Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chasing Cristobal: A New Jersey Surf Story

Cristobal charges into New Jersey waters on August 29. All photos in this post come from Harold Wintters.
“You can surf in New Jersey?”

“New Jersey has waves?”

I get these questions all the time when people ask about my lifelong passion for Garden State waves. Yes, we get waves. Good waves. But like everything worth chasing, the timing has to be right. 

Everyone seems to have an opinion of the Jersey Shore, even if they’ve never been there. Most of the people who have been to New Jersey probably visited the Shore during summer, when the beaches are packed and the air reeks of Coppertone and body spray. Here, tourists bask in the reaffirmation of their long-held stereotypes. Is the sand cramped with orange-hued sunbathers? Yes. Are there d-bags who shave their stomachs and strut around with chests puffed out? Oh, hell yes. Are there waves? Most of the time, no.

The water is calm and clean and cools the hot skin. On summer mornings, the sea is a green glass sheet. While everyone tans on the beach and wades into the shallows, surfers linger around, waiting for something — anything — to happen. Even though it’s gorgeous and sunny out, surfers struggle through the summer months.

But when a tropical storm charges up the Atlantic, everything changes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Since my last review of California Chardonnay, more goodies have found their way to my glass. This batch includes some impressive value-driven wines and a wide range of stylistic interpretations.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2012 Ripe Life Wines Chardonnay The Clambake” - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $17
Bright on the nose with sea salt, lemon curd, grapefruit and flowers. Creamy on the palate, tangy acid with white peach and green apple fruit. A leaner, crisper style, the seafood themed label fits with this wine’s lean, food-friendly aesthetic. All stainless steel. (87 points)

2013 Tolosa Winery Chardonnay No-Oak - California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
SRP: $21
Very bright on the nose, with green melon, limes, honeysuckle and some waxy notes. Crisp and clean on the palate with refreshing acid. Flavors of key lime, green melon, some pear. Clean, lean, with floral perfume and green apple on the finish. Fresh, fun, begs for mussels or white fish. (86 points)

2011 Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
Pale yellow color. Nose of dried apricot and pineapple, some serious honeyed tea and green herb elements, a kick of minerals, Tangy and lively on the palate, the green and yellow apples taste tart and crunchy. Also some lime and pineapple, a taste of lime peel, saline, white tea, chalk and herbal tea aspects. A much more tart and mineral-driven style, and quite impressive if you’re into this kind of Chardonnay. Aged in old oak with no maloactic fermentation. (88 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
Smells of fresh laundry, some white peach, apricot and bright flowers, a some spicy-herbal notes. Medium body, medium acid, full of pear, green and yellow apples and honeydew melon, some ruby red grapefruit. White tea and a spicy herbal elements linger on the finish. Not as much nerve as the 2011 but very nice for this style. (87 points)

2012 Moniker Chardonnay - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $23
Medium golden color. Nose of whipped honey, yellow pear, nougat, some peanut shell and honeysuckle elements. Rich and creamy on the palate, with medium acid and a medium body but showing some complexity: white tea, honeycomb, sea shells, candied lemon, nougat, peanut skins. Big, bold, but complex and interesting. Includes a bit of barrel-fermented Viognier. (88 points)

2012 Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay Carneros - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $30
Nose of bright white peach, honeysuckle, green pear and sea salt, Tangy and bright with lemon verbena, orange peel, apricots and crunchy white cherries. Lemon tea, margarita salt, whipped honey and graham cracker notes, but it’s still very floral and bright. (88 points)

2012 Piña Cellars Chardonnay Low Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
SRP: $34
Nose of white peach, green apple, orange peel, some honeycomb and white flowers. Creamy and nutty on the palate, with apricot, white peach and glazed pear, but tangy acid cuts through. Some dried honey and white tea, along with complex nutty notes, drizzled with lime. Some minerals, sea salt and stones linger onto the finish. Balancing itself out well. Fermented in 38% new French oak. (90 points)

2012 Amapola Creek Chardonnay Jos. Belli Vineyards - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Light yellow color. Nose of golden apples, pears, some peach nectar and an herb butter element as well. Creamy texture but fresh and elegant as well, with complex interwoven flavors of apricot, golden apple, glazed pears. Notes of cinnamon, hazelnut and caramel corn add complexity but don’t overwhelm. Clean, fresh, notes of crushed chalk and sea shells in here as well. Clean, pure, but quite rich, this Chardonnay ends up pulling it off. I’d love to lay this down for four or five years because it’s got so much complexity to unravel. (91 points)

2012 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $27
Floral aromas, some white peach, baked apple and honey but also some rocks and minerals. Crisp acid and a creamy mouthfeel, this is rich but also nervy and lively. Lots of green apple and apricot, mixing with honey, limestone, slate and minerals. Quite deep and mineral-driven, with saline notes on the finish. Impressive stuff that doesn’t fall into one Chard camp or the other. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pondering Prosecco

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Looking for bubbles on the cheap? Well, there’s always Prosecco, right?



Look, I’m rarely excited by Prosecco. I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle or ordered a glass at a wine bar. But I will admit this: I was surprised and impressed by a few of these Proseccos. Seriously. I especially liked the Mionetto Superiore di Cartizze, which is a complex and elegant wine.

Overall, they were all quite enjoyable. Some of them were yummy, and most of them were very cheap. And I have to remind myself never to underestimate the yummy and the cheap. I’m still not sure what spot high-end Proseccos have in American wine scenes. But the wines are out there, if you’re looking to expand your perception of what Prosecco can be.

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

N.V. Bolla Prosecco Extra Dry - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene
SRP: $12
Pale straw color. Aromas of white peach, fresh grapefruit and sugar cane. Dry, tingling bubbles, with green apple and some lychee nut flavors. Fun, easy-drinking, but not a ton of cut or complexity. 11% alcohol. (85 points)

N.V. Bolla Sparkling Rosé Extra Dry - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene
SRP: $10
Pale salmon color. Aromas of white cherries, strawberries and lemon peel. Crisp and floral, with watermelon and honeyed notes. Light, creamy and refreshing. 11.5% alcohol. (85 points)

N.V. Cantine Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $12
Smells like sea salt and minerals, over top of sweet white peach and green melon. Tangy and light on the palate, with a fresh spritz. Flavors of green melon, white peach and green apple are accented by slight notes of mineral and lemon peel. Fresh, clean, fun. (85 points)

N.V. Cantine Riondo Prosecco Blu - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $14
Pale lemon color with fine bubbles. Aromas of white peach, apricot bright flower, sweet perfume, chalky. Tangy, crisp but fleshy as well, with canned peaches, sweet pears and apricot, mixed in with honey and flowers. Residual sugar is present but not too strong. More verve and life than a lot of Proseccos at this price point. (87 points)

N.V. Cantine Riondo Prosecco R37 Demi Sec - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $15
Smells of flowers, lychee and candied citrus peel. Sweet and creamy on the palate, lacking in precise acid, with honey, peach and mango nectar, and some sweet flowers. 10% alcohol. (84 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco “Il” - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $12
Peachy-keen on the nose, with white flowers and apple sauce notes. Showing a lot of crispness on the palate, with green apple and nectarine, some slight seashell and minerals on the finish. Interesting mineral notes add some complexity. Bottled under crown cap. (86 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco Brut Gold Label - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $14
Light gold color. Aromas of white peach, nectarine and sugar cane. Juicy white peach and guava nectar on the palate, some honey and waxy elements. Simple, fresh, clean, with sugar cane notes on the finish. (84 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco Treviso Brut - Italy, Veneto, Treviso
SRP: $16
Crisp green apples on the nose, green melon along with white peach and guava. Juicy on the palate, with notes of cotton candy and saline mixing in with the green melon and apple fruit. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff. (86 points)

N.V. Mionetto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore - Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
SRP: $19
Stony on the nose, with white flowers, green melon and some green apple peel. On the palate, the grapefruit, nectarine and peach fruit is laced with nuts, yellow and white flowers, waxy notes, slate, saline and minerals. Tangy, clean and fresh with lasting minerals on the finish. (87 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze
SRP: $35
Pale lemon and onion skin color. Deep minerals and sea shells on the nose along with melon and peach. Creamy palate with fine bubbles and flavors of salt and clover to accent the green melon, nectarine and peach fruit. Zesty, quite complex with notes of cheese rind, honey and clover. One of the more complex Proseccos I’ve tasted. From the higher elevation, mineral rich vineyard of Cartizze. (88 points)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Enjoying the Wines of Two Shepherds (Again)

Restrained California Rhone wines. More and more frequently, they are popping up and gaining attention. One of my favorite examples is Sonoma-based Two Shepherds, which focuses on cooler climate sites, lower alcohol and minimalist winemaking. The one-man army behind this outfit, William Allen, crafts a range of white and red wines from Rhone grapes that aim for elegance and subtletly over bombast.

I enjoyed sipping Two Shepherds wines during an online event earlier this year and at a Rhone Rangers tasting in Washington, DC this summer. So I was excited when I learned William would be visiting my favorite wine shop in the nation’s capital, Weygandt Wines. Weygandt, which focuses mainly on old world producers, picked up Two Shepherds a few months ago and now sells some of Williams wines. 

Most of them come from the Russian River Valley, where Rhone varieties are less common than the staples Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But Two Shepherds has also released a 100% Cinsault from Lodi, a delicious anomaly from 130-year-old vines, and William dabbles in fruit from Santa Ynez and El Dorado. 

Some notes from the wines I tasted...

2013 Two Shepherds Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
So bright and clean on the nose. Fresh and lively palate with beautiful acid and lots of stony minerality. Elegant, long finish. Another great showing from this wine. 33 cases made. (91 points)

2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Bursts with peaches, flowers, minerals, some chalky saline elements. Palate is clean and salty with apricot, orange peel and white tea. Very pleasant and fresh and inviting, as always. William’s largest production white, which means a whopping 105 cases. 50% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne, 10% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc.  (90 points)

2013 Two Shepherds Cinsault Ancient Vines Bechthold Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Nose is bright and peppery, with roses, minerals, a light yet deep and complicated blend of smells. Silky soft on the palate with fine tannins. White cherries and strawberries, mixed with roses. Complex yet crisp, a real treat with lots of depth and gravel, rocky notes. This wine is something else. Morgon meets Northern Rhone meets Lodi rose? I don’t know what to compare this wine to, but I love it. 100% whole cluster fermented from what William said is believed to be the oldest Cinsault vines anywhere. Glad I was able to snag a bottle for the cellar. 35 cases made. (92 points)

2012 Two Shepherds Syrah | Mourvedre - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Bright cherries and plums, a hint of blueberry on the nose along with bright flowers and a hint of green olive. So bright and clean on the palate, a tangy wine but medium tannin for support. I love the combination of red fruit with these pepper, mineral and graphite notes. 50 cases made. 12.3% alcohol. (90 points)

2012 Two Shepherds Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Vibrant aromatics of bright cherries and blueberries, along with some floral and earthy tones. Tangy, bright and fresh on the palate, but fine tannins, combining for a smooth mouthfeel. Love the red roses, pepper and mineral elements to this wine. Complex, elegant, another stunning wine from Two Shepherds. (91 points)

Some of these wines are available at Weygandt’s shop in DC’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. Otherwise, check out for more information on how to get your hands on some. 
If you’re a fan of California Rhones, stay tuned to the Rhone Rangers’ event page. I’ve heard the Rhone Rangers are headed back to DC’s Longview Gallery for another tasting in mid-2015.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Crémant d’Alsace: More Bubbles for Your Buck

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If I could afford it, I’d drink Champagne always. But Crémant d’Alsace tends to be my go-to bubbly when I’m trying not to break the bank. I served a Crémant d’Alsace at my wedding last year, and it was a huge hit — and not very expensive.

I recently tasted through four Crémants d’Alsace and enjoyed all of them. These wines were received as trade samples and, because there were only four of them, tasted sighted.

N.V. René Muré Crémant d’Alsace Brut - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $18
Salty on the nose with some hazelnut, biscuits, quinine and crushed rocks. Fine bubbles, medium acid, some creaminess to the mouthfeel, stays lean and zippy though. Ruby red grapefruit and green apple mix with elements of cucumber water, minerals and limestone. Notes of graham cracker, vanilla and almond. Decent depth and length of finish, with elements of oyster shell. A blend of Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. (87 points)

N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $20
Nose of white and red flowers, watermelon and strawberries. Very fizzy on the palate, this is a fun wine, but it's neither deep nor complex. Tangy with flavors of watermelons, strawberries, lemons and some minerals. Seems like a crowd-pleasing pink bubbly. 100% Pinot Noir. (85 points)

SRP: $29
Crisp and clean aromas of oyster shell, flowers, white peach and white cherries. Creamy but tangy on the palate, the white cherry and apricot fruit is laced with oceanic elements of sea salt and oyster shell. Finishes with minerals and slight toast. 100% Pinot Noir From 40-year-old vines in Orschwihr. (87 points)

N.V. Domaine Agape Crémant d’Alsace “Emotion” - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $23
Smells like white flowers, green apple, toasted and salted nuts and. Big and creamy on the palate, but also fine and tangy. Green apple, white peach and some lime, the wine is also laced with minerals and toasted bread. Solid complexity and depth. (88 points)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Two 2009 Syrahs from California

Copain has consistently been one of my favorite purveyors of Cali Syrah.
California Syrah has seen its ups and downs. Many of my wine friends unloaded their Cali Syrah years ago as their palates and interests changed. But I find there are so many producers and such variety that I’ve never grown mildly bored or tired with the stuff. I still buy it, I still drink it, I still love it.

I’ve been cooking a lot at home lately, even more than usual, and I recently grilled up some steaks and sipped on some Cali Syrah from the cellar. I was reminded yet again why I keep coming back to Cali Syrah, year after year.

2009 Copain Syrah Les Voisins 
California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands 
Huge magenta color. Tons of tart, rich black and red currant fruit on the nose, blackberries, some loam and graphite. Dusty tannins, the red and black currants and cherries taste tart and crunchy, but some nice freshness from the acid. Lots of deep rocky, granite, loam and mineral elements. Some lovely mushroom and nutshell elements on the long finish. Showing a lot of flavor but some class as well. With time some cola and root beer elements come out with some sage and sweet basil. I managed to cellar my only bottle for 2.5 years, but I’d love to try it again in three or four. 13.9% alcohol. Copain produces some of my favorite Cali Syrahs, especially from Mendocino regions like the Yorkville Highlands. I picked this up for $35 while visiting Copain in 2012. 
(91 points)  

2009 Arger-Martucci Syrah
California, Napa Valley
A magenta color. Fresh black and red fruits on the nose, some deep violets and roses. With time I pick up some earthy tones, maybe some charcoal, some peppered steak. Juicy red and black currant fruit on the palate, medium acid, some grippy tannins, adding a dusty feel. I love the olive tapenade and roasted red pepper elements, in addition to pepper and smoke. Some black licorice candies, fallen leaves and slight toast on the finish. Big but complex and showing a nice velvety mouthfeel with time in the decanter. You’ll be fine cellaring this for a few years. From estate vineyards in Atlas Peak. I picked this up at auction for $12, and what a steal it was! 

(89 points) 

Which Cali Syrahs have you been drinking lately?