Monday, February 25, 2013

MuscaDay 2013: Celebrating France’s Most Oceanic Wine

I’ve been bodyboarding for more than 20 years, and I’ve swallowed more than my share of salt water. I’ve collected tons of sea shells and coral and sand dollars, which still adorn my ocean-themed bathroom. And I’ve eaten every fruit de la mer that I’ve seen on a menu. When I was a toddler growing up on the Jersey Shore, my mother had to constantly stop me from picking up clear jellyfish and eating them. Basically, I’m saying that I love — make that “live for” — the ocean. All of my most cherished memories involve the ocean in one way or another.

And every time I sip a glass of good muscadet, the ocean comes back to me in waves. No wine in the world better captures the essence and the purity of the ocean than muscadet. (One could make an argument that Grand Cru Chablis does a damn good job as well, but we’re talking five to ten times the cost of a high-end muscadet). Salty brine, seaweed, sea shells, rocks, minerals… all these aromas and flavors abound in the juice of the humble melon de bourgogne grape (the variety that comprises all muscadet wines). Of course, muscadet offers much more than just ocean flavors: crunchy acid, creamy body, every variety of citrus and apple flavor, white flowers and more minerality than an Alpine stream.
Muscadet comes from the coastal region of northwest France.
I’ve written a lot about muscadet in the past because I write about what inspires me, and muscadet is an inspiring wine. So I was thrilled when some muscadet-collecting friends decided to throw MuscaDay 2013, a celebration of this zesty white. We all got together at a house in Washington, DC, and tasted through 20-something bottles of muscadet. The table was packed with all sorts of oysters (muscadet and oysters is one of my all-time favorite pairings), along snow crab legs, lobster tail, prawns, white crab meat and dipping sauces…
Like any wine from any region, the producer matters most. Luckily for us, MuscaDay 2013 featured some of the best winemakers in the region. We also covered a range of vintages (muscadet can age beautifully) as well as some of the most exciting single-vineyard wines in the region.

I was like a kid at the beach taking notes on these wines. My notes, broken down by producer, are below the fold...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tasting Report: New World Cabernet Sauvignon

I don’t drink a lot of cabernet these days, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think I’ve gotten into the habit of defaulting to pinot noir, syrah and red Rhone blends. If I get cabernet in my diet, it usually comes in the form of Bordeaux, a red blend from Sonoma or a Napa cabernet with a few years behind it. But cabernet is grown everywhere and made into every conceivable style. It’s a versatile grape that winemakers love to mix with other red Bordeaux varieties to achieve unique flavors and textures. No matter what you styles you like to drink, there are cabernets out there with your name on them.

In cooperation with my friends at, I tasted through a bunch of cabernet sauvignons from all across the New World, although most hail from the domestic Mecca of cab, Napa Valley. All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind. I didn’t know anything about the wines except that they were New World cabs.

I was under the assumption I was tasting somewhat young cabernets, so I tried to give each wine several hours of air time and swirling before finalizing my notes and unveiling the wines. This paid off, as many of the wines that smelled and tasted hesitant upon uncorking really opened up and became much more expressive. Cabernet, being such an age-worthy grape, can be tight and harsh when its young, and most of these wines need three-to-five years to show their best stuff.

Here are my notes in alphabetical order by region…

2008 Graffigna Cabernet Sauvignon Centenario Reserve - Argentina, San Juan
$11. On the nose, I get a whole lot of vanilla, along with reduced plums and some mulling spices. On the palate, this wine tastes of tart cherries and under-ripe strawberries. The combination of sour red fruit, bitter tannins and an overdose of oak make this a strange beast. The oak tears up any other flavors. No specific faults, just a poorly-made wine. I came back to the wine several times over the course of a couple of hours, and it never got better. I ended up pouring it down the drain. (74 points)

2010 Pyren Cabernet Sauvignon Broken Quartz - Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Pyrenees
$22. Big candied nose of red licorice, purple laffy taffy and vanilla. On the palate, medium-grain tannins, quite low acid on the acid. The red cherry and plum fruit tastes roasted and jammy. The oak on this wine is really intense, making any nuance or subtlety impossible to detect. A candied, raisined, oak-bomb style. The ringer here is the alcohol: 12%?! Strange that a wine so dark and fruity can have such low alcohol, although the oak and jammy fruit make this wine feel as full-bodied as a 15% Aussie shiraz. (85 points)

2010 Robert Oatley Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River - Australia, Western Australia, Margaret River
$17. Aromas of bright raspberries, red currants and red licorice, backed up with some chocolaty oak. Medium-grain tannins and moderate acid. Roasted plums and sweet raspberry flavors abound, as well as rich chocolate-covered cherries and toasty oak. But the cigar smoke and crushed rock flavors make this more than just a fruit bomb. Solid finish.
This wine has a rich style, but it’s well-structured and complex. (88 points)

2010 Apaltagua Cabernet Sauvignon Signature - Chile, Maipo Valley
$27. Black currant, cedar, piles of wet leaves, a hint of alcohol on the end of the nose. Firm tannins, medium concentration, perhaps a bit harsh around the edges, but the cherry cola, blackberry fruit and creamy oak add a velvety texture. Dark chocolate and campfire smoke linger onto the finish. Not the most complex cab, but enjoyable. (86 points)

2010 Bartinney Helshoogte Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
$ Unknown. This wine seriously smells like potting soil. Lots of rich, loamy, earthy notes to highlight the roasted plum and smoky blackberry aromas. Fine tannins, medium acid on the palate. Interesting mix of cranberry and black cherry fruit, laced with campfire smoke, loam and cracked pepper. This cabernet has a very rustic approach,
one that screams South Africa. (87 points)

The Cali cab reviews are below the fold...

Friday, February 22, 2013

On Roberto Bolaño’s “Last Evenings on Earth”

Lately, I’ve found it difficult to post my usual amount of book reviews and literary essays. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that I’m busy in school this semester. My “Readings in Global Fact and Fiction” class at Johns Hopkins University sops up a lot of my free time. (We’ve been reading Borges for two weeks, and my literary brain is still recovering.)

I’ve developed some opinions about Borges, but I’ll leave the Borges criticism to the pros. I’ve developed far more coherent thoughts about the book I just finished: “Last Evenings on Earth” by Roberto Bolaño. This collection of stories was first published in 1997, and this Spanish-to-English translation from Chris Andrews came out in 2006. Bolaño’s world is much different than the world of Borges’ — or the world of any other writer, for that matter.

In Bolaño’s world, narrators have no names. If Bolaño is generous, he’ll refer to narrators and other characters as “B” or “A.” Writers — and there are many of them in these stories — live in obscurity, and they die in the same manner. Narrators thrash around in endless nightmares. Lovers leave and lovers die. People move around the globe, and when they try to go home — wherever that is — they can’t find it.

The best writers have an uncanny ability to draw the reader into the mind and body of a character from an entirely time and place. Truly great writers make the transition from reality to the mind of a character subtle and unnoticed, which means the reader is disarmed and vulnerable to the designs of the author. In this sense, Bolaño is a master seducer of the mind. His style is conversational, yet poetic. His stories flow smoothly, but they’re intensly literary and inctricarely designed. Bolaño finds value in the mundane aspects of life. He hones in on events that are not necessarily the most shocking or exciting, but he’s able to imbue them with richness and meaning. Like Hemingway, Bolaño uses brief, assertive language to convey deep and profound themes.

Soft-spoken, full of complex thoughts and inspirations, Bolaño’s characters are real people, the kind of people you want drink cervezas with and listen to long into the night. The settings in these 14 stories span much of the Spanish-speaking world: Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain. The characters are always crossing borders. They are natives of one place, vagabonds in another, trying desperately to get somewhere else.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trione's Wide Range of Sonoma Wines

The Trione family has been managing Sonoma County vineyards for 35 years, growing grapes that ended up in many award-winning wines. In 2005 the Trione family decided to strike out on their own, build a winery and make their own wine. In addition to the classic Russian River varieties of pinot noir and chardonnay, Trione makes a sauvignon blanc and a syrah, as well as a cabernet and a red blend from the Alexander Valley appellation.

Winemaker Scot Covington, who joined the Trione family in 2005 and made the wines in this report, has quite a resume. He began working at Sonoma-Cutrer in 1990, and moved on to become a production enologist at Marimar Torres Estate. Covington also spent a year working with Vergelegen Estate of South Africa, trying his hand at pinotage and sauvignon blanc grapes. Gallo Sonoma hired him as the “experimental winemaker” in 1997. He then went Down Under, working with Rosemount in the Hunter Valley and Yalumba in Barossa Valley. So it’s no surprise that Covington has been able to make solid wines from a wide range of grape varieties.

I have to hand it to Trione for this marketing idea. They managed to fit six 50ml sample bottles into a small cardboard case, and inserted all sorts of information about their winery. But, in the end, a marketing gimmick is only as good as the product itself. And in this case, Trione backs it up. Before this tasting I’d never tried a Trione wine. I was legitimately wowed by these wines. My only wish was that I had more than 50 ml to sip!

Here are my notes…

2010 Trione Sauvignon Blanc River Road Ranch (Sonoma County, Russian River Valley) $23.
A slight spritz in the glass. On the nose, this sauvignon blanc is beautiful. Starts off with a burst of melon, cantaloupe and honeysuckle, with hints of sage and shallots. High acid provides intense verve, but there’s lots of creaminess as well. Flavors of lime, melon and pineapple mix with a soft herbal note. The acid lingers long on the finish along with bits of mineral and limestone. One of the most complex domestic sauvignon blancs I’ve had in a long time. (91 points)

2008 Trione Chardonnay River Road Ranch (Sonoma County, Russian River Valley) $30.
Aromas of pear butter, papaya and a nice kick of sage and wax. Wow, the palate is really tangy, with live wire acid and lots of lemon-lime flavors. But the hazelnut, nougat and yellow apple flavors keep this from being austere. Not goopy, this is a bold but focused chardonnay that begs for oysters. Long finish with lemon zest and green apple. This chard sees a mix of new and used French oak. (89 points)

Trione's small bottles bring big taste.
2008 Trione Pinot Noir River Road Ranch (Sonoma County, Russian River Valley) $35.
Pretty ruby color, and you can actually see your fingers through it! Complex aromas of spicy cherries, wild strawberries, clove and vanilla. Full-bodied with mouth-coating and firm tannins, bold but juicy red fruit. Earth and pepper accent the wild cherry and strawberry flavors. A judicious use of oak adds complexity but doesn’t overwhelm the other elements. A hefty pinot at its core, but equally bright. Long, fresh finish. (90 points)

2008 Trione Syrah River Road Ranch (Sonoma County, Russian River Valley) $32.
Dark purple color. The aromas on this wine are fantastic: smoke, blackberry, green olive, hints of coconut. The palate is full-bodied and packed with gritty tannins. The acid, while not outspoken, is present enough for balance. Blackberry and plum fruit is slathered in olive tapenade, charred meat and sun-dried tomato. Even from a tiny 50ml bottle, there’s sediment in this wine, which I’m always fine with. Long, full finish. If served blind, I could’ve easily guessed this as a 2009 Northern Rhone syrah. I’d love to taste this again in five years to see what happens to those olive and meat flavors. Delicious! (92 points)

2007 Trione Cabernet Sauvignon Block Twenty-One (Sonoma County, Alexander Valley) $64.
A nice purple-earthy color. The aromas of fresh black cherries, violets and red licorice are sleek and elegant; they don’t punch you in the nose. The palate shows silky tannins, surprisingly fresh acid and a medley of delicious flavors. Black cherry and currant fruit is highlighted by menthol, cedar and creamy oak. A tangy cherry note lingers with toast and earth on the finish. A cabernet with boldness, but also class. The cabernet grapes come from Trione’s Cloverdale Ranch in the northern part of Alexander Valley. The wine, which is aged in 45% new French oak, contains 10% merlot from Trione’s Geyserville ranch and 2.5% petite verdot and malbec from Cloverdale. (90 points)

2007 Trione Geyserville Ranch (Sonoma County, Alexander Valley) $50.
Lush and complex aromas of sour cherry, red currant, tar, rhubarb and green and black peppercorns. The palate shows silky tannins and medium acid. I love the fleshy red currant and raspberry fruit, and it’s backed up by bay leaf, smoke and earth. The oak adds a creamy aspect to this nicely balanced red wine. It’s in a beautiful spot right now (at least as much as I can judge from a 50ml bottle), but if I had a full bottle, I’d lay it down for three or four years and see what kind of herbal and dried fruit flavors come out. A blend of 57% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, 4% petite verdot and 4% malbec.
(90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

California Zinfandel Throwdown

Conventional wisdom says zinfandel is the wine for the grilled foods of summer. As America’s adopted grape, there’s perhaps nothing better to drink for Fourth of July parties. While these ideas ring true, I find that the rich, fruity flavors of California zin add a pleasant shot of hedonism into the cold winter months.

I tasted my way through a group of California zinfandels this week, and was struck by the overall quality of wines from three different vintages (2008-2010). All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind. 

Napa Valley
SRP: $35. Deep and alluring aromas of blackberry and raspberry jam, along with some rose petals and sweet chocolate. Firm tannins and medium acid provide solid structure to support the gobs of red plum, raspberry and blackberry fruit. Secondary flavors of toast, graphite and tobacco leaf add complexity. Big and viscous, but not at all overbearing. From the attack to the long, creamy finish, this is a pure pleasure to drink. A zin that could last easily for two or three years. Co-fermented with 2% petite sirah. (89 points)

Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35. Aromas of bright raspberry, candied plums, green leaves and some cracked pepper. The palate shows cherry jam, raspberry sauce, some dark, molasses and caramel notes. Sweet and rich but still tangy. (86 points)

Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $40. Brandied plums and wild raspberries on the nose, accented with a note of cinnamon-sugar. It picks up speed on the palate, with snappy red fruit and a surprising bit of fresh acid. Tangy and sleek, but black pepper and cinnamon-spice notes add complexity. A nice sour cherry and menthol kick comes out on the finish. (88 points)
Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $35. The fresh raspberry and blackberry aromas are mixed with these smoky, dusty notes, and the combination is quite nice. Hints of cedar on the nose as well. Dry tannins, medium acid and lots of rich red and black fruit. The cedar, pine resin and forest floor flavors are complex and really tasty. Very intense concentration in this zinfandel, but it’s not alcoholic or goopy at all. Wow, this has a lot going for it, and could stand a few years in the cellar. 5% petite sirah in here. (90 points)

Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $38. This wine is by no means bashful on the nose: an explosion of blackberries, juicy plums and a coconut and sweet alcohol aroma that reminds me of bourbon. Full-bodied, almost like glycerin in its palate-coating approach, with chewy tannins, but enough acid to somehow make it fresh. This zin focuses much more on the darker end of the fruit spectrum, showing mostly blueberry and blackberry fruit. The concentration is impressive, but so is the balance. Charcoal and spicy paprika and pepper notes carry the finish. This is a serious zinfandel that could benefit from a few years of aging. (90 points)

Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $18. The nose is strong and full of red licorice, wild cherry and potpourri. The palate shows very fine tannins and medium acid. The juicy raspberry and strawberry flavors are beefed up by a solid dose of oak and hints of peppery spice. Dried floral flavors linger onto the finish along with a very distinct flavor of incense sticks. Even though this wine is really toasty, as a whole it never tastes overbearing. Solid value at $18. (87 points)

Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $28. Aromas of red plums, black cherry, some caramel and red licorice candies. The palate shows bright cherries and raspberries along with soft and creamy tannins. Rich and full of fruit, but displaying surprising freshness. Notes of root beer and red pepper jam come out with time. A caramel note carries the finish. Very yummy stuff. (88 points)

Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $32. Red licorice, bright cherry and vanilla aromas leap out of the glass, and there’s also this interesting note of worn leather that adds another level of complexity. Firm, grippy tannins and fresh acid for structure. A medley of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry fruit glides over the palate. It’s all rounded out by (not dominated by) hazelnut and toasted oak. The sweet red fruit mixes really well with this earthy and leathery aspect. The finish is really long and pure. Impressive stuff, and I can’t stop thinking that this wine just tastes hand-made, in the best sense of the word. This single-vineyard zinfandel was aged 26 months in French oak, 21% new. (91 points)

North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP $13. Interesting mix of aromas: raspberry jam, Maraschino cherries, roses, all fresh and bright. Really juicy and light on the palate, showing lots of strawberry and blood orange fruit. Medium-to-low acid, and the tannins have a bit of astringency to them. Some sugar cane and caramel flavors last onto the finish with just a hint of earth. A juicy, easy-drinking style. (85 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Champagne Blind Taste-Off (You'll Never Guess the Winner)

The idea: With Valentine’s Day coming up, a friend had the idea of gathering up some wine nerds and some non-vintage Champagne. We tasted and scored the wines blind to find out which bubbly gives the best bang for the buck.

The wines: 10 non-vintage brut Champagnes that cost about $50 or less.

The takeaway: A Champagne’s quality is not necessarily determined by its price tag. Also, no matter how much you know about wine, blind tasting always serves up delicious humble pie.

The tasting panel consisted of myself and six other oenophiles, including wine bloggers, collectors and a winemaker. It’s safe to say we’re all Champagne fans — isn’t everyone? — and each taster has some significant experience with the best of French bubbles.

We tried to bring together the “big names” in non-vintage Champagne blends, those brightly-colored, easily-identifiable labels you see on the shelf at your local liquor store or Safeway. At the end of the tasting, we unveiled the wines and averaged the seven scores to see which came out on top.

Now, all blind tastings contain at least some level of surprise. That’s the whole point. But I doubt anyone could have predicted the outcome of this blind tasting.

Let’s count down the 10 Champagnes…

#10) N.V. Pol Roger Champagne Brut Réserve ($50)
Group score: 82.7 points. My score: 85 points.
Richer aromas of orchard fruit, mango and apricot. Very bready on the palate, with lots of toast, bruised apple and lime. Bread and bagel notes linger onto the finish. (Note: This was likely an “off bottle.” Several tasters with extensive Pol Roger experience thought this particular bottle was not representative of the wine as a whole.) 

#9) N.V. Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne Blue Top Brut ($45)
Group average: 84.3 points. My score: 85 points.
Aromas of white peach, grapefruit, green apple and some raw pear skins. The palate is tangy, showing lots of green pear and apple. A bit of nutty, waxy flavors, but they lack depth. Overall, a mediocre effort.

#8) N.V. Delamotte Champagne Brut ($46)
Group average: 86.3 points. My score: 86 points.
Initially shy on the nose, with green apples and very light floral aromas. The palate is brisk and tangy, with green grape and apple flavors. Overall, a bit harsh in its flavor profile. Sure there’s some zippy acid, but this wine doesn’t have the depth to back it up.

#7) N.V. Taittinger Champagne La Française Brut ($50)
Group average: 86.6 points. My score: 87 points.
Floral aromas, peach blossoms, limestone. The palate is very tangy, with laser-like acid, and lots of grapefruit and citrus peel flavors. Lingers long on the finish.

#6) N.V. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut ($50)
Group average: 87.6 points. My score: 88 points.
Aromas of chalk, limestone and white flowers, mixed in with freshly toasted bread. The palate is creamy and tangy, with dominant flavors of fresh apple juice, toasted baguette and lots of lemon peel. The palate shows a lot of cut and a mineral-driven finish. Rich yet lean.

#5) N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvée St. Anne ($46)
Group average: 88.3 points. My score: 87 points.
Flint, baked apple and fun dip candy on the nose. There’s a good amount of tangy pear and grapefruit mixed in with the apricot and toast flavors. Solid acid and white peach carry the finish. Solid stuff.

Tie for #4) and #3)
Group average: 89 points. My score: 88 points.
Aromas of honeycomb, white peach, white flowers and mixed nuts. The palate is really nutty, with lots of richness, along with tangerine and green apple. Tangy, nice acid.

N.V. Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut ($60)
Group average: 89 points. My score: 89 points.
Aromas of apricot, sea shore, green apple and honeysuckle. Super zesty on the palate, with fine bubbles and lots of cream and grapefruit flavors. Very pure and bright, with lots of limestone and citrus peel flavors. Huge acid/cut on the palate.

#2) N.V. Moët & Chandon Champagne Brut Impérial ($50)
Group average: 89.1 points. My score: 90 points.
Very ethereal on the nose, elegant flowers, honeysuckle and faint minerals. The palate shows mineral water, papaya and lime over top of tangy acid and fine bubbles. The crisp green aple and limestone flavors linger long onto the finish. This wine begs for salads or oysters. My favorite wine of the tasting.

And the winner is…

#1) N.V. Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut ($20)
Group average: 90.3 points. My score: 88 points.
What an interesting Champagne. It smells like papaya, mixed nuts, goat cheese and cheese rind... really strange at first, but it opened up and got more complex with some air. Zippy on the palate, full of toasted coconut, peanut shell, hazelnut and limestone. Rich, yet compact, seems like it needs some air to open up fully. When this was unveiled, we were so shocked to see it was the house brand from Costco. This Champagne is made by Manuel Janisson, a well-respected producer. Hats off to Costco for bringing in this juice at such a low price point. This is why I love blind tastings.

So, there you have it. After everything, the Costco brand Champagne wins out. Wine is a strange and fascinating thing, isn’t it?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tasting Report: New World Syrah and Blends

Syrah has always been one of my favorite grapes. It can stand on its own in a 100% wine, but it makes a great addition to blends of grenache and mourvedre as well (a la Chateauneuf-du-Pape). In conjunction with my friends at the daily wine blog Terroirist, I recently blind tasted my way through some New World syrahs and red blends that contain at least some syrah. While most of them hail from California, there are two Aussies and a Washington State syrah thrown into the mix as well.

All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind.

2010 Peter Lehmann Layers - Australia, South Australia, Barossa
SRP: $17. Took some significant swirling to get the aromas going, then out came blackberry, roasted coffee and charcoal. Medium tannins, medium-to-low acid on the palate. The black cherry fruit tastes a bit baked and the roasted coffee and toasted oak overwhelm any nuanced flavors. A bit of pepper carries onto the finish, which is quite short. Overall, a mediocre attempt. I don't understand the Wine Spectator's 90 point score. A blend of 54% shiraz, 19% tempranillo, 17% mourvedre and 10% grenache. (78 points)

2010 Pyren Shiraz Broken Quartz - Australia, Victoria, Pyrenees
SRP: Unknown. Aromatically, this is dark and brooding, with fig, prune juice and boysenberry. Medium tannins, evident alcohol and a whole lot of toast on the palate. There’s a tangy, sour cherry aspect to the darker, more extracted fruit. Despite the alcohol and the toast, the midpalate lacks depth and secondary flavors. Juicy cherries and oak stave flavors linger on the finish. (81 points)

2011 Cline Cellars Cashmere - USA, California
SRP: $17. Very bright and sweet on the nose, dominated by fresh berry fruit, a whole lot of rose petals and a hint of sage. Clearly new world sweet red fruit, but the other aspects make the nose interesting. Palate: really silky tannins, medium acid and the fruit is plush. The mixed berry fruit is really delicious and fresh, and it finishes with a soft note of toasted oak. It seems like more of a drink-me-now wine than the others, a real crowd-pleaser, but a well-made wine. A blend of mourvèdre, grenache and syrah. (86 points)

2010 Hooker Wines Syrah Home Pitch Betsy's Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $24. In addition to sweet raspberry and red plum fruit, this wine shows serious Old World aromas like peppered steak, loam and graphite. Very interesting nose right out of the bottle, but more black olive came out over the course of fifteen minutes or so. Full-bodied with grippy tannins and medium acid. The raspberry and red plum fruit tastes sweet, but not too much because it’s combined with savory mushroom and black olive flavors. Hints of oak shine through but in a restrained fashion. Long and plush on the finish. Everything’s in the right place with this wine. I’d like to see how this syrah shows three years from now. (90 points)

Saxon Brown's syrahs show rich California fruit
backed up by firm tannins and lots of earthy flavors.
2007 Saxon-Brown Syrah Camp Block Parmelee-Hill - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $34. Tight aromas, but with time more and more brown sugar came out, also some brandied plums, chocolate, toast, hints of grilled meat. On the palate: fine-grained tannins and dense fruit come together in this inky wine, luckily there’s enough acid to keep it fresh. The cool blueberry and raspberry fruit combine with a hint of pepper, notes of toast and dark chocolate and charcoal. The finish is long and crisp, and I even get a hint of mineral, almost a limestone flavor. This is a really focused wine that seems like it would benefit from a few years in the cellar, but it’s putting on one hell of a fight tonight. (91 points)

2007 Saxon-Brown Syrah Flora Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $34. Aromas of roasted coffee, blackberry jam, loam and tilled soil. This wine really coats the palate with dry tannins and dense, almost glycerin-like blackberry fruit. A little low on the acid perhaps. Dark chocolate, sweet barbeque sauce and chocolate last long on the finish. This is a really dark syrah and it could probably use a long decant (both for aeration and because this bottle threw some significant sediment). Another year or two in the cellar will likely do a lot for this budding syrah. (90 points)

2009 Curtis Syrah Crossroads Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $32. Aromas of plum, cocoa, blackberries, a hint of green olive. Dusty tannins and a nice dose of acid on the palate, with sour cherry, red plums, chocolate and nuanced oak. Rich, but not jammy, with a nice kick of pepper and a meat on the finish. (87 points)

2009 Curtis Syrah - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25. Complex, fruit-forward aromas of figs, raspberries and even a hint of passion fruit. Full and grippy on the palate with refreshing acid and gritty, young tannins. The wild raspberry and fig paste flavors mix well with the earth and cedar notes. This seems quite solid, well-structured and deserving of some time to evolve. (88 points)
This red blend from Curtis drinks
incredibly well for its $14 price tag.
2009 Curtis Heritage Cuvée - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $14. Bright raspberry and plums on the nose, and the lavender and incense notes make this a joy to sniff. A burst of crushed raspberry and red cherry fruit kicks off the palate, followed up with fine tannins and noticeable acid. Solid depth and intensity of flavors. Notes of coffee and loam are accented by a touch of creamy oak. A flavor that reminds me of an herb-crusted steak carries the finish, and it’s just lovely. Very juicy, yet well-structured. A blend of 39% grenache, 26% mourvedre, 19% cinsault and 16% syrah. (88 points)

2010 JL Giguiere Matchbook Dunnigan Hills - USA, California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $16. Very bright on the nose, with maraschino cherries, candied plums and sweet red flowers. Jammy and spicy on the palate, with a good amount of acid. Flavors of sour cherry, cola and peppery spice dominate. I like the crisp, oak-minimal approach to this wine. A blend of 90% syrah and 10% cabernet sauvignon. (87 points)

2009 Long Shadows Wineries Syrah Sequel - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $46. This syrah smells like the freshest red plums, but there’s also this nice blackberry and coffee and a bit of roasted meat. On the palate, these tannins don’t mess around. But the balance between tannins and acid is so spot on that it’s altogether accessible, even fresh. Juicy red and blue fruits, with hints of baker’s chocolate and violets, there’s also a nice herbal kick and some smoke flavor. Roasted and earthy on the finish, which lingers for a very long time. Yes, this is delicious, and I bet it will be even better in two years. (91 points)