Saturday, February 24, 2018

Siduri Excels with Newly-Released 2015 Pinot Noirs

I’ve been a big fan of Siduri Pinot Noirs for many years. I’ve visited several times, collected the wines, and turned on several friends to them.

But this is the first time I’ve received samples to review. And that’s probably because in 2015, Adam and Diana Lee sold their Siduri label to the California wine powerhouse, Jackson Family Wines. The sale came as a shock to me. After the same company had purchased Copain (another one of my favorite Sonoma-based producers), I began to feel a bit nostalgic, like the wines I loved were changing.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Copain still rocks, and as the newly-released 2015s show, so does Siduri. It seems Jackson Family was looking for several high-end California gems to add to their portfolio, and they chose wisely. In an email to their wine club members announcing the sale, Adam and Diana wrote: “The goals we hold remain the same, but we believe that our ability to reach them has exponentially increased.” If their 2015s are any indicator, I’m encouraged about the future of Siduri’s wines.

These single-vineyard designate wines are delicious across the board, but the vineyard-specific nuances makes tasting them side-by-side an exciting and interesting experience. With increased access to vineyard sources scattered around various Northern and Central California appellations (and some in Oregon), Siduri is a great way to explore the different expressions of some stellar vineyards. The wines aren’t cheap ($50 a pop), but they over-deliver for that price. The wines always brings juicy cherry fruit to the table, but they also show nuance, freshness and liveliness, with lots of complex spicy, earthy, and floral complexity.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Siduri Pinot Noir John Sebastiano- California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $50
Aromas of cherries, pomegranate, raspberry, red apple peel, complex combination of rose petal, floral tea, elegant yet the nose pops. Medium/full-bodied with a chewy texture, suave tannins and vibrant acidity. Black cherries, raspberries, red apple, cranberry jam, the fruit is complex and pure. Complexities of roses, rhubarb, black tea, light roast coffee. Everything is woven together in a fresh but juicy package. Lovely now but could do interesting things in the next five years. 11 months in 30% new French oak. (94 points)

2015 Siduri Pinot Noir Parsons' Vineyard- California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $50
Nose shows bright cherries, pomegranate, cola, lots of spicy/herbal notes like clove, mint, rhubarb and raspberry leaf. Medium/full-bodied with lively acidity and dusty tannins, the balance and freshness are wonderful. Cranberries, sweet cherries, raspberry jam, the fruit is fresh and tangy but loaded with flavors. Notes of cola, rhubarb, mint, coffee. Flavorful but bright, this drinks wonderfully now but could show even more in three or four years. 15 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points)

2015 Siduri Pinot Noir Rosella's Vineyard- California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $55
Gushing aromas but the fruit is tart as well (cherries, red plums, raspberries), along with cola, rose hips, cedar, and interesting elements of black tea and mushroom. Zesty acidity frames the palate, velvety feel, shows dusty tannins. The fruit tastes crisp and chilled, with raspberries, strawberries. Complex blend of cola, chestnut, coffee, rose petals, along with lasting notes of wet leaves and mushrooms. Tastes so good right out of the bottle, but the savory elements will develop more with time. 15 months in 50% new French oak. (93 points)

2015 Siduri Pinot Noir Muirfield Vineyard- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains
SRP: $50
Crisp, chilled red berries on the nose (raspberry, strawberry) along with rhubarb, rose petals, mushrooms, spiced herbal tea — lovely to sniff. On the palate, tangy acidity and structured but easy-going tannins, and the red currant, red apple peel and raspberry fruit is tart but juicy. Complex elements of rhubarb, black pepper, dusty earth. Savory but bright, vibrant but textured and complex. 15 months in 30% new French oak. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, February 19, 2018

California Pinot Noir from La Follette & Carmel Road

I recently tasted through some California Pinot Noir samples from thee 2015 and 2014 vintages. It can be hard to find exciting wines in the $20-$30 range, but there are some reliably fun bottles out there. If you’re looking to spend a bit more ($50-ish), Carmel Road’s Panorama Vineyard wines, from Monterey, are a pretty solid bet.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast - California, North Coast
SRP: $24
Light ruby color. Aromas of cherry cola, tart strawberries, notes of sweet pipe tobacco and roses. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, moderate acidity, this is a juicy and straightforward Pinot for near-term drinking but it sports some tasty cherry cola, strawberry fruit, and notes of cedar and earth. Tasty, easy-drinking stuff. (86 points)

2015 La Follette Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $42
Rich ruby color. Bright and vibrant aromas of cherry cola, strawberry, red currant, along with roses, rhubarb, vanilla. Medium- to full-bodied with supple tannins and medium acidity. Flavors of red plums, cherry cola and strawberry jam mix nicely with elements of rose petals, rhubarb pie, coconut, vanilla, rich earth. Juicy and fruit but harmonious, too. (89 points)

2015 Carmel Road Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $25
Deep ruby color. Aromas of strawberries and red apples, red cherries, cola, roses. Medium-bodied with soft tannins and bright acidity, along with red cherries and strawberry jam. Flavors of roses, cola, coffee, chestnut. Fun, simple, fresh. (86 points)

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir Panorama Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
SRP: $35
Light ruby color. Aromas of chilled strawberries and raspberries, bright but juicy, with elements of cola and rhubarb pie. Full-bodied, medium acidity, fleshy tannins, a seriously fun wine but it is also balanced nicely. Red and black cherries, pomegranate, raspberry jam, along with cola, rose, rhubarb. Notes of coconut and coffee woven in well. Delicious but shows some good depth, too. Aged 13 months in ¼ new French oak. (88 points)

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir First Row Panorama Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $55
Light ruby color. Smells of tart strawberries, red cherries, McIntosh apple peel, along with rhubarb, cola and roasted coffee. Refreshing acidity on the palate, full-bodied with a chewy texture, and plenty of tangy cherries, raspberries, rich back cherries. Flavors of cola, rhubarb, rose hips, sweet tobacco, along with coffee, chestnut and vanilla. Packed with flavor but stays fresh. Aged 13 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir North Crest Panorama Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $55
Medium ruby color. Nose of crisp raspberries, strawberries, juicy red cherries, along with rhubarb, roses, some sweet cola and light roast coffee. Zesty acidity on the palate, some nice but to the tannins, but also plenty of rich cranberry, raspberry and strawberry fruit. Notes of rhubarb, rose hips, along with coffee and dark chocolate. Delicious but complex. Aged 13 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir South Crest Panorama Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $55

Medium ruby color. Crisp aroma of strawberries, pomegranate, raspberry, along with rose hips, rhubarb, tobacco, with cola and coffee. Crisp acidity on the palate, suave texture but nice tannic grip. Tart cranberry mixes with richer black cherries, backed up by roses, rhubarb, cola, coffee and dark chocolate shavings. Juicy and forward but structured and fresh as well. Aged 13 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wine Book Review: Tangled Vines - Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California

If the title doesn’t make it clear, this is a great beach read. Author Frances Dinkelspiel digs deep into California wine history, her own past, and a series of wine-related misdoings to tell a tale that is fascinating, educational, and a whole lot of fun. Wine neophytes and oenophiles alike should find something interesting in “Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California.”
Dinkespiel uses the infamous 2005 arson fire at Wines Central warehouse in Vallejo, California, as a launching bad to explore other (somewhat connected) nefarious, wine-related events. That fire, deliberately set by wine collector and swindler Mark Anderson, destroyed some 4 million bottles of wine worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars. Almost 100 wine producers had stored their wines there, and some lost entire vintages.

Destroyed in that fire were some of the only remaining bottles (175 of them) of fortified wine from an historic Rancho Cucamonga estate that dates back to 1875. This Southern California vineyard is connected to the author (and the 2005 arson) because the wines were made by Isaias Hellman, the author’s great-great grandfather. 

At first, I thought the connection between the fire and the Rancho Cucamonga estate was tenuous, and I was skeptical of the author’s ability to tie these two elements together in a convincing way. Well, Dinkelspiel pieces together history and recent events expertly, and her knack for recreating historical occurrences is impressive.

The estate at the focus of the book, located 40 miles east of Los Angeles, was one of the most storied vineyards in California in the mid-1800s. And the fortified wine made here, and passed down through the generations, connects the author to her family past and the roots of the California wine industry. When many bottle’s her family’s Rancho Cucamonga wine was destroyed in the arson fire Dinkelspiel decided to explore what the ranch was like back in her great-great grandfather’s time. “To me, the loss of the wine felt like the severing of my past, something I had been trying to grab onto for as long as I could remember,” she writes.

Wine and history nerds will find all sorts of interesting information in Dinkelspiel’s book. For example, I had no idea that Los Angeles was the center of the wine trade in the 1840s. The Gold Rush brought a massive boom to the state’s vineyard acreage, which jumped from about 300,000 grapevines in 1855 to some 6 million in 1859, according to Dinkelspiel’s research. This also brought a shift in regional focus, as more and more vines were planted in Northern California.

I was also not fully aware of the history of brutality against Native Americans that is intertwined with the California wine industry. For example: “When California became a state in 1850, it immediately legalized a practice of short-term indentured servitude for Native Americans, a practice of which winemakers took advantage. One of the first acts passed by the California Legislature was a law nicknamed the Indian Indenture Act. It stripped Native Americans of most of their rights, including the right to vote or testify against whites in court.”

I won’t go into the full details of Mark Anderson’s arson fire at the wine warehouse in Vallejo, because the author does such a great job delving into the intricacies of this bizarre event. But she tells the story well, after interviewing him in prison and corresponding with him extensively.

Sure this is a “wine book,” but I think it would appeal to a far wider audience — those interested in history, true crime, California in general. I devoured the book in a day and a half and highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

11th Hour Valentine's Day Wine Recommendations

Valentine’s Day food and drinks can get expensive.

I say: Save your money for theatre tickets or something sexy for your significant other.

If you’re staying in, you can drink delicious wine without spending much.

In a piece out today, a group of writers and I recommend some inexpensive wines that would pair perfectly with Valentine's Day.

Click here to read the full piece at Snooth.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Brengman Brothers - Riesling and More from Michigan

A map of Leelanau Penninsula AVA wineries.
I’ve been aware of quality wines coming out of Michigan for years now, but I haven’t visited the state’s wine regions or tasted more than a handful of wines over the years. So I was pretty excited to receive an extensive range of wines from Brengman Brothers, located in Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula AVA.

The peninsula, which juts into Grand Traverse Bay northwest of Traverse City, is home to more than 20 wineries. Cool climate grapes (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc) thrive here, and the wines I’ve tasted show tart, leaner profiles and lots of freshness and spicy characteristics.

Brengman owns three estate vineyards, the 25-acre Crain Hill Vineyard (which is where the grapes for most of the wines I tasted were sourced), the 30-acre Timberlee Vineyard, and the 5-acre Cedar Lake Vineyard. Their first harvest was 2007, and after a decade, they have quite a large lineup of wines, with some impressive results (and I only tasted about a dozen of their wines).

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Brengman Brothers Riesling Spätlese Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Light gold color. Aromas of lime, lychee, clover, spicy white tea, nettle, a lively a spicy aromatic display. Medium-bodied with light sweetness to balance out the zesty acidity. Yellow plums, guava, drizzled with lime, rich but lively fruit with notes of spicy white pepper, nettle, honeysuckle, hints of stony minerals. A surprisingly delicious and balanced Riesling. (88 points)

2016 Brengman Brothers Riesling Auslese Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $35
Light gold color. Nose oozes with guava, lychee and yellow plums, with honey and clover. Plump texture, rich sweetness, medium acidity, flavors of sweet melon, guava and pineapple abound. An interesting mix of spicy white pepper, clove and new tennis ball, with some sweet honey and candied almond. Pleasant, sweet, plush, yet some freshness to it, too. (87 points)

2016 Brengman Brothers Riesling Beerenauslese Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $35/500ml
Light gold color. Aromas of yellow flowers, tons of lychee, with some lime, clean laundry and candied ginger. Rich and sweet with a waxy mouthfeel and medium acidity. Orange marmalade and lychee candy mix with notes of cinnamon, ginger and graham cracker. Rich, honeyed finish. (87 points)

2016 Brengman Brothers Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $35/375ml
Medium gold color. Aromas of honeycomb, spiced apple cider, guava and shaved ginger – lovely complexity on the nose. Full and rich on the palate with medium acidity and bold, sweet flavors of apricot, orange marmalade, yellow plums, guava. Complex flavors of candied ginger, clove, spiced tea and sweet honey. Very pretty, rich but balanced. (89 points)

2016 Brengman Brothers Chardonnay Artist Series Unoaked Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Medium yellow color Aromas of creamy yellow pears, whipped butter, white flowers, spicy green tea notes, hints of grass. Zesty on the palate, medium-bodied, slight creaminess to the texture. The fruit (green pear, green apple, apricot) shows a light, crisp aesthetic, with notes of dandelion and chalk. While there’s not a ton of depth, it’s a fresh and likeable style with some complex elements. (86 points)

2016 Brengman Brothers Block 65 Blend Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Medium yellow color. Aromas of oranges, apricot, lychee, with spiced white tea, honey, baby’s breath. Rich textural depth, yet fresh acidity, with orange marmalade, guava, lychee, apricot. Waves of fruit mix with nettle, baby’s breath, honey, almond, white pepper. Wow, I am surprised by this, it is rich but crisp, fruity but fresh. I’m curious how this may age. A blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. (87 points)

2016 Brengman Brothers Gewürztraminer Gary's Reserve Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Rich yellow color. Bursting aromatics of guava, lychee and white peach, mixed with daisies, honey and ginger. Plush and slightly waxy on the palate but lively acidity. Peaches and guava, topped with some lime juice, and tossed with lots of spicy elements (ginger, white pepper, spiced tea, clove). Waxy but fresh, showing some impressively complex flavors. (87 points)

2013 Brengman Brothers Pinot Noir Artist Series Crain Hill Vineyards - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $40
Pale ruby color. Aromas of cool strawberries and cherries, rhubarb, white pepper, some rose petals. The palate is lean and tart with very high acidity, light dusty tannins, not exactly “balanced” but I like the tartness, and the red currant and strawberries. Notes of rose rips, cola, rhubarb, along with light roast coffee and some earthy, clay soil notes. Interesting expression of Pinot Noir. (86 points)

2013 Brengman Brothers Right Bank Blend Crain Hill Vineyard - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $50
Light ruby color. Tart red cherries and currants, smoky graphite, violets, incense sticks, bell pepper, wet leaves. Bright acidity on the palate, medium-light tannins on a light-bodied frame, but not weak on flavor – lots of fresh cherries and red currants, rose petals, rhubarb, violets, cocoa, some tart red flowers, loamy earth and green herbs. Impressive depth and structure 75% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot. (88 points)

2013 Brengman Brothers Cabernet Franc Crain Hill Vineyard - Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $50
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black currants along with mushroom, leather, bell pepper and musky cologne, cedar. Crisp and zesty on the palate with medium tannins, fresh and silky, along with red cherries, cranberries and dark plums. Notes of mushroom and celery seed notes. Lighter style, tangy and fresh but not weak. Aged 16 months in French oak. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Washington State Gramercy Cellars' Wines Are Aging Gracefully

I’m lucky enough to have tasted a bunch of wines from Gramercy Cellars over the years. Several wine friends of mine had jumped on this Washington State winery bandwagon early, and I benefitted from their generosity and desire to share this exciting producer’s wines with me. I’ve never had a Gramercy wine that did not thrill me, but I’ve also found a common thread when tasting these wines. I always say something like: “This is delicious but it needs more time.”

Recently, I had the pleasure of tasting some Gramercy Cellars wine with some age on them, and the wines all showed wonderfully. For those of you who don’t know the story, Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Master Somm Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. Greg, who also makes the wines, knows his stuff. He passed his Master Sommelier exam at the age of 26, and worked in wine programs for chefs like Joyce Goldstein, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. 

They focus on Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, sourced from some amazing sites in Washington State’s Columbia Valley. With an annual production of about 8,000 cases, the winery sports an Old World-inspired style, with lower alcohol, less overt oak influences, and more focus on earthy/savory aspects. 

I tasted through four Gramercy wines with some good friends and barbecue, and came away with a renewed respect for just how delicious these wines are, and how gracefully they age. Notes below…

2007 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley
What a beauty. The fruit is still so boisterous (black cherry, raspberry, juicy plums) but the nose shows all these leather, pepper, herb and spice elements as well. Tannins still going strong but they’re also smooth and velvety and the acidity maintains a tart edge. Pretty currant and plum fruits laced with black pepper, leather, cedar, coffee and stony minerals. Lovely stuff – of course, the last sip at the end of the night was the best. Long time ahead still. (93 points) 

2008 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagniappe - Washington, Columbia Valley
Aromas of rich black cherries along with a lot of pepper, leathery, animal hide and beef drippings. Spicy and rich fruit on the palate, tannins provide plenty of structure, medium acidity, the fruit is still going strong but I love the peppery, smoky, olive notes in this wine. (92 points) 

2009 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagniappe - Washington, Columbia Valley
Really interesting to taste after the 08. This one shows so much more freshness and vibrancy on the nose with juicy cherries and lots of floral and spice notes. Fresh and bright on the palate but serious grip to the tannins, this is balanced and structured so well. Black cherries and plums laced with pepper, campfire smoke and black olive. Long time ahead still. Lovely. (92 points)

2009 Gramercy Cellars L'idiot du Village - Washington, Columbia Valley
Loved this wine. Tons of aromatic complexity in terms of black cherries, plums, tons of peppered steak and meat drippings. Rich, bold, dry but fresh. Black fruit is rich but tangy and laced with complex leather, pepper, soy and loamy earth. Lovely stuff with plenty of years of cellar potential left. (92 points)