Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bogedas Numanthia: Heavyweights from Toro

Handle with care. These bottles weigh a ton.
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you know Toro, you know Bodegas Numanthia. This estate’s bruiser reds have received praise from many respected voices in the wine world. And, when you taste the wines, it’s easy to understand why they engender so much excitement.

These wines come out slugging. They’re not shifty boxers, they’re fat heavyweights who lean on their opponents and knock them out with single punches to the temple. The intense power and concentration in these wines demands attention. But by their nature, they lack the finesse, sleekness, elegance.

So, I tasted these three wines sighted, and then left them for 24 hours before re-tasting. All three are incredibly young, and they showed much better after being open a full day, when they started to calm down (relatively speaking).

I do appreciate these wines. I admire the guts and glory approach. In this weight division, Numanthia is a titleholder. And in these cold winter months, decanting one of these bad boys by the fire sounds great.

If you want to experience all the brute force, drink the Termes now. My personal preference would be to cellar them all for at least three years, the Termanthia much longer.

2011 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro “Termes” - Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
Hugely extracted on the nose, with tons of blueberry pie, cedar, plum cake and some motor oil. Big and burly on the palate, with a dense mouthfeel, grippy tannins, low on the acid. Blueberry pie and Bordeaux cherries slathered with espresso, soil and smoke. Very hedonistic. Needs a lot of time because the tannins are fierce right now. (88 points)

2009 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro “Numanthia” - Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
Dense on the nose, takes time to open up, but when it does it shows lots of deep red and black currants, blueberries, plum skins, ink, dark chocolate, violets and rose petals. Firm tannic structure, actually a bit of acid to combat against the density, but a very mouthfilling wine. The flavors of blueberry and currant jam are rich and lasting. Notes of caramel, roasted chestnuts, loamy soil, anise, magic marker and charred wood linger long onto the finish. Deep, long, complex, requires cellar time. From 50-year-old vines. (90 points)

2010 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro “Termanthia” - Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
Brooding and intense, taking time to coax out the blueberry and currant jam, roasted figs and anise. I get more floral and iron notes on the nose than the other wines. Mouthfilling and extracted with granite tannins and some medium-to-low acid. Deep red and black berry fruits laced with notes of anise cookie, black licorice candies and cedar. A note on the finish like someone shaved dark chocolate and iron over a campfire. This is a behemoth of a wine, but beauty lies underneath. Bury this for a few presidents or decant it for — I don’t know — a week. From 120-year-old vines. (91 points)

Monday, January 26, 2015

On the DC Distilling Trail

Ivy City is littered with scrappy warehouses, pot-holed streets and, well, ivy, which climbs up abandoned buildings and wire fences. But this industrial neighborhood off New York Avenue in Northeast DC is home to a thriving scene: urban distilling.

Michael Lowe explains how Green Hat is made.
New Columbia Distillers kicked off the DC spirit buzz a few years ago with their Green Hat gin. (“DC Distiller Brings Spirit Back to the Capital”). Owner and founder Michael Lowe got bored with retirement after a career as an attorney, so he decided to open a distillery, which is located at 1832 Fenwick Street NE. After an apprenticeship in Washington State, he is proud to be at the helm of this “grain to glass” distillery. “We wanted to control the whole process,” he said, everything from the source of the raw ingredients to the final botanical blend.

Green Hat gin starts off with soft red winter wheat from Virginia — 1,200 pounds per batch of gin. Lowe uses a custom copper pot still from German maker Carl to distill their spirit. So far Green Hat has bottled two spirits. The “Spring/Summer” gin, their staple, is flavored with a blend of 12 botanicals. It has a really spicy and floral aroma, and a pleasant citrus and pepper twist on the palate. The “Fall/Winter” blend is a more intensely herbal gin, with less grapefruit and citrus peel and more spice, stemming from the addition of caraway, dill and star anise.

The standard gin works well with the classic citrus-dominated cocktails, a tonic, a fizz or a Tom Collins. I’d be happy to sip some of the winter blend on the rocks or perhaps mix up a martini with some vermouth and a stuffed olive.

Paying homage to the mid-Atlantic’s long history of producing rye whiskey, Green Hat will put out a District-made rye in the next year or two. Right now it’s sleeping in American white oak barrels, and Lowe said the tasting panel is waiting until it’s ready to bottle. A Navy strength gin is also in the works.

Green Hat Gin is currently distributed in DC, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, but Lowe hopes to expand beyond this central area. You can currently find Green Hat at lots of DC-area shops and restaurant bars. Tours and tastings are available on Saturdays from 1-4.

It's not ready yet, but I'm looking forward to trying Green Hat's next spirit, a whiskey made from Virginia rye.

When you visit, leave time for the second leg of the trip. Right around the corner, the folks at Ivy City’s second distillery, One-Eight, are also working on some white spirits. Apparently, the route to a DC distillery goes through the attorney’s office. One-Eight is also the product of an attorney-turned-distiller, Sandy Wood, who left law for spirits.

One-Eight derives its name from Article 1, Secion 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes DC as America’s capital city. Located at 1135 Okie Street NE, One-Eight has a great spot in a large brick building with a spacious tasting room, a long bar and a series of dining tables.

When I showed up during their Saturday tour and tasting, they were pouring two spirits, their District Made Vodka and Rock Creek White Whiskey. (Their Ivy City Gin was unavailable when I visited in late January, but will be available for tasting and purchase in February 2015.)

I’m not much of a vodka fan, but the One-Eight vodka is quite tasty and much more distinctive than your average mass-produced import. Made from corn, rye and malted rye, it shows a peppery kick on the finish. The Rock Creek White Whiskey (which is white because it isn’t aged in barrels) is made from rye grown in the surrounding states. It shows a rich and creamy body with flavors of malt and white pepper.

One-Eight opened to the public on January 10, but they’re already doing an excellent job connecting with locals. Open for tastings and tours on Saturdays from 1-4, the place was packed with interested guests during my visit.

If you’re hungry after sipping on some spirits, you can grab some food from one of the food trucks parked outside. And One-Eight has a lot more in store, including the release of a single malt whiskey, a bourbon and a barrel-aged rye.

If I was a bartender, I’d want all of these DC spirits on my bar. I’d come up with some DC-themed cocktails and spread the word that cocktail drinkers can go local.

We’ve yet to see DC’s full potential as a hub of urban distilling. Two more distilleries are slated to open in Ivy City this year alone.

We may not have voting rights in Congress, but DC spirits are alive and well. And it’s only going to get better.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Parallel 43 - Tasty Values from Bulgaria

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Bulgarian’s Thracian Valley is home to a wide array of wines that can be as impressive as they are inexpensive.

“It’s no longer that crap they used to sell to Russia by the millions,”
a Bulgarian vintner once told me.


I recently tasted through the lineup from a relatively new project called Parallel 43, a Virginia-based importer and wholesaler focused on promoting Bulgarian wines. It can’t be easy trying to convince consumers to drink Bulgarian Mavrud, but, for the adventurous and value-minded, there’s a lot to like coming out of the Thracian Valley.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Parallel 43 Selections “Dreamy Wendy” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz in the glass. Smells of white peach, rich apple, yellow pear and a hint of green herbs. Tangy and lip-smacking on the palate but a creamy body. Tangerine and white-peach dominated with just a hint of minerals. Zesty, fun, a middle-of-the-road style. 80% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. (85 points)

2013 Parallel 43 Selections Syrah Rosé “Circulus” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Medium salmon color. Nose of red apple peel, wild strawberries, some mixed green herbs and some stony accents. Full-bodied and waxy on the palate (14.5% alcohol), but refreshing acid. I enjoy the strawberry and McIntosh apple-driven approach, along with the elements of white pepper and rose tea. Chalk and mineral notes on the finish. Crisp and clean but gutsy as well. I’m a big advocate of regional diversity in rose – the more the better – but this is impressive stuff. (88 points)

2012 Parallel 43 Selections Syrah “Quadratus” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Dark ruby color. Tart blueberries and blackberries on the nose, some violets, lavender and cracked pepper, but overall the nose needs time to open up. Solid tannic structure, some moderate acid, full body. Mulberries, blueberries and blackberries blend together, all of it tart and brisk. A mix of chestnut, loamy soil, graphite and sweet lavender add complexity, smoke and pencil lead on the finish. Tartness helps balance the 14.5% alcohol. I’m trying to come up with comparisons with other Syrahs, but they all fall flat. Could use two to four years. One of the more thought-provoking sub-$15 Syrahs I’ve tasted. (87 points)

2013 Parallel 43 Selections Cabernet Franc “Trianguli” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $10
Medium purple color. Tart blueberries and raspberries on the nose, some pepper and sweet clove, with strong dusty elements. Solid, sturdy tannic structure on the palate, a bold presence. Bright blueberry and black currant fruit, some sweet teriyaki glaze as well as mushroom, earth and a bit of burned word. Surprised by the grip to this wine, but the acid is a bit low for my palate. The rare $10 wine that needs to be cellared for a while, I think. (85 points) 

2013 Parallel 43 Selections Mavrud “Trianguli” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $15
Dark cherry colored. Deep and dark blackberry and plum fruit on the nose, along with an interesting mix of campfire, herbal liqueur, and a metallic and iron-like note. Medium-bodied with quite intense tannins and medium+ acid. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is rich and chewy, laced with smoke, beef jerky, granite and pencil lead. Lots of smoky, loamy, notes like floral incense sticks and heavy, wet soil. Complex, food-friendly because of its balance and freshness, but also rich. Lovely tartness and earthy flavors linger on the finish. (88 points)

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Short Fiction Published in Waypoints Magazine

From Unsplash.
It's been way too long since I've had some short fiction published. I've been so busy over the past year with my thesis project and wine writing that I've long ignored short fiction submissions.

But I'm proud to be a part of the inaugural issue of Waypoints Magazine with a new piece of short fiction called "It Fell Through."

It's a story about fear, claustrophobia, mid-20s depression, cowardice, newspaper reporting and a dilapidated mental institution.

Check it out here.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Adras: Screaming Value from Galicia

When it comes to $14 wine, it doesn't get much better.
Lately I’ve been enjoying some bottles from my personal collection. Generally, I’m on the lookout for interesting and unique wines that speak clearly of their place of origin. I also look for values, those bottles you can open without hesitation for friends or simple weeknight meals.

I recently tasted through two Galician wines — a white Godello and a red Mencia — that worked perfectly in this context. These wines come from the steep, rocky hills of the Mino and Sil Rivers in Northern Spain’s Ribeira Sacra region. Bottled under the “Adras” moniker, these wines are the product of winemaker and awesome-name-holder Isaac Fernandez.

I bought these for $14 apiece from Garagiste, a wine merchant that offers lots of deliciously quirky bottles through their emails. (These emails are informative, memorable and usually hilarious, so you should probably sign up for them right now.) 

While I enjoyed the Mencia more, I highly recommend both of these wines at $14 a bottle. That’s absurd value and an easy way to learn something new about two Spanish grapes from a relatively unknown region.

2012 Isaac Fernandez Selection Godello Ribeira Sacra “Adras” - Spain, Galicia, Ribeira Sacra
Light gold color. Love the burst of lime, minerals, white peach and flowers on the nose. I started salivating for the freshness just sniffing this wine. On the palate, this takes a clean and bright approach but shows moderate weight and moderate+ complexity. Flavors of nectarine, lime and white peach mix with some briny and oceanic elements. (A hint of almond and chive?) Chalky, some saline and honeyed tea aspects linger on the finish. Great for salads and apps, but I drank this with some Kung Pao shrimp and it actually worked well. No oak or maloactic fermentation, keeping this wine bright and clear. Made from 40-year-old Godello grapes grown in granite and sandy soils. (88 points)

2012 Isaac Fernandez Selection Mencía Ribeira Sacra “Adras” - Spain, Galicia, Ribeira Sacra
Vibrant ruby color. Bright red cherries and berries on the nose, with roses, sweet red licorice. Also an earthy streak on the nose and a Morgon-like combination of flowers, granite and loam. On the palate, tangy acid, dusty tannins, this is a tangy but forward wine with every kind of red fruit from currants to red apple peel. I love the deep sense of rocks and soil, mixed in with notes of sweet pipe tobacco and lots of roses. A bright personality, so attractive and food-friendly, yet complex. I actually think this could age for a while, and I’d like to retry it in three years. Wow. Old school, fresh and vibrant, a moderate 12.5% alcohol. This wine is made from Mencia grapes grown in granite and slate soils. (91 points)

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Cold. Drink Zinfandel.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

I know conventional wisdom is to pair Zinfandel with the grilled foods of summer. But Zinfandel also works perfectly for these short, cold days here in the mid-Atlantic. Sure these wines are rich and fruity, but the good ones provide a lot of other elements to contemplate. And when I pour a quality Zinfandel for my casual wine drinking friends, the results are near unanimous excitement.

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

2013 Force of Nature Zinfandel Mossfire Ranch California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $23
Medium ruby colored. Smells like cranberry sauce and raspberry jam, add in some pepper, toasted oak and candied apples. Full and fruity on the palate, with some good tannic structure, a showing a bit more acid than the other selections. I like the super red fruity approach, like cranberry sauce and raspberry jam and strawberry shortcake topping. I also get some dusty, vanilla bean and coffee elements, white pepper and soy glaze. Juicy and ripe and fun but quite complex. 14.7% alcohol, aged in 20% new oak. (88 points)

2011 Grgich Hills Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $35
On the nose, I get a whole lot: black cherries, plums, roasted red peppers, bright red flowers and damp soil. On the palate, this wine is tart, bright and earthy. Currants and black cherries mixed in with rose hips, charcoal, black pepper, along with black licorice candy and cocoa powder. This wine evolves in the glass to a near absurd level, shifting an opening as air coaxes out all sorts of herbal, spice and crushed rock notes. It’s got something of everything I look for in a Zinfandel. (91 points)

2011 Artezin Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Juicy and fruity on the nose, cherries, sweet strawberries, some cedar and pepper undertones. Smooth on the palate, with light tannins and medium acid. The red and black cherry fruit is ripe and plush, dusted with cedar, mocha and white pepper. Juicy but fresh, with a note of sweet chestnut on the finish. A fun, easy-drinking personality. (87 points)

2012 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $18
Aromas of sweet berries, mocha and cocoa powder. On the palate, smooth tannin, fresh acid, lots of ripe berry and black cherry fruit. Notes of mocha and pecans. Smooth, juicy with rose petals on the finish. Fun stuff. (86 points)

2012 Paul Dolan Vineyards Zinfandel - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $25
A light purple color. Red currants and summer plums on the nose, I also get whiffs of red hot candies, some vanilla and black pepper. A rich wine but it presents itself well, with medium to strong tannins, some acid for freshness. The black cherry and plum fruit is tart and juicy, backed up by notes of spiced coffee, black pepper, roses, bell pepper and wood shavings. Finish shows solid length and complexity. Lots going on here for the price. (89 points)

2011 Amapola Creek Zinfandel Monte Rosso - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $42
Deep purple color. On the nose, I get some juicy black cherries and blueberries, some cola and mocha, a bit of heat. Velvety and rich with smooth tannins on the palate. The black cherries and blueberries are deep and concentrated, followed up with some red licorice, toasty oak, cedar and roasted chestnut. I get some earthy, smoky, charcoal notes on the finish. Tasty and rich, but unrestrained and very concentrated. 15.5% alcohol. (88 points)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lots to Like in 2012 Côtes du Rhône

Southern Rhone wines are largely responsible for kicking off my fascination with fine vino. Years later, I love reading up and tasting around to see what's going on as the new vintage arrives in bottle.

Of course, Châteauneuf-du-Pape leads the pack, but
Côtes du Rhône (and its sub-appellations) offer up inexpensive wines with a similar approach. 

This region in Southern France has been on quite a run of solid vintages lately. The wines have been consistently good with enough vintage variation to keep things interesting. In this sun-soaked region, climate change has already been causing problems for winegrowers. And I worry about how these Grenache-dominated wines will fare as scorching summers get even worse.

But in the meantime, with a sunny yet steady vintage like 2012, consumers have a lot to like. 

I recently tasted through a bunch of 2012 Côtes du Rhône reds at Weygandt Wines in DC, a long-time importer of many impressive Southern Rhone wines. Overall, the wines were quite delicious, showing moderate acid, solid concentration and firm tannic structure. The fruit is plenty ripe but the earthy and herbal qualities abound. 

Many of the wines were quite approachable at this young age, but all the best deserve at least three years in the cellar and could improve for longer.

2012 Domaine de la Grande Bellane Côtes du Rhône Villages Valréas - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Valréas ($20)
Bright and spicy on the nose, with strawberries and pepper. Approachable and bright palate with strawberries and currants, accented by dusty soil and pepper. (86 points)

2012 Domaine Grand Nicolet Côtes du Rhône - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($15)
Deep nose of plums and soil. Palate shows blue and red berry fruit, along with pepper and loam. Pretty and plush and approachable. (87 points)

2012 Domaine Charvin Côtes du Rhône Le Poutet - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($22)
Lovely and elegant nose of cherries, strawberries and roses. Fine and silky on the palate with refreshing acid. Tart berries matched with underbrush, soil and herbs. Needs time, but a very pretty wine. In my book, Charvin can do no wrong, and the Le Poutet is always one of the best Rhone values out there. Gonna cellar some of this for a while. (90 points)

2012 Domaine de Ferrand Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Antique Vieilles Vignes - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($23)
Floral nose, baking spices and pepper on top of the cool berry fruit. Well-structured and a bit tight perhaps, but lots going on. Berry compote mixes with dusty earth, pepper, violets and a hint of olive. 90% Grenache with some Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. (88 points)

2012 Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils Côtes du Rhône Les Claux - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($22)
Deep and dark on the nose, lots of leather and smoke as well. Dark berries on the palate, a concentrated wine but still bright, with notes of smoke, anise, grilled meat and pepper. Long and complex, an easy candidate for five+ years in the cellar. 60% Grenache and 20% each of Syrah and Mourvedre. (90 points)

2012 Domaine Saint-Damien Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($19)
Tart currants on the nose, topped with pickle, pepper and flowers. Full yet silky, rich blackberry compote and tart cranberries blended with pepper and dusty soil with a solid finish. Very approachable now. (87 points)

2012 Domaine Daniel et Denis Alary Côtes du Rhône La Gerbaude - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($17)
A spicy, leather-driven nose with dark berries underneath. Juicy and fleshy, one of the most approachable and open of the tasting but it’s not simple. Complex notes of chestnut, red licorice and leather accent the juicy black cherry and currant fruit. (87 points)

2012 Domaine les Grands Bois Côtes du Rhône Villages Cuvée Philippine - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages ($17)
Deep and quite extracted on the nose (more blueberry and dark plums), along with lots of anise. Silky and velvety on the palate, this is a deliciously forward wine capable of pleasing many new world palates, yet it’s got solid structure and plenty of classic lavender and pepper accents. Very pretty. (90 points)

2012 Domaine les Grands Bois Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Cuvée Maximilien - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne ($20)
Juicy blackberries, smoke and earth on the nose. Another forward and silky approach from this producer, but this wine shows firm structure and cellar-potential. Black cherry cola, roses, violets and dark loam accent the blueberry and black currant fruit. Needs a bit of time I think, but a beauty. (91 points)

Domaine Alary produces consistently delicious wines at reasonable prices. 
2012 Domaine Daniel et Denis Alary Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Vieilles Vignes - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne ($22)
Love the nose here, rocky and smoky with cracked pepper on top of the blackberry fruit. A full wine with great power, yet it’s clean and yummy at the same time. Love the soil, granite, rocks and sweet herbs with the juicy, silky mixed berry fruit. Three-to-four years would help it settle down and gain even more complexity. (90 points)

2012 Domaine Daniel et Denis Alary Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne La Brunote - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne ($25)
Tart red berries on the nose, along with crushed rocks and pickling spice. Clean and bright on the palate despite the richness and tannins. Full and complex with lots of herbal and earthy notes. Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan. Needs time. (90 points)

2012 Domaine les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône ($15)
Light and bright on the nose with strawberries and red currants. Tart and juicy, a lighter, more strawberry-driven approach but some nice grip too, along with pepper and anise notes. (86 points)

2012 Domaine les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu Cuvée des Galets - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu ($20)
Lots of roses, pepper, earth and herbs on top of currant and strawberry aromas. Deep on the palate though, with firm structure and refreshing tartness, combines for a cream mouthfeel. Complex herbal and spice notes, another one to cellar for two to four years. (90 points)

2011 Domaine les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône Villages Vieilles Vignes - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages ($30)
Lighter and fresher than the 2012 but still plenty of fruit and earth. Clean and smooth on the palate, a lovely purity to the strawberry and blackberry fruit. Minerals, graphite, herbs, soil, lots going on here and it’s singing right now. (90 points)

2012 Domaine les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône Villages Vieilles Vignes - Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages ($30)
Darker berries on the nose, along with violets, earth and charcoal. Fully and creamy but solid tannic backbone. Sweet berry fruit is matched with tons of granite and minerals, also notes of sweet cola and baking spice. Easy to bury this for five years without thinking, but a very impressive showing right now. (91 points)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wine Book Review: The Far Side of Eden

In the late 80s, James Conaway chronicled the rise of America’s most famous wine region in his book “Napa: The Story of an American Eden.” A decade later, he came back to find a Napa Valley with more traffic, more mansions and more glamour. This was in the middle of the “roaring 1990s,” Conaway writes, “with everybody getting rich and a few people willing to consider the consequences.” Vineyards were expanding into the hillsides and Cabernet money was rolling in, but behind the modern winemaking facilities and glitzy wine labels, trouble was brewing.

“I also heard on all sides contending views and strongly expressed expectations that each view must prevail,” Conaway wrote in the introduction to his 2002 book “The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land and the Battle for Napa Valley.” “I believe that what happened in Napa Valley is relevant to the rest of the country, however altered now are our interior landscapes.”

This book is centrally focused on the political and legal wrangling surround the Sierra Club’s lawsuit against Napa County for failing to enforce the California Environmental Quality Act. In the suit, which challenged hillside vineyard expansion, the group also named some individual defendants, including Jayson Pahlmeyer. Conaway tells the tale by constructing two opposing camps: wealthy vintners (led by high rollers like Pahlmeyer and Cakebread) vs. agitating environmentalists (led by the feisty Chris Malan, Peter Mennen and the Sierra Club).

I’ve read lots of responses to this book (considering more than a decade has passed since it was published), and a common complaint is the author’s bias in favor of environmental regulation. The author is sympathetic to environmental protection — shouldn’t we all be? — but Conaway seems concerned more with the health of the land and native species than any of the individual actors in the fight.

I haven’t interviewed the Napa vintners profiled in Conaway’s book, but I’m guessing they may have some problems with the way Conaway portrayed them. “These men were accustomed to getting what they wanted, that was clear,” Conaway writes. “They were determined to find a way around environmental regulation, but there was more: they hated all restrictions placed upon them by county, state, and nation, apparently on philosophical grounds and also because these laws gave people without their means some influence.” When describing Dennis Groth, Conaway writes: “Underlying it all was an ideological resistance to all regulation and a belief in the hallowed right of free enterprise and capital accumulation that benefitted a successful CPA.”

Still, I’m partial to accept Conaway’s premise that when one possesses massive wealth, large amounts of highly-prized vineyard land and unbridled praise from wine media and consumers, one could easily become removed from reality, especially from a healthy relationship with the environment. “Unaccustomed to criticism,” Conaway writes, “suddenly they were being condemned by the spiritual heirs of John Muir, and the legitimacy of their way of life was being questioned, and some of them were too angry to discuss this rationally.”

“Winegrowers of Napa Valley, Jack Cakebread’s conservative, deep-pocketed Breakfast Club,” features prominently in the book, which Conaway describes as a “haven for men who did not want to compromise and who believed that their financial gain was synonymous with the general good.” 

“The tendency among its members,” Conaway writes of the group’s reaction to the lawsuit, “was to lump all environmentalists together as part of a conspiracy against wine, when in fact there were myriad differences among environmentalists that became more pronounced each day.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Much Love For Mendocino - Malbec Four Ways

Yorkville Cellars' Rennie Vineyard. Used with permission.
If you’ve ever read an article about Mendocino wine, it probably falls into one of two standard formats: “Anderson Valley Pinot is Really Good” or “Apparently They Grow Something Other Than Weed in Mendocino — Who’da Thunk It?”

Yes, Anderson Valley winemakers are producing some amazing Pinot Noir, not to mention Chardonnay, Syrah, sparkling wine and more. Yes, Mendocino County is home to some sublime marijuana. But the land itself is too massive and varied to be pigeonholed.

Mendocino County is a place that demands awe and contemplation — same goes for the wine. It’s more remote, more rugged, more untamed. The redwoods are bigger and the turns more vertigo-inducing. We’re talking further north, past the exits most tourists take into Napa or Sonoma. But to miss out on Mendocino is to miss out on some exciting wines and some stunning country.

On one of several Mendocino trips, I spent some time with my brother and his in-laws in Potter Valley, a relatively remote appellation that is home to a bunch of unique Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. One day I got up well before dawn and drove through the redwoods and mountains toward the ocean. I explored some of the many pristine, empty and frigid surf breaks on the Mendocino coast and surfed until I couldn’t move my lips. On the way inland, I stopped to warm up at a few wineries, including Yorkville Cellars, located in the rocky hills of the Yorkville Highlands appellation.

Here, just north of the Sonoma County line, Yorkville specializes in Bordeaux varietal wines and blends, producing a diverse array of bottles for a total of some 1,000 cases each year. I enjoyed the wines thoroughly and have fond memories of the visit.

Several years and Mendocino trips later, I was excited to receive four sample bottles from Yorkville Cellars: all Malbecs, all from the same vineyard, all completely different styles. These four Malbecs all hail from the Rennie Vineyard, located at 1,000 feet above sea level, which is planted to all the main Bordeaux varieties, plus Carmenere. Despite my love for Mendocino wine, I’d never tasted a Malbec before, but I was pleasantly surprised by these. And I think producing four takes on single-vineyard Malbec speaks to the unique and adventurous spirit of many Mendocino winemakers.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Brut Rosé
Bright cherry-copper colored. Nose of white cherries, roses, chalk and sea breeze. On the palate this is fresh and bright and tangy yet it shows a rounded texture. Flavors of cherries and wild strawberries play off of chalky, floral and oceanic elements, with hints of toasted biscuits. A very pretty bubbly, and a great pairing with sushi. One of the more distinctive interesting domestic sparklers I’ve tasted in a while. (90 points)

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Vin d’Une Nuit Rosé
A bright strawberry color with a slight fizz. Nose: white cherries, wild strawberries, a bright sea breeze and seashell note as well, some roses. Bright and tangy on the palate, a clean feel but also bursting with fruit (strawberry, white cherry, McIntosh apple). Crisp, clean, would cut through all sorts of food, provides a lot of refreshment, but also some ripe fruit. Herbal, oceanic and mineral elements add complexity. You don’t see many of them, but I’m thinking this Malbec rosé idea is working. This one gets about 20 hours of skin contact. (90 points)

2012 Yorkville Cellars Malbec
Deep ruby color. Nose is bold and inviting, blackberries, dark plums, boysenberry, some light roast coffee. On the palate this is bright but fleshy, with fine lightweight tannins and brisk acid. The blackberry, dark plum and blueberry fruit is tart and fresh, giving the wine a light presence, but there’s depth in here as well. Pure fruit, laced with notes of cocoa dust, dried rose petals, rose hips and balsamic glaze. Fresh and juicy and open for business. 17 months in seasoned French oak. As deep and loamy as a Mendoza Malbec, but with more bright, high-toned floral notes. (88 points)

2013 Yorkville Cellars Sweet Malbec
A very light red color, like strawberries and cherry juice. On the nose, I get candied apple, sweet roses, cherry cola and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with a chewy mouthfeel, slight acid. Flavors of Thanksgiving spiced cranberry sauce, caramel apple, roses and clover honey, also some underlying dusty-earthy notes. A juicy and rich presence but the flavors show nuance. Still cool and refreshing, but perhaps this style doesn’t lend itself to those more complex elements in the Rennie Malbec. A Malbec rosé with 10% alcohol and 7% residual sugar, cool fermented with no oak. I could see this being a huge hit at holiday parties. (86 points)

There’s much more to love about Mendocino wine country, which I plan to explore in future posts. Cheers!