Friday, June 24, 2022

Plenty of wilderness and wine to explore in Arizona

For about a dozen years now, I’ve been taking trips to the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Each time I go, I hike my ass off, climb a lot of rocks, spend a ton of time along in the wilderness, scoping wildlife. And I haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s so much gnarly country out there, and each time I plan an excursion into a new area, looking for new summits, canyons, creeks, birds.

Out there, I’ve seen lots of lizards and snakes, a ton of birds, a bobcat, coyotes, and my first and only cougar tracks.

When I head to Arizona, I try to order some wines ahead of time from producers I’ve grown to love and respect. Alternatively, there are some shops that carry local producers, and I frequently check the local section to see if they have some of my favorites: Page Springs Cellars, Dos Cabezas, Rune, Callaghan. Nothing beats coming home after a long day of hiking and grilling up some meat, pairing it with a local Arizona wine.

Page Springs Cellars is a gem – great people in a beautiful place making singular wines. “Unique” is an overused word in wine circles (I’m guilty), but these wines are in a league of their own. Their kitchen sink blends mixes are always delicious and interesting, and their varietal single vineyard wines are clear interpretations of their place and grape. So, on my most recent Arizona trip, I had some of their wines shipped to my destination. I also picked up some bottles from another of my favorite producers, Dos Cabezas, based in Cochise County.

Arizona has a lot to offer in terms of wine and wilderness. You just have to hit the trails. Here are some photos and wine notes from my most recent trip this winter.

2020 Page Springs Vino Del Barrio Blanco - Arizona
Pale yellow. Peachy keen on the nose with limes and lemons, honey, white tea, some verbena and oregano elements. I like the zippy elements but there’s a pleasant creaminess that keeps it fun. Peaches and kiwi with honey, raw almond, along with flinty, crunchy, salty elements. Fun, bright, complex. What a cool blend of Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Roussanne, Seyval Blanc, Vermentino, Bourbolenc, Malvasia Bianca and Riesling – sheesh! Some Arizona magic happening here. (90 points)

2019 Page Springs Viognier Deep Sky VineyardArizona, Cochise County, Willcox
A beautifully tropical nose of peaches, kiwi and pineapple, with notes of sea salt, cucumber slices and white flowers. The palate is deep but fresh, this is no overly chunky Viognier, not at all. Beautiful texture with peaches and lemon cake, along with flinty, mineral tones and tons of white and yellow flowers. I feel like if you left some of this in the glass, a hummingbird would steal it from you – and for good measure. I’d love to see how this ages. (91 points)

2020 Page Springs Cellars Grenache "Blanc de Noir" Colibri Vineyard - USA, Arizona, Cochise County
So pale copper. The nose is exquisite, with saline and crushed shells, along with grapefruit pith, lemons, white flowers – a taut and bright appeal. The palate is tight and brisk with orange peel, grapefruit and lemon mixed with chalky, clean laundry and saline vibes. Flinty, precise. If I were sipping this blindfolded, I’d be all over the map (Muscadet? Galician white?). Really cool stuff. (91 points)

2020 Page Springs Cellars – Mule’s MistakeArizona, Cochise County
This is always such a fun wine, a total kitchen sink blend of everything, and it always delivers fun and excitement. 2020 is a total blast with juicy cherries, spicy pepper, rose petals and red and black licorice candies on the nose. The palate is bright with light tannins and tangy, ripe fruit (raspberries and red cherries) along with roses, black pepper, cola and clay. So fun, accessible, but it’s own thing entirely. One of the most fun, cheap wines I buy from anywhere in the world, year-in, year-out. A blend of so many grapes, each year it’s dizzying. Each vintage has like eight, from Counoise, Pinot Noir, Carignan and Sangiovese to white Rhone grapes and others. This wine portrays a lot about why I love Arizona. (89 points)

2019 Page Springs Mourvedre Pick 3 Colibri VineyardArizona, Cochise County
Loving the floral and spicy complexity on the nose, these rose petal, rhubarb, creosote and paprika, over raspberries and pomegranate fruit – so good! On the palate, this is zippy and fresh with dusty tannins and a crushable but complex appeal. Raspberries and sour cherry fruit is tangy and so lively. The notes of pepper, paprika, warm clay and rose petals. So vibrant but has a lot of depth, too, and I’d like to see it in three to four years. I’d also love to see this thrown into a blind tasting with some wine nerd friends and see them try to place it. Aged 11 months in 20% Arizona oak. (93 points)

2016 Dos Cabezas Wine Works El Norte - USA, Arizona, Cochise County 
This wine shows classic red Grenache fruit (raspberries and strawberries) along with a complex mix of clove, rose hips, sliced bell pepper, mesquite. Fun appeal on the palate, but all sorts of complexity. Tangy red berries, very fresh but plenty of sun-roasted feel, mixed well with notes of charcoal, smoked meats, pepper, some floral potpourri. This is such a reliably great wine from Dos Cabezas, a cool mix of Garnacha, Syrah, Graciano, Petite Sirah, Monastrell and Vranc. (90 points)

2017 Dos Cabezas - AguileonArizona, Cochise County
Love the nose here, so spicy and classic southern Arizona vibes, with creosote, clay, leather, black pepper, over the top of juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. Smooth but structured with vibrant acid and a juicy frame of raspberries and cherries. A lot of violets, mesquite, tilled soil, warm clay, some campfire and leather. These are flavors that just exude the Sonoran desert mountains, and I’m here for it. Tempranillo, Graciano, Petit Verdot, Garnacha, Petite Sirah and Monastrell. (91 points)

Monday, June 20, 2022

Wine Reviews: Summertime Selections

Here in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic, summer is in full swing. Heat, humidity, summer travel and traffic on the way – I know a lot of people love this season, but I am missing the cooler days already!

And as much as I love some Napa Cabs and burly Southern Rhone wines, I’m not going to be opening one any time soon. I need some crisp whites, interesting rosés, maybe some orange wines and crushable reds.

In recent weeks I’ve received a wide spectrum of wines that would fit this bill. I’ve parsed through some of them and curated this selection of summer-friendly wines. From Grieve and Gamble, Napa Sauvignon Blancs deliver, and I have some cool wines from Germany as well.

Stinson Vineyards is one of Virginia’s most reliable producers for me, and they come through again with the new vintage of their Tannat pink. But what really wowed me was their Meritage Blanc, something I didn’t know was coming and took me by surprise with its beautiful interpretation of a Semillon/Sauv Blanc blend. Oregon’s Troon Vineyard always puts out interesting wines in a lot of styles, and the three offerings from this biodynamic producer are great examples.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Rosé wines

2021 Bouchaine Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Estate VineyardUSA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $29
Pale salmon color. So perfumed and inviting on the nose with bright McIntosh apples and strawberry fruit, mixing with elements of talc, white tea, honeysuckle and mint. The palate boasts a delightfully creamy texture and lip-smacking acidity with flavors of white cherries, white peach and lemon. The finish has notes of sliced cucumbers, celery seed and chalky elements. Zesty but complex and deep as well, a delightful pink that is 85% whole cluster pressed, 15% saignée. (90 points)

2021 Bodegas Beronia Tempranillo Rioja RosadoSpain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $13
Light pink color. Light and bright on the nose with lots of honeysuckle and dandelion over top of white peaches, lemons and raspberries. Crisp, breezy and springy on the palate with white peach and wild raspberry fruits. Notes of cucumber, freshly cut flower stems, some dusty, mineral-y vibes throughout. 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. Widely available, solid value, what’s not to love? (88 points)

2021 Fleurs de Prairie RoséFrance, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc
SRP: $20
Pale salmon. Peaches and cream on the nose with some honey, this is a chunky, yummy rose with floral perfume and white tea. Creamy and chunky on the palate but nice acidity, this is full of raspberries and strawberries and mixed with some chalk, dried flowers and dandelion. Juicy, fresh and pleasant, this is crowd-pleasing, fun stuff. Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre. (87 points)

2021 Gamble Family Vineyards RoséUSA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $26
Bright pink color. The nose pops with a orange peel and raspberries, topped in honeysuckle, magnolia petal, some mint and breezy, spring field vibes. Crisp acidity, sports a honeyed depth of texture with bright citrus and juicy rubus fruits, some McIntosh apples. Floral perfume, chalk dust, whipped honey, shows richness but stays really vibrant. Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon base with Cab Franc Merlot and Petit Verdot. (90 points)

2020 Josh Cellars RoséUSA, California
SRP: $15
Medium copper color. Smells of strawberries and red delicious apples with notes of nettle and fresh cut grass. Lively but creamy with white peach and strawberry fruit, drizzled with lemon. Honeyed and pleasant with some notes of dandelion, lily, orange blossom. Some slight green herb tones as well. Fun, crowd-pleasing, value-driven stuff. (86 points)

2021 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench RoséUSA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $25
Gorgeous light peach color. A crunchy and spicy aromatic display with kiwi and white cherry, along with chalk dust, sliced cucumber, celery seed and honeysuckle. Crisp and punchy on the palate with a delightful richness, matched with precise acidity. The fruit is a mix of juicy white peaches and wild raspberries, and I get notes of clover, thistle flower, celery seed and white flowers. Very pretty, the mouthfeel is gorgeous, and the level of complexity and focus is really something. A stellar pink made from Tinta Roriz, Malbec and Counoise. (92 points)

2021 Stinson Vineyards Tannat RoséUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $23
Pretty light salmon color. The nose is bright and juicy with white cherries, raspberries and red apple peel, tossed with a cool blend of spicy white pepper, fresh basil and some crushed chalk. The palate is crisp but deeply textured and the balance is delightful. Crunchy red apple peel and ripe raspberry fruit mix well with these basil, rose petal, magnolia and white pepper elements. Lively and pure with racy minerals on the finish, this fresh and complex rose delivers, year after year. From Horton Vineyards’ fruit, this is a great value. (91 points)

White wines

2019 Weingut A Diehl Chardonnay SektGermany, Pfalz
SRP: $25
Medium gold color. The nose has a nice mix of bright citrus fruits and saline tossed with hay, almond and honey. The palate has some nice texture, but brisk acidity, and it boasts this talc/mineral undertone. Lemon and yellow apple with some cracker crumbs and crushed oyster shells. Bright and nervy and fun. Chardonnay. (89 points)

2021 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Gamble VineyardUSA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $35
Pale straw color. The nose shows a gorgeous blend of gooseberry, white peach and guava nectar, along with honey, white flowers, some notes of dill and dandelion. Racy acidity, creamy texture, balanced well with a tropical mélange of white peach, guava and lemon juice. Some waxy, honeyed tones mix well with floral elements and this flinty, stony, mineral-packed appeal. Refreshing and nervy with a lot of depth, this would be interesting to see how it ages for a few years as well. Fermented on the lees for six months in stainless steel and a mix of new and used French oak. (91 points)

2019 Grieve Family Winery Sauvignon BlancUSA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $98
Light yellow color. A rich, inviting nose of papaya, iwi and mango, tossed with honey, white pepper, ramp leaves and chalk dust. The palate shows a pleasantly creamy texture with racy acidity and rushing mineral presences. The lime and papaya fruit is glazed with honey, white pepper and a tantalizing mix of chalk dust, saline and limestone. From the family’s Lovall Valley site, this is a special and unique Napa Sauv Blanc. Aged 16 months in 60% new French oak. (91 points)

2020 Stinson Vineyards Meritage BlancUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $31
Medium yellow color. Gorgeous aromas of pineapple and lemon, with this refreshing, briny, chalky tones, balanced with honey and raw almond. The palate has a rich, creamy texture with vibrant acidity and lovely balance. The lemon, yellow apple, honeydew fruit, it’s all so fresh and focused, and the hay, honey, chamomile and peanut shell notes add a lot of complexity. This has such a level of verve, balance and focus – a really special Virginia white wine. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, aged 16 months in 15% new French oak. This should age nicely, too, and would be a great ringer in a Bordeaux Blanc tasting or a “Wow”-inducing wine for Virginia newbs. (92 points)

Other goodies

2021 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Amber
USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $35
Light orange/copper color. A fascinating mix of honey, whipped butter, dried flowers, over top of candied orange peel, dried pineapple and some quince. Deep, waxy texture on the palate with gorgeous acidity and complex minerals. Orange blossoms, honeycomb, dried flowers, with these flinty, stony, mountain stream vibes. A lot going on here, this orange wine is up there with the most “accessible” I’ve tasted, but it’s still got that complexity and fascinating texture. A blend of Vermentino, Riesling and Roussanne, fermented on the skins separately in open-top vessels with 30% whole-cluster. (91 points)

2021 Troon Vineyard Grenache Glou-Glou Cowhorn VineyardUSA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $30
Bright/light purple color. The nose is lovely and fresh with rhubarb, rose petals and pepper over top of juicy raspberries and cherries, with some tar and charcoal elements. The palate is dusty and fresh with a crunchy, fresh vibe, and flavors of cherries and raspberries. Dusty tannins and brisk acidity, with tones of violets, white pepper, charcoal and rose hips. Fun and lively but a lot of complexity as well. All whole-cluster Grenache fermented in stainless steel with two weeks of carbonic maceration. (90 points)

N.V. Jan Matthias Klein Pinot Noir Little Red Riding WolfGermany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
SRP: $33
Bright raspberry color. Natty but fun on the nose with tangy raspberries, red apple peel, with spicy pepper and paprika. The palate is zesty with light, chalky tannins and crunchy red fruits. Brisk cherries and raspberries mix with pepper, oregano, some tobacco, and there’s this mineral-limestone essence underneath as well. Clean and fresh, natty-lovers and those wary of the wild stuff should both appreciate this. A fun, fresh and spicy German Pinot Noir. (89 points)

Monday, June 13, 2022

Bidding Farewell To Dirty & Rowdy Mourvèdre

I had mixed feelings when I recently opened two Dirty and Rowdy wines. I’ve long loved this producer’s wines, and have found their different Mourvedres to be some of the most fascinating reds from anywhere in California.

Usually, it’s with pure stoke and joy that I crack open a D&R bottle, preferably to blind some friends on one during a gathering. But, now that this winery has dissolved, there was some longing as I sniffed the bright red fruits. Their wines made quite a splash when they first started, and they have grown a loyal fanbase over the years with their bright, low-intervention wines and whimsical, fun outlook.

In September, Hardy Wallace announced that he and winery co-founder Matt Richardson had come to an “amicable” agreement to dissolve the Napa-based brand. I was saddened to hear this, as I was looking forward to stocking my cellar with more of their delicious vino. Luckily, the news wasn’t all bad, as Hardy and his wife Kate Graham announced they were starting a new venture: Extradimensional Wine Co. I have yet to taste these wines, but they seem like a worthy successor project (like Tryptikon is to Celtic Frost, if that makes sense to a random metalhead, wine-loving reader).

Below are my notes on two exceptional Dirty and Rowdy wines, my last from their mailing list. I hope to open some more D&R wines before the stock diminishes all over, and look forward to Hardy and Kate’s new project as well. 

2018 Dirty and Rowdy Mourvèdre 'ESPECIAL' Rodnick Farm - USA, California, Central Coast, Chalone
I don’t usually think of “elegance” as a term applicable to Mourvedre, but it sure is to this one. So floral, airy, delightful on the nose with juicy red cherries and bright pomegranate. Notes of pepper, lavender, mesquite and rose hips add complexity. Medium-bodied, the mouthfeel is gorgeous, a combination of brisk acidity and dusty tannins supporting bright cherry and tangy strawberry fruit. A racy feel, so floral and perfumed, with complexities of tar, black tea, beef drippings, mushrooms. Refined and pretty, but this should continue to deal out goodness for a while, although it’s drinking really great now. (92 points)

2019 Dirty and Rowdy Mourvèdre Shake Ridge Ranch - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
The nose here is something else: the freshest raspberries and strawberries, mixed with tones of spicy red pepper, black pepper, white pepper, rose petals, cherry blossoms, even some orange peel, along with anise and sage – wow. Structured well with dusty, mid-strength tannins and crisp acidity, with tart currant and raspberry – so tangy and alive. Roses, paprika, clay, black pepper, minerals and graphite, this has so much going on for it. The mouthfeel is perfectly balanced. I’d love to see this in three or four years, as this got so much better on day two. (94 points)

Friday, May 27, 2022

Delicious finds from California and Arizona

This week, I have a selection of American wines I find exciting.

For many years, I’ve been touting Arizona wines, and I’m here to do it again. I love a lot of Arizona producers, their DIY winemaking culture, the interesting mix of varieties and styles. One of my favorite activities in life is to go climbing and hiking in some Arizona mountains and come home to a delicious local red blend with a grilled steak. Aridus is a great entry into Arizona wines, as this Willcox-based producer has a lot of different bottles available in a bunch of markets.

I’m also a huge fan of amphora wines (grapes fermented on their skins in clay vessels). It’s been done all around the world in ancient winemaking cultures, from Georgia, Italy and Portugal. I spent a lot of time digging into the amphora winemaking culture in Alentejo a few years ago, and I’ve been keenly watching for New World producers who step up and make wines in this method and style. Behold! Beckmen Vineyards delivers with their “1Ingredient” wines. From Ballard Canyon, these wines are pure expressions of their grapes and place, but also of their fermentation method – as the wines offer this beautiful mouthfeel and elegant complexity. Check this out if any of this sounds interesting.

Booker is a Paso Robles producer I’ve known and respected for a while. Their wines are so exciting and delicious, and offer a ton of value, too. Paso is such a dynamic scene, and I always enjoy keeping up with what they’re doing out there – and Booker is a staple and legend for a reason.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.


2020 Beckmen Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 1ngredientUSA, California, Central Coast, Ballard Canyon
SRP: $50
Light orange color. Gorgeous nose of pineapple and lemons mixed with honeyed white tea. There are this complex notes of raw almond, breezy spring air and flowers, some candle wax and hints of sage and dusty earth. The palate shows crisp acidity, it’s refreshing but shows such a rich, dynamic mouthfeel, layered, chalky, briny – I love it. Lemon and quince fruit mix so well with these raw almond, green olive and salt brine tones. Honeyed, bright, spicy, there is a lot going on here. If you’re looking for an out-there but delicious Sauvignon Blanc, give this a look! Fermented and aged on the skins in amphora for 10 months. (92 points)

2019 Beckmen Vineyards Viognier 1ngredientUSA, California, Central Coast, Ballard Canyon
SRP: $65
Deep orange color. An inviting but also head-scratching aromatic display, with orange peel, honey, shaved ginger, lemon drops, pineapple, white tea – fascinating stuff. On the palate, this acidity is laser-focused, which becomes key in balancing these complex textural dynamics. Yellow apples, lemons, pineapple, laced with salted almonds, ginger, honeysuckle, with some mineral undertones. Delicious, intriguing, adventurous but clean, like a gateway band into a unique genre, this wine has a ton to offer. Fermented and aged on the skins in amphora for 10 months. (92 points)

2019 Beckmen Vineyards Syrah 1ngredient USA, California, Central Coast, Ballard Canyon
SRP: $85
Light purple color. Wow, the nose is so floral and breezy, like red cherries, pomegranate and rose petals on a spring meadow. The earthy, savory, peppery vibes are delightful. On the palate, this sports dusty tannins and a crisp, nervy appeal. Tangy raspberries and currants, so pure and racy, light and crisp, yet there’s a lot of depth as well. Rose petals, violets, earth, pepper, sage, creosote, a lot going on here. There’s a stony, mineral essence and a post-rain high desert hike feel about this wine – a focused and singular Syrah. Aged 10 months on the skins and then an additional year in amphora. (94 points)


2020 Booker Vineyard WhiteUSA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $65
Rich yellow color. The nose shows creamy pears and peaches, honey, graham cracker crumbs, with higher-toned notes of chalk and floral perfume. Creamy, waxy texture, but surprising acidity, with pears and honeyed apples. Notes of nougat, honey, hay, so plush, pristine and fun, a rare occasion of a lively Rhone white-based blend. Would love to see how this ages. What a cool mix of Viognier with 33% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 7% Marsanne, aged in 60% new French oak. (92 points)

2019 Booker Vineyard Harvey and HarrietUSA, California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
SRP: $30
Deep purple color. Wow, these waves of blackberries and blueberries with a smooth, inviting appeal, along with eucalyptus, violets and cocoa. Full and smooth on the palate with velvety but structured tannins, and the vibrant acidity is killer. Tart blueberries, tangy black currants, the fruit is tart and deep but laced with beefy, savory, peppery tones. Eucalyptus, white pepper, violets, tar, clove, there’s also this stony, mineral, earth depth. Fan-friendly but complex and nerdy, too – a win-win, and a lot of value. Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged 18 months in 60% new oak. (91 points)

2019 Booker Vineyard My Favorite NeighborUSA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $50
Bright purple color. Juicy and deep on the nose with blueberry pie, roasted figs, along with earth, smoky, beefy tones, with mocha and toffee – a lot going on. The palate shows a suave a smooth mouthfeel with lively acidity and dusty tannic structure. Black currant and blueberry fruit mixes well with complex tones of gravelly road, mesquite, coffee grounds, black tea. Concentrated and age-worthy, but vibrant as well. Gorgeous stuff. 77% Cab with 11 % Petit Verdot, 8% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah and 1% Malbec, aged 18 months in 70% new French oak. (93 points)

2018 Booker Vineyard Syrah FractureUSA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $98

Dark purple color. The nose shows a gorgeous mix of smoky, beefy, mesquite and leather over top of tart blackberry and currants, deep yet inviting. The palate shows structured tannins and gobs of fruit, but we have to talk about the acidity – marvelous! Keeps it fresh as the black currant and blueberry fruit washes over, along with notes of graphite, iron, black pepper, black olives, mesquite and roasted red pepper. Big but complex and nuanced, this will age wonderfully for a long time. Really impressive stuff Syrah that has earned its reputation. All Syrah aged 18 months in 65% new French oak. (95 points)


2021 Aridus Sauvignon BlancUSA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $35
Pale lemon color. Smells like a mix of lemons, white peaches, with cucumbers, chalk dust, some white pepper – interesting! Which is a lot more than I can say for Arizona SB. On the palate, this has a cool mix of bright acidity and creamy texture, with lemons, grapefruit, orange peel, tossed with mint, white pepper, along with some honey and white flowers. Really pleasant and as weird as Arizona SB may sound, this is a wine worth checking out. (88 points)

2019 Aridus ViognierUSA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $35
Medium yellow color. The nose shows rich yellow peaches and pineapple, along with honey, hay and some whipped butter. Rich and creamy (of course) but there’s also this salty, perfumed tones. Yellow apples, orange marmalade, pear butter, mixed with honey, graham cracker. But there are also these balanced elements of flowers and bright lemon zest. Delicious. Aged 19 months in old French oak. (88 points)

2019 Aridus GracianoUSA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $46
Deep purple color. The aromas show a mix of smoky tar, jammy blueberries and blackberries, along with cocoa, anise, and these gravelly, earth tones. Chewy tannins on the palate, low acidity holds this back, but enjoyable ripe cherries and plums. Plum cake, cocoa, tobacco, this is sun-roasted Graciano goodness. Aged 16 months in oak. (87 points)

2018 Aridus SyrahUSA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $46
Deep purple color. Smells of plum cake and black cherries, saucy and spicy with tobacco, mint, cocoa, anise, scorched earth. Smooth tannins on the palate with moderating acidity and a chewy feel with the black cherries and saucy plums. Peppery, smoky, coffee-y, with barbecue sauce and beef jerky. Lots of fun, ripe but nuanced, this is a great intro into what can be done with Syrah in Arizona. Includes 10% Viognier, aged in 50% new French oak. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

California Cabernets and Wolf Wines

I’ve recently returned from a wonderful trip to Portugal and am back to focusing on some goodies from California.

Napa Cabernet is classic for a reason, and I’ve got some solid ones this week.

Since opening in 2014, Hamel has been putting out some really exciting wines from Sonoma Valley and Moon Mountain District. This was my first time trying their Nuns Canyon Cab and, just, wow. Calla Lily comes out swinging with two delightful Cabs worthy of consideration and cellar space, followed up by Cliff Lede’s latest Stag’s Leap Cab offering.

This was my first time tasting wines from Napa’s Lobo Wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offered a lot more brightness and finesse than I was expecting, and the reds offer a lot of earthy, spicy vibes to enjoy. They planted their first Chardonnay vines in Oak Knoll about 20 years ago, and then found their 42-acre Atlas Peak property in 2007.While not inexpensive, these wines really deliver for the price.

Ram’s Gate makes another appearance here with two exciting wines. Their Chards and Pinots are delicious across the board, but this new Hyde Chardonnay is really something. And Paso’s Tooth and Nail keep on trucking with some burly but well-made red blends.

These wines were received as trade samples. For this report, I tasted the Cabernets below single-blind, and the rest of the wines sighted.


2018 Hamel Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Nuns Canyon - USA, California, Sonoma County, Moon Mountain District
SRP: $160
Deep purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose with a core of tart blueberries and deep black cherries, mixed with lots of eucalyptus, mint, chewing tobacco, some coffee and tilled soil, just a gorgeous aromatic display. Solid grip, vibrant acidity, built so well with tangy, crunchy blueberries and dark currants. The stony, graphite, charcoal, pepper and cocoa accents are really attractive, and there’s this focused, fascinating minerality underneath that is awesome. Fermented in a mix of concrete, steel and oak and aged 20 months in French oak, this has a mighty long life of growth ahead of it. (94 points)

2017 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Ultimate Red - USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $65
Dark purple. The nose shows a warm, inviting mix of currants and blackberries, tossed with classic Napa Cab goodness like eucalyptus, cedar, coffee – a lot to unpack. Full but fresh on the palate with structured but suave tannins and lively acidity to balance it out – the mouthfeel is just gorgeous. Juicy black cherry fruit blends well with a mix of coconut shavings, cola and clove, along with tilled soil, rocky earth and graphite. There is a lot going on here, and it really needs some time, but the core of quality is so solid. Cabernet with Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged 22 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points)

2016 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Audax - USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $120
Vibrant purple color. Deep, concentrated yet lively aromas of tart plums, currants and cherries, tossed with roasted herbs, anise, cedar and cocoa – a lot going on and its all warm and inviting. Full-bodied, smooth but structured tannins, balanced with vibrant acidity. A tangy, juicy core of black cherries and blueberries, gorgeous fruit, mixed with cool notes of roasted red pepper, charcoal, coffee, and an underlying sense of gravelly earth and graphite. Really well done, this could use five years and will improve for many more. Aged 27 months in 50% new French oak. Cabernet with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (93 points)

2019 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $82
Bright purple color. The tangy blueberry and black cherry fruit aromas are backed up by incense sticks, cedar, cocoa, mint, pencil shavings and stony earth. Bold but smooth, structured tannins, moderating acidity, the balance is really nice. Dark but lively blackberry fruit, tossed with tar, gravel, loam, charcoal, along with nuances of coffee and cedar. Nice and deep, well-made, balanced, this could use at least a few years but already showing refinement and finesse. Includes a combined 18% Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, aged 21 months in 38% new French oak. (92 points)

Lobo Wines

2020 Lobo Wines Chardonnay Wulff Vineyards - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
SRP: $70
Light yellow color. Really interesting nose of lemons and yellow apples, with nice shots of sea salt and brine, topped with crushed walnut and whipped honey – really nice. Beautiful texture on the palate, shows a honeyed feel with medium acidity, paired with lemon slices, ripe white peaches and yellow apples. Chalky, flinty, salty, mineral undertones make this really exciting, while richer notes of nougat, whipped butter and honey add depth and enjoyment on the finish. Full maloactic fermentation, aged in 75% new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Lobo Wines Pinot Noir Wulff Vineyards - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
Bright cherry color. Smells dusty and earthy in a very pleasant way, with rhubarb, white pepper, some beef jerky and rose hip tones, all over tangy cranberry and red cherries. Fresh and zippy on the palate with sweet raspberry and tangy strawberries, dusty tannins. Notes of roses, clove, pepper, earth, along with cedar and light roast coffee, woven in nicely. Juicy, tangy, spicy, elegant Pinot Noir here. (91 points)

2018 Lobo Wines Pinot Noir Wulff Vineyards - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
SRP: $50
Deep ruby color. The nose is vibrant but sweet with red plums and pomegranate fruit, along with rose petals, clove, pepper, dried flowers. Smooth tannins, the acidity is zesty, it is balanced well with raspberry and black cherry, some cranberry relish, tangy but warm and silky. Clove, leather, dried rose petals, notes of savory spices and clay earth come out with time. Delicious now but could show some cool elements with a few years. Aged 11 months in 35% new French oak. (90 points)

2018 Lobo Wines Howl Wulff Vineyards - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
SRP: $70
Lively purple color. Aromas of cherries and dark currants, laced with a fun host of black pepper, beef drippings, charcoal, with violets and dark, scorched earth. Tangy currants and blueberry fruit over a bed of chewy tannins and zesty acidity. The pepper, paprika, roasted red pepper, soy and balsamic glaze notes add spicy, savory goodness, which lingers long on the finish with the dark fruit. Already showing a lot of complexity, but two or three years (or sipping over a few days) will do this Syrah good. Syrah with 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. (90 points)

2019 Lobo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Wulff Vineyards
- USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $80
Deep purple. A warm nose of black cherries and saucy currants, with mesquite, pepper, coffee, dark chocolate shavings, forest floor. Full and suave on the palate, smooth tannins and the acidity is medium. Ripe black currants, cherry preserves, tangy black cherries, the fruit is mixed well with notes of violets, tobacco, toffee and coffee grounds. A sweet, chewy finish but stays lively and nuanced. Stainless steel fermentation, aged 18 months in 70% new French oak. Great to go now or hold for a few. (90 points)

2018 Lobo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, Atlas Peak
SRP: $95
Bright purple color. Wow, the nose is deep but lively with a cool blend of blueberries and tangy black cherry fruit, laced with warm black tea, tar, anise and cracked black pepper. Velvety but well-built tannins on the palate, vibrant acidity, with suave plums and blackberry fruit. Notes of magic marker, cocoa, mint and clove add a lot to ponder, and there are dusty, earthy, oregano, pencil lead and leather notes that really pop as well. A lot to unwrap, I’d give this five or six years, but it shows a lot of depth, personality and concentration. Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak. (92 points)


2019 Ram's Gate Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard - USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $70
Medium yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd and yellow apples laced with notes of meringue, ginger, honey and nougat – a rich but inviting display. Creamy, deep texture with zesty acidity and gorgeous balance. Lemon and papaya fruit, rich but zesty, with complex notes of meringue, white flowers, sea salt, shaved almond. Pure, focused, crystalline, this will age wonderfully. One of the best Chardonnays I’ve tasted from this producer. (93 points)

2019 Ram's Gate Pinot Noir Estate - USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $85
Deep ruby color. Aromas of bright cherries and raspberries, mixed with complex notes of cola, rhubarb, white pepper, notes of pepperoni and paprika. The palate shows a zippy and a dusty tannic frame over top of tangy raspberry and cherry fruit. Notes of rose petals, tobacco, pepper and spiced black tea add quite a bit of complexity. Balanced, vibrant, earth and minerals on the finish. Refined, pretty Carneros Pinot. (92 points)

2019 Tooth & Nail Wines The Stand - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $36
Dark purple color. Nose shows roasted figs, saucy plums, with coconut shavings, coffee, toffee, rich but nuanced and vibrant. The palate shows sweet tannins and moderate acid, a chewy and full texture wih notes of cocoa, coconut, black pepper, caramelized sugar. Fun and chewy but refreshing and complex as well, this begs for steak and grilled vegetable kabobs. Petite Syrah, Syrah and Viognier, aged 15 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points)

2019 Tooth & Nail Wines The Possessor - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $36
Deep purple color. The nose is full of fig paste, rich and saucy blueberries, smoky, beefy rontes, with cocoa, cedar, graphite and anise – a lot to unpack. Jammy and plush on the palate, chewy tannins, smooth acidity. Plums and blackberry jam mixes with notes of cocoa, toffee, anise and cocoa. A deep, but inviting wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Malbec. (90 points)

Friday, April 22, 2022

An Ode to Praia dos Supertubos

Happy Earth Day!

The ocean gives us everything. May we strive to be better stewards than we were last year.

I love it when one of the best waves of a session goes unridden, even in a crowded field of highly talented surfers. It serves as a good reminder that no one bests the ocean -- nobody conquers anything. Rather, we commune with the waves for a period of time, harness the ocean's raw energy, and return to shore rejuvenated, humbled and stoked.

What a truly astounding wave this is, and I am so thankful to mother ocean and the absolute charging locals who shared it with me. About 15 years ago now, I was surfing my home break in New Jersey on a fun four-foot day. I noticed two guys who seemed experienced but not from around here, so I paddled up and asked them where they were from. Portugal, one said. I was shocked. "No way! Where exactly?" They said Peniche. It blew my mind and I expressed how stoked I was to have Portuguese surfers visiting my wave. I officially welcomed them, and told them to have fun. They even said it reminded them of home on a small day. I told them I had always wanted to surf Supertubos. "You must," one said. So I said, "OK, I will," not knowing if I would ever live to see that promise fulfilled.

I was sitting on the beach, preparing myself mentally on a particularly intimidating Supertubos dawn raid -- six foot and barreling heavier than I've seen at that size, eight foot sneaker closeout sets, howling offshore winds, nobody yet out on the peak. A bodyboarder, older than me, with the look and presence of a true OG who I'd seen out a few times, comes up and asks me where I'm from. I say Bom Dia but he asks in English and somehow knows I'm American. "USA East Coast - New Jersey." He gives me a nod and says, "Welcome to our waves," and paddles out. No one had ever just come up to me and been so explicitly welcoming, in all the places I've traveled and shared waves. 

Dues must be payed.

I'm so thankful I was able to surf this wave a lot in different conditions and sizes, and get to know it a bit. I am humbled and in awe of this magical stretch of sand.