Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Tasty Trio of South African Wines

Vintage in, vintage out, this Cabernet pink
from Mulderbosch is a delicious value.
I’m a huge fan of South African wine. I’m a huge fan of South Africa in general, and 2014 saw my first pilgrimage to the wine and surfing Mecca of the Western Cape.

The raw beauty of the Western Cape cannot be grasped, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen. The pristine blue right-hand waves of Llandudno blew me away, despite all the hours of surf videos I’d watched in the preceding months. And sipping some local wines after a long day of surfing and hiking far exceeded any South African wine I’d picked up at some American shop.

But since that trip, I reminisce whenever I can by popping the cork (or, just as often, unscrewing the cap) on a South African wine. We don’t receive nearly enough South African imports here in the States, but there are plenty of good wines out there, most of them available at very reasonable prices. 

I recently tasted through three such wines, a white blend, a rosé and a red blend. Until my next trip back, these will have to do. 


2012 Marvelous Wines Yellow - South Africa, Western Cape
Medium to pale straw color. Nose of sea salt and lemon zest, ruby red grapefruit, sea shells. Bright and crisp on the palate, this makes me miss being on the Cape surfing and eating seafood, it’s just so inviting and clean. Great mix of fruit (lime meets guava meets apricot meets white peach), notes of honey and nougat as well, finishes clean and balanced. It’s a middleweight on the palate but maintains freshness and keeps the mouthwatering. 60% Chenin Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Viognier. (88 points)

2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
A vibrant watermelon color. Aromas of bright white cherries, sea breeze, cracked pepper, some spicy oregano and rose petals. On the palate, this is crisp and fresh with white cherries, red apple peel, wild strawberries and watermelon. Sea breeze, crushed shells, melon rind, notes of spicy green herbs and peppercorns. Tart and brisk but full of fruit and crushed seashell. Zippy and clean, complex, refreshing. (88 points)

2012 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose snows a mix of plums, currants, cola and some earthy-meaty notes tones. Dusty tannic structure, medium acid, lots of black currant and cherry fruit. Very smoky on the palate, with charcoal, fire pit and barbecue sauce elements. I also get some black pepper, soy glaze, and earthy accents that make me craved root vegetables and braised meat. A delicious and complex blend of 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 13% Malbec and 10% Petite Verdot. (89 points)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Most Exciting Wines of 2014

Whoa — 2014 is almost over? 

When I think back on this year’s awesomeness, it’s no wonder it went so damn fast. I kicked off the year with a wine trip to the Languedoc and Roussillon regions of Southern France, and had a blast exploring vineyards and tasting lots of organic and biodynamic wines.

I surfed some powerful swells on the East Coast this year. And I finally made it to my personal Mecca, South Africa, where I
surfed some incredible waves and sipped many a fine wine. While here in DC, I tasted many great wines with friends and for tasting reports for the daily wine blog Terroirist. Oh, and my wife is pregnant with our first  a baby girl due in vintage 2015. So, yes, its been quite a year.

Like I
ve done in 2013 and 2012, I looked back over the year and picked out the wines that excited me most. When scrolling over my tasting notes from a full year, I remember not only the tasting experience but all the great people who shared the experience with me. Friends and family are a crucial ingredient to wine tasting, and I’m lucky to know some solid human beings. And Im lucky they love wine.   

Champagne is well-represented this year. I’ve long been excited by wines from the Jura region of France, and this year I tasted a bunch of really interesting ones. We’ve also got some wines from two of my favorite American wine producers, Cayuse and Cameron. Their wines always stun me, and this year was no exception. And, look at that, a Barossa Valley Shiraz made the list.

I hope your 2014 was amazing and full of good wine and people. Cheers to 2015!

2013 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Bouzy Rouge Clos Colin - France, Champagne, Coteaux Champenois
Cherry juice color. Intoxicating nose of white and red cherries, wild strawberries, dried cranberries, not to mention the fall leaves, violets, nettles and graphite. The palate is incredibly smooth and clean while the acid is electric, well-structured by the dusty tannins. Red cherries and raspberries, so fresh, tangy and pure, backed up by complex notes of loam, truffle, cigar smoke and gravel roads. The minerality in this wine is intense, and the overall package is so complex. More black fruit than the other two wines, this is the most intricate and lasting, at the same time it’s so delicate and elegant wine. I’m stunned. This limited still Pinot (6 barrels) goes into Clicquot's La Grand Dame Rose Champagne. (96 points)

2008 Cameron Blanc Clos Electrique - Oregon
I tasted this during 
an amazing wine dinner, and it got me stoked. Just intoxicating with its aromas: pineapple, lime, mixed nuts, white flowers, whipped honey, crushed chalk, sea salt, quinine, endlessly complex. Palate shows lots of melon and lime, plus crisp, racy acid. Salty, chalky, lots of seashells, a mineral-driven but it’s also full and creamy. Balanced but intense, deserving even more cellar sleep. 3.5 years since I tasted this and it’s just as amazing as it was then, if not slightly more complex and nuanced. An amazing Chardonnay. (96 points)

2005 Cameron Blanc Clos Electrique - Oregon
My first taste of this vintage, and I love it. I'm perpetually impressed by this wine, every vintage, but this one is classic. Aromas of saline, apricot, graham cracker, flowers, so deep and aromatically intriguing. Pure and fresh on the palate, this is a deep and incredibly complex wine. Almonds and white tea mix with quince, lime, apples and minerals. Endless finish. Creamy and rich but the acid sings. The C word (Chablis) was thrown out a few times, and it does have that depth and nerve, but it
s also pure Oregon goodness. A beauty. (95 points)

1985 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon - France, Champagne
Gorgeous juice. Apple cider colored with a nose of hazelnut, mushroom, potpourri, rye bread and baked apples. Tingly acid, full body, creamy, with incredibly complex notes of mushroom, dark bread, forest floor on top of candied citrus. An amazing experience. (95 points)

2004 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Beautiful stuff, holding up amazingly well. Smells like every kind of olive, bloody Mary, radish, seaweed, roses, wet earth and white pepper, and underneath some currants and plum sauce. Really velvety on the palate, with polished tannins and tangy acid in perfect balance. Juicy and fleshy with raspberry and black cherries, but this is all about the non-fruit flavors: olive tapenade, seaweed, roasted meat, smoke, pickled beets. Also some sweet floral and caramel notes. So long and pure and complex. I love the state this wine is in right now. Not sure how much longer Id cellar this if I had some. (95 points)

2004 Cayuse Syrah En Chamberlin Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Deeper and darker on the nose than the 04 Cailloux tasted side by side. More plum cake, baked berry pie, more black olives. I also get a meat and seaweed note. Plummy and rich with blueberries, almost cough syrup-like presence, but it’s actually very pleasant and precise at the same time – somehow. So many complex flavors to unpack: fall leaves, bacon fat, teriyaki jerky, also some dried rose potpourri and lavender notes. A feast for the senses and a beautiful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb shoulder. (95 points)

2002 Two Hands Shiraz Ares - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
The cork was in great condition, the purple having oozed into the cork only an 1/8th of an inch or so. Aromas of plums, blueberry pie, pickled beets, braised meat and BBQ sauce. The palate is rich and bold but also fresh from some medium acid. Dense and plummy with blueberry and fig paste. I also get some roasted red peppers, capers and olive brine. Rich and bombastic, but also velvety and kept in some level of balance by the acid. The label reads 13-16% alcohol, but it’s gotta be 15+. Still packed with flavor and nuance, with a long finish full of black and green olive. At 12 years old, this is a beautiful Aussie Shiraz. If kept in perfect condition, this is doing well, but perhaps time to drink up over the next year or two? (94 points)

2000 Domaine Ganevat Côtes du Jura Les Vignes de Mon Père - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
What a cool wine. Color of dried honey with some spritz in the glass. Smells like my wetsuit after surfing in winter on the East Coast, with sea brine and jetty rocks and seashells all thrown together, and that is a very good thing. The acid rips across the palate, and the lemon seed and green melon notes are strong and complex, backed up by mineral, white tea and all sorts of green herbs and pickling spices. Not for the unadventurous, but I think this wine slays. (94 points)

2009 Jacques Puffeney Savagnin Arbois - France, Jura, Arbois
A crazy interesting wine. Aromas of hazelnut, sea salt, oregano, dried honey and lamp oil. Medium-bodied with bright acidity, the oxidative winemaking is obvious and intriguing, but I love the way it weaves into the other elements instead of dominating the entire wine. Flavors of green apple and apricot, laced with sea brine, jetty rocks, crushed peanut shells, oil and brie rind. Long, complex, deep, this maintains freshness and vibrancy throughout. I need to pick up some more and bury it for a decade because I'm interested to see what comes out. (94 points)

2013 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay - South Africa, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
This was one of my favorite wines from my trip to South Africa. It’s a deep, complex aromas of peach, flowers, slate, honey and minerals. So pure, clean and fleshy on the palate, with flavors of white peach, pear. lemon curd, apricot and green melon. Creamy but mineral-driven, so complex yet subtle and nuanced, with all sorts of tea and slate notes. Long, complex, verging on the profound. Wow. I’d love to cellar this for two or three years. (94 points)

2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rosé La Grande Dame - France, Champagne
Vibrant copper-salmon-orange color, a bit deeper in color than the 2004 Brut Rosé. Such aromatic complexity, it really takes time to open up and show its true stuffing: strawberries, apricot, red apple peel, limestone, oyster shell, sea breeze, biscuits and a hint of smoke. Tart acid on the palate, this is an intense wine but it maintains an elegant posture despite itself. Red cherries, currants and wild strawberries play off of minerals, chalk, oyster shell. Lovely toast and brioche, I get some really interesting notes that I can’t quite place, something like barley and sweet onions, but whatever it is I love it. Time coaxes out all sorts of complexity. A beautiful wine, but decades away from maturity. The Pinot in here comes from the Clos Colin plot of Bouzy, so it was fascinating to taste this wine alongside the still 2013 Clos Colin Pinot Noir. (94 points)

Monday, December 22, 2014

California Pinot Noirs Shine in 2012

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Lots of winemakers from across California have praised the 2012 vintage. The more Pinot Noirs from 2012 I taste, the more I understand their joy. Since my last post on California Pinot Noirs this summer, Ive tasted a bunch of them with a few gems.

This report features a few exciting wines from 2012, as well as some from the leaner, tangier 2011 vintage, and a pair of late releases from 2009.

All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind unless otherwise noted.

2012 Tolosa Winery Pinot Noir Estate - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $32
Bright ruby color. Smells like rose hips, pepper and green herbs sprinkled on top of cranberries and wild strawberries. Medium-bodied with light tannins and a smooth and silky approach. Crunchy red berry fruit, some cherry pie, mix in some pepper, rhubarb and cardamom. Roses and vanilla coffee on the finish. Smooth and creamy and delicious, nice mix of fruit and earthy flavors. Aged 11 months in 1/3 new French oak. (87 points)

2012 Niner Wine Estates Pinot Noir Edna Valley - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $35
Dark ruby/light purple color. Nose shows roasted plums, juicy black cherries, some clove, cinnamon and sweet violets. On the palate, the wine is somehow both smooth and chewy at the same time, boasting tons of fruit (black cherries, blackberries, strawberry pie) velvety and smooth but rich. I love the clove, dark chocolate and sweet cola notes, but I also get some graphite and tobacco elements that add complexity. Delicious, open for business, but not a simple fruit bomb. Spends 10 months in 30% new French oak. (89 points)

2012 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir Radian Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $54
Dark ruby colored. Aromas pop out of the glass: red cherries, sweet cranberry sauce, notes of cola, rose petals and spicy incense sticks. On the palate, red and black cherries, red currants, the fruit is juicy but tart and laced with graphite, tobacco and coffee. Saucy, rich and bold but kept fresh by medium acid. Long finish of cola, soy sauce and loamy soil. Deep, long, complex, plenty of time to unwind. Aged 15 months in 22% new French oak. (91 points)

2011 Isabel Mondavi Pinot Noir - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40
Bright ruby-purple color in the glass. Nose shows red and black currants, some sweet roses, earth and cedar tones, a bit of caramel. On the palate, this wine shows a creamy, silky mouthfeel, medium tannins and acid, and the combination leads the wine to glide across the palate. Fresh currants, red and black cherries, the fruit is pure and layered. Notes of fall leaves, sage and chestnut round add a good twist. I also get some mineral and black tea elements. I’d drink this in the near term because it’s so fresh and lively, but it’s high quality stuff. (90 points)

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $35
Light ruby color. On the nose I get bright cherries, raspberries, roses and violets along with sweet clove, cola and roasted coffee. Medium tannin, in sync with the acid, this wine has a mouthfeel made of equal parts dusty, chewy and smooth. The black cherry, plums and raspberry fruit is tart but quite ripe, backed up by notes of coffee, caramel, shaved dark chocolate and black tea. A wide-open Pinot with a lot of attractive qualities. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak. (88 points)

2012 Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Potter Valley
SRP: $30
Bright medium ruby color. Chilled strawberries and raspberries on the nose, lovely rose and potting soil notes, some slight herbal notes. Bright and lively on the palate, with fine tannins, medium acid and a mouthfeel equal parts zesty and silky. Juicy, cool, with notes of sweet herbs, cola, and dusty soil, tobacco. Complex yet more restrained in character, although not lacking in flavor or personality. (90 points)

2009 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir Domaine Lois Louise - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $42
Light cherry colored. On the nose I get red currants and strawberries, a hint of blueberry, with some notes of underbrush, clay soil, roses and sweet cinnamon. On the palate, tart acid combines with some reasonably tight tannins yet a smooth mouthfeel. Black cherries, currants, some tart blueberries, this is also a deeply floral wine with accents of dusty soil, dark chocolate, smoke and toast. Great concentration, cellar-worthy, but maintains smoothness and elegance despite the new oak. I’d love to try this again in four or five years. Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak and two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. (90 points)

2009 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir Domaine Valeta Sunny Slope - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $62
More forward on the nose, jumps out of the glass with strawberries and raspberries, also some sweet floral perfume, dandelion, tilled soil and a hint of grilled herbs. Fine tannins, still very structured, moderate acid for balance. Ripe red cherries and strawberries abound, not as smoky or earthy as the Domaine Louise, much more floral and fresh with violets, black tea and potpourri. All sorts of sweet and spicy notes that need time to grow into their own. Focused but still structured, the end result is an elegant wine with cellar capability. Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak and two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. (91 points)

2011 Foppiano Pinot Noir Estate - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Vibrant ruby color. Juicy raspberries and tart cherries on the nose, laced with lots of herbs and spices (rhubarb, white pepper, sage) and a sweet floral accent. Bright and crunchy on the palate, but bold as mouth-coating as well, with a nice mix of tangy cherries and rich black cherries and plums. Lots of white pepper, rhubarb, spicy oregano, backed up by some light roast coffee, roses and loamy soil. A Pinot Noir that covers all the bases, and does it well. Aged in French oak, 25% new. (90 points)

2012 Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $37
Light medium ruby color. Vibrant cherries on the nose, cool currants, some charcoal and clove mixed in with caramel. Full and fruity on the palate with chewy tannins and medium+ acid. Pure black cherries and tart blueberries, add in some earth, gravel. and dusty library notes with cocoa powder and vanilla cola. Silky, velvety, with a long and rich finish. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (89 points)

2011 Hatton Daniels Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $45
Light ruby colored. Lots of earth and spices elements on the nose (rose hips, sage, white pepper, dusty soil) over top of tart cranberries and wild strawberries. On the palate, this is bright and crisp with focused acid and fine-grained tannins. The cranberry, wild cherry and raspberry fruit is crunchy and juicy, and I pick up a range of non-fruit complexities: sage, oregano, cedar, light-roast coffee. Some toffee and vanilla but slight and woven in well. Long, clean with roses and lavender on the finish. Lighter bodied than the 2012 but still very complex. (90 points)

2012 Hatton Daniels Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $45
Clean light ruby colored. Gorgeous nose of rose and violet-tinged earth, dusted over top of red cherry and plum fruit of the tangy and vibrant variety. So alive on the palate with tart acid, dusty tannins of medium strength a silky but fresh mouthfeel. Red currants, cherries, crunchy plums accented by sweet pipe tobacco, fennel, sage. Underlying notes of cherry fountain soda and dried roses. Complex and full yet reserved and so food-friendly. Seems ready now but has the ability to develop for sure. 13.2% alcohol. (91 points)

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $54
Moderate ruby color. Smells savory and bright at the same time, with red currants, mulled raspberries, juicy wild strawberries, some rhubarb pie, notes of chewing tobacco and pine sap.
On the palate, a forward style full of raspberry jam, wild strawberries and some cherry-rhubarb pie. Velvety tannins, medium acid, the fruit is juicy and chewy, backed up by spice and smoke notes. The fruit is a bit sweeter and jammier than the other Sonoma Coast pinots in this group, but it’s balanced a bit by the acid and non-fruit qualities. Notes of caramel and chestnut (50% new oak) linger onto the finish. Drinks well now but could do well over the next few years. A bold style, but very well done. (91 points)

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $54
Vibrant dark ruby colored. Aromas of black cherries and saucy plums, add in some cola, cinnamon and clove, some smoke and earth. Firm tannic structure, some medium acid. Deep, concentrated core of fruit (black cherry and blackberry) a bit roasted but still tart. I also get some charcoal pit, roasted nuts, loamy soil and spice elements (maybe clove and black licorice). Initially this struck me as a bit too intense, but air tones it down. Long, velvety and nutty (50% new oak) on the finish. I’d lay off this for two years or so. A beautiful albeit boisterous Pinot. (92 points)

I'd never heard of this producer before. I'm paying attention now.
2012 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $59
Clear-bright ruby. Nose of cranberries and wild cherries, some roses, white pepper, pickle, clove and cinnamon notes blend in well, adding nuance and complexity to the aromatic package. A very bright and clean Pinot, with dusty tannins of moderate strength and lively acid that whisks the wine over the palate. Bright cherries, wild strawberries, some spiced cranberry jam, elements of tobacco and rose hips blend with mocha and toasted nuts. Seems ready to go, but will surely improve and unwind over the next few years. Aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $29
This rosé was tasted sighted. Pale salmon color. Amazingly fresh on the nose, with wild strawberry and watermelon rind, some crusted, salty jetty rocks (a scent I know well. Very crisp acid but the fruit is generous and rolls across the palate in waves: white cherries, strawberries, key lime, some richer papaya and melon chunks. Underlying mineral notes pop out from the fruit while salty notes come out on the finish. Racy, clean, a very exciting rosé. (90 points)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Klingon Blood: Star Trek Wine Is Actually Pretty Good

Ah, wine label gimmicks. 

I recently praised some wine labels as visual art, and now this comes along. Klingon Blood wine!

I have to confess, I’m not a Trekkie, I don’t speak Klingon and I can’t remember watching any of the various Star Trek incarnations. So, I guess I’m not the target audience.

Even though I occasionally buy wine based on the label, the juice inside is what counts. And this stuff is actually pretty good. 

2012 Star Trek Klingon Bloodwine
California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
A bright magenta color. Bursting with ripe fruits on the nose (blackberries, blueberries, plums and raisins), some sweet lavender, vanilla and mocha. 

On the palate, medium tannins, actually some moderate acid, this wine has a juicy and chewy feel to it, but at 13% alcohol it’s not overwhelming. Lots of blackberry, roasted figs, blueberry pie, dashed with earth, coffee, some black pepper. I get some mocha and red licorice, along with dusty-peppery elements on the finish.

I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m surprised by the structure and complexity of this wine. A unique blend of 37% Malbec, 37% Syrah and 26% Petit Verdot.

Paso Robles is known for producing burly, teeth-staining reds, but this one takes a more subtle approach. I could see pairing this wine with a lot of hearty winter fare, but its light enough to drink with barbecue or roast chicken and veggies.

Gimmick wines frequently contain yummy but uninteresting juice. This one made me stop and think, just a little bit. Fancy that.

The wine is
available now for $20 from Vinport, and may soon make the trek to a retailer near you. I'm not saying you should go and buy this, but I've spent $20 on far less exciting wines. 

Of course, we love wine because it brings us together with others. So, if you're a Star Trek fan, and your Star Trek friends enjoy wine, you should purchase this wine immediately.

Hey, when is the Star Wars Darth Maul-bec coming out?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Olive-Driven: 10 Years On, Cayuse Syrah Slays

Cayuse Syrahs never cease to amaze me. These two 2004s are still doing wonders.
A lot of wine lovers, myself included, use the term “mineral-driven” to describe certain wines. I find many a lot of Mosel Riesling, Chablis and Champagne to be driven by a sense mineral intensity. Well, to be consistent, aged Cayuse Syrahs should be called olive-driven.

So much olive. And I absolutely love it.

Of course, these wines have more than olives going for them. Tons of berry fruit, lots of earthy and herbal tones, notes of cured meats. The wines are popular (and expensive) for a reason: they’re gorgeous Syrahs, some of my favorite in the New World.

I tasted these two beauties alongside a slew of amazing wines and good friends
during a recent end-of-the-year wine bash. We gathered at one of DC’s most delicious and wine-friendly restaurants, Ripple in Cleveland Park, to catch up, eat and imbibe.

Both of these Syrahs come from the rock-laden soils of Walla Walla, which straddles parts of Oregon and Washington. They both come from the same vintage, 2004, a hot growing season with a long, cool fall that led to small berries and concentrated wines.

Christophe Baron, the Champagne expat winemaker and genius behind Cayuse, started his Walla Walla Syrah run with the Cailloux Vineyard, which was planted in 1997. The En Chamberlin Vineyard, also home to Cayuse’s Widowmaker Cabernet, was planted in 2000. It was fascinating to taste these
two vineyard-designate wines side-by-side a decade after the juice was pressed.

Cayuse Syrahs aren’t easy to find, and they’re not cheap, but lovers of Syrah (and olives) will not regret seeking them out.

2004 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard
More than a year since my last tasting, and this one is still kicking. I get beef jerky, tons of green and black olives, as well as pickled beet and soy on the nose, not to mention the blueberry and bright cherry fruit. The blueberry, blackberry and wild cherry fruit is juicy and creamy, but the non-fruit flavors steal the show: green olives galore, smoked meat, crispy pork belly, roasted peppers... did I mention olives? Still showing dusty tannic structure and the acid helps tame the velvety mouthfeel a bit. Just a gorgeous wine. (94 points)

2004 Cayuse Syrah En Chamberlin Vineyard
Deeper and darker on the nose than the 2004 Cailloux tasted side by side. More plum cake, baked berry pie, more black olives. I also get a meat and seaweed note. Plummy and rich with blueberries, almost cough syrup-like presence, but it’s actually very pleasant and precise at the same time – somehow. So many complex flavors to unpack: fall leaves, bacon fat, teriyaki jerky, black and Greek olives, also some dried rose potpourri and lavender notes. A feast for the senses and a beautiful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb shoulder. (95 points)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tasty and Inexpensive Wines From New Zealand

I don’t pay nearly enough attention to New Zealand wines. I’m only one person, and wine has many worlds in which to lose oneself. But I need to lose myself in New Zealand more often.

I’ve enjoyed many a New Zealand Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the national staple variety, Sauvignon Blanc. The latter of which is a hit with pretty much every casual wine drinker I know, and I usually spot at least one Kiwi Sauv Blanc per house party. They’re relatively inexpensive, tasty and almost always reliable. No wonder they’re all over the place.
This report features a range of wines from New Zealand, all of which were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

SRP: $15
Medium straw color. Fresh aromas of lemon zinger, grapefruit, white peach and some mineral notes. Crisp acid keeps this wine lively, but the creamy body gives it weight on the palate. Juicy white peach, lime and kiwi flavors mix with elements of mineral water, white pepper and lemon. Nice spiciness to this wine, but it doesn’t overwhelm the juicy fruit. Clean and tangy on the finish with a honey undertone. A wine that plays all the different positions very well, so to speak. (87 points)

2013 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Medium straw color. Aromas of white peach, green melon, kiwi and clean mountain streams, rocks, a hint of seaweed? Crisp, the acid tears across the palate, but there’s enough mixed melon, shaved lime and ripe apricot to balance it out. I love the white flowers, minerals and mountain stream notes. So clean and crisp, but a lot of depth as well. (89 point)

2013 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Pale yellow. That classic shock of grapefruit, kiwi and lemongrass on the nose, a bit of sweet sage and green onion as well. Tangy acid, this wine is so fresh and clean. Green apple, kiwi and grapefruit taste ripe, yet the fruit tingles the palate. Moderate grass note, but also some fresh floral perfume and honeysuckle notes. A bit more nuanced and mild than a lot of Marlborough Sauv Blancs, and I like it. (88 points)

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Nose of ruby red grapefruit, white peach, white flowers and notes of seaweed and green grass.  Clean and refreshing on the palate with crisp acid and a fleshy mouthfeel, the white peach fruit is juicy and drizzled with lime and grapefruit juice, accents by sea salt, green onion and honeysuckle. Bright and crisp onto the moderate-length finish, this begs for salads and sautéed veggie dishes. (86 points)

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $13
Light golden yellow color. Classic Marlborough nose of grapefruit, lemongrass, white peach, some green pepper. Palate is crisp and clean and bright, not a lot of weight or depth, but the lime and grapefruit mixes well with the white and green pepper notes. Hints of honeysuckle and  white peach linger on the finish. (85 points)

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Icon New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Light gold color. Nose of guava, dried pineapple, grapefruit and white peach, hints of jalapeno pepper and sage. On the palate, this shows more creaminess and depth than the regional collection. Dry and clean with lime and grapefruit juice drizzled over papaya and guava, accented by white pepper and some wildflowers. A more complex example than the entry level with a fresh and mouthwatering approach. (87 points)

2013 Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc Stich New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Light gold color. Strongly aromatic, with lime, guava and grapefruit, along with river rocks, nettles andd some white flowers. Tangy and clean with a vibrant personality. The white peach, lime and grapefruit flavors are refreshing and laced with notes of green onion, nettles, white flowers. Also shows some nice mineral components. Quite pretty. (87 points)

2013 Vavasour Pinot Noir Dashwood New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $17
Light cherry colored. Bright cranberry and wild strawberry fruit on the nose along with sage, bay leaf and fresh roses. Medium bodied fresh acid, a silky smooth mouthfeel. Clean, floral, bright, cranberries, cherries and strawberries. Zesty with red apple peel, floral, underlying earthy tones. Very bright and tangy with a drink-me-now, food-friendly personality. (86 points)

2012 Nobilo Pinot Noir Icon Marlborough New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Vibrant ruby-cherry color. On the nose I get chilled black cherries, strawberries and raspberries, mixed in with cinnamon, pepper and sweet cocoa powder. Fresh and bright on the palate with medium to high acid, soft tannins and tangy fruit. I get raspberries, wild strawberries and red currants, dusted with some white pepper, soy sauce, cocoa powder, also some softer notes of coffee and cedar round out the finish, which is quite long and tangy. A brisk and lean style, but not a weak wine, this offers lots of food-pairing options, and I find it mouthwatering and delicious. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. (88 points)

2012 Goldwater Pinot Noir Wairau Valley New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough, Wairau Valley
SRP: $20
Light ruby color. Nose of bright cherries, raspberries and strawberries, matched with pickling spices, rhubarb and dried roses. Medium bodied with fine tannins and fresh acid. Black cherries, raspberries and red currant fruit, all bright and tangy. Love the notes of dusty soil, rhubarb, oregano and white pepper, a hint of cola and coffee on the finish. Not the deepest or most profound New Zealand Pinot, but it’s doing everything right and all the elements are in balance. (87 points)

2013 Kim Crawford Pinot Noir South Island New Zealand, South Island
SRP: $17
Bright red cherry colored. Lovely nose of mulled raspberries and juicy black cherries, along with rhubarb, fresh roses and hints of clove and peppercorns. A leaner, fresher, more reserved style with bright acid and soft tannins. This is all about crunchy red fruit (cherries, raspberries, McIntosh apple), mixed with notes of cinnamon, rhubarb, garlic pickle and bay leaf. Clean, refreshing, food-friendly but showing some complexity. Drink over the next year or two. (88 points)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hearty Italian Reds for Winter

Amarone on a cold night - good call.
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

I don’t spend nearly enough time with Italian wine, and every time I sit down to an Italian tasting, I think the same thing: Why don’t I buy and collect more Italian bottles? Sicily, Veneto, of course Tuscany, there are so many exciting wines and only one lifetime.

But now that it’s cold outside and dark by afternoon, and I find myself at home cooking a lot of hearty fall fare, vino rosso is a no-brainer.

This grab bag report focuses on a few interesting reds from Sicily, Tuscany and Veneto. All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2009 Donnafugata Contessa Entellina “Tancredi” - Italy, Sicily, Contessa Entellina
SRP: $45
Bold purple color. Big-time aromatic display: dark cherries, blueberries and blackberries, laced with smoke and cocoa powder and anise. Sturdy tannins and medium- acid, but the complexity is impressive. Bluberries and black cherries covered in pepper, cocoa powder, loamy soil and roasted chestnuts. Finishes with anise and a flavor that reminds me of an herbal liqueur. Very young, this needs a few years before it settles down. A blend of Cabernet, Nero d’Avola and Tannat. (90 points)

SRP: $89
Beautiful purple-ruby color. Black cherries, plums and blackberries on the nose, dusted with loamy soil, charcoal, grilled steak and cedar notes. Medium+ bodied with sturdy tannins, medium acid. The currant and blackberry fruit is concentrated buy not jammy, and it’s laced with lots of earth, charcoal, graphite, some balsamic glaze, chewing tobacco and sawdust notes. Cedar and mocha accents linger on the finish. Quite dry and tannic, but it smooths out a bit with some air. Aged in French oak for 14 months, then two years in bottle, this is a beautiful wine but it needs time, probably two years and will hold for many more. 13% alcohol, made from Nero d’Avola. (91 points)

2011 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Rosso di Montepulciano
SRP: $20
A kind of ruby-auburn color. Fresh and juicy on the nose (cranberry, raspberry, wild cherry) along with some tobacco, rose hips and pine resin complexities. Tangy acid and fine tannins provide a silky setting for the red cherry and raspberry fruit. I like the rhubarb, white pepper and rose hip notes, which add a pleasant amount of spiciness. Fresh, approachable, but enough structure. (87 points)

2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
SRP: $30
Bright ruby colored. Lovely bright red berry fruit on the nose, laced with lavender, some sweet pipe tobacco and cedar. Fresh and vibrant on the palate, with medium tannins and acid. The strawberry and cherry fruit is tangy but round at the same time. I like the secondary flavors of roses, tobacco, cedar and charcoal. The oak adds some spice and coffee elements, but I don’t find them bothersome at all. Well-integrated, tasty stuff. (88 points)

2011 Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $26
A ruby-violet color. Spicy berries on the nose, with notes of cedar, violets and wet leaves. Fresh and juicy on the palate with chewy tannins. Fleshy black cherries mix with notes of cedar, wet leaves, tobacco and sweet spice. Crowd-pleasing stuff, a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet and 25% Merlot. (87 points)

2011 Brancaia Tre Toscana IGT ­- Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $24
Nose of red currants, plum skin, tobacco and cedar, some violets. Loving the nose. Smooth and silky on the palate with velvety tannins and medium+ acid. Juicy red and black currants and cherries blend with notes of rosemary, tobacco and cedar. A forward and ripe wine, but it’s also very food friendly. 80% Sanviovese with Merlot and Cabernet mixed in. (87 points)

2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso - Italy, Umbria, Montefalco, Montefalco Rosso
SRP: $19
Clear light ruby color. On the nose I get blackberries and raspberries, some charcoal, green herbs and some bright red floral tones. Bright acid on the palate, some moderate and dusty tannins, a fresh and food-friendly approach. Bright raspberries and tart blueberries mix with rose petals, incense sticks, tobacco and radish elements. A tangy blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Colorino, this shows quite a bit of complexity and could probably improve over the next three years or so. (87 points)

2009 Rocca Sveva Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore
SRP: $22
Bright ruby color. Nose of cherries, plum sauce, violets, coffee, tobacco and anise. On the palate, good structure, fleshy but firm, with juicy red and black fruit. Accents of kirsch, coffee grounds, candied raspberry, earth and mocha. Some baking spice and vanilla on the finish. 75% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Drinking well now but could improve. (87 points)

2008 Rocca Sveva Amarone della Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
SRP: $60
Rich purple color. Dark and plummy on the nose, smells to me like some sort of mix of kirsch, yogurt-covered raisins, fig cookies and vanilla. Full bodied, fresh acid and fine tannins combines in a chewy texture. Elements of vanilla and root beer accent the black cherry and saucy plum fruit. Notes of anise, sweet cola, cherry pits and roasted chestnut. Velvety, rich, yet fresh with a long finish. Very pretty stuff that would be worth cellaring for a few years. 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara. (90 points)

2010 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $63
Deep ruby color. High concentration on the nose, black cherry jam, blackberry pie, red currants, very earthy, dried flowers, incense, some anise cookies. On the palate, full-bodied with solid structure to the tannins but some freshness as well. Blackberries, red and black currants, add in some charcoal and graphite, balsamic glaze, roasted figs. Lots of complexity this wine takes a bold and high-octane approach, but so deep and full of life as well. One to bury for 15 years or so, if we’ll all still be around then. Aged 24 months in 40% new Slavonian oak. (91 points)

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Favorite Wine Labels of the Year

“I buy wine based on the label.”

Countless friends and acquaintances have confessed this to me over the years, although few would attach their names to the quote. When I hear this admission, I respond the same way: Of course you do. Everyone does.

There’s no need to apologize. Wine labels impact us, and we respond. This is a simple, honest acknowledgement of a concept we all understand: looks matter. In a world where everything is a commodity, it is crucial that commodities appeal to our visual senses.

There’s an academic paper in here for sure, something like: Aesthetics of the Wine Label – On the Convergence of Art, Agriculture and the Consumer Mind. There are studies and consumer trends and charts to be examined. But that’s what wine companies pay consultants for.

In the meantime, let’s break it down into digestible chunks.

Alcoholic products come in bottles. A bottle of wine presents itself to the consumer in a very direct and immediate way. You’re not just purchasing fermented grape juice from a particular time, place and producer. You’re purchasing a bottle of a wine — a product, a physical object you can grip in your hand.

You’re buying the shape of the bottle, the label, the cork and the foil. All of these elements are inseparable from the overall experience of smelling and tasting the wine. In other words, the physical object and the act of consuming its contents are interconnected.

I am not in any way suggesting you should buy a bottle of wine based solely on how attractive you find its label. You’d probably end up with some seriously forgettable wine. But, on the other hand, if a wine is well-made and speaks truthfully of its time and place, why not wrap the bottle in something visual interesting?

Just like language on a wine label can be poetry, images on a wine label can be visual art. All wineries use the label to communicate with consumers, but some take the artistic aspect seriously. Perhaps the best example is Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Every year, this first-growth Bordeaux works with a different renowned artist to create a memorable label. Past vintages have boasted paintings from Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and many more.

I can’t afford to drink Mouton, but I came across my share of memorable wine labels this year, bottles I consider artful. Like any piece of visual artwork, different people appreciate different images. So you may hate one or more of these, and that’s fine.

But these five labels jumped out at me. They intrigued me. They piqued my interest and made me wonder about the person behind the bottle. What more can you ask of a wine label? 

I love Old World wine labels, but all six of my favorites this year hail from California. (Pictures below the fold.)