastes, someone who likes to try new things, it can go one of two ways. You might like it a lot.  Conversely, you might not. The wine I am writing about today is in the latter category.

So that I don’t give the wrong impression, I like having friends who will take a chance when giving me wine. It offers me the opportunity to try many things I might not have otherwise sampled. Even when I don’t like the wine, it’s still a learning experience.

Cocchi’s Americano Bianco Aperitif is a Moscato-based wine is abetted by a blend of herbs, fruit and spices developed in 1891. It is said to be a staple in Asti. The Moscato di Asti wine is fortified, then flavored with cinchona bark, along with the other ingredients. Cinchona bark is the original source of quinine, and it’s what gives Cocchi a bitter bite and places the wine in the category of chinati. The wine is laid down for a year before its release.

Since its widespread availability came just a few years ago, it has become a favorite ingredient in cocktails made by craft bartenders, owing to the quinine content. The makers of Americano Bianco indicate that bartenders like to use it instead of Lillet, which they say lost its quinine bite after a 1986 reworking of the recipe. The alcohol hits 16.5% abv.

The Giulio Cocchi website - it’s COKE-ey, by the way - offers this advice: "In Piemonte it is served chilled on ice, with a splash of soda and a peel of orange."  The site also notes that Americano is from "amaricante" an Italian term for "bittered." It is the name of the category of aperitif wines, much like "vermouth." Gentian, the main botanical ingredient, gives it both floral and earthy notes - in abundance, I might add.

It has the color of apple juice and a nose that really shows off the botanicals used in making it. It carries a nearly overpowering aroma that is half floral, half medicinal.  There is a strong earthiness to it as well. The palate won't go unnoticed either, that's for sure. It is a bit shrill on its own. I found some tonic water in the fridge and mixed it - or cut it - and it did tone it down some, although it actually doubled down on the quinine. I feel good that I have probably staved off a malaria outbreak in the household.

I generally like mixer alcohols - like vermouth - on their own, but Americano Bianco won't be on my shopping list unless I suddenly become a craft bartender. And that's not likely.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

We'll Always Have Morocco

Morocco. On The Road To Morocco. Morocco Mole. Casablanca. Yes, Casablanca is in Morocco. Yes, Morocco is in Africa. For those not up on their Moroccan pop culture, here are the answers: "On The Road To Morocco" starred Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Jokes, songs and Lamour. Morocco Mole was Secret Squirrel's sidekick. With the fez and smoking jacket, he was a dead ringer for Peter Lorre. That leads us to "Casablanca," in which Peter Lorre says, “Help me, Reeek! You must help me find some Moroccan wine!” Well, we’ll always have Paris.

Morocco - the country - runs along the northwest edge of Africa. One thing you probably don’t know: they produce more wine than any country in the Arab world, and nearly all of it is consumed within Morocco. I am very glad some of those stray bottles found their way to me.

I participated in a virtual tasting event featuring a handful of Moroccan wines, all from Domaine Ouled Thaleb. They were provided to me for the purpose of this tasting session. One thing I know: I am going right over to that Moroccan restaurant and convince them that they need to have some of these wines on the list.

Domaine Ouled Thaleb is about ten miles northeast of Casablanca, facing the Atlantic Ocean in the Zenata region.  Winemaking goes back 2,500 years there, so the fact that this winery has been operating since 1923 leaves them looking like a little kid. In the US, a 99-year history qualifies as practically ancient.

The host of the virtual event was @canterburywine, who got the ball rolling with an eye-opener: "Half of the wine country in Morocco is on same latitude as Santa Barbara! Not THAT far south!" She continued, noting that Morocco is "the only country besides Spain and France to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. Diverse terroirs make Morocco an ideal place for creating high quality wines and it’s what sets it apart from other North African countries. 25 different kinds of wine grapes are cultivated in Morocco."

The winery employs sustainable farming practices, with no herbicides or fungicides used, and all plowing and weeding is done strictly by hand. Our event leader noted that most of the field work is done by women.

I want to thank the importer, Nomadic Distribution, for making this wine available in the US. I know that people are usually hard-pressed to break out of their routine. It’s not hard to imagine average folks pushing the glass away when they are told the wine was made in Morocco. But you and I are not average, are we? Pop the cork and let’s get on the road to Morocco!

The 2014 Ouleb Thaleb Moroccan White Blend is made from 60% Faranah grapes and 40% Clairette, aged in stainless steel tanks.  The Faranah grape is indigenous to Morocco, but the Clairette is French, probably a holdover from the country's days as a French colony. In fact, when phylloxera devastated the French vineyards, they looked to Morocco as a good place to grow grapes. Our virtual host pointed out that we are lucky to have the Faranah grape still around today. "This is the ONLY native grape from Morocco," she says. "Native grapes were uprooted in the seventh century." Alcohol in this wine is quite restrained at only 13% abv. It retails for $14.

This pale golden wine smells inviting. The nose gives floral notes, grapefruit, apricot, and a grassy, minty herbal quality. The palate offers these items filtered through a wonderful bit of salinity. There is even a sense of the floral there, and the citrus notes lead directly to a refreshing acidity. I suspect this would be a great wine for someone who thinks Sauvignon Blanc is too grassy.

It would also be great for someone with a bowl of peel and eat shrimp in front of them. Salad pairings are a natural. I would love this with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.

The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Sauvignon Blanc is all Sauvignon Blanc, 100%, fermented in stainless steel tanks and retailing for $18.

The wine has a grassy note, but it's not the high grassy note of New Zealand. It's not the grassiness you smell when you have just cut the grass. There is more of an herbal edge to it, like the smell you get when you are pulling up weeds. Does that clarify for you? Good. I think my palate is coming unhitched from my brain. What I think I'm getting at is, there's an earthy sense to the grassiness here. On the palate the tropical fruit is definitely shaded by earth. It gives a wonderful display of pineapple, citrus and apples with just the right amount of earthiness. This wine, too, is a great one for someone who thinks Sauvignon Blanc is too grassy.

Domaine Ouled Thaleb's Moroccan Chardonnay is a delight. The Chardonnay grapes grown to make this wine come from dark, black clay soil called Tirs. The grapes are from higher altitude vineyards at the bottom of the Atlas Mountains.  The wine was fermented in concrete tanks and aged there for six months, in contact with the used-up yeast cells. No oak is involved here, and the alcohol number is 13% abv. It sells for $18.

This unoaked wine - 100% Chardonnay - smells great. It has a rich, golden tint and a  little Champagne-like funk on the nose. I have only encountered that quality once before in a still wine, and it was in a Chardonnay from Uruguay. In this Moroccan Chardonnay it is not as pronounced, and it might be taken as salinity. The fruit aromas offer nectarines, peaches, pineapples and a touch of lime. In the mouth, fantastic acidity makes a refreshing sip. Tropical fruit flavors dominate - papaya, mango, pineapple - and there is an earthy quality that is expected after the aromas telegraphed it. The wine finishes citrusy, but it doesn't last very long.

The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Rosé is a 2013 pink wine made from 60% Syrah grapes, 30% Grenache and 10% Cinsault. The 13% abv alcohol level is quite manageable, as is the $14 price sticker. Aging took place in stainless steel.

This rosé wine pours up more orange than pink. In fact, it's a rather deep and rich shade of salmon. The nose has bright cherry and strawberry aromas with an herbal influence and a dash of spice that really makes things interesting. Flavors of cherry dominate the palate with some nice spiciness peeking through. The herbs that are present on the nose disappear on the flavor profile leaving the fruit fully in control. Acidity is nice, but not exactly Provence-esque.

The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Red Blend is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Grenache grapes and feels to me more like Grenache than Cab. Aging took ten months in oak barrels and the 13% abv alcohol number is very restrained. The retail sticker is $14.

Dark and brooding are the aromas here, with blackberry and cassis trying their best to smother the notes of black pepper and earth. Oak spice is there, but not burdensome. The palate of this inky wine shows blackberry and plum, with the earthy, mineral-driven flavors coming on a bit stronger than on the nose. There is a rustic, dusty sagebrush feel to it, and the acidity is the only thing that’s bright about this wine. Tannic structure is good.

I want the Moroccan Red Blend with lamb, sausage or venison. Anything dark or gamey is going to fit with this wine perfectly.

The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Médaillon Red is a 2012 blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah, this wine is aged 12 months in oak, one third of it new. Alcohol is only 13% abv and it retails for $18, a steal, considering what's in the bottle.

It looks like ink and smells a Rhône blend. Black fruit, licorice, coffee, a touch of funk, a hint of oak - and a strong earthy presence. If I were tasting blind and a little bit drunk, I might guess Hermitage. The palate is as dark as the nose. Cassis, plum and blackberry get a healthy coating of minerality. The tannins are strident enough for whatever you’d like to throw at them. I'd like to throw some merguez sausage at them. The finish lasts a long time. For $18, are you kidding me? Gimme a case.

For Ouled Thaleb's Moroccan Syrah, the grapes are all Syrah from that dark black clay soil of Rommani Vineyards. As with the Chardonnay, fermentation happened in concrete tanks, but this one saw 12 months in oak barrels. It retails for just $18.

It’s a dark wine, almost inky, with a fantastically funky nose. The dark fruit sort of waves as it goes by, while the smell of meat just stands there and stares at you. There is a hint of pepper, a dash of mint, but that smoky, meaty smell really dominates. On the palate, a dark, brooding plum and blackberry combination put up a little more of a fight against the earthy, meaty flavors. It’s really a great tasting wine.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Tasting Malibu: Dolin Dinner Pairs Pistola

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. When you least expect something to knock you off your feet, there it is.

The wine dinner invitation had come weeks before a major upset in my work schedule, and by the time the day had rolled around, I was looking at a dinner at which I would have a serious lack of sleep with a road trip set for very early the following morning.

I tried to beg off, but the publicist insisted I would be okay. Tenaciousness is in a publicist's DNA. So at the prescribed time I showed up at Los Angeles restaurant Pistola for an introduction to Malibu vintner Elliott Dolin and his wines. I’m glad it worked out that way.

First of all, the group in which I was included was fantastic. I got to rub elbows with Master of Wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, wine writer Patrick Comiskey and Alain Gayot, editor-in-chief of Gayot Publications. With Gayot, I rubbed elbows in the literal sense. I was seated next to him for dinner, and we talked about - of all things - wine from places like Iowa, Indiana and Texas. Serendipity.

Elliott Dolin is in at least his third professional life as a vintner. His real estate work keeps him busy - busier than his time as a professional musician kept him - but it’s easy to tell that when wine grabbed him by the lapels, it had no intention of letting go.

Dolin and his wife, Lynn, planted a Chardonnay vineyard at their Malibu home in 2006 because they thought it would look nice. Those roots grew into them as well as into the Zuma volcanic soil. “Hey since we have all these grapes…” Serendipity. Now Dolin Malibu Estate Wines is a leading producer in the recently established Malibu Coast AVA, helping bring a little respect back to Los Angeles County, once the leading wine production area in the state.

Winemaker Kirby Anderson came on board to create the Dolin line.  Dolin says, “Our vineyard manager, Bob Tobias, arranged a meeting with Kirby, a highly respected winemaker on the Central Coast. I could tell he was a perfectionist like me, so we decided to bring him on as winemaker for the 2010 vintage.”

It was a move Anderson was ready to make. “I came in thinking Malibu was a frivolous place to make wine and best suited to hobbyists, but making wine at Dolin quickly straightened me out,” he says. “I can now say with certainty there will be great things coming from Malibu. The land is there; the weather is there; the funds for high-quality farming are there. The only thing missing with most Malibu wines, until recently, was the commitment to make it a serious game.” Now, that’s there too.

And Dolin is a great salesman. That, with the cachet of a respected winemaker, meant he was able to purchase fruit from vineyards that would normally never consider supplying to a new producer. The 2014 debut of the Dolin Estate Central Coast Pinot Noir line, shows some of the best sites in the Central Coast and Malibu Coast.

The Food and the Chef

Chef Vic Casanova has done a great job with his menu at Pistola. I have been a fan since Gusto opened, and it’s always a joyous occasion when we can squeeze into that tiny eatery for dinner. At Pistola, there is a lot more room, but the Italian fare is just as brilliant. This evening our dinner started with antipasti: charred Mediterranean octopus, Beluga lentils, caramelized shallots, salsa verde and lemon agrumato. In agrumato, the olive oil is not infused with lemon, the citrus is crushed with the olives on a stone mill. This was paired with the Dolin Estate Chardonnay and the Rosé of Pinot Noir. Next, the pasta: spaghetti carbonara with guanciale,  onion, black pepper, egg yolk, scallions and pecorino. It was paired with the Pinots. Secondi: stracotto, beef short ribs braised in Barolo, Polenta, roasted root vegetables and horseradish gremolata.

The Wines

The Dolin wines tasted at dinner:

2013 Dolin Malibu Estate Chardonnay, Malibu Coast ($39)
The nose features a very nice oak effect, with peach and tropical fruit aromas, especially pineapple. On the palate, that beautiful oak is not fat but it definitely shows. Very well balanced wine. Dolin’s Newton Canyon Chardonnay is similarly gifted.

2014 Dolin Rosé of Pinot Noir Central Coast ($22)
Strawberry plays large on the nose with a hint of apples, while the flavors run from strawberry to raspberry. Nice, fresh acidity and balance. The wine was whole cluster pressed. It’s great with charred octopus. The label art won an award, by the way. The design was done by Dolin’s wife.

2012 Dolin Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills ($32)
Grapes came from the John Sebastiano vineyard on the eastern edge of the Sta. Rita Hills. It has a darker color than I expect with a Pinot, and a nose that is loaded with black tea and smoke. Tea carries into the palate and joins the raspberry flavors. Lovely acidity.

2012 Dolin Pinot Noir Rincon Vineyard, Arroyo Grande Valley ($45)
Light color marks this one, and the nose is an expressive mix of raspberry, cola and tea. The palate is elegant, yet strident. Great acidity

We also tried a couple of red blends that are still unreleased:

Red Blend 1 - Merlot-based with fruit from Newton Canyon. A little more than half the oak used is new. The nose is full of black pepper and dark fruit with a billowing smoke presence. Blueberry and pepper on the palate.

Red Blend 2 - This blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is all Malibu fruit with a muted blackberry nose and some graphite on the palate. Red fruit flavors come with a great earthiness.

Dolin’s line also includes vineyard designate Pinot Noirs from Santa Maria’s Bien Nacido Vineyard and Solomon Hills Vineyard. The wines may be purchased directly at

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Bordeaux Via Dry Creek Valley

When you think of Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley AVA, Bordeaux may not spring to mind right away. You may think of Zinfandel, and with good reason. The wineries of Dry Creek Valley produce oodles of lovely Zin, even some pink versions that are as dry as a bone. You might fancy a Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley - It is, after all, the flagship wine for Dry Creek Vineyard.

But Dry Creek Vineyard also has a Bordeaux program. Winemaker Tim Bell has plenty of great fruit with which to work. On their website, DCV notes that “Dry Creek Valley may well be California’s undiscovered Cabernet country.” The region actually does have more acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon planted than any other grape variety. The winery notes that DCV Cabs lean to the dusty and earthy side of the grape’s spectrum, and that’s fine for me. The rustic feel, herbal notes and complex spiciness are what make red wines interesting, to me.

Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley 2012

The grapes were taken from hillside and benchland vineyards and represent everything Bordeaux-esque they could pick  - 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, 3% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged for 20 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels, most of which were neutral, only 20% new oak. The alcohol content sits at 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $25 per bottle.

Pour this ruby wine and just let it sit there a while. Take your time and you will be rewarded as the cherry and black raspberry nose takes on smoke, cedar, graphite and cigar aromas. It really opens up to be a massive bouquet. The flavors are certainly fruity enough - plums, blackberries and blueberries - but there are so many shades of complexity it's hard to not be taken aback. Anise gives way to vanilla, which gives way to sage, nutmeg and black pepper. That herbal, spicy feeling lasts into the lengthy finish.

Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage Dry Creek Valley 2012

This Bordeaux-style blend is composed of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 25% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol tips in at 14.5% abv. The wine retails for $45.

The winemaker notes inform us that we can expect this wine to age well for a decade or more. The winemaker notes also tip the DCV hat to Mother Nature for providing “the incredible growing conditions we were afforded in the 2012 vintage.” Sure, the weather’s always nice in California, right? (Pause to allow winegrowers to snort.) Well, apparently in 2012 everything actually came together just the way it says it should in the grape-growing textbook. And the wine certainly reflects that good fortune. The aging took place over 20 months in French oak barrels. Just over half of that wood was new.

The front label carries on the tradition of sailing imagery, although it’s not so peaceful a look at the sea as we are accustomed to seeing on the Dry Creek Vineyard labels. This sailor looks like he definitely has a peg-leg and an eye for the white whale. The quote is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The winery explains the name: “We called this wine ‘The Mariner’ because just as a mariner navigates his ship, so too must a winemaker navigate his way through a vintage.”

The wine is very dark; light barely passes through it. On the nose, nothing is spared. Deep red currant, blueberry, anise, pencil point, cedar, cigar - it’s all there in abundance. The palate is bold and brawny, to use two descriptors which always seem to go hand in hand. The tannins will attack that tri-tip steak and send it back to Santa Maria. It’s a lively wine, not just aggressive. It practically sparkles in the mouth. Blackberry and licorice meet that oak spice and the acidity is lip-smacking perfect. The finish falls away a little more quickly than I thought it would, but it’s a lovely taste while it lingers.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bonny Doon's Great Twist On Albariño: Bubbles

When you want a fresh look at a wine style, or a grape, Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz can usually supply you with something of great interest. Randall Grahm's Sparkling Albariño 2010, Central Coast is a fantastic change of pace.

This fun - but complex - sparkler is made entirely from Central Coast Albariño grapes, 84% of which came from Jespersen Vineyard south of Paso Robles and 16% from Monterey County vineyard Rancho Solo. The traditional secondary fermentation that occurs in the bottle gives great bubbles - which dissipate rather quickly - but it is the 14 months of aging in contact with the yeast cells that brings the creamy aspect to the wine. At 12.5% abv, it’s light enough so you can enjoy a little extra. The wine retails for $36. Plus, how often do you get the chance to have a five-year-old Albariño?

Opening this bubbly is a little tricky. It comes under a bottle cap, not a cork, so you can't control the speed of the opening as with a more traditional closure. The Bonny Doon website notes that “the Sparkling Albariño is quite effervescent, so please use caution and patience when opening!” I worked my way around the cap, opening one crimp at a time, and lost very little of the contents.

The wine’s golden color shows its aging, and the nose shows the yeast. This is a powerfully yeasty wine, but the aroma of apricots and citrus is unmistakable. There is a faint layer of burnt caramel, and I also get a vegetal note that’s hard to pin down; maybe it’s peas, maybe okra. Whatever it is, it adds a dimension to an already complex aroma profile. On the palate, this wine is a lot drier than I expected it to be. Big lime notes join the Beauty-and-the-Yeast palate with a decent level of acidity and a big finish that hangs around a good long while.

Pairing with Korean barbecue is Grahm’s suggestion, and it’s an admirable one. I like it with sourdough bread and olive oil. Cashews pair well, too. I usually like wedding cake with sparkling wine - it goes so well with brut that I figure that’s why bubbly is served at so many nuptials. The extreme yeastiness of this one would not be a hit with the cake's icing, I fear. It was pretty good with a slice of cinnamon raisin bread, though.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Ginger ale has always been a favorite beverage of mine. It’s just a soda, though, awaiting whatever spirit you choose to mix. Crabbie’s Scottish ginger beer - 4.8% abv - was introduced to me over the holidays, and I am so happy I discovered it. The beverage is festive enough for a holiday party and refreshing enough for relaxing on the porch after the lawn is cut. The Crabbie’s Scottish Raspberry drink is billed as “curiously crisp,” but I think the ginger beer fits the bill as well.

The label advises that the beer is “best served chilled over ice with a slice of lime or lemon.” I can’t fault that advice, but I went sans citrus and didn’t feel like anything was missing. It would be a good mix with lemonade on that hot afternoon on the porch, I’ll bet. I very well may be saying, “It’s Crabbie’s time” over the summer at some point.

The golden copper color is lovely, and the nose offers an extreme blast of ginger, no surprise. There is a big ginger flavor on the palate, too, with some additional spiciness that seemed most appropriate over the holidays. I wonder what it will taste like mixed with an IPA?

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

We at Now And Zin are taking a couple of days off to open all those gifts, snack on that stocking full of cashew nuts and dine on that roast beast before the Grinch gets it.

May you and your loved ones enjoy the happiest of holidays, filled with joy, wonder and love.

May you enjoy wine to the fullest in the coming year, finding new wines to love and loving your old favorites even more.

And while we are at it, a very smart man once offered a seasonal comment that bears repeating more now than ever: "A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear."

Merry Christmas, and Cheers!  From Now And Zin.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wine Country Oregon: Folin Cellars Tempranillo

We have visited Oregon before in the Wine Country series, but not for Tempranillo. If you can snag a bottle of this on short notice for the holiday feast, do so. If not, have it sometime during the winter, because Tempranillo is such a great wine for cold weather.

Harvested from Folin Cellars' 25-acre estate vineyard, the grapes that make up this wine are 100% Tempranillo. The 14-year-old vineyard is planted to five other grapes, too - Rhône and Spanish varieties - which do well in the warm days of southern Oregon.

This fine 2012 Tempranillo from the Rogue Valley, OR AVA carries 14.2% alcohol and retails for $32. There is no cork - the wine comes bottled under a glass stopper (Vino Seal Closure) for easy resealing. They like to say that this type of closure allows the wine to be presented the way winemaker Rob Folin intended it to be. They also like to say, "No cork, no worries."

I find extremely nice spice, cherries and plums on the brilliant nose and delightful palate. Tobacco and cinnamon add complexity to the really pure fruit. The soft tannins work joy as hard as they have to, so the sipping is easy with or without food. But you definitely want a wine like this with food. It goes great with holiday turkey and ham, by the way.

Folin Cellars has a few things to say about this wine and food. "Tempranillo is the most food friendly wine we produce," they note on the website. "Whether you are enjoying a hearty meatloaf or crab bisque, this wine will complement your meal. Try this wine with a winter vegetable hash of Yukon Gold potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms, acorn squash and shallots."

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Jug Of Wine From Beaujolais

The simple things in life are always underrated. No matter how often people talk about “the simple things” or “the simple life” it always ends costing more and delivering less. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

Beaujolais is one of those things that seems to go under-appreciated. The simple wine, the easy-going wine. It’s not flashy or fancy - but it is worthy of poetry.

At a friend’s impromptu early Thanksgiving party we cracked open a Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2013 that pleased without overwhelming. It paired beautifully with the Trivial Pursuit game - 1981 edition, much to the detriment of the younger folks who were born in 1985. I took the advantage and ran with it. The only question we were left scratching our heads about was, “Who just up and decides to cook a turkey four days before Thanksgiving?”

The granitic soil of the southern part of Beaujolais has a lot of manganese in it, said to be responsible for the great minerality. This wine is a blend of Beaujolais-Villages and wine from some of the other crus. Alcohol in this wine is a typically reasonable 12.5% abv and it sells for about $12 - also a reasonable number.

The nose is big and juicy, with red fruit and minerals. There is a pretty good level of acidity, and the Gamay palate hits nicely, with that light, grapey sensation that make the wine so great with a holiday turkey. It also does very well as the jug of wine to go with “a loaf of bread” and “thou.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

Have A Cigare - A White One

One of the wonders of tasting Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon wines from year to year is tracking how they turn out. Bigger wineries, with huge production in the tens of thousands of cases don’t see much change in their wines from vintage to vintage. They are made that way - reliable, unsurprising. Because nobody likes a surprise, right? We know that’s not true.

One of the Bonny Doon wines that shows so well from year to year is Le Cigare Blanc Réserve. This is the one aged in five gallon glass carboys - on the lees - which gives the wine a complexity you won’t find on the shelf at the supermarket. Grahm only made 275 cases of the 2013 vintage, so don’t expect it to be around forever.

Grahm notes that 2013 is the fourth vintage of Le Cigare Blanc Réserve, and it is a release that I look forward to each year with more fervor than, say, Christmas, or the beginning of baseball season.

Le Cigare Blanc Réserve is patterned after white Burgundy wines, even though this wine would seem to be more aligned with the Rhône Valley. The blend of 55% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc and 19% Picpoul from the Arroyo Seco area certainly does not suggest Burgundy, but a taste might make you think otherwise.

As Grahm states, “One finds in the Cigare Blanc Réserve many of the qualities that one has come to love in white Burgundy - a lush, creamy texture, a haunting suggestion of the skin of pear (or is it quince?), as well as absolutely formidable length on the palate.” One would think it’s quince, but one would have to check with one's wife - she has a much better palate.

It’s the lees - the spent yeast cells - that really bring on the Burgundian feel. The wine’s contact with the lees, as Grahm notes, “contributes both to a textural richness ...and the slight reductive funkiness ... contributing to the distinctive toasty, hazelnut nose, as well as to a sort of energized zinginess, a kind of recharging of the wine’s battery, as it were.” Rich AND zingy in a white wine is a rare find, and a pleasant one.

The glass-aged wine carries an alcohol level of 14.1% abv and retails for $45. Grahm says you can expect it to age well for another eight to twelve years.

The pale yellow Cigare Blanc Reserve 2013 brings a savory nose, with a bit of apricot and peach fruit aromas to pair with the saline minerality. That salinity appears on the palate, too. The savory, salty quality is a Randall Grahm calling card, and it appears here in spades. Citrus flavors - lemon, lime, orange peel - make appearances on the palate that last into the finish. Acidity is high and refreshing.

Pairing suggestions will range from nuts to cheese to lobster. The simple tastes go great with it, but at is more than elegant enough for the fancy table, too. Grahm suggests “wild mushrooms sauteed in butter with a dash of coarse sea salt, monkfish stuffed with chorizo, and quiche with fresh leeks.” I will have to find a way to get invited to his place for dinner.

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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.


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.


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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