Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Moraga's Ambitious California Wines (from Bel Air, Los Angeles)

Moraga Estate in Bel Air, Los Angeles. 
So, there’s this wine... it’s sourced from a vineyard within Los Angeles city limits and the estate is owned by Rupert Murdoch. 

If you haven’t tasted Moraga, I cant blame you for being highly skeptical. 

But, after tasting these wines, its clear to me that this is no novelty wine, no vanity endeavor.

The small estate (only six acres combined) is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc, is located within the city limits of Los Angeles, in the Santa Monica Mountains of Bel Air. (As in, “Yo homes, to Bel Air!” – Fresh Prince). This is the sole winery that sources estate grapes from within LA, and it is likely one of the most valuable plots of vineyard land in California. (I’m sure a developer would love to have a crack at this hillside, so I think its great vines are still there.)  

Tom Jones, former Northrop Grumman CEO, purchased this property in 1959, and slowly converted the small ranch into a winery and estate vineyards. He first planted vines in 1978, and but 1989 was Moraga’s first vintage. Conservative media titan Rupert Murdoch purchased Moraga in 2013. Murdoch had fallen in love with the property and wine, and, as part of the purchase, he agreed to keep the estate contiguous. He also kept the long-time winemaker, Scott Rich. Today, Moraga produces about 10,000 bottles per year (approximately 70% red, 30% white).

The vines are planted on steep slopes of Santa Monica shale. Yes, this area can get lots of heat, but the Pacific Ocean sits just a few miles away, and cooling influences are pulled inland through a canyon that connects the vineyard to the sea.

The white sells for about $115 and the red sells for about $175, so these wines don’t come cheap. But, if you’re a high roller looking for something unique to add to a California collection, these should fit the mold.

I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted.

2015 Moraga Vineyards White Bel-Air - California, South Coast, Los Angeles County
Rich yellow color. Aromas of honeysuckle, lemon pith, apricot jam, almond and sea salt. Viscous texture on the palate but vibrant acidity which plays well with waxy/honeyed elements and rich fruit (bruised pear, apricot jam, also some lemon meringue). Notes of honeyed tea, almond, nougat, vanilla, some white pepper and spice flavors that say “Hi, I’m Sauv Blanc,” but this is a uniquely rich style of this grape. The oak influences (20% sees new French oak, the rest stainless steel) is obvious but not overwhelming. A bold take on the grape but it’s done very well, and the depth of flavors is very impressive. (90 points)

2013 Moraga Vineyards Bel-Air - California, South Coast, Los Angeles County
Medium purple color. Nose shows tart black currants, gushing black cherries, roasted figs, mixed in with charcoal, violets, espresso, vanilla bean, some bell pepper and tobacco. Full-bodied, structured well but rounded edges on the tannins, and medium acidity offers some surprising but needed freshness. Roasted plums, fig paste, black currant, rich, roasted fruit but delicious for sure. Laced with cocoa powder, tobacco, vanilla, coffee grounds, grilled bell pepper, tobacco. Bold but silky with a smooth presence but this could age nicely (5-8 easily). Opens up nicely, so decant if drinking soon. Aged in 100% new French oak and two years in bottle before release. I’m seriously impressed, this is legit Cabernet-based wine from Los Angeles. (91 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

“Italian Wine Unplugged: Grape by Grape” - An Essential Reference Book for the Serious Italian Wine Student

When I began studying wine as an overzealous 22-year-old, I bought a copy of “Italian Wine for Dummies.” It’s actually a good overview of Italian wines, and I sometimes reference it when I forget grape names or legal blending requirements.

But for serious students of wine, and those in the trade who work closely with Italian wines, “Italian Wine Unplugged: Grape by Grape” has everything you could possibly need.

Italian wines, grapes and laws are a labyrinth for wine-loving mortals (like myself), and this book is a master key. It’s written by Stevie Kim, director of the massive trade event Vinitaly, and a lineup of other Italian wine pros. It’s now available in e-book and a print version should be out later this year.

Basically, this is an encyclopedia of Italian wine grapes (more than 430 of them), which is broken into three sections. The “Must-Know Grapes” section will challenge most serious Italian wine fans. Sure Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are in there, but don’t forget Ciliegiolo and Schioppettino. “Lesser-Known Grapes” gets even more in-depth, with grape names that could cause any Italian wine student to scratch their head — Susumaniello, Tazzelenghe, Uva Rara.

If you still have room in your brain for more, there’s the “Rare Grapes” section, which could give an MW candidate a migraine — Bubbierasco, Notardomenico, Paradisa. Don’t worry, if you’re cramming for a wine exam, the book comes with nifty flash cards that you can print out.

The grapes are described in much detail — the authors include information on what makes each grape unique in the vineyard and in the cellar. In each grape bio, the authors provide details about where the grape is grown, what makes it thrive in specific areas, and the Italian wine regulations that pertain to its production and classification.

Lastly, there’s a “Wine Visions” section, which is jam-packed with grape photographs, memorization tools, and other images that may help you understand and remember Italian grapes and regions.

This book is heavy on the detail, but it’s also accessible in the sense that you can choose how deeply you engage with the information. Each small piece of the giant puzzle is digestible, so you can dig as deep as you’d like, and you can gloss over the inevitable grape or appellation you’ve never heard of and will surely never remember.

The grape-by-grape breakdown makes this is an incomparable reference tool for Italian wine grapes. I’m holding onto my “Italian Wine for Dummies” book for nostalgia purposes, but this is now my go-to guide for all things vino Italiano. 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Two Tuscan Producers, Reviewed: Fattoria Viticcio & Principe Corsini

We’re off to Tuscany this weekend, with an array of wines from two different producers, Principe Corsini and Viticcio

Principe Corsini, produces wines under two labels: Villa Le Corti, located in San Casciano Val di Pesa (Chianti Classico); and Tenuta Marsiliana in Maremma. 

Villa Le Corti is a large estate, more than 600 acres with about 120 planted to Sangiovese and some 180 acres planted to olive trees to produce Chianti Classico DOP olive oil. Tenuta Marsiliana is focused on producing Super Tuscan style wines from Maremma vineyards, which are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Viticcio is located in Greve, in Chianti, and has been producing wine since 1964. Starting off with Chianit Classico, the estate now comprises about 300 acres spread among the hills of Chianti Classico, Maremma and Bolgheri.

The 2014 Tuscan reds I’ve tasted don’t have that dense, punchy quality of long-aging vintages, but they do have plenty of acidity, vibrant fruit, and also some structured tannins. They seem ready to drink young, which is a pleasure while the 2012s and the 2013s sleep for much longer.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Fattoria Viticcio Vermentino Greppico - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
$12
Light gold color. Fresh and floral aromatics with white peaches, honey, orange blossom. Medium-bodied with fresh acidity, flavors of salted lime, white peach, some notes of candle wax and honeycomb. Brisk but flavorful, a solid aperitif or summer salad kind of wine. (86 points)

2011 Fattoria Viticcio Monile Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
$46
Deep ruby/light purple color. Nose shows red and black currants with lots of incense sticks, violets, black tea, spearmint and chewing tobacco. Full-bodied, moderate acidity, fleshy but structured tannins. Tangy black currants and plum skins, rich texture to the fruit but a suave feel. Complex elements of charcoal, graphite, lots of tobacco and menthol, deep iron and earthy notes. Plenty of time ahead, or a good decant advised if drinking now. (90 points)

2015 Fattoria Viticcio Morellino di Scansano - Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Morellino di Scansano
$12
Light purple/deep ruby color. Smells of warm clay, roasted chestnut and tobacco barn on top of red and black plum compote. Full and really saucy with medium-low acidity and dry, grainy tannins. Roasted herbs, sun-scorched earth, a really roasted aesthetic, mixing with dark plums and black cherries. Lots of dusty, earthy, charcoal notes. Could definitely use a few years to unwind. Sangiovese with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. (87 points)

2014 Fattoria Viticcio Chianti Classico - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
$13
Light purple color. Plum, black cherry aromas with roasted herbs and tobacco. Medium-bodied, balanced across the board with dusty tannins, medium acidity, tart red currants and berry compote. Notes of bay leaf, tobacco barn, scorched earth, some violets. Ready to drink but could hold for a few years. (88 points)

2013 Fattoria Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
$19
Deep purple color. Nose shows tart black currants, blackberries, deep earth, gravel, iron, coffee, lovely stuff. Great concentration but lovely freshness, this is a powerful but quite elegant wine showing beautiful black fruit (currants and black cherries) along with lots of smashed rocks, iron, espresso, roasted herbs and tobacco. Notes of sweet violets and vanilla are woven in well. Shows great structure for the cellar, but can be appreciated now, especially with a good decant. (91 points)

2013 Fattoria Viticcio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Prunaio - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
$29
Deep purple color. Complex aromatic display of red and black currants, dusty earth, violets cedar, coffee. Bold structure with grippy tannins and moderating acidity. Plum cake, black currant, oozing blackberries, the fruit is rich but tangy and doused in violets, sweet pipe tobacco, vanilla, espresso, potting soil. Deep and concentrated but so pretty, it really opens up with a few hours and gets suave and velvety. A very long life ahead. (93 points)

2014 Principe Corsini Costa Toscana Birillo - Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Costa Toscana Rosso
$18
Deep ruby/light purple color. Aromas of spicy red currants and blackberry jam mixed with coffee, sweet violets and cola. Medium+ body, smooth tannins, moderating acidity. Black cherries and roasted plums blend well with coffee, violets, dark earth and cola notes. Fun stuff for sure, seems for more near-term drinking. From sandy/silty, sea level soils, this Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend sees 12 months in old oak. (86 points)

2014 Principe Corsini Le Corti Chianti Classico - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
$21
Deep ruby color. The nose shows tart red currants, black cherries, loaded with tobacco, eucalyptus, sage, coffee, earth and violets – lovely stuff. Dusty/moderately grippy tannins, but bright acidity, lots of tangy red currants and juicy black cherries. Flavors of dried rose and violet petals, a lot of charcoal, incense sticks, dusty earth, a lingering graphite and mineral component. Vibrant and delicious now but lots of aging potential as well. (90 points)

2014 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Cortevecchia Riserva - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
$38
Vibrant ruby color. Waves of fruit on the nose (red currant, strawberry, black cherry and plum) along with rosemary, eucalyptus, tobacco and rich earth. Structured tannins combine nicely with vibrant acidity. Dark plums, red and black currants, laced with smoky herbs, spices, violets, potting soil. Bold in flavor, solid in structure, but fresh and lively, too – I love this wine, but will likely love it more in a few years. (91 points)

2014 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Don Tommaso Gran Selezione - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
$48
Deep ruby/light purple color. Waves of vibrant but rich red and black currant fruit, laced with spicy tobacco, herbs, graphite, rose petals, earth, roasted coffee. Full but suave with moderate tannins and tart, crisp acidity. Gorgeous, silky but tart red and black currants and cherries, mixed with complex sage, oregano, tilled soil, tobacco, well-integrated coffee and cedar elements. That 2014 approachability but this has the structure to improve. Aged 18 months in 70% new French oak. (92 points)

$48
Rich ruby color. Nose shows plush currants, roasted plums, tangy black cherries, notes of eucalyptus, sage, tobacco, black pepper. Full-bodied on the palate with vibrant acidity, plush but so much backbone. Tart black currants, plum skins, black cherries, rich in iron, earth and charcoal, dusted with sage, violets, anise and clove. Lots of years ahead of this, but it’s beautiful. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, aged 15 months in barrel and 12 months in bottle before release. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Excellent, Ageworthy, Old-School Rioja from Viña Ardanza

Viña Ardanza is the flagship wine of La Rioja Alta, S.A., which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Even though it is only produced in certain years, Viña Ardanza aims for a level of consistency in how the wine is made. It’s a blend of 80% Tempranillo (from the Vina Ardanza vineyard in Rioja Alta) and 20% Garnacha from Rioja Baja. Both wines are aged in American oak — the Tempranillo sees some 36 months in mostly four-year-old oak while the Garnacha gets about 30 months in two- to three-year-old. The 2008 vintage is the first made from entirely estate-grown fruit.

These are old school Riojas with vibrant red fruits and a maze of earthy, savory, spicy elements.  The 2008 should still be on shelves ($32 SRP), while the 2001 Reserva Especial and the 2004 Reserva can be found on the secondary market for about $50. For that kind of money, these wines are absolutely worth it.

I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted.

2001 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
Medium ruby color. Aromas of red cherries, dried red currants, red berry compote, and a host of really earthy, savory and floral notes (fallen leaves, tobacco pipe, pine resin, dried roses, smoky herbs) – so much to unpack. The palate is beautiful, tannins provide serious structure and grip, but there’s moderating acidity. Lots of red plum and currant compote, the fruit is slathered in forest floor, chewing tobacco, loamy earth, dried roses, leather – so much complexity. Long, long finish, crisp and bright with mineral tones. Gorgeous stuff for sure, but this could be even more elegant and expressive 10 years from now. (94 points) 

2004 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
Deep ruby color. There’s a core of black and red cherries and plums on the nose, along with lots of smoke (charcoal, tobacco, roasted cedar, grilled herbs), leather, rose potpourri, lots going on. Pure, vibrant palate with sturdy tannins, but not harsh, moderating acidity. Black and red cherries, crunchy but also slightly roasted notes to the fruit. Laced with so much complex non-fruit elements (tree bark, cigar lounge, leather jacket, rose potpourri, vanilla bean, coffee). Deep mineral tones as well. This has 10+ years of development easily, it’s quite young, but its quality still shows at this point. (93 points)

2008 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
Deep ruby color. Nose is dense with a deep core of plums, black cherries and red currants, along with potting soil, chewing tobacco, leather, allspice, some cedar and vanilla. Medium-bodied, seriously sturdy tannins, but vibrant acidity, makes for a young but fresh wine. Plums, black cherries, currants, the fruit is dense but crisp, laced with soil, tobacco, leather, pepper, sage, also some coffee grounds and dark chocolate. Lots going on here, but I would bury this in the back of the cellar, forget it for 10-15 years, and be amazed at what it has to offer. 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, bottled in 2013. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sipping Some Exquisite Cognacs from Camus

I’m focusing on something a little different this week: Cognac.

I received some samples from the
Camus Wine & Spirits Group, a range of different Cognacs. This house dates back more than 150 years, and is the largest family-owned Cognac House. They also hold about 450 acres in the renowned Borderies cru, the smallest of the Cognac appellations, and they produce their Borderies eaux-de-vie from all estate-grown grapes.

I don’t have a lot of experience in reviewing spirits, I’ll admit, but I have tasted a lot of Cognac in my days, enough to at least give this a shot.

These Cognacs were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 


N.V. Camus Cognac Ile de Ré Cliffside Cellar - France, Cognac
Smells of apricots, sweet pine, orange marmalade and caramel. Pretty and plush on the palate with orange marmalade, spicy vanilla, apricot, clove, honey, sea salt. A rich but balanced Cognac. Made from grapes grown on the Île de Ré, off the west coast of France in the Bois à Terroirs cru of the Charente-Maritime department. (90 points)

N.V. Camus Cognac Ile de Ré Double Matured - France, Cognac
Rich, deep aromatics of apricot jam, butterscotch, orange marmalade, spicy oak and pine notes. Plush and smooth on the palate, warm spices and cedar tossed with apricot, salted caramel, and honey. A spicy, oak, cedar-laden finish, a toasty wine but very pretty as well. Aged in the cellars of Île de Ré and then again in barrels in Cognac. (90 points)

N.V. Camus Elegance VSOP - France, Cognac
Lush flowers on the nose, apricots, figs, creamy oak, lots of enticing baking spice notes. Rich, gorgeous texture, loaded with apricot, fig, almond, honeyed tea, with a finish of spicy oak and clove notes. Long, honeyed, delicious. (90 points)

N.V. Camus Borderies Cognac VSOP - France, Cognac, Borderies Cognac
Aromas of almond, apricot, clove, raisin, lovely stuff. Round and rich on the palate with a warm, combination of baked apple, raisin, honey, roasted nuts and spicy oak. Lots of pretty floral, tea leaves, cinnamon notes. Quite complex, very smooth, totally delicious. (91 points) 


N.V. Camus Borderies Cognac XO - France, Cognac, Borderies Cognac
Lush, intense, inviting aromatics: caramel, butterscotch, apricot jam, spicy cedar. Bold and powerful but a real sense of warmth, with butterscotch, graham cracker, cedar, spiced apple tea, apricot jam. Notes of roasted cedar and chestnut wood with a warm, honeyed finish. Absolutely beautiful stuff. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Alma Fria's Sonoma Chardonnays & Pinot Noirs Excel in 2014

2014 Sonoma Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are something to behold. Coming off the heels of the exceptional 2013 vintage, I have been blown away by the vibrancy, freshness and purity of flavors in a lot of these wines. And while many seem to show well on release, I think patience will pay off for a lot of 2014s. 

I recently tasted through the 2014 releases from Alma Fria, and was very impressed. I’ve enjoyed their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs before, although “enjoy” is an understatement. I find these wines thrilling and stunningly delicious.

Terroirist also ran an interview with Alma Fria’s proprietor and winemaker Jan Holterman, which you can check out here for more background information on this exciting project.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Alma Fría Chardonnay Plural - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $40
Medium yellow color. Aromatically, wow: orange, lemon curd, rich and exotic but oceanic as well, with bright floral, sea salt, chalky notes. Vibrant acidity, mouthwatering throughout but plush texture. Lemon curd, apricot, orange, pineapple, lime zest, lots of fruit complexity but also mixed with seashells, chalk, white tea, honeycomb. Packed with flavor and complexity but a bright style. Gorgeous now but I’d love to see this in three or four years. (92 points)

2014 Alma Fría Chardonnay Campbell Ranch Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $50
Medium yellow color. Aromatically, wow: apricots, orange marmalade, lemon curd, also some raw almond, hay, honeyed green tea, so complex and exotic. Precise acidity frames the palate, generous texture for a wine of 13.3% alcohol, but it shows such vibrancy and balance. Tangerine and lemon curd, kiwi, generous fruit laced with almond, chalk dust, dandelion, baby’s breath. Nuanced, exciting, mineral-encrusted finish, this is drop-dead delicious now but should award several years in the cellar. (93 points)

2014 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Plural Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $40
A pale ruby color, an explosion of vibrant red fruits and spice on the nose: red cherry, red apple peel, cranberry, white pepper, sliced rhubarb, some slight mushroom matched with that Sonoma Coast cola signature. On the palate this is crisp and lively, medium bodied, with structured but fine-grained and smooth tannins, the balance is there, as is the brisk, crunchy red fruits. Notes of white pepper, oregano, cola, clove, rhubarb, lots to unpack. Accessible now but should be nice with two years on it. (92 points)

2014 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Doña Margarita Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $62
Light ruby color. Nose: brisk, tart, wild red cherries and raspberries on the nose, some red apple peel, notes of rhubarb, white pepper, potting clay and eucalyptus. Medium-bodied but structured nicely with fine tannins, refreshing acidity and pretty, tart red fruits (red cherry, McIntosh apple peel, wild raspberry), complemented with notes of clay, white pepper, sage, clove, just a touch of cola and cedar, woven in expertly. Long, vibrant, mineral-laden finish, this is so, so refreshing, complex, delicious. From a site in Freestone, CA, planted in 2002, aged in 30% new French oak. 13.2% alcohol. (93 points)

2014 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Holtermann Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $62
Light ruby color. Aromas of bright red cherries, wild raspberries, pomegranate, rose petals, an earthy, savory streak with clove and grilled Portobello. Juicy and vibrant on the palate with silky but well-framed tannins, bright acidity, lots of crisp red fruits (raspberry, pomegranate, some black cherry), more savory elements in this wine, like sage, white pepper, leather, mushroom, lots more to coax out with a few years in the cellar. Long, slightly chewy but vibrant finish. From a site in Annapolis, planted in 2002, aged in 20% new French oak. 13.1% alcohol. (94 points)
This post first appeared in the daily wine blog Terroirist.