Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Wine: Portugal's Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde is the region, not a grape or a style of wine. It's in the northwest corner of Portugal. It's as if you're saying, "I think I'll have a Burgundy," except you’re having a white wine made from grapes you’ve probably never heard before. The grape varieties used in making white Vinho Verde are usually Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal. They also make red and rose, and all are youthful wines intended to be consumed soon after bottling. In fact, Vinho Verde means, "green wine." That is not a color reference, but a suggestion that the wine is quite youthful.

The Casal Garcia winery was founded in 1939 by Roberto Guedes, the father and grandfather of those who run the business now. The roots of the region go back much, much further than that, of course. Romans like Seneca the Younger and Pliny both made references to vines between the Douro and Minho rivers, I am told. The first record of wine in the region comes from a year with only three digits in it, if that gives you some idea how far back we're talkin'.

The Casal Garcia Sweet Vinho Verde DOC Vino Branco is made from Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal, all the above mentioned grapes, without the Avesso.

I don't know why I think of sweet wine as old fogey wine, but I do. And by sweet, I mean off-dry, which is what this wine really is. It just seems like it would be right at home at a bingo game. This Portuguese white wine hits 9.5% abv, as is typical in Vinho Verde, but sweet is not typical. However, it still has plenty of zip in the freshness department. The sweetness, by the way, comes as fruit, not sugar, much like an off-dry Riesling. There are tangerines on the nose and pears on the palate, but don't sniff or swish for much too complexity. Chill it and have it on the porch, while yelling at those kids to get off the lawn.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Summer Wine: Chiaretto, Italian Rosé

Monday, August 29, 2016

Folly Indeed: Edmeades' Wacky Blend Works

Edmeades is a Mendocino County mainstay since the 1960s, with grapes grown in the region’s rugged coastal mountains. The Jackson Family bought the acreage in 1988 and brought current winemaker Ben Salazar into the fold in 2012.

Edmeades' Folly 2013 

When Dr. Edmeades planted his first vineyards in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley in 1963, he was met with so much derision the plot was known as "Edmeades' Folly." In true California winemaking fashion, he made a sign saying as much and hung it in the vineyard. This wine harkens back to those days, with much less naysaying now. It’s a playful blend of 47% Zinfandel, 23% Syrah, 15% Merlot and 15% Petite Sirah. Mostly neutral oak is use in aging and alcohol hits a ripe 15% abv. It retails for $26.

Folly, indeed. This brash blend has a campfire burning n the nose, with cigar, leather, a little funk and some hefty black pepper, clove and anise joining the olfactory party. On the palate, the medium-dark wine shows a brambly sage note and spills black and blue fruit flavors all over the table. The way Syrah, Merlot and PS played around in the aroma department, so does the Zinfandel on the flavor profile.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Two Great Pennsylvania Beers

A recent visit to northeastern Pennsylvania resulted in not so many wine experiences as I would have liked, but a couple of really great beers came my way.

At each bar I visited, I first scanned for local wines, and finding none, asked about local brews. It was surprising to me just how many bartenders in the Wilkes-Barre area don't seem very well-versed in either. The wine I understand. It’s fairly hit-and-miss with Pennsylvania wines. But Wilkes-Barre, Scranton - those are beer towns. A little knowledge about the wealth of great craft brews in your area is not a lot to expect from a barkeep.

Nimble Hill Vineyard and Winery in Tunkhannock, PA makes beer as well as wine. Their beer is so good, I'm sorry I didn't have the chance to sample their wines. Their Hop Bottom IPA has a nice medium brown color and the one-finger head holds nicely and laces well. It has a great hoppy flavor with slightly bitter finish, right up my beer alley. I ordered this winner at Bar Louie in the Mohegan Sun Casino in Wilkes-Barre.

Susquehanna Brewing Company's Hopfive IPA was a staple each evening at the hotel where we stayed. It was at that tiny lobby bar where we discovered a stray relative of my wife who happened to be working there. That sort of thing never happens in my tiny family. Thanks for the SBCs, Barbara, and we'll see you next trip!
The Hopfive IPA is caramel colored and has a floral, citrusy nose and a refreshing palate. A rather low head shows only slight lace on the sides of the glass. It employs five different kinds of hops. For the true beer geeks, they are Bravo, Willamette, Mount Hood, English Progress, and as-harvested whole-cone Liberty Hops.

The brewery is in Pittston, PA. My wife and I have been to Pittston for a tomato festival, or some such exotic event. We were shocked when one of her friends who lives in the area told us that Pittston is now "fabulous" after some sort of gentrification makeover. If the beer is any indication of the town, "fabulous" is a pretty fair description.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Eclectic Wine From Oregon's Applegate Valley

The unusual name of this Oregon label is a literary nod to James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans," which does not refer to 2:00 a.m. in your favorite beach bar. That’s the last of the Mojitos, and it came along much later.

Cooper's hunter hero, Natty Bumppo, is also known as Hawkeye.  Further, he is also known as La Longue Carabine, or "the long rifle." He is from civilization, but prefers the wilds. He holds Indians as his closest companions, but has no Indian blood. He is eclectic, drawing from different cultures that which suits him best.

This wine also pulls disparate influences together in a fine blend. A whiff of Sicily disguises that southern Rhône feeling with the grape varieties showing the lawlessness of the frontier. The wild-eyed mix has roughly equal parts Vermentino, Viognier and Marsanne, with a swish of Roussanne thrown in.

from Michael Mann's "The Last of the Mohicans"
Troon general manager Craig Camp calls the cofermented wine "exotic," and says the grapes find "their distinctive highlights in the expansive aromatics and rich texture." And it’s all from Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyard and Oregon. It has only 12.5% abv and sells for $34 at their tasting rooms.

The 2014 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley is an appealing, golden straw colored wine that offers a great white wine nose of honeyed apricot, Meyer lemon and stones in a stream. The minerality of southern Oregon comes through strongly on the palate, and the acidity is positively bracing. There is a hint of the seashore in this wine, unusual since it grew near the mountains, not the coast. The finish is crisp and juicy. The grapes perfectly display the civilization of their heritage against the wildness of their home.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Pennsylvania Wine: At The Casino

We put off the wine vacation in favor of seeing family. Sometimes, the family is taken better with a gulp or two of some emotional lubrication, but we didn't require too much on this trip. Anyway, I can make any vacation a wine vacation. There's always a way.

We had a vacation, the wife and I, and we spent it in lovely Pennsylvania. The mountains and forests in the northeastern part of the state - and other parts, too - are gorgeous, even if most of those living there don't know how good they have it. People, you can park in front of the business into which you need to go. Cherish that!

Crossing Vineyards has a tasting room in the Mohegan Sun Casino. If you think about it, it's a great place for good wine. You can't gamble all the time, although I know some people who would disagree with that. The Crossing Vineyards Wine and Cheese shop offers full tastings, which I have had before. this time I opted for a glass of something inviting.

The Chambourcin Reserve 2013 is billed as a "Zinfandel style red wine." It certainly features a savory nose full of spices and Pennsylvania dirt. The palate is dark and silky with a hint of cola and coffee. It reminds me more of a big California Pinot Noir than Zinfandel.

The Crossing Vineyards Cabernet Franc Rosě 2014 shows a deep red color and smells of sweet cherries with herbal hints. It's not as dry as advertised, but maybe for local tastes it is.

A young woman was at the bar with an entire entourage waiting on her to finish a glass of her beloved, sweet, peach wine. She was obviously "worth waiting for," even though no one else in her adoring group would join her in a glass of vino. She effused about her selection to me, and cheerily asked if I like sweet wine, too. "Tonight I do."

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Resonating Pinot Noir

Does wine resonate? If we mean does it "produce a deep, full reverberating sound," no. At least mine doesn't. But if we mean does it “evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions, yes. If we mean does it "meet with someone's agreement," it sure does around here.

Résonance is French winemaker Louis Jadot's first foray outside of Burgundy. It's way outside of Burgundy. In fact, it's in Oregon's Yamhill-Carlton region. The Resonance vineyard is full of Pinot Noir vines that were stuck in the ground in 1981. This single-vineyard wine hails from Oregon, but has enough Burgundian influence to make you think it took French in high school. It evokes images of Burgundy.

The Résonance Pinot Noir is medium-dark and sweet smelling. The dark plum and raspberry aromas carry a lovely influence of oak barrels and black tea. The palate is full and features mainly plum with hints of coffee and tea. It's not particularly big, or muscular. There is more of a savory aspect that wants to shine through. On the second night the bottle was open, a sense of tar began to creep in but the tannic structure stayed firm. The wine has a reasonable 13% abv number and a zippy acidity.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Picnic Wine: Jean-Michel Sorbe From Quincy

The Quincy AOC of France's Loire Valley is strictly for white wines. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes were brought to the region by monks about a thousand years ago. The village is actually located on the Cher River, which feeds into the Loire. Sancerre is close by, and so is Pouilly-Fumé, so you get the idea.

Quincy - it rhymes with "Nancy", not the TV coroner - has been an AOC longer than any region except Châteuneuf-du-Pape. World War II interrupted viticulture in the region as the Cher River was a natural barrier between occupied and unoccupied France.  As a result, most of the vineyards were abandoned and not replanted until the 1980s.

Jean Michel Sorbe

It's all Sauvignon Blanc, as is customary in Quincy. It’s as fragrant as a citrus tree, too, which also seems to be a hallmark of the region. The pale wine has a nose full of lemons and limes, with a sweet floral element to balance it. Old world Sauvignon is just amazing, with so much to offer. Tons of minerality on the palate, and a softness there as well that seems almost contradictory. The acidity makes things totally refreshing and also makes one want a plate of crabs, or lobster. An avocado salad would fit nicely in the scheme of things as well.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Liar's Dice" Zinfandel Sonoma County Wine

"Liar's Dice" is a game played with five dice in a cup. It sounds like it should be played while drinking, because if it’s not, it’s called Yahtzee. It could also be played as dice poker, but really, that’s just not cool. Get a deck of cards.

Murphy Goode's 2013 Liar's Dice Zinfandel was conceived, so the website says, by co-founder Tim Murphy. There were many games of Liar's Dice played while brainstorming this beverage in the one-horse Sonoma County town of Geyserville. One horse, but, like, 37 wineries. Geyserville is actually still waiting for their “cool” status. All the "cool" in the area is currently sucked up by Healdsburg a bit down the road. But Geyserville is cool enough for me, as some really good grapes are grown there.

There is nearly a full dice cup of Sonoma County Zinfandel here, 96%, with the remainder being beefed up by Petite Sirah. Winemaker David Ready Jr. has been head man in the cellar for about 15 years, so he knows his way around the barrels. The wine is a full-throated 15.4% abv and sells for $21.

It's medium dark in the glass and has a gorgeous nose, ripe and spicy. The expected vanilla and clove notes are met with brambly hints of coriander and allspice. On the palate, it's big and bouncy with rollicking cherry and cola flavors rolling over a blackberry base. Cinnamon, cardamom and a nice package of herbs nudge this wine in a savory direction, but it stays closer to the fruity side. Big tannins here, so bring tri-tip.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Napa "Super Tuscan" Blend

Castello di Amorosa is a Napa Valley wine attraction. Not only do they make some really stunning wines there, but they disguise their facility as a castle. Actually, it is a castle, a real one from Italy reassembled stone by stone in another land of vines far away. Getting thrown in the dungeon there isn't really a very good punishment. That's where I hear they keep the wine.

The back label declares La Castellana to mean "the wife of the Lord and Master of the castle," who is responsible - among other things - for putting a great bottle of wine on the table. When wine is made at the castle, it's not that difficult to do. "Hmm. This one has my name on it. We shall have it tonight!" It’s an Italian knockoff, even wearing the name Super Tuscan, owing to its makeup of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Sangiovese and 9% Merlot.

The dark 2012 La Castellana Super Tuscan Napa Valley Red Wine - very dark - has aromas to match. The gorgeous nose wafts up from the glass with so much to offer, you might miss the beautiful black plum and blueberry notes. There’s also a hatful of spice and coffee and mocha and vanilla rising. Oh, and don't forget the tobacco and the little smear of tar that drags it all into savory land. On the palate, big, bold fruit blasts forward in a hail of tannins. Be sure to let it air out a good while and have some big, bold, red meat standing by to give those angry tannins something to work on. The blackberry flavors are most pronounced, but they wear a cedar-tinged cloak which is lined with a rack of spices. This is a steakhouse wine, to be sure. An Italian steakhouse. In the Napa Valley.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Picnic Wine: Quincy, Loire Valley

The Quincy AOC of France’s Loire Valley is strictly for white wines. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes were brought to the region by monks about a thousand years ago. The village is actually located on the Cher River, which feeds into the Loire. Sancerre is close by, and so is Pouilly-Fumé, so you get the idea.

Quincy - it rhymes with "Nancy", not the TV coroner - has been an AOC longer than any region except Châteuneuf-du-Pape. World War II interrupted viticulture in the region as the Cher River was a natural barrier between occupied and unoccupied France.  As a result, most of the vineyards were abandoned and not replanted until the 1980s.

Domaine Sylvain Bailly also makes wine from nearby Sancerre. Their Quincy vines are eleven years old, on average.

Domaine Sylvain Bailly Beaucharme  2015

The nose on this white wine is beautiful. Meyer lemon and a sweet soapy essence are in front, with a sneaky lime note coming in beneath. The palate is zippy and fresh, with that same beautiful, soft lemon and lime notes and a full mouthfeel that’s borderline creamy.

With an alcohol number of 12.5% abv, this Quincy wine is drinkable and easy going. It pairs well with oysters, as it should, but it's also ready for a shrimp cocktail or crab Louie.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Picnic Wine: Quincy, Loire Valley

The Quincy AOC of France’s Loire Valley is strictly for white wines. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes were brought to the region by monks about a thousand years ago. The village is actually located on the Cher River, which feeds into the Loire. Sancerre is close by, and so is Pouilly-Fumé, so you get the idea. It's a pretty good neighborhood.

Quincy - it rhymes with "Nancy", not the TV coroner - has been an AOC longer than any region except Châteuneuf-du-Pape. World War II interrupted viticulture in the region as the Cher River was a natural barrier between occupied and unoccupied France.  As a result, most of the vineyards were reportedly abandoned and not replanted until the 1980s.

Image from Polaner Selections
Domaine de Villalin Quincy Sauvignon Blanc 2015

The distributor says wife Maryline and husband Jean-Jacques Smith farm organically and still harvest completely by hand, a rarity in this region. You may also catch them working the vineyard behind a horse-drawn plow.

This Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc has fresh lime notes all over the nose, with a slight herbal tinge and an earthy side. The acidity, or level of freshness, is brisk and refreshing. The full mouthfeel is rich, though, and the citrus comes through just as strongly as it does on the nose. It's a little bit peppery, too, which adds to its food-friendliness.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Wine Country Oregon: Troon Zinfandel

You may have noticed, like I did, that Craig Camp has moved. The longtime partner in Napa Valley’s Cornerstone Wines is pursuing his "vision of winemaking" in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon at Troon Vineyard. He wholeheartedly touts Troon’s "natural wines from this unique terroir."

Camp reports that the Troon property was planted in 1972 by Dick Troon, so the roots go deep. He also says that winemaker Steve Hall was a recent hire - two years ago - and that the team is looking ahead with vision. Camp knows a thing or two about terroir, and he wastes no time in lauding Troon’s "high-altitude, granitic soils" of their "benchland vineyards high above the Applegate River."

Camp compares this Oregon Zinfandel to a Côtes du Rhône for its value and simple pleasures. He says, "One of the great failures of the American wine industry is that most wines under $20 are boring industrial wines." He feels European wines offer better value for the price.

He calls Troon's Red Label Zinfandel, Applegate Valley 2014 "Zesty and full of brambly zinfandel fruit," and says it "is quite distinct from most California versions. Burgers, pizza and sausages are just waiting for this zinfandel." And at $18, it stays under the $20 barrier. Winemaker Hall says there is a tiny dollop of Carignane in the mix and, once co-fermented, they aged in French oak for nine months. Just over 500 cases were made.

Vineyard image from Troon
As a big fan of Zinfandel, typically a California grape, I was excited to try the Oregon version. It strikes me as a little tamer, a little less rowdy, but just as fruity and spicy as the Golden State variety. It’s a dark ruby wine purpling at the rim and smelling of black cherry and raspberry, with a memory of holiday pies cooking. A touch of nutmeg and cinnamon is always a welcome aroma. The wine sits well in the mouth, full and rich and not too tannic. Fruit forward but not simplistic, it shows an almost Cab-like elegance but carries a playful palate at its heart. The spices really come out in the flavor profile with a mineral-laced earth note that I imagine to be the expression of the cooler climate, as well as the dirt. There's a lot of "black" in here, but it's lightened by a touch of "red."

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