Monday, December 30, 2013

Vineyard Tales: Notes on a Well-Aged Wine Book

Don't worry, a lot of '90s wine labels are just as bad.
Good wine books, like good wine, should hold up over time. I’m happy to report that this 1996 vintage from Gerald Asher called Vineyard Tales: Reflections on Wine has held up quite well.

I think I found this book at a library sale earlier this year. It’s old and the cover is horribly 90s. But in an era where immediacy is often valued more than quality, Asher’s writing has a sense of wisdom and endurance.

Much of this book is drawn on Asher’s work for Gourmet Magazine, where he worked as wine editor for some 30 years. Born in the UK, Asher spent his wine editing years split between Paris and San Francisco, and he has respect for Old World and New World wines alike. He also has an insatiable desire for adventure, a quality that is critical in the interesting wine writer. Asher has a keen eye for history, and you can tell from his fact-intensive writing that he gets a kick out of researching the history of particular vineyards, wine regions, winegrowing families and grape varieties.

Asher loves stories as much as he loves wine, and it’s this passion for both wine and storytelling that make this book such a rewarding read: “In every glass of wine, I have found, there is such a story; and in every story worth hearing, there is wine,” he writes in the introduction. “In these pages I will tell you some of my favorites.”

Some parts of the book are obviously outdated. For example, Quilceda Creek is no longer “one of America’s best but perhaps least-known Cabernet Sauvignons.” The 65,000 acres of Chardonnay vines in California that Asher writes about has grown to 95,000 in 2012, according to the Wine Institute. And Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards has gone from musing about wine in his old-timey newsletter to tweeting like a madman.

But wine is thousands of years old, and we can learn a lot by looking into the recent past. Some of the historical sources cited in this book are so relevant to our current era that it’s kind of weird. For example, Asher quotes from an 1859 book by Jean-Jacques Lausseure, who writes: “The majority of consumers has been persuaded that these wines should be strong and alcoholic; that’s why, under the name of Burgundy, one can get only some dense, heavy liquid. Most of the English, without bothering to find out how any particular French wine should be, insist that it have body, lots of taste, and be thick.”

Vineyard Tales comprises a bunch of individual essays, each focused on a specific region, grape or theme. I can’t summarize them all, but here are some excerpts that resonated with me…

“We get from a glass of wine what we ourselves put into it.” Is this a lame quote or a truism? Perhaps both? “But the pleasure in any wine is subjective: we each bring something to what is there in the glass and interpret the result differently.”
Asher on wine and food pairing: “I have endured my share of awful food and miserable wines, but I have yet to be confronted with truly well prepared food and delicious wine in a combination so bizarre that either or both were actually ruined. Wine and food can be mutually enhancing but they have a natural affinity in any case and are tolerant of each other to a broad degree.”

“Yet seeking a perfect fit of wine and food risks becoming one more complication thrown in the path of those who simply want to enjoy a bottle of wine.”

On conscientious winemaking: “From the start they understood that making wine was the last stage of growing it, one in which every effort had to be made, every care had to be taken, not to undo in a day what nature had achieved in a season.”

On the ability of Champagne to increase the net happiness of all involved: “With a flute of Champagne in hand, the young feel wisely witty and the old feel young; everyone is better looking.”

“… one glass of Champagne will raise the morale and two will fuse the most ill-assorted group into a dinner party.”

Asher discusses how each individual interprets a wine’s aromas in a different way, based upon their own perception and experience. He calls this phenomenon “a uniquely personal mnemonic echo.” What an awesome phrase. Riffing on this theme, he writes about smelling an aged Ribera del Duero: “Smell bypasses the rational intellectual processes and goes straight to our core of emotion, memory and nervous reflex. That’s why the pleasure we get from a mature fine wine can be quite intense yet conceptually vague at the same time.”

Asher’s a Brit with a high level of respect for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italian wines, but I appreciate the level of attention he gives to California wine history and culture. This book includes some stories of the early days of Ridge, the Zinfandel exploits of Joseph Swan in the late 60s and 70s, how Joel Peterson of Ravenswood made his first Zinfandel with Swan’s equipment. He even refers to Ravenswood’s Dickerson and Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandels as “among the finest wines regardless of varietal produced in California.”

On praise for Burgundy: “A great bottle of Burgundy is one of the strongest arguments we have in favor of wine.”

On “difficult” young wines: “Difficult wines improve with the years about as often as difficult people do. It’s a drum I bang frequently, but I must say again that only a wine balanced and agreeable when young is likely to be balanced and agreeable as it ages.”

On organizing a wine tasting with multiple bottles, trying to plan how one bottle could affect perception of the other: “our perception of any wine is always affected by others. If one is very tannic, another will seem less so, allowing us to notice in the latter a quality we might otherwise have missed… With this in mind, we begin to understand how we can use one wine to enhance another by emphasizing its advantages. The key to a full appreciation of any wine is to choose a suitable foil.”

Asher, like any wine evangelist, is prone to overexcitement at times. Everyone who writes about wine, myself included, gets caught up in the magic of a region or a producer or a vintage, and Asher’s no exception. Here he is swooning over the wine lands of northern Portugal: “There are vines everywhere in northern Portugal. From a few miles south of the Douro north to the valley of the Minho the river that forms the northern frontier with Spain every hill and valley, town and village, Baroque church, Rococo palace, cottage, wood, garden, plot of maize, and potato field is draped with, enclosed by, wrapped in or smothered beneath vines that hang, festoon, and overflow in a way that would make Virgil, Martial, Catullus, yes, even Pliny and the rest of the gang were they ever to return feel absolutely at home.” I’ve never been to northern Portugal, but when I finally visit I’m sure I’ll get equally gushy and long-winded.

We kick off 2014 in the midst of the golden age of wine writing. There are thousands of wine blogs and websites and apps and podcasts and videos that provide the nerd with information on just about anything related to wine. I’m proud to be a part, however small, of an exciting and dynamic online wine community. But, just like pulling the cork from a well-aged Chateauneuf, sometimes the old helps us gain perspective on the new. In that sense, Vineyard Tales was a delightful and invigorating read. I’d recommend it to nerds and novices alike.

Next on the reading list: the much more recent A Vineyard in My Glass.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 in Review: My Top 5 Wines

Washington Post wine writer Dave McIntyre recently wrote: “Sometimes our favorite wines are memorable not just for what’s in the bottle but also for how we share them.” I couldn’t agree more. Looking back on 2013, I realized the most memorable wines where those I sipped with good company. I’m truly blessed to have the opportunity to taste so many epic wines, but I’m even more blessed to have such great family and friends with whom to share the joy.

As this year winds down, wine nerds like myself enjoy looking back on those wines that left us in awe. Here are the five wines that stunned me most over the past 12 months…

2000 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut - France, Champagne
After years of studying wine, tasting wine, collecting and storing it, sometimes you forget what it is about wine that drives a person to dedicate so much time, money and effort. Then a wine like this comes along and floors you, leaves you in complete amazement, and reminds you that life is fucking awesome. This Krug was the gem of an incredible May tasting at the Graham Hotel in Washington. I was surrounded by Krug and Dom and friends from Terroirist, and I felt perfectly content. The wine showed a beautiful golden apple color and a collage of rich and intense aromas: fresh biscuits, apricot, hazelnut, honey, caramel, shortbread cookies… the aromas just don’t quit. Dense and bold on the palate, but balanced by superb acid. Rich themes of apricot, hazelnut, honeycomb, caramel, Fuji apple, but they’re contrasted with intense limestone and quinine flavors. Full and hedonistic, yet sleek and elegant, this Champagne is a beautiful contradiction. 43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier. I’d love to taste another bottle of this again when I’m old and crotchety. (98 points)
1998 Henri Sorrel Hermitage Le Gréal - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
I tasted this as part of a “domestic Rhone” themed tasting, filled with rich and powerful Syrahs from California and Washington State. This was the only actual Rhone wine in the tasting, and it was orgasmic. The complexity of aromas, the balance on the palate, the length of the finish, all of it is top notch. The aromas are endlessly beautiful: red berry fruit, dried cranberry, anise, olive tapenade, seaweed, oyster brine, musk and mineral. Pure and velvety on the palate, with silky tannins and brisk acid. Snappy red fruit is accentuated by lots of olive brine, crushed rocks, herbs, iron, white pepper, tobacco. One of the best syrahs I’ve had, period. And it’s in such a good place right now. As close to perfect as I can imagine. (98 points)

2001 Cayuse Syrah Bionic Frog - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
For six years or so, I’ve been tasting wine with a married couple who are huge Pacific Northwest fans. They’ve been so generous in showing me and our tasting crew the best that Oregon and Washington have to offer. They outdid themselves with this wine, one of the most culty and sought-after wines in Washington. And for good reason. It’s a simply sublime Syrah. Complex and profound aromas of black plum, dried blueberry, campfire smoke, rhubarb, grilled steak and charred earth. Brisk acid on the palate, with fine-grained tannins, very elegant at 12 years of age. The blackberry and plum fruit is still rich and opulent, but the non-fruit flavors steal the show: bacon, charcoal, grilled herbs, olive brine. Always expressive, but never overbearing, and a lot of this is credit to the wonderful acid. This wine is incredibly complex and has a near endless finish. It’s such an expensive and hyped wine, but like many Cayuse wines, I can’t help but love it. Probably the best Washington Syrah I’ve tasted. (96 points)

1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Oenothèque - France, Champagne
Another mindblowing bottle from the May Moët tasting. Intoxicating aromas of lemon cake, buttered croissant, yellow apple, honeydew, dried white flowers... and the aromas just keep going. Rich on the palate, with green apple and melon fruit, buttered toast and dried honey, but this wine maintains so much focus and precision. The minerality in this wine is astounding, same goes for the acid, which never ceases. Such beautifully dramatic tension between the lean and rich aspects. Chef de Caves Richard Geoffroy has made a masterpiece with this wine. If I had a bottle of this, I’d put it down with a cellar tag that reads “Do not open until apocalypse.” (96 points)

1983 Miguel Torres Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Coronas Reserva Mas La Plana - Spain, Catalunya, Penedès
I tasted this birth-year Spanish Cabernet with Miguel Torres at a vertical tasting dinner earlier this year. Drinking various vintages of Mas La Plana, an historical Spanish Cab, eating Spanish food and discussing wine with Miguel Torres — it was quite a night. This 30-year-old wine showed a vibrant ruby-cherry color in the glass. The nose is incredibly complex and full of nuance. I get plum, red currants, anise, beef jerky, pepper, and the aromas just keep going, shifting and evolving over the course of the evening. Fine tannins and lots of acid provide backbone for the black cherry and red currant fruit, which is still alive and well. The earth, olive, tobacco and cedar flavors are woven together well, and minerality underlines it all. Brisk, pure and so focused. Miguel said ‘83 was the best vintage of the ‘80s, and, given this epic effort, I believe him. Aged for six months in new American and French oak, then a year in old casks. A refreshing 12.5% alcohol. (95 points)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tasting Report: California Chardonnays

This week, we’re focusing on some California Chardonnays. This report includes some newly-released 2012s, which seem to deserve a lot of the credit they’ve been given. The 2011s, though less heralded, still deliver with crisp acid and fresh fruit flavors. All wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Magnolia Court Chardonnay - California, Central Coast
SRP: $12
A light yellow-straw color. Lime, apricot and white pepper on the nose. Nice bite on the palate, some creaminess, with lime, grapefruit and papaya flavors. Whipped honey and almond mixes with a nice herbal kick. A simple but tasty wine. (85 points)

2010 Dierberg Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $32
I get some hazelnut and lemon oil notes on the nose, covering the yellow apple and lime. On the palate, this wine has a medium-bodied frame and crisp, persistent acid. The yellow apple and apricot flavors show richness, with notes of whipped honey, walnut and a kind or oily, varnished wood note. Long finish. I’m enjoying the combination of freshness and richness in this Chardonnay. Undergoes 10% maloactic fermentation and spends 10 months in 25% new oak. (90 points)

2012 Alta Maria Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $23
A straw-yellow color. On the nose: tangerine, white cherry, lemon-lime, honeysuckle. On the palate: tangy but creamy, lots of floral notes blend with the tangerine and papaya, some honeycomb and almond elements, minerals and sea salt. Shows a lot of elegance. This Los Olivos-based producer is one to watch. (90 points)

2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
A nose of white peach, golden apples, some sea salt and a bit of honey butter. On the palate, the acid sings, but there’s a fullness and richness to the mouthfeel. Flavors of white peach, yellow apple and apricot intertwine with notes of honey and buttered rum. Toasty, but not overwhelmingly so, and the finish is crisp and full nuts and orange peel. (88 points)

2012 True Myth Chardonnay Paragon Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $15
Neon yellow-gold color. Smells like honey, white peach, pineapple and hazelnut. Oily texture, medium acid, with white peach and mango mixed in with coconut, honey and a bit of a saline note. Tasty stuff for the price. (86 points)

This sub-$20 delivers a lot of deliciousness for the price.
2012 Mossback Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $18
On the nose: grapefruit, apricot, orange blossom, honey, some mineral elements. Palate shows medium acid, plump white peach, apricot and yellow apple, some honeycomb. Fruity but showing some nice tartness, as well as some mineral and honeysuckle on the finish. For $18, this is quite an effort from Crew Wines. (88 points)

2012 Hanna Chardonnay Estate Grown - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $29
Some honey, guava, caramel and some orange peel on the nose. Creamy palate, medium acid. Flavors of orange sherbet, honey, peachy, orange marmalade. A tiny bit of mineral, but mostly this is a fruit cocktail, and an enjoyable one. (87 points)

2011 Stony Hill Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $42
Bright citrus (lemon, nectarine, grapefruit) on the nose, along with some limestone and herbal notes. On the palate, the acid provides a lot of bite and the fruit is so tangy and crisp, nectarine and grapefruit, along with a flavor that reminds me of a tart McIntosh apple. Then there are these honeysuckle, basil and intense mineral aspects. A bright wine that offers a compelling counterargument to idea that Napa Chardonnays are overblown. Old oak barrels, no maloactic fermentation. (90 points)
Smith-Madrone makes damn good Chardonnay. 2011 was no exception.
2011 Smith Madrone Chardonnay Estate Bottled - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $30
Gold-yellow color with viscous legs. Aromas of whipped honey, pear, apricot and nougat, mixed in with a hint of limestone or chalk. On the palate, the yellow apple and pear fruit is coated in nougat, peanut shell and a distinct macadamia nut flavor. There’s a nice kick to the acid, though, offering some balance. I like this lemon zest and chalk note as well. Bold, but not heavily creamy. Interesting because it’s toasty, but still tangy, and offering some mineral and rock accents. Long finish with notes of honeycomb and toffee. Barrel-fermented and aged 8 months in 100% new French oak. (91 points)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tasting Report: California Pinot Noirs

Out of all my blind tastings, those feauturing California Pinot Noirs tend to be among my favorites. I love the diversity of styles and flavors and the challenge of trying to detect the vintage characteristics and the influence of California’s diverse terroirs. I’ve visited the San Francisco Bay Area twice since my last tasting report on California Pinot Noir, and nothing beats tasting these wines on their home field. Still, blind tasting this bunch was a blast.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind as part of a report for the daily wine blog Terroirist.

SRP: $21
A darker purple color. Aromas of dark plums, black cherries, prunes and notes of cinnamon and clove. Velvety on the palate, with fine tannins and medium acid. Rich blackberry and black cherry fruit, along with notes of vanilla, roasted coffee and toffee. A richer style (did someone slip Cab in here?) with a warm, toasty finish. The fruit comes from Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma Counties. (85 points)

2012 Magnolia Court Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
Aromas of sweet red cherries, red licorice some herbal notes. A light and juicy approach, with soft tannins and tangy acid. The red cherry and cranberry fruit is sweet but snappy, rounded out with creamy oak and vanilla flavors. Soft finish with notes of clove. A crowd-pleaser to drink in the near term. (85 points)

2010 Alta Maria Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $24
Aromas of rich plum, black cherries, some pepper and cranberry sauce elements. Juicy and ripe on the palate, with black cherry and tangy plum fruit. Fine tannins and crisp acid make this so pleasant to sip. Some pepper and black olive, too, and the toast is well-integrated. I was surprised to see this was a generic appellation blend, because it drinks like a single-vineyard Pinot. Great QPR. (89 points)

2010 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $44
Bold aromas of black cherries and plums, along with a bunch of rose and violet aromas, a hint of loamy soil. On the palate, some fine tannins, medium acid and rich fruit (black cherries, currants and a bit of strawberry mixed in). Earthy, with tobacco and a good amount of cedar and mocha. Generous, but showing some restraint as well. Long finish with notes of vanilla and pepper. (90 points)

2012 Fess Parker Pinot Noir Parker Station - California, Central Coast
SRP: $13
A medium cherry color. Bright cherries and currants on the nose, along with some red flowers and cinnamon-spice. Tangy red berries and black cherries, moderate tannins, freshness from the acid. I like the mix of herbs and sweet red flowers, some slight notes of vanilla and mocha on the finish. Impressive stuff for the price, and a crowd-pleaser. (87 points)
2011 Fess Parker Pinot Noir Ashley’s Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $50
Juicy red cherries, black cherries, some chocolate and caramel. Fleshy plums and cherries on the palate, easy tannins, medium acid. Secondary flavors of smoke, caramel and sweet violets. Big and fruity, but enough balance to make this quite pretty. (88 points)

2011 Dierberg Pinot Noir Drum Canyon Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $44
Aromas of fresh black cherries, wild strawberries, sweet vanilla, some spicy pepper. Medium tannins with rounded edges, the mouthfeel is creamy, and the acid that keeps it fresh. Cranberries and tart red cherries mix with notes of rhubarb, root beer and white pepper. Some notes of caramel, vanilla and mocha, but not too much, and the wine maintains some restraint and elegance. Easy to drink now, but it should get more expressive over the next year. Love the tart finish. (91 points)

2011 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $49
Bright ruby colored. Exotic nose of cherries, earth, smoke, rose petals. The aromas really gained complexity with some swirling and time in the glass. Medium-bodied, medium acid, the tannins have some solid grip. The cherry and raspberry fruit is snappy and pure, backed up by rose petals, white pepper, roasted chestnut and vanilla. Forward, but well-structured. Perhaps a bit tightly-wound, this will likely get better over the next year or two. (89 points)

2011 Gracianna Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $48
A clear, bright ruby color. Smells fresh, lots of strawberry, cherry and raspberry, underlined by flavors of pickling spices and rhubarb. On the palate I get crushed berries, bright strawberry and plums, supported by tangy acid and fine tannins. It’s got sweet notes of bubblegum and maraschino cherry, but also some nice pepper and tobacco as well. Despite the ripe fruit and 14.8% alcohol, this wine shows some restraint and elegance. (88 points)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

1998 Juliette Avril Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Du Majoral

I’d never heard of Domaine Juliette Avril before, but I was surprised by the youthfulness of this 1998 Chateauneuf. I tasted this bottle blind, by accident, because I actually thought it was a sample. Turned out to be a beautiful wine, but one with a long life ahead of it.

1998 Domaine Juliette Avril Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Du Majoral - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Aromas of black cherries, raspberries, coffee, rose hips. Tight at first, but after an hour it started showing more. Firm and gritty tannins, fresh acid, but still very young and compact. The black cherry and plum fruit is full and dense, still needing time to smooth out. Charcoal, some black olives, coffee at first. After three hours, I started getting some chewing tobacco, seaweed and peppery notes. I wish I would’ve held onto this for five more years, because this is still very firm. I drank this with three friends, so this bottle didn’t last the night. I wish I would’ve left some in the bottle for a day or two just to see what happens. A lesson in the long-lasting capability of the 1998 vintage

(90 points)
$27 at auction

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Peanut Butter & Jellyfish - On Family, Food and George Washington Carver

This essay first appeared in 20-Something Magazine.

Like always, my father and I hanging out at Belmar Beach. (1984)
The first time I tasted peanut butter I was a baby, almost one. My mother and I were sprawled out together on a large blanket on Belmar, New Jersey’s 14th Street Beach. I loved that beach, even then, before I could really process it all.

On that warm summer morning,  my mother stripped off my diaper — this was 1984, when the presence of bare-assed children in a public space didn’t freak out everybody — and she let me crawl around in the sand. I splashed at the waves as they spilled onto the shore. The way my mother tells it, I was playing in the wet sand when I found a shiny clear blob that had washed up. I picked it up and, naturally, tried to eat it. My mother snatched me up before I could swallow more than a small bite of the jellyfish.

Rightly thinking that I was hungry, she dusted off my naked bum and plopped me down on a beach towel. She fed me mashed banana with a curvy plastic spoon, and I gulped it all down. My mouth hung open in anticipation as she scraped the bottom of the jar for the last bits of pulp. I polished it all off, and I was still hungry. She reached into the little red cooler she always toted onto the beach and pulled out something magical: peanut butter and jelly slathered between two pieces of whole wheat bread. It was hers, but she was offering me a taste.

“Want some PBJ?” she asked.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Adelsheim: Crisp Whites and Elegant Pinots from the Willamette Valley

Adelsheim's Bryan Creek Vineyard, used with permission. (c) Kent Derek
Over the years I’ve come to realize that Adelsheim makes delicious wine on a consistent basis. From crisp Wednesday night whites to single-vineyard Pinots, they cover all the bases. One of Oregon’s founding wineries, Adelsheim planted their first vines in the Chehalem Mountains in 1972. Today, Adelsheim farms 229 acres of estate vines from 11 vineyards across the Willamette Valley.

I recently tasted through a bunch of Adelsheim’s new releases, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Adelsheim Chardonnay - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $22
Smells of honeysuckle, green melon, some orange zest and perfume notes, it all comes together quite nicely. Like whipped honey on the palate, but the acid sings all the way through. All sorts of melon flavors, mixed in with white flowers and honeycomb. There’s a sour-sweet note that reminds me of green apple Airhead candies, as strange as that may sound, but I like it. Still, it ends up as a clean and focused Chard. (88 points)

2012 Adelsheim Auxerrois Blanc Ribbon Springs Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Ribbon Ridge
SRP: $25
Aromas of white peach, orange blossom, honeysuckle and a waxy note. Crisp acid, a whipped honey and waxy mouthfeel. White peach, green melon goes along with some lychee nut, candlewax and honeycomb flavors, with a hint of mineral on the finish. Not the most complex wine, but it’s got a unique style. Tasted blind, I wondered who slipped some Alsace into my Pacific Northwest samples. Turns out Adelsheim brought this grape (a blend of Pinot noir and Gouais Blanc) over from Alsace in the late 1970s. A rare varietal wine, and a fun one. (88 points)

2012 Adelsheim Pinot Gris Willamette Valley - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $19
On the nose, juicy white peach, white flowers, all sorts of fruit blossom-y notes. Some creaminess to the texture but this tingly acid soaks it all up. Racy, but full of lime, white peach and apricot. A sea salt note on the finish. A very precise and crisp wine that deserves the freshest of seafood. (89 points)

2011 Adelsheim Pinot Blanc Bryan Creek Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains
SRP: $25
The nose is extremely floral, like a burst of orange blossom, honeysuckle and potpourri. Tangy on the palate, with tart grapefruit, orange peel and white cherry notes. Those flowers stick around on the palate, accenting the fruit. The finish is like white tea with lemon and honey, but the crisp acid lasts all the way. (88 points)

2010 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Bryan Creek Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains
SRP: $75
Smells like currants and cranberries, along with spiced coffee and violets. I get the impression that the aromas are stunted at the moment, wound up, even after an hour of swirling in a massive Burgundy glass. Full on the palate, firm tannins, tangy acid. The currant and dark plum fruit have these concentrated and rustic themes. Juicy, some notes of tobacco and roasted red pepper. Mocha and toast, but not too much. Showing signs of future elegance, but a bit tightly-wound now. (91 points)

2010 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Elizabeth’s Reserve - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $55

Really intriguing aromatically. The first thing I notice is a goat cheese aroma. Seriously. It fades after a bit, morphs into this kind of mushroom thing, but on first pour: dead ringer for goat cheese. I get some rich cherry and raspberry as well, with some earthy and incense notes. Tangy acid matches up with firm tannins, and the wine shows a sense of grit and tartness. Bright red fruit is framed by notes of soil, roasted coffee and soy sauce. I think the complexity will only grow over the next five years or so. Blended from 12 vineyards across the Willamette Valley. (90 points)

2008 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Vintage 31 - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains
SRP: $180
Bold aromas of tangy cherries, red plums, along with a kick of red flowers, tobacco, cedar and nutmeg. Bright on the palate, framed with moderate acid, the tannins are fine-grained but show solid grip. The cherry and red currant fruit tastes snappy and fresh, and it’s backed up by notes of chewing tobacco, mint, roasted coffee and cedar. I like the zip on the finish. Seems to be drinking well now but will probably age well in the near term. I was more than a bit shocked at the price. A good wine, but — holy hell! — that’s a lot of money. (90 points)

2010 Adelsheim Syrah Calkins Lane Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $45
Dark purple color with bright rims. Darker and deeper on the nose, with black cherries, currants, lots of loam and cedar, a bit of anise as well. Full-bodied with an incredibly silky texture. Fine tannins meet crisp acid. All sorts of red and black cherries and currants, equally matched with distinct olive, mushroom and tobacco flavors. The earthy aspects of this wine are really attractive. Integrated alcohol and moderate toast. Drinking well now right out of the bottle, but I’m sure this will improve over the next five+ years. Gorgeous stuff, and so elegant. I’d love to throw this in as a ringer in a blind Northern Rhone tasting. (93 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Checking Up On Some Favorite Pacific Northwest Wines

I’m a huge fan of Oregon and Washington wines, but for some reason I can’t seem to collect too many bottles. It’s strange, but they mysteriously disappear from my cellar within a few months. So I was psyched when a good friend, tasting buddy and Pacific Northwest buff invited me to a “cellar culling” tasting. In order to make room for fall shipments, he popped a case of wines. We tasted through them blind, but knowing how much this friend loves PNW, I figured a good portion of the wines were Oregon Pinots and Washington Syrahs.

Luckily for me, I was right. I tasted some phenomenal wines from some of my favorite PNW producers: Cameron, Reynvaan, Gramercy Cellars, Cayuse. Most of the wines hailed from the 2010 vintage, whose combination of ripeness and freshness aligns perfectly with my palate. I tasted and scored all the wines blind before we unveiled them.

My notes on one hell of an evening…

2010 Cameron Chardonnay Blanc Clos Electrique - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
A simply beautiful Chard. Cameron has done something amazing with the 2010 vintage. The nose shows an incredibly complex mix of guava, melon, almond, sea salt and white flowers. The palate is full of brisk acid and rich texture. White peach, yellow apple, lime, lemon, it all mixes with notes of honey, caramel and nougat. Rich but so lively and nervy. As always, Cameron impresses. This is consistently one of my favorite domestic Chards, and the 2010 version is superb. I’d love to put this down for a year or two and see what it does. (94 points)

2011 Cameron Saignee of Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
Copper colored. Very peppery on the nose, with strawberries, earth, a kind of funky goat cheese aspect. Crisp acid and silky body form the palate, with notes of saline, pepper and green herbs. Tangy and lively, this is one good pink. Pure and fresh and unique. (89 points)

2007 Cameron Nebbiolo Clos Electrique - Oregon, Willamette Valley
Initially funky on the nose, but then it shifted into this bright cherry sauce and pepper thing. On the palate this is really bright and tangy, with some pleasant bitterness from the tannins. Currant and red plum fruit, with lots of earth, olive and a flavor that reminds me of roasted red peppers, like the kind in olive oil. Delicious stuff, and very unique. I guessed this as a Jura red, but it had me quite perplexed the whole time. This would be amazing with food. It’s rare for a domestic producer to pull off Nebbiolo, but leave it to Cameron... (91 points)

2008 Crowley Pinot Noir La Colina - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
On the nose, a mix of juicy berries with some notes of earth and funky farmyard. Juicy and fresh on the palate, with black cherry, cola and earth. Some generous fruit, but the persistent acid makes this so easy to drink. (90 points)

2008 Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Etzel Block VY - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Ribbon Ridge
Initially I picked up some sulfur, but it blew off after a few minutes and I started getting juicy cherries and berry compote aromas. Live-wire acid  love it with silky tannins and pure berry fruit. Complex notes of pepper, cola and sweet oak. Pretty stuff, open and ready for business. (91 points)

2008 Cameron Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
On the nose I got mushroom, potting soil and sweet herb notes on top of cherries and strawberries. Fresh and tangy on the palate, with a solid foundation of tannins. Lots of currants, red cherries, along with cola, earth, beef and pepper notes. Complex and powerful, yet focused, this will improve in the cellar. (92 points)

2008 Gramercy Cellars Syrah “Lagniappe” - Washington, Columbia Valley
Aromas of blackberry, earth, sweet herbs and a meaty note. Great structure, moderate acid, and a complex mix of blueberry and dark plum fruit. I love the sweet herbs, flowers and meaty tones. Delicious stuff with a long life ahead of it. (92 points)

2010 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “The Contender” - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
I’ve loved the previous few vintages of this wine, but the 2010 is truly stunning. Complex waves of aromas: blackberries, blueberries, campfire smoke, olive, violets, peppered jerky. Solid tannic grip, but the edges are fined down, the acid makes this smooth and silky on the palate. The blueberry and blackberry fruit tastes pure and creamy, and the fruit is laced with olive, pepper, iron, mushroom and pepper-crusted steak flavors. Long and powerful finish. This wine got better and better as it saw more air, and I’d love to retry this in two or three more years. Stunning stuff. (95 points)

2010 Gramercy Cellars Grenache Olsen Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley
Mixed berries, roses, violets and soil on the nose, like some sort of awesome greenhouse. Surprisingly bright on the palate, with fine tannins and some tangy acid. The red berry fruit mixes with pepper, olive and a cherry cola note. Not overripe or hot at all. Delicious stuff with some staying power. (91 points)

2010 Cayuse Grenache “God Only Knows” - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Rich berries on the nose, with pepper and beef brisket notes. On the palate, showing some tanginess, nice tannic backbone, flavors of red cherries, blackberries, olive, lots of pepper and some meat notes. A fruity wine, but oh so balanced and complex. Another stellar 2010, this is gorgeous stuff. (93 points)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tasting Through a Grab Bag of Italian Wines

This week, I’m looking to Italy. Since my last post on Italy, I’ve tasted some fun and tasty wines, all of which came in at less than $30. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind, unless otherwise noted.

2006 Ferrari Perlé - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Trentino, Trento
SRP: $35
Tasted sighted. Could’ve fooled me for Champagne on the nose. Lots of doughy, yeasty, lemon-lime notes and apple peel. Tangy acid, fine bubbles, a good amount of creaminess on the palate. The key lime is mixed in with a pleasantly bitter crab apple note. Toasted bread and mineral accents linger on the finish. A solid sparkling Chardonnay for $35. (88 points)

2012 Folonari Pinot Grigio Venezie IGT - Italy, Venezie IGT
SRP: $8
Medium yellow color. Some golden apple and honey on the nose, but also some brighter floral and citrus components. Medium acid, with yellow and green apple, and there are some floral notes, but overall it’s a bit bland. Short finish. (79 points)

2012 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi “Tenuta dell’ Ammiraglia” Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $18
A light straw color. The first thing that comes to mind upon sniffing this is banana peel, like the inside of a perfectly ripe banana. There’s also some lemon zest and seashell. On the palate, this wine is plump and generously textured, with green melon, pineapple and banana fruit. Medium acid keeps it reigned in. A white tea and honey note rounds out the fruit, and there’s a shot of minerals and crushed rock flavors. Quite complex. Rich, but not too much, and the flavors are clean and fresh throughout. A delicious Vermentino. (90 points)

2012 Folonari Chianti - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti
SRP: $8
Juicy, dark fruit on the nose, blackberries, candied cherries, as well as some earth and tobacco. Creamy texture forms from the fine tannins, fresh fruit and moderate acid. The plums and blackberries taste pure and juicy, and they’re backed up with notes of cracked pepper and some tobacco and toast. Surprisingly pleasant for the price. (86 points)

2011 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi “Terre More dell’ Ammiraglia” Maremma Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Maremma Toscana IGT
SRP: $14
Aromas of plum sauce, rich earth, allspice, currant jam, roasted coffee. Juicy red plums and black cherries on the palate, with an overall jammy profile. Medium acid and firm tannins provide structure. Pepper and floral tones mix in with toasted oak, roasted coffee, cedar and caramel. Very rich and bombastic, perhaps not the most food-friendly Italian red blend, but very tasty. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 5% Syrah. (87 points)

2010 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Morellino di Scansano “Riserva Pietraregia dell’ Ammiraglia” - Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Morellino di Scansano
SRP: $23
A bit restrained on the nose, but it opens up to show violets, black currant, vanilla and rich coffee. On the palate, the tannins have grip but also a round feel. Significant tartness, with flavors of black cherry, currants and snappy plums. Mocha, hazelnut and vanilla flesh the wine out. I also get a light sense of mineral and graphite on this wine. Put together well, and quite delicious, this wine has quite a few years of refinement ahead of it. 85% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and 10% Syrah. I dig this, especially at the price. (89 points)

2012 Allegrini Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella
SRP: $15
Red and black cherries, some raisin and smoke note on the nose. Light tannins, soft acid, this wine takes the road of simple, easy-drinking pleasure. Flavors of black cherry and currant, snappy, but the fruit also has some coffee and earthy aspects. A juicy blend of 65% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. (85 points)

2009 Allegrini “Palazzo della Torre” Veronese IGT - Italy, Veneto, Veronese IGT
SRP: $20
A kicking mix of sour and dark cherries on the nose, along with some dusty earth, tobacco and roasted coffee. Firm tannins for structure, and the acid keeps it clean. The sour cherry and red plum and currant fruit is tangy and delicious, backed up by roasted herbs, violets and rich coffee. Rich and velvety, but the focus and zip to this wine is impressive. I bet it will have even more to show soon. 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese. (90 points)

2009 Allegrini “La Grola” Veronese IGT - Italy, Veneto, Veronese IGT
SRP: $28
Bright cherry color. The cherry and plum fruit smells rich but fresh, along with some sweet herbs, dried flowers. Loving the aromas here, and it opens up more with time. The tangy acid plays off the rigid tannins. Tastes like sour cherries mixed with some ripe blackberry, and there’s a nice mix of spice, cedar, coffee and a flavor that reminds me of a smoky Islay Scotch. Dense and earthy, this will open up more over the next few years. 80% Corvina and 20% Syrah. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.