Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Get to Know Albariño from Rias Baixas

With vibrant acidity, fresh fruit, and lots of oceanic and floral tones, Albariño is such a great wine for summer. And Spain’s Rias Baixas region is where to go to find the good stuff.

Located across the Miño River from Portugal, this coastal area of Galicia produces almost exclusively white wines. Albariño is king, with other local white varieties mixed in like Caino and Loureiro. I love the distinct oceanic elements (like sea breeze, sea salt and crushed shells) that I find in a lot of wines from this area. Tasting a good one makes me think of sitting by the ocean (my happy place) — and the price points make me happy as well.

Here in the States, I’ve seen a steadily increasing range of Rias Baixas wines. For years, the same few brands produced reliable, but not necessarily exciting wines. But I’m convinced that Rias Baixas Albariño can be far more than fun, relatively inexpensive summer whites. They can be “serious wines.”

Last week, I poured a bunch of wines, including three Rias Baixas Albariños, at a charity fundraising event. The crowd, with varying levels of wine knowledge, loved these crisp, zesty whites, and several people told me this would be there go-to grape when they want to branch out from drinking Sauvignon Blanc.

I recently received a bunch of Rias Baixas and found solid quality across the board, with a few standouts that far over-deliver for the price. These wines were received as samples and tasted single-blind.

2017 Terras Gauda Rías Baixas O Rosal - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, O Rosal 
SRP: $24
Rich yellow color. Gorgeous aromatics of sea breeze, salted almond, lemon curd, some creamy-deeper aromas of whipped honey and tropical flowers as well. Texture is lovely, there’s so much depth on the palate while the acid rips across the palate and keeps it fresh. Lime, orange pulp, tart green apple, lemon crème, the fruit is tossed with saline, mineral, some interesting raw olive and almond notes. Love the complexity here, and the balance, my favorite of the lot. This Albariño includes 20% Caino and 10% Loureiro. (92 points)

2017 Adegas Valmiñor Albariño - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, O Rosal
SRP: $19
Light yellow color. Nose shows orange blossoms, dandelion, along with lemon zest, pineapple, green apples. Bright and so focused with apricots and green apple fruit. Honeysuckle and slate notes, with a mineral-chalky finish. Depth is impressive. (88 points)

2017 Bodegas Altos de Torona Albariño - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, O Rosal
SRP: $20
Light yellow color with a slight fizz. Bright notes of sea spray, oyster shell, lemon-lime, pineapple. Crisp and loaded with oceanic and mineral notes, an intriguing texture with some punch to it. Orange peel, lemon zest, with oyster shell and breezy floral tones. This is complex, vibrant, lip-smacking stuff. (90 points)

2016 Adegas Galegas S.L. Albariño Don Pedro de Soutomaior - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, O Rosal
SRP: $19
Vibrant yellow. Nose of oranges and limes, green apple, cut floral stems, chalky, saline notes. Lovely precision, gorgeous acidity, rich textural depth, with apricots, melon rind, green apples. A salty, cut flower stem complexity, with salted almond and a unique candle wax note. Complex, interesting, dynamic. (90 points)

2017 Terra de Asorei Rías Baixas Nai e Señora - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, Val do Salnés
SRP: $16
Pale yellow color. Aromas of peaches and green apple, pineapple, sea breeze and yellow flowers. Bright and so zippy on the palate but there’s a real richness here as well. Tart lemon and pineapple fruit with a seawater and mountain stream combo that is really nice. (89 points)

2017 Adega Paco & Lola Albariño - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, Val do Salnés
SRP: $22
Pale yellow color. Nose of yellow flowers, dandelion, honeysuckle, apricot, white peaches, lime. Super zippy on the palate this is one of the saltiest ones (which I love), with sea salt and ocean spray on top of lemon and pineapple. Some underlying floral and mineral complexity. Balanced nicely, quite complex. (90 points)

2017 Pazo de Señoráns Albariño - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, Val do Salnés 
SRP: $25
Bright light yellow color. Aromas of guava, lemon-lime, with honeysuckle, white pepper, saline and chalk dust. Textural depth, zesty acidity, I love the complex saline, oyster shell, raw almond, sea breeze notes. Grapefruit, lime, nectarine fruit along with honey notes. The depth, balance and complexity here is really impressive – this one stood out strongly. (91 points)

2016 Adega Condes de Albarei Albariño - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, Val do Salnés
SRP: $15
Rich yellow color. Green apples and lemons on the nose with floral perfume and lots of sea salt. So crisp and lively on the palate on a medium-bodied frame. Tart green apples, lemons, some pineapple, along with cut flowers and sea spray. Pure and crisp and tart, but not simple, this sports significant depth and complexity. (89 points)

2017 Bodegas As Laxas Albariño - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, Condado do Tea
SRP: $18
Pale yellow color. Aromas of peaches, green apples and limes, along with sea spray and yellow flowers. Medium-bodied, clean and zesty, with green apples, apricots and lime. Notes of honeysuckle, lilies, sea salt, with a dry, mineral-infused finish. (87 points)

2017 Señorío de Rubiós Robalino - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas, Condado do Tea
SRP: $18
Medium yellow color. Aromas of whipped honey, floral tea, more tropical and rich in its approach with pineapple and floral tea. Crisp acid frames the palate, but there’s some nice textural depth here. Pineapple, limes, orange zest, with notes of clean laundry, floral perfume, salty-airy notes, lingering mineral presence. Lovely complexity here. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Wine Book Review: "Wine, the Romans and Me" by Nina Caplan

It’s hard to imagine what the “Old World” wine maps would look like today had the Roman Empire never existed. So many lives, cultures, religions, and independent groups of people were crushed under the heel of Rome — but vineyards and wine spread out to almost all corners of Rome’s reach.  

To cover the entire history of vineyard expansion under Roman rule would be a daunting task, and likely result in a heavy read. Luckily, Nina Caplan’s travel and wine memoir , “The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me,” is a joy to read.  

In the introduction, Caplan says her goal is to trace the path of the Romans, “back from England to France, Spain and Italy… an attempt to understand how they conquered the world through wine, and to look at some of the more unlikely consequences of that conquest.” She manages to weave together historical and modern wine stories expertly. Caplan travels from her home of England to Champagne, to Burgundy, to the Rhone, to Provence. She covers lots of Spanish and Italian regions (Barcelona, Tarragona, Seville, Palermo, Naples), and finishes up in Rome.  

The story of wine, like the story of people, Caplan writes, is a story of displacement, of constant movement and adaptation. “How much duller our dinner tables would be if people and vines had ever learned to stay still!” she proclaims. “If we are lucky enough to happen on the right soil and left to inhabit it peacefully, we can root ourselves and flourish, to the benefit of all.”  

Everywhere Caplan goes, she looks for historical traces of the Jewish people who once inhabited the specific area she is exploring. She incorporates Jewish history, and their connection to the particular area’s wine and vines, searching for remnants and finding common themes of oppression, expulsion, and forced conversion by Christians. I found these aspects of the book the most fascinating, as I feel many of these important stories are overlooked in the history of the Roman Empire.  

Her writing style is playful yet precise, poetic with dashes of an academic historian. And her book is littered with little nuggets of wisdom and joyful proclamations: “We must live our lives, and honour with wine and with every sense at our disposal the roots and stems from which we sprang, taking our encounters, with the living and the dead, as we find them. Nothing – not grapes nor shades nor stories – is entirely irrecoverable…”  

I think this book could appeal to serious wine geeks by adding a bit of historical context to regions we’re all quite familiar with. For casual wine fans and lovers of travel, this is an accessible and pleasant read that would pair perfectly with a sunny beach and, preferably, a chilled glass of wine.  

Available now
$25, hardback
Bloomsbury Publishing

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Alentejo's Amphora Wines: an Ancient Tradition in Renewal

Wines aging in talha, Alentejo's amphora, at Herdade de Rocim.
With rolled eyes, several Alentejo winemakers joked with me about the reputation they think many Americans have about their wines: They’re red, they’re high in alcohol, and they’re doused with too much oak. While I did get my palate pleasantly pounded by a brutal 16.5% red aged in all new oak, for the most part, this reputation (if it was once somewhat accurate), is undeserved.

Case in point: the talha wines from this region of southern Portugal. Talha is the Portuguese term for clay fermentation pots, also known by their Greco-Roman name amphora. And in Altentejo the talha tradition runs deep — 2,000 years, to the days of the Roman Empire. Except for Georgia (where using open-topped clay pots is a much older custom), Alentejo is the only region in the world with such a long history of producing wines this way.

On a recent trip, sponsored by Wines of Alentejo, I dug deep into the Alentejo wine culture and found an exciting mix of ancient practices and modern innovation. A new generation of winemakers is keeping this history alive, while adding their own signature. Over the course of a week, I tasted tons of wines, and, far and away, I was most thrilled with the talha wines, or vinhas da talha.

In the glass, generally speaking, I get bright and floral aromas, which can be shocking complex, inviting, and pleasantly different. The flavor profile of the grapes (usually blends) shines through wonderfully, unhindered by any toast or oak influences. The alcohol levels are frequently around 12-13%. But the texture is what really gets me excited: smooth, fresh, sometimes slightly dusty, always unique and hard to describe (although I’ve tried in my tasting notes)

Authenticity and identity

When asked why continuing to produce wines this way is so important in the region, Joao Barroso, Wines of Alentejo’s sustainability manager, said, “It’s about the authenticity of the culture.” The more time I spent there, the more I felt, and fell in love with, this authentic wine culture.

When I asked Herdade d0 Rocim’s winemaker Vania Guibarra the same question, she said, “It’s about our identity.” She produces a white and red wine fermented in amphorae, after being crushed by foot in marble vats (called lagares), which are common in a region with active marble quarries. Generally speaking, her amphorae hold between 900 and 1,000 liters of wine, although each individual clay pot is unique in size and shape. She also ages portions of the wine for longer in smaller pots (about 140 liters), a method I found utilized by several other wineries in Alentejo.

When I tasted Vania’s white, a field blend of co-fermented indigenous Portuguese varieties, I was floored and began ranting to her about the wine’s uniqueness, freshness, and downright deliciousness. It was the first stop on my trip, and I didn’t have much luggage space, but I had to buy a bottle to bring home. Her red also impressed me, and words like “breezy,” “airy,” and “vibrant!” litter my notebook — not terms I’m used to using with red wines.
Amphorae sleeping in Adega Jose de Sousa's cellar.

Paulo Amaral of Adega Jose de Sousa
Paulo Amaral, winemaker at Adega José de Sousa and total talha guru, has one of the most extensive programs in Alentejo. His cellar has a collection of 114 talhas, which were made in the 1870s, along with several broken ones which he hasn’t moved. On a visit to his winery, Paulo set up a ladder, climbed up, and opened the top of one of his clay pots. On top of the wine floated a half-inch layer of olive oil, which he uses to protect the wine underneath from too much oxygen. He invited me to stick my hand in and taste (which, of course, I did without hesitation). The oil was doing its job, as it was highly oxidized, and licking this oil and wine mixture off my fingers was an interesting aesthetic experience for sure.

Making the wines

Talha wines have many of the qualities of so-called natural wines, loved by so-called hipsters — minimalist intervention winemaking, wild yeast fermentation, no oak, lower alcohol, and they’re commonly made from indigenous grape varieties.

Regular people all over Alentejo ferment their own house wine in amphorae, and taverns sell it straight from the talha. Yes, this method results in some flawed wines — I tasted two tavern wines that were seriously troubled. I’m sure many people make wonderful house wine in amphorae, but I can only speak of the professional vintners whose wines I tasted, winemakers who take this process, and its regional history, seriously, while producing pristine, fascinating and unique wines.

The Talha DOC (created in 2012) is a quirky appellation, regulating different aspects of this clay pot fermentation process. For example, each vintage cannot be removed from the pots before November 11 (St. Martin’s Day, a traditional wine-fueled celebration), although many winemakers hold their wines for much longer.

David Baverstock shows how to punch down
the grape cap on a fermenting talha wine.
Amphora fermentation is a labor-intensive endeavor. Twice a day, winemakers use a wooden tool to punch down the grape cap that floats to the top of the pot, or else the carbon dioxide from fermentation will cause the clay to burst. A winemaker at one facility I visited told me, from her own experience, missing a punch-down can cause a dangerous and messy explosion. Over time, the grape solids settle to the bottom, and when the talha is drained from a hole near the bottom, the wine gets something like a natural filtration.

The inside of the pots are usually lined with wax, which is applied by warming the interior of an upside-down talha, pouring in melted wax, and rolling the large pot around on its side until the wax hardens. This process is usually done once every 15 years or so, and can be repeated for the life of the pot. How long do they last? Several winemakers are still using 150- to 200-year-old pots, while Alentejo is home to some pots that are 500 years old.

Convention and experimentation

Cortes de Cima, a winery known for first planting Syrah against the appellation rules, is one of several well-known wineries that embraces the Alentejo tradition of amphora fermentation. The winery was founded by Hans Jorgensen (a Dane) and his wife Carrie (a Californian) in the late 80s. Anna, the couple’s young daughter and a vintner in her own right, takes pride in using the same method that local villagers have used for thousands of years. “These are our garagistes,” she said. Remarking on the increased attention amphora wines have received in recent years, she added, “It’s not hipster here. It’s how it’s always been done.”

For a winery known for surreptitiously producing Syrah, it’s perhaps not surprising that Cortes de Cima also does amphora wine a bit differently. The Jorgensens don’t line their vessels. Anna told me unlined vessels allow their wines to better engage with small amounts of oxygen through the porous clay. She said this helps lift the wine’s aromas and softens any rough edges.

In the cellar, she pointed to a small amphorae (about 150 liters), whose exterior is crusted and discolored with dried wine. A small puddle of wine had collected underneath the container. “This,” she said, “is the essence of what we do with these vessels.”

At first, I was skeptical, but the essence she spoke of is evident in the glass. Their 2015 Amphora was one of the most airy and elegant wines I tasted in Alentejo, with floral and red fruited aromas that pop. I wrote “textural freshness!” in my notebook and underlined it several times.

Paulo (of Adega José de Sousa) also riffs on the ancient method in his own way. In addition to bottling a white blend and a red blend, he uses portions of talha-fermented wines to blend in with other wine that have been fermented in concrete vats and aged in oak and old chestnut barrels. While not the clearest example of amphora-fermented wine, they’re both fascinating wines, and the amphora wine adds brighter notes to the more concentrated, barrel-aged wines.

Even the region’s powerhouse producer, Esporão, who produces 15 million bottles of wine a year, uses talhas. Winemaker David Baverstock said he produces about 3,000 liters of amphora wine annually, but hopes to increase production to 10,000 liters. It’s a drop in the bucket in terms of total output, but it sends a signal: talha production is important, and worth sustaining. “It’s a nice mix of old and new technology here,” David said.

Keeping tradition alive

Antonio Rocha, the first person to make these talha in Alentejo in 50 years, crafts each of these amphora by hand, layer by layer.
For almost 2,000 years winemakers sourced their amphorae from local craftspeople. Talk about sustainable — the region is rich in clay soils and the finished product can be used by local winemakers for hundreds of years, potentially. But, some 50 years ago, the last talha producer died off, and so did the local knowledge. And I was told there’s only one craftsman in the region who still professionally lines talhas with wax.

But Alentejo producers have kept the tradition going, trading talhas amongst themselves, purchasing them from other regions. I spoke with several winemakers who bought their talhas from Italy, and one (in a shock to me) said he bought his from a potter in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Antonio Rocha is looking to change this dynamic. The 56-year-old built a career in construction, until the industry tanked, and he was forced to reinvent himself. In 2017, he formed Telheiro Artesenal, and he became the first person in Altentejo in a half-century to build new 1,000-liter talhas.

Antonio Rocha in his workshop.
There was no one to teach him, so he learned by doing, using his hands and a small putty knife. It’s a one-man show, and Antonio produces ten talhas at a time, layer by layer. Each layer has to dry before the next is built on top, so the process takes four months. Then, he fires the clay in an underground kiln, which he built, of course, by hand. Antonio sold his first batch of talhas to a museum, but he said demand from wineries far surpasses supply. He said he hopes to get some cultural preservation funding from the European Union to help him keep this project going, and perhaps expand.

Many of the talha wines I tasted and enjoyed on my trip can be found in the United States, although most are made in small amounts. The price ranges are attractive considering the quality, and many of the wines I tasted cost about $20, while some range to $40 or so. They’re exciting, dynamic wines that I personally would love to see on more restaurant lists or by-the-glass lists at wine bars. Georgian amphora wines have seen exponentially large attention from U.S. consumers over the last decade. While Alentejo wines are a smaller category, the quality is there, and the wines scream of tradition, excitement, deliciousness, value. I think the next decade could be a very bright one for Alentejo amphora wines.

Below are some of the best talha wines I tasted on my trip, all of which were tasted sighted with the producers. I’ve included price estimates from U.S. importers when available.

2016 Herdade do Rocim Amphora Branco
Pretty deep yellow color. Wow, so breezy on the nose yet deep, with oranges, salted lime, almond, green olive. Brisk on the palate but rich texture, lovely smoothness, and flavors of oranges and apricot. Complex elements of almond, sea salt, olive, honeycomb. This is a field blend of white varieties from 50- to 60-year-old vines, and it is something to behold. A blend of Antão Vaz, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha and Manteúd. (91 points)

2016 Herdade do Rocim Amphora Tinto
Airy and bright on the nose, inviting, fresh, lively, with red fruits, roses and pepper. Brisk and fresh on the palate with medium tannins, combining for a tangy but smooth feel to this wine. Lovely red cherries, spiced tea and pepper. A co-fermented field lend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Moreto and Tinta Grossa. (91 points)

2015 Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged

Deep color. Nose of blackberries, plums, blueberry, pepper, the fruit is dark but the wine smells so bright. Velvety on the palate, freshness reigns supreme, but tannins provide serious guts to the wine. Plums, blackberry, berry compote, a velvety and gorgeous mouthfeel supports the fruit. Smoke, pepper, earth, clove and tobacco. Beautiful stuff that will age for a long time. Crushed in marble lagares, aged in 140-liter amphorae. (92 points)

2015 Cortes de Cima Amphora
Aromas of warm cherries, raspberries, plums, with lifted floral tones and spiced tea. So silky on the palate despite the tannic structure, this is also a fresh and bright wine. Plums, raspberries and black cherries, the fruit is laced with warm spices, earth. Texturally intriguing and so fresh and inviting. Aragonez, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira aged 14 months in amphora. (91 points)

2017 Susana Esteban Procura Amphora Branco

Clay sample. This unfinished wine is awesome. Brisk and floral aromas on the nose with apricot and lemon pith. The palate is bright and tangy but shows an earthy, waxy depth with flavors of almond and spiced white tea. Intriguing and delicious. (91 points)

2017 Adega Cooperativa de Borba Vinho de Talha Tinto

So floral and bright on the nose with red berries, roses and rhubarb. Fresh, silky, gorgeous on the palate, this is 13.5% alcohol with dusty tannins and refreshing acidity. Strawberries and raspberries, topped with dried roses, dusty earth and fresh rhubarb. Crisp, mineral-driven finish. (91 points)

2015 Adega José de Sousa Puro Talha Branco

A medium orange color. Smells of candle wax, candied orange and lemon pith. 11.5% alcohol on the palate, but the texture is deep and plush, hints of tannin (whole cluster fermentation here), with bright acidity that keeps the wine moving. Lemon pith, orange peel, apricot pit, the fruit is topped in seriously complex notes of mushroom broth, green tea leaves, honeyed tea, candle wax, and dusty minerals. Complex, nerdy but so, so delicious. Wow. (93 points)

2015 Adega José de Sousa Puro Talha Tinto

So floral on the nose, with complex roses, violets, black tea and incense sticks on top of raspberries and red apple peel. Crisp and lip-smacking on the palate, tannins provide structure but have rounded edges, and I get crunchy raspberries and red apple peel. Notes of leather, incense, earth and clay, warm spice, complex elements of mushroom and savory broth. Gorgeous, such precision and balance, I’d love to age this for five to ten years. Fascinating, special, delicious. (94 points)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Wine Reviews: International Grab bag

A lot of the wine samples I receive don’t fit neatly into a thematic whole — hence this week’s “grab bag” collection of wines. Some goodies in here to highlight, though!

Nobilo’s widely-available Marlborough wines make another appearance, delivering accessible, tasty wines that are a good first step into New Zealand. A few California Pinots from 2016 entice, while Southern Oregon’s Troon Vineyard delivers yet again with some serious reds from Applegate Valley.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Bodega Colomé High Elevation Vineyards - Argentina, Salta
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Rich and lush aromas of plums, blackberries, blueberries, along with violets, loamy soil and graphite. Full-bodied with smooth but structured tannins and fresh acidity. Lovely depth and balance with rich but tangy fruit (blackberry, blueberry, dark plums). Complex earthy, loamy notes with graphite, mineral, iron, coffee and cedar. All Malbec aged 15 months in French oak. From vineyards that range in elevation from 5,700 feet to a staggering 10,200 feet. Gorgeous now but can cellar for at least a few years. (90 points)

2017 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $13
Light lemon colored. Bright aromas of lemon pepper seasoning, jalapenos, cut flower stems, along with lemons and green apples. Bright acidity on a light/medium-bodied frame, with lemon crème, green apples, orange peel, topped with cucumber slices, lemongrass and honeysuckle. Always a reliable, tasty introduction to Marlborough Sauv Blanc, and good for the price. (86 points)

2017 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Icon - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Pale lemon color. Aromas of green apples, grapefruit, lemon, along with spicy green herbs and cucumber slices. Crisp and lively on the palate with tangy acidity on a medium-bodied frame. Flavors of green apple and grapefruit blend well with lemongrass, cucumber slices, notes of mineral and sea salt. A bit deeper and more complex than the regular bottling. (87 points)

2015 Nobilo Pinot Noir Icon Marlborough - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Deep ruby color. Nose shows black cherries and wild raspberries, with an interesting mix of sage, rhubarb, red pepper flakes, roses and coffee. Zesty acid on the palate with a fresh approach and light tannins. Spicy red currants and strawberries, some black cherries, I also get notes of spiced tea, roses, clove and rhubarb. Delicious, quite complex for the price, a fun, early-drinking Pinot. (88 points)

2016 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir Morning Dew RanchUSA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $75
Light purple color. Inviting aromas of plums, kirsch, sweet cherries, rhubarb, cola, lightly roasted coffee. Full-bodied on the palate, nicely structured with medium tannins and acidity. Juicy and fruity with black cherries, dark plums, jammy raspberries, saucy but shows a lot of complexity in the form of cola, violets, clove, sarsaparilla, and an earthy/pine resin notes. Rich and forward but well-done. 13.9% alcohol, aged 10 months in French oak. (91 points)

2016 FEL Pinot NoirUSA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
Deep ruby color. Pretty aromatic display of lavender, roses, eucalyptus on top of tart red currants and juicy black cherries. Full-bodied, super juicy, with structured but plush tannins and refreshing acidity. Dark yet tart cherries and currant fruit, mixed well with elements of spiced tea, cola, rhubarb, violets, pine needle and forest floor notes. Big but vibrant, with a cool mineral streak that lingers on the finish. I’d hold this for a year or two and let it open up, but a very pretty Anderson Pinot. (91 points)

2015 Troon Vineyard Tannat Kubli BenchUSA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Aromas of plums, black cherries, dark currants, along with loam, anise, violets, clove and leather – really complex. Solid grip on the tannins, the zesty acidity is glorious. I get tart black cherries and currants along with leather, coffee, violets. All wrapped up in a serious, structured but fresh wine that should age wonderfully. Another beautiful Applegate Valley wine from Troon. Includes 4% Tempranillo. (92 points)

2015 Troon Vineyard M*T ReserveUSA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $50
Rich purple color. Dark aromas of black cherries, blueberries and cassis, with violets, pencil lead, scorched earth and violets. Serious grip but fresh acidity, the balance is wonderful with the tart blackberry and cassis fruit. Notes of pepper, clove, grilled herbs, iron, pencil lead and violets. Elegant yet so complex, this will age wonderfully. 52% Tannat, 46% Malbec, 2% Tempranillo. (92 points)

N.V. Warre Porto Warrior - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. A nice mix of tart black currant and sweet cherry cake topping, along with vanilla, sweet violets, dark chocolate. Rich texture, sweet and nutty with smooth tannins and medium acidity. Rich currant and cherry fruit mixed with dark chocolate shavings, mesquite chips, notes of cocoa and honeyed black tea. Delicious, accessible Port, and a steal for the price. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terrorist.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Virginia Wine Wows Again with 2018 Governor's Cup Winners

This week, this DC-based guy is sipping locally: Virginia wine. 

For the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of tasting through the top wines from the
Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition. Each year, a group of esteemed judges (led by MW Jay Youmans) taste through hundreds of different Virginia wines, poring through for the best. 

To enter, the wine must be produced from 100% Virginia grapes, and this year, more than 440 wines were entered into the competition. The top 12 are gathered into a case as an example of what Virginia has to offer the wine world. 

Among the 2018 winners, I was quite impressed by two Bordeaux-variety-based reds from The Barns at Hamilton Station. I hadn’t heard of this winery, but was wowed, and pleased to learn the wines were made by French-born turned iconic Virginia winemaker Michael Shaps. Petit Verdot again makes a steady impression, both as a varietal wine and a blending grape. 

Two Viogniers (the 2015 and the 2016) from Virginia really stand out as examples of pure, vibrant, exciting Virginia examples of this grape. And, as usual, some dessert wines wowed the judges.

My notes on the top 12 wines are below. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. 

2015 Jefferson Vineyards Viognier - Virginia
SRP: $35
Pale yellow color. Nose of white peaches, guava, lime, with floral perfume, dandelion, hints of chalky mineral notes. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity, plush texture yet lively throughout. Lemon curd, apricot, white peach, lime, the fruit is mixed in with lemon verbena, peach blossom, floral tea. Complex yet so fresh it goes down easily. Impressive stuff. Includes a combined 9% of Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and Riesling. (89 points)

2016 Jefferson Vineyards Viognier - Virginia
SRP: $30
Pale yellow color. Aromas of white peaches, lime, pineapple, there’s a bright mix of white and yellow flowers with notes of honeycomb and raw almond. Complex textural depth, plush texture but the acidity is crisp, and the balance is lovely. Tart lemon and lime, drizzled on papaya and white peaches, the fruit is laced with notes of chalk dust, white flowers, crushed shells, spiced floral tea. Delicious, just a bit more for me than the 2015, but they’re both excellent. Includes 8% Petit Manseng and 2% Chardonnay. (90 points)

2016 Potomac Point Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Franc - Virginia, Central Virginia
SRP: $43
Light purple color. Lots of tobacco, soy, roasted herbs and tobacco on the nose, with tart red and black cherries. Full-bodied (14.5%) with fleshy tannins, fresh acid, and a core of tart black cherries and plums. Rich, velvety fruit, topped in tobacco leaf, cedar, pencil lead, coffee. Accessible now or hold for a few years. Includes 10% Merlot, the wine is aged 15 months in a mix of new and second-fill French oak. (89 points)

2016 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $55
Light purple color. Rich aromas, mixing black and red currants and cherries, with roasted coffee, sage, tobacco, grilled herbs – lots of complexity in here. Structured tannins on the palate with crisp, lip-smacking acidity, balanced so well with tart red and black currants and plums. Notes of smoky charcoal, anise, black pepper, some olive and leather. Such an impressive Virginia Cab Franc from an excellent producer, this could be cellared for at least a few years, but accessible now. Includes 7% Cabernet and 2% Petit Verdot. (91 points) 

2014 The Barns at Hamilton Station Meritage - Virginia
SRP: $42
Light purple color. Tart red and black currants on the nose, with sage, bell pepper, violets and tobacco. Plush tannins on the palate, but structured, with refreshing acidity. Ripe but tart fruit (red and black currants and cherries). Notes of violets, black pepper, cocoa, mushroom, spicy cedar. A tart, earthy, complex mix of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (89 points)

2014 King Family Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $70
Deep purple color. Boastful fruit on the nose but fresh and tart (black cherry, plums, red currants), with cocoa, eucalyptus, spiced black tea, vanilla, lots of complexity. Crisp acid frames the palate, structured tannins provide support, and I get lots of tart black cherries and plums. Complex notes of pencil shavings, black pepper, smoky charcoal, grilled herbs. Pure, vibrant, long way to go, but this is beautiful. Merlot with 23% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (91 points) 

2015 The Barns at Hamilton Station Petit Verdot - Virginia
SPR: $38
Deep purple color. Dark and rich aromas of roasted blackberries, dark plums, charcoal, violets, roasted coffee, violets, black pepper. Bright acidity draws you in on the palate while strong tannins provide grip. Dark and tangy currants and plums, violets, coffee, charcoal, with notes of roasted herbs and iron, black pepper. Some cedar and anise lingers on the finish. This is a serious Petit Verdot that has real aging potential. Aged 20 months in French oak. (90 points) 

2015 North Gate Vineyard Petit Verdot - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
SRP: $32
Medium purple color. Nose of black cherries, plum cake, tart black currant, with anise, iron, black tea, graphite. On the palate, this shows fresh acidity, the tannic backbone frames the wine well, and there is a lot of tart black currant, smoky blackberries, the balance between the different elements is impressive. Notes of anise, spiced black tea, clove, black pepper, smoky-charcoal. This will age quite nicely for a while, but it’s also accessible in youth. Includes 5% Merlot. (89 points)

2015 Veritas Vineyard Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 7th Edition - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $40
Rich purple color. Deep, big aromas of concentrated blackberries, tart cassis, with eucalyptus, mint, magic marker and some woody-cedar notes. Concentrated and young on the palate with stiff tannins (serious grip) and medium acidity. Blackberry fruit, plum skin, tart cassis, with complex notes of incense sticks, eucalyptus, graphite, anise. This needs a long time in the cellar but the quality is obvious. Includes 10% Merlot, aged 16 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 Early Mountain Vineyards Eluvium - Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $38
Light purple color. Oh wow, on the nose this is something: rich black cherry, cassis, red currant, some charcoal, pencil lead, tobacco smoke, eucalyptus, cedar. On the palate, medium acidity, firm but not harsh tannins, the fruit is juicy and ripe but equally tart (blackberry, tart currant), and mixed with pencil led, pine forest, mint, cedar and coffee grounds. This is downright gorgeous, it’ll be so long-lived but not too brutish in youth. 82% Merlot and 17% Petit Verdot. (91 points)

2014 Barboursville Vineyards Paxxito - Virginia
SRP: $32/375ml
Rich orange color. Gorgeous aromatics of apricot jam, orange marmalade, spiced tea, yellow raisins. The palate is rich and plush and honeyed, but acidity keeps it fresh. Orange marmalade, spiced tea, honeycomb, almond, graham cracker, a hint of floral olive oil. So luscious and sweet yet fresh and spicy. 50% Moscato Ottonel and 50% Vidal. 13.8% alcohol, 14% residual sugar. (90 points) 

2015 CrossKeys Ali d'Oro - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $30/375ml
 Bold golden color. Aromas of orange marmalade, candied apple, apricot jam, with notes of honeyed white tea, candied ginger, almond. Juicy and ripe and plenty sweet but the acidity is moderating in a sense. Apricot and orange jams with glazed peaches, honey and sweet guava nectar. Pure, fruity and fun. A blend of 50% Tranimette and 50% Vidal Blanc, residual sugar about 24%, alcohol 10%. (87 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Summer Sipping Wines Under $20

It’s not officially summer just yet, but it sure feels like it here on the East Coast. And it’s Memorial Day weekend, which means I’ll be grilling, rain or shine. I have been receiving a lot of budget- and summer-friendly wines of late that I wanted to share, so I grouped them together into this report based on several factors.  

Price: I think of summer sippers as those $20 and under bottles that you can pour generously with friends on a summer day. Easy-drinking aesthetic: These are wines that stylistically jive with a picnic, a pool, patio, or beach, wines that don’t require aging, decanting, or much serious thought, yet still provide deliciousness and pleasure. Availability: Most of these wines (some more than others) are quite widely available in markets around the country.  

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  


2017 Trivento Torrontés White Orchid Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Light yellow color. Wow, what an explosive white peach, lychee and guava nectar on the nose, with white flowers. Juicy texture, refreshing acidity, dry and fresh but the fruit is tropical and nectary, with guava, lychee, and ripe white peaches. Notes of honeysuckle, dandelion and other wild flowers. Quite nice for the price. (86 points)  

2017 Concha y Toro Sauvignon Blanc Casillero del Diablo Reserva - Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $12
Pale lemon color. Aromas burst with grapefruit and limes, along with spicy white pepper and sliced jalapenos. Plump white peach fruit, pineapple, limes, a bright white flower and daisy note, along with some whipped honey and some spicy white pepper and cut floral stem notes. Friendly, accessible stuff, and a good value. (85 points) 

2017 Tasca D'Almerita Sicilia Regaleali Bianco - Italy, Sicily, Sicilia
SRP: $11
Lemon colored with aromas of peaches, pineapples, yellow flowers and honey. Crisp throughout but plump with lots of tropical fruit (pineapple, cantaloupe, green melon, drizzled with lime). I get notes of spicy nettles and white pepper, along with some honeyed white tea. Pretty, zesty, crowd-pleasing, this would be a great summer or sushi white, wonderful value here. A blend of Inzolia, Grecanico and Catarratto. (87 points) 

2017 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige - Südtirol
SRP: $18
Pale yellow color. Super peach aromas with guava, limes, notes of dusty limestone and white pepper. Textural depth on the palate is quite nice, crisp but fleshy, with tart lines, pineapples and white peach fruit, generous but tangy. Some stone mineral notes, fresh laundry, and white pepper elements make this a crisp, easy-drinking but solidly complex Pinot Grigio. (88 points) 

2017 Long Shadows Wineries Riesling Nine Hats - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Pale lemon color. Aromas of lemon peel, nectarine, white peach, with a salty, floral perfume combination. Plump texture but refreshing acidity, there’s a nice mixture of tart lemon/lime peel notes with a richer pineapple and mango. Notes of honey, floral potpourri and sea salt. Not too deep, but a perfect dry picnic Riesling that should please a lot of palates. (87 points)

2017 Long Shadows Wineries Pinot Gris Nine Hats - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Light gold color. Nose of daisies, honeysuckle and floral perfume with ripe peaches and pears. Zesty, medium-bodied, a light and fresh appeal with peaches and pineapple flavors. Notes of orange blossoms and lilies. Fun, fresh, fruity, crowd-pleasing stuff. (86 points) 


2017 Tasca D'Almerita Sicilia Regaleali Rosé - Italy, Sicily, Sicilia
SRP: $15
Deep copper color. Nose of nectarines, peaches, apricots, lots of blossoms and spiced white tea, a sea salt note. Punchy and juicy but tangy on the palate with crisp, salty, oceanic influences throughout. Juicy nectarines, blood orange, yellow plums, along with notes of roses and spiced tea. This is delicious rose of Nerello Mascalese, and a total steal at this price. (89 points) 

 2017 Chronic Cellars Pink Pedals - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Rick pink color. Nose shows strawberry jam, watermelon candies, roses, plump and rich on the nose. Rich texture, a juicy and forward pink with watermelon and cherries and raspberries. Notes of roses and cinnamon candies. Forward, punchy style, but well-made and fun. Grenache with 13% Syrah. (86 points) 


2016 Bodega Amalaya Malbec - Argentina, Salta
SRP: $16
Rich purple color. Aromas are plummy and full of blackberry, along with mocha, incense cones, charcoal and scorched earth. Medium+ bodied with smooth tannins and medium acidity. Tart plums and black currants mix nicely with roasted coffee, rocky soil, notes of cedar and vanilla. Fun stuff but it shows some moderate complexity. Includes 10% Tannat and 5% Petit Verdot. (88 points) 

2016 Peter Zemmer Pinot Nero Rolhüt - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige - Südtirol
SRP: $18
Light ruby color. Fresh and vibrant aromas of red cherries, strawberries, rose petals, white pepper, spicy herbs. Medium-bodied, fleshy tannins a crisp and chilled approach with strawberries and raspberries, backed up by notes of spiced tea, rose petals and rhubarb. Brisk and fun but quite a bit going on here, too. (88 points) 

2015 Steele Wines Writer's Block Grenache - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Medium ruby color. Aromas of juicy cherries, raspberries and plums along with smoky herbs, rose petals, red apple peel, and cinnamon spice. Medium+ bodied with easy tannins and medium acidity, this is an accessible wine, but not simple. Roasted herbs, tobacco, roses, coffee, this is easy-drinking and fun but shows complexity. All Grenache aged 11 months in French and Hungarian oak, 15% new. (88 points)

2015 Steele Wines Writer's Block Syrah - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Deep ruby, light purple color. A burst of smoky mesquite, black pepper and earth on the nose, along with tart black currants and plums. Full-bodied but fresh with lively acidity and dusty tannins, all woven together nicely. Black cherries and blackberry, laced with cocoa, mesquite, black pepper and violets. Not super deep, but — wow! — this Syrah packs a lot for the price. Sourced from the Cana Springs Vineyard on an eastern slope of the Mayacamas, this wine sees 12 months in 15% new French and Hungarian oak. (89 points) 

2015 Steele Wines Writer's Block Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Light purple color. Nose shows crushed currants, tangy plums, along with eucalyptus, tobacco, cedar — lovely aromas. Medium-bodied with surprisingly structured tannins and medium acidity, the wine shows flesh and grip. Plums and currants mixed with tobacco, eucalyptus, violet petals, scorched earth and cocoa. So good for the money, and this can actually age for a few years. Lovely. Sourced from two vineyards in the Clear Lake AVA, and one in Red Hills. (89 points) 

2016 Long Shadows Wineries Nine Hats Red - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $20
Rich purple color. Nose of plums, roasted currants, blackberry jam, some smoke oak, vanilla, coffee. Soft tannins on the palate, medium-bodied, medium acid. Silky and chewy with plums, black cherries and blackberries. Cocoa, cedar, earth and anise. Sweet fruit but fun stuff. Cabernet with 25% apiece of Merlot and Syrah. (85 points) 

2016 Long Shadows Wineries Cabernet Sauvignon Nine Hats - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $20
Bright purple. Tangy red and black currants and cherries with sweet coffee, cocoa powder and cola aromas. Plush and juicy on the palate with medium-soft tannins and medium acidity. Chewy black cherry and blueberry fruit, with coffee grounds, cocoa powder and toasty oak. Easy-drinking, more complex than a lot of Cabs at this price point. Includes some Syrah, Petit Verdot and Merlot. (87 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.