Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Adapting to a new climate reality in the Côtes de Bordeaux

Merlot vines at Chateau La Peyruche.
I was gearing up for a day of touring vineyards and tasting dry red wines in Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, yet I felt anxious. The temperature reached 104 Farenheit the day I arrived, and I had been reading about the record-breaking high temperatures across Western and Northern Europe. Prone to heat exhaustion and missing my air conditioner at home, I hydrated feverishly, soaked my cooling towel and hung it around my neck, as I headed out for the day. It reached 108 degrees that July afternoon.

The intense heat wave passed halfway through the trip, as rain fell on these vineyards for the first time in more than a month. And while this was one for the books, bouts of extreme heat are becoming more commonplace.

Known for its iconic sense of history and tradition, Bordeaux winegrowers and vintners are reassessing how they operate in light of climate change. From picking grapes earlier, to altering their blends, to considering new grape varieties altogether, winemakers are utilizing different tools to brace for the impact of a much warmer climate.

To be clear, I felt no sense of panic from anyone I spoke with about this topic. Winemakers all over the world are struggling with how to adapt to climate change (some more than others), and when it comes to farming, change is constant.

But as I talked to people in the wine industry during a week-long trip, I found a stoic acceptance that climate change will drastically alter the landscape of Bordeaux wine. Adaptations are necessary, and well underway.

Earlier this summer, the Bordeaux winemaker’s syndicate voted unanimously to amend rules for the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations, allowing for seven new grape varieties to be included for wines bottled under these appellations.

France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research has been testing dozens of grape varieties for years, to determine which might fare better in the hotter, drier climate to come. Among the new grape varieties are: Touriga Nacional (renowned grape of Portugal’s Douro Valley); Arinarnoa (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat); and Marselan (a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache crossing). White grapes like Petit Manseng and Albariño will also be permitted for white blends. These grapes may soon be included in these Bordeaux wines up to a combined 10% of the blend.

The move would only affect two appellations, but Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur make up about half of the wine produced in the entire region. The change still needs approval from the French government, so the process will take time. But this would be the first amendment to these appellation rules since the 1930s, and it demonstrates that Bordeaux winemakers are doing what they can to hedge their bets.

During my visit to the Côtes de Bordeaux (a group of appellations spread among the Entre-Deux-Mers and Right Banks) the shifting climate was a hot topic of discussion. All the winemakers I spoke with seemed to have a wait-and-see approach to planting these new grape varieties. While no one I spoke with voiced any objection to this move, neither was anyone chomping at the bit to plant Marselan — although one winemaker told me he had planted Albariño years earlier.

It’s too early to tell how vintners will weave these varieties into the larger quilt of Bordeaux wines. As I toured a new Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on a scorching, sunny day, Bertrand Weisgerber (owner of Chateau La Peyruche in Cadillac) said he sees opportunity in having different options when planting or re-planting a vineyard. “It makes sense,” he said. “I think it’s a good time to try new things.”

Wine producers here have been adapting to climate change in their own ways for years and years, because they’ve been seeing the change in their vineyards first-hand. “The wine industry has been [one of the] first to face this challenge,” said Stéphane Apelbaum of Optimum Vineyard Management & Consulting. “It seems like we’re having two seasons instead of four.”

At Chateau Les Conseillans, in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, I tasted some beautiful Merlot-based wines and talked about the future of the grape. Here on the Right Bank of the Garonne, the early-ripening Merlot grape has long dominated, backed up by the other major Bordeaux grapes. But Apelbaum says, as the climate changes, he sees Merlot’s dominance fading.

Stephane Apelbaum at Chateau Les Conseillans.
Thirty-five years ago, he said, Merlot was often harvested fully ripe at levels that led to an alcohol content of about 12.5%. In current vintages, he said, Merlot grapes are being harvested with potential alcohol around 15% or higher. Merlot grapes can be picked even earlier (which many winemakers are already doing), but not too early, or you end up with bitter and unbalanced wines.

This Merlot dynamic is leading some winemakers in these Right Bank regions to focus more on grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, which can ripen more evenly in warmer temperatures. And other, non-traditional grapes may feature more in future red Bordeaux blends. Apelbaum mentioned interest in Tempranillo as an option, given that long-term projections of Bordeaux’s climate start to resemble those of some warmer regions in southern Spain. Other winemakers I spoke with showed interest in Portuguese reds as well.

The changing climate can pose difficulties for winemakers trying to create balanced wines, said Patrick Honnef of Côtes de Castillon’s Chateau Page. But his Merlot-based reds (especially the 2016), showed that fresh, vibrant Merlots are still alive and well. “I would not say there is panic, but a lot of work to do,” Honnef said, adding that he would soon be visiting southern Spain to meet with winemakers and discuss how they’re adapting to climate change.

Even a region with such storied history and winemaking tradition, growers and winemakers will have to evolve and adapt with this new climate reality. At the same time, I found passionate winemakers who want to continue making wines that represent their house’s history, style, and terroir.

“We still have to respect the Bordeaux style,” Apelbaum said. “But we must prepare. We must face this.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

This week, I’m back with a catch-all report of wines I received these past few months but didn’t get around to reviewing until recently. (It’s been a busy and enjoyable summer, and I hope the same is true for you.) 

Smith-Madrone’s Spring Mountain wines are consistently some of my favorite from Napa, and I love their Chardonnay and Riesling. So, since I tasted these wines sighted, I tried to approach them with as much skepticism as possible. That said, the 2016s showed wonderfully. Crystal clear, pristine wines that are both begging for serious cellar time. And for the price, I’m still amazed these wines exist.   

C.V.N.E. comes through with some moderately-priced Riojas worth checking out. And Italy’s Garafoli provides three wines from Marche that offer some deliciousness and intrigue for the price. 

Lastly, Virginia’s Early Mountain delivers a juicy red quaffer for those late summer scorchers. 

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2016 Garafoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Podium” - Italy, Marche, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
SRP: $26
Light yellow color. So perfumed, with aromas of peaches, limes, dandelion, floral potpourri, sea salt. Nice breadth of texture on the palate with vibrant acidity. Oranges, yellow plums, apricot, lots of fresh fruit, with plenty of sea salt and spicy floral potpourri, along with richer elements of honey and wax. Lots going on here. A single-vineyard Verdicchio, fermented and aged in concrete and stainless steel. (90 points)  

2018 Garofoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Macrina” - Italy, Marche, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. So floral, with lots of honeysuckle and daisies, along with peaches, honeydew and limes. Lively and crisp on the palate with a pleasantly plump feel. Honeydew drizzled with lime, and I get these notes of chalk, minerals, punchy herbal tones as well. This is pure summer fun but also shows significant complexity, especially for the price. Aged five months in concrete and stainless steel. (88 points)  

2016 Garofoli Rosso Conero Piancarda - Italy, Marche, Rosso Conero
SRP: $17
Deep, juicy purple color. The nose boasts raspberries and black cherries with smoky menthol, wild herbs, eucalyptus and pepper. Vibrant acidity, dusty tannins, with a solid core of red and black cherry fruit. Notes of smoky, charcoal, herbs, a bit sharp and linear, but there’s enough juiciness and complexity that it works. Spicy incense notes on the finish. 100% Montepulciano aged one year in oak. (88 points)  

2016 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Cune Crianza - Spain, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $13
Vibrant ruby color. Nose shows juicy black cherries, spiced cranberry sauce, clove, roses and tobacco. Crisp, lively and fresh on the palate with dusty tannins. The wine is ripe and juicy but stays fresh and bright. Raspberries, cherries, topped in cocoa, dusty earth, roses, clove and mint. Lots of complexity here for a wine at this price point. An attractive, inviting, drink-me-now Rioja. (88 points)  

2016 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Viña Real Crianza - Spain, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $16
Bright ruby color. Aromas of cherries, chilled strawberries, along with sweet roses, clay/earthy tones and cocoa powder. Fresh and bright, light tannins, juicy red fruit, crisp acidity. Cherries, raspberries and pomegranate mix well with roses, rhubarb, anise and mint. Fun, juicy, balanced, accessible but complex for the price. Aged 10 months in American oak. (88 points)  

2016 Com Tu - Spain, Catalunya, Tarragona, Montsant
SRP: $55
Rich purple color. Spicy aromatics with sage, pepper, creosote and mint, along with smoky cherries, sweet cranberry sauce, with cedar, coffee and incense. Juicy and full-bodied with suave tannins and moderating acidity, not too heavy for 15%. Raspberry and strawberry jam fruit mixes well with sweet coffee, mint, eucalyptus and pepper. The complexity is quite nice, smooth and accessible, totally delicious, but showing some complex floral, spice and earth tones. Grill-friendly stuff that packs a punch. A project from Rene Barbier Ferrer of Clos Mogador. 100% Garnacha from 35- to 50-year-old vines, aged 18 months in barrel. (90 points)  

2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $34
Light yellow color. Gorgeous nose of salted limes, apricot, pineapple, with dusty, chalky, sea spray notes. Laser-like focus on the palate, quite dry and vibrant. Juicy yellow and green apples with limes, and a complex mix of limestone, ocean spray, mountain stream and crushed shells. Such a lively, complex, balanced and age-worthy Riesling. Smith-Madrone does it again, and this vintage is a stunner for the cellar. 12.8% alcohol, about 0.7% residual sugar. (93 points)  

2016 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $40
Light yellow color. Aromas of juicy yellow apples topped in complex notes of honey, almond, cinnamon, sea salt, hay and chalk dust. Deep texture on the palate with pretty acidity and lovely balance. Yellow apples, candied lemons, orange peel and apricot, juicy and fruity but also airy and elegant. Salty, minerals, chalky, with notes of honey, nougat and hay. Gorgeous, deep, yet vibrant. Another beautiful Chardonnay from Smith-Madrone. Barrel fermented with 80% new French oak. I’d love to age this for five years. (93 points) 

2018 Early Mountain Vineyards Soif - USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $26
Deep but bright ruby color. Very pretty, juicy, fresh nose of red plums, candied cherries, bubble gum, with sweet pipe tobacco. Fresh and lively on the palate, light-bodied (12.3% alcohol) with soft tannins and zippy acidity. Plums, cherries, raspberries, super juicy but it’s also showing complex nots of earth, soy, rose potpourri and clove. So fun and delicious. An interesting semi-carbonic wine, a blend of 49% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 3% Chardonnay and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Soif means thirst in French and Early Mountain certainly made a gulpable, juicy, low tannin, crushable red in this difficult vintage. (88 points)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Bordeaux Newcomer Château Page is a Project to Watch

Patrick Honnef and Gerald Lecomte were neighbors before they were business partners. Patrick worked in the wine business while Gerald Lecomte came from the world of finance, and they would frequently spend time together, enjoying sports and drinking wine.

In 2011, they had hatched a plan to purchase a small vineyard and start their own winery. Chateau Page (which is a combination of the first two letters of their first names) is their cooperative project — and if you like suave, balanced Bordeaux, it’s a project to watch.

Patrick, who is German by birth, isn’t new to Bordeaux. He worked as technical director of Chateau d’Aiguilhe for 10 years. He also lives a good portion of the year in the ancient winemaking country of Georgia, where he oversees the viticulture at Chateau Mukhrani (whose wines I know and respect).

During a week of visiting winemakers in Bordeaux, I had the pleasure of meeting with Patrick and Gerald and tasting their wines. I had never heard of this very small producer before, but the wines showed a level of class and quality well beyond their humble beginnings.

The winery is located in the Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux appellation, which rises up from the banks of the Dordogne River and shares similar qualities to nearby Saint-Emilion. Patrick and Gerald’s vines (only about four acres) are located on a plateau with clay and limestone soils.

When they purchased the vineyard, it was in a sorry state, due to years of generous doses of herbicides and pesticides. Immediately, Patrick kicked off a transition to organic farming. While not common in Bordeaux, Castillon has a higher percentage (about 25%) of organic estates than most other appellations in Bordeaux. He says he saw change almost immediately. “The vines came back to life,” he said.

Their flagship wine is a blend of about 80% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. In certain vintages they also produce a Page Noir, which is about 90% Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted a few vintages of each wine, and really grew to appreciate their style. More old school in their earliest vintages, the wines had more pronounced dusty-earthy elements. While the wines seem even fresher and more refined in the 2016 vintage (which has quickly become one of my favorite recent Bordeaux vintages).

My notes on the wines I tasted are below. 

Patrick (left) and Gerald (right) of Chateau Page. Credit: Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux

2012 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Dark and saucy aromas, tangy black currants and cherries, with lots of earthy, smoky, peppery elements. Shows tannic guts on the palate, and there’s a lot of concentration in the blackberry and raspberry fruit, but the acidity is fresh. Notes of anise, graphite, smoke, this has an old school feel to it, like it needs a while to come around. The non-fruit elements are going to evolve into something beautiful, but there’s also enough delicious fruit to age as well. (91 points)

2013 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Saucy fruit, dark and plummy with violets, coffee, loamy earth. On the palate, this is dark and juicy with velvety tannins, more approachable than the 2012, moderate acidity keeps it lively, but this is a dark and juicy wine with a forward but fresh appeal. (89 points)

2014 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
So pretty, wow, lots of violets, floral perfume, anise, pepper, on top of pure, juicy cherries. Great balance on the palate, medium-velvety tannins meet vibrant acidity. Tangy red plums and red and black cherries mix well with lots of earthy, soy, violets, and underlying notes of minerals and graphite. Elegant, complex, a very expressive 2014. (91 points)

2015 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Gorgeous dark fruits on the nose (all kinds of fruit), pure and juicy, with soy, leaves, pencil lead. Such intrepid balance on the palate with great tannic grip and vibrant acidity. Plums, blackberry and cassis, laced with lots of violets, loamy earth, pencil lead and charcoal. Long time ahead for this wine. Really impressive stuff. (93 points)

2016 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
The nose is gorgeous, waves of dark fruit, with lots of soy, pencil lead, leaves, coffee. Beautiful balance between tannic grip and vibrant acidity on the palate. Plum, blackberry and cassis fruit, complex and crunchy with violets, loamy earth notes. Complex forest floor, anise, cedar. Great concentration, but also balance. Another beautiful 2016, but this was is really special. (93 points)

2012 Château Page Page Noir - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Deep currants on the nose with lots of tobacco, pepper, leather. Serious grip to the tannins (this is a powerful and young wine) with medium/low acidity. Dark currant and tart plum skin flavors. I love the gravelly, earthy, tobacco notes. Still quite tight, but this is quite lovely and should do great things over the next five to ten years. (91 points)

2015 Château Page Page Noir - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Beautiful core of blackberry and cassis on the nose, with mint, pepper, leather. Pure and fresh, built on solid tannic group but the acidity is fresh as well, and the wine has an effortless feel at this young age. Blackberry and currant, smooth but tangy fruits, laced with complex earth, cocoa, pepper, anise. The depth and balance are delightful. (93 points)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Rolling the Dice on 1990s California Zinfandels

There's a well-known old saying that goes something like: There are no great wines, just great bottles of wine.

That is so true, especially when dealing with aged wines. And especially dealing with wines that are not traditionally cellared for long periods of time, like California Zinfandel.

Sure there are some known to age well (Turley, Ridge and Ravenswood come to mind), but Zinfandels are usually fun, early-drinking, juicy wines. What happens when they have 25 or so years of cellar time?

Well, in some cases, nothing good happens. But some bottles can really shine, as a recent tasting of California Zinfandels from the 1990s demonstrated.

These wines were all curated by a good wine-collecting buddy of mine who bought them from various sources over the years and kept them in good cellar conditions. But aging wine isn't an exact science, and some of the wines showed serious flaws - mostly volatile acidity, which can happen when aging higher alcohol wines for this long.

We all expected a few of the wines to be undrinkable, and we were right. But I'm not sure I expected some of the wines to pop out of the glass with life and wow me. A few sure did. Below are my notes of the aged Zins I tasted.

If you've tasted any good aged Zins recently, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. Cheers!

1992 Boeger Winery Zinfandel Walker Vineyard - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
This one is sported some stewed tomatoes on the nose with mint, leaves, hints of brambly red fruit. Light tannins, showing some heat, moderate acidity. Red cherries still there, with notes of coffee grounds, oak and leather. Actually a lot better on the palate than I was expecting. (86 pts.)

1990 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
Pepper and plums on the nose. Fresh, zesty, dusty tannins. Seems to show quite a bit of life left here with red plums and raspberries, and notes of pepper, soy and leaves. Impressive complexity on this refined, aged wine. (88 pts.)

1993 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Scherrer Vineyards - USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
A more muted nose with sweet cherries and coffee. Plum cake dominates the palate with soft tannins and medium acidity. Raisined, but showing some cool wild herb notes underneath. (83 pts.)

1991 The Terraces Zinfandel - USA, California, Napa Valley
Leafy aromas in a good way (like all kinds of forest floors) mixed with bell pepper, black pepper, on top of tangy red currants. Zippy, dusty and spicy on the palate with light tannins and crisp acidity. This is a really cool and fresh wine, and the red fruit is still going, while the earthy, savory, spicy notes take front seat. One of the better wines of the evening. (90 pts.)

1991 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
Tired but wild on the nose with strawberries, tomato leaf and a massive amount of paprika. Sour, tart and crazy on the palate with volatile acidity. The amount of insane paprika and cumin flavors cannot be overstated. (FLAWED)

1992 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
What a world of difference from the 1991! Shows lively strawberries and raspberries and red licorice on the nose. Plush, still going on the palate with dusty tannins and juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. Integrated notes of gamey meat, soy, black pepper glaze. This one is a lot of fun. (89 pts.)

1994 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
Yikes, this is a Sherried, Madeirized wreck. In a feat of palate masochism, I made myself taste it after realizing how messed up it was on the nose, just to have another point of reference in the wine fault memory. The wine was not pleasant in any way. (FLAWED)

1992 Ravenswood Zinfandel Dickerson - USA, California, Napa Valley Pretty yet bold on the nose with strawberries, plum cake, pepper, oak and cedar. Juicy on the palate with a rich texture but nuance and integration from age. Yummy strawberries and wild berries on the palate with complex elements of menthol, charcoal, leather, wild herbs. Wow, this is balance, delicious, has aged well. Just really good stuff. My wine of the night easily.  (91 pts.)

1993 Ravenswood Zinfandel Los Chamizal - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
Cherry pie on the nose with cola, herbs, pepper. Really ripe, juicy, dark and roasted, but it’s put together well and still lively. Juicy and dark but some black pepper, bell pepper and cocoa notes. Delicious stuff! (89 pts.) 

1993 Ravenswood Zinfandel Grandpère - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
This wine was a bit weird, dusty, with volatile acidity throwing things out of whack. Sour cherries and tart raspberries with dusty, earthy, sooty notes. Ah well. I was hoping this was still pumping. (FLAWED)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

California's Cartograph Rocks Sparklers, Chardonnay & Gewürztraminer

Cartograph dates back to around 2009, when founders Alan Baker and Serena Lourie came to Healdsburg with two barrels of Pinot Noir. 

Alan had been making his own wines at CrushPad, the San Francisco custom crush facility. Drawing on his tech consulting experience, he also oversaw CrushPad’s online platform, Crushnet. It was at this facility where he met Serena Lourie (whose background was in healthcare administration, technology and finance), and they came up with the idea for Cartograph. In 2016 Alan and Serena purchased their first vineyard, 10 acres of Pinot Noir near Sebastopol and Cotati. 

This was my first time tasting Cartograph wines, and it was a very pleasant experience tasting these wines together and seeing the nuanced differences, but also the stylistic similarities. The Pinot Noirs are fresh and lively, and the fruit has this fresh, red, early-picked quality, while maintaining the juiciness and fruitiness that you’d expect from Russian River Pinot. The inaugural vintage of their Estate Pinot Noir is something special, a really bright, elegant, floral, spicy Pinot. And their sparkling wines are on the leaner, zippier side, while showing solid complexity and depth. 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Cartograph Pinot Noir Brut Zéro Leonardo Julio Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Deep yellow color. Brisk and inviting on the nose with oyster shells and chalk dust over top of salted butter, biscuits, bread dough, apricot and lemons. Zesty and light-bodied on the palate but there’s plenty of texture and depth. Green apples, apricot and lemon work really well with these notes of saline, crushed seashells, chalk and minerals. A bracing (in a good way) Brut Zero that would pair wonderfully with shellfish. All Chardonnay, 11.9% alcohol. (91 points)

2013 Cartograph Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Leonardo Julio Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Pale copper color. Bright nose of strawberries, raspberries, rose petals, with bread crumbs, chalk dust and mint notes. Light-bodied, bright acid, fine bubbles, but there’s a nice creamy depth. Lemon meringue, sweet red apples, white cherries, the fruit is laced with chalky, mineral notes. Lovely depth, lots of chalky-dusty vibes, this is delicious, zippy, complex stuff. 11.9% alcohol. From the Leonardo Julio Vineyard. (90 points)

2018 Cartograph Dry Gewürztraminer Starscape Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $26
Deep yellow color. A peach explosion on the nose, with lemon-lime, guava, sea salt, and a spiced white tea and white pepper note. Dry, bracing, crisp on the palate, this has a really pleasantly brisk quality with lots of minerals and chalk elements. Peaches, guava and lime mix well with verbena, white pepper and honeysuckle notes. A nuanced, vibrant, complex California Gewurztraminer – that’s not something I’m used to writing! 13.3% alcohol. (90 points)

2016 Cartograph Pinot Noir Estate - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Medium ruby color. Rhubarb pops from the nose, along with roses, cola, sweet strawberries and raspberries. The palate is fresh and bright with dusty tannins and juicy fruit (strawberries, red currants, raspberries). I get notes of raspberry leaf, mint and white pepper that add complexity. Juicy, fruity and fun but really vibrant and lively. I’d like to see where this goes in 2-3 years. 13.6% alcohol. (91 points)

2017 Cartograph Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $48
Deep ruby color. Nose shows fresh but chilled red fruits (cherries, raspberries, strawberry jam) along with rhubarb, cola and some mushroom and pepper notes. Medium+ bodied, velvety tannins, medium acidity. Tangy yet juicy raspberries, red plums and strawberries, mixed with notes of cinnamon, clove and roasted chestnut. The earthy-complexity is very attractive and melds well with the ripe red fruits. 13.9% alcohol. (90 points)

2015 Cartograph Pinot Noir Transverse - California, North Coast
SRP: $64

Light purple color. Nose of sweet raspberries, cherries and strawberries, with healthy dollops of violets, rose petals and sweet herbs. Medium-bodied, brisk acidity, juicy and lively red fruits (cherries and raspberries). Notes of savory spices, mesquite barbecue, rose petals and cola add complexity. This is a ton of fun, shows a lot of personality, exuberant but balanced and lively. A blend of fruit from Choate Vineyard, Saltonstall Vineyard and Starscape Vineyard. 13.4% alcohol. (90 points)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Wine Reviews: California Reds

I’m back this week with a diverse handful of newly-released California reds.

I’ve long been a fan of Adam Lee’s Siduri Pinot Noirs. It was purchased by Jackson Family a few years ago, but based on this and other tastings, I’ve found the aesthetic seems to be staying quite similar to what drew me to these wines in the first place. And while it’s Sonoma fruit Siduri is known best for, Adam Lee’s first wine was actually produced from Anderson Valley fruit, and it’s really cool to see the wines come full-circle and show so well.

Napa’s Frank Family comes through with a Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon that bring a lot of personality for wines in their respective price ranges. And Louis Martini’s Sonoma and Napa Cabernets show themselves as accessible, fun but also “serious” wines that offer lots of value.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Cline Cellars Carignane Ancient Vines - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $23
Deep purple color. Aromas of sweet plums, black cherries (warm, mulled fruit) with cocoa, cola and sweet black pepper glaze. Full but fresh with suave tannins and medium acidity. Roasted plums and black cherries, the fruit is warm and rich, backed up with notes of spicy pepper, leather, coffee and charcoal grill. Fun, yummy, a solid choice to pair with pretty much anything that’s been grilled. All Carignane aged 12 months in French oak (35% new). (87 points)

2017 Siduri Pinot Noir Anderson Valley - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $40
Deep ruby color. Bright and juicy nose of raspberries, red currants, cranberry sauce, with lots of roses, violets, rhubarb and wild herbs. Plum and juicy texture but lively acidity, with dusty-light tannins. Crisp raspberries, cherries, pomegranate, tangy and chilled, with rose petals, rhubarb, mint and cola elements. Fruity and fun, but elegant, spicy, lively. It’s good to see Siduri keeping things going in this style. A blend of three-vineyards around Boonville, aged 15 months in 35% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Siduri Pinot Noir Edmeades - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $50

Medium ruby color. Lovely aromas of fresh cherries, raspberries and red plums, topped in cola, rhubarb, white pepper, violets, and some earthy-clay notes. Plush yet zesty on the palate with dusty tannins. Bountiful but crisp fruit (cherries, strawberries, raspberries), and I get notes of spiced tea, rhubarb, cola, violet petals and earth. Plump and fruity but vibrant and complex as well, this should do well with two or three years, but it’s very accessible now, too. From a block of Pommard clone in the Londer block of this vineyard, 50% whole cluster fermentation, aged 10 months in 33% new French oak. (92 points)

2016 Bear Flag Wine Zinfandel - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $30
Light purple color. The nose is juicy and sweet with black cherry, blueberry and raspberry jams, mixed with yummy notes of coffee, cola, sarsaparilla and vanilla. Full-bodied with smooth tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Lots of plums, raspberries, black cherries and blueberries, all cooked down into jams with notes of mint, sweet pipe tobacco and cola. Velvety, plush, fun, fan-friendly, but it also sports complexity and vibrancy. There’s this cool earthy, incense, pipe tobacco thing on the finish, too. Really yummy. (89 points)

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $58
Bright purple color. Big and juicy on the nose with currants, plums and black cherries, suave and fruity but complex notes of eucalyptus, tobacco, mint and dark chocolate notes. Full-bodied on the palate with a warm, inviting feel; velvety tannins, medium acidity. Very pretty fruit (black cherries, currants, dark plums), dark but tangy, and it’s paired well with notes of mint, eucalyptus, tobacco and vanilla. Harmonious and smooth, accessible young but has the structure to hold for a while as well. Includes a combined 10% Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this spends 20 months in 1/3 new French oak. (91 points)  

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Bright purple. Juicy, tangy aromas of cherries, plums and raspberries, with cola, mint, chewing tobacco and cracked pepper. Full but suave on the palate with velvety tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Jammy raspberries, cherries and plums, but the fruit shows a tangy edge, and it’s accented by notes of spicy mint, tobacco, black pepper, hints of espresso and vanilla. So fun to drink bow but this could age for a few years. Includes 9% Petite Sirah, this spends 16 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points) 

2016 Provenance Vineyards Deadeye - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. The aromas are dark and deep (currants, blueberries, blackberries), with anise, cocoa, vanilla and spice rub notes. This is big, juicy and deep on the palate, a mouth-filling presence with velvety tannins and enough acidity to moderate things. Waves of dark, smooth fruit blend well with cocoa, mint, scorched earth, cedar and tobacco. Graphite and mineral elements on the finish. Big (15.5%) but it holds itself together very well. Sourced from fruit from St. Helena, Howell Mountain, Oakville and Spring Mountain, aged 18 months in French, American and Hungarian oak (50% new). (90 points)

2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $40
Medium purple color. The nose is sweet and inviting , with plums, black currants and fig paste, and notes of cedar, cocoa, coffee and scorched earth. Full-bodied with a bold presence on the palate, smooth tannins but they provide some grip, medium acidity. Flavors of juicy dark plums and blackberries (deep but the fruit has a nice tangy edge). Notes of cocoa, cedar, coffee grounds and mint add complexity. A nice warm, slightly earth aesthetic. This is really pleasant yet complex — Louis Martini’s Napa Cab is killer for the price. Aged 21 months in 30% new French and American oak. (90 points) 

2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Light purple color. The nose shows plum sauce, black cherries and currants, warm but fresh fruit, mixed well with anise, cocoa, tobacco and vanilla. Full-bodied with a smooth, suave yet fresh appeal. Juicy and fresh black cherries, plum and cassis. Notes of tobacco, vanilla, clove and forest floor are woven in nicely. This is a really fun, accessible and early-drinking Cabernet, but complex, too, and consistently one of the better Cabs in this price range. Sourced from Frei Ranch and Barrelli Creek Vineyards, this includes some Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Merlot, aged 16 months in oak. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.