Saturday, October 15, 2016

Picture Series Wines Provide Great Intro to Australia's Two Hands

I’ve been interested in Two Hands wines since I was a legal purchaser of alcohol. Back then, I couldn’t afford the wines, but I was obsessed with Australia and spent too much time drooling over tasting notes and high scores from the likes of Wine Spectator

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to taste a whole lot of Two Hands wines, from a decade-old Ares Shiraz (their flagship bottling) to the delightful and fun Brilliant Disguise Moscato. The wines are all expertly made and delicious. I can’t think of an outlier.

This month, I’m tasting through a half-dozen Two Hands wines through
Protocol's #winestudio, a Twitter-based wine education program run by Tina Morey. This was my first foray into this program, and it’s fitting that we’re focused on such a reputable producer.

Founders Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz kicked off the project in 1999 as a negociant firm, purchasing quality grapes from select sites around South Australia. Their first vintage was 2000. Since then, Two Hands has purchased its own vineyards and producers a wide array of wines. They’re a perennial competitor in the all sorts of Top Ten lists from major wine publications. Even among people who don’t generally like Australian wine, Two Hands is revered.

We started off tasting three wines from Two Hands'
Picture Series along with winemaker Ben Perkins. "For many, the Picture Series is the introduction to Two Hands, so our first mission is to over deliver on quality," Two Hands says on its website. "The winemaking technique and effort that goes into making a Gnarly Dudes or Angels’ Share is no different to the higher tiers of the portfolio, so these are still serious wines, with a focus on purity of fruit and sensory pleasure."

The wines feature playful names and stylish vintage photograph labels. And, considering the popularity of this producer, these wines come with relatively accessible price points.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Two Hands Cabernet Sauvignon Sexy Beast - Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale
SRP: $36
Lively red currant color. Dark and saucy aromas of black cherry, blueberry, black currant, along with spiced tea, clove, menthol, vanilla bean and cedar. Full-bodied with fleshy tannins, this is such a velvety/rich mouthfeel but it goes down quite easily in spite of that. Juicy black cherry, black currant fruit mix with a hint of tart blueberry. Deep earthiness in this wine, like charcoal pit, tree bark, loamy soil, pine sap — the whole deal (but in a really tasty way). Lots of clove, coffee and dark chocolate notes as well. Lots of complexity in here but the deliciousness factor of the fruit is way up there. Tasty now, but this should get more luscious over the next three to four years. Aged in 15% new French oak. (89 points) 

2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angels Share - Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale
SRP: $36
Deep purple color. Smoky, earthy, savory notes on the nose (pepper, barbecue sauce, scorched earth) on top of gobs of black cherry and blackberry fruit, add in some sweet cola and vanilla. Full-bodied with structured but velvety tannins – some medium acidity helps. Black cherry, blueberry, blackberry jam, the fruit is rich and loaded but not baked. Lots of pepper, soy, scorched earth notes to bounce off the dark roast coffee, roasted chestnut, cinnamon sticks and clove notes. Rich and generous but complex and very interesting. Curious to see how this ages of four or five years. Aged in 6% new French oak and the rest old French and American oak. (90 points)

2014 Two Hands Shiraz Gnarly Dudes - Australia, South Australia, Barossa Valley
SRP: $36
Deep purple color. Smells dark and juicy with blackberries, plums and roasted figs along with smoky bacon, beef brisket and pepper. Medium-plus-bodied (13.5% alcohol) with rounded edges on the tannins and some freshness from the acidity. Plums, blackberries and blueberries, the fruit is ripe but stays tart. Notes of smoke, graphite, earth, clove and sweet coffee add complexity. Pretty, bold but vibrant as well, a bit more freshness than the Angel's Share Shiraz. Aged 12 months in 15% new French oak. (90 points)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Review: In Sideways Sequel, Miles Heads to Willamette Valley

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Much like his first, Sideways, Rex Pickett’s follow-up novel, Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, isn’t a wine book, per se, it’s a humorous effort loaded with winery visits, empty Pinot Noir bottles, self-loathing and sloppy sex.

Pickett plays an interesting game with real-life and fiction in this book. In this novel, Miles (the perpetually drunk, Pinot-loving protagonist) is a big celebrity in the wine world based on the publication of his novel Shameless (a stand-in for the real-life novel Sideways). He’s spent the past few years soaking in the fame, getting wined and dined by Pinot producers, and, as he’s always more than willing to tell, getting laid.

The relationship with Maya (the Hitching Post waitress and love interest from Sideways) and fizzled after Miles went back to his L.A. home to relish in newfound fame. His mother has had a stroke and his good buddy Jack is reeling from a broken marriage. The stage is set for a new adventure when Miles agrees to bring his mother to live with her sister in Wisconsin. He decides to rent a handicap-accessible van and take his mother, her dog and Jack to Wisconsin, with a little stop-over in Willamette Valley for the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), for which Miles is the master of ceremonies.

If you’re looking for a primer on Willamette Valley Pinot, this is not it. Miles and his crew don’t get to Willamette Valley until page 223. And when they arrive for IPNC, there’s no master class in Oregon Pinot. Instead, there’s a hilarious scene where Miles is forced to sit in a dunk booth filled with Two Buck Chuck Merlot.

The dialogue is consistently punchy, funny, and witty. But the stage-setting and basic narration go through dips of boredom and laziness. (“The parking lot was so full it was difficult to find a place to park.” Hmm…You don’t say.)

However, Pickett does have the ability to get this particular reader a bit emotional during the scenes between Miles and his mother. The passages of dialogue between Miles and his mother are like flashes of brilliant sobriety and deep emotion in a novel filled with drunken excess and surface level human interactions.

For me, Sideways was the exception that proved the rule that books are better than movies. I absolutely loved the movie, and when I see it while scrolling channels, I almost always check it out to see which hilarious spat of dialogue is coming up next. But I found the book frustrating. Pickett’s writing struck me as overcompensating, overindulgent and tiring. In Vertical, there is still plenty of bro-down, dick-swinging, “Chicks, man!” kind of stuff, but I feel like Pickett has grown a bit less sophomoric with this sophomore effort.

The book does contain a series of brutal yet hilarious scenes about Jack’s penis, and more than a few of Miles’ kiss-and-tell confessions. There’s pants-pooping, impromptu dental surgery, (a lot of) drunken sex, spit bucket baths, and the like. While crass at times, Pickett’s protagonist maintains an interesting mix of humor, levity, and pathos, which hold the story together and make it a worthwhile read.

While the wine lover will have fun with the shout-outs to certain wines and wineries, this book is aimed at a far wider audience. But I think the wine world is frequently in need of a humor injection, and Picket provides that in this novel.

Now let’s see if Hollywood buys the screenplay, and Maybe Paul Giamatti will be back to play Miles again. I know I’d pay to see it.

Available now from Loose Gravel Press
E-Book: $9.95
Softcover: $12.95
Hardcover: $24.95

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Four Fun Wines From Lodi, California

Gorgeous Lodi Grenache!
I've written a lot about Lodi over the pastyear or so. After a big tasting of some really interesting and deliciously quirky Lodi wines, I called the region a "big tent freak show of awesomeness."

And the wines from this historically-maligned area near Sacramento continue to impress me with their diversity of styles and fascinating blends. Conscientious winemakers are committed to raising the reputation of Lodi wines by focusing on the region's treasure trove of old, gnarly vines, which produce wines of with deep and concentrated flavors. 

As part of an online tasting sponsored by the wine site Snooth, I recently tasted four Lodi wines and chatted with Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission and Winemaker, at Lodi's St. Amant Winery, and Michael McCay, Owner/Winemaker at his eponymous winery, McCay Cellars.

There are a lot of really solid and unique Lodi wines in the $20 range. But there are also some real stunning, cellar-worthy wines (like the McCay Grenache in this tasting, which really rocked my socks off). 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2015 Acquiesce Belle Blanc - California, Lodi
SRP: $26
Light yellow color. Smells of peaches, guava, honey but also some lime peel, sea salt, cucumber and floral perfume. Crisp and crunchy on the palate but lots of waxy, honeyed appeal. Peaches, guava, limes, the fruit is blended with perfume, stony minerals and a green herbal note. Fresh, juicy, solid complexity but so pleasant to sip and enjoy. A delicious and intriguing blend of 45% Grenache Blanc, 45% Roussanne and 10% Viognier. (88 points) 

2013 McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard - California, Lodi
SRP: $32
Crisp and lively ruby color. Smells of ripe but tart plums and cherries with lots of smoke, tobacco, black pepper, rose petals and pickles – a seriously fun and intriguing bunch of aromas. Palate: Full-bodied with a fleshy but tart texture and lip-smacking acidity and medium-soft tannins. Tart raspberries mix with juicy cherries and red plums. I get lots of smoke, charcoal, tobacco, white pepper and herbal tea notes. Such a food-friendly, pleasant but flavor-packed wine. Gorgeous stuff for those tired of extracted, heavy Grenache. (91 points)

2013 Klinker Brick Syrah Farráh - California, Lodi
SRP: $20
Deep, extracted purple color. Smells of dark plums, blackberries and saucy currants, along with barbecue smoke and dark chocolate notes. Full-bodied with fleshy and approachable tannins and medium-low acidity (which helps a bit) — this is a bold and unsubtle wine with plenty of flavor. Packed with roasted plums and blackberry jam, along with an interesting mix of mesquite, pepper, chocolate and cedar. A richly delicious Syrah for near-term consumption. (86 points) 

2014 LangeTwins Nero d'Avola Red Tail Vineyard - California, Lodi
SRP: $20
Deep ruby color. Aromas of black cherries and red currants on the nose, along with cola, smoked herbs, charcoal and black licorice – an interesting blend of aromas. Full but smooth with soft tannins and medium acidity, which keeps it fresh. Black and red cherries and currants, saucy fruit but not baked. Notes of campfire, anise, clove and loamy soil. Interesting in addition to being delicious. This is the first vintage of this wine, which hails from the Red Tail Vineyard, planted in 2012. (87 points)

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Few Impressive Virginia Wines from Stinson & Keswick

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you haven’t yet explored Virginia wine, getting started can be a bit tricky. With more than 250 wineries, it helps to start with a few reputable wineries. I recently tasted through a few wines from two Virginia wineries I think produce consistently good wines.

Stinson Vineyards produces some Monticello AVA fruit and source grapes from other areas. The father-daughter duo (Scott and Rachel Stinson) control about seven acres of estate vineyards, planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. The wines are clean, vibrant, accessible, and I’ve noticed a strong consistency from vintage to vintage, something that can be especially difficult in Virginia.

Speaking of Virginia’s notoriously variable vintage conditions, during a recent online chat, Keswick’s winemaker and vineyard manager Stephen Barnard said, “The only consistency is that next year’s going to be different.” From frost to spats of torrential rain to heat spikes to looming destruction from tropical systems, Virginia winegrowers don't have it easy. But he and other Virginia winemaker’s got a bit of a break in the exceptional 2015 vintage. A lot of reds are yet to hit the market, but based on the whites I’ve tasted and what I’ve heard from Virginia vintners, this is a vintage to check out.

Barnard, originally from South Africa, has been working with Virginia wines for about 15 years, the last 10 of which he’s spent at, garnering acclaim and doing his part to elevate the reputation of Virginia wine. Keswick has won awards at the annual Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition several times, including their 2014 Cabernet Franc Reserve (included in this tasting), which won the 2016 Cup.

For a full re-cap on the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup winners, you can read my report here.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $24
Pale straw color. Smells of tart green apples and limes mixed with juicy pears and an impressive amount of chalk, white pepper and sliced jalapenos. Rocking acidity on the palate, which balances nicely with the moderately waxy mouthfeel. This is a delicious but vibrant Sauv Blanc with limes, apples and peaches. The fruit is topped with mountain stream, honeysuckle, sea salt, chalk and sliced jalapenos. This Sauv Blanc has a little bit of everything rolled into its character. Crisp, refreshing finish. A consistently exciting and dynamic Virginia Sauvignon Blanc, vintage in, vintage out. Aged about 5 months on the lees in concrete and stainless steel. (89 points)

2013 Stinson Vineyards Tannat - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello

SRP: $36
Vibrant purple color. Gorgeous dark fruit on the nose (plum skin, black currant) along with rich earth, graphite, anise and violets — lots of aromatic complexity that comes out with air. Full-bodied on the palate with structured tannins, but bright acidity keeps it from being heavy. Pretty but deep fruit (blueberry, black cherry, dark plum) topped with notes of violet petals, clove and wet earth. Impressive purity of flavor and an underlying elegance for a young Tannat. 2013 was a terribly rainy year, and I think that’s contributed to this wine being more accessible young than I would expect. Includes 12% Merlot, this is aged 22 months in 50% new French oak, but this wine can handle that level of oak like a champ. (89 points)

2014 Stinson Vineyards Cabernet Franc - Virginia
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Aromas of red currants, juicy black cherries, lots of rose petals, tobacco, pickling spices and earthy-mushroom elements. The acid is bright and crisp, and the wine has an elegant feel to it, supported by light-level tannic structure, which makes it refreshing and ready to drink. Black cherries, raspberries, red currants — the fruit is tart and crunchy and laced with notes of broth, pepper, bay leaf, tobacco and some coffee and light cedar woven in nicely. Drinking very nicely now but could age well in the near term. Aged 9 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 Keswick Vineyards Viognier Les Vents d'Anges - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello

SRP: $25
Medium gold color. Aromas of papaya, lime, mango, floral perfume, a nutty and honeycomb aspect that is wonderful but not overwhelming. A full-bodied and waxy wine but not chunky, as the bright acidity sweeps it and keeps the wine fresh. Tropical (mango, papaya) with lime and apricot tang to it. A range of honeyed green tea, white flowers, nougat and cashew notes. Plenty of fruit and tropical goodness, but this is surprisingly vibrant as well. (88 points)

2014 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve
- Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $50
Bold purple color. I love the spicy and herbal notes on the nose, along with violets and earth to coat the tart black cherries. Good grip to the tannins but the acidity is refreshing. Tart but juicy black cherries mix with campfire, earth, mushroom, black tea and bell pepper. Much more expressive on day two — this is a very nice Monticello Cab Franc that should age nicely. Aged 10 months in French and American oak. (88 points)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Marsannay's Domaine Collottee Offers Serious Value Burgundies

It's not easy finding good Burgundy for cheap.

But some of the less-heralded villages offer solid deals. Marsannay, the northernmost village Burgundy's Cote-de-Nuits, is home to plenty of delicious Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While not as exciting as the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin or Morey St.-Denis, these wines are also a whole lot cheaper.

Winemaker Philippe Collotte. Credit: Weygandt Metzler Imports.
As is always the case (even more so in Burgundy), producer and vintage are key. I've been tasting Domaine Collotte's Marsannay's for years now, and this is one hell of a reliable producer. (They also make some delightful wines from the Fixin and Chambolle-Musigny appellations.) Bright but creamy and nutty Chardonnays, crisp but juicy Pinot Noirs, these wines almost always deliver for the price. The 2014 vintage seems pretty solid, although like most Burgundy vintages, winegrowers didn't have it easy.

A recent tasting of Domaine Collotte's 2014 Marsannays proved to me yet again that these wines are a good bet in the $25-$35 range.

I tasted these wines sighted at my favorite wine shop in DC, Weygandt Wines, which imports them.

2014 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Blanc - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
Rich tropical aromas with a nice creamy texture, but bright acidity keeps it balanced. Peaches, honey, minerals and cinnamon notes. Quite pleasant for the price. (87 points)

2014 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Champs Salomon Blanc - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
Lots of aromatic complexity. A richly textured wine, but it shows vibrant acidity. Rich but zesty with complex flavors of pears, spiced apple, almond and honeyed tea. From a single-vineyard of 40-year-old vines in marl soils. A whole lot of white Burgundy goodness for $30. (89 points)

2014 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Le Clos de Jeu - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
Lovely spice, roses, herbs and cherries on the nose. Bright and crisp palate with dusty acidity. Tart red cherries and currants sing nicely alongside the spice and herbal notes. (88 points)

2014 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Champs Salomon - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
Darker core of fruit on the nose and palate (darker currants and cherries), but still lots of bright floral tones. Earthy, mineral-driven, spicy, floral, the tannins are quite structured and the acidity is refreshing, the balance and strength of different elements mean this has a lot to show with years in the cellar. (90 points)

2014 Domaine Collotte Fixin Les Crais de Chene - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Fixin
Structured quite nicely but still plush with the dark, saucy fruit. Earth, floral, spicy, concentration is nice on the finish. I’d like to retaste in a few years. From 30- to 40-year-old vines in clay and limestone soil. (88 points)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Robert Turner Wines - Garage Wine Grows Up

This post first appeared in the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Robert Turner Wines were new to me until I tasted these four, but this small producer is behind some really tasty vino.

In 1997, proprietor Bob Turner began buying grapes from Napa and Sonoma and crafting wines a la garagiste — by making the wines in his San Francisco garage. Bob, a dentist-turned-winemaker who studied at UC Davis, outgrew his modest cellar, so in 2005 the operation expanded into Stoney Springs Winery, north of St. Helena, and Robert Turner Wines officially began.

It's still a small affair (about 500 cases per vintage), and the portfolio is relatively focused. Nothing crazy: a Grenache rose, a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley, and a Cabernet Franc from a site near the winery. Fellow dentist-turned-winemaker Dave Earnest (who also worked as a pilot) has been assistant winemaker since 2014.

I thought the Cab Franc was the most exciting, but the whole lineup is solid. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Robert Turner Grenache Mosaic Rosé - California, Central Valley, Yolo County
SRP: $21
Light strawberry color. Bright apples and crunchy white cherries with rose petals and some green garden and herbs. A zesty appeal for sure, this has tart white cherries, grapefruit pith and watermelon  — vibrant and crisp but some honeyed texture and tropical flower notes keep it juicy. White pepper, nettle and oregano notes. Tasty stuff from Yolo a site near Davis. (87 points)

2013 Robert Turner Chardonnay Dutton Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $36
Light gold color. Smells of buttered bread, almonds and honeycomb on top of juicy green and yellow apples and pears. Full-bodied but lively acidity and a velvety, slightly waxy mouthfeel. Almonds, honeycomb and cinnamon play nicely off of tart green apples, apricots and bruised pears. Delicious mix of fruit and the richness is balanced by freshness and notes of flower shop and chalk. (90 points)

2013 Robert Turner Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $44
Medium ruby color. Nose of tart cherries, raspberry jam, sage and sweet pipe tobacco notes and a warm clay and earthy note. Tart red fruit on the palate but some fresh, farmer’s market style jam raspberries in here (some rhubarb pie and crunchy strawberries). A fleshy medium-plus-bodied wine but it’s lip-smacking throughout. Good tannic backbone but so crunchy and fresh from the acidity. Earthy, rhubarb, white pepper, roses, yet some warm tea and roasted nut notes. Delicious but could definitely use some time to open up or a few in the cellar. (90 points)

SRP: $48
Deep ruby color. Smoky black cherries, tart black currants, along with rose petals and mint and pepper and earth. The aromas open up wonderfully with air. Full-bodied with moderately structured tannins and the fruit shows density but a refreshing tartness. Black cherry and currant mix with rose petals, spicy tobacco, pepper and dark chocolate. This is a very young Cab Franc, but it’s structured and balanced so well that it can be consumed young or cellared for at least 5 years. (90 points)