Saturday, June 18, 2016

On My Wine Radar: Oregon Gamay

By now, if you’re remotely interested in wine, you know the goodness that is Cru Beaujolais. The Gamay grape’s spiritual home is the source of some fantastic (and still value-driven) red wines of elegance, purity and vibrancy.

Gamay does well in cooler climates. It can produce good fruit in lots of soil types, but granite and limestone soils tend to yield the most hauntingly beautiful examples. Outside of Beaujolais (and the Loire Valley, where it is frequently used in blends), where else can we find exciting hotbeds of Gamay? My vote goes to Oregon.

“It’s the perfect place to grown Gamay in the United States, said Kate Norris, winemaker and proprietor of Division Winemaking Company.

Credit: Division Winemaking Company
I met Kate for dinner in DC recently, and we tasted through a range of her Division wines. Kate makes some thrilling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but I was most intrigued by her focus on Gamay. Kate has conducted a Pacific Northwest case study of Gamay’s wide-ranging styles. She and her partner Tom Monroe worked in Beaujolais, under the mentorship of Christian Bernard of Domaine des Grands Fers, where they gained a deeper understanding of this beautiful, terroir-mirroring grape.  

She produces a delightful rosé of Gamay. Its a refreshing interpretation of this style that shows bright acidity, lots of floral elements and a pervasive sense of minerality. (The fruit actually comes from Willard Vineyard in neighboring Washington’s Yakima Valley AVA.)

Gamay vines from Methven Family Vineyard. Credit: Wikimedia

She also produces a Gamay Noir “Cru” from Methven Family Vineyards, a sustainably-farmed site in Eola-Amity Hills. Its a structured wine that pays homage to the Crus of Beaujolais, the renowned rocky vineyard sites that produce the region’s best wines. Kate admits the wine maintains a richer profile than most Cru Beaujolais, but touts the grapes signatures of freshness, minerality and deep floral-mineral tones. Theres not much of this wine to go around (about 80 cases), and this vintage was the first time she had enough grapes to ferment two separate lots (one lot was destemmed and the whole went through whole cluster fermentation).

Using some carbonic maceration she also releases a Division-Villages "Les Petits Fers" Gamay, which boasts a more approachable style similar to Beaujolais-Villages wines. Carbonic maceration involves intact grape bunches being placed in a carbon dioxide rich environment (such as a sealed tank), which begins a complex fermentation process that leads to wine of a lighter, fruitier style. Kate employs some semi-carbonic maceration, which she says, “brings am incredible textural component and freshness to wines, and when blended with traditionally fermented juice can expand the scope, intrigue, and complexity of the wine.”

Oh, yeah, and Division also makes an homage to Beaujolais Noveau as well.

“What other grape has this kind of diversity?” she said as we sipped her Gamay rosé. I did not have an immediate answer.

Chehalem, a Willamette Valley institution, has been growing Gamay since the mid-1980s, and they have about two acres planted in their oldest estate vineyard, Ridgecrest, a Ribbon Ridge vineyard that comprises clay, silt and loam on top of sandstone, basalt and siltstone rock. They blend the Gamay with about 20% Pinot Noir in a style that pays homage to the “passetoutgrains blends of Burgundy. Willamette Valley producer Brick House crafts a well-respected Gamay Noir. And Oregon’s Bow & Arrow is supposedly the country’s largest producer of Gamay. Willakenzie and Evening Land also dabble in Oregon Gamay.

These wines are still made on an artisanal scale, sourced from smaller vineyards and dedicated growers. Gamay doesn’t fit into Oregon’s top ten grapes in terms of production, and the Oregon Wine Board doesn’t have specific numbers on total acreage or annual production.

I have an inkling though, that there is untapped demand for these kinds of wines. They’re fresh, food-friendly, tend toward lower alcohol, and show moderate or light tannin structure. I’d love to see some Oregon Gamay on by-the-glass lists at wine bars and bistros. But even though it’s a niche wine at the moment, if producers keep sourcing high quality fruit to produce dynamic, vibrant, diverse wines, we will hear a lot more about Gamay from Oregon soon.

I’m not sure you can actually smell minerals, but this wine makes feel like I’m smelling all sorts of minerals, like they’re pouring out of a rocky mountain stream. I also get some cantaloupe and sea salt. Creamy palate but such precise, refreshing acidity. Pure and vibrant strawberry and peach fruit, along with notes of saline, minerals and rose petals. So fresh and pleasant, but by no means simple. More people need to taste this! (90 points)

I’m intrigued by Oregon Gamay, and this wine is one reason why. It smells like bright strawberries and jammy cherries and raspberries with notes of rocky earth and violets. Smooth but slightly chewy tannins, vibrant acidity, the wine comes off silky. Juicy black cherry and raspberry fruit topped with earth, roses, violets, subtle spice (Cinnamon? Pepper?). Richer fruit than a lot of Cru Beaujolais, but it’s on point with the fruit and earthy-mineral elements. Finishes clean and fresh. So pleasurable to drink, so good with all sorts of food, so inexpensive, what’s not to love? Some carbonic fermentation, some traditional, the combination is working well. From two vineyards, one in Eola-Amity Hills and the other in Umpqua Valley. (90 points)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Two Great Central Coast Producers: Alma Rosa & KITA

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

If you know Cali Pinot, you know Richard Sanford. This Pinot Noir pioneer has been exploring the potential of the Santa Rita Hills for more than four decades. In 2005, he and his wife Thekla founded another project, Alma Rosa, which focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The 2013 Blanc de Blancs and the 2013 Brut Rosé El Jabali Vineyard are the first sparkling wines Alma Rosa has produced since the project was founded in 2005. While new to the sparkling wine game, Alma Rosa's wines show no evidence of a learning curve. They're bright, crisp, complex and will likely age well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Alma Rosa Blanc de Blancs El Jabali Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $60
Pale lemon color. So perfumed on the nose with lilies, honeysuckle, sea salt, chalk, on top of limes and green apples. Precise acidity on the palate, a salty, breezy and crisp wine throughout. Flavors of limes and green apples mix with honeydew and white peach, and the fruit is peppered with chalk, flowers, minerals, honey and toasted nuts. Long and pithy finish. A very pretty and nervy California sparkling wine. A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. (90 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Brut Rosé El Jabali Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $65
Medium salmon color. So floral and vibrant on the nose with roses, daisies, strawberries, white cherries, sour patch kids and chalk – this is a crazy/awesome blend of aromas. Fresh, tart and brisk on the palate, this is a precise wine with flavors of crunchy red apple and wild strawberries. I get a complex blend of salty, chalky and mineral elements. Long finish. Very impressive bubbles (100% Pinot Noir). (90 points) 

2014 Alma Rosa Chardonnay El Jabali Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Pale gold color. On the nose, I get green apple, lime, floral perfume and some subtle chalk and honey. Medium-plus-bodied with crisp acidity and a slightly creamy mouthfeel (this undergoes 50% maloactic fermentation). Some pineapple accents the yellow and green apple fruit, and I also get some honeyed white tea flavors. Hints of chalk and a saline quality make this attractive. Bright but enough oomph and weight. 15% new oak used and nine months of aging on the lees, this is a well-priced, middle-of-the-road style Chardonnay. (87 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $35
Deep ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, clove and cola. Chewy, oily texture at 14.8% alcohol, but bright acidity and fine tannins balance it out. Tart cherries, strawberries and raspberries play with notes of cola, clove, roses and coffee. Forward and bold but vibrant. (88 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Barrel Select Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $
Deep ruby. Bright cherries and strawberries on the nose, with rhubarb, rose petals and more spice and cedar than the basic Sta. Rita Hills bottling. Smooth but chewy texture, this stays vibrant with fresh acidity and velvety tannins. Black cherry mixes with the tart red fruit, which is doused in coffee, cedar, cola and coffee. Warm but tart finish. (89 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Clone 667 La Encantada Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $
Medium-to-deep ruby color. A bit richer aromatically, with juicy strawberries and raspberry jam along with some sweet roses and clove. Lovely texture (dusty tannins, tart acidity) supports a medley of bright red currant, cherry and apple fruit. Accents of loam, tobacco, clove and cola. Full and chewy but stays elegant and refined. (89 points)

If Tara Gomez makes a mediocre wine, I sure haven’t tasted it. KITÁ’s winemaker crafts a wide array of different varietal and blended bottles, most of which come from the Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez (originally planted by Fess Parker). Her tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, purchased the vineyard in 2010, and Tara has access to some seriously high quality fruit from this sprawling 256-acre site. KITÁ also bottles some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Bruce Hilliard Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

2014 KITÁ Chardonnay Hilliard Bruce Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Very pale yellow color. Smells invigorating and bright with lemons, limes, green and yellow apples, floral perfume and crushed chalk. Tingly acid on the palate, this medium-bodied wine is delicate but packed with flavors. I get lemons, limes, apricot and tart green apple peel, backed up with some slight honey and white tea. This is a much more crisp and restrained style (all stainless steel) with lingering chalky minerals. Bring on the oysters. (90 points)

2013 KITÁ Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $55
Very light ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of bright strawberries, red cherries, red apple peel, along with some herbal and sweet spice elements. Medium-bodied (13% alcohol), smooth but structured tannins and lip-smacking acidity. Very pretty red fruit (tart strawberry, raspberry, juicy cherry), and the fruit is topped with pipe tobacco, leather, clay pot and a host of dusty, earthy and floral elements. So balanced and vibrant with a long, refreshing finish. Gorgeous now but should age well over the next few years at least. This spends 18 months in 20% new French oak. (92 points)

2013 KITÁ Cabernet Sauvignon Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $40
Deep ruby/light purple color. Smells of tart black and red currants and plum skins, along with smoke, earth and eucalyptus. Medium-plus-bodied, structured but accessible tannins, medium acidity, the balance is firing. Juicy black and red plums and currant fruit, which feel vibrant and crunchy on the palate. Flavors of smoke, loamy soil, tobacco and eucalyptus add complexity. Ill go out on a limb and call this wine refreshing (which is a phrase that, unfortunately, doesn't apply to many current California Cabernets). Accessible and lovely now but Id love to revisit this in two to five years. 13.5% alcohol, 100% Cabernet  Sauvignon, this spends 18 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wine Reviews: Worldwide Roundup

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

We receive a lot of samples from all over the world, but sometimes there aren’t enough to fit into a single tasting or under the same umbrella. In the past, I’ve called these catch-all reports “Odds & Ends” but these wines aren’t odd, and they’re not at the end of any list I would compose.

So, without further explanation, here are a slew of reviews of wines from all over world, made in all different styles.

These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Sparkling Wines
N.V. Ferrari Rosé - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Trentino, Trento
SRP: $36
Pale copper color. Smells of floral perfume, white cherries, strawberries, salted biscuits and freshly sliced rhubarb. Bright, almost bracing, acidity, this is a tart and crunchy sparkler with flavors of grapefruit and lemon. I get some salt, minerals and biscuit notes that add some complexity. Chill the shellfish, pop this wine, and enjoy. Aged two years on the lees, disgorged 2015. (87 points)

2011 Lieb Family Cellars Blanc de Blancs - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $30
Pale lemon color. Smells of biscuits and chalk on top of lime, pears and nectarines, and I get some breezy, oceanic and floral notes. Bright acidity on the palate with smooth texture and very fine, tingly bubbles. Oranges, limes and green pears, the crisp fruit is matched with biscuits, honey and sea salt. This is a lot of fun, not the deepest or most complex sparkling wine, but it’s put together well. I crave Long Island seafood. 100% Pinot Blanc matured for four years before release. (87 points)

White Wines

2015 Rutini Torrontés Trumpeter - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP: $11
Light gold color. So peachy and floral on the nose, like tropical salad, perfume and honey. Juicy, creamy texture on the palate with moderate acidity. A rich floral sense, like tropical yellow flowers topped with honey and white tea and. pineapple, mango and lime. Vibrant but rich wine, tasty, clean, well-made. For $11? Yeah, if you want to explore Torrontés, spend very little money, and you love tropical fruit salad — go purchase this wine right now. (86 points) 

2014 Lieb Family Cellars Pinot Blanc Reserve - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $22
Pale lemon color. Bright and refreshing aromas of lemons and limes, sliced green apple, peach nectar, some floral perfume and sugar cane. Crisp, clean and zesty on the palate, this is a light-bodied and nervy wine but it’s packed with flavor: limes, green apple, summer peach, accented with sea salt, crushed chalk, sugar cane and white flowers. Pretty, elegant, lip-smacking, begs for oysters and summer. (88 points)

Vibrant gold color. Smells of lemon curd, tangerine, drizzled with limes, and some bright white and yellow floral elements. Fresh and vibrant on the palate with moderate creaminess and a sense of refreshing acidity throughout. Lemon curd, orange peel, some juicy pears, the fruit is dusted with chalk and flowers. The oak-influenced flavors of nutshell, nougat and cinnamon are understated and nuanced, allowing the purity of the underlying fruit to shine through. Complex yet so easy to drink. This spends 10 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Stinson Vineyards Chardonnay - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $24
Light gold color. Clean and fresh aromas of yellow and green apples, white peaches and apricot along with some yellow flowers, nougat and hazelnut. Medium-bodied, a fresh and zesty appeal on the palate from the acidity. The white peach, apricot and glazed yellow apple fruit is ripe but vibrant, and backed up by flavors of honeycomb, yellow flowers, and a balanced blend of nougat and hazelnut. A middle-of-the-spectrum kind of Chardonnay, with plenty of ripeness and richer elements but a fresh and crunchy core. Fermented and aged in French oak (15% new), which seems to be just the right amount. (88 points)


2015 Lieb Family Cellars Bridge Lane - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $18
Very pale copper color. A bit under-ripe on the nose perhaps, it smells like nettle, the white tops of wild cherries, rose hips. Crisp and clean on the palate, this lighter-bodied wine shows a very slight creaminess to the texture. Wild strawberries mix with tart red apple peel, and I get some secondary notes of cut grass, nettle and white pepper. Simple, dry, crisp, fun stuff. Mostly Cabernet Franc with 22% Merlot, 10% Pinot Blanc and 5% Pinot Noir. (85 points)

2015 Willamette Valley Vineyards Rosé - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $24
Gorgeous strawberry candy colored. Very pretty and lively on the nose, with juicy strawberries, white cherries, orange blossoms, baby’s breath, rose petals – so fresh, fruity and floral. Crisp and vibrant on the palate, this is a medium-bodied wine with fresh acidity. I get strawberry, crunchy raspberries and red apple peel flavors, Lots of fresh roses, nettles, chalk and spiced tea. Very pretty and elegant but full of flavor. (90 points)

SRP: $12
Bright watermelon colored. Smells of strawberry jam, fresh watermelon and juicy red apples, and a note that reminds me of lemon zinger tea. Medium-bodied with a slightly chewy texture, but moderate acidity keeps it fresh. Flavors of red berry fruit and jams mix with a floral tea and honey element, a dash of pepper in there, too. A bit of a fatter pink wine in style, but well done and very tasty. A blend of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Grenache. It’s a 2014, so it’s a full year later, but this is holding up well. Drink now. (85 points)

2015 Stinson Vineyards Mourvedre Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $20
Bright pink/salmon color. On the nose, I get dandelions, nettle and clover on top of white cherries, raspberries and red apple peel. On the palate, this is a punchy and tart pink with a bright and crunchy personality. White cherries, ruby red grapefruit and red apple peel fruit is accented by white pepper, nettle, rose petals and lemongrass. Crisp, salty finish. So versatile and food-friendly, this is yet another iteration of a really solid Virginia rosé. (87 points)


2013 Trivento Malbec Golden Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $20
Deep purple color. Smells of dark plums, blackberries, the fruit is rich but tart with coffee and vanilla. Full-bodied, solid tannic grip, medium acidity, combining for a chewy texture. Dark and saucy fruit (rich blackberry, blueberry jam, plum skins), and I also get notes of dark roast coffee, scorched earth, iron and graphite. Jammy but well-structured, I’d actually like to see what a few years in the cellar does to this wine. All Malbec aged 12 months in French oak and a year in bottle before release. (87 points)

This best New World Malbec I've tasted
2013 Achával-Ferrer Malbec Finca Altamira - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, La Consulta
SRP: $140
Vibrant purple color. Gorgeous aromatics of black cherry, plum cake, roasted figs, mocha, violets, scorched earth, cinnamon, graphite and minerals. Full-bodied but the texture and balance is amazing – fine but firm tannins, refreshing acidity, it all combines for a mouth-filling but seamless wine. Flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, roasted figs and plum sauce, the fruit is pure and vibrant and complex. Loads of non-fruit complexities: cedar, violets, roses, potting soil, tobacco, eucalyptus, tobacco, sweet herbs and pencil shavings. Long, vibrant, complex finish. Wow, this is beautiful now, especially with a long decant, but will do wonders over the next 5-10 years. This Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira is my pick for the greatest Malbec from Argentina. One of three single-vineyard bottlings from this phenomenal producer, this comes from 80 year old ungrafted Malbec vines grown at about 3,500 feet. Aged 15 months in new French oak. (95 points)

2013 Yangarra Estate Grenache Old Vine - Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale
SRP: $32
Gorgeous summer cherry color. Smells of bright red and black cherries, strawberry jam, crunchy plums, all of it topped in a significant amount of pepper, anise and bacon fat. A full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) but juicy wine with fleshy medium tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity, this actually stays alive and fresh. Lots of cherry, strawberry and some blackberry fruit, which is ripe but also tart and crunchy. I love the clove, pepper and meaty notes here, with just a bit of coffee, cola and cedar. A very well-balanced, fresh and food-friendly Grenache for those who like some vibrancy in their Australian Grenache. From a biodynamically farmed vineyard first planted in 1946. Aged 9 months in older French oak. (89 points)

SRP: $26
Bold purple color. Nice mix of tart blackberries and jammy currants, along with wet soil, tobacco and bell pepper elements. Full-bodied, structured but smooth tannins, and medium acidity, it all combines for a silky but mouth-filling texture. Blackberry and black currant, ripe but a bit crunchy as well, which I like. Notes of earth, charcoal and pipe tobacco, it’s toasty but not too much. Finishes smooth yet rich. For years this has been a solid value, and Concha y Toro is continuing that history. Includes some Cab Franc, Merlot and Syrah. (88 points)

2014 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour
SRP: $30
Deep violet color. A lot going on aromatically: smoke, earth, savory herbs, leaves, mossy rocks, mushrooms – sort of like you were camping in the mountains, got up from the fire, took a walk, fell down an embankment and got a bit of everything in your nose on the way down. But in a good way. Also, some rich blackberries, currants and plums. A bold presence on the palate with structured tannins, medium acidity, a velvety but refined mouthfeel. Flavors of juicy plums, currants and blackberries, the fruit is totally packed with all sorts of cool stuff: mushroom, pepper, coffee grounds, sweet clove, black olive. There’s a deep, underlying sense of rocky, stony minerality that pervades the wine and lingers onto the finish. A young wine, but after a half hour it really starts to pop, although three to five years in the cellar will allow this to unravel into something even prettier. Now I want venison steak. Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Bila-Haut wines are all solid bargains, but this top-of-the-line bottling is a very good wine for the price. (91 points)

2014 Lieb Family Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $30
Juicy ruby color. I love these aromas: vibrant currants, cherries, lots of ripe fruit but it smells nuanced and tart, and notes of pepper, spiced coffee and cigar smoke. Impressive tannic structure on the palate, but they’re manageable, bright acid keeps it fresh and juicy. Tart red currants, cherries, a slightly darker fruit element. Lovely earthy/herbal/spicy complexity. Although this is a lighter-bodied wine (12.8% alcohol), it will have a lot to unpack as it ages. I’d love to taste again in four years or so. A wine to pour for that Loire Valley-loving friend who has spoken in ignorance about Long Island Cabernet Franc being sub-par. It’ll shut them up real nice. Includes 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 10 months in Hungarian oak.  (90 points)

Light ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of sour cherries, juicy strawberries, bright raspberries, along with some clove and rose petals. Medium-bodied with tannins like fine dust, the acidity is crunchy and tart, and it all lines up so well with the juicy raspberry, strawberry and wild cherry fruit. I get notes of loam, fallen leaves, rose hip tea and some clove. Lovely, fresh, bright and quite long. Drinking wonderfully right out of the bottle but I'd love to see what complexities evolve over the next three years. (91 points)

2013 Stinson Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $32
Deep ruby color. Fresh red currant, ripe but tart cherries, I also get scents of some tobacco, black pepper, fresh roses, sweet red pepper — lovely aromas. Fresh acidity frames this wine from start to finish. The tannins provide some structure but they’re quite smooth and very approachable. The fruit is so bright and vibrant (cherries, currant, some strawberry), lots of roses, rhubarb, pepper, tobacco and soy notes. Complex but fresh and downright fun to drink. 33% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot, 17% Cabernet Franc aged 18 months in 30% new French Oak. (89 points)

2013 Long Shadows Wineries Merlot Pedestal - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $60
Juicy purple color. Smells dark and concentrated, with plums, violets and dark chocolate shavings. Big and full on the palate with structured but chewy tannins, some moderate acidity helps tame the huge structure. The plum sauce, currant paste and black cherry fruit is jammy but velvety, and topped with some violets and earthy flavors. This wine is jam packed with vanilla, charred oak and toasted nuts. It’s heavy for my palate, but it’s still a very nice wine, perhaps one that could use a few years in the cellar. High-alcohol, oak-lovers, check out this wine, which was made with the consultation of Michel Rolland. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc, aged almost two years in mostly new oak. (88 points)

2013 Long Shadows Wineries Pirouette - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $60
Dark purple color. Smells of deep plums and rich blackberries topped in smoke, violets, cedar and loamy soil. Velvety but chewy on the palate, structured tannins for sure but there’s a beam of pure acidity that holds the wine together nicely. Dense flavors of blackberry, blueberry, such smooth fruit, which is coated in tar, loam, pencil shavings and sweet pipe tobacco. This is a cellar-worthy wine, but a very pretty one. A blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. (90 points)

2013 Buried Cane Heartwood Red - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Boisterously aromatic with juicy strawberries, cherries and some blueberry thrown in for good measure. I pick up rose petals, charcoal, black pepper and some sweet red hot candies. A full but very juicy wine with very smooth tannins and some moderate acid. Sweet strawberries mix with jammy black cherries, and the fruit is doused in smoky, meaty, peppery notes, along with some cola and roasted coffee. A bit of heat, but this is a fun, crowd-pleasing wine that brings a good amount of complexity and length with it. A wide-ranging blend of 37% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre, 13% Cinsault, 5% Counoise, and 2% Viognier. (87 points)

Fortified Wines

2011 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo Lake County - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $45
This dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon is a vibrant purple color. Smells of saucy currants, roasted figs, dark chocolate and violets. Full but smooth, a bit of heat from the 19% alcohol. Flavors of plum cake, currant sauce, topped with dark chocolate, espresso and caramel. Very tasty stuff with a long, warm finish. (87 points)

2011 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smells of red and black licorice along with plum sauce, lava cake, sweet caramel. Fully and chewy but smooth with easy-drinking tannins, some freshness from the acidity. I get flavors of plums, blackberry pie, blueberry cobbler, along with vanilla, cola, sweet coffee and roasted nuts. Delicious stuff, quite forward but stays vibrant. (88 points)

<85 points

2014 Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $16
A classic New Zealand Sauv Blanc aromatic mix of onion grass and white pepper along with guava and grapefruit. Medium-bodied on the palate with crisp and tingly acid. I get lemongrass, green onion and sliced jalapeno on top of the juicy ruby red grapefruit and lemon flavors. Fun, a bit simple and typical, but solid.

2014 Buried Cane Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $16
Smells sweet and jammy, like currant and blackberry jams with some cola, sweet cedar and coffee. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, medium-low acidity. The fruit is jammy, sweet and candied. It tastes good, but it tastes kind of gimmicky. I do get some fun cola, spiced coffee and sweet earth flavors. A bit short on the backend. Includes 16% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Rediscovering Soave with Stefano Inama

Soave was once the most popular Italian white wine for American consumers. In the 1970s, Americans bought more Soave than they did Chianti. But, fueled by cheap bulk wines made from the less heralded vineyards in the region's fertile plain, Soave developed a bad reputation. When I first started studying Italian wines about a decade ago, I heard only negative things about Soave. It's thin, it's insipid, it's for old winos.

Then I started tasting some wines from Soave Classico (the respected heart of the region). I was impressed. These were dynamic, exciting and unique white wines.

One of those wines was an Inama Soave Classico. I recently met with winemaker Stefano Inama while he was visiting Washington, DC, and spent a wonderful evening sipping his wines and picking his brain about this historic region.

Inama vineyards in Soave Classico. Credit: Giò Martorana/Inama
Inama is premium Soave Classico. If this region is primed for rediscovery by a new generation of wine drinkers, Inama's wines are the perfect gateway drug.

Soave is made from the ancient Garganega grape, a relatively rare variety that pops up in only a few other areas of Italy. It imparts a vibrant sense of acidity, a mineral cleanliness and abundant floral characteristics. Its spiritual and historic home is Soave Classico, a zone that is full of volcanic basalt soil, the only example of its kind in Northern Italy. (Wines labeled simply Soave come from alluvial plains and are generally produced by cooperatives for the mass market.) The Romans knew the area that is now Soave Classico was good wine-growing soil, and wine has been made in this area for about 2,000 years.

Imagining what the Romans were looking for when they first planted vines in these soils, Stefano said, "We want a mineral wine to cleanse the palate, then some perfume." His wines have both of these elements, and then some.

Stefano Inama's father bought his first piece of land in Soave Classico in 1965. His wines found a permanent home at a new winery, which was completed in the early 1980s.

Stefano, who joined his father's winery in 1991, has expanded the company's portfolio significantly.
They make an entry-level Soave Classico and two single-vineyard wines. The Soave Classico "Foscarino" is selected from the best lots and oldest vines and fermented in older barrels. This wine has bold texture but it is incredibly bright and packed with mineral complexity.  The Soave Classico "Vigneto du Lot" is the opposite side of the spectrum, made in a more modern style. Stefano told me he wanted to make a Soave that he could pair with smoked salmon And, after tasting the Vigneto du Lot, I think that pairing would be fantastic. The grapes come from a single vineyard  known for its concentration, and the wine is fermented in new barrels with lees stirring. When the wine debuted in the mid-1990s, Stefano used 100% new oak. But as the 90s cult of new oak began to wane, Stefano dialed it back, and these days he uses about 30% new barrels. The Vigneto du Lot is a rich wine but the precision and freshness is impressive.

While Soave Classico is Inama's history (and bread and butter), Stefano is also something of an experimentalist. In 1991, the winery began bottling a Sauvignon Blanc, and they also bottle a varietal Chardonnay.

Inama's Colli Berici vineyard. Credit: Giò Martorana/Inama
Stefano is also a pioneer and lover of the Carmenere grape. Perhaps best known for its part in Chilean varietal and blended wines, this grape actually hails from Bordeaux. Carmenere had been growing in the region for at least 100 years (it was probably brought back by Italian workers returning from France). But for decades, nobody knew Carmenere was Carmenere — the vines were inter-planted with other varieties and likely mistaken for Cabernet Franc. In the 1990s, though, the Inamas chose an area of the Berici Hills with the goal of planting Carmenere and taking this grape variety seriously.

"Carmenere requires such an addiction," Stefano told me. It certainly seems like a lonely pursuit, but Stefano is putting his addiction to good use. His Carmenere "Piu" (which is blended with about 30% Merlot) is an inexpensive and accessible wine made for early consumption. It's absolutely delicious. The Oratorio di San Lorenzo (a 100% Carmenre) is perhaps the finest example of this grape I have ever tasted. It's an incredibly stunning wine. A tribute to its quality, this wine received its own DOCG appellation (Colli Berici D.O.C. Carmenere Riserva) in 2009.

With beautiful Soave Classico options, a range of other whites and reds, and some unique and thrilling Carmenere wines, the adventurous wine consumer good reason to get excited about Inama. And, considering the high quality, I think these wines are worth every dollar.

Here are my notes on the wines, which were all tasted around the dinner table.

2014 Inama Soave Classico Vigneti di Foscarino - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
Such bright aromas of minerals, chalk, sea salt and chamomile tea. Great texture on the palate, the richness is surprising considering the 12.5% alcohol, and the acidity keeps the wine vibrant. Limes and melon rind mix with an intense minerality. This is structured so well - I'd love to retaste it in a few years. A wonderfully pure expression of Soave Classico. From old vines planted on east-facing slopes. The wine is made from grapes grown on the east side of Monte Foscarino, and it's fermented in old oak barrels after the grapes receive overnight skin contact. (91 points)

2011 Inama Soave Classico Vigneto du Lot - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
A bit more honey and richness than the 2013, but this is still bright with scents of chalk, white tea and minerals. Bold and rich palate but so bright and refreshing as well. Green melon and key lime fruit blends with honey, almond, chamomile tea, a slight touch of vanilla and lingering minerality. A bold, waxy presence but the wine is precise and crisp throughout. Interesting to taste this wine at this point, but it's still going strong. (91 points)

2013 Inama Soave Classico Vigneto du Lot - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
More floral and lifted than the 2011, I get a lot of citrus zest mixed with chalk and all sorts of flowers. Bright on the palate with a lovely salinity, but the creaminess is very nice. Honeycomb, melon, apricot, subtle floral and tea notes. Persistently bright and zesty. Like the 2011, this wine sees 30% new French, but the oak influences seems less overt in this wine. Still very young. (91 points)

2011 Inama Bradisismo Veneto IGT - Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
Dark and saucy aromas, lots of plum and currant, but I love these pepper and bold smoke notes as well. Full-bodied with gutsy tannins but a lovely velvety texture as well. The dark red and black fruit is loaded with graphite, pepper, cedar, loam and spices. I'd love to age this for five or seven years, but it's beautiful to drink young.  This is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenere. Aged 15 months in French oak barriques. 14.5% alcohol. (90 points)

2012 Inama Carmenere Più - Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
Smells of spicy pepper, clove, tobacco and eucalyptus on top of red plums. Smooth but structured tannins, tart acidity, spicy black cherry fruit on the palate. I love the spice and herbal complexities of this wine (clove, anise, eucalyptus, pepper, bay leaf). This entry-level red is a screamer at $20. This is such a versatile and downright fun wine that I'd love to see on some by-the-glass lists. 70% Carmenere and 30% Merlot aged 12 months in old French oak. (88 points)

2012 Inama Carménère Oratorio di San Lorenzo Veneto IGT - Italy, Veneto, Colli Berici D.O.C. Carmenere Riserva
These aromas are really kicking: black pepper, tobacco, eucalyptus, thyme, cocoa, they just keep going. On the palate this wine has bright acidity, solid tannic backbone and a gorgeous texture and mouthfeel. The black cherry and currant fruit is juicy, jammy and tart at the same time, and the spicy complexity is really impressive, leaving my mind searching for words to attempt to describe the different spice and herbal elements. 100% Carmenere aged 18 months in half new French oak and then a year in bottle before release. This is an absurdly good wine that will cellar wonderfully. A real treat to taste. (94 points)