Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Virtual Wine Tasting: Cycles Gladiator

A group of wine writers spent a fun hour recently with Cycles Gladiator winemaker Adam LaZarre, thanks to Charles Communications. We were quick to learn that the Lady on the Bicycle is an homage to women's freedom during the Belle Epoque, when bicycle sales flourished prompted by the suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony noted that bicycles gave women the ability to leave the home to work and vote. Cycles was just one bicycle company that "plastered Paris with posters" depicting free and liberated women on bikes au naturel.

The event was hash tagged as #CyclesGladiator and you can check out the video online.

LaZarre says he grew up in New York’s Finger Lakes area, but not until a U.S. Navy stint in Seattle did he get the wine bug. He started Cycles Gladiator in 2005. There were favorable comments during the virtual event on LaZarre’s creative tasting notes. He tweeted that he used to write them while drinking tequila. "I don’t do that anymore," he wrote, "I changed to bourbon."

2014 Chardonnay

Three vineyards are used for the Cycles Gladiator ‘14 Chardonnay, from Livermore Valley, east of San Francisco Bay.  The cool fog from there and from Monterey Bay make the wine special, according to the winemaker. He claims it goes great with "meat, pasta and popcorn." It’s mostly tank fermented, with 15% of the juice vinified in one-year-old barrels.  Alcohol is somewhat restrained at 13.4% abv and the aging was done  70% in the tank, 20% in new French oak barrels and 10% in new American wood.  The Central Coast wine retails for $11.

This Chardonnay shows a medium straw color in the glass and smells really beautiful.  The nose displays ripe nectarines and a hint of lemon wearing a shawl of oak spice. The wood definitely makes itself known, but it is a pleasant presence. Flavors are juicy and ripe, too, with that oak touch adding a bit of heft without getting carried away. It has me wanting a piece of broiled fish or some roasted potatoes to go with it.

2014 Pinot Noir

"It slipped  down my throat like the little lord Jesus dressed in velvet pantaloons." This is not LaZarre’s quote, he says it comes from some Burgundian nuns 400 years ago when they described the wines of their vineyards. LaZarre uses the centuries-old quote to describe his own Pinot Noir. Boiled down to modern terminology, "silky, lush, sexy, an elegant Pinot balanced between Power and Grace," is how he translates.

Chualar Canyon Vineyard in Salinas Valley and and the Los Alamos Vineyard in Santa Barbara County are the hillside properties from which the grapes come, with low yields to concentrate the fruit. He says the former gives high-acid aromatic grapes while the other makes for fatter, juicier wines. This Pinot is made from 70% Chualar Canyon grapes. Alcohol tips at 13.9% abc and retail is only  $11. The wine was aged for 13 months in oak, 22% new French, 5% new American and the rest neutral.

This Pinot Noir is one big Pinot Noir, so if you are looking for Elegance Street, this is really the wrong address. That said, I like this wine. I do like my Pinot to offer a touch of grace, but in certain cases it's alright if it takes a swing at me.

This wine is very dark and earthy on the nose and has a palate that is more suited to chuck than chicken. The tannins are on the forceful side and the weight is not light. It's got some brawn to it, and it's not shy about it.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Three vineyards contributed to this Central Coast wine, one from Paso Robles’ east side, one from Indian Valley in southern Monterey county and Collier Canyon Vineyard north of Livermore. The latter provided the dominant component. It is reportedly one of the wines to be featured on Starbucks’ nighttime menu.

Aging took place in 18% new French oak, 15% new American oak and the rest neutral barrels. Alcohol is in control at 13.8%  abv and the price tag is, again, $11. The Cabernet is blended with 12% Merlot and 8% Syrah.

It’s not a terribly complex wine, but it is drinkable, with firm tannins and a cassis flavor that carries it along through some mineral-laden meanderings. It may not be the Cabernet you’d choose go with a $50 steak, but you may get it at Starbucks and have a good time sipping it. Try something chocolate with it.

2014 Petite Sirah

During the virtual tasting, LaZarre said, "Petite Sirah is one dimensional, no matter where it’s grown," but countered with, "Syrah adds another layer and makes it more food friendly, more interesting." That’s why he blends in 18% Rancho Arroyo Grande Syrah with the Paso Robles and Livermore Valley Petite Sirah grapes.

Petite Sirah was called Durif in France in the 19th century. When it was brought to California, planters believed it to be Syrah, but the grapes were much smaller so they called it Petite Sirah.
Hot, dry days and windy conditions are best for PS. The winemaker calls this wine “blueberry motor oil that will stain your soul.” He also advises that you not spill any on your shirt. A Central Coast appellation, the Cycles Gladiator Petite Sirah hits 14.8% abv and sells for a pretty incredible  $11.  The wine spent 15 months in oak, half new American and half neutral.

This is a dark wine, very dark, non-porous dark. There is no light getting through this indigo pour at all. Loads of blueberry smells jump right out, followed by abundant oak spices. A little smoky and savory angle sneaks through at the edge of the glass.  The wine is very easy to drink, with fine tannins and beautiful dark-fruit flavor laced with that oak effect.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Spanish Food, Spanish Wine In L.A.

The Spanish winery Azul y Garanza is a triumvirate of María Barrena, Dani Sánchez and Fernando Barrena, the former two concerned with growing and winemaking, the latter, María's brother, taking up the business end.  The bodega is located in the northern desert of Bardenas Reales, in Navarre. Clay soils and big temperature differences between day and night make it a good place to grow grapes, especially since the terrain makes the vines work for their water.

The trio condense their varied interests to four, which they say are the most important to them: Love, Music, Wine and Revolution.  Their love of the land leads to their organic approach in the vineyards.  The music pushes them through the day, whether it’s from their digital collection or the throat of a nightingale.  Their wines express their own selves, and the revolution is figurative. "Don’t be scared, we’re not going to take the Bastille," the website offers. It’s more a reference to concrete tanks and biodiversity. They say, "In a world of stainless steel and chemical products, this is a revolution."

I sampled the 2014 Azul y Garanza Viura in Los Angeles at Moruno, the brainchild of Mozza alums, David Rosoff and Chris Feldmeier, presents southern Spanish cuisine in the former Short Order space, and I wish them well there. I feel they may be a little pricey for the Farmers Market crowd, but I hope they succeed for purely a selfish reason. I want to go back and enjoy more meals there. The Esqueixada is a beautiful salt cod salad similar to ceviche, The fried Bhatura bread is crisp and spicy and the delicious chicken and cilantro sandwich also comes as a skewer. So does the lamb.

The Rueda wine is golden-green, smells fresh with a nice savory, vegetal side to the fruit, tastes of citrus and pear and has great acidity to make it a perfect match for a ceviche-type dish.  At 12.5% abv, it’s easy to drink and it is 100% Viura, a grape that gets a bad rap for being a little less than interesting. It’s usually teamed with Verdejo, but it stands alone here. The concrete tank fermentation gives a nice, full mouthfeel.  It was the only Spanish white on the list at Moruno, and it holds up its end well.  $8 by the glass.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Bonny Doon: Four Rosés

Randall Grahm's touch with Rhône reds is masterful, his work with Iberian and German whites is close behind. But it’s what he does with rosé that really endears him to me.  Imagine my glee to find that Grahm is now pushing not one, but four rosé wines under the Bonny Doon banner. We will visit each of them in the coming weeks, to get you ready for rosé weather, whatever that is.

Here in Southern California we have had rosé weather since February, but don't start throwing things at us because of it. People here are actually complaining that the promised El Niño rains have been noticeably scant since the January downpours. Maybe scheduling a month of rosé will bring the cold rains that California needs so badly.

2013 Vin Gris de Tuilé  (Online Exclusive)

This rosé is a big blend of some great Rhône grapes. The name, Gris Tuilé, means "brick-colored wine," but it does not appear that way to me. This 13% abv pink wine is really just barely pink, and sort of barely orange, too. Maybe old bricks? It is cloudy in appearance and was aged outdoors for nine months in glass demijohns, or carboys, which allow for the wine to pick up some solar radiation. Uh, that means it’s exposed to light. Grahm credits the "solarization" for giving the wine such extreme complexity.  He admits that it’s not for everyone, and adds, "mais c'ést très cool, quand même." Showoff.

 I have always considered Grahm to be King in the land of Savory, and on this wine he has added a few jewels to his crown.  The grapes for this rosé are 55% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre, 10% Roussanne, 7% Cinsaut, 3% Carignane and 2% Grenache Blanc.  Whew! Did we leave anybody out? Everybody in the carboy? Let’s go.

The nose is amazing, and if I have ever used that word to describe a nose before, let me retract that one so I can use it freely here. It’s amazing. Upon opening the bottle there is a distinct whiff of butterscotch. In the glass, that turns into more of a nutty, savory note. It is quite unusual, and quite delightful. Oh, there are some cherry and strawberry notes in there, but they are way, way down and you have to work a bit to get them. On the palate, it’s a cross between rosé and dry sherry.  A definite caramel note is a great surprise. Grahm says there is curry in there, too, but I don’t get that. I find a sort of sharpness at one point in the sip, which goes away quickly. The finish is quite long, with that note of caramel reappearing. It’s the most unusual rosé I have ever experienced.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Betting On Lodi Tempranillo

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

The Harney Lane Lodi Tempranillo 2012 is aged for 19 months in European oak (French? Hungarian?) and gives a hefty alcohol feel at 14.5% abv.  It retails for $25, which is a pretty good price for wine this good. Only a little over 400 cases were made.

The wine is dark, inky, in fact.  On the nose, I get strong black plums and blackberries, with a hint of blueberries. There is an abundance of oak spice, so it’s loaded with vanilla-laced tobacco, allspice and licorice. The palate is full, too. Big in the mouth, with huge tannins and fruit for days, the flavors also tend toward the dark side of the fruit spectrum. Oak is present and becomes more pronounced late in the sip and into the finish.

You can meet the Harney Lane gang if you are planning on attending the 25th annual ZAP festival in San Francisco on Saturday, February 27th 2016. The event happens from 11am to 4pm.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Paulaner Beer Offers Tradition, Variety

I am way overdue on writing about these Paulaner beers. I received them around the Christmas holidays and one thing led to another, as things tend to do. I will admit my taste in beer is not as inclusive as in wine. With wine, I like a lot of different types and styles. With beer I am very specific. Several of the Paulaner beers do not fall into my wheelhouse - no fault of their own.

Paulaner is one of the largest breweries in Munich, and they produce beer in the style traditional American tastes love - lager. I don't love lager, I love darker styles, which Paulaner also makes.

Früli is a strawberry Belgian style white beer blended with strawberry juice. It’s interesting, but not my cup - a zesty wheat beer with big strawberry flavor.

Oktoberfest Märzen is a deep amber color with a creamy head and a spicy hop finish. Alcohol is
5.8% abv, and you should try it with potato salad, at a picnic, possibly.

Paulaner Original Munich Lager hits 4.9% abv and has yeasty aromas with a lemon flavor. It goes very well with Mexican food.

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat Beer shows off a fruity flavor with a touch of bitterness underneath. 5.5% abv. It's great with seafood.

Salvator Double Bock is more to my liking. The dark barley malt really shines. The Paulaner monks served it as a replacement for food during Lent, and it seems fine for that purpose anytime, if you were to ask me. Malty, toasted caramel is the primary feature. At 7.9% abv, it’s potent. It's also a highly rated beer and it's great with sausage.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Lodi Wine: Borra Blend

Borra Vineyards dates back 100 years to Steve Borra's grandfather, but the last 50 years have been under Steve’s watchful eye. Swiss-born winemaker Markus Niggli has handled the cellar since 2010.

The 2012 Borra Red Wine 47.5" is a masterful mix of 80% Petite Syrah, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, three great varieties for Lodi. They only made 115 cases, the wine hits a very reasonable 13.7% abv and it sells for $35.

2012 was a warmer vintage, unlike 2011. The grapes are not pressed, the juice is free-run overnight. Yjhe wine spent 22 months in French oak, 75% of which was new. That said, the oak treatment is beautiful, not overwhelming.

The wine shows a dark color with a nice purple rim. The nose is loaded with big, black and blue fruit and a touch of graphite that makes me think there must be some Cab in it. Cinnamon and licorice join a sweet, vanilla-laced oak spice which plays a major role but is not overdone. The palate is extremely smooth, and I want to stress that adjective. I don't know that I have ever tasted these grapes appearing so elegantly in the mouth. Tart blackberry flavors and a good acidity go right into the finish. It's dry and has a great oak feel. An herbal slant is marked by a very slight green pepper note, while a bit of a smoky essence comes on after it has sit for a while.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Chilean Wine: The Angels of Montes

Chilean wine is a special thing for me. I love the dark nature the wines often take on, and I love thinking of the beautiful mountain backdrop for the vineyards. The virtual wine tasting session for Montes Wines was in mid-February, and I was lucky enough to be invited to join as tasters tasted and winemaker Aurelio Montes chipped in his observations throughout the event.

Montes offered that "Chile is developing new varieties. In the future, you will see new and exciting varieties and styles. Blends are a new focus." Explaining the unique Colchagua Valley terroir of the vineyards from which his fruit comes, Montes said, "it is the granitic soil with some iron oxide in the middle, and very old clay that allow the vines grow without water." He tweeted about the winery’s ecological concerns, saying, "we not only take care of the environment, we also take care of our team, suppliers, and importers around the world. Our philosophy in winemaking is all about equilibrium and harmony."

He even explained those wonderful illustrations on the labels, done by the iconic artist Ralph Steadman. "Our cofounder Douglas Murray believed angels protected him," he said. "He wanted the same for Montes so he put angel images on every bottle." The cherub depicted is Alfredo, named after a founding partner of the Montes label.

Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah 2015

The grapes for this rosé come from the Archangel Estate in Marchigûe, their estate that is closest to the ocean. Alcohol is 13.5% abv and it’s 100% Syrah with no oak to get in the way of the fruit. It sells for $15.

This pink wine is not shy, it commands attention right out of the bottle. Pouring up a bright cherry red, it looks like a Spanish rosado. A whiff brings into focus some truly earthy strawberry and cherry aromas. There is a great deal of stemmy greenness in that whiff, too. The palate is lush and fruity but there is an awesome acidity that makes it so fresh the day will turn into spring all around you, no matter what season it is. Twitter contributors suggested pairing it with Mexican spiced salmon or a tuna poke. It was great with smoked mahi mahi.

Montes Twins Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

As the name suggests, it’s a 50/50 mix of the labeled grapes.  With this blend you get smooth texture from the Malbec and rich structure from the Cab. It is only 14% abv and nearly half of the wine was aged for ten months in new French oak barrels. The growing season featured a cooler than normal spring with some temperature spikes in the summer. It retails for $15, a great price.

It’s a dark wine, in shading and aromas. The whiff gives off smokey and earthy notes of blackberry and cassis, but the savory stuff is what comes forward the most. On the palate it’s dark as well. Plums, berries, spices - all dark. There are flavors of campfire and anise covering the black fruit like a blanket. Great acidity lasts into the finish.

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Chilean Wine: Make It A Ritual

Fans of wine and social media got another chance to convene over a few sips with virtual friends when Charles Communications Associates held their first Brandlive event of 2016 with Huneeus Vintners and Ritual Wines, featuring Ritual's 2015 releases from Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

Winemaker Rodrigo Soto guided us through the following wines with the help of CCA founder and co-host Kimberly Charles: 2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc ($18), 2015 Ritual Chardonnay ($20) and 2015 Ritual Pinot Noir ($20).

The proceedings are archived at hashtag #RitualLive on Twitter or see the video here.

Ritual is the Huneeus family’s original, flagship estate on the extreme eastern edge of the Casablanca Valley in Chile. The 800-acre property is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Chilean Coastal Range, and surrounded by 6,000 acres of protected, native forest. Suddenly, I'm ready for a vacation.

Soto works closely with superstar consultant Paul Hobbs and the renowned terroir specialist, Pedro Parra. Soto’s philosophy behind biodynamic & composting: "One must die to let the next generation live." I might have been a lot more receptive to that philosophy in my younger days, but I get that he’s talking about vines. Right?

During the virtual tasting event Soto said, "We believe in letting the vines connect with their environment over time, this is the art of crafting exceptional wine." Soto’s mentor said of him that when it comes to organic winemaking, "The student has become the master." Soto is in the process of converting all of Ritual’s vineyards to organic farming.

The Wines

The online tasters had nothing but good things to say about Ritual’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. Soto said he likes the freshness of the wine, but he made it to age. It was vinified in 30% neutral oak, 30% concrete eggs and 40% steel tanks. The egg portion complements the other aspects and lends a little more texture to the finished wine. Alcohol hits 14% abv and it sells in most places for around $15.

The wine has a fresh, grassy nose with citrus notes of grapefruit and a sense of wet rocks. On the palate, great acidity jumps right out at me, very fresh and bracing. Grapefruit, orange peel and lemon flavors get attention first, but the minerals get out front quickly. A nice, long finish is sorely missed when it finally goes away.

Soto commented during the virtual event that, "Chardonnay, for us, has been a challenge." He thinks overly sweet and round chardonnay masks its sense of place, so he works hard to keep a balance.

The Ritual 2015 Chardonnay is another cool-climate Casablanca Valley wonder, vinified 20% in a concrete egg and the rest neutral oak. Comments online ran along the lines of, "brisk acidity," "stunning," "a must have for all Chardonnay lovers!" and other such praise. In addition, it costs less than $20. Again, 14% abv.

This is a straw-colored wine with a nice tropical nose showing a hint of lime. Its palate is quite tasty, with lots of citrus minerality and just a shade of oak. Meyer lemon note is beautiful. The acidity is excellent and the mouthfeel is full. A lengthy finish makes the pleasure last.

Of the Ritual 2015 Pinot Noir, one participant in the tasting event remarked that "this Pinot is stunning me. I never enjoyed Chilean Pinot because it suffered from being too green." Not this time.

The wine is 100% open top fermented, with barrel aging in 30% new French oak for 11 months. Alcohol comes in at 14%.  It retails for under $20, far under at some online sites. It’s a true steal. Soto believes that Pinot Noir is a variety that can thrive in Chile, and the tasters think he’s right.  The wine got monster raves from the online crowd.

It gets high marks from me, too. The nose shows some funk right away, and notes of coffee grounds and tea leaves surface soon after. The palate is a walk on the dark side - none of that pretty little raspberry stuff here. The black raspberry element is carried along by a wave of savory forest floor, going under for a bit but surfacing nicely on the finish. Although there is enough tannic grip for pairing with meat, it has the mouthfeel of a sipping wine. It’s full and wild and raw, but it knows its role and plays it well.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Bonny Doon Pushes Syrah Value

Bonny Doon’s chief, Randall Grahm, sums up his career in one paragraph, quite a feat for a guy who seemingly has never summed up anything in one paragraph. "Like Columbus who sought a trade route to Asia, Randall Grahm set sail in 1979 for the Great American Pinot Noir," it says, continuing in more Grahmesque prose, "foundered on the shoals of astringency and finesselessness and ended up running aground in the utterly unexpected New World of Rhône and Italian grape varieties." He left finesselessness behind long ago, and who needed a new trade route to China anyway.

Grapes for the '13 Le Pousseur pushes together grapes from some great sites - 63% Bien Nacido, 34% Alamo Creek and 3% Ventana vineyards. This represents a lot more Bien Nacido than the 2012 edition, which is always good with me. Grahm says the vineyard "imparts a distinctive smoked meat/ bacon fat aspect, characteristic of the Syrah from that cool climate vineyard, even in a slightly warmer vintage." The wine clocks a reasonable 13.5% abv and retails for an even more reasonable $26.

Le Pousseur is made in Grahm's custom, a minimal-intervention, hands-off style. What you taste here are the grapes and the dirt. Plenty of dirt.

As is usual with Grahm’s wines, savory hits first, and hardest. With almost two-thirds of the grapes from the great Bien Nacido Vineyard, one might expect a dark and savory nature in this wine. Grahm, however, seems to wring more of those qualities from that great soil than other winemakers. The nose is Rhônishly funky. Meat? Don't be a jerky. Forest floor? Scrape some off your shoe. Santa Maria Valley dirt? In spades. The palate allows for more black and blue berries to show, but that darkness permeates the flavors, too. Meat, spice and cigars all come to mind. The minerality of this wine is apparent in every whiff and sip.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

From The Island Of Madeira

Recently my wife was in a writing project - well, she’s still in it - that caused her to ask me about Madeira wines. I told her all I knew, that Madeira was the most prestigious wine for 18th and 19th century Americans, including most of our early presidents, especially Thomas Jefferson. A little research was required.

I hope you are not thinking, "Oh, those poor colonists! No Napa Cabernet to drink? Just something from an island off the coast of Africa?" Those poor colonists were drinking some of the best wine you’ll ever taste.

Rare Wine Co sells a great line of Madeira wines. They worked with Vinhos Barbeito on the Historic Madeira Series to produce a line of Madeira wines, each named after the various seaports into which Madeira was shipped back in the day. The company says that Vinhos Barbeito has "one of the great libraries of 19th century Madeiras," so how can you go wrong?

New York Malmsey "celebrates the rich, luscious Malmseys that affluent New Yorkers prized from the colonial period until after civil war," says the label. On the label, by the way, is a neat drawing of Booth’s Theatre, built in 1868 by Edwin Booth, the era’s most celebrated actor in New York. It might make a nice gift for an aspiring thespian on your gift list.

Malmsey is made from Malvasia grapes, mainly. It's a sweet dessert wine, fortified, and started out in Greece. On the Portuguese island of Madeira, however, a wine was made for export to faraway places. To keep it from spoiling, it was fortified with neutral grape spirits. On the sea voyage, the wine was subjected to high temperatures and a lot of movement, which turned it into something else altogether, something a lot better than it started out as. The producers on Madeira didn't realize this until an unsold shipment was returned. The wheels started turning, and a new style of wine was born.

Of course, shipping the wine around the world to achieve the desired result was expensive, so they developed a way to simulate the oceanic aging process by raising the temperature where the barrels were stored and moving them around a lot. Voila. Homemade Madeira.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Madeira was the United States most prestigious wine, shipped to connoisseurs in major seaports from New Orleans to Boston. The Historic Madeira Series is the creation of The Rare Wine Co., America's leading merchant of rare, old Madeiras, working with Vinhos Barbeito, which possesses one of the great libraries of legendary 19th century Madeiras. Each wine in the series represents a style of Madeira popular in an early American city. New York Malmsey celebrates the rich, luscious Malmseys that affluent New Yorkers prized, from the colonial period until after the Civil War.

This New York Malmsey is made from 85% Malvasia grapes from the Arco de São Jorge Vineyard and 15% Tinta Negra from the Estreito de Câmara de Lobos Vineyard. According to the winemaker's technical sheet, the grapes were pressed in a pneumatic press and fermentation was stopped at the desired degree of sweetness by adding vinic alcohol. This wine was aged in French oak casks in the traditional "Canteiro" method, in which the barrels are stored on the roof to expose them to the sun. It hits 19% abv and retails for $50.

My first note on the Rare Wine Company New York Malmsey was, “Oh, the nose!” That is still what I think every time I have some. The amber color looks a lot like whiskey, and the nose is all raisins, burnt caramel and brown sugar. Those appear on the palate, too, but in a very dry form - not what the nose seems to promise. The mouth is full and the finish is very long.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Wine Country Texas: Spicewood Tempranillo

Edward and Madeleine Manigold are proud of their Spicewood Vineyards wines, proud of their awards and proud to be Texan, dammit. And who wouldn’t be? They founded the family-owned estate in the early ‘90s

Spicewood, Texas, in the Texas Hill Country, northwest of Austin a bit, near the Colorado River and out around Lake Buchanan. You know, out by Burnet and Marble Falls. Ya cain’t miss ‘em. They won an award with their very first wine and never looked back.

This 2012 Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo is made 92% from that Iberian variety and 8% is Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is aged 12 months in French oak barrels, only 30% of which are new. It sells for $24, and it was provided to me for the purpose of review.

You can get the Spicewood wines at the tasting room, from fine Texas stores and restaurants or online, but they only ship within the Lone Star State.

This wine is deep ruby in color with just a little light getting through the glass. The nose is pretty and flowery and fruity at first, but Mr. Savory sneaks in after it opens up a bit. Right at the top of the glass are smoky, leathery spices and earth. The palate is full of black and blue berries with a layer of minerals over them. The earthy component lasts well into the finish.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Greek Wine: Mylonas Savatiano

Mylonas Winery is in Attica, near Greece’s southeastern coast. Founded nearly a hundred years ago, they are still a small, family-owned winery. The soils of their vineyards are mostly sandy clay over limestone with some schist and some gravelly sites, as well.  The area is virtually surrounded by sea, with mild winters and cool summers. The Meltemi wind - persistent and dry from the north - and the sea breeze dominate their part of Greece in the summer, keeping temperatures moderate.

Their Savatiano 2013  was $10 by the glass at Terroni. The wine list recommended trying it to help out the Greek economy, but it’s more than a charity case. As a side note, if you want to learn more about different wine grapes, check the wine list in restaurants for anything you don’t recognize and order it. I've never been disappointed in the results.

I have a scant familiarity with Greek grapes, so I was eager to try the Savatiano. It is reportedly the most widely planted Greek variety and has been used in the traditional production of Retsina. They also blend it often with the Assyrtiko and Roditis grapes.

The nose sports fennel and seashore, with citrus notes. It smells a little like Vermentino. On the palate, minerals and lemon lead the way. The acidity is somewhat muted but there’s a great, lengthy finish.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sicilian Wine: Mandrarossa Nero D'Avola

Imported by Palm Bay International, they have this to say about Cantine Settesoli, the winery founded in 1959: "Located in the historic town of Menfi, in the southwest corner of this idyllic Mediterranean island, MandraRossa was guided into modern times by the father of contemporary Sicilian wine, Diego Planeta. Diego led the company for 38 years from 1973 to 2011. MandraRossa is part of Sicily’s largest wine producer and co-operative formed by 2,000 members."

Their wine made of 100% Nero d’Avola grapes kicks in at 13.5% abv and 30% of it is aged for six months in barriques with another three months in the bottle before release.

This deep ruby wine smells great. Big, dark plums are the main feature but the supporting players come through quickly  A leathery note leads to fennel, leads to allspice, leads to a box of cigars. The savory aspects of the nose almost make me forget how large the fruit is. Plums and blackberries mark the flavor profile well. It’s a fruit-forward wine that tries to act like it’s not, with shades of coffee, tea and pepper slipping through. Pair it with pecorino cheese, pork or pecans.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

...But A Good Cigarrera Is A Sherry

The Manzanilla La Cigarrera NV is, obviously, a Manzanilla - a type of sherry - made from 100% Palomino fino grapes from the Jerez-Sherry & Sanlucar de Barrameda regions in Spain. The grapes were softly pressed and allowed to ferment completely, then the juice was fortified.

 Aging took place over four years in American oak casks using the Soleras and Criaderas systems and under the velo de flor - the protective layer of yeast - which prevents wine oxidation.  The Bodega is located in Sanlúcar de Barramed, which has unique microclimates allowing the flor to blossom with its trademark ocean salinity. The town is the only place Manzanilla can be produced. I had mine at Vintage Enoteca, $10 by the glass. It was served from a 375 ml bottle.

The wine’s nose is vibrant and fresh with nutty aromas of yeast and salinity. A raisiny note adds counterpoint. On the palate it is rich and substantial. It’s very, very dry and has quite a long finish. Try it as an aperitif, with tapas, a Spanish ham sandwich, olives or some almonds and other dried nuts.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Santa Ynez Valley Wine: Gainey Vineyard

Dan Gainey runs the wine business that was started by his father, grown grapes on land first farmed by his grandfather.  The Gainey Vineyard operation is located at their Home Ranch Vineyard in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley.  They also farm the Evans Ranch and Rancho Esperanza vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills.

The Gainey land is farmed sustainably, using cover crops, compost, natural soil conditioning while eschewing pesticides and herbicides to protect their workers and the ground water.  Gainey winemaker Jeff Lebard and director of winemaking John Falcone together have four decades of experience in Napa Valley and the Central Coast.

Looking around the tasting room, it’s pretty and well stocked with wine and other related items. My wife commented on the great restroom, "literally nicest I've seen," she said. They say you can tell everything about a restaurant by the way the restroom looks. Maybe it holds true for tasting rooms, too. One of the more intriguing purchase options I noticed was the Zinfandel garlic salsa. It smells great. There’s plenty of garlic in there.

Once in the cave tasting room, we got down to the good stuff. Eric the pourer told me they are in the process of replacing the vineyards on the estate property. The Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling vines are being replanted.

The Wines

2014 Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc  $19 - About a 30/70 split on steel and barrel fermentation, with seven month of French oak aging. Alcohol is at 14.1% abv. The flavors are clean and fruity and the grapefruit note is soft while the mouth is full.

2013 Limited Selection Chardonnay $38 - This wine uses fruit from Rancho Esperanza and Evan’s Ranch Vineyard, the Santa Ynez winery’s Sta. Rita Hills property. It is nearly fully barrel fermented - only 2% in steel - and aged in French oak for nine months, 25% of which is new oak.  Alcohol hits 14.1% abv, and full malolactic and sur lie fermentation offer this wine a full and creamy feel in the mouth. It’s a big, fat chardonnay with lots of oak. coconut and tropical flavors.

2013 Limited Selection Pinot Noir  $55 - for wine club members only. It is 100% Pinot Noir from the Home Ranch Vineyard. Aged 17 months in 27% new French oak, the alcohol is a lofty 14.1% abv.  Pepper comes across very strongly on the nose, with a palate that is full of rich raspberry and cherry, not too tart. Very fruity, but the tea notes show well and the acidity is very fine.

2013 Limited Selection Syrah  $32 - 72% Home Ranch fruit and 28% Evan's Ranch. 14.1% abv with 16 months in 45% new oak (54% French, 23% American & 23% Hungarian.)  The nose on this one shows the funk for which the Rhône variety is known, stridently.  The palate is full of dark fruit in a savory mineral setting.

2012 Patrick’s Vineyard Selection $60 - 86 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 % Petit Verdot and 2 % Merlot, aged 22 months in 66% New French oak. At 14.5% abv, it’s a powerhouse. The wine is  named for the owner’s son, no doubt destined to take over the winery at some point.  Muted nose, sweet/tart red fruit.

2014 Limited Selection Riesling $15 - This wine sees no oak. It comes in at a moderate 13% abv and is off-dry, with less than 1% residual sugar. The grapes were taken in an early harvest from the Home Ranch vineyard.  The nose shows a nice petrol note while a slightly sweet sensation comes on the palate. The acidity is good, but not overpowering. It’s a great sipper, and would hit it off nicely with a salad.

After the wine tasting, we crossed Highway 246 for a stop at the Vineyard House for lunch, in the cute and rustic downtown area of Santa Ynez. It had come highly recommended by a friend, so we had to try. They have a great outdoor seating area, but plenty of room indoors if the weather’s not nice. My chicken and brie sandwich was fabulous. The venison chile verde was a little soupier than I had hoped it would be, but the tomato soup is delicious, even if it was served a little less than piping hot.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Santa Ynez Valley Wine: Vincent Vineyards

Homespun and genuine often travel together. Vincent Vineyards displays the best of both qualities. Located in Santa Ynez, just off Highway 154 near Los Olivos, the Vincent tasting room offers a very real and homey experience. I never felt that I was being “sold” on anything.

I spoke with owner Tony Vincent just before the tasting room’s closing time. Actually, it was just after closing, and the staff quietly held their car keys in hand while the boss talked to some dude from L.A. One of them plied my wife with chocolates while we talked. Boy, did they find her weak spot.

Vincent told me excitedly about his exploration of social media. "A bunch of people from Philadelphia were in here earlier today," he said. "You know how they found out about us?" No, how? "Yelp!" He was astounded. Better get with it, Tony. Social media is how I ended up there.

The Vincent winemaker Raxie Ward produces all estate wines, although they do offer some sparklers produced in northern California. They are doing wine and chocolate pairings for Valentine’s month, so you might want take your sweetie there. If your sweetie doesn’t like wine or chocolate, I can't help you. Better luck next Valentine’s Day.

The eastern Santa Ynez valley terroir often shows a distinctive earthy quality, lacing the bright red fruit. That trend holds true at Vincent.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc  $35 - Very fresh, slightly herbal, nice acidity.

2012 Sauvignon Blanc  $31 - 30% New oak lends a nice soft mouthfeel to this one. Grapefruit and melon join tropical fruit for a soft and creamy sip.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc  $24  Very similar to the 2012.

2012 Cabernet Franc  $55 - 100% Cabernet Franc, this wine is a nice light purple color. A perfumed, floral nose leads to spice and red fruit on palate. The mouthfeel is soft, so it’s great for sipping. An uncomplicated quaff, and a little light on the finish, it's a good entry-level wine.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon  $65 - 3% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot are in the blend. It’s soft, sweet and approachable, also a great entry level offering.

2010 Syrah  $48  - 100% Syrah, with the funky, dark fruit palate I look for in that grape.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon - The wine’s first vintage.  62% cab, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. An earthy angle to the bright red fruit and a moderate finish.

2010 Cuvee V  $90 - The same percentages as the Cab, with more tannins and bright red fruit.
2010 Petit Verdot  $39 - this wine is extremely dry and quite complex, certainly the biggest wine on the list. It’s brawny, so get a steak ready for it. You don't want it to get angry.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Charity Wine: Heroic Red, Valiant White

I’m not usually a fan “charity wines” that promise to donate money to a cause. No matter how good the cause, the wine doesn’t typically measure up. In this case, I don’t really care about the taste of it so much as the cause.

Heroic Red and Valiant White wines are distributed by Leer Vineyards in Byron, CA.  Leer Vineyards is nestled in East Contra Costa County in the town of Byron, complete with stunning views of Mount Diablo.

Currently, owner Stefan Leer and his family are working with winemakers in the Lodi area to crush, barrel and bottle their current offerings.

The charity part comes in when $1.50 for each bottle of Heroic Red or Valiant White sold goes to help purchase a mortgage and tax free home for a wounded warrior. They’ve already presented four houses to soldiers in 2015.  See them here: homes4woundedheroes

The Leer wines are available at walmart stores in Texas and select locations in California, or online.

Heroic Red contains 58% Syrah, 29% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a perfectly funky, earthy nose full of black fruit, espresso and bitter chocolate. The palate also shows earth and dark fruit and has a funky undercurrent running through it, which is entirely enjoyable. The tannic structure is rather weak, though, leaving it somewhat limp and flaccid.

Valiant White shows a sweetly floral nose of honeysuckle and pear juice, with just a trace of earthiness. On the palate, it’s more sweet fruit - peaches, pears, nectarines - and the hint of earth. The husky mineral note keeps it from being a one-dimensional wine, which is how I usually find Moscatos.

This one has a bit of acidity, so pairing with a salad would be alright, although it seems made for sipping.  You might want to try having it with a spicy dish, since the sweetness will play a good counterpoint to a spicy shrimp or Thai dish. Bleu cheese is also a good bet.

Cofféy is the official spokesman for Heroic Red and Valiant White.  His song, "Mr. Red, White and Blue" has been viewed some 4 million times on YouTube.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Wine Country: Oregon

Earl Jones grew up in a farming family, and when he was of age he couldn’t wait to turn in his tractor keys for good. But in college, he discovered fine wine and the culture surrounding it. Later, when he met his wife-to-be, Hilda, they shared that interest.

When Mr. and Mrs. Jones moved from the Gulf Coast to Oregon 20 years ago, It was for the purpose of planting vines and making wines.  They wondered why the Tempranillo grape was so widely ignored in American vineyards. A lot of research and a trip to Spain led to the selection of that Iberian grape as the one that would carry the Abacela name.

The research showed them that Tempranillo likes “a short growing season with a cool spring and hot, dry summer cut short by autumn.” The Umpqua Valley site matched that criteria, plus it offered distinct microclimates from one part of the land to another. It wasn’t long before they packed their trailer, hung an "Oregon of Bust" sign on the back and hit the road.

What’s in the name? It’s a third-person conjugation of the archaic verb abacelar, which meant "to plant grape vines." That could hardly have been more perfect.

Besides Tempranillo, the Joneses also grow Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Alabriño and Tannat along with five Portuguese varieties which they use to create a dessert wine patterned after tawny Port.

The Abacela wines have been lauded for quality and awarded for taste. Last year, the Joneses were given the Oregon Wine Industry's highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. They are only the tenth recipients of that honor.

This barrel-select wine was crafted by winemaker Andrew Wenzl. The grapes came from the esttate’s Fault Line vineyard.  French oak was used for about two years of aging, less than half of it new. Alcohol tips 14.8% abv. The wine retails for $32.

This wine is inky dark, and that’s no exaggeration. It actually looks like indigo ink. No light gets through at all. It’s the black hole of Tempranillo. One sniff demonstrates that darkness to my olfactory sense. There is major dark fruit, like black plums, blackberries, what’s darker than blackberries? Whatever it is, it’s in there, too. Shovel in a little dirt and light a campfire and you have the savory side figured out. The palate is fruitier than I expected, but don’t get the wrong idea. I just mean it isn’t completely given over to minerals and spices. That dark fruit is there, but it’s in a battle with the savory notes. Tannic structure is amazing - even after it’s open for three days. Bring on the red meat. This wine will not be tamed.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Paso Cabs: Not Eastside Or Westside - 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 Stephanie Terrizzi, who hosted the virtual tasting event. Brian is the minimalist winemaker focusing on varietal purity and vineyard expression. Stephanie 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 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

This wine is put together using Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Half of them were harvested from Margarita Vineyard and half from two other sustainably farmed vineyards. The selection of fruit is great - Margarita Vineyard has some of the best terroir in California - and the alcohol comes very restrained at 13.9% abv.  The real surprise is the retail price - $16. That is a great price point for a wine that hits so very well on the palate, as this one does.

Inky indigo, the wine has a beautiful nose of cassis and blueberry. Cedar, leather and pipe tobacco play large supporting roles. The fruit is as dark on the palate as it is on the nose. A sense of forest floor comes through as well, darkening things further. Just a shade of graphite shows up. The wine reminds me more of the Rhône than of Bordeaux.

Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard 2013

Margarita Vineyard is located as far south in the Paso Robles AVA as one can get. The vineyard is on an uplifted ancient seabed full of granitic shale and oyster shells. It has more terroir going for it than than most places do. It is the estate vineyard for Ancient Peaks Winery, which I toured about five years ago.

The grapes from the sustainably farmed vineyard are 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Merlot  The French oak in which the wine was aged was nearly all neutral, only three percent of the barrels were new. Alcohol hits 14.2% abv and the wine retails for $25.

This single-vineyard Paso Cab puts forth the distinctive terroir of Margarita Vineyard quite well. A focused fruit-and-mineral balance on the nose shows the effect of the uplifted seabed while cigar box, leather and smoke exemplify the two years of oak. The palate is suitably dark for the serious tannic structure it accompanies. Cassis, plum, licorice and a long, fine finish are a delight. Well worth the money. Well worth much more.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Calistoga Tempranillo - Spanish Grape, Napa Price

Clay and Brenda Cockerell are newcomers to winemaking, having settled in Calistoga in 2005 . The Coquerel Family Wine Estate sits near the Mayacamas Mountains, just north of Calistoga in the Napa Valley. Their plot, Walnut Wash Vineyard, bears Sauvignon Blanc grapes for their flagship wines as well as Tempranillo for this one.

Coquerel Winemaker Christine Barbe, a product of Bordeaux, herself,  made 74 cases of this wine, which is aged in neutral oak for 20 months and registers 14% abv. The wine retails for $42.

For a wine with such a highly concentrated hue, the Coquerel Calistoga Tempranillo 2011 has a rather faint set of aromas. Blackberry comes forward, timidly. Nice to get a whiff of smoke at the top of the glass. The black fruit is large on the palate and a strong sense of earth and minerals, is present. It's a savory quaff, with oak spice on that minerality. It’s a good wine, very good, but at twice the price of an excellent Rioja it can hardly be considered a deal.

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