Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wine Reviews: Grab Bag from Chile and France

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

We’re back with a grab bag of wine samples from all over the world. This report includes a bunch of wines from Chile’s Concha y Toro (always a reliable producer), including the heralded Don Melchor Cabernet. We’ve got some Champagne, a perfect holiday Port, and some exciting wines from Roussillon.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Concha y Toro Chardonnay Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Limarí Valley
SRP: $22
Golden yellow color. Aromas of green and yellow pears, apricots, almond, honey butter, white flowers. Creamy palate but precise acidity, this vibrant Chardonnay shows a nice mix of bruised yellow pear with tart green apples and limes. Nougat and peanut shell notes matched by chalk and lingering minerals. Crisp throughout, but enough richness for fans of bolder Chards to enjoy. Long, lip-smacking finish. Aged 11 months in French oak. (89 points)

2014 Concha y Toro Carménère Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Rapel Valley, Peumo
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Aromas of tart black currants, blackberry and juicy plums, along with grilled green herbs, tar and campfire smoke. Plush and juicy texture on the palate, a kicking balance between fleshy tannin and medium acidity. Smoky earth, tobacco, anise, vanilla and coffee coat the black cherry and deep black currant fruit. Complex earth and pine forest notes come out with time. Delicious now, should get prettier over the next two or three years. Includes 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in French oak. (88 points)

2014 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $25
Medium purple color. Aromas of smoky charcoal, scorched earth and sweet pipe tobacco blend nicely with black and red currants. Medium/full-bodied with saucy tannins and rich fruit, but the wine maintains a fresh tang. Flavors of black currant and black cherry mix with coffee, charcoal, cigar lounge, rounded out with vanilla and clove on the finish. Ready to go but could age for a few. Includes a combined 8% Cab Franc, Merlot & Syrah, aged 16 months in French oak. (88 points)

2013 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor - Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $125
Medium purple color. Dense at first, but it opens up nicely as air coaxes out these waves of black cherries, dark currants, and lots of loamy soil, roasted herbs, graphite, coffee, and some tar and mineral notes – wow. A young wine with moderate grip to the tannins, there’s plenty of refreshing acidity that completes this wine and makes it delicious to drink young. The fruit is like a fresh blend of blackberry, dark plums, currant and blended with anise, charcoal, dense chewing tobacco, coffee grounds, vanilla, cedar planks, mint – holy smokes this is complex. Lots of vanilla and wood but enough other elements to balance it all out. 2013 was a very cold year, and it shows, as this is a much less compact, and far more fresh and tangy iteration of this classic Chilean Cabernet. Not as age-worthy as more classic vintages, but I love this fresh vintage signature. Includes 9% Cabernet Franc, the wine is aged 15 months in 2/3 new French oak. (92 points)

N.V. Forget-Brimont Champagne Premier Cru Brut Rosé - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Bright strawberry/copper color. Smells of red apples, strawberries, kumquat and some biscuits and chalk. Crisp and tingly on the palate with flavors of red apples, white cherries and strawberries. Notes of white flowers, chalk and shell add some moderate complexity. Light and refreshing. Not too complex or deep but it’s straightforward, good stuff that’s put together well. (87 points)

2015 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Aromatically, we’re dealing with juicy peaches, pineapple and some tangy lime notes along with white flowers and a hint of ocean breeze. Light, fresh and zippy on the palate but there’s a pleasantly waxy texture that makes it a lot of fun. Creamy peaches, pineapple, lime, with dollops of sea salt, cut flowers and honeyed tea. Crisp, clean finish. A very solid and reliable wine for the price. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Macabeu and Vermentino. (87 points)

2015 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages
SRP: $15
Medium ruby color. Juicy black cherry aromas with dusty earth, pepper, clove, sage and bay leaf notes. Medium-bodied on the palate with soft tannins and medium acidity. Black and red cherry fruit, some pomegranate, with a good mix of earth, charcoal, grilled herbs and pepper. Smooth, fresh, fruity but earthy, this would be fun with all sorts of food. A high quality bistro kind of wine. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. (87 points)

2010 Agly Brothers Côtes du Roussillon - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon
SRP: $38
Very dark color. Smells of jammy black cherries, deep blueberries, and a complex mix of graphite, anise, charcoal, dark soil and tobacco. Full-bodied with dry, structured tannins and some moderate acidity, this is a massive wine (15.5% alcohol) but it shows mystique underneath. Blueberry, blackberry, rich saucy fruit, lots of earthy complexity (soil, leaves, scorched earth, wood shavings) with some spicy anise and tobacco. Bold and boisterous but tight-fisted with lots of cellar potential. A blend of equal parts Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. Fermented in concrete, aged about 20 months in used French oak, followed by 18 months aging in concrete and 1 year in bottle before release. This is a cooperative project between Ron Laughton of Australia’s Jasper Hill and Michel Chapoutier. (91 points)

N.V. Warre Porto Otima 10 Year Old Tawny - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $26/500ml
Rich amber color. Aromas of roasted figs and apricot marmalade, caramel and brown sugar oatmeal. Rich texture on the palate but lots of vibrancy. Flavors of yellow raisins and apricot jam, along with dark chocolate with orange peel, honeycomb and roasted nuts. Delicious and rich but shows pleasant acidity and lightness despite the weight. Bottled 2015. (89 points)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wine in the Wilderness - Exploring Humboldt's Lost Coast

No highways cut through here. Mountains drop precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. Everything is wet and the nights are long and cold. This mountainous coastal region of northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt Counties, called the Lost Coast, is the largest stretch of coastal wilderness in the lower 48 states.

I came here for the waves, the stoke, the mountains, the serene darkness of the forest. And, yes, the wine. They make damn good wine out here.

I visited Andrew Morris, the winemaker and proprietor of Briceland Vineyards, on a rare warm and sunny morning in November. The sun poked through after a terrible downpour that lasted all night (a local told me it rained four inches). My friend and I were forced to bail, soaked and frozen, from our flooded tent and sleep in our car. In the morning, we checked the surf, but the tide was dead high, making it impossible to reach our spot. So we grabbed some coffee and drove over the mountains to see Andrew. The drive east on Shelter Cove Road could be described using any or all of the following words: gorgeous, sketchy, stunning — holy shit, bro, you’re way too close to the edge! — mindboggling, etc.

When rainstorms come early, they can be a big threat to the grape harvest, but the grapes had been harvested more than a month ago. My brother, travelling buddies and I visited the Lost Coast in full-swing rainy season. But we lucked out, and only got one soaking wet night out of five. Even when it’s not actively raining, the Lost Coast is a wet place. The air tasted of mountain stream and I could watch individual droplets drift in the thick fog. Cold mountain streams cut through forests, waterfalls pour down rocks cliffs into the sea, dense fog packs narrow valleys, rich moss and ferns pad the ground while massive redwoods block out the sun. After a soaking wet October, mushrooms flourished in the woods. My brother is a mushroom foraging guru, so I just followed his lead and cooked the mushrooms he said were both safe and tasty. 

Hand-foraged mushrooms sautéed over a campfire, paired with Humboldt Pinot is an epic palate experience.

This is an extreme place in every way, and that’s why we came. The weather swings can be extreme. Ditto for the waves, which ranged in size from pumping 10 feet to death-defying 30 feet. My brother and I, lifelong surfing buds, caught some incredible waves, but also spent too much time underwater, getting worked by the cold, chunky surf and currents. Here, the surf is sketchier, the waters sharkier, the roads hairier, and the marijuana smells much, much better. In this environment (like all of the challenging regions home to great wine), growing wine grapes needs to be done with extreme care.

A “good vintage” in Humboldt, Andrew said, would start without a late spring frost, which can damage grapes during critical growing stages. A good vintage would have plenty of ripening days — a certain amount of days with proper sunlight, providing what is needed to fully ripen grapes. And while Humboldt gets fewer ripening days than California regions further south and inland, it’s still ahead of Burgundy. I hear they make some decent Pinot there. A good vintage would also end without an early appearance of autumn’s cold and rain. And, preferably, a good vintage would be free from forest fires, which break out during the dry season and threaten these small, rugged vineyards with smoke taint. Despite these pitfalls, when a finished Pinot Noir or Zinfandel from Humboldt makes it through, the result can be phenomenal.

Take Andrew’s Pinot Noirs, sourced from several single vineyards in southern Humboldt County. These wines are lower in alcohol (usually in the low 13% range) and packed with lip-smacking acidity. They’re incredibly fresh and food-friendly and lack any brazen new oak influences or baked, extracted flavors. The tannins are present and provide structure (combined with the acidity, this makes for great aging potential), but they’re very accessible in their youth. No dark roast coffee or caramel-cola stuff going on here. These are anti-Kosta-Brownes, and I’m stoked they exist.

Andrew studied winemaking at the UC Davis extension and apprenticed with his father-in-law, Joe Collins, Briceland’s founder and winemaker. Gradually, Andrew took the reins. With consummate attention to detail and high technical knowledge, Andrew wanted to keep the reputation of Briceland’s wines going strong.

Andrew and his wife Rosie of Briceland Vineyards.
In the 1970s, Joe Collins began experimental plantings in Humboldt, which was considered by many in the growing California wine industry to be too cold and wet to grow proper wine grapes. But small growers scoped out the right spots, the right grape varieties, and they made it happen. Briceland quickly developed several sources of high quality fruit, most of which are small parcels carved into the forest on steep slopes. By 1985, Joe Collins and Maggie Carey launched Briceland Vineyards.

Like most commercial outfits in Humboldt, this is a boutique operation. Andrew releases only 1,500 cases of wine per year, and about 75% of that never leaves the area. Briceland sells a lot of its wines in restaurants (of which there are few) and local shops. (If you’re headed to Shelter Cove, the General Store has an awesome selection of Briceland’s wines and a bunch of local brews — highly recommended). About 75% of Briceland wines come from Humboldt, while Andrew also works with some really good Mendocino fruit.

I’ve been a huge fan of Mendocino wines for years (and a big fan of the few Humboldt wines I’d tasted), so it was fascinating to taste Andrew’s Syrahs and Zinfandels back to back, one of each from Humboldt and Mendocino. The Mendocino stuff has a bit more richness and darker, sunshiny fruit, while the elegance and tart freshness of the Humboldt fruit really shines through.

There are two ways to get your hands on these wines. You could travel to the area, which will be epic, I guarantee it. Or maybe you could contact Briceland directly. But if you love the adventure of wine, and you’re open to this style, you’ll be thrilled. These wines range in price from about $21 for the white wines to $35 for some of the single-vineyard Pinots — all absurdly reasonable for the high quality of the juice.

Below are my notes on the wines I tasted with Andrew.

2015 Briceland Vineyards Gewürztraminer Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
An exciting, zesty, bone-dry version with tropical fruit and floral spice on the nose. Crisp acidity, medium-bodied with a slightly creamy mouthfeel and flavors of peaches, guava and honey to mix with minerals and white pepper. Delicious, lip-smacking, endless food pairing options. (89 points)

2015 Briceland Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Humboldt County - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
A vibrant and zesty Sauvignon Blanc with white pepper, lemon and peach aromas. Crisp and very bright with complex elements of salty spice to accent the lemon and green melon fruit. (88 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Arneis Spirit Canyon Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Smells of peaches, white flowers, lemon oil and a hint of pepper. So bright and clean on the palate with a salty appeal on top of lemon, orange peel and kiwi fruit. Delicious, nervy and intriguing. Not much Arneis in California, but Mendocino is home to some very good stuff. (90 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Very pretty aromas of tart and spicy cherries, mint and earth. Bright acidity and moderately structured tannins, the cherries are crunchy and delicious and laced with notes of sweet flowers, strawberry greens, clove and an underlying mineral freshness. An eye-opening wine. (90 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Ronda's Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Aromas of gushing cherries and raspberries, lots of rose petal and eucalyptus, too. Lush palate with soft tannins and bright, crisp acidity. Waves of tar black cherries and strawberries, the fruit is laced with notes of spicy clove, wet leaves and mossy earth. Complex, vibrant, straight-up delicious. A uniquely Humboldt Pinot that hails from a 1,600 foot, South-facing slope planted in 1983. (92 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Phelps Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Aromas of juicier, darker cherries with some raspberries and fresh herbal notes. Juicy and fleshy but structured tannins and crisp acidity. Flavors of cola, rhubarb and raspberry leaf tea accent the cherry and strawberry fruit. Lovely spicy complexity. (91 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
These Pinots keep on firing. This one shows more smoky earth, violets, savory spices on top of juicy cherries. Smooth, fresh and juicy with complex spice, leather and earth accents on top of tart strawberries and cherries, hints of cola and eucalyptus. (92 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Sweeter cherry fruit than the 2013, with that same spicy/savory quality and smoky earth. Silky, smooth but tart acidity, the tart red fruit is complex and so bright. Notes of earth, clove, savory mushrooms. Wow, such a pretty wine. It opened up a lot (as friends and I drank the rest of the bottle with dinner). Huge hit. (92 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Zinfandel Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt CountyLove the aromas of tart red fruit and spice. Silky, fresh and spicy with rose petals, earth and spice. Wow. If tasted blind, I could see mistaking this for a Pinot but, when sipped after Briceland Pinots, this shows more sweet flowers and earth. Lovely stuff. (91 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Zinfandel Dark Horse Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
This vineyard shows aromas of darker cherries and clove. The fruit is (relatively) darker than the Ishi Pishi, showing more black cherry and blackberry, but still so fresh with medium/light tannins. I get notes of clove, tobacco and cola. A vibrant Zinfandel, very interesting to taste back-to-back with the Ishi Pishi Ranch. (90 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Syrah Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Gorgeous aromas of red and black currants topped in black pepper, roasted red pepper and charred herbs. Juicy and so darn fresh on the palate with moderate/light tannic structure. Red cherries, a touch of black cherry, topped in scorched earth, violets, black pepper, beef broth and cured meat. Delicious flavors, this is an intriguing and complex Syrah. (91 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Syrah Dark Horse Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Smells like juicy black cherries, leather and spicy pepper. Chewier texture than the Ishi Pishi Ranch, this shows bright acid and medium/light tannins. Red and black cherries topped with pepper, violets and baking spices. So fun and juicy but surprisingly complex. (90 points)

2012 Briceland Vineyards Noir D'Orleans Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Smells of dark plums and currants topped in loam and spicy clove. Rich but fresh, tart and vibrant, structured nicely with firm tannins. Bright black currant and crunchy plums and notes of peppercorns, roasted red pepper, loamy earth and spiced coffee. Seems like a good one to bury for a few years. Dominated by Petit Verdot, with some other Bordeaux varieties. For those tired of heavy, oak-slathered California Bordeaux reds, try this zesty number. (90 points)

If you're interested, I put together a four-minute GoPro video of my surf adventures here: 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Winter is on its way, and here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s already cold, windy and dark most of the time. Sure, it’s prime time for burly red wines, but I sip whites all year round. I cook a lot of vegetarian dishes, so I always have chilled white wines around, and sometimes I just can’t handle to density or tannic bite of a young red wine.

I recently tasted through a few Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs from California, and found a lot to like.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

2015 Matchbook Chardonnay Old Head - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $15
Medium yellow color. Smells of bruised yellow apples, apricot, white peaches, and the fruit is topped with honey and toasted nuts. On the palate this shows plump and honeyed texture with medium-low acidity. Juicy pears and bruised apples fruit, rich and generous, mixed with honeyed tea, buttered popcorn and some toasted nuts. A bit simple, but fun stuff if you like this style. Aged in about 20% new oak barrels. (85 points) 

2014 FEL Chardonnay Savoy Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $48
Rich golden color. Aromas of bruised apple, baked pear, apricot, along with some hazelnut and dried honey, some yellow flowers and orange blossom. The aromas get really complex and expressive with air. The palate is full-bodied with a creamy texture but the acidity is bright and vibrant. Juicy peach and pear fruit combines with banana and baked apple. Complex secondary flavors of hazelnut, almond, honeycomb, finishes with a spritz of acidity and minerals. Very impressive now but should improve nicely in the cellar. Aged two years in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

2014 Stonestreet Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $40
Bright gold color. Aromas of peach, glazed apple, honeysuckle, and an interesting mix of sea salt and caramelized nuts. Full bodied and rich but generous acidity, the bruised apple and baked pear fruit mixes with bright white flowers and a refreshing chalky sense. Fresh and complex, but lots of that classic honey and nutty richness. Aged 11 months in about 40% new French oak, this is a blend of estate grapes from sites on the western ridge of the Mayacamas. (88 points)

2015 La Voix Chardonnay Here and Heaven John Sebastiano Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $55
Medium gold color. Gorgeous aromas of oranges and lemon curd topped in sea salt, crushed rocks, talc, honeysuckle — wow! Medium-bodied on the palate with brisk acidity and lots of saline and minerals. Juicy apricot, lemon curd, orange peel, mixed in with complex notes of white tea, honey, chalk and salted almond. Exciting with its intense flavors but there is so much freshness and depth in this wine. I think this will be fascinating in three or four years, too. Native yeast fermentation, aged in old oak barrels, this is a thrilling wine for fans of more restrained Chardonnay. (93 points)

2015 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $24
Pale straw color. Smells of white peaches, nectarines, some honey and hints of white pepper. Bright and lively on the palate with a medium-bodied frame and pervasive acidity. Guava, peach and nectarine mix with tart green apples and limes for a focused combination of fruit. Notes of chalk, salted almond, sea breeze and minerals linger on the long finish. Crisp but packed with flavor. Mostly stainless steel but 40% is fermented and aged in a mix of new and used French oak and Acacia wood. (89 points)

2014 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Very bright yellow with a hint of green. Aromas burst open with lemon, lime, kiwi, sea shells, hay and cut flower stems. Zippy acidity combines with some generous texture, this is wonderfully balanced. Bright lemon, kiwi and ruby red grapefruit play nicely with these notes of dandelion, flower stems, and there's a pervasive sense of minerals and rocky stream. Long, intense finish with chalky mineral notes. Bracing yet gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc. 70/30 stainless steel and old foudre fermentation, 13.5% alcohol. (91 points)

2015 Galerie Sauvignon Blanc Naissance - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
Pale gold color. Smells of salted limes, kiwi, green apples and lots of rich yellow and white flowers. Crisp and bright with a moderately creamy mouthfeel, the white peach, apple and lime juice drizzled on papaya meets chalk, minerals and white flowers. So zesty and clean but enough complexity to keep this seriously interesting. Where a lot of Napa Sauv Blancs get hedonistic, this is nuanced and intriguing. This spends time in a mixture of stainless steel, concrete and new and used French oak with six months on the lees. (90 points)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Serious Bargains from Spain & Portugal

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It's no secret that Spain and Portugal are home to seriously delicious wines at very reasonable prices. If your annual wine budget is getting maxed out, some of these wines might be a great way to make it through the holiday season.

This week we're focusing on a few wines apiece from three producers. Senda/Verde is a group of Spanish wines from Bierzo and the northern coastal region of Galicia, while Bodegas Carlos Serres is a purveyor of solid, inexpensive Rioja. Lastly, Faisão producers good, cheap wines from Vinho Verde and Dão in Portugal.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Senda Verde Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $13
Ripe yellow color. Nose of juicy white peaches, guava and pineapple, along with sea breeze and white flowers. Plump texture on the palate but bright, crisp acidity. Flavors of white peach and lime drizzled on papayas, backed up by minerals, seashells, honeysuckle. A clean, refreshing wine with a lot to offer. More people should be checking out Rias Baixas Albarinos like this one. Considering the price tag, there's nothing to lose. (86 points) 

2015 Senda Verde Treixadura Ribeiro - Spain, Galicia, Ribeiro
SRP: $13
Medium yellow color. Fresh sliced green apples and pears on the nose along with citrus peel, flower shop and sugar cane. Light- to medium-bodied with a slight creaminess to the mouthfeel and zesty acidity. Peach nectar, mango, a shot of lime, the fruit is blended with notes of cut flowers, honeysuckle and hints of chalk. Juicy, fun, fresh stuff. A cheap and good excuse to explore this interesting grape variety, which is grown on the banks of the Mino River. (86 points)

2015 Senda Verde Godello Bierzo - Spain, Castilla y León, Bierzo
SRP: $13
Lemon peel colored. Bright aromas of honeysuckle, nettle, white pepper, on top of green pears and apples and papaya. Crisp acidity but a creamy mouthfeel combined with juicy but tart fruit (green apples, pears, limes drizzled on papaya). A bright sense of minerality, white flowers, chalk and salty breeze. Godello is such a cool variety, such freshness and vibrancy but packed with delicious flavors, and this is a great intro. (87 points)

2015 Bodegas Carlos Serres Rioja Blanco - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Lighty yellow color. Aromas of lime, green apples, sea salt, oregano and cut flower stems. Tart acidity, bright and crisp, with white flowers, perfume and nettle on top of green apples and kiwi. Not complex but offers a perfect, tangy, inexpensive, delicious white Rioja. At $10 a pop, this is a perfect bistro white wine for salads, cheese, oysters and hot days. 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo Blanco. (87 points)

2015 Bodegas Carlos Serres Tempranillo Old Vines - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Light ruby color. Smoky, earthy, tobacco-laden red fruit on the nose (red apple, strawberry). Medium-bodied with light, simple tannins and vibrant, lip-smacking acidity. Red apple and raspberry mix with black cherry, roasted coffee, scorched earth and tobacco. Juicy, fresh, earthy, pleasant wine for early consumption. All Tempranillo from 20+ year-old vines. (85 points)

2012 Bodegas Carlos Serres Rioja Crianza - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $12
Medium ruby color. Smells of tart raspberries and strawberries with notes of smoke, tar, tobacco and hay. Fresh and tangy on the palate with light tannins and bright acid. Tart and juicy raspberries accented with campfire, tobacco, pipe resin and fallen leaves. Fresh and flavorful and good value. Tempranillo with 15% Garnacha, aged 14 months in French and American oak and six months in bottle. (86 points)

2010 Bodegas Carlos Serres Rioja Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black cherries, spice coffee, fallen leaves and pipe tobacco. Silky tannins, vibrant acid, this wine shows a fresh and juicy core of black cherry and pomegranate. I get hints of smoky earth, herbal spice, incense and violets. Silky, fresh but complex and showing very well right now. Tempranillo with 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo, aged 24 months in American and French oak and 12 months in bottle. (88 points)

2015 Faisão Vinho Verde - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
Not great, but great for 8 bucks.
SRP: $8
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz. Aromas of white peaches, juicy pineapple, lots of white and yellow flowers. Bright and light-bodied on the palate with some slight sweetness but crisp acidity. White peaches galore, guava, lime, this is a fun, fruity, floral and pleasantly easy-drinking Vinho Verde. A blend of 40% Arinto, 30% Trajadura, 30% Loureiro. (84 points) 

2015 Faisão Vinho Verde Rosé - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
SRP: $8
Pale salmon color. Smells salty and tart with white cherries, strawberry greens and rose hips. Bright and tart on the palate, light-bodied, with flavors of watermelon, white cherries, strawberry rhubarb. Notes of sugar cane and floral perfume make this a fun rosé for salads, apps and picnics. A blend of Espadeiro, Borracal and Padeiro. (84 points)

2014 Faisão Dão - Portugal, Beiras, Dão
SRP: $8
Medium ruby colored. Smells of smoky cherries, raspberries, white pepper and tomato greens. Medium-bodied with a fleshy texture, soft tannins and bright acidity. Juicy raspberries and strawberries with pepper, smoke, light roast coffee. Fresh and fruit, simple but pleasant, a nice bistro or barbecue red. A blend of Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional. (85 points)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

On Thanksgiving, Eat and Drink a Bit of Everything

It's almost Thanksgiving! Let the feasting and drinking and awkward political arguing begin!

Pretty much any (good) wine will do, but if you're looking for some specific recommendations, check out list solid list from Snooth. A bunch of cool wine writers (and this nerd) share some of the bottles that will be on our tables.

All the best to you and yours during this holiday season.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wine Reviews: Pinot Noir from California and Oregon

You’ve likely been bombarded by media about Thanksgiving wine pairings. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just open up all sorts of bottles and let the crowd and food sort it out.

But, thinking back over the past few Thanksgiving meals, I can’t remember a dinner that lacked at least one California Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, and of course Burgundy, will also do. For me, Pinot Noir exudes crisp autumn weather and makes me hunger for warm, hearty foods.

A lot of 2014 California Pinot Noirs are hitting shelves, and they’re tasting darn good — lots of freshness and red fruits but some show serious concentration.

This tasting includes a host of Pinots from Etude, which has been producing vibrant Carneros Pinot Noir for three decades. In recent years, they’ve expanded into a range of Pinot Noirs from other sites in California (and even a Willamette Pinot and a zinger from New Zealand). The wines taste so site-specific, and each stood out as unique in a single-blind tasting, but they maintain a house style focused on crisp acidity, juicy red fruit and lots of spice. This was my first time tasting the Willamette Valley Pinots from Lenne, a producer focused on two estate Pinot Noirs from a site near the town of Yamhill. (I’m impressed.) And we also have some late releases from Clos de La Tech and Holman Ranch.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

2010 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $42
Dark ruby color. Aromatically bursting with savory and spicy elements, like spiced coffee, old library books and black tea, on top of black cherries and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with some sturdy structure to the tannins, and the wine is framed by vibrant acidity. Dark, concentrated cherry and plum fruit, with dark chocolate, coffee, clove, smashed rocks, and a complex host of herbal and savory spices. Needs time to open up, or time in the cellar, but this is a bold yet complex Pinot. Impressive. Plenty of life ahead. Aged 12 months in 3/4 new French oak. (92 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Bannockburn - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Bannockburn
SRP: $60
Vibrant ruby color. Smells like cool raspberries and strawberries with cola, rhubarb, white pepper and sage — complex and gorgeous aromas. Maintains lively acidity and freshness throughout, while sporting structured but smooth tannins. Tart strawberries and wild raspberry fruit is pure and crisp, and laced with complex elements of raspberry leaf tea, savory mushroom, topsoil, rose petals, warm spices. Gorgeous silky texture on the palate. I had no idea a New Zealand Pinot made it into this single-blind tasting, and this had be perplexed as to its origin but totally swooning over its deliciousness and complexity. I’d love to taste this in three to five. (93 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch
- California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $45
Light ruby color. Sweet but tart red and black cherry fruit on the nose, along with rhubarb, cola and eucalyptus and pumpkin pie spice. Full-bodiedwith moderately bright acid, velvety mouthfeel but some grip from the dry tannins. Dark cherry and plum, the fruit is juicy but a bit compact, and needs time to coax out the sweet floral, cinnamon, cocoa and mushroom notes. A sense of graphite and stony minerality lingers on the finish. Very nice but it’ll be better in a few years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (89 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Ellenbach - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $60
Deep ruby color. Aromas of sweet, chewy cherries and raspberry jam, with tobacco, cola and rooibos tea. Tart acidity, dusty tannins provide enough structure, and there are loads of sweet black cherries and raspberry jam flavors on the palate. Cola, rhubarb, rose petals, lots of other stuff going on, some clove and pine. Rich and chewy but stays fresh. Should evolve nicely over the next few years. (90 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard
- California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby/light purple color. Smells like a mix of tart cherries and raspberry jam coated in black tea and spicy tobacco. Full-bodied but tart acidity, this is a richer, more extracted Pinot but the acidity keeps it vibrant. Red plums, raspberry jam, some darker cherry fruit, add in some earth, mocha and herbal spice tea. Gets significantly better with air — I’d like to revisit in two or three years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir North Canyon Vineyard
- California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Aromas of chilled raspberries, juicy strawberries and pomegranate, mixed with rose hips, and some warm cinnamon spices — elegant and deep aromas that take time to fully develop. Medium/full-bodied with a dusty tannic structure, full of tingling acidity. Juicy black cherries and crunchy pomegranates blend with flavors of cherry wood, cedar, tobacco shop and allspice. Finishes long and crisp, more savory spices and mushroom and wet forest come out with air.. Great now but good near-term ager. 10 months in ¼ new French oak. (91 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Yamhilll Vista Vineyard
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy strawberries, tart red currants, dusty earth, leather and rhubarb. Fleshy texture will a full body and moderate acidity and medium tannin. Juicy raspberries and strawberry jams, with rose petals, sweet coffee, rhubarb pie and caramel. Finishes with earthy spice. Delish, ready to go, but could age in the near term. Aged 13 months in 1/3 new French oak. (89 points)

2014 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard
- California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $70
Deep ruby color. Smells of sweet cherries and strawberries, along with rose hops, tobacco, pickling spices and more savory notes of tilled soil and mushroom. Medium-full-bodied with smooth but structured tannins and moderately crisp acidity for balance. The tart strawberries mix with richer black cherry notes – laced with elements of soy, mushroom, pipe tobacco and earth, along with some intermingled notes of cigar box and light roast coffee. Delicious stuff now but it should evolve nicely over the next few years. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 53% new. (91 points)

2012 Holman Ranch Pinot Noir
- California, Central Coast, Carmel Valley
SRP: $35
Light raspberry color. Smells of tart strawberries, cherries, and red apple peel topped with pepper, rhubarb, fennel and cola. Fresh acidity, light-medium-bodied (12.8% alcohol) with fine tannins that still provide structure. A lighter, brisk approach but still plenty of texture and flavors. Sour cherries, watermelon, wild strawberries, the tart fruit is laced with notes of tobacco, pepper and dusty earth, just a hint of cola. Vibrant, fresh, tangy, showing wonderfully right out of the bottle. (89 points)

2015 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir The Fog Prince
- California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Dark ruby color. Aromas of sweet red cherries, raspberry jam, cola, vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate this shows light tannins, a slightly chewy texture and some fresh acidity. Sweet/sour cherries and tangy raspberries blend nicely with some cola, roses, toffee and espresso notes. An easy-drinking style but very delicious, and a good value. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (88 points)

2013 Lenne Pinot Noir LeNez
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
The whole giant nose on the label thing is kind of weird, but these are legit Pinots.
SRP: $30
Pale ruby. Aromas of sour cherries, tart blueberries and black cherries, along with sage and pepper and mushroom/earth. Medium-bodied, moderate acidity. Bright red fruit gushes across the palate (strawberries, wild raspberries) with notes of herbal tea, rose hips, spiced cranberry sauce, tilled soil and eucalyptus. Tart, vibrant, refreshing finish, yet this has a lot of concentration for the cellar. So pretty, and great value. Aged in about 1/4 new oak, 13% alcohol, this is a blend of each clone planted on Lenne’s estate vineyard. (90 points)

2013 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Pale ruby. Elegant, vibrant red fruit aromas with lots of rose hips, white pepper and such gorgeous floral complexity. Medium-bodied, so juicy and bright with some moderately grippy tannic structure and lip-smacking acidity. Tart cherries, raspberries, wild strawberry, the fruit is so damned vibrant and delicious, and laced with lots of roses, violets and white mushrooms. Velvety and sporting serious grip, this is also silky and elegant. An exciting Pinot Noir. More tar and cedar on this one (1/3 new oak) but it’s woven in expertly. Gorgeous stuff that will improve for four or five years easily. (92 points)

2014 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $38
Bright ruby color. Juicy black cherries mix with red currant, topped with lots of violets, soil, hints of leather and cocoa. Medium/full-bodied with structured but accessible tannin and moderate but refreshing acidity. Very cool mix of black and sour red cherries, along with notes of roses, violets, chestnut and savory spice. Some cedar and cocoa from the oak, but it’s balanced nicely. A dusty mineral and soil element comes out with time. Delicious now but built for a solid life in the cellar. (92 points)

2014 Nielson by Byron Pinot Noir
- California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby color. Aromas of chilled but juicy red berries (strawberry, cherry, raspberry) along with a complexity of herbal and spice elements (mint, white pepper, rhubarb). Full-bodied but smooth and velvety, the chewy tannins and medium acidity make this pleasant and approachable. Juicy cherries, raspberries and jammy strawberries, the fruit is juicy and ripe but not heavy. I get sage, violets, rhubarb and white pepper notes. Touched with cedar and vanilla, but those elements are woven in nicely. Rich, velvety but also bright and leaves the palate feeling refreshed. Aged 15 months in 40% new oak. (89 points)