Friday, May 13, 2016

Pushing Pedals: Cycles Gladiator Merlot

Great label. The Lady on the Bicycle is an homage to women's freedom during the Belle Epoque, when bicycle sales in France 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.

Winemaker Adam 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. LaZarre’s creative tasting notes brought forth some online comment, and he tweeted that he used to write them while drinking tequila. "I don’t do that anymore," he wrote, "I changed to bourbon."

LaZarre calls this "little Merlot monster" a "fruit-driven cherry bomb of a wine." The alcohol is fairly restrained, at just 13.9% abv.  The fruit was nearly all grown in the Livermore Valley, and there are smidges of Cabernat Sauvignon and Syrah in it.  It was aged for 16 months in French and American oak.

The nose of the Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Merlot 2014 gives off a telltale funk, belying the Syrah, especially after a few days open. The fruit is dark and moody and there are notes of spice and a sweet smell, like burnt caramel, on the nose. The sip is powerful, belligerent fruit and brawny tannins, so don’t be shy. Cook a big, dirty steak and throw it on a plate next to a glass of this.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More Evidence Of Lodi's Value To Wine World

Lodi, California never ceases to amaze me in its efforts to prove itself worthy of inclusion in the the Great Wine Region discussion. Generations upon generations of agriculture flows through the Mokelumne River, and the growers like to proudly stand in the delta dirt and talk about how Lodi wine has grown up. Lodi has worked tirelessly to throw off the "jug wine" perception, work that probably started when they rebranded themselves from the "Tokay Capital of the World" to the "Zinfandel Capital of the World." The Lodi wine industry stepped up so bravely that it was was recognized as Wine Region of the World by Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2015.

The folks at LoCA, the Wines of Lodi, work with Brandlive to periodically stage virtual tasting events designed to get a few dozen wine writers excited about the region’s wineries. They needn't try so hard - we are already excited about Lodi. So much so that the annual Wine Blogger’s Conference 2016 is set to be held there in August.

The most recent virtual event focused on wines made from grapes in Lodi's noted Mokelumne Glen Vineyard.  In case the word looks unfamiliar to you, or even if you think you have it figured out, Mokelumne is pronounced Mo-KUL-uh-me, according to the vineyard's website. Once again, the event was hosted on a video feed by Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission. On either side of him were Markus Niggli, winemaker at Borra Vineyards and Markus Wine Company and Brett Koth, Vineyard Manager at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. I was provided with samples of the wines for the purpose of the event.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards is a small, family-owned vineyard specializing in grape varieties that originated in Germany and Austria. They are in the Lodi Appellation as well as the Mokelumne River sub-appellation.

There are more than 40 different grape varieties growing in their sandy, granitic soil, including Riesling, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Zweigelt and Bacchus. The last one, I had never even heard of until this event introduced it to me.  Their collection of vines is reported to be the largest gathering of German and Austrian grapes in the U.S.

Koth spoke knowledgeably on his grapes, while Niggli offered his take as a winemaker who uses their fruit regularly. The vineyard only sells their fruit to a handful of vintners, so Niggli feels fortunate to get his hands on some.

The grapes involved in this tasting are largely thought of as cool-climate grapes, while Lodi has a warm, Mediterranean climate.  Koth told us, however, that it’s cooler than people think where his grapes grow because of the delta effect and the proximity to the river. “Temperature fluctuation is the key, “ to maintaining these varieties, he said. That and early picking to ensure the high acidity for which the grapes are known.

Holman Cellars Uncharted Bacchus 2015  $25
An earthy white wine, what could be better? Whites need to be earthy, I feel. Terroir gives them character in a much more visceral way the with reds. Winemaker Jason Holman is based in Napa, and the Holman Cellars "micro-winery" produces wines in extremely small lots. They like to make great wines from forgotten grapes. Forgotten? As I said earlier, I never even knew about Bacchus before this.

The grape represents only 2% of Germany’s plantings, so it is apparently not that well-known even over there.  They made 45 cases of this 100% varietal wine, which is about two barrels worth. The three days of skin contact is followed by stainless-steel fermentation.

It’s a pale wine and has an earthy lanolin note on the nose. There’s a waxy quality on the palate that fits well with the apricot and nutmeg shadings. The acidity is very good in this most unusual wine. I thought it reminded me somewhat of the Symphony grape, but more muscular and not as sweet.

Markus NIMMO Lodi White Wine 2014  $22

Markus is Niggli’s own label, and the name NIMMO originated from his time in Perth, Australia. When he was new there, he remembered his way home by making a word of the first letters of the streets he needed to travel to get there. Australia plays a big part in Niggli’s career - it’s where the Swiss native was bitten bu the wine bug.

This white wine is made from 71% Kerner grapes, 13% Gewurztraminer, 11% Riesling and 5% Bacchus, all from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. It is fermented in 60% new oak and aged there for nine months. The alcohol sits at 13.8% abv

Gewurz and Riesling in oak? Brett was shocked when he heard Niggli’s plans for those grapes, but he says the winemaker convinced him to "get on board."

Native yeast “brings higher alcohol at lower brix,” says Niggli. He says he thinks of the Kerner grape as "the unknown," and was intrigued by it enough to use it as the base for this wine. Three days skin contact before vinification gives good color, made richer by the use of oak.

The pale golden straw color is appealing, while the nose certainly isn’t scaring anyone away. Clean earth notes define the apple, papaya and lime aromas beautifully. The palate shows off-dry pear, apple and Meyer lemon flavors on a bed of acidity. Finishing long, it’s the earth and citrus that stays around after the sip. The wine’s body makes it a lot more versatile that just "salads and sipping." Niggli recommends you pair it with anything off the grill.

Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt 2015  $24

Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars is the result of several wine enthusiasts putting a winemaker’s skill to good use. The website shows that winemaker Dan Fishman also creates the bottlings of the Donum Estate and Stemmler, but with Santa Rosa-based Hatton Daniels he works with small vineyards to produce elegant, focused wines.

The vintners say this Zweigelt is "vibrant and alive," and is "meant for drinking in large, glorious quantities." They also say it’s a zero-sulfur wine, which some claim prevents hangovers. They say they make "no claim in this regard, but further study is recommended." Only 72 cases were made.

This wine is a tart little blast of cool-climate German grape, grown in Lodi. The earth that shows on the nose is mind-blowing. Raspberry fruit, oh yeah. Coffee grounds? Yep. Cola? Mm hmm. Meat? There’s some of that. The palate shows just as savory and just as dark, with tart berries, black tea and pepper.

M2 Wines Belle Etoile Blanche 2014  $24

For those who didn’t take four years of French in high school, and for those who did but have forgotten most of it, Belle Etoile Blanche means "beautiful white star." The m2 wines late-harvest dessert creation blends four German grape varieties grown in Mokelumne Glen Vineyard , 35% Rieslaner, 25% Weissburgunder, 20% Riesling and 20% Gewurztraminer. This wine is naturally sweet and is not fortified. Three months fermentation was accomplished half in neutral French oak barrels and half in a stainless steel tank. Alcohol is light, at 13.3% abv and there is less than 10% residual sugar.

Layne Montgomery is the winemaker, and he had the grapes picked as late as the first day of November and whole-cluster pressed to add character to the flavor. Koth notes that it’s the only sweet wine produced the grapes of his vineyard.  The consensus seemed to be to pair this wine with any "stinky cheese" you prefer.

M2’s Belle Etoile Blanche is a delightful dessert wine that is pleasantly sweet without overdoing it. The nose is honey and apricots, while the palate shows a crisp and acidic palate that draws a line against cloying and stands well apart from it. The fruit is clean and ripe - certainly - and leaves a citrus and stone fruit finish after the sip. This will pair with cheese in a heartbeat or a fruit tart in about the same time.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

From Sweden With Love: Hard Cider

Sweden has given us some great gifts - Ingmar Bergman, Absolut vodka, IKEA - and some which are not so great - Dancing Queen, Pippi Longstocking, IKEA. Scandinavian beers have never excited me too much, vodka leaves me shaken not stirred and wine is almost nowhere to be found in Sweden’s upper latitude.

A company named Rekorderlig offered me a taste of their flavored hard cider, and I liked it even though I am not usually wowed by flavored alcoholic beverages. My wife, who favors sweet drinks a bit more than I, loved it.  Rekorderlig was created more than two decades ago at Åbro brewery in Vimmerby, just outside of Stockholm. Its promoters say it is delicious straight from the bottle, over ice with fresh fruit or mixed into cocktails, and they are right.

They suggest pouring their Strawberry-Lime hard cider over ice, garnished with a lime wedge. Spilling some vodka or gin into it is perfectly alright.

This beverage has a beautiful red color with a hint of orange, which makes it look very strawberry-like in the glass. The nose is a big strawberry festival all its own, and quite a natural one at that. It doesn't have the candy-coated Jolly Rancher aroma, but one of real strawberries and stems. The sip shows delightful fruit - no real complexity here - with that lime flavor making an appearance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cal-Italia Wine: Barbera From The Sierra Foothills

We'll touch again on Bella Grace Vineyards, located in the Sierra Foothills in Amador County.  The family-run business produces wine from 12 grape varieties harvested there, and they also have three types of olives growing on the estate.  One of those grapes is the Italian variety, Barbera.

I like the expression that the Cal-Italia grapes give in other California regions, so I was anxious to try the terroir of Amador County.  Both wines were made available to me for the purpose of this article.

Bella Grace Montagnaro Amador County 2013

This half and half blend of Barbera - sourced from several vineyards in Amador County - and their estate Zinfandel - was made in very limited quantity, just 360 cases, and it retails at $23 per bottle. The 14.5% abv alcohol number looks ripe and ready. And so it is.

A nose of red berries, mocha, licorice and pepper lead to a tempting palate of bright red cherries, chocolate and an earthy cloak in which it tries to hide. This wine cannot conceal itself, though. It’s bright and playful while remaining sincere and balanced.

Bella Grace Barbera Amador County 2013

Several vineyards in Amador County contributed to this varietal wine.  The alcohol is again a rich 14.6% abv and it has a $30 price tag. 860 cases were made.

The wine has a rustic nose that bears a bit of tar, a bit of bramble and a bit of spearmint. The oak on the palate is sweet and tasty with generous red fruit and holiday spices. The tannins grip enough, but not too hard. The finish carries some rosemary to a lengthy end. Roasted chicken and potatoes, with the potatoes burnt just a bit is what you want with this.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2011

The Réserve version of Randall Grahm’s flagship wine is aged en bonbonnes, which means it is aged not in oak but in glass carboys, or, less elegantly, jugs. It is also aged sur lie, or in contact with the used-up yeast cells that gave their lives making alcohol. We salute them. The former insures that you are tasting all fruit, the latter that it’s got a creamier mouthfeel than the normale Cigare.

As Grahm explains, "The Réserve has a slightly different texture than the 'normale,' tannins not quite as firm, rather softer, plusher and more velvety, with enhanced mouth feel and a slightly more savory aspect."

The varieties are 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault picked from eight Central Coast vineyards, Ventana, Del Barba, Rancho Solo, Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves. At 14.5% abv, the alcohol is noticeable, but not an intrusion. 966 cases were made, and it retails normally at $79 per bottle. There was a pretty big sale going on, last I checked.

Le Cigare Volant Réserve is as fresh as a just-picked daisy. The nose full of ripe red fruit shows a touch of spice, while the palate seems even more youthful and exuberant. That’s something I might expect in a wine produced just last fall, but this one was made five years ago. Cherries, raspberry and blueberry cover the fruity side, while leather, spice and earth handle the savory lifting. It is an amazing wine, one of my favorites for the four vintages it has been produced.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

California White Wines: Shenandoah Valley

We have explored two Zinfandels of Bella Grace Vineyards, now let's try two of their white wines.  Bella Grace, as noted earlier, is in the Sierra Foothills region of Amador County.  The family-run business produces wine from 12 grape varieties harvested there.  Nearly seven acres of the estate are devoted to four different clones of sustainably-farmed Zinfandel grapes.

The ten-year-old winery is powered completely by solar energy and has been collecting awards since its first releases.  Bella Grace is one of nine producers on the Steiner Road wine trail.  Owned by husband-and-wife vintners Michael and Charlie Havill, the operation takes its name from their two grandmothers, Bella and Grace.

Bella Grace Shenandoah Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

The Bella Grace 2015 Shenandoah Valley Sauvignon Blanc is pale - Maine-in-the-wintertime pale - with a nose as fresh and grassy as a new-mown lawn. It's close to being New Zealand grassy, but the aromas stay completely herbal and don't get into the kitty box area. On the palate, limes and lemons dominate with a very slight nod to California ripeness. Minerals are readily apparent and the acidity is zippy, but not bracing.  It's a very enjoyable wine, especially for fans of California SauvBlanc.  Try it with chips and guacamole this summer.

Bella Grace Shenandoah Valley Vermentino 2015

Vermentino is one of my favorite white wines, although I had never tried one, or even heard of one, from California before now. I usually have Italian versions, usually from Siciliy. This one is different and very enjoyable.

 A moderate 12.2% abv number makes this wine quite drinkable, and at $25 retail, it’s not too hard on the debit card. It is 100% Amador County Vermentino.

This beautiful, pale white has a wonderful nose of bright citrus, tropical fruit, minerals and salinity, although the ocean flavor is somewhat lower than found in Sicilian versions of the grape. The palate comes on a bit sweeter, with a Meyer lemon overlay on the minerals. The acidity is fresh and zippy, so it should do nicely next to a Caesar salad or, as a friend’s grandmother says, "a nice piece fish."

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All Grenache, All The Time

Grenache is a tough grape to figure. A darling of the Rhône Valley, it’s used primarily as a blending grape there, abetted by its likely companions Syrah and Mourvèdre. It is a late-ripening grape, one of the most widely-planted red wine varieties in the world. It likes hot, dry climates best, which is why it is a favorite in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha. Many California climes also lend themselves well to this grape, which is just one reason it is a favorite of mine.

Bonny Doon Vineyards winemaker Randall Grahm calls this 100% Grenache the "misunderstood Ugly Duckling" wine. Grenache gets a bad rap for not being "pretty" enough, not standing well on its own, but this one dispels those notions, although through the glass darkly. At 14.5% abv, it’s hefty, but it balances it's weight very well against the aromas, flavors and mouthfeel. The Monterey County fruit comes from the Rancho Solo vineyard planted years ago, as Grahm explains.

The Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2014 shows a medium ruby color, has a beautiful, yet feisty nose of cherry, allspice and dark berries with a palate displaying dark fruit and earthy spice and minerals. Good tannic structure meets a refreshing acidity and the whole sip finishes long with black cherry notes persisting.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Spanish Wine: Vionta Albariño

The way American wine drinkers go after Chardonnay, that’s how Spanish consumers feel about the Albariño grape.  It’s the white wine of choice on that big chunk of the Iberian peninsula, and with good reason.  It’s fresh, aromatic and downright tasty.  Not to mention, it pairs well with just about any kind of food.

This Vionta white wine is all Albariño from the Rias Baixas area of Galicia in northwest Spain.  It’s imported by the Ferrer family under the Freixenet banner.  I was kindly provided a sample of this wine for the purpose of review.

The 2014 vintage was a little light, yielding small bunches of grapes in late September that were highly concentrated as a result, according to the winery.  They say the vines are mostly over 15 years old.  More than two-thirds of the harvest was vinified "on the lees," or in contact with the spent yeast cells, lending roundness and weight to the mouthfeel.  The alcohol clocks in at 12.7% abv and the wine retails for $15.

The wine has a beautiful golden tint and smells of green apples and lemon/lime with just a hint of flowers.  On the palate, the apple notes are crisp and laced with citrus. There is a salinity that runs through it right into the finish and a bracing acidity that really makes it a refreshing sip. Pair it with fish, hummus or crackers and blue cheese.  The salinity also hits well alongside sweet cheeses.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Amador County Zinfandel Wine

Bella Grace Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills region of Amador County, and has tasting locations in the Shenandoah Valley and Sutter Creek.  The latter is situated in a restored, Victorian-era cottage that fits right in with the historic feel of the town. The family-run business produces wine from 12 grape varieties harvested there, and they also have three types of olives growing on the estate.

The ten-year-old winery is powered completely by solar energy and has been collecting awards since its first releases.  Bella Grace is one of nine producers on the Steiner Road wine trail.  Owned by husband-and-wife vintners Michael and Charlie Havill, the operation takes its name from their two grandmothers, Bella and Grace.

Nearly seven acres of the estate are devoted to four different clones of sustainably-farmed Zinfandel grapes.

2013 Estate Amador County Zinfandel

The 2013 Estate Amador County Zinfandel brings an alcohol level of 14.3% abv to the table and retails for $20. The winery describes it as a "young, assertive Zinfandel," that has great aging potential over the next few years.  It’s one of those award winners we heard about earlier.

This wine is a treat. The bright, zippy cherry fruit on the first night turns into darker and more savory stuff on the second, and I love when that happens. The nose is fruity enough, but it does show the minerality nicely along with smoke, leather and cigars. The palate is dark and beefy with some spiciness coming through. The tannins are healthy, but they don't get in the way of the sip.

2013 Old Vine Zinfandel Amador County

Dry farmed in Crain Sleeper Vineyard, a "heritage vineyard" in Shenandoah Valley, this 100% Zinfandel hits 14.5% abv in alcohol and rings up at 30 in American dollars. The grapes were grown and managed by Bob and Carol Sleeper, descendants of one of the original families to settle in California's Shenandoah Valley in the early 1850's. The old vines we have here were planted in the early 1970s, and yes, that makes me feel old, too. The early 1970s were great for music and movies, and apparently for Zinfandel grapes, as well.

The wine is earthy, spicy and deep. It has a dark ruby color, a nose of holiday spices and cherries with minerals all over the place. In the mouth, it's juicy and ripe and full of red fruit with those minerals riding herd over the components. The finish is lengthy and the tannins chewy.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wine Country Connecticut: Saltwater Farm Vineyard

The Nutmeg State’s wine industry - in the modern era - started with the passage of the Connecticut Winery Act in 1978. Wine goes back a lot further than that, of course.  The early colonists loved wine, and there were plenty of native grapes around, but they weren’t very good at growing wine grapes. They relied mainly on European imports. In the 19th century, some progress was made in the area of viticulture, but production remained rather small until more than a hundred years later.

There are two American Viticultural Areas in the state, which are home to about three dozen vineyards and wineries. There’s the Western Connecticut Highlands AVA in the west and the Southeastern New England AVA toward the eastern part of the state, which is where you will find Saltwater Farm Vineyard.

Saltwater Farm is in the sleepy seaside town of Stonington, and its owners look to preserve the history of their property as "coastal Connecticut farmland and a WWII-era private airport." It is a beautiful property that overlooks the tidal salt marshes of Wequetequock Cove and traces its agrarian roots back more than 350 years to the founding of Stonington in the mid-1600s, according to the winery.

Rhode Island native Michael M. Connery bought the property in 2001 and refurbished the old hangar into a striking winery facility. The vineyard is split by a grassy landing strip and the estate is a part of the Coastal Wine Trail. The property is under vines on 15 of its 100 acres and it offers some nice vistas of Long Island Sound

Winemaker Gilles Martin is a Frenchman who lives and works in Long Island, New York. He is also the winemaker at several vineyards on the island’s North Fork

They have a lot of weddings at Saltwater Farm, like many wineries, but Bride’s Magazine voted Saltwater Farm as one of the most romantic wedding venues in the U.S. The winery should be open for the season by now.  If you will be in the area this summer, check out the Connecticut Wine Festival in July.

2013 Gold Arc Chardonnay

The wine has a lovely golden color, showing some age and oak. The nose is somewhat muted, but fascinating, nonetheless. An earthy tone drapes over some Meyer lemon, oak spice and a beautiful caramel note.  The palate is great, not too oaky - just enough - and a very clean and full mouth. The citrus note advances first, followed by that incredible earth with a creme brulee finish. And the acidity is zippy, too. I could hardly ask for more from a Chardonnay than what is delivered here.

2013 Merlot

It’s a fairly dark wine, with a nose showing cherry, mocha, just a hint of oak, a slight trace of earthy salinity and a smoky element that often makes its way out of a glass of Merlot. It's not an extremely forceful nose, but there’s quite a lot going on in it. Some of that has to do with 16 months of oak aging. The taste of this 100% Merlot is what I expect from a cool climate red wine, restrained and food-friendly, with a nice acidity and a flavor that leans more towards tart than ripe, although it isn't far from the midpoint of that scale. It's a great wine to have with food, that's for sure. Coffee notes are a great find on the finish.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Big, Rugged Pinot Noir From Mendocino

The Eagle Peak AVA in Mendocino County is just a couple of years old, its rugged mountain terrain providing a cool-climate home to a handful of growers and one winemaker, Masút Vineyard and Winery.

Owned by the Fetzer family, winemaker Jacob Fetzer says his late father, Bobby, was intrigued by "a hillside site of fast draining soil, desirable sun exposure and marine influenced winds." He chose to plant Pinot Noir there.

This estate wine is made from three different clones of the grape, 115, 23 and 777. It spent 15 months in French oak, half of which was new and it hits an alcohol number of 14.7% abv while retailing for $45. It’s not a dainty little Pinot. It’s rugged and unrelenting, much like its parent terrain,

Dark ruby, almost opaque, the Masút Pinot Noir 2014 is a dark wine on the nose, too. Earthy raspberry and blackberry flavors jump right out. Spice is right up front. There is large fruit on the palate, as well. It’s no peekaboo game, this one. This is an industrial strength Pinot Noir. Please give it time to blow off a little alcohol. It does settle down quickly, but it never takes off the gloves. This wine’s brawn is undeniable, but it’s something for which people generally buy Syrah or Cab, not Pinot Noir.

This wine tastes great without any reference point, but when you know it’s Pinot Noir, it loses some luster, to me. Pinot shouldn't act like this.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Three Nights Of L.A. Rosé

Rosé wine is more popular than ever now. Even the guys are getting into the pink. There's a good reason for rosé to be popular. It's delicious, it's refreshing, it's festive and it's food-friendly, not to mention pretty.

So, it’s great that there is a fantastic rosé wine event coming to Los Angeles in May. It's also coming to New York and London in June. It was just in Miami, and the winter event was held in New York.

It’s called La Nuit en Rosé - French for Rosé Night - and its organizers say  it is the world’s first food and wine tasting festival specializing in rosé wines. La Nuit en Rosé's founders contend that rosé wine is not just an emerging trend, but rather a movement that is here to stay. This culinary experience will highlight the diversity of rosé wines from all around the world.

The festival will span three big nights at Mondrian Los Angeles, May 13th-15th. Tickets are available by logging onto their website.

  • Friday night  is a VIP Rosé Wine Pairing Dinner Under the Stars at Mondrian's Ivory on Sunset.
  • Saturday night it’s a Rosé Sunset Soirée poolside at Skybar.
  • Sunday afternoon, wrap up the weekend with a Rosé Pool Party, also poolside at Skybar.

May is thought to be "just right" for rosé, but don't forget that it's always a good time to drink pink.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tercero Wines Of Santa Barbara County

It had been a while since I stopped in on Larry Schaffer at his Los Olivos tasting room for Tercero Wines, so it was a great and pleasant surprise to see him in Los Angeles recently for a tasting event.

Schaffer uses grapes from some top-notch vineyard sites in Santa Barbara County to make his mostly-Rhônish wines. His reds seem to be what people really want to experience, but his whites are the show-stoppers, in my opinion. I love a good white wine, and the Tercero whites are much better than that.

Tercero 2013 Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley - This is possibly my favorite. It has a beautiful, savory nose and palate, with a slight funk and great acidity.  $25

Tercero 2014 Albarino, Santa Ynez Valley -  Funky and floral, the salinity comes through on the sip.  $25

Tercero 2014 Outlier Gewurztraminer - Floral to spare, but minerals make it more complex and less sweet than this grape usually turns out.  $25

2015 Mourvedre Rosé - Grapes from Vogelzang Vineyard, in the Happy Canyon AVA are footstomped and fermented, with some oak involved. The light cherry and strawberry flavors show wonderfully right now, and this rosé gets even better with age.  $25
Tercero 2011 Mourvedre Santa Barbara County - Schaffer likes the mix of warm and cool areas in a cool vintage, Larner and Camp Four vineyards being the draw here.  There is a great use of oak (nearly three years.)  He says it’s his best-selling red and he didn’t get to make an awful lot of the 2012 to be released soon.  $35

Tercero 2011 Grenache, Larner Vineyard, Ballard Canyon - This wine is muscular and savory. Shaffer calls it, "my favorite grenache," and you just may as well.  $35

Tercero 2015 Abberation - 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre, all from the Camp 4 Vineyard in the newly created Los Olivos District. It’s a steel-aged red, and it takes a chill very well and still shows the dark earthiness of the soil.  $35

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Grapes From Spain In L.A. Taster

Spanish wine is good no matter where it comes from. I should say, wine made with Spanish grape varieties is good all over, especially when the grapes are Tempranillo.

A recent Los Angeles tasting event for TAPAS – Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society – was a hit, hosted by the great L.A. wine educator Ian Blackburn of WineLA.

In case you are unaware, TAPAS is "a nonprofit trade association of wineries, growers, and amigos, whose mission is to promote Tempranillo and other varietal wine grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula, and wines produced from them in North America." The group has been around since 2006, doing their best to raise awareness of these food-friendly wines.

An invitation was kindly extended to me, and here are a few of the wineries that were poured for me at the event.  The trade session I attended was held at Republique, while the public session that evening was at La Brea Bakery.

Lake County
Six Sigma Ranch and Winery - Winemaker Matt Hughes said that despite his Lake County estate’s  "hot, dry, weather and volcanic soil, it’s hard to get fruit overripe." The reserve Tempranillo is dark and delicious, while the Cab/Tempranillo blend has bright red fruit.

Napa Valley
Irwin Family Vinetyards - These wines are made by Derek Irwin with grapes grown in the Sierra Foothills.  The '14 Verdejo has a huge green apple component in a wash of savory notes.  The Tempranillo and Tempranillo blends make great steak wines, with grips like an arm wrestler.

St. Amant Winery - Stuart Spencer's Amador County wines are delightful. The '14 Verdelho is all steely grapefruit, while the '13 Touriga is big and juicy.  The '13 Tempranillo has chewy tannins and a long finish, while his NV Tawny is viscous and Madeira-like.

Central Coast
Verdad Wines - Louisa Sawyer Lindquist poured her '15 Edna Valley Albariño, which is laden with the chalky limestone soil of the EV. It’s floral, it’s savory, it has wet rocks and citrus and it’s well worth checking out.

Monterey County
Pierce Ranch Vineyards - Showing off their newly-established AVA, the San Antonio Valley, it's more like Paso Robles than Monterey, where it is the southernmost property. Their oak/steel Albariño is vibrant, while the unoaked version shows dramatic salinity. Oak leaves a big vanilla mark on the '14 Verdelho while the Tempranillo, Touriga and Graciano deal out a nice mix of leather and flowers.

Santa Barbara County
Longoria Wines - Rick Longoria poured two excellent Tempranillo blends, one with Grenache and another with Merlot, a spot of Syrah in each.  The Santa Ynez Valley offerings put forth some beautiful floral tones and a wild savory kick that I just love.


Abacela Earl Jones’ Umpqua Valley wines included the '13 Albariño, with its beautifully floral nose and salinity on the palate.  Their '12 Port-style wine shows big fruit and is very sweet, using five Portuguese grape varieties.

RoxyAnn Winery - Kent Barthman’s Rogue Valley Tempranillo 2012 is masculine with big red fruit on the nose and a wonderful, savory finish.

Texas Fine Wines poured four wonderful Tempranillos that show just how far the Texas wine industry has come. From Brennan Vineyards’ rich and smoky finish to the juicy, ripeness of Pedernales Cellars, to the delicious oak expression of Bending Branch Winery’s High Plains Tempranillo to the Riojaesque savoriness of Spicewoods Vineyards, Texas winemakers have found a grape they can call their own.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

It's A Lambrusco Day

A good wine list is a beautiful thing. Even if I don’t plan on having a glass of wine at a restaurant meal, I just hate it when I give a glance to the eatery’s vino offerings and feel completely uninspired.

Denise and I had a nice lunch recently at a restaurant we had been meaning to try for quite a while. La Buca Osteria L.A. is way east on Melrose and has a sign in front intimating that it might be time to stop looking at the sign as you drive by and stop in already. So we did.

We like to celebrate Fridays with a nice lunch together under, hopefully, perfect conditions. That’s not an unreasonable request in Southern California, where you can probably count the less-than-perfect-weather Fridays each year on one hand. It was a gorgeous spring day when we sat down at the table, covered with butcher paper decorated with an ink stamp of a motorcycle.

I like the way Denise fills me in on the details of our dining experience. She digs a lot deeper into the L.A. food scene than I do, and she always has an interesting tidbit or two culled from her personal research. It appears, she told me, that the original chef left the resto in a dispute over meatballs. A scene from “Big Night” immediately comes to mind. There are no meatballs on the menu now, and I guess that’s one way to work it out. “Chef Out In Meatball Beef.”

The wine list had some nice options for a beautiful day - a rosé,a Chenin Blanc… wait, what’s this? A Lambrusco? Perfect. I'm inspired.

The Barbolini Lambrusco is just that - a perfect Lambrusco. Italian journalist Curzio Malaparte wrote in Lambrusco and Freedom, "A good drinker of Lambrusco is not only a proud, warm and generous man, but he is above all free. Therefore what is it, if it isn't Lambrusco that gives the Parmesan people that bright, sincere and dominant air; that sparkle in their eyes, that loud voice and tough expression? It is the wine of freedom and of the free man."

The wine comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, perhaps better known for its cheese. This Lambrusco has beautiful purple bubbles, the result of a secondary fermentation, and it comes bottled like any other sparkling wine. Please don’t confuse an artisanal Lambrusco like this one with the jugs in the grocery store. They are nothing alike.

The Barbolini Lambrusco has a wonderful frizzante, or bubbly character, and it holds a chill extremely well. The earthy grape flavor has plenty of minerality and almost no tannic grip. It’s a great sipper, but it goes very well with food, especially cured meats. I had it with La Buca’s fabulous grilled octopus and it was even better with their rustic and incredible cacio e pepe pasta dish.

So perfect was this Lambrusco that we immediately went and bought another one to take home.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Edna Valley Chardonnay - It's No Myth

True Myth is a banner for the Niven family, pioneers of San Luis Obispo’s’ Edna Valley. Their portfolio contains some of my California faves, Baileyana and Tangent, both worth checking out. The label blurb explains, thankfully, that Mother Nature is the true myth, and she is honored on that label with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson,  "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."

True Myth 2014 Chardonnay

The grapes for the True Myth 2014 Chardonnay are from the Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley AVA in San Luis Obispo County, a great place for white wines. In fact, they advertise that fact: "The Edna Valley provides one of the most special micro climates on earth to grow Chardonnay," they say, and the vineyard is a little more than five miles from the Pacific Ocean. They also note that it’s "the coolest growing region in all of California," which I can’t dispute but I have a hard time believing. Cooler than Russian River Valley? Cooler than Sonoma Coast? Cooler than Mendocino? Okay, it's cool.

The wine is aged nine months on the lees, half in a tank and half in French oak barrels, 38% of which are new. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and it retails for  $18.

I have had a Chardonnay from Paragon Vineyard before,and this reminds me of it, quite a lot. It’s a SIP certified sustainable growing site and winemaker Christian Roguenant gets a nice full mouthfeel from the lees and the oak.

The straw-colored wine shows quite a bit of minerality on the nose, to be expected from Edna Valley grapes. The wet rocks and lime aromas are always a pleasure, as the are here. On the palate, there are tropical tones and plenty of citrus along with the beautiful oak effect - the wood is used in a very tasteful way. I vacillate between liking oaky Chardonnays and those with none. This one hits in the middle of the range and could be my favorite - for a while, anyway.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Good Wine - No Joshing

Josh Cellars produced 130,000 cases of wine in 2012.  This year, they’ll put out nearly a million. They have reached that rarified area as fast - maybe faster - than any brand before them.  Owned by Deutcsh Family Wine and Spirits, the Josh brand has taken off in the $13 to $19 range.  That happens to be the fastest-growing segment in retail wine right now.  So, they are lucky. But people also like their story.

The winery's founder, Joseph Carr, chose the name Josh for his wine to honor his dad. His father’s name was Joseph, too, but his friends called him Josh. He was a soldier, a firefighter and a big proponent of “taking care of each other.” Winemaker Wayne Donaldson does both Joshes proud with his creations. The wines are good, they are priced well and people seem to be snapping them up almost like they do with Yellow Tail, the brand Deutsch is best known for.

Josh Legacy Red Blend 2013

The is wine mixes Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah & Petite Sirah in an inky blend that smells of blueberry, sage, mocha and tobacco. It is a fairly complex and dark aroma package.  On the palate, dark blue fruit is ripe and juicy, with acidity to spare and enough tannins to tackle a t-bone. The finish is medium-long and savory with a kick of coffee in it. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and it sells for $16.

Josh Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

The blend here is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. It, too, is from the  California appellation, but the label promises fruit from Mendocino, Lake County, Napa Valley and Sonoma County along with other "premium California growing regions." Alcohol hits 13.7% abv and it’s also a $16 wine.

Aromas of blackcurrant and plum are forceful enough, and the accompanying oak spice is sweet yet pungent. There is a strong cedar and cigar component with a bit of black pepper thrown in. On the palate, the berry flavor is a little on the tart side, and spice notes meet some fairly dark earthiness. It’s a complex wine all the way around, and the tannins are big enough, but not too big. That tart, earthy feeling lasts into the long finish. It may not be exactly what you want in a Cab, but for a $16 wine, you get pretty good value for your money.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Four Rosés From Bonny Doon #4

This is not an April Fool's joke. Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyards currently has four rosé wines available. We have sampled three during the past few weeks, they are all awe-inspiring - even the "fun" one - and we have saved the best for last. No joke.

2015 A Proper Pink
(69% Tannat, 31% Cabernet Franc)

A rosé made with Tannat? Thank you, Randall Grahm. This Bonny Doon Vineyards oddball is a great rosé for a backyard barbecue. It takes a chill very well but try it at cellar temperature - or even room temperature - first. The aromas and flavors are explosive and it’s an all-around fun champion.

Grahm lets loose his veddy British alter ego, Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite, on the label. He offers a quip on the current trend of masculine types sipping the pink: "The beastly locution 'Brosé' (shudder) has even infiltrated the language of Disraeli, Gladstone and our beloved Winnie! I’ll tell you. Some of us 'real men' have been in touch with our, shall we say, more leeward side for some time now."

Grahm writes of this inaugural vintage of A Proper Pink that it is "the companion to A Proper Claret [fully red] and Gravitas [white] and while the Vin Gris de Cigare [light pink] is intended for more sober-minded occasions, this is definitely the less buttoned up in style." It does let its middle-red hair down.

Looking just slightly off ruby red, this wine carries the full aroma and mouthfeel of a red. Rich strawberry on the nose is joined by an herbaceous quality that balances well. You can think of it as a fruit bomb - it’s certainly loaded with red fruit - but there is a green edge to it that brings a deeper dimension. Acidity is fabulous and the finish is lengthy. A Tannat/Cabernet Franc rosé? Here it is. It sits at a very proper 13% abv, sells for $16 and 3573 cases are available. But I'm sure they are going fast.