Thursday, February 26, 2015

Screaming Good Alder Springs Syrah from Behrens & Hitchcock

Always a good pairing: Syrah and snowstorms.
Every once in a while, I come across a wine that is so damn good I just have to write a whole post about it. I have to find out an answer to the question: How and why is this wine so awesome?

I recently uncorked one such bottle, a
2005 Erna Schein Syrah “Homage to Ed Oliveira” from the Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County. This wine is a product of Behrens & Hitchcock, the husband-wife vintner duo of Les Behrens and Lisa Drinkward (awesome last name, by the way).

Of course, wine is made in the vineyard, and this vineyard is something special. It’s located in Mendocino’s rugged Redwood Valley appellation, which is a stunning and serene place. I’ve made several trips through this part of northern Mendocino County, and I think about this area often. I’ve never visited this particular site, but I hope to tour the vineyard on my next trip.

Stuart Bewley planted the first vines in the
Alder Springs Vineyard in 1993, and it’s since grown to 140 acres. The vineyard is home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Rhone varieties spread across 31 individual plots. The juice from these low-yielding vines has found its way into bottles from an impressive list of winemakers, including Pax, Novy, Patz & Hall, Vie and Arnot-Roberts. Ranging from 1,700 to 2,700 feet in elevation, some 315,000 vines cling to steep sandstone slopes. It sounds like an amazing site, and given the level of focus on viticulture, it’s no wonder the juice tastes so damn good.

I also like the label and the aesthetic approach. Behrens and Drinkward pay homage to their winemaking mentor, Ed Olivera, in the proprietary name of this wine. They also pay tribute to Behrens’ mother by putting her name, Erna Schein, on the label, and they recognize her baking skills with an image of a mixer. The juice inside is what counts, but I always enjoy the stories and the people behind the wines, and I like it when winemakers honor those who came before and inspired them.

Like all stunning wines should, this Syrah was opened with people I love, specifically my mother and sister. They both really enjoyed the wine, dissecting the nuances as it evolved in the glass over the course of an afternoon. 

My notes:

Inky purple color with some slight brick rims. Smells of blueberries and black currants, dark and saucy, topped with pepper glaze, smoke, bacon fat and green olive tapenade. My sister summed up the smells thusly: “currants and animals.” Opens up with air to show more exotic spices and herbs, maybe lavender and basil, Still quite tannic but they’ve been fined down with age, this is a full wine but moderate acid keeps it quite balanced. The tart currant and blueberry fruit is laced with all sorts of complex and evolving non-fruit elements: bacon fat, smoke, roasted earth, sweet basil, liquefied olives, marijuana, beef jerky. Time has turned this into a very floral and airy wine. Light roast coffee and charcoal notes linger long onto the finish. A gorgeous Alder Springs Syrah that I’m glad has been cellared for so long. Even more time to go, if, like me, you love those olive, meat and herbal components. (93 points)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Screw Winter, Drink Sauvignon Blanc

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It’s the dead of winter here in the mid-Atlantic and crisp white wines might not be the first choice when you’re thinking of cracking open a bottle. But if you’re in the mood for seafood and salads, or you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a warm, sunny deck somewhere closer to the equator, California Sauvignon Blanc is a good call. 

These Cali Sauv Blancs comprise a diverse crew, showcasing different regional nuances and winemaking methods, and many of them are available for reasonable prices. 

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

2013 Clayhouse Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Fumé Blanc Red Cedar Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $23
Bright gold color. Salty and airy on the nose, with lots of white flowers and bright perfume, some tropical fruits and honey. On the palate, crisp acid, a lively and bright approach, showing some oceanic notes. Sliced green and yellow apple fruit, mineral-driven but also lots of richness in the form of honeycomb and nougat. Lots of freshness, great balance between the zesty and the creamy. (89 points)

2013 Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - California, North Coast, Potter Valley
SRP: $18
Clear straw color. So vibrant on the nose with kiwi, papaya and lime, mixed in with floral and some honey notes. Very creamy on the palate, with zippy acid, the combination works very well. Flavors of papaya, kiwi and lime zest, I also get notes of gravelly road and white flowers, some honey on the finish. Lively and pretty, showing a lot of complexity and versatility. (90 points)

2013 Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
SRP: $15
On the nose: papaya, wildflowers, melon and honey. Creamy, rich, fruity with cantaloupe, melon and honey accented by some white pepper and spice. Fleshy but tangy and impressive for the price. Even at $15, 2013 offers exciting Sauvignon Blanc. (87 points)

2013 Phifer Pavitt Sauvignon Blanc Date Night - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
Light golden color. Bright lemon-lime peel on the nose, some white cherries, grapefruit and guava, accented by hints of white and green pepper. Bright and zingy but some nice creaminess as well. Lime and grapefruit play off of guava and pineapple, and the fruit is dashed with some grass, white pepper and honeysuckle. Clean, fresh but good weight, very food-friendly. All stainless steel. (87 points)

2013 Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $24
Clear lemon color. Aromas of white peach, nectarine, clean laundry, honeysuckle and mineral notes. Full on the palate but great acid keeps it balanced. White cherry, nectarine and mango fruit is dusted with chalk and spicy oregano. Dried honey and nutshell notes as well. Clean, crisp but complex with white tea on the finish. Delicious and impressive. (90 points)

2013 Amici Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $25
Pale straw color. Fresh and vibrant on the nose with a fruit salad of white peach, nectarine, grapefruit and guava, along with notes of honeysuckle and a hint of white pepper. Full-bodied and creamy on the palate but held in by crisp acid. White peach, orange peel, pineapple and guava mix together with notes of honey, wax and white pepper. Rich yet clean and crisp and focused, with minerals and limestone on the finish. Showing lots of complexity and food-friendliness. (88 points)

2013 Atalon Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $21
Light straw color. Nose of white peaches, green apple slices and a good amount of grass and white pepper. Medium-bodied palate, moderate acid keeps it fresh as the white peach, green apples and kiwi flow in. Accented by honeysuckle, slight grass and hints of rocky stream and minerals. Fun and approachable, a middle-of-the-road style. Includes 9% Semillon. (86 points)

2012 Cockerell Family Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc Le Petit Coquerel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $22
Pale straw color. Bright and inviting on the nose, a medley of white peach, guava and lemon peel mixed with white flowers, green pepper and some spicy oregano. The palate shows crisp acid and a moderately creamy body. The flavors of lemon zest, green apple and guava are complex and deep, laced with notes of sea salt, white pepper, floral perfume and oregano. Underlying notes of minerals and crushed chalk add complexity. All stainless steel. (88 points)

2012 Cockerell Family Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc Terroir Coquerel - California, Napa Valley, Calistoga
SRP: $32
A pale straw color. Lots of chalk and crushed rocks and minerals on the nose, jumping out of the glass, over top of green apple, lemon and some papaya, a hint of honeyed white tea. Zesty acid on the palate, a clean but full approach on the palate. Sliced green apple, papaya drizzled with lime, I also get notes of quinine, crushed chalk and white tea. Hints of honey and hazelnut linger long onto the finish. Complex and forward but maintains elegance and freshness. Very impressive. Fermented in 10% new oak. (91 points)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Wine Reviews: Grab Bag of Cali Reds

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

One of the greatest things about exploring California wines is the diversity. We taste a lot of California classics, Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Rhone reds, and most of the California red wine samples we receive fall into these tried and true categories. But there’s so much else worth checking out.

After my initial fascination with Petite Sirah wore off, I have experienced something of a regained appreciation for the grape. And some Central Coast producers are doing interesting things with Malbec. There’s some Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Barbera thrown in for good measure. A small drop in the bucket, of course, but I enjoyed exploring these wines, which were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. 

2012 Clayhouse Vineyard Petite Sirah Old Vines Red Cedar Vineyard ­- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $25
Bright purple color. Deep and dark on the nose, all sorts of concentrated berries, along with a hefty dose of incense sticks, mocha and dark chocolate, underlined by notes of clove and pepper. Solid tannic backbone, a bit low on the acid for my palate, but the wine gushes with juicy blackberries and blueberries. I pick up complex notes of loamy soil and dark roast coffee, some pepper and clove lingers onto the finish. A bold and chewy wine that could use a year or two to settle down. (87 points)

2012 Parducci Petite Sirah True Grit Reserve - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $29
Dense purple color. Smells like fig cookies, raisin muffins, a deep and dark sense of baked plums and cocoa. Full-bodied and mouthfilling, with gritty tannins but tartness comes in from the acid and balances it out a bit. Deep and dark with plums, blueberries and cherry pie, also a real sense of loam, charcoal and an intriguing espresso and toasted marshmallow note. Rich and hedonistic for sure, begging for pepper-crusted steak. Includes 8% Syrah and 1% Grenache, aged in 43% new American oak. (88 points)

2011 Foppiano Petite Sirah - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $25
An absurdly purple color with thick legs. Deep aromatics, with black currants and blackberry jam, underlined by smoke, mocha, caramel and a bit of heat. Dusty but firm tannins, medium- acid, this is such a creamy and velvety wine. The black currant and blackberry fruit is rich but smooth and plush. Secondary flavors of black olive, chewing tobacco and sweet BBQ sauce add complexity. A rich and hedonistic wine, but the different elements are woven together nicely, and the finish shows a lot of length. Unabashedly big, but very tasty, I just wish it had a bit more acid. Perhaps a few years could help this integrate more. (87 points)

2012 Niner Wine Estates Malbec - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $30
Bold purple color. Aromas of cool dark berry fruit (blue, black) with some violets, sweet clove, vanilla and coffee, all the aromas of bold but full of nuance. So smooth and velvety on the palate, with seamlessly integrated fine tannins and fresh acid. Waves of blue and black fruit glide across the palate, also violets, loam, dried cranberries, clove and cinnamon sticks, but despite these rich flavors it doesn’t taste sweet of overbearing at all. Finishes clean with long notes of coffee and vanilla bean. Drink now. Aged 18 months in half new French, Hungarian and American oak. (88 points)

2012 Clayhouse Vineyard Malbec Estate Red Cedar Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $14
Bright and plummy on the nose, with rich but vibrant fruit, some violets, root beer and sweet cherry-rhubarb pie notes. Fine tannins and tangy acid make this an easy-drinking wine. The red and black plum fruit is ripe and smooth yet tangy. Notes of cola, root beer and roasted nuts mix with lighter floral and herbal tones. Bright, clean, refreshing, a straightforward but well-made wine. Includes 5% Petite Sirah. (86 points)

2012 Tooth & Nail Wines “The Fiend” Tolliver Ranch - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $27
Light purple color. Smooth and rich blueberries and black cherries on the nose, intoxicating vanilla bean, warm chai, coffee and deep loamy notes. On the palate, smooth but structured tannins mix with moderately refreshing acid. The black currant and blueberry fruit is tart and tangy but deep and velvety as well, and I love the notes of tobacco, spearmint and mossy soil. The graphite and granite elements blend well with hints of toasted nuts and creamy oak. A wonderfully balanced wine, but a bottle that will reward a few years in the cellar. 80% Malbec and 20% Syrah. (90 points)

2012 Kendall-Jackson Merlot Grand Réserve - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $26
Deep magenta color. Nose of black cherries, blackberry jam, vanilla cola, mocha, sweet violets and pepper. Fine tannins, tart acid, bright berries (black cherry, raspberry, blackberry) along with mocha, cola, earth and dark chocolate. A fun wine, not too complex but it presents itself well. Drink now. (85 points)

2013 Force of Nature Red Wine - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $18
Vibrant purple color. Bursting aromas of juicy raspberries, blueberries and cherries on the nose, with some cocoa powder, red licorice and vanilla cola. Full and chewy on the palate, with dry tannins and medium-low acid. The cherry and blueberry fruit oozes across the palate, backed up with cocoa, campfire smoke, root beer and cola. A forward but persistent wine that I can’t help but like. 67% Merlot, 11% Cabernet, 11% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah. (87 points)

2011 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Franc Stepping Stone - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Medium ruby color, clear. Lovely and complex nose of red currants and wild raspberries, matched by strong elements of tobacco leaf, sweet red peppers and roasted coffee. Creamy and velvety but solid tannins and some refreshing acid for balance. Great mix of red berry fruit, some darker plums mixed in, I like the non-fruit elements of charcoal, bell pepper, tobacco leaf and graphite. Notes of sweet clove and vanilla are nuanced, not overpowering. Long finish. Smooth and open but could easily be cellared for three to five years and then some. (90 points)

2012 Nico Wines Barbera - California
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. Smells of ripe cherries, roses and red licorice candy. Medium bodied with medium acid and soft tannins. Juicy with cherries and sweet currant jam flavors, backed up by some earth and vanilla bean. A bit candied, but a fun, pleasant wine for sure. (85 points)

2011 Longoria Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $36
Smells of berry compote, tobacco smoke, roasted pepper, some cedar. Fine tannins and fresh acid frame the wine. Flavors of mixed berries, dried roses, black pepper and tobacco. Some cedar and charcoal notes on the finish. Interesting flavors, solid structure, a lot of fun. (88 points)

2012 Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Red Wine - California
SRP: $10
Bright ruby colored. Nose of sweet roses, red licorice candies, tart cranberries and sweet oak. Soft tannins, medium acid, a very light and fruity approach with gummy candy and sweet jam notes to the red apple and raspberry fruit. Juicy and sweet and simple, an almost chewy candy feel. A blend of Zin, Merlot, Syrah and Malbec. (75 points)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

You Should Be Buying and Drinking Languedoc Reds

If you're anything like me you love: a) hearty red wine with rich fruit and savory flavors, b) cooking up foods to pair with said wines, and c) doing all this for a reasonable amount of money.

I've long been a fan of the value-driven red blends coming from the Languedoc region of Southern France. But it wasn't until a trip there last year that I began to grasp the extent of good, and even potentially great, wines of this region. Perhaps unfairly, this region has struggled against a reputation as a workhorse region of boring bulk wine. That meme should've died out years ago. More and more producers are crafting stunning wines (frequently from very old vines) that can rival the quality of similar blends from the Rhone, and many of them cost quite a bit less.

If you don't know anything about this region, there has never been a better time to learn. The selections are better and more diverse than ever.

Weygandt Wines, my favorite shop in DC, has an impressive range of Languedoc wines from some consistent producers. Perhaps overshadowed by their extensive Burgundy, Loire and Rhone offerings, these wines offer consumers a great primer on Languedoc reds. Sure, Languedoc is home to wines of every style and color, but this is largely the land of red wine. These wines are generally blended from Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and a host of other red grapes.

2012 Domaine Montfin Corbières - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Corbières
I get ripe cherries and smoke on the nose. Good structure but approachable, the dark plum and cherry fruit is accented by notes of anise and charcoal. 70% Carignan and 30% Grenache. (85 points)

2012 Jean-Baptiste Senat Minervois Arbalete and Coquelicots - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
More olive and white pepper on the nose here, some bright currants and cherries with a spicy herbal kick. Firm but dusty tannins, bright acid, clear currant fruits and plum skins mixed with earth, spice and herbal components. Drinking well now. 80% Grenache and 20% Cinsault. (88 points)

2012 Jean-Baptiste Senat Minervois La Nine - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
Darker and earthier on the nose, more like the fruit has been crushed into a paste with deep iron accents. Smooth yet structured, crunch dark plum and kirsch flavors are balanced by earth, meat, pepper and exotic floral elements. Spicy, loamy finish. Very pretty now but could be cellared for 3-4 so easily. 40% Grenache, 40% Carignan and 20% Syrah. (90 points)

2010 Jean-Baptiste Senat Minervois Le Bois des Merveilles - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
Bursting with raspberries, blackberries, cola, chocolate pudding and sweet oregano aromas, a very complex mix. Bold, a bit more extracted, this is a deep, plummy, rich and plush wine. Stays smooth throughout, as the dark plum fruit mixes with minerals, spices and liqueur notes. Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre. (90 points)

2010 Clos Marie Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup L'Olivette - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup
Dark and a bit tight on the nose, shows some roses and deep plums though. Smoky and bold on the palate but some refreshing tart red berries. Mineral elements, mocha, spice and violets. Complex stuff that could develop quite a bit in the cellar. Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. (88 points)

2010 Clos Marie Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup Simon - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup
Sweet plum cake on the nose, deeply floral, ginger snap cookies, cinnamon, charcoal, all sorts of interesting aromas. Firm, well structured palate, yet pretty. Plums, blackberries, doused in smoke, tobacco, pine sap and mineral notes. Complex, long, yet refreshing. Needs time to show full potential, but this is a real beauty. (91 points)

2012 Domaine Le Clos du Serres Coteaux du Languedoc Le Clos - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
Very pretty aromas of dark flowers, olives and smoke. Sweet plums mix with herbal smoke on a silky-smooth frame. Juicy fruit, mineral and earth accents, an elegant approach. Equal parts Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Oeillade grapes. (88 points)

2012 Domaine Le Clos du Serres Coteaux du Languedoc Les Terrasses du Larzac Le Bouis - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Les Terrasses du Larzac
Smooth and rich on the nose, lovely plums, earth and charcoal notes. Smooth and full palate, coating yet still fresh with a bunch of jammy black and red fruits. A spice-laden wine, with chestnuts, graphite, charcoal, a deep sense of minerality. Syrah from schist soils, the Northern Rhone fans should dig this. I've love to bury this for a decade. (90 points)

2011 Domaine Le Clos du Serres Coteaux du Languedoc Les Terrasses du Larzac La Blaca - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Les Terrasses du Larzac
Lovely nose of black cherry pie, spice cake, green herbs, violets and cocoa. Smooth and velvety palate, tons of floral, cola and herbal spice elements to bounce off the juicy blueberry and blackberry fruit. Complex, intense, worthy of 5+ years in the cellar. A long, impressive blend of 75% Syrah, 15% Grenache and 10% Carignan. I loved the 2010 and this vintage is really impressive as well. (91 points) 

2011 Domaine Le Clos du Serres Coteaux du Languedoc Les Terrasses du Larzac L'Humeur Vagabonde - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Les Terrasses du Larzac
Deeply mineral-driven on the nose, the berry fruit mixes with lots of granite, charcoal and spice notes, some sweet violets as well. Silky and pure on the palate, plummy with chewy tannins. Long, minera-centric, complex notes of smoke, coffee, sage and minerals. From the estates 100-year-old Carignan vines with some Syrah and Grenache blended in. Beautiful stuff with plenty of life ahead. (91 points) 

2013 L'Oustal Blanc (Isabel et Claude Fonquerle) Vin de France K - France, Vin de France
Deep and extracted aromatically, boysenberry and blueberry pie topped with smoked notes. Jammy, plummy, yet not overblown, like blueberries and blackberry pie topped with cocoa, charcoal smoke and pepper. Can’t help but love it, even if it is a bit burly. All Carignan. (88 points)
2012 L'Oustal Blanc (Isabel et Claude Fonquerle) Naïck Red - France, Vin de Table Français
Smells huge, like massive blueberries topped with pepper and grilled herbs. Actually smooth and creamy, not hot despite the higher alcohol, a bold wine for sure though, mouth-filling. Full of blackberry and blueberry jam, topped with earth, violets, pepper and smoke. Comes from two terroirs, one in Saint Chinian and one in Minervois. A blend of Cinsault, Carignan and smaller parts Grenache and Syrah from two parcels in Saint Chinian and Minervois. The biggest wine in the lot, but very well-made. (89 points)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New to Me: Fortified Peruvian "Wine"

Being a wine-lover means immersing yourself in an endless process of discovery. That’s one of the reasons I spend so much damn time focused on wine, because it provides me a path to new experiences and information. 

I recently came across a bottle that reminded me why I keep exploring. It’s labeled “Aperitif Wine – Product of Peru.” This “Perfecto Amor” from distiller-producer BarSol Pisco is technically not wine, if you define wine as fermented grape juice. Still, it sure gave me a unique and informative experience. 

This wine-like beverage is a blend of fortified juice from the Quebranta, Italia and Torontel grape varieties. Each grape variety is crushed separately and — here’s where things get a bit different — instead of allowing the sweet grape juice to ferment, the producers add pisco, traditional Peruvian distilled spirit. This heightens the alcohol content to 17% while retaining all the natural sugars from the wine grapes.

Also interesting: each grape variety’s juice is fortified with pisco distilled from that same grape variety. All three sweet-fortified juices are then blended together to create something of a house-style dessert wine. 

Peruvian pisco distillers have crafted similar beverages for personal consumption for years, says BarSol Co-Founder Diego Loret de Mola, who aims to introduce this tasty beverage to a new generation of drinkers. 

I have my doubts about how well this wine-like beverage can sell. It seems to have a very small niche in a large market. But for the explorers out there, this would be an interesting addition to a tasting dinner or a by-the-glass program. Also, an adventurous cocktail mixer — definitely not my strong suit — could use this as an ingredient in some fun blended drinks. 

This wine was received as a trade sample and tasted sighted.

N.V. Barsol Pisco “Perfecto Amor” - Peru
SRP: $19
Amber colored. Smells nutty and herbal, with intense and strange (not in a bad way) elements for me, making the drink hard to analyze in a traditional context. So, to gush on the aromas: I’m smelling candied apples, smashed brown banana pulp, newly crushed white grape must, and then mix in some spiced pepper jelly and herbal tea elements. I’ve never smelled something comparable, so points for uniqueness for sure. Nutty palate, full bodied and sweet, the alcohol is deceptively masked by the richness of the grape must flavors. Sweet but in a fresh and rather balanced way. I pick up on dried pineapple, dried mango and some bruised apple fruit, also some notes of raw almonds, white tea and sweet red pepper jelly. (87 points)

Fun, horizon-broadening stuff. I’d love to taste some fermented Peruvian grape juice to get a better idea of what’s going on. Now to find some...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bedrock Rocks With Sonoma Valley Whites

Sonoma Countys Bedrock is a source of endlessly exciting wines. Seriously, I’ve tasted many Bedrock wines and not a “Meh” or “I guess it’s decent” has ever crossed my mind.

It’s no surprise that Bedrock wines excite: winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson has wine is his blood. Morgans father, Joel Peterson, kicked off the famous Sonoma County Zin institution back in the 1970s, and Morgan grew up around wine.

John Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle wine writer and author of “The New California Wine” named Twain-Peterson one of two winemakers of the year for 2014, and I think he's a worthy recipient of the title.

Twain-Peterson casts a wide net with his bottlings: ancient vine Zinfandels, Syrah from the Sonoma Coast, a delicious Mourvedre rosé from Sonoma Valley, and a range of “heritage” wines aimed at reclaiming the field blend history of Sonoma County. Under the Abrente label, a project with winemaker Michael Havens, Twain-Peterson focuses on relatively obscure whites like Albarino and Godello.

I recently tasted two of Twain-Peterson’s white wines from the 2013 vintage and, of course, I was thrilled.

Compagni Portis wines are truly singular in their sense of place.
2013 Bedrock Wine Co. Heritage Compagni Portis - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
Bright clear lemon color. Bursting with white peach, nectarine, banana and lychee on the nose, some waxy elements, candied orange peel, white pepper and clove. Full-bodied with a waxy mouthfeel, the wine glides over the palate and coats it, but doesn’t feel heavy because of the persistent and crisp acid. Nutty, not oaky, like peanut skin and almonds with hints of olive oil and dried honey. I love the grapefruit pith mixed with white pepper, herbal tea and clove. Complex and thought-provoking, yet effortlessly enjoyable, which is why I love Bedrock wines. I’d like to revisit this in two or three more years. A throwback California white field blend from an old and unique vineyard, this is a mix of Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, Riesling, Roter Veltliner, Chardonnay and so on. (91 points)

2013 Bedrock Wine Co. Godello Abrente - California, Sonoma, Sonoma Valley
Light gold color. Nose of white flowers, honeysuckle, limestone and sea salt on top of green pears and green melon. On the palate, this wine shows quite a lot of brisk acid, so refreshing and intense from start to finish. While a creamy body coats the palate, the wine never feels heavy. The flavors tend toward the green pear, kiwi and green melon, while notes of honey and white tea and candied citrus peel add complexity. Briny finish, with layers of complex wax and tea elements. With time, I get more nutty and waxy elements, with intense sea salt and minerals. Stunning, long, prickly finish. Fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel, then aged in neutral oak. A project with Michael Havens, this wine comes from John Baillie’s Birdland Vineyard. (91 points)

I’ve got some Bedrock reds sleeping for a few years, but these white wines are stunning and will be an integral part of my California white wine consumption for years to come.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wine Reviews: Washington State

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

When it comes to pure deliciousness and joy in a wine-drinking experience, Washington State wines always deliver for me. 

Every time I think I have a grasp of the wines and their producers, I discover a new winemaker that wows me and keeps me wanting to learn more. 

There are also plenty of value-driven bottles available, although some of these, like bulk regional blends from anywhere, can lack excitement. 

Still, dollar for dollar, the quality of Washington State continues to impress.

This batch was received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Columbia Winery Chardonnay - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Richer nose, orange marmalade, creamy pears and honey, some floral, perfume. Plump on the palate, chunky pineapple and pears, drizzled with honey and topped with diced nuts. Bold, ripe, creamy, but some moderate acid keeps it in check. The nutty, chamomile, honey and baked bread elements show some moderate complexity. Includes some Semillon and Chenin Blanc. (85 points)

2013 Columbia Winery Chardonnay - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Rich nose of oranges, baked pear, papaya, some honey and floral notes. Juicy and rich on the palate but acid keeps it balanced. Nutty and honeyed notes accent the pear, yellow apple and apricot fruit. I get a lot of crushed nuts, honeyed tea and toast elements. A creamy and bold Chardonnay with exposed oak, but still quite tasty. Includes 5% Pinot Gris and 3% “other white” grapes. (84 points)

2012 Kennedy Shah (Woodhouse Wine Estates) Riesling Reserve DuBrul Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley
SRP: $25
Medium gold color. Beautiful and complex nose of white peach, orange marmalade, kiwi, all drizzled with honey and some dusty soil. On the palate this wine is bright and clean, packing lots of fruit into a nervy, wiry frame. The slight sugary sweetness is matched perfectly with the brisk acid. I get lime, white peach, kiwi and papaya, throw in some honey and a whole lot of sea salt, shells and minerals. A hint of hazelnut lingering long into the finish. Complex and intriguing, but so refreshing and satisfying at the same time. (90 points) 

2010 Long Shadows Wineries Chester-Kidder - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $50
Dark purple color. Deep and dark on the nose with currants, fig paste, roasted plums mixing with notes of charcoal, mocha, vanilla, some spicy, bourbon cask elements. Firm tannins on the palate, this is a bold and concentrated wine but the acid helps it out a lot. Deep currants and black cherries blend with some black olive and spiced black tea notes. Long and full, with notes of coffee and coconut on the finish. Delicious, but it could use two or three years to unwind. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Syrah and 5% Petit Verdot. (91 points)

2010 Daríghe (Woodhouse Wine Estates) Proprietor's Blend - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $65
Dark ruby-light purple color. Lovely blueberry and tart cranberries on the nose, lots of flowers, loamy soil, rich vanilla, clove, tobacco, but so much brightness to the aromatic profile as well. Tart acid, grippy tannins, full of structure but balanced and easy to drink at the same time. Blueberry fruit, blackberries and black cherries galore, complex and interesting notes of smoke and mocha notes, vanilla and milk chocolate, but also lots of flowers and loamy elements. The acid keeps it clean and fresh. Beautiful notes of spiced tea and incense sticks, like a spice rack collapsed onto the fruit. But it’s lovely and fresh and long-lasting. Complex, thought-provoking, but perhaps most importantly, downright delicious. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 3% Petite Verdot, aged 24 months in 75% new French oak. (92 points)

2010 Dussek Family Cellars (Woodhouse Wine Estates) Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley, Rattlesnake Hills
SRP: $36
A dark ruby colored in the glass. Lovely nose: Rich blue fruit mixes with tart red berries, and it’s all dusted with incense sticks, lavender, rose potpourri and a deep sense of earthy complexity. Silky and elegant on the palate, sure the tannins have lots of structure but the acid is tart and the fruit is cool, creamy and so smooth. Blueberries and red berries again, but also lots of loamy soil, tobacco leaf, cocoa powder and cinnamon notes. Long and complex, you could decant this and pick out nuances all night long, or just cellar it for five. But a beauty young. Swoon. 13.8% alcohol, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak, includes 8% Cabernet Franc. (92 points)

2011 Long Shadows Wineries Saggi - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $50
Notes of sweet blackberries and currant jam mix with charcoal, dark coffee, caramel and some sweet cedar. Full on the palate, dark but tart as well with crispness from the acid and fine but structured tannins. Cranberries and red currants, some blackberries as well, add to that some graphite, pencil shavings, red pepper jelly, anise and tobacco. Big but tart, well-structured and complex, this could develop quite a bit in the cellar. 43% Sangiovese, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. (91 points)

2011 Long Shadows Wineries Syrah Sequel - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $45
Dark purple color. Smokey and bold on the nose with black currants, black cherries and blueberries, all of it dark and deep, with a bit of beef jerky and charcoal thrown in as well. Solid tannic backbone, tamed by medium acid, the wine shows some chewy aspects but it’s also quite smooth (if that makes any sense). Black currant and blueberry fruit is juicy and rich and mixed in with an interesting combination of cedar, pencil shavings, teriyaki sauce and beef jerky. Bold but showing some restraint, a good decant and this could be enjoyed now, but I’d love to cellar it for three or four years to see what those meaty, earthy tones do. Aussie icon John Duval nails it with this Columbia Valley Syrah. (92 points) 

2012 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $15
Bright ruby color. Smells of blackberries and blueberries, scorched earth, roasted coffee and some notes of sweet red licorice. Fresh acid and medium-strength tannins back up the blackberry and plum fruit. Notes of charcoal smoke, mocha and sweet tobacco round the wine out, and I also get some cedar shavings, chocolate chips and vanilla elements. Medium finish with notes of vanilla and toasted oak. Includes 11% Syrah, 10% Malbec and 3% Merlot. (85 points)

2012 Columbia Winery Merlot - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Juicy purple color. Currants and tart blueberries on the nose with some earthy accents. Chewy on the palate with smooth tannins and a blueberry and candied cherry blend of flavors. Notes of mocha and earth. Simple, fun, a bit astringent on the finish. Includes 10% Syrah, and dashes of Cab and other varieties. (83 points)

N.V. Columbia Winery Red Blend - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $12
Smells of raspberry gummy candy, cola and smoke. Juicy, tangy and tart on the palate with darker berry fruit (plums and blackberries). I also get some roses and a hint of tobacco. Light tannins, medium acid, I need more complexity and personality from this wine though. Still, for $12, it’s not bad. A blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot. (81 points)