Thursday, October 30, 2014

South American Wines Deliver Awesome Value

South America has been a haven for value-driven wines for years. When I was first getting into wine, I spent lots of time navigating Argentina and Chile for tasty and inexpensive bottles, especially Malbecs from Mendoza. Years later, producers from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are consistently putting out inexpensive wines that appeal to a broad array of palates.

There were no epiphanies in this crew, but a whole bunch of reliable wines and smart buys. The wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind for a report on the daily wine blog Terroirist, where this post first appeared.

2012 Trapiche Malbec Oak Cask- Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $10
Bright purple colored. On the nose: smoke, mocha, dark and rich, like plum cake and blackberry cobbler. On the palate, this wine is medium-bodied with very fine and smoothed out tannins, some moderate acid for balance. I like the black olive and cherry cola accents. Fresh and juicy but not simple, and all the elements line up really well. Some mossy rock and coffee notes on the finish. Good stuff for the price. (87 points)

2011 Trapiche Malbec Broquel - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $15
Smoky on the nose, spice and chestnut on top of gushing plums. Fresh acid and firm tannic structure provides backbone, but the mouthfeel is pure velvet. Plummy, dark berry-driven with loads of smoke, earth, cola, cedar and spices. Aged 15 months in 100% new French and American oak. For $15, this is a reliably awesome wine. (88 points)

2012 Bodegas Caro Malbec Aruma- Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $16
Plummy purple color. An aromatic burst of dark plums, boysenberry and black cherries, some loam and cocoa powder notes. Tart, fresh and juicy on the palate with soft tannins and an easy-drinking personality. Black cherries and blackberries, dusted with some pepper and sweet clove. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff. (86 points)

2012 Viña Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc Medalla Real Gran Reserva- Chile, San Antonio Valley, Leyda Valley
SRP: $16
A clear straw color. Very fresh and floral on the nose, with honeysuckle and orange blossom on top of green apple and apricot, hint of crushed rocks, actually quite deep and aromatically intriguing. Bright acid, light and crisp on the palate, with green apple peel, kiwi and green melon flavors. Very pretty, with floral perfume undertones and some cucumber water and mineral notes on the finish. Impressed, and craving seafood. (89 points)

2012 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Cabernet Sauvignon Los Vascos- Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
SRP: $12
Nose of black and red plums, earth, cinnamon and espresso. Tart on the palate with fine tannins. Plums and black cherry fruit with rhubarb and sweet coffee, some underlying earthy tones Enjoyable and good for the price. (85 points)

2013 Concha y Toro Pedro Jimenez Specialties by Frontera- Chile
SRP: $8
Light yellow color. Smells of white flowers, grapefruit pulp, margarita with lime, a hint of mint. Light and fresh on the palate with tangy lemon and grapefruit, kiwi, some sea salt notes and a hint of lavender perfume. Crisp, fun, fruity, an attractive, especially for summer outdoor summer sipping. 87% Pedro Jimenez, 10% Moscato and 3% Sauvignon Blanc. A rare $8 rec, but I’m into this. (87 points)

2013 Concha y Toro País Specialties by Frontera- Chile
SRP: $8
Bright ruby-cherry color. Smells of sweet cranberry sauce, cherry jam and roses. Juicy and light on the palate with low tannins and medium acid. Plummy, cherry-driven, with notes of sweet roses and pepper. Light, tangy, tasty. (85 points)

2012 Garzón Tannat- Uruguay, Maldonado
SRP: $20
A vibrant magenta color. Nose shows deep blueberry, blackberry and cassis, smoky, charcoal, graphite and pencil lead as well. Juicy, a bit more tart and tangy that structured, the blackberry and cassis fruit tastes tangy and crunchy, with medium+ acid. Full and smoky, with lots of pencil lead and graphite and iron. Some nice smoke and roasted meat undertones. Very impressive for a $20 Uruguayan red. I think it could take a few years to mellow out though. From a vineyard just 11 miles from the Atlantic. (87 points)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dry Rosé: Not Just for Summer

Summer’s been over for a while. Sigh. But rosé season never really ends — at least it shouldn’t. I drink the pink year-round because I love the crispness of dry rosé and the food pairing options. And a lot of rosé wines get discounted after their summer heyday, so bargains abound.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted for a report on the daily wine blog Terroirist, where this piece was first published.

2013 Château les Crostes Côtes de Provence - France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
SRP: $21
On the nose, I get more sweet flowers than the other wines, along with strawberries and crisp watermelon. Tang and spritz on the palate, with nervy acid. Flavors of wild strawberries, watermeln rind, slight herbal element. Deep, concentrated minerality in this wine, which I really like. Complex, lively, memorable, this begs for summer cook-outs. (89 points)

2013 Domaine du Tariquet Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne Rosé de Pressée - France, Southwest France, Gascony, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne
SRP: $10
The nose shows white cherries, strawberries, rhubarb and white pepper. Super tangy on the palate with tangy strawberries, grapefruit and lemon zinger tea. Spicy and crisp. 40% Merlot, 40% Syrah, 20% Tannat. (86 points)

2013 Domaine de Nizas Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc
SRP: $13
Salmon-copper colored. Smells of rose hips, white cherries, wild strawberries and a hint of green grass. Juicy and ripe on the palate with white cherry, strawberry and watermelon flavors. Medium acid provides some freshness while notes of white pepper and green herbs add some complexity. Fun stuff, albeit not the most complex pink. 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre. (85 points)

2011 Las Lilas Vinho Verde - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
SRP: $10
A bright strawberry color with a lot of spritz in the glass. Smells of strawberries, white cherries, sweet roses and sweet candle wax. Crisp and fizzy on the palate, this is a bright watermelon and strawberry-driven wine, light bodied, fun but it’s also pretty, food-friendly and full of life. The boisterous fizz adds to the fun of the wine. I can’t think of a better way to spend $10 on a summer wine. Drink up, though. (86 points)

2013 Isabel Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon “Deep Rose” - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $20
Well, it’s a deep rose color for sure. I get lots of watermelon, strawberries and some spicy elements of pepper and rhubarb. Some good structure for a rose, with light tannins and fresh acid. Juicy white cherries, watermelon and some spice mix with white and black pepper. Tasty, picnic-friendly, crowd-pleasing. (86 points)

2013 Bodegas San Alejandro Calatayud Rosado “Las Rocas” - Spain, Aragón, Calatayud
SRP: $14
Bright watermelon colored. On the nose, I get cranberry juice, strawberries\, some sea salt, green and white pepper, some rose hips. Crisp acid and medium body, the wine shows crunchy white cherries and cranberries. Notes of white pepper and spiced citrus tea add complexity. A lot of fun to sip on its own, but this would be great with a backyard grill spread. 100% Garnacha. (87 points)

N.V. Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $36
A bright strawberry-salmon color. Aromas of grapefruit, lemon tart, roses, some toasted bread. Crisp and nervy on the palate, with live-wire acidity and fine bubbles. Flavors of McIntosh apple, watermelon rind and wild strawberries, all of it clean and crunchy. Not incredibly deep in concentration or aging potential, but it’s showing a ton of precision and punch right now. A blend of 58% Pinot Noir, 42% Chardonnay. (90 points)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chasing Cristobal: A New Jersey Surf Story

Cristobal charges into New Jersey waters on August 29. All photos in this post come from Harold Wintters.
“You can surf in New Jersey?”

“New Jersey has waves?”

I get these questions all the time when people ask about my lifelong passion for Garden State waves. Yes, we get waves. Good waves. But like everything worth chasing, the timing has to be right. 

Everyone seems to have an opinion of the Jersey Shore, even if they’ve never been there. Most of the people who have been to New Jersey probably visited the Shore during summer, when the beaches are packed and the air reeks of Coppertone and body spray. Here, tourists bask in the reaffirmation of their long-held stereotypes. Is the sand cramped with orange-hued sunbathers? Yes. Are there d-bags who shave their stomachs and strut around with chests puffed out? Oh, hell yes. Are there waves? Most of the time, no.

The water is calm and clean and cools the hot skin. On summer mornings, the sea is a green glass sheet. While everyone tans on the beach and wades into the shallows, surfers linger around, waiting for something — anything — to happen. Even though it’s gorgeous and sunny out, surfers struggle through the summer months.

But when a tropical storm charges up the Atlantic, everything changes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Since my last review of California Chardonnay, more goodies have found their way to my glass. This batch includes some impressive value-driven wines and a wide range of stylistic interpretations.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2012 Ripe Life Wines Chardonnay The Clambake” - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $17
Bright on the nose with sea salt, lemon curd, grapefruit and flowers. Creamy on the palate, tangy acid with white peach and green apple fruit. A leaner, crisper style, the seafood themed label fits with this wine’s lean, food-friendly aesthetic. All stainless steel. (87 points)

2013 Tolosa Winery Chardonnay No-Oak - California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
SRP: $21
Very bright on the nose, with green melon, limes, honeysuckle and some waxy notes. Crisp and clean on the palate with refreshing acid. Flavors of key lime, green melon, some pear. Clean, lean, with floral perfume and green apple on the finish. Fresh, fun, begs for mussels or white fish. (86 points)

2011 Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
Pale yellow color. Nose of dried apricot and pineapple, some serious honeyed tea and green herb elements, a kick of minerals, Tangy and lively on the palate, the green and yellow apples taste tart and crunchy. Also some lime and pineapple, a taste of lime peel, saline, white tea, chalk and herbal tea aspects. A much more tart and mineral-driven style, and quite impressive if you’re into this kind of Chardonnay. Aged in old oak with no maloactic fermentation. (88 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
Smells of fresh laundry, some white peach, apricot and bright flowers, a some spicy-herbal notes. Medium body, medium acid, full of pear, green and yellow apples and honeydew melon, some ruby red grapefruit. White tea and a spicy herbal elements linger on the finish. Not as much nerve as the 2011 but very nice for this style. (87 points)

2012 Moniker Chardonnay - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $23
Medium golden color. Nose of whipped honey, yellow pear, nougat, some peanut shell and honeysuckle elements. Rich and creamy on the palate, with medium acid and a medium body but showing some complexity: white tea, honeycomb, sea shells, candied lemon, nougat, peanut skins. Big, bold, but complex and interesting. Includes a bit of barrel-fermented Viognier. (88 points)

2012 Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay Carneros - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $30
Nose of bright white peach, honeysuckle, green pear and sea salt, Tangy and bright with lemon verbena, orange peel, apricots and crunchy white cherries. Lemon tea, margarita salt, whipped honey and graham cracker notes, but it’s still very floral and bright. (88 points)

2012 Piña Cellars Chardonnay Low Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
SRP: $34
Nose of white peach, green apple, orange peel, some honeycomb and white flowers. Creamy and nutty on the palate, with apricot, white peach and glazed pear, but tangy acid cuts through. Some dried honey and white tea, along with complex nutty notes, drizzled with lime. Some minerals, sea salt and stones linger onto the finish. Balancing itself out well. Fermented in 38% new French oak. (90 points)

2012 Amapola Creek Chardonnay Jos. Belli Vineyards - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Light yellow color. Nose of golden apples, pears, some peach nectar and an herb butter element as well. Creamy texture but fresh and elegant as well, with complex interwoven flavors of apricot, golden apple, glazed pears. Notes of cinnamon, hazelnut and caramel corn add complexity but don’t overwhelm. Clean, fresh, notes of crushed chalk and sea shells in here as well. Clean, pure, but quite rich, this Chardonnay ends up pulling it off. I’d love to lay this down for four or five years because it’s got so much complexity to unravel. (91 points)

2012 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $27
Floral aromas, some white peach, baked apple and honey but also some rocks and minerals. Crisp acid and a creamy mouthfeel, this is rich but also nervy and lively. Lots of green apple and apricot, mixing with honey, limestone, slate and minerals. Quite deep and mineral-driven, with saline notes on the finish. Impressive stuff that doesn’t fall into one Chard camp or the other. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pondering Prosecco

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Looking for bubbles on the cheap? Well, there’s always Prosecco, right?



Look, I’m rarely excited by Prosecco. I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle or ordered a glass at a wine bar. But I will admit this: I was surprised and impressed by a few of these Proseccos. Seriously. I especially liked the Mionetto Superiore di Cartizze, which is a complex and elegant wine.

Overall, they were all quite enjoyable. Some of them were yummy, and most of them were very cheap. And I have to remind myself never to underestimate the yummy and the cheap. I’m still not sure what spot high-end Proseccos have in American wine scenes. But the wines are out there, if you’re looking to expand your perception of what Prosecco can be.

These Proseccos were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

N.V. Bolla Prosecco Extra Dry - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene
SRP: $12
Pale straw color. Aromas of white peach, fresh grapefruit and sugar cane. Dry, tingling bubbles, with green apple and some lychee nut flavors. Fun, easy-drinking, but not a ton of cut or complexity. 11% alcohol. (85 points)

N.V. Bolla Sparkling Rosé Extra Dry - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene
SRP: $10
Pale salmon color. Aromas of white cherries, strawberries and lemon peel. Crisp and floral, with watermelon and honeyed notes. Light, creamy and refreshing. 11.5% alcohol. (85 points)

N.V. Cantine Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $12
Smells like sea salt and minerals, over top of sweet white peach and green melon. Tangy and light on the palate, with a fresh spritz. Flavors of green melon, white peach and green apple are accented by slight notes of mineral and lemon peel. Fresh, clean, fun. (85 points)

N.V. Cantine Riondo Prosecco Blu - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $14
Pale lemon color with fine bubbles. Aromas of white peach, apricot bright flower, sweet perfume, chalky. Tangy, crisp but fleshy as well, with canned peaches, sweet pears and apricot, mixed in with honey and flowers. Residual sugar is present but not too strong. More verve and life than a lot of Proseccos at this price point. (87 points)

N.V. Cantine Riondo Prosecco R37 Demi Sec - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $15
Smells of flowers, lychee and candied citrus peel. Sweet and creamy on the palate, lacking in precise acid, with honey, peach and mango nectar, and some sweet flowers. 10% alcohol. (84 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco “Il” - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $12
Peachy-keen on the nose, with white flowers and apple sauce notes. Showing a lot of crispness on the palate, with green apple and nectarine, some slight seashell and minerals on the finish. Interesting mineral notes add some complexity. Bottled under crown cap. (86 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco Brut Gold Label - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $14
Light gold color. Aromas of white peach, nectarine and sugar cane. Juicy white peach and guava nectar on the palate, some honey and waxy elements. Simple, fresh, clean, with sugar cane notes on the finish. (84 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco Treviso Brut - Italy, Veneto, Treviso
SRP: $16
Crisp green apples on the nose, green melon along with white peach and guava. Juicy on the palate, with notes of cotton candy and saline mixing in with the green melon and apple fruit. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff. (86 points)

N.V. Mionetto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore - Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
SRP: $19
Stony on the nose, with white flowers, green melon and some green apple peel. On the palate, the grapefruit, nectarine and peach fruit is laced with nuts, yellow and white flowers, waxy notes, slate, saline and minerals. Tangy, clean and fresh with lasting minerals on the finish. (87 points)

N.V. Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze
SRP: $35
Pale lemon and onion skin color. Deep minerals and sea shells on the nose along with melon and peach. Creamy palate with fine bubbles and flavors of salt and clover to accent the green melon, nectarine and peach fruit. Zesty, quite complex with notes of cheese rind, honey and clover. One of the more complex Proseccos I’ve tasted. From the higher elevation, mineral rich vineyard of Cartizze. (88 points)