Monday, August 3, 2015

Livermore Valley: Rich History, Rich Wines

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

When studying the history of California Wine, Livermore Valley pops up again and again. From the opening of the region’s first winery in 1880s, to the Chardonnay pioneering of Wente Vineyards, to Concannon’s work with Cabernet clones and Petite Sirah promotion. California, as a whole, owes a whole lot to Livermore Valley.

The map shows the demarcation of the Livermore Valley American Viticultural Area.
When I was first getting into wine, I drank a bunch of Concannon’s $10 Petite Sirahs and Cabernets. As I moved along in my wine journeys, I didn’t think as much more about Livermore Valley. But this west-east valley, which sits 35 inland from the San Francisco Bay, is home to some 4,000 acres of diverse grape varieties.  

I recently tasted through a group of Livermore Valley offerings and found some interesting bottles. Several of the wines boasted new American oak signatures, more so than I find in tastings of other California regions. But the richer wines (especially the Petite Sirah from Vasco Urbano) seem able to absorb it well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2013 McGrail Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. Clean citrus fruit mixed with tropical notes of papaya and kiwi, zesty with hints of white pepper but not really any green aromas. Almost full bodied, this is a creamy textured wine with moderate acid. Kiwi, papaya, pineapple, add in some lemon and lime zest, slight sense of chalk and seashell, hint of white pepper. Richly texture, but I like the bright flavors, no mean green elements. Tangy and crisp. From Ghielmetti Vineyard. (87 points)

2012 Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Conservancy -­ California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Smells of honeybutter, yellow apples, apricots, toasted nuts and vanilla. Very creamy on the palate, honeyed, but the acid actually keeps it in check a little. The fruit is a good mix of richer tropical elements with pears, apples and apricot. Toasted almonds, vanilla and nougat elements from the American oak are woven in to the overall package. Not really complex or deep, but it does what it does well. A Livermore Valley staple, Concannon Chardonnay is a solid value and consistently a good example of this creamy, nutty, rich style. Contains 5% Semillon. (85 points)

2012 Darcie Kent Vineyards Chardonnay Demayo Vineyard - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Rich golden color. Deep, rich aromatics, glazed pears, golden apples, apricot jam, mixed in with white floral, honey, toasted nuts and bread. Full bodied, a rich and chewy wine but some moderate acid. The bruised yellow apple, apricot jam and baked pear fruit is drizzled with lime juice and topped with toasted nuts and creamy oak. A big wine with a forward approach, but shows some complexity and zesty, food-friendly elements, too. (87 points)

2012 Cuda Ridge Wines Malbec - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $29
Light purple color. Red and black plums on the nose, along with lots of sweet spices (cola, chicory, pepper, ginger, anise). Easy-drinking, medium tannins, medium-low acid, the fruit is juicy and velvety, the black cherries and plums go down smoothly. But this wine is all about the spice and non-fruit elements of fire pit, black pepper, loamy soil and black licorice. Juicy and fruity but maintains some vibrancy. Great summer grilling accompaniment. Aged in 33% new American oak. (86 points)

2012 Darcie Kent Vineyards Zinfandel Field Blend Zin Demayo Vineyard - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. Sweet and lively aromas, baked plums, raspberry and strawberry jam, sweet violets, cinnamon toast, tart cherry rhubarb pie. Chewy texture, velvety tannins, medium-low acid, the strawberry and raspberry fruit tastes wild yet jammy, laced with notes of sweet cola, birch beer, roasted chestnut, menthol and tobacco. Sweet baking spices and earthy, leafy goodness lasts long on the finish. Chewy and rich but maintains some freshness and interesting floral-earthy complexity. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. (87 points)

2011 Nottingham Cellars Supremacy - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $65
Medium purple color. Juicy and rich aromas, plums, black cherries, blueberry pie filling, mixed with notes of tobacco and bay leaf, oregano, pepper and toasted oak. Full-bodied, firm tannins but fined around the edges, moderate acid helps balance out the richness. Juicy black cherries, dark currants, tart blueberries. Complex elements of smoke, tobacco, oregano, sweet coffee, vanilla and dark chocolate. Could use at least three years in the cellar, this is a dense yet contemplative wine. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc. (88 points)

2012 Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine Reserve - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $40
Medium purple color. Dark and rich aromas, the blackberry, blueberry and currant fruit is jammy but showing some tartness, backed up by sweet cedar, loam and coffee. Dusty tannic structure, medium acid, some more tart elements to the blackberry and currant fruit, jammy but balanced and crunchy. Notes of vanilla, cola, dusty soil, clay, eucalyptus and ginger snap. More structure and depth than the entry-level stuff, but still approachable and fun. Aged 22 months in French oak. (87 points)

2009 Fenestra Conjugation - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $42
Medium purple color. Deep waves of fruit (black cherries, red and black currants, blueberries), the fruit is rich and velvety, notes of sweet black licorice, eucalyptus and dark roasted coffee.
Bold and fruity, rich and chewy with plenty of tannic structure, medium-low acid. Love the deep, velvety black and blue fruit. Significant mocha, toast and cedar, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other elements of eucalyptus, pepper and sweet pipe tobacco. Long, full, yet leaves something to the imagination. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Aged for 33 months in a mix of French, American and Hungarian oak, 35% new. (89 points)

2011 Fenestra Petite Sirah Ghielmetti Vineyards - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $28        
Boisterous purple color. A really jammy nose, like blackberries, strawberries and blueberries all thrown together, mixed in with notes of sweet cola, root beer and an interesting savory glaze note, like sweet and sour plus black pepper sauces. Full-bodied and bold, good tannic structure but the edges are all rounded out, medium-low acid. Jammy blackberries and black cherries, some tart blueberries mixed in, complex sweet and savory elements battle it out, cola, vanilla, cherry pie and sweet mocha with black pepper and barbecue sauce. Finishes sweet and chewy. Interesting non-fruit flavor elements to accent the gobs of dark fruit. Aged 20 months in 44% new American oak. (87 points)

2012 Vasco Urbano Petite Sirah "Heine" Casa De Vinas "Long Row" - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $48
Intensely dark purple color. Nose shows deep blueberries, blackberries, boysenberry jam, a deep, sweet cola, violets and potting soil… mocha, some savory barbecue glaze notes too. A big and burly wine with solid, mouth-drying tannins, low acid and rich, jammy fruit. Blackberries, boysenberries, cassis jam, but the fruit is laced with complex charcoal, cola, toasted oak, vanilla, potting soil, coffee and black pepper notes. Despite its weight and oomph, the wine has a lot to contemplate and unravel, and could show more in the cellar. All Petite Sirah aged in 75% new American oak. (90 points)

2011 Steven Kent Petit Verdot Small-Lot Offering Ghielmetti Vineyard  - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Deep, dark, yet full of life on the nose: black currants, blueberries, black cherries, dark roast coffee, sweet clove, caramel and loamy soil. Full bodied with a firm tannic structure, medium-low acid. Black currants, blackberries, the fruit is rich and chewy. The wine is backed up by notes of smashed rocks, black pepper, pencil lead, dark chocolate and dark roasted coffee, slight hint of savory grilled steak. Deep, extracted, rich and toasty, this could use a few years to unwind. Aged 20 months in mostly new French and American oak. (88 points)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

20 Cabernets From All Over California

This post first appeared in the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Since my last report on California Cabernets, I’ve received a bunch of impressive offerings from around the state, hailing from the 2012, 2011 and 2010 vintages.

Winemakers and critics have rightly praised the 2012 vintage in Napa, Sonoma and other Cabernet hotbeds in California. Generally, the wines are delicious, rich and quite young, the product of a long, consistent growing season. But the ones I’ve tasted seem to need lots of air or, preferably, a good sleep in the cellar. While the 2010s seem to show a brighter approach but plenty of structure, the results of a cooler vintage that got off to a late start. 2011 saw a long, cool growing season with a rainy harvest season, but many of the wines have refreshing acid. There are beauties among all three vintages, it’s just a matter of matching your stylistic preference with the right wines. 

I don’t usually pop a California Cabernet during these hot, humid summer days, but most of these wines will benefit from being buried in the cellar for at least a few years anyway.

Many of my favorite wines are not cheap, and many of the cheap wines were not my favorite. That said, there are some moderately priced and delicious wines in this lot. And some of these wines are worth the splurge, especially the single-vineyard Knights Valley Cabs from Anakota, which are just gorgeous.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted single blind. 

2011 Star Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $46
Rich, bright purple color. Nose shows tart red and black currants, black cherries, also some tobacco, bay leaf, charcoal and bitter coffee notes. Full bodied, the tannic structure is solid but they’re not too harsh around the edges, medium acid. The black currant fruit is plenty ripe but showing tart aspects as well, lots of spicy tobacco, charcoal, chicory coffee, root beer notes. A bold and structured wine, but still showing an approachable personality. I like the spice aspects. Toasty oak on the finish, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other aspects. A bit harsh upon first opening, but opens up and gets smooth. (87 points)

2011 Star Lane Vineyard Astral - California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $90
Light purple color. Deep, lush and inviting aromatics: I get red and black currants, juicy black cherries and plums, a complex web of tobacco, cedar, graphite, bell pepper and charcoal dust. Gritty tannic structure, needs time to unwind, medium-low acid. The black cherry, dark plums and cassis fruit is tart and compact, laced with notes of iron, graphite, tobacco leaf, charcoal pit and roasted nuts. Lots of cedar, roasted coffee and vanilla in here, which lingers with a hint of root beer or sarsaparilla onto the finish. Opens up a lot to show more nuanced earth elements and silkier fruit. Complexity lies within, perhaps elegance, but this is quite young and deserves four or five years in the cellar or a long decant, probably both. From hillside plantings at the top of their Star Lane Vineyard, this sees 100% new oak. (90 points)

2012 Niner Wine Estates Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $40
Vibrant purple color. Rich, smooth, gushing dark plum and currant fruit on the nose, backed up by sweet violets, cola, hints of pipe tobacco and loamy soil. Full-bodied but plush tannins and a silky mouthfeel, balanced well by the moderate acid. Tart yet rich currant and dark plum fruit, along with dusty soil, tobacco, cedar, cola and root beer notes. Bold yet stays refreshing and vibrant. Notes of mocha, cedar and graphite on the finish. Delicious stuff, could develop a bit of complexity over the next few years in the cellar. Aged 18 months in 30% new French oak, includes 4% apiece of Merlot and Petite Verdot. (88 points)

2013 Smashberry - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Vibrant red ruby colored. Vibrant, full of dark cherries, summer plums, some raspberry and blackberry jam as well, sweeter floral tones and baking spices Full but juicy, the dry tannins balance out the ripe black and red berry fruit, some jammy and rhubarb pie elements. A real sense of dark coffee, chickory and clove, the wine also shows a floral and nutty streak as well. Quite concentrated, hints of freshness underneath.  It will open up over the next year or two. Impressive stuff for a $15 Central Coast red blend. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc. (87 points)

2012 KITÁ Cabernet Sauvignon Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $40
Medium ruby colored. Smells of roasted figs, raspberry jam, some charcoal, sweet oak, coffee and baking spices, tobacco hints. Full-bodied and fruit-forward, but the tannins are easy to chew, medium-low acid, a smooth and rich presence on the palate. Full of juicy, gushing blue and black berries, laced with notes of cola, sweet coffee, earthy-dusty elements. I get cedar, pine, hints of sweet menthol as well. Full of richness and hedonism, but I can’t deny the deliciousness, and I’m loving the velvety feel and complexity of flavors. All Cabernet, aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (88 points)

2012 Franciscan Estate Magnificat - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Dark ruby-purple. Darker fruit, sultry in its appeal, with violets and earthy tones but some tart red fruit notets as well. Rich and bold on the palate, some fleshier tannins. Juicy blackberry and oozing black cherry fruit, I get a lot of dark coffee grounds, dark chocolate, creamy oak, notes of graphite and rocky soil. Enough tannin structure for some early cellaring but it’s pretty and smooth enough for drinking now. 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot, 3% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, the wine is aged 20 months in 70% new French oak. (89 points)

2012 Robert Mondavi Winery BDX - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $65
A deep ruby, light purple color. Concentrated and deep on the nose, opens up to show rich black and red currants and berries, but a tart and crunchy element as well. Some tobacco, rocky soil, vanilla and coffee aromas as well. Juicy and fleshy approach, but sturdy tannic structure, medium-low acid. Crushed berries and currants, black and red in equal doses, pure and vibrant fruit. Packed with complex notes of loam, graphite, asphalt, espresso, spearmint, also some toasted oak and cherry wood. Quite complex, relatively approachable but could benefit from some time in the cellar. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Verdot, 80% of the fruit comes from To Kalon Vineyard, the juice is aged 28 months in 55% new French oak. (89 points)

2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $45
Vibrant purple color. Nose shows tart yet rich red and black currants, summer plums, crunchy blackberries, notes of roasted coffee, cedar, tobacco, a rich earth and iron element. Full-bodied, good tannic grip but not too harsh, moderate acid, combines for a full but silky feel. Flavors of black cherries, black and red currants, juicy plums. Lots of mocha, cherry wood but also earth, pencil shavings, chewing tobacco and mint. Showing surprisingly well but the structure for some cellar time for sure, I’d love to retaste in two to three years. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Petite Verdot and 3% Merlot. (88 points)

SRP: $75
Deep ruby/light purple color. Nose of crunchy red and black currants, summer plums, an intriguing blend of spicy green herbs, tobacco, cedar shavings and some light roast coffee. Full-bodied and chewy Moderate tannic strength, the edges are quite smooth and I get a surprising amount of fresh acid. Palate of tart red and black cherries and currants, the fruit is tangy yet showing a velvety, lush quality. Notes of tobacco, cedar, eucalyptus, pencil shavings, vanilla, espresso. Full and rich but complex and showing some early refinement. 91% cabernet sauvignon with 9% merlot. A blend from Oakville, Oak Knoll and Howell Mountain. (91 points)

2011 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $53
Dark ruby color. Smooth, complex and inviting aromas: dark currants, plums, some interesting smoke, earth, campfire and pipe tobacco notes as well, shifting and evolving with air. Moderate tannic grip, some freshness from the acid. Mix of red and black currants and plums, some tartness to the fruit is nice. Smoke, tar and loam mix with higher-toned rose petal and red apple peel notes. Finishes with some spicy chewing tobacco. Structure for near-term aging, but showing surprisingly well out of the bottle. Includes 17% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot and 1% Malbec, this spends 12 months in French and American oak and 22 months in bottle before release. 14% of the juice comes from Mendocino. (90 points)

2012 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Jackson Estate - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $36
Vibrant purple color. A bit dense on the nose, but opens up to show rich black currants, juicy blueberries, also spiced coffee, dark chocolate. Solid texture, drying tannins, moderate-low acid. Rich currant fruit and blueberries, dark and crunchy but not too dense. Notes of cigar shop, cherry wood shavings, dark chocolate and coffee. Quite toasty on the oak, but I think it’s a solid wine, perhaps needs some time to open up. Includes a combined 8% of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot, this wine is aged 16 months in 20% new French and American oak. (87 points)

SRP: $35
Vibrant ruby purple color. Aromas of bright currants and red cherries, some darker berry elements as well, but all the fruit is tangy and alive, backed up by notes of roses, vanilla, charcoal and tobacco. Tangy acid and medium strength tannins provide a good frame for the red and black cherries and tart plum fruit. A clean and bright wine with notes of charcoal, espresso, violets and vanilla add complexity. Really silky and pretty on the finish. Drinking well right now but could develop with some near-term cellaring. Aged 25 months in French and American oak, includes 4% Merlot and 1% Petite Verdot. (87 points)

2012 Liberated Wine Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Medium purple color. Smells like candied berries, juicy plums, raspberry gummies, some sweet black licorice and vanilla. Chewy, juicy appeal on the palate, the raspberry, black cherry and plum fruit is tart but also a bit candied. Medium-light tannins, low acid. A dusty, smoky element mixes with sweet red flowers. A bit too candied and low on the acid, but a fun flavor profile. Includes 9% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Vetdot. (85 points)

Downright gorgeous Sonoma Cabernet
2010 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Montana Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
Deep but vibrant purple. A bit dense aromatically, opens up with air to show deep black currants, blueberries, dark plums, matched with cedar, mint, eucalyptus, mocha, granite and coffee. Firm tannins but they stay accessible and smooth, the acid provides moderate levels of freshness. The fruit has this great combination of tartness and pure ripeness (black cherries, black currants, blueberry and black cherries), blended together with lovely notes of cinnamon, menthol, eucalyptus, coffee and cherry wood shavings. Notes of crushed rocks, pencil shavings, I get some tobacco and sweet vanilla on the finish. Lots of structure and power, yet stays sexy. One to decant for a very long time or bury for five to eight years easily, this will keep for a long while, but what a beauty. 100% Cabernet. (93 points)

2010 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
Deep purple color. Rich and dens on the nose, black currants, black cherries, some blueberry and plum skin, along with a complex web of loamy soil, coffee, violets, some pencil shavings and vanilla. Firm tannins, not quite gritty but still very strong, actually showing some refreshing acid. Black currant, blueberry and black cherry fruit, woven together with vanilla, coffee, roasted chestnut, some loamy, clay soil and graphite elements. Quite young, deserving a few years for sure, but plenty in the tank for the cellar. Can’t help but appreciate its richness and complexity even at a young age though. 100% Cabernet. (92 points)

2012 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $45
Dark purple color. Rich and seductive on the nose, dark plums (pits, skins, the whole deal) black cherries, I also get some dark roast coffee, potting soil and vanilla cola aromas. Bright acid kicks off the wine but firm tannins for structure. The black cherry and plum fruit is tangy, like crunching through the skin, but oozes ripeness as well. Lots of mocha, dark chocolate and cola notes, some cedar, tobacco and coffee as well. Long and clean on the finish, this could age but already showing hints of elegance. Aged 18 months in French oak, 45% new, includes 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 1% dash of Cabernet Franc. (88 points)

SRP: $13
Bright ruby color. Juicy red berry-driven aromatics, hints of sweet jam, cola, vanilla and some baking spices. Medium-bodied, medium acid, easily chewable tannins. Tangy black cherries, strawberry jam, blueberry pancake topping. Some sweet mocha, cola. Simple, fruity, tastes a bit manufactured. (81 points)

2012 La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
Bright purple color. The red fruit smells candied, like candied red apple and raspberry gummies, some sweet cola, sugared coffee and vanilla as well. Soft tannins on the palate, some moderate acid provides a refreshing tangy element against the sweet red fruit (raspberries, cherries). Flavors of mocha, caramel and roasted chestnut as well. A bit too candied and lacking a sense of individuality, but pleasant enough. (80 points)

2013 Magnolia Court Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Bright cherry colored. A sweet and candied nose of cherry and raspberry jam, some roses, red hot candies, caramel and toast. Light tannins, medium acid, the fruit is juicy and ripe, not as candied as it smells, but lots of jammy red berries, laced with notes of cola, vanilla and sweet oak. Fun if you’re looking for something fruit-forward and candied, but it doesn’t seem complex or evocative of a particular place. (80 points)

2013 Concept Wine Group Omen - California, North Coast
Vibrant purple color. Jammy black and red berries on the nose, a bit candied, along with some smoky oak, magic marker and black licorice candies. A fierce approach on the palate with high octane, jammy fruit, a bit roasted, like some blackberries and plums were tossed into a charcoal pit. Light tannins and low acid, a bit out of whack in terms of balance. Quite smoky and a bit hot from the alcohol. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir — 60% from Sonoma County, 40% from Napa. (80 points)

Friday, July 24, 2015

$15 Goodness from Chapoutier's Bila-Haut

Earlier this year I tasted through a range of wines from the Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut label and found a lot to like for the price. I recently tasted the new 2014 vintage releases, and I think they're great value for $15. The rosé and white blend provide significant complexity, but these wines are all about refreshment and warm weather pleasure. And they offer up a lot of easy food pairing options for summer fare like salads and fried seafood. These wines are widely available at retailers around the country as well. What's not to like?

2014 M. Chapoutier Vin de Pays d'Oc Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d'Oc
SRP: $15
Deep copper color. Very lively on the nose with papaya, white cherries, some salty notes and white pepper. Tangy and vibrant on the palate, bright acid, the juicy white peach and papaya mixes with ruby red grapefruit and some spicy pepper. Lots of fun, versatile, delicious yet showing some complexity. Grenache and Cinsault. (86 points)

2014 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon
SRP: $15
Pale lemon color. Nose: combo of bright tropical fruit (papaya, pineapple, drizzled with some lime) some interesting sea shell, nettle and cut flowers too. Crisp acid, the wine is clean and bright but maintains a waxy, honeycomb feel. Chalky, sea salt notes white flowers and clover mix well with the pineapple, green apple and limes. Salty and airy on the finish despite the bright fruit. Some hay and hop flavors, too. Lots going on, a great Roussilon blanc for the price, this is solid. Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Rolle and Macabeo. (88 points)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Checking in on Châteauneuf-du-Pape

I’m lucky to have some friends who enjoy Chateauneuf-du-Pape as much, if not more, than I do. The last time I tasted a few Chateauneufs was in April at a tasting dinner at Urban Butcher, so it was about time for another CdP session.

Yes, it’s been sweltering here in the Nation’s Capital, and hearty Southern Rhone reds aren’t the first thing on my list, but I still glad to get together with some friends and taste through some goodies. Unfortunately, the 1994 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe was spoiled by volatile acidity and the 2005 Domaine Charvin suffered from cork taint. 

Oh well, the other wines made up for them. 

1985 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Nose: dusty, earthy, mushrooms, not a ton of fruit. Silky palate, still medium tannins but goes down easy. Raspberry and black cherry, laced with earth, anise, sun-dried tomato, mushroom and earth. Beautiful stuff, still going if stored properly. (92 points)

1990 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
What a beautifully intricate wine. The nose is sublime: silky red fruit, beef broth, complex spice, pepper, bacon, roses. So pure on the palate, bold but fresh, elegant, full of tangy life. Red berry fruit, dried roses, rhubarb, charcoal, fire pit, beef broth. Complex, long, clean, pure. A gorgeous treat. (96 

2000 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
At first this was very brash and hard, but opened up nicely of the course of a few hours. Tart red berries, smoke, charcoal and anise on the nose. Firm, chewy tannins, the palate is full of black cherries and fig paste, matched by complex notes of anise cookie, smoke, charcoal, bacon fat and loamy soil. Firm, full, definitely a lot of time ahead but this has a lot to tell at this point if you give it time. (93 

2001 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
A bit primal at first, but even two hours does wonders for this beauty. Nose of raspberry jam, cherries, roses, rhubarb. Pure, juicy and silky despite the power, this is an elegant wine with lots to show: anise, caramel, smoke, earth, roasted herbs. Long and beautiful, a rich approach but oh so pretty. So much life ahead. (95 

2005 Domaine Charvin Côtes du Rhône (Le Poutet) - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône
Okay, so this isn
t a CdP, but it's from Charvin and it sure drinks like a far more expensive wine. Elegant and floral with sweet cherries and roses on the nose. Silky but still firm tannins, lots of plums and red cherries. Smooth but still powerful with notes of herbs, black pepper, red pepper, earth. Tasted blind, I guessed this as an 09, it was that well-structured and seemingly young. Impressive to see how well this is doing (given proper storage, of course). Charvin’s Le Poutets can age! (90 points)

2006 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Medium ruby. Tart currants, fig paste, rhubarb, tobacco, cowhide aromas. I opened this the night before, showing firm tannins, moderate acid and a course, dusty feel. Smoothed out by day two and got more expressive. The saucy black cherry fruit is laced with roasted herbs, pepper, rich earth, granite, dark chocolate shavings. Notes of anise and sweet roasted figs on the finish. Very good stuff but I’d hold off for another three or four years before trying again. (92 points)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Best of Virginia Wine: Tasting the Governor's Cup Winners

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you don’t yet take Virginia wines seriously, step up to the tasting table and get to work. Well-established and up-and-coming wineries are producing all sorts of exciting stuff.

The winners of the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup are a good place to start. Since 1982, the Governor’s Cup wine competition has been highlighting the best selections from the commonwealth’s diverse array of wines. And as the top 12 wines of 2015 demonstrate, Virginia has so much to offer.    

One of the common threads in this year’s batch of winners is the preeminence of Merlot in the Meritage blends. When I first started tasting Virginia wines eight years ago or so, it seemed like Cabernet Franc had designs on becoming the red grape of the commonwealth. While Virginia Cabernet Franc can be very good (it certainly adds a lot of spice and savory qualities to many Meritage blends), I’m frequently impressed by how well Merlot performs in Virginia. I was recently chatting with Virginia Wine buff Frank Morgan about what grape variety is the most underrated performer in Virginia, and we agreed: Merlot.

Petit Verdot is also gaining respect, as demonstrated by two of the varietal wines in this batch. And I was excited to taste a delicious Tannat from renowned Virginia winery Michael Shaps and a Touriga from Cross Keys. Virginia is home to some stunning Chardonnay and other white wines, but the case of samples I received was dominated by dry reds.

If there’s one thing that gives me hesitation about a lot of Virginia wines, it’s an overreliance on new oak. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effect of some new oak on a wine, especially a bold Bordeaux-style blend. But some the nuanced flavor profiles in these wines can be obscured a bit by the toasted oak elements.

That said, many of these Governor’s Cup winners display a uniquely Virginian appeal. And with more and more options from all across the state, there has never been a better time to explore Virginia wine.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

SRP: $26
Deep ruby-light purple color. Lots of spice on the nose (pepper, bay leaf, tobacco, spearmint. Medium-strength tannic structure, a chewy-dusty feel to the palate but the wine gets silky with air. Black currant, red currant, tart wild cherries and hints of red apple peel mix with a dusty soil element to the wine, also some bright rose and violets. Cedar and cherry wood shavings blend with a solid dose of peppery spice. I like the complexity of non-fruit elements in this wine. 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petite Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc. (86 points)

2012 North Gate Vineyard Meritage - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
SRP: $24
Light purple color. Nice tart fruit aromas (red and black plums, juicy black cherries), some coffee, dark chocolate, toasted oak and Brazil nuts. Tart and bright palate, impressive tang and punch from the tannins. Lovely tartness to the plum and cherry fruit, mixed in with sweet black licorice candy, Christmas tree and spicy oak. Stays fresh (13% alcohol) and never strays into goopy territory. Notes of clove, black pepper, spiced coffee add complexity. Food-friendly, nice spice to this wine. Finishes with smoky, toasted oak, a bit too much for my palate but it’s not overwhelming. 49% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc.  (87 points)

2010 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $60
Deep ruby-red brick color. Rich and sexy aromatics: juicy dark fruit, sweet cinnamon and cola, rose potpourri, notes of spicy cedar and eucalyptus. Full-bodied, big but velvety tannins, medium acid helps a lot. The rich blackberry fruit mixes well with tart red plum skins and currants. The tanginess of the fruit complements the richer elements of cherry cola, cedar, espresso, roasted fig and eucalyptus. Rich, mouthfilling (14.7% alcohol), but showing nuance, complexity and elegance.  This gets even more expressive with air, so it could easily benefit from 3-5 years in the cellar. A great example of Virginia Merlot-based Meritage, this wine helps you triangulate your palate to Bordeaux blends from Virginia (I find this wine falls somewhere between the richly earthy Mendocino aesthetic and the juicy, eucalyptus-accented feel of Margaret River.) A blend of 45% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Petit Verdot. Aged 30 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

2012 King Family Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $31
Deep ruby-light purple color. Nose bursts with juicy red fruit (cherries, currants, plums), a good dose of spicy (clove, pepper) and sweet (coffee, dark chocolate) elements. Medium-bodied, the tannins are supportive but not too grippy, moderate acid for balance. Red cherries and plums abound, the fruit is juicy but shows a crisp edge. Notes of toasted nuts, vanilla, dark chocolate shavings, the spice and earth elements need some cellar time to come out but this wine has a lot going for it. 13.1% alcohol, a blend of 42% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petite Verdot and 6% Malbec. Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (88 points)

2010 Narmada Winery Yash-Vir - Virginia, Northern Region, Rappahannock County
SRP: $28
Vibrant purple color. Deep, dark cherries and blackberries on the nose, violets and wet earth, coffee grounds, chewing tobacco. Medium-bodied, dusty tannins, refreshing notes from the acid. Bright approach with a crunchy red and black currant profile. A sense of smoke, coffee, earth and spices pervades the fruit. Notes of toasted nuts, spiced coffee and black olive add complexity. I’d love to re-taste this in a few more years. Interesting stuff for sure. 43% Merlot, 29% Petite Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec. (87 points)

The 2009 Clio from Muse won the Governor's
Cup, and rightfully so. It's a gorgeous red blend.
2009 Muse Vineyards Clio - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $65
Bold deep ruby color. Gorgeous nose of black cherries, cassis, plums, tangy yet sultry, a complex note of black pepper, chicory coffee, clove, hints of mushroom. Full-bodied, fine but firm tannins, I love how the acid sweeps in and cleans it all up. Waves of fruit, rich yet tart and crunchy, (blackberries, dark plums, blueberry, cassis), but the fruit is equally and perfectly matched with a complex web of coffee, vanilla, charcoal, mushroom, soy, pepper sauce, toasted oak. Long and full yet finishes fresh. I’d love to bury this for four or five years and see what comes out. A beautiful blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot), aged three years in French oak, 50% new, 14.8% alcohol. Naysayers about serious Virginia Bordeaux blends, please taste. (92 points)

SRP: $46
Bold purple color. Dark and rich nose with blackberry compote, blueberry skins, dark plums, a richly earthy note of loam, rocks and moss. Fine-edged tannins, moderate acid, 12.5% alcohol, a bright and zesty approach. Plenty of tangy dark fruit (plums, blackberries, blueberries), tart and crunchy all around with notes of green coffee, cracked pepper, charcoal smoke, cedar shavings and mocha. Bold flavors but tart and complex, an exciting Virginia interpretation of this classic Portuguese grape. (88 points)

2013 Delfosse Vineyards and Winery Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $45
Vibrant ruby color. Nose: cracked pepper, bay leaf, loamy soil and roasted coffee overtop of blackberries and fresh blueberries. Medium+ bodied, grippy tannic structure, medium to low acid. Really well built with blackberries, blueberries and black currants, mashed together with graphite, coffee, charcoal smoke and black pepper. Some toasted cedar and fallen leaves as well. Structured but gets silky quite quickly in the glass, showing off more nuanced earth and floral elements. Time to spare for the cellar. (88 points)

SRP: $39
Clear, deep ruby color but heavy sediment. A lighter and more floral aromatic approach on the nose than the Delfosse, this is like dried roses tossed together with some currants and black cherries. Medium-bodied, freshness from the acid, the tannins are structured but fined down a bit, less compact than the Delfosse, actually surprisingly silky. More black and red cherry fruit, a floral potpourri element set against some woodsy, earthy, spice and vanilla flavors. Not as complex or age-worthy as the Delfosse, but quite delicious and definitely interesting. (87 points)

2012 Michael Shaps Tannat - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $35
Dark purple color. Deep, dark and dense on the nose: crunchy black currants, intense blackberries, roasted figs, black coffee, campfire smoke. Bold and concentrated on the palate with firm and drying tannins, yet some medium acid comes in and tames it a bit. The blackberry, deep blueberry, roasted fig and prune fruit is rich but maintains a tart, crunchy appeal. I get lots of loam, pencil lead, black coffee, iron and olive pit flavors, in addition to a good dose of toasted barrel (perhaps a bit too much). Decant or bury for a few years, this wine has the goods to improve for a decade easily. All Tannat, 14.6% alcohol, aged 18 months in 50% new oak. (90 points)

2012 Michael Shaps Petit Manseng Raisin d'Etre - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
Deep gold, orange peel colored. Smells rich and enticing, like orange marmalade, apricot jam, candied ginger, candle wax, clover honey. Full-bodied and rich on the palate, but the acid actually cuts through and keeps the wine from feeling heavy. The fruit is a mix of orange zest, apricot jam, white grape jelly and dried mango, mixed in with elements of candied ginger, honeycomb, sweet blossoms, daisies and candle wax. Interesting and complex flavors, I love the freshness in spite of the richness. A blend of 83% Petit Manseng and 17% Riesling, 12.4% residual sugar, this wine is made by partially drying the Petit Manseng grapes and fermenting them in French oak. (89 points)

2010 Rockbridge Vineyard V d'Or - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $20/375ml
Deep orange color. Deep but perfumed nose, with a rich mix of dried mango, orange peel, circus peanut and peach ring candies. Rich and creamy palate, medium acid keeps it from being cloying. Flavors of red apple peel, apricot jam, candied orange, mix in some honeysuckle, cut flower stems, white floral potpourri, a hint of quinine. Very rich but showing a lot of deliciousness and some freshness. 13% alcohol, 15% residual sugar, this is a blend of Riesling, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles, the grapes are put in a deep freeze before pressing and fermentation. (87 points)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

In the <$20 Range, New Zealand Delivers

The wave of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has not let up, and the American market remains loaded with inexpensive offerings. Many of the wines play the same riff, but grassy grapefruit-driven wines clearly have lots of fans.

New Zealand is home to other value-driven white wines, as demonstrated in this small sampling This lot doesn’t contain any stunners, but the wines are consistent, tasty and moderately priced. I was especially impressed with the Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir, which is a solid bargain at $17.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Starborough Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Light straw color. Aromas and lemon verbena, grapefruit, white pepper and green beans. Lively acid, moderately creamy, flavors of nectarine and grapefruit mix with spicy white pepper, green herbs and notes of minerals and chalk. Not super complex, but better than many at this price point. (86 points)

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Pale yellow color, hint of green. Classic aromatic profile of kiwi, grapefruit, white peach, diced jalapenos and green bell peppers. Bright acid, tingles the palate. The lime, white peach and kiwi is matched with jalapenos and white peppers, notes of spicy arugula, honeysuckle. Classic Marlborough Sauv Blanc, just not all that exciting. A bit more muted than last time I tasted this. (85 points)

SRP: $15
Pale straw color. Bright, crisp aromatics: green apple, kiwi, nectarine, also some honeysuckle.
Juicy, medium-bodied profile with clean acid. Juicy yellow and green apples, rich pears, mango, backed up by notes of honeysuckle and white tea. Clean, refreshing yet a plump and juicy personality, food friendly, just not too deep or complex, but solid value for the price. (86 points)

2014 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Pale straw color, bit of tangerine. Bright, vibrant nose of white peach, cantaloupe melon, white flowers and dandelions. Medium-bodied with a creamy, honeyed mouthfeel, balanced by moderate acid. Yellow pears, white peaches, nectarine, hints of orange zest, chamomile tea, honeysuckle and raw almond. Uncomplicated, but tasty, refreshing, food-friendly Pinot Gris. (87 points)

2014 Giesen Pinot Gris - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $14
Pale straw color. Very light and bright on the nose, limes, lemons and green pears, white flowers, potpourri and floral spray. Crisp and clean on the palate with bright lime, white peach and green apple fruit, along with significant floral complexity and a sense of river stones and crushed rocks. Not super complex or long, but very pleasant for the price. (87 points)

2013 Giesen Riesling - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $14
Light gold color. Lots of blossoms on the nose, along with honey, white peach and orange marmalade notes. Moderate acid helps balance it, but this has a significant amount of residual sugar. The white peach, nectarine and guava mix with honey, dandelions and white tea. Semi-sweet but refreshing and clean. (85 points)

2014 Giesen Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $14
Pale straw color. Classic, strong aromatics of cut grass, grapefruit and (I hate to use this, but it really reminds me of) cat pee. Tangy acid, tart and crisp approach, the lime and white peach is laced with mowed lawn and white pepper. Simple, typical flavor-profile, but pleasant. (83 points) 

2013 Trinity Hill Pinot Noir Hawkes Bay - New Zealand, North Island, Hawkes Bay
SRP: $17
Medium ruby. Nose of bright red currants, black cherries, along with dusty earth, tobacco, some rhubarb and hints of mushroom. Medium-bodied, medium-light tannins, refreshingly tart acid, a dusty, tangy feel to this wine. The red and black cherries and tart red currants are laced with notes of rhubarb, white pepper, roses, hint of balsamic glaze and mushroom. Tart, fun, bright, easy-drinking but not simple. Check this out if you’re tired of high alcohol, toasted oak Pinot Noirs. (87 points)