Thursday, February 27, 2014

Broken Bones, a Novel, Now Available as E-Book

My first novel, Broken Bones, is now available in e-book for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. In the coming days it will be available for iPads and in paperback.

The road to this point has been long and filled with pitfalls. This novel was slated for publication in 2011, but the contracted publisher kept pushing back the launch date. After so many delays, I discovered that my agent had been convicted of fraud and various financial shenanigans and sentenced to jail. The publisher went bankrupt. My novel was dead.

Here I am now, in 2014, trying to ressurect it.

Broken Bones is an important accomplishment for me. It’s the product of an extreme set of circumstances, a perfect storm of pain that brought me to the edge of death. I mean it when I say: writing this novel kept me alive. I’m 5’10 and weigh about 170 pounds. But in November of 2008, when I woke up in an emergency room, I tipped the scales at 98 pounds. My organs were failing, I couldn’t move much at all and my mind was shot. I was in such bad shape that the E.R. doctors said they couldn’t care for me. I had to be committed to a psychiatric ward for people with eating disorders, where I was stuck for a month.

How did I end up in such a pathetic state? As my first marriage broke apart, untreated depression and anxiety spilled over into weeks of anorexic insomnia. I ate only when my subconscious compelled me to and slept only when I collapsed from exhaustion. As I wandered into starvation, I lost all control of my body and mind. Extensive rehabilitation was my only shot at survival.

I’ve always been a writer, so writing about my experience in the hospital was inevitable. What started out as journal entries from the psychiatric ward has culminated into my first novel. It’s a story of body, mind, self-destruction, medication, renewal, food — all that good stuff.

That was almost six years ago, and I finally get to share the book with all of you. It’s an honor have you as readers, and I welcome you to share their thoughts. A review on
Amazon or Nook, a shout-out on Twitter or Facebook, I’d be grateful for anything you do to help spread the word.

I’ll have more information in the coming days and weeks about print copies of the book and reading events. I’ll post more information here, on
my website, and Twitter and Facebook. I apologize now for the social media blitz, but I’ve been waiting years for this moment and I’m pretty damn excited. If you’re interested, an awesome writer and friend of mine, Shelby Settles Harper, just posted this interview, in which we discuss Broken Bones.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spicy, Graciano-Fueled Rioja from David Sampedro Gil

Rioja is synonomous with Tempranillo and American oak. But David Sampedro Gil, who makes wines from the subregion of Rioja Alavesa, takes a slightly different approach. He uses large French oak barrels, although not all new, giving the wine smooth structure without the stronger coconut-vanilla notes frequently associated with American oak barrels. A fifth-generation Rioja winemaker, David has a deep respect for tradition and terroir, and it’s evident in his wines. DSG, as David’s project is known, uses biodynamic farming and the traditional foot-stomping method to crush the grapes.

He co-ferments some white Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo) with some of his red wines to give them added freshness. And he has a passion for the lesser-known
Graciano grape, which is usally blended in small amounts to add spice to the Tempranillo. His Rioja Phinca Abereja is something of a Rioja anomaly, as it contains 40% Graciano. It’s a delicious and exciting wine, and I think I may be catching on to David’s love for this oft-forgotten grape variety.
I recently met up with David at Domaine Wine Storage in Washington, D.C., to taste through a few of his wines. My notes follow…
Flowers and bright berries on the nose. Great structure on the palate, with solid grip and fresh acid. The strawberry and cherry fruit is generous, but it’s also crisp and cool. Notes of tobacco and earth add complexity. A fruit-forward, but restrained wine aged two years in old barrels and three years in bottle. Glad to have tasted this after some age, because it’s really elegant and refined. 100% Garnacha from the nearby Navarra region. (88 points)

Aromas of spice, cedar and graphite on top of red currants and raspberries. Firm and grippy on the palate with refreshing acid. I love the plum skin and tart berries, mixed with notes of earth, pepper and charcoal. David told me he co-ferments all the varieties (Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and Viura). Solid stuff that should age nicely over the next four to five years. (90 points)
A beautiful young Rioja, capable of long aging in the cellar, but I’m equally impressed by how well it holds itself at this young age. Complex aromas of raspberries and black cherries, cedar, cola, incense and red pepper spice rub. With time, I start getting more balsamic and sweet lavender aromas. Fine-firm tannins, fresh acid. Plummy, with red currant and strawberry fruit, mixed in with anise, cedar, clove and sweet balsamic reduction. Pure, elegant with an incredibly long finish. Tempranillo and Graciano (40% in this blend), which adds all sorts of different characteristics that you don’t see in many Riojas. Also, this is aged in older French oak, so the heavy toast and vanilla are absent, allowing the complexity to shine through. Gorgeous stuff! (92 points)

Monday, February 24, 2014

1998 Roederer Estate "L'Ermitage" - Delicious Aged Cali Bubbles

Two years ago, I wrote that Roederer Estate’s Anderson Valley Brut is the single best bottle of bubbles you can buy for $20. Since then, I’ve been looking high and low, trying to prove myself wrong. I haven’t yet found a suitable challenger for this title.

And while this entry-level sparkler is delicious, their high-end bottling, L’Ermitage Brut, can be amazing. This “Tête de Cuvée” shows depth, intensity and purity that rivals some Grand Cru Champagnes. The wine is roughly half Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from estate vineyards, which is blended with a small portion (about 5%) of oak-aged reserve wine. The L’Ermitage made its debut in the 1989 vintage, and Roederer has produced the wine almost every vintage since, spare a few in which the fruit didn’t reach Roederer’s quality standards.

Many Champagne houses have kicked off sparkling wine projects in the New World, but for my palate, few can compete with Roederer Estate. This is the result of a combination of the estate’s high standards and winemaking practices and the wonderful terroir of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, which produces some of my favorite Pinots and Chardonnays in California.

I’ve been holding onto a bottle of 1998 L’Ermitage for a while now, hoping it would prove to be a worthwhile endeavor, that time would coax something awesome from the wine. I popped my sole bottle with a Champagne-loving friend earlier this month, and we were both very impressed. The wine has aged beautifully and has room for even more evolution over the next three to five years. My notes…

1998 Roederer Estate L'Ermitage Brut - California, Mendocino, Anderson Valley
Wow, I was expecting to like this, but it delivered and then some. Picked up a while ago for $30, such a steal. Lemon curd, tons of limestone and biscuits on the nose. Complex aromas, opening up to show orange blossom and apricot. Such great acid on the palate, and a never-ending stream of minerals. Flavors of yellow apple, green apple peel, cinnamon-spice, and biscuits with honey and butter. Tart finish with limestone. A very impressive bottle. If I had another, I’d cellar it for five more years. If in good condition, this is far from finished. (91 points)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Red Car Winery: Exciting Wines from the Sonoma Coast

Across the board, Sonoma County’s Red Car winery makes damn good stuff. Their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are fresh, tangy and nuanced. Their aesthetic is defined by cooler climate vineyards, earlier harvesting and minimalist winemaking.

The Red Car winery is located on Graton Road in Sebastapol, right next to Dutton-Goldfield. Even though I’ve surfed all over the Sonoma Coast, and passed right by the winery several times, I’m sad to say I’ve never stopped into the tasting room. But earlier this month I had a chance to sit down here in D.C. with Jenny Harrow, Red Car’s director of hospitality, and taste through a bunch of their wines. I was impressed, and a visit to their tasting room is now on my must-do list for my next Sonoma trip.

Red Car kicked off in 2000; at the time they focused largely on purchased fruit from the Central Coast. Their estate vineyard, located in Fort Ross-Seaview, yielded its first bottled juice in 2009. These estate wines, the product of Sonoma sun and cool coastal winds, offer a lot of elegance, complexity and interesting pieces to ponder. Red Car is part of In Pursuit of Balance, a California coalition of producers that “share a commitment to seeking balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay.” So, you’ve got an idea of what Red Car is going for. I think balance is a great way to describe their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, as they offer crisp acid, fresh fruit and beg for food. The Red Car style has changed over the years, though, as evidenced in the older “Fight” Syrahs I tasted, which pack punch just like their boxing-themed labels.

I tasted the wines with dinner at Ripple in Cleveland Park, one of DC’s most wine-friendly eateries. The food and service at Ripple was, as always, top-notch. And I had a great time picking Jenny Harrow’s brain about Sonoma Coast vineyards, vintages and the current drought problems.

Here are some notes on the wines I tasted…

2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rosé Bybee Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($25)
Very pale in color. Aromas of wild strawberry, watermelon, nettle and white flowers. Crisp but plump on the palate with strawberries and melon, mixed with sea salt, white flowers and minerals. Complex, pure, tangy and fresh. A very impressive vin gris. (89 points)

2012 Red Car Chardonnay Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($35)
Aromas of lime, apricot, white flowers and crushed seashells. Tart, but also rich at the same time. Apricot and lime mix with honey, subtle mixed nuts. Mineral-laden, but lots of lemon curd and honeycomb. With nuanced 10% new oak, 100% maloactic fermentation and live-wire acid, this has a lot of personality. (90 points)

2012 Red Car Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($40)
Ripe cherries, plums, red currants, mixes with red roses and clove on the nose. The palate is juicy, tangy, with flavors of cranberry sauce and red currants. Also some spice, tobacco, minerals. Rich, but so balanced and elegant. (89 points)

2012 Red Car Pinot Noir Heaven & Earth Bohemian Station - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($68)
Plummy, cola, sweet roses on the nose, very complex and deep. Tangy acid, fine tannins, with red currant and cranberry fruit, some cola and rhubarb. Tart, herbal, tangy, ripe, with lots of floral and earthy elements. Burgundy meets Sonoma Coast. (91 points)

2010 Red Car Syrah Estate - California, Sonoma County, Fort Ross-Seaview ($50)
Aromas of plum, smoke, bright flowers, cherry blossoms. Fresh and juicy but also firm and structured. Currant and blackberry mixes with soil, chestnut, green olive. So long and pure, the 13.3% alcohol and fresh acid provide a sleek mouthfeel and an elegant approach. Love the earth and green olive notes. A beauty of a Sonoma Syrah with lots of complexity and nuance, deserves some time in the cellar. (91 points)

2010 Red Car Syrah Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($40)
Aromas of currant, violets, plums and smoke. Fleshy on the palate, rich, pure, silky. Dense with grippy tannins but also fresh and open with plum, black olive, earth and flowers. Delicious, but restrained. (90 points)

2008 Red Car Syrah The Fight - California, Napa Valley ($50)
Nose shows blueberries, plum sauce, violets and milk chocolate. Richer than all the other wines, with blueberry, bold coffee, vanilla and black pepper-soy sauce. Full, bold, but clearly well-made with a lot of concentration. Time ahead. As a boxing fan, I gotta love the label. (88 points)

2007 Red Car Syrah The Fight - California, Napa Valley ($50)
Aromas of blackberries, blueberries, charcoal, olive and BBQ sauce. Jammy on the palate, with pure blueberry pie and sweet BBQ sauce. Rich, a bit roasted, with fig paste and plum sauce, pepper marinade. Well-made, more bombastic than their more recent vintages. (87 points)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Three 2010 Reds from Wine Chateau

I just finished tasting through three awesome reds from Wine Chateau, a New Jersey-based wine seller. If three’s a crowd, I’m happy to hang with these three anytime. The wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. They're all from 2010 and would pair well with a cold February evening. And they could all improve from a few years sideways.

2010 Domaine de Beaurenard (Paul Coulon et Fils) Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($32)
Bright and rich purple in color. Aromas of sweet black cherries, violets, lavender, some tree bark and black olive. Complex aromatically but it clearly needs time to develop. Firm, grippy tannins are met with tangy acid in this full-bodied wine. Rich but also balanced. Love the dusty black cherry and currant fruit, laced with pepper, clove and olive tapenade flavors. Bold and age-worthy, but showing a lot of personality right out of the bottle. Worth every penny of its $32 price tag. (90 points)

2010 Tenuta Sette Ponti Poggio Al Lupo Maremma - Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Maremma Toscana IGT ($45)
Dark ruby color. Rich aromas of berry compote (raspberries and blackberries), floral and musky incense, sweet roses, cedar and pipe tobacco. Wow, what a nose. Firm tannins, juicy acid, rich texture. Lovely currant, blackberry and strawberry fruit, equally matched by a combination of olive, honey-glazed meat, barbecue sauce and chestnut. Notes of cedar, oregano and tobacco on the finish. Beautiful stuff, elegant but full, with great purity. I wouldn’t think twice of laying this down for 5-8 years. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Petite Verdot and Alicante, aged 18 months in 100% new French oak. (92 points)

2010 Guarachi Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley ($60)
Bold magenta-purple color in the glass. Explosive aromatics of black cherries and black currants, laced with sweet red flowers, cedar, mocha and a note of eucalyptus. Solid tannic grip with a rich and dense mouthfeel, balanced a bit by moderate acid. Tons of juicy fruit: blackberries and currant fruit, a hint of blueberry. Rich cedar and cigar box elements, along with tobacco leaf and clay soil. Bold, bombastic but very pretty and well-made. Silky finish with notes of cola and mocha. Could do well with a few years in the cellar. (91 points)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wine Reviews: California Whites - Anything But Chardonnay

I review a lot of California Chardonnays for the daily wine blog Terroirist. But this week I’m focusing on a grab bag of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) whites. If (for some crazy reason) you eschew Chardonnay, California has so many interesting white wines to offer. These wines are made from all sorts of grapes and in every conceivable style. 

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Conundrum Wines White Table Wine - California
SRP: $20
I recently walked through a flower warehouse, and this wine smells like everything in there. Some of these intense floral notes are a bit pungent, and there’s this lychee and white peach stuff as well. On the palate, this is rich and ripe, all sorts of melon, grapefruit, yellow apple. I get this other honey, orange marmalade, lychee nut and lavender stuff going on. The acid is a bit low for my tastes, and there’s sweetness to the perfume. I’ve liked and disliked previous vintages of this wine, but the 2012 seems to show some balance. What grapes are in here? I don’t know. That’s their whole shtick. Sure tastes like Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Riesling and possibly Gewurz. (87 points)

2012 Smith Madrone Riesling - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District

SRP: $27
A very light yellow color. Aromas of grapefruit, white flowers, some apricot and a distinct crushed limestone note. The acid tingles the palate as the apricot, creamy peach and green melon roll in. There’s an awesome lime juice and rock quarry aspect that reminds me of the Mosel, which I’m not sure I’ve ever said about a Napa Riesling. Very crisp and lively, this likely has some fun evolution ahead of it. (90 points)

2012 Fess Parker Riesling Santa Barbara County - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Smells rich, like orange marmalade, white peach and some of those circus peanut candies. Creamy texture, a bit low on the acid for my Riesling tastes. Lots of lychee, also some honey, perfume and a pungent wildflower note. A bit simple, lacking precision, but tasty. (85 points)

2012 Magnolia Court Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Coast

SRP: $15
A green-tinged yellow color. Bright nose of lemon-lime, some grapefruit, mango, sea salt. Medium+ bodied, richly-textured with green and yellow apple fruit, nutty, but a sense of vibrancy from the acid. I get a salted nut and apricot note, some honey. Impressive for the price. Includes 19% Chenin Blanc. (88 points)

2012 Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Estate Grown - California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $22
Medium straw-yellow color. A burst of grapefruit and white peach on the nose, underlined by some sage and green onion. Crisp acid but a lot of creaminess to the mouthfeel. Richly textured, with honey and almond notes accenting the yellow apple, pineapple and pear fruit. A slight herbal tone, but it takes a back seat to the creamy, honeyed fruit. Some tart green apple peel and mineral components on the finish. Creamier, less green in style, I’m digging this Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged in 90% stainless steel and 10% French oak. (88 points)

2011 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Aromas of honeysuckle, lemon-lime, a hint of green herbs and white pepper. Medium-bodied, lots of acid keeps this thing tart and lively. Grapefruit, lots of tangerine, the fruit is backed up by notes of sea salt and fresh green herbs and peppers. Tangy, focused, with some significant complexity. I’m impressed, especially considering the price. 100% stainless steel, no maloactic fermentation. (90 points)

2012 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc Dry Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
On the nose: classic Sauvignon aromas of green grass, snap peas, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple. Medium-bodied, medium+ acid provides some tang. Green apple, grapefruit, orange pith, backed up by green pea and herbs, slightly less intense than I was assuming from the nose. Some wildflower, nutty and almond notes on the finish. Tasty stuff, but quite intense and herbal. (88 points)

2012 Kelly Fleming Wines Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $36
Clear, light yellow color. Aromas of orange blossom, white peach, honeysuckle, some pineapple. Medium+ body, medium acid, there’s a waxy-creamy aura to this wine. A lot of nice peach and pear fruit, glazed with a mix of honey and almond. Rich and forward, but I like the tang and the floral, herbal and mineral notes on the finish. Impressive depth. Made from primarily the Musque clone, this wine sees a combination of French oak and stainless steel. (90 points)

2012 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $16
Clear straw color. So much guava on the nose, it just bursts from the glass, and there’s also some hay and grass. On the palate, tangy acid on a medium-bodied frame. Grapefruit flavors dominate, but there’s still that guava nectar and a slight green pepper note. Really tasty stuff that would please many a palate. (87 points)

This post first appeared on the award-winning daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Structured Red Burgundies from Domaine Henri Richard

In January, I spent two days tasting through organic wines at Millésime Bio, a trade show held in Montpellier, France. SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, who sponsored the fair and my trip, gathered some 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries for this event. I mingled through the booths, stopping to taste and talk with winemakers. I spent most of my time focused on Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Southern Rhone winemakers, and I found more than a few new (to me) producers to get excited about.

One such producer is Domaine Henri Richard. This biodynamic producer is located in Gevrey-Chambertin and makes a variety of elegant and structured red Burgundies. Big shock: the Grand Crus were the best, but the Gevrey-Chambertins are something to behold as well. My notes on the wines I tasted…

2011 Domaine Henri Richard Coteaux Bourguignons Corvée de L'Église - Burgundy, Coteaux Bourguignons
Aromas of sour cherries, white pepper and pickles. Tart, tangy and fresh, with currant and beef broth aspects. Fun, uncomplicated stuff. (85 points)

2011 Domaine Henri Richard Marsannay En Larrey - Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
Aromas of roses, perfume and cherry blossom. Solid grip on the palate with tangy acid. Fresh currants play with flowers and pickling spice. Elegant. (87 points)

2010 Domaine Henri Richard Gevrey-Chambertin Les Corvées - Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin
Aromas of sour cherries, dried herbs, white pepper. Serious grip on the palate, so much tang from the acid. Black cherries and red currants mix with a ton of flowers, some herbs and savory spices. Young, beautiful, much to unpack in the cellar. (90 points)

2011 Domaine Henri Richard Gevrey-Chambertin Les Corvées - Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin
Currants, herbs and roses on the nose. Rich and open, much more accessible than the 2010. Red plums, pickling spices, subtle earth and herbal undertones. Very pretty and elegant, seems ready for business but has some structure for aging. Long finish. (89 points)

2010 Domaine Henri Richard Mazoyères-Chambertin - Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru
Complex aromas of rhubarb, strawberries, dried flowers. Elegant texture with fine tannins and tart acid. Flavors of red currant, earth, flowers, smashed bricks. So long, refreshing and elegant. Beautiful stuff that will age well, but showing some finesse for its young age. (91 points)

2012 Domaine Henri Richard Charmes-Chambertin - Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
Deep and complex aromas: raspberries, red apple peel, spice, pepper, potpourri and smashed rocks. Grippy as hell on the palate, but fresh acid tries to keep it in check. The strawberry and currant fruit is tart but rich at the same time. Love the violets, loam and charcoal flavors. Great mineral streak throughout. Excellent length with notes of sage on the finish. A beauty, one for the ages. (92 points)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Grab Bag from Argentina and Chile

This week I’m taking a break from a run of California reviews and focusing on South America’s top two: Argentina and Chile. These crisp Sauvignon Blancs and rich reds were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Chile is home to a long strip of diverse wine regions.
2012 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Sauvignon Blanc Los Vascos - Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $10
Aromas of grapefruit, some green melon and a bit of grassy-herbal notes. Tangy acid on the palate, with grapefruit, orange peel, accented by notes of cilantro and mint. A bit simple, but a tasty, crowd-pleasing wine. (85 points)

2012 Viña Peñalolén Sauvignon Blanc - Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $13
A light lemon peel color. Lots of grapefruit and lemon on the nose, along with a strong kick of bell pepper and jalapeno. Medium-bodied with some nice creaminess and medium+ acid. Grapefruit, white peach and lime fruit blends together with white pepper and jalapeno. A bit lacking in depth and length, but clearly a nice wine that would work great with salads. (85 points)

2012 Hacienda Araucano (Lurton) Sauvignon Blanc Reserva - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley, Lolol
SRP: $11
Some cantaloupe and grapefruit and a green grass note. Crisp and tangy on the palate, with green melon and grapefruit, along with a good amount of minerals, a nice but of sage and rosemary note. A hint of grass, but not too much. Crowd-pleasing stuff. (86 points)

2012 Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Classic - Chile, San Antonio Valley, Leyda Valley
SRP: $13
Very pale straw color. Nose of grapefruit, white flowers, green onion, sea shells. Clean and crisp on the palate, with lively acid, some apricot and white peach. Quite intensely herbal, even for my palate, with flavors that remind me of tomatillos and green chili peppers. But there’s enough freshness and juicy fruit that I still think it works out. (85 points)

2008 Cousiño-Macul “Lota” - Chile, Maipo Valley
SRP: $70
On the nose, charcoal, iron and bell pepper flavors dust the blueberry and plum fruit. Dense on the palate, but very tangy, with firm tannins. Blackberry and plum fruit abounds, backed up by notes of mocha, sweet oak, black pepper, anise and tobacco. Big, but also pure and vibrant with a long life ahead of it. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. (90 points)

SRP: $45
A wonderfully complex nose of plums, black cherries, violets, lots of earth, mineral and mocha. Solid tannic structure but there’s plenty of acid. Juicy black cherries and plums abound, tasting jammy but fresh at the same time. Pepper, charcoal, vanilla, clove and lingering iron and graphite all add complexity. Made from vines grown upwards of 3,000 feet, I’d love to taste this again in three or four years. (91 points)
SRP: $15
Smells savory and sweet, with charcoal and roasted plums. Tart on the palate, with easy-sipping tannins. The blue and black fruits are tart but sweet at the same time. Some mocha and basic spice accents the finish. A good party wine, but not the most complex Malbec. (84 points)

2011 Graffigna Malbec Reserve - Argentina, San Juan
SRP: $11
A nose of spicy cherries, cola and toast. The palate shows juicy tannins and smooth acid. Dark plum and blackberry fruit, coated with mocha, toast and charcoal. A bit too toasty and smoky perhaps, but still a fun wine. (85 points)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Crisp, Delightful Sancerres from Domaine Vacheron

Last week, I spent two days tasting through organic wines at Millésime Bio, a trade show held in Montpellier, France. SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, who sponsored the fair and my trip, gathered some 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries for this event. I mingled through the booths, stopping to taste and talk with winemakers. I spent most of my time focused on Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Southern Rhone winemakers, and I found more than a few new (to me) producers to get excited about.

Jean-Louis Vacheron is passionate about Sancerre, and his wines show it.
One such producer was Domaine Vacheron of Sancerre. I had a blast tasting through their single-vineyard Sancerres and talking to winemaker, Jean-Louis Vacheron. Talk about terroir-driven wines, Domaine Vacheron wines are dripping with a sense of place. Their regional blend is awesome, but the single-vineyards, based in different soils, represent everything I love about Sancerre. This was the first producer I visited during the fair, and honestly, one of my favorites of the fair.

Clean and fresh on the nose, with lemons, oyster shells and limestone. Crisp, nervy on the palate with tons of minerals and electric acid. Good length and depth. Yet there’s some roundness from the grapefruit and lemon fruit. For a “basic” wine, very impressive. (89 points)

2011 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre “Les Romains”
Lime, oyster shells, a slight herbal note on the nose. Rich texture but zesty acid. Key lime, green melon, tons of slate and mountain stream and mineral notes. Brisk, but also some creamy aspects. A beautiful young Sancerre. (91 points)

2011 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre “Guigne-Chèvres”
Floral, melon, lemon and smashed brick on the nose. Nervy acid, bright gooseberry and melon rind flavors. Intense minerality here, and I love it, yet it has a lot of depth and some weight on the mouthfeel. Another impressive wine from Vacheron. (90 points)

Smells of melon, lemon-lime, crushed shells and rocks. Creamy melon and lime fruit on the palate, crisp and mineral-driven. (89 points)

2011 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre “Le Paradis”  
Gooseberries, mineral and a slight sage element on the nose. Limestone-driven, crisp acid and a creamy mouthfeel. Green apple peel and lime flavors, so pure and lovely with a long finish. (89 points)

2013 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre
Some apricot and honey on the nose, yellow flowers. More green than the other wines, with peach and melon fruit. Great acid and length though, complex minerality. (88 points)

2013 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rosé
Roses and McIntosh apple on the nose. Crisp, clean, mineral city on the palate. Red apple peel, strawberry and wildflowers, limestone on the finish. Not as much depth as some of the other wines, but well-made. Tasted from a tank sample, but I'd love to taste this again in six to nine months to see how it comes together once bottled. (87 points)

2009 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge
Soft cherries, slight smoke and roses on the nose. Smooth palate with tart strawberries and red currants. Nice concentration and acid, pure and attractive with notes of berry compote, earth and white pepper. Sexy stuff. (90 points)

Darker berries on the nose, more roses and violets than the basic Sancerre Rouge. Great concentration, but fresh and balanced. Berry compote, earth, white pepper, loam, it's all seamlessly tied together. Long finish with notes of rocks and roses. Delicious stuff, I'd love to taste it again with a few more years on it. (91 points)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tasty 2012 Burgundies from Domaine Michel Magnien

Me, left, and Frederic Magnien at the 2014 Millesime Bio Fair.
Last week, I spent two days tasting through organic wines at Millésime Bio, a trade show held in Montpellier, France. SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, who sponsored the fair and my trip, gathered more than 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries for this event. I mingled through the booths, stopping to taste and talk with winemakers. I spent most of my time focused on Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Southern Rhone winemakers, and I found more than a few new (to me) producers that I enjoyed. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll have a series of posts about some of these winemakers.

During the fair, I spent some time talking with winemaker Frédéric Magnien, who makes wine under his father’s label Domaine Michel Magnien. Michel owns 19 hectares of vineyards, including parts of the Grand Crus Clos de la Roche and Clos St. Denis, and vineyards in the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St.-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny. Michel used to sell off his entire crop to the Morey-St.-Denis cooperative, but his son convinced him to start the domaine and bottle the wine themselves. A wise choice, indeed.

Like most Burgundian winemakers, Frédéric’s a genuine guy who loves what he does. He was pouring some barrel samples of his 2012s, a vintage he’s excited about. He said he plans to rack and bottle the wines in the coming months but, being a biodynamic producer, he works with the cycles of the moon. Frédéric uses about 15% whole cluster fermentation in his wines and about 10% new oak. I found the wines to be rich and plush, packed with berry and earth flavors. The acid in the 2012s is consistently refreshing, providing a lip-smacking quality to the wines, even in the face of some solid tannins. Open and forward, with rich red fruit and cola, but the oak is subtle and never overpowers the purity of the fruit flavors.

My notes on Frédéric’s wines…

2012 Michel Magnien Marsannay Blanc
Very floral on the nose, almost pungent, white flowers and honeysuckle and grapefruit. Crisp on the palate with some nice creaminess. Green apple, white flowers and a sage note. Interesting stuff. (87 points)

2012 Michel Magnien Bourgogne

Sweet cherries and spice on the nose, very open and fresh. Juicy red fruit on the palate, with fine tannins and medium+ acid. Fleshy, pure, easy-drinking and fun. (86 points)

2012 Michel Magnien Morey St. Denis
On the nose: berries, spice, flowers. So juicy on the palate, with ripe tannins and crisp acid. Flavors of berry puree, lavender and baking spices. Long, ripe finish. A pure and slightly flamboyant wine, but so well made. (88 points)

2012 Michel Magnien Gevrey-Chambertin Les Seuvrées Vieilles Vignes
Aromas of sweet cherries, baking spices, red flowers and earth. Rich and bold on the palate, but great grip. Sweet berries mix with cola, earth and a spiced root beer note. Earthy and herbal on the finish. Very pretty stuff. I’d like to try it again after it’s been bottled and had a year to relax. (89 points)

2012 Michel Magnien Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers
Aromas of sweet cherry and raspberry, along with roses, cola and pepper. Rich on the palate, with pure berries, earth, cola and baking spices. A bit “new world” perhaps? But tangy as well and full of life. (89 points)

2012 Michel Magnien Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Les Chaffots  
More spice on the nose, with earth, roses and berries. Crisp, clean and fresh. But grippy too, with iron and plum skin and roses. A delicious and lively wine that I’d love to try once it’s been properly bottled. (90 points)

2012 Michel Magnien Clos de la Roche
Sexy and pure on the nose, with berries, violets, deep earth and lavender. Open and inviting on the palate, although the structure is serious. Deep red fruit, earth, intriguing pepper and spice. Silky, great acid. A beauty of a wine that I’d love to revisit once it's finally bottled and has had a year or so to come together. (92 points)

2009 Michel Magnien Nuits St. Georges Petite Charmotte
Raspberries, cola, sweet flowers on the nose. Fresh and driven by sweet cherries, cola, plums and pepper. Rich but fresh with a long finish. Bigger than the 2012s, but still very nice. (88 points)

Some Pictures from the Languedoc-Roussillon

I just returned from five days of wine tasting my way through the Languedoc-Roussillon. I’m happy and exhausted. The trip was organized and sponsored by SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, and centered around the Millésime Bio Fair in Montpellier.

I was joined by a group of wine writers (including
Alder Yarrow and W. Blake Gray) and sommeliers from the United States and Canada. We kicked off the trip with two days of vineyard tours in the Roussillon, where I experienced more than my share of the intense and persistent Tramontane winds. After the vineyard tours, we spent a few days at the Bio Fair in Montpellier, a trade show with more 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll have more posts about the region’s wines and the people who make them. In the meantime, check out the daily wine blog Terroirist on
Facebook for more photos and updates.

Cazes - vineyard with clouds

Cazes - Emmanuel in the wind

Pithon - 100 year old vines

Gardies - vineyard shot (2)

Cazes wine in window