Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Inexpensive but Expressive Burgundies from Domaine Collotte

Phillipe Collotte. Credit: Weygandt Wines
I love Burgundian wines, but I’m not a wealthy man. I’ve never tasted a bottle of Romanée-Conti and, considering I’m not burying thousands of dollars away for this purpose, likely never will.

And while a lot of Burgundy’s greatest wines will remain out of my reach, there are still plenty of wines from Burgundy that are of high quality, but don’t cost a fortune. Some, like the wines of
Domaine Collotte, can be found for $20-$35.

Phillipe Collotte sources grapes from various parcels in the Côte de Nuits, most of which come from old vines, ranging from 30 years to 60-years-old. With low yield vineyards, indigenous yeast fermentation, the wines show concentration, expressiveness and deliciousness, and they still cost about $30. 

Peter Weygandt has been importing these wines since 2006, and I’ve had the chance to taste a lot of them over the years. Without exception, I’ve found them to be solid examples of inexpensive Burgundy. I recently tasted through some new releases from Collotte at Weygandt Wines, and, again, I found a lot of wine for the money. 

My notes below…

2016 Domaine Collotte Bourgogne Blanc - France, Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc
Super salty and bright with a zesty, lemon/green apple appeal. Refreshing and bright. (87 points)

2015 Domaine Collotte Fixin Blanc - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Fixin
Ooh, this is a rich and plump Chardonnay with yellow apples, bruised pear, honey, almond. Some underlying mineral and floral notes too. Round and delicious. (89 points) 

2017 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Rosé - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay Rosé
Bright and spicy on the nose with raspberries and wild cherries, along with nettle and wild green herbs. Spicy and brisk on the palate with tart strawberries and pleasant white pepper and herbal tea notes. Vibrant and delicious. (88 points)

2016 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Vieilles Vignes - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
Nose shows bright red cherries and some tobacco. Brisk acidity, dusty tannins, juicy red cherries with notes of earth and leather. Delicious now but could improve for a few years easily. (88 points)

2015 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Les Champsalomon - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
A lot more depth than the VV. Richer cherries and red plums, earth and anise. Smooth and velvety with juicy cherries and complex savory and earth elements. Very nice. (90 points) 

2014 Domaine Collotte Fixin - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Fixin
This is complex and savory on the nose, lots of earth and leather and pepper on top of mulled cherries. Smooth but structured, bright acid, cherries and plums topped in leather, mushroom, campfire smoke and some pepper. Drinking very nicely right now, probably not much aging potential here, but very nice for the price. (89 points)

Monday, August 13, 2018

HLR Cellars: Exceptional Sonoma Reds

HLR Cellars, above the fog line in Sonoma County. Credit: HLR Cellars.
On the border between Napa and Sonoma Counties, about a mile from Diamond Mountain, sits a lesser-known appellation: the Fountaingrove District. This area of Sonoma (which achieved AVA status in 2015) is where H.L.R. Cellars calls home. 

Started in 2012 by Steve and Joan Heller, H.L.R. Cellars grows Bordeaux varieties in their estate vineyards, which are planted at about 1,300 feet in elevation.

I had never heard of this producer before, but I’m always on the look for new (to me) producers from Sonoma and Napa, so I was excited to uncork these samples and give them a whirl. I lined up the wines (a Cab, a Malbec, a Merlot, and two red blends) and single-blind tasted them. As I was typing up my notes, I did a double-take when I was looking at the prices. All of the wines clock in at $45 or less, and they bring a ton of deliciousness, structure and excitement at that price point. That’s not easy to find.

My notes below.

2015 HLR Cellars Hella•Nora - California, Sonoma County, Fountaingrove District
SRP: $39
Light purple color. Nose of roasted figs, plums, currant paste along with cocoa, vanilla and sweet espresso. Full and suave on the palate, chewy, fleshy, tangy, a nice combination. Tart black currant and roasted figs with expresso, cocoa, cedar and vanilla, hints of earthy-clove and tobacco. Plush and rich but stays lively, too. Yum. 40% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, aged 21 months in French and American oak. (89 points)

2015 HLR Cellars Hella•licious - California, Sonoma County, Fountaingrove District
SRP: $39
Light purple color. Spicy nose of pepper and wild herbs on top of rich black and red currant fruit, notes of earth, smoke and cedar. Full-bodied but lovely freshness from the acidity, and the tannins provide some structure but remain smooth around the edges. Tangy red and black currant fruit with smoky herbs, black pepper, along with sweet cocoa, vanilla and coffee grounds. Absolutely delicious, but it has complexity and vibrancy going for it as well. Cabernet Sauvignon with 27% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot aged 21 months in 50% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 HLR Cellars Merlot - California, Sonoma County, Fountaingrove District
SRP: $39
Rich purple color. Bold but tangy fruit (red and black currants) with eucalyptus, mint, cocoa and sweet herbs. Full and suave on the palate, tangy acid over velvety tannins, and tart red currant mixes with saucy black cherry. Notes of eucalyptus, charcoal and mint chocolate chip, this has earthy-savory tones too. So vibrant on the finish. Aged 24 months in 44% new French and American oak. (91 points)

2015 HLR Cellars Malbec - California, Sonoma County, Fountaingrove District
SRP: $45
Rich purple. Nose shows tart black cherries, plums and boysenberry with mint, vanilla, violets and cedar. Full and big with chewy tannins but moderating acidity as well. Plums, roasted figs, boysenberry, waves of juicy dark fruit, backed up with violets, eucalyptus, mint, coffee, roasted chestnut. Rich and flavorful but stays smooth and lively. Aged 26 months in all new French and American oak. (90 points)

2015 HLR Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Fountaingrove District
SRP: $45
Light purple color. I love the spicy elements on the nose (pepper, paprika, bay leaf) on top of tart red and black currants, with notes of loamy earth, campfire, pine resin, really cool vibes on the nose. Full but so pretty on the palate with structured but rounded tannins and fresh acidity. Gorgeous, plush black cherries, currants and plums, juicy but crisp fruit, backed up by spicy pepper, paprika, grilled herbs, smoky barbecue. Notes of vanilla and wood fit in nicely into the overall package. Pretty now but I’d love to see in five to seven years. Aged 25 months in a mix of French and American oak, about 50% new. (92 points)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Exciting Indigenous Red Grapes of Alto Adige

Trentino/Alto Adige is high on my list of bucket list wine regions to visit. This autonomous region in northeastern Italy seems like a unique crossroads, and it fascinates me with its mix of Italian and Germanic cultures and dynamic terrain. With vines planted in varied soils at elevations between 600 and 3,300 feet, indigenous and international varieties that thrive here, and the wines are something special. 

I recent read and
reviewed Jason Wilson’s book “Godforsaken Grapes,” and he spends a good amount of time exploring Alto Adige (also called Südtirol or South Tyrol). I was reading the book as I was tasting through some Alto Adige wines made from the indigenous Schiava (also called Vernatsch) and Lagrein grapes, and was shouting “Amen!” to myself as he ranted about the excitement available from these wines.

Vineyards in Alto Adige. Photo Credit: Florian Andergassen.
The region is relatively small (producing less than 4 million cases of wine a year) and perhaps a bit confusing for some consumers. The names of the winegrowing zones and grapes sound a bit odd, and everything seems to be called by at least two names. That said, if you’re up for exploration, there is a ton of delicious and exceptional wine coming out of Alto Adige.

While whites make up 60% of the wine grown here (led by Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay), I recently jumped on the chance to taste some reds from Alto Adige. Schiava is such a cool grape, making lighter-styled wines with juicy red fruits and delicious spicy, earthy notes. Lagrein makes more velvety, cherry-driven wines with cool black tea, leathery, clove elements. Both delight me with their food-friendly appeal and drinkability, and I use that term in the best sense of the word. And, considering these wines aren’t exactly big collector’s items, the prices can be very reasonable.

Below are my notes on a few Alto Adige reds, which I received as samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Valle Isarco/Eisacktaler
SRP: $17
Gorgeous light strawberry color. Nose boasts red apple, raspberries, with rhubarb, rose petals, this is bright and crunchy and spicy. Medium/light-bodied with crisp, lip-smacking acidity and a pure and bright aesthetic. Strawberries, raspberries, red apple peel, the fruit is tangy and bright and laced with cranberry spiced jam, tobacco smoke and an interesting earthy-mushroom note. Lovely, brisk, bright, Schiava (also known as Trollinger and Vernatsch) is such a damned fun grape! All stainless steel. (90 points)

2015 Franz Gojer - Glögglhof Rondell - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, St. Magdalener
SRP: $26
Medium ruby color. Aromas of roses, violets, rhubarb and clove topped in juicy black cherries and ripe raspberries. A delightfully sour wine with dusty tannins and bright acidity, almost reminds me of a framoise lambic beer. Sour raspberries and cherries mix with spiced tea, rose hips, rhubarb, bay leaf and ginger notes. So delightful and fresh, this is so “drinkable” in the best sense of the word but it also has some structure. Mostly Schiava with some Lagrein blended in. Stainless steel fermentation, aged in large, old oak. (89 points)

2015 Castelfeder Lagrein Rieder - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Südtirol
SRP: $18
Light purple color. Nose explodes with tart currants, black cherries, lots of lavender, grilled herbs, black pepper, a smoky-leathery note, too. Mediu-bodied, medium tannins, refreshing acidity, this wine is wrapped together nicely with juicy red and black cherries and plums. Lots of spicy, herbal tea notes (black pepper, bay leaf, black tea) with some campfire smoke and leather. Could age for a few or benefit from a decant, but this is a very pretty, delicious Lagrein. (89 points)

2016 Muri-Gries Lagrein - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Südtirol
SRP: $17
Light purple color. Peppery burst on the nose with anise, grilled herbs and dry rub spices on top of black cherries and violets. Medium-bodied, balanced nicely with a light dose of tannins and medium acidity. Pure black cherry, tart plum, lots of pepper and clove, leather and smoke, campfire and coffee grounds. Very nice, delicious, complex stuff, this is great now but could actually age for a few years, too. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Delicious, Value-Driven New Releases from Virginia

Since my last post on the Virginia Governor's Cup winners, I've received a few samples from Virginia, which I'm always stoked to taste.

Stinson Vineyards has, for me, become such a reliable source of high quality, exciting wines, and when you factor in the easygoing price points, there's a lot to get excited about here. I also taste some delicious white blends from Muse and Early Mountain.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Stinson Vineyards Chardonnay - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $24
Medium yellow color. Rich yellow apples, apricots and lemon curd on the nose, with buttercream, white flowers, honeyed tea and saline. Plush texture but zesty acidity combine for a creamy but super fresh wine. Buttered biscuits, almond and honey on top of apples and apricot, I also get complex notes of chalk dust, white pepper, saline. A beautiful Chardonnay, sourced from Mount Juliet Vineyards, across from Stinson, this wine is fermented and aged 10 months in 15% new French oak, with 50% maloactic fermentation. (90 points)

2016 Stinson Vineyards Cabernet Franc - Virginia
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Juicy red cherries, smoky black cherries and dark plums, this boasts tobacco barn, scorched earth and roasted red pepper notes, with some cedar and coffee. Moderate acidity frames the wine nicely, the tannins are structured but rounded. Lots of ripe red and black cherries and plums, mixed with black pepper, cigar smoke, bell pepper, roasted red pepper, notes of violets and cedar. Lovely stuff as usual from Stinson! From Benevino Vineyards, this is aged nine months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Stinson Vineyards Tannat Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $21
Deep pink color. Striking aromas of red apples, strawberries, so spicy and herbal with note of sage, pot flowers, rhubarb, incense sticks – this is such an awesome wine to smell. On the palate, this shows some depth and darker fruit (red apple, red cherry, wild raspberry, but crisp and lively with fresh acid. Notes of white pepper, spiced tea, clove, pipe tobacco, this rose shows a wole host of intense, complex, intriguing flavors, but it maintains a crisp profile. So impressive, this is Stinson’s estate Tannat, grown in red clay loam soils. (91 points)

2017 Stinson Vineyards Mourvedre Rosé 
- Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $21
Rich watermelon color. On the nose I get watermelon, white peaches and red apple, with notes of honey, nettle, spiced white tea. Light-medium-bodied on the palate but not lacking in flavor. Ruby red grapefruit, McIntosh apple, tangy cherries, mixed with notes of sea salt, nettle, honeysuckle. Brisk and spicy, fruity but zesty. Another solid vintage of this reliably delicious Virginia rose. Fruit sourced from Farmer’s Rest and Horton Vineyards. (88 points)

2017 Early Mountain Vineyards Five Forks - Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $25
Super floral and peach nose with limes and cucumber slices. Crisp and alive on the palate with mouthwatering acidity on a medium-bodied frame. Juicy peach and nectarine play well off of white and yellow flowers. Lively and crisp with a mineral-laden finish. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Petit Manseng, with some Pinot Gris, Viognier and Malvasia Bianca. (88 points)

2017 Muse Vineyards Thalia - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $25
I love the burst of peach on the nose, with lots of almond and crushed shell notes, some honeycomb. On the palate, the acidity is lovely and vibrant and this wine stays well away from being heavy or cloying like many white Rhone blends can be. Peach, apricot, lemon curd, with raw almond and crushed shells. Loving this style. 50% Roussanne, 43% Marsanne, 7% Viognier. Barrel-fermented, full maloactic, barrel-fermented, yet this is somehow still fresh and vibrant as hell. (90 points)

Friday, August 3, 2018

Santa Barbara's Byron Amazes with 2015 Chardonnays and Pinots

I visited Santa Barbara for my first real California wine trip back in 2006, and swooned over many a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I still have a soft spot for the wines from Byron, and I’ve tasted them on and off throughout the years.

Founded in 1984 by Ken Brown, Byron sources Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from a host of well-known and
high quality vineyards like Bien Nacido, Julia’s, and Nielson, the latter of which surrounds the winery and is also the name of Bryon’s sister winery. The voracious California powerhouse Jackson Family Wines purchased Byron Winery and the Nielson Vineyard in 2006. The wines are made by Jonathan Nagy, a Santa Barbara native who joined Byron in 2001 and has worked closely with founder Ken Brown before taking the helm.

I recently received five Byron wines from 2015. They’re “new” releases in the sense that winemaker Jonathan Nagy holds the wines back for a period of time, depending on vintage characteristics. These two Chards and three Pinots all impressed me and seem to be drinking wonderfully right now. I love that Byron combo of juicy fruit on a lighter frame with lots of crispness and non-fruit complexity, and these wines sure deliver.

They were received as samples and tasted sighted. 

2015 Byron Chardonnay Nielson Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $40
Light gold color. Bold and beautiful on the nose with bruised yellow apple, baked pear, lime juice, notes of nougat and cinnamon buns mix with sea breeze and chalk dust, and the combo is so good. Creamy and plush on the palate but moderating acidity keeps it fresh. Plump yellow apples and pears with apricot jam, drizzled with lime, and topped in some toasted almonds and flowers. Lots of richness here but complex and vibrant as well. Aged 15 months in about 50% new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Byron Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $40
Medium yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd, yellow apple, buttercream, raw almond, sea salt, along with honey and cinnamon. Medium-bodied, precise acidity with a lively saline element. Rich texture with notes of whipped butter, apricot jam, lemon curd and baked apple, but also fresh with notes of chalk dust and crushed oyster shells. Nougat and honey on the finish, this is delicious and balanced. Aged 15 months in about 70% new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Byron Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $55
Bright ruby color. Juicy and tangy fruits on the nose (raspberries, strawberries, cherries), beautiful and fresh with rhubarb, rose petals and tomato leaf. Medium-bodied and really fresh on the palate with dusty tannins and crisp acidity, lots of tart cherry and ripe strawberry fruit. Complex notes of rhubarb, pepper, tobacco and tomato leaf, some fresh green herbs and judiciously-sprinkled cedar. Lovely, fresh, delish. Aged 16 months in 35% new French oak. (92 points)

2015 Byron Pinot Noir Julia's Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Gorgeous nose of chilled strawberries, raspberry jam and black cherries, along with cola, rhubarb, white pepper and roses. Plush but fresh, dusty but bright, fruity but it’s tangy and lively. Tart black cherries, raspberry jam, fresh strawberries, the fruit mixes nicely with flavors of roses, rhubarb, sarsaparilla, cola and mushroom. Fresh and vibrant but can improve for at least a few years. Aged 15 months in 45% new French oak. (92 points)

2015 Byron Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $55
Medium ruby color. Enticing aromas of raspberries, blackberry and strawberry jam, this is a darker, saucier aromatic display with notes of sweet cola, rhubarb, rose petals and barbecue sauce. Medium-bodied on the palate with velvety tannins and medium acidity. Pretty black cherries, raspberries and summer plums, backed up by menthol, earth, roasted chestnut. Elements of rhubarb, white pepper and mushroom add complexity. Fruit but deep, accessible but can age. Aged 15 months in 55% new French oak. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Santa Ynez Producer Kita Continues to Excel

The Camp 4 Vineyard in California's Santa Ynez Valley. Credit: Kita Wines.
I’ve been a big fan of Tara Gomez’s Kita wines for a few years now, and the new releases are true to form.

These wines are mostly sourced from the Camp 4 Vineyard, a former Fess Parker vineyard located on the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. (For a full backgrounder,
check out this post from last year.) While the wines boast plenty of fruit and ripeness, there’s a vibrant, fresh, complex aesthetic in all of the wines that I find really attractive, not to mention the price points.

I recently tasted through a range of Kita’s wines (their 2017 whites, and some reds from 2015 and 2016) and was impressed yet again. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2017 KITÁ Sauvignon Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $24
Pale yellow color. Lovely aromas of lemon, apricot, white peach, with steely, floral tones, baby’s breath and lemon verbena. Medium-bodied, pleasantly plump, creamy but bright. Kiwi, lemon, pineapple, the fruit is mixed with honey, almond, floral perfume, subtle notes of lemon verbena and jalapeno. Fresh but generous and highly delicious. (90 points)

2017 KITÁ T'aya Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $22
Lemon color. Nose showed salted almond, brisk salty tones, chalk dust, on top of sour apples, lemon curd and pineapple. Crisp acidity frames the palate, and the wine has a pleasant chalky texture with flavors of white peach, lemons, green apples. Complex notes of honeysuckle, honeycomb, candle wax, a salty, honeyed tea element too. Lively but generous. 50% Marsanne, 44% Roussanne and 6% Grenache Blanc, aged 7 months in 20% new French oak. (91 points)

2017 KITÁ Chardonnay Hilliard Bruce Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Pale lemon color. Nose shows limes, apricots, along with dusty seashells, raw almond, hay and chalky/floral notes. So crisp and steely, salty, too, Chablis-esque appeal with bracing acidity and stony minerals. Lemon, limes, green apples, mixed with hay, almond, white flowers, and complex elements of crushed chalk. Lovely, vibrant style, complex and it should do some really cool things in the next few years. Aged 7 months in French oak, 15% new. (92 points)

2017 KITÁ Grenache Rosé Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $18
Medium salmon color. Aromas of strawberries, raspberries, nettle, basil, white pepper. Crisp and dry on the palate, this is a fresh and tangy rose with white cherries, red apple and watermelon fruit. Spicy, floral, herbal notes (rhubarb, white pepper, spiced apples). Delicious, vibrant, spicy, crisp rose. (89 points)

2015 KITÁ Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $55
Light ruby color. Aromas of tangy strawberries, sour cherries, red apple, with notes of spicy herbs, white pepper and rhubarb. Medium-bodied with tangy, crisp acidity and dusty tannins. A vibrant, lip-smacking approach, with crunchy red apples, strawberries, raspberries. Dusty, herbal, peppery notes add complexity, with some mushroom as well. Tart throughout, no jammy fruit here, this is elegant and so bright. Love it. Aged 18 months in 20% new French oak. (93 points)

2015 KITÁ Spe'y Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $30
Light ruby color. Aromas of spicy herbal tea, clove, white pepper, rose petals, all whipped up together with raspberries and red apple peel. Medium-bodied frame, silky yet structured, so crisp with tart raspberries, red cherries, hints of blackberry. Complex flavors of clove, leather, roses, grilled herbs, with some underlying iron and mineral tones. Vibrant, exciting Grenache-based blend, with 25% Carignan and 23% Syrah, aged 18 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points)

2016 KITÁ Syrah Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $30
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of black cherries, saucy plums, lots of smoke, barbecue spice rub, pepper and leather. Crisp acidity on the palate (like all wines from this vineyard it seems), but dusty tannins. Tart black cherries, spicy red currants, loaded with smoky charcoal, leather, roasted red pepper, cracked black pepper. Such a pretty, complex wine, gorgeous now but should age well over the next five years. Aged 18 months in French oak, 30% new. (92 points)

2015 KITÁ Cabernet Sauvignon Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $40
Rich purple color. Gorgeous waves of tart cherries, black and red currants, summer plums, mixed with eucalyptus, wild rosemary, tobacco and cedar/coffee notes. Medium-bodied (13.5%) with vibrant acidity and velvety but structured tannins. Crunchy black currants, tangy red cherries, gushing plums, the fruit is matched with notes of smoky tobacco, eucalyptus, roasted bell pepper and espresso. Complex but vibrant, showing well now but can cellar for at least a half-dozen years. Aged in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.