Thursday, May 28, 2015

For Crisp, Clean, Refreshing Wines, Look to Finger Lakes

When it comes to clean, crisp, exciting white wines, Finger Lakes is America’s premier viticultural region. Clustered around a series of deep, glacial lakes in central New York, the cool but tempered climate, diverse soils and different vineyard aspects result in some refreshing and unique wines.

The Finger Lakes region is home to more than 9,000 acres of vines and 130 wineries. Riesling is the region’s leading white, backed up (and sometimes blended with) other classic, cool-climate European grapes: Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris. Not to mention some tangy reds, Pinot Noirs and Lembergers, for example.

The Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area, outlined in pink, stretches from outside of Rochester to south of Syracuse. The region is made up of several sub-appellations, such as Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. Image: Finger Lakes Wine Alliance 

I recently tasted through a few Finger Lakes wines (three Seneca Lake whites from the slightly wetter and cooler 2013 vintage, and a 2012 red made from Lemberger). These wines reminded me of the critical role Finger Lakes producers play in the overall puzzle of American viticulture.

The tasting was sponsored by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance’s Finger Lakes Wine Month promotion. People gathered at tastings in the Finger Lakes and from their homes, and we took to Twitter to share are thoughts and discuss the wines of this region. The tasting was timed to drum up support for the Wine Bloggers Conference, which is being hosted in the Finger Lakes during August. I won’t be attending the conference, but I desperately need a trip to the Finger Lakes with my wife and daughter. I love the wines and the area looks stunningly beautiful. I have so many places to visit, winemakers to speak to and stories to uncover.

Until then, here are my notes on some delicious Finger Lakes wines.

2013 Lakewood Vineyards Pinot Gris Gigliotti Vineyards - New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake
Light apricot-golden color. The aromas are full of rocks and chalk, some dried pineapple and honey, but also a zesty, pithy wine, with grapefruit and lime. The sugar adds richness but the sweetness is covered by the wine’s zesty acid. Creamy peaches, kumquats, laced with grapefruit, lime and apricot. Long finish of chalk and minerals, hints of honeyed white tea. From Gigliotti Vineyards on the west side of Seneca Lake. 13.7% alcohol, 12.5 grams of residual sugar, the grapes are destemmed and given 24 hours of skin contact. (87 points)

If you love flowers and spice in your wine, and you’re skeptical of residual sugar, this Seneca Lake Gewürztraminer fits the bill perfectly.

2013 Villa Bellangelo Gewürztraminer 1866 Reserve - New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake
Light gold color. Explosive aromatic display, really impressive: candied orange peel, fresh ginger, lime zest, peach nectar, also some sea brine and sour ale notes. Zesty on the palate, medium-light bodied and dry (11.5% alcohol, about 1% residual sugar). Pretty white peach, apricot, lime and kumquat, mixed with ginger, white pepper, ocean spray, chalk. Long finish, a complex wine, impressed by the concentration, length, minerality. I’d love to taste this in five or six years or mix in to an Alsace or Austrian wine tasting. Even more evocative on day two. (90 points)

From Wagner’s vineyards on the east side of Seneca Lake comes this interesting blend of 65% Riesling and 35% Gewürztraminer. Bone dry and refreshing, this Seneca take on an Alsace-style blended white would make a great ringer in a tasting of whites from Alsace or Germany. 

2013 Wagner Fathom 107 - New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake
Pale straw color. Peachy and bright on the nose, orange blossom, white peaches, drizzled with some honey, lime and white floral potpourri. Dry and brisk on the palate, a very tangy and crisp wine with chalk, river stones, quinine, The fruit underneath offers some juiciness to balance out the minerals. Orange, lime, grapefruit, some sliced green apple, quite pure and vibrant throughout. A deeply mineral-centric wine with refreshing bone dry appeal, hints of ginger, chalk, clover. Begs for oysters, clams. 12% alcohol, with no residual sugar. (89 points) 

Lemberger is an Old World red grape common in Germany and Austria, but it’s found several homes in America, notably Washington State and the Finger Lakes. Goose Watch tweeted to me that they were the first to plant Lemberger in this region in 1992. “We love working with this grape,” they said. “It needs a bit of extra hang time or it just tastes like black pepper. Gains some more fruit and complexity with the extra vine time.”

2012 Goose Watch Lemberger - New York, Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake
Medium ruby color. On the nose: forward cherries, wild raspberries, rhubarb pie, notes of cracked pepper, hint of savory broth and bay leaf notes. On the palate: tangy, bright, moderate-dusty tannins. Juicy black and red cherries, tart red cranberries. Dusty, earthy, cracked pepper elements. Wood shavings, rose petals and white pepper on the finish. An intriguing, food-friendly wine, lots of fun but showing complexity and intrigue. 12.8% alcohol. (88 points)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Welcome Summer With California White Wine

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Let’s take a break from Chardonnay and focus on some other white wine options from California. Though I love Cali Chard, it’s exciting to come across a diverse group of Gewürztraminer, Riesling  Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc from the Golden State. I enjoy California whites year round, but warm weather makes these wines even more attractive.

This grab bag of California whites was received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2014 Niner Wine Estates Albariño Jespersen Vineyard California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $20
Straw-light gold color. Aromas burst out of the glass: white peach, guava, yellow flowers, also some gummy bears and peach ring candies. Bright acid frames the wine well as it rolls across the palate, lots of white peaches, juicy apricot, cantaloupe melon, backed up by some yellow flowers, honeysuckle and clover notes. Juicy, with gummy candy notes, yet dry and crisp. A unique flavor profile and presence on the palate, check this out if you’re looking for something bright, fruity and crowd-friendly. (88 points)

2013 Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer Estate Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $23
Light yellow color. Nose of white peach, papaya, lime juice drizzled on top, a bit of river rocks and mineral notes as well. Bursting with lime and white peach on the palate, it has a creamy mouthfeel but the acid streaks through from start to finish. Complex notes of lychee nut, dried honey, ginger tea, but there’s an underlying sense of stony minerality. Dry, bracing, nervy and complex. An example of what can be done with this grape in the right place at the right time. (89 points)

2013 Smith Madrone Riesling California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $27
Pale straw color. Lovely limestone, crushed shells and chalk on the nose, overtop of white peach and yellow apples. Crisp and bracing, with fine acid and a mineral-centric approach. I get thse sense I’m drinking lime juice from a glass made of crushed rocks and chalk. Juicy white peach and apricot mix with sliced Granny Smith apples, a hint of honey. A complex but clean and refreshing wine. Smith-Madrone are masters of Napa Riesling. (91 points)

2013 Clayhouse Vineyard Grenache Blanc/Viognier Red Cedar Vineyard California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $23
Light gold color. Zesty and flower-driven on the nose, like lemon, lime peels and tangerines tossed with honeysuckle and white tea leaves. Decent acid, but lots of creaminess and juicy tropical fruit elements. White peach and papaya fruit, some white tea and maybe mint note? Nutty, too with nougat and whipped butter, not to mention hints of sea salt and chalk. Quite complex, definitely tasty, this stuff would work well with all sorts of food. 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Viognier. (88 points)

2013 La Merika Pinot Grigio California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $13
Light and airy aromas, green melon and lemons mix with honeysuckle. Medium-bodied, medium acidity, a plump feel to the cantaloupe, nectarine and honeydew fruit (some lime drizzled on top), and I also get some honeycomb and green tea elements. A bit simple, but solid and would probably be a big crowd-pleaser for brunches or picnics. (85 points)

2013 Swanson Pinot Grigio California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $21
Medium straw color. Very bright on the nose, lots of white peach, mango and mixed yellow and white flowers, some honeycomb and spring breeze notes. Light-medium bodied with moderate acid, the white peach and lemon flavors mix with cucumber water, white tea and honey notes. A bit light and not too complex, but the flavors are tasty and it’s definitely refreshing and fun. Fermented in all stainless steel, this wine includes 11% Oakville Chardonnay. (86 points)

2014 Landmark Pinot Gris Hop Kiln California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $20
Light gold color, hint of spritz. Very pretty nose: apricot jam, orange peel, honey, caramel apple and a note that reminds me of lager beer. Nice and creamy on the palate, but the acid zips in and cleans it up. The yellow apple, apricot and orange marmalade flavors are rich and full, but the wine also shows notes of white tea, chalk, nougat and raw almonds. Could be mistaken for a Chardonnay, but has a bit more tropical aspects to it. I’m intrigued. Fermented in half stainless steel and half oak barrels. (90 points)

2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Gris Vintner’s Reserve California
SRP: $15
Pale gold color. Bright aromas, lemons, green apples, some richer honeyed and floral notes, hints of hay and almonds. Medium-bodied, some refreshing acid, a light and bright style with crispness and freshness. Sliced yellow and green apples, lemon, but also some nougat, honeycomb and almond notes. An interesting Pinot Gris that blends in 9% Roussanne, 4% Gruner Veltliner, 3% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier and 2% Albarino. Most of the fruit comes from Monterey, but some Sonoma, Lake and Santa Barbara juice mixed in. (86 points)

2014 Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $20
Bright straw color. Nose shows grapefruit, kiwi, white peach, some underlying river stream and white floral tones. Tangy acid, medium+ bodied, I like the creamy-nutty aspects, woven in well with the kiwi, grapefruit and apricot flavors. Hints of seashell, mountain stream and chalk, along with a slight white floral and spice note. Bright, clean, refreshing, but some attractive richness. Includes 10% Semillon, and 10% of the wine sees French oak. (87 points)

Known more for their burly reds, Justin puts
out one hell of a value-driven Sauvignon Blanc
2014 Justin Vineyards & Winery Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $14
Light gold color. Bursting with white peach and guava on the nose, but some bright lime and sea breeze notes, along with a rather complex mixture of grass, herbs and peppers. Full bodied but brisk acid keeps it fresh and tingling on the tongue. Loads of green pear, Granny Smith apple and lime drizzled on top. So very tangy and green-fruit dominated, but also shows some richer elements of honey and guava. Complex seashell, mountain stream, smashed chalk. Very interesting, but ultimately a wine made for the dinner table. Order the seafood tower! What a bargain for $14. (90 points)

2014 Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $22
Light gold color. Nose: grapefruit, lime, white peach, jalapeno and crushed sea shells. Tangy, crisp, bright palate, moderate creaminess, but a tart-citrus-driven wine (grapefruit, lime), hints of white peach. A clean, zesty feel with notes of chalk, white pepper, jalapeno and sea breeze. Acidity is really attractive and refreshing on the back end. Tart and nervy, begging for oysters and could stand up to some hot weather. (87 points)

2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc Bennett Valley California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
SRP: $32
Bright sunshine on the nose: yellow flowers, white peach, guava, some notes of green pepper and sea salt. Tart acid, medium+ body. Green apples and grapefruit mix with peach, guava and mango, but add in some bright mineral and chalk notes, subtle white pepper and grass. A very fresh and vibrant wine despite the richness. Honeyed tea comes out with time but the wine stays brisk. Long, salty finish. (89 points)

You can't go wrong with either of these 2013 Sauv Blancs from Matanzas Creek.
2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc Helena Bench California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $40
Slightly more nuanced aromatics than the Bennett Valley: white peach, lime, grapefruit, hints of honeyed tea, less green pepper and more complex mineral and floral tones. Vibrant acidic backbone but smooth and creamy on the palate. Lovely balance, rich but graceful. White peach, guava, pineapple and lime, dusted with chalk, limestone, crushed hazelnut shell and honeycomb. Faint white pepper and oyster shell. Long and clean yet open and forward. Very pretty stuff. (90 points)

2013 Agnitio Wines Sauvignon Blanc California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
SRP: $30
Pale straw color. Nose of yellow apple, white peach, lemon, some cucumber water, honey and white tea. Very creamy body, medium acid, flavors of yellow apple, apricot jam, lemon curd, and white peach are juicy and ripe, mixed in with honeyed green tea, almond and cotton candy notes. Ripe, forward approach, but stays clean — no green or herbal elements here, just richness and fruit. Creamy finish with lots of honey. Barrel fermented (8% new), aged on the lees, a richer style but still refreshing. (88 points)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Australian Wines (With a Little Help From California)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

From high-end vineyard-designated bottles to entry-level offerings, California winemakers are teaming up with Australian growers and vintners in a series of intercontinental projects — and some of the results are impressive.

First off, we have a duo of delicious reds from Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard. This project brings together Australian winemaker Charlie Seppelt (whose family owns Seppeltsfield), and Napa winemaker Chris Carpenter, who makes some stellar Napa Cabernet for Cardinale, La Jota and Mt. Brave. Dating back to 1971, fruit from this vineyard has found its way into Clarendon Hills and the iconic Penfold’s Grange. These two wines retail for around $75 a pop, but they pack loads of depth, complexity and cellar potential.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have a new project from Jacob’s Creek called Two Lands. Long known for their inexpensive, simple, fruity regional blends, this Aussie powerhouse has teamed up with Ehren Jordan, winemaker at California’s Failla — hence the “Two Lands” moniker. The fruit is sourced from a wide array of vineyard sites, including Padthaway, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills. I found this partnership interesting and unexpected, but at $14 a bottle, they’re putting out some good quality wines. I could see these wines faring well on by-the-glass lists, or they could serve as a good stepping stone for those just starting their Australian wine explorations.  

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2012 Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Shiraz “Brooks Road” - Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale
SRP: $75
Initially tight on the nose, but it opens up to show lots of violets and roses on top of currant and blackberry jam. Gets deeper and more elegant with air, showing dark roast coffee, menthol and loam. Full and rich on the palate with firm tannins but surprisingly bright acid. Tart red and black currants, blueberries, accented by cola, earth, graphite and coffee. Complex notes of sweet herbs, cocoa powder and black olive juice come out with time. Bold with plenty of power for the cellar, but impressive in its youthful elegance. A gorgeous young Shiraz, but I’d love to bury this bottle for fifteen years and see what sort of awesomeness comes out. (94 points)

2012 Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon “Trueman” - Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale
SRP: $75
Aromas of tart currants and loam, a deep and driven aromatic approach with some sweet cola to accent the cigar and chewing tobacco. It really needs time to open up though. Full-bodied with firm tannins but they’re refined and, like the Shiraz, the moderate acid helps keep this refreshing Rich but tart currants, plums, blackberry jam, this is a complex and attractive Cabernet, oozing with generosity but fresh and elegant. Accents of sweet herbs, loam and mint chocolate chip add complexity. Long finish, with lots of toasted nut and coffee elements. A gorgeous wine that I’d bury for ten years without thinking twice. Includes 5% Merlot. (92 points)

2014 Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Two Lands - Australia
SRP: $14
Bright yellow with hint of green color. Smells equal parts zesty and tropical, like lime and lemon drizzled over mango and papaya, topped with honey. Clean and fresh on the palate with lively acid and generously creamy yellow apple and white peach fruit. Notes of hazelnut and honey butter, but not too much, the wine maintains a fresh vibe. Not very complex, but good, middle-of-the-road style with broad appeal. (86 points)

2013 Jacob’s Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Two Lands - Australia
SRP: $14
Medium ruby color. Smells of dark currants, plums, blackberries, smooth coffee and vanilla, some loam and rose petal notes. Fine, easy-drinking tannins, moderate acid, a fresh and bright approach, smooth and easy to drink. Actually shows a bit of complexity with loam, dusty soil, notes of mocha, sweet cocoa and cedar. Fun stuff. (85 points)

2014 Jacob’s Creek Pinot Grigio Two Lands - Australia
SRP: $14
Light straw color, hint of spritz in the glass. Aromas of white peach, honeysuckle, cherry blossom and lemon zest. On the palate, it’s light and bright and clean, with lively acid. The lemon and white peach fruit is light and uncomplicated. A crisp wine but not much else going on except for some white flower and cucumber water notes. (82 points)

2013 Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Two Lands - Australia
SRP: $14
Medium purple color. Gushing plums and black cherries on the nose, some baked fig elements, mocha and sweet cola. Decent tannic structure, medium acid, the black cherry, dark plum and blackberry fruit is ripe but not overly so. Shows hints of charcoal, loam, toasted almonds and sweet coffee. Some of the oak tastes a bit harsh. Juicy and fun, not complex, lacking a bit of excitement. (83 points)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Enjoying an Extinct Anderson Valley Riesling

I hate it when a wine I love goes extinct. Sometimes wineries just stop producing a certain wine, or they lose their contract with a vineyard grower, or the winery gets bought out by a larger conglomerate.

Such is the case with Breggo Cellars’ Anderson Valley Riesling. RIP. 

I first visited Breggo in 2009, as my love of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley was budding. Their Syrah, Pinot, and Chardonnay were delicious, but I was also impressed and surprised by their Gewurztraminer and Riesling, which can fare well in some Mendocino terroir.  

Breggo was purchased by the Cliff Lede family of wines in 2009 and
relaunched as FEL in 2014. Lede Family Wines also purchased the Savoy Vineyard in 2011, which was the source of some stunning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Breggo. FEL still focuses on those Savoy Vineyard wines, as well as Anderson Valley appellation blends. 

It’s good those wines will live on, but, unfortunately, FEL does not produce an Anderson Valley Riesling. The Riesling grapes are surely going somewhere, but the Breggo Riesling is extinct. Fortunately for me, and anyone who can still find leftover Breggo Riesling, the juice still is far from dead. And other producers are doing exciting things with Mendocino Riesling (Navarro and Nelson Family come time mind).

I swiped this Breggo bottle for a ridiculous $10 a bottle, and it was one of the best bargain finds in recent memory.

2012 Breggo Cellars Riesling Anderson Valley - California, Mendocino, Anderson Valley
Gorgeous light golden color. Nose of gummy bears, white peaches and honey on the richer side, but lots of leaner, more elegant notes of sea salt, minerals, oyster shells, lemon peel. On the palate, this is dry, nervy, intense and lively. Lots of acid but the body to back it up. Tons of wet potting clay and deep chalk elements accent the lime, green pear and white peach. I get notes of oyster shells and lots of mineral intensity. Long and complex, it was even better on day two. I’m a big fan of Breggo, but this was probably the best $10 I’ve ever spent on an American wine. (91 points)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Champagne Bliss

A table lined with magnums of Champagne is a beautiful thing.

I was lucky enough to witness such a sight and taste through a few stellar Champagnes at a recent tasting dinner at one of my favorite DC restaurants, Ripple. DC was packed with wine lovers for the annual Heart’s Delight Wine Auction, which spans several days and includes a crazy amount of wine events. I wasn’t able to attend any of them because I’m expecting a baby girl any day now. But I got out for an evening and gathered with some friends old and new for a night of amazing wine, food and merriment.

The room was overflowing with epic bottles. I was able to taste through and take notes on31, but I missed at least a dozen more. I’m only human. But the Champagnes really stole the show. No matter how many wine events I go to, I still consider myself incredibly lucky when I get to taste wines as beautiful and memorable as these.

I started off with a 1980 Dom Pérignon, which was unfortunately dead on arrival. Oxidized and dried out, it still had some interesting flavors, but not a proper bottle. Luckily, the rest of the bottles (almost all magnums) stepped up and blew me away.

1998 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon P2 - France, Champagne
Lovely floral-chalky nose. Quite tight at first, powerful acid and richness. Quince, lime, white peach, laced with white flowers, toasted nuts, honey, crushed oyster shells. Opens up tremendously and, when re-tasted at the end of the evening, it was showing lots of caramel, candied orange peel, complex breadsticks and butter notes. So much time ahead it’s crazy, but amazing to taste this young. (94 points)

1998 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Cuvée Creation - France, Champagne
Rich and intense yet lively and bracing. Brioche, gorgeous minerals, spice and potpourri. Long, intense, such purity, a lovely Champagne. Wow. I have “wow” and “elegance” written down three times apiece. Absurdly good. From magnum. (96 points)

2002 Egly-Ouriet Champagne Grand Cru Brut Millésimé - France, Champagne, Ambonnay, Champagne
Intense, brioche, white tea, lots of green and yellow apple, toasted almond. Youthful, bright, brisk, oceanic, holding its weight well with the intense acid and bracing minerals. Hesitant though, you can tell it has much more to show. From magnum. (91 points)

2002 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon - France, Champagne
Intense stuff, very young but powerful red apple peel, screaming minerals, toasted baguette and mixed nuts. Powerful yet pretty. A joy to taste and ponder. (92 points)

1985 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Signature Brut - France, Champagne
So alive and bright, I can’t believe this is 30 years old. Notes of peanut oil, honey and dried pineapple, but it’s balanced with bright acid, rushing minerals and a salty complexity. Gorgeous stuff, so alive and unique. From magnum. (94 points)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Murphy-Goode: Delicious 2012 Sonoma Cabernets

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

On my first trip to Sonoma, my younger sister and I stopped into Murphy-Goode’s tasting room in Healdsburg. We were in the area for my brother’s wedding, and before driving up to the Mendocino coast, we visited a few tasting rooms and soaked up the aura of Sonoma goodness. We loved M-G’s Chardonnay aged in Minnesota oak and their juicy, fruit-forward Zinfandels. All wine tourists have similar stories about their delicious discoveries and rich memories, which linger long after the take-home bottles have been cellared and emptied. This is part of the reason I always look fondly on Murphy-Goode wines with their purple labels and playful proprietary names. 

But Murphy-Goode makes some impressive Cabernet Sauvignons as well, sourcing grapes from vineyards in Alexander and Knights Valleys. I recently tasted through four 2012 Cabernets from Murphy-Goode, all of which are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, no Merlot or Cab Franc chasers. 

For me, the Terre a Lago was just a step above the rest in complexity and depth, but all the wines share a focus on rich currant and plum fruit along with notes of sweet cola and eucalyptus. They’re structured solidly, and all of them were more expressive on day two. Despite their youthful deliciousness, I think they could use a few years in the cellar. 

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

2012 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $26
On the nose: deep plums, black cherries, cola, mocha, loam, cedar, some spicy tobacco comes out. Full, solid tannic grip but not too strong, with medium-low acid. Black currants, full of plums and blackberries. A hint of smoke to the cedar and roasted coffee elements, but good amount of cola and eucalyptus. Plenty of structure with a firm finish. Aged 16 months in 35% new French and American oak barrels. Great introduction to the M-G Cabernet portfolio for a very reasonable price. (88 points)

2012 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Single Deck - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
Aromas of tart red berries, bright and vibrant plums, some lighter notes of rose petals, cola and sweet spices. Full bodied with firm tannins, a well-structured wine with medium acid. Flavors of black cherry, fleshy plums and black currants mix with notes of cola, sweet mint and black cherry ice cream. I also get hints of coffee, sweet cedar and cigar box. There’s also an attractive and deep sense of loam and smashed rock. The cedar and mocha flavors are integrated very well. Long, pretty finish with rose petals. Aged 17 months in 30% new French and American oak. (90 points)

2012 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Poker Knight - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
Aromas of tart black cherries and plums, the fruit is a bit darker and shows a deeper sense of floral tones. Lovely scents of earth, cola and eucalyptus. Full-bodied, firm tannins but they’re fined around the edges, medium acid, combining for a bold but velvety feel. Black cherries, dark plums, gushing blackberries, the fruit is ripe and pure. Notes of cola, eucalyptus, sweet coffee, I also get loam and hints of bay leaf. Bold structure, yet stays fresh and clean. Long finish with graphite, loam and toasted oak. Will show even more after a few years in the cellar. Aged 17 months in 44% new French oak. (91 points)

2012 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Terra a Lago - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
Gorgeous nose of black cherries, currants, mixed plums, along with complex notes of sweet cola, loamy, violets, potting soil and eucalyptus. A beautiful texture on the palate, structured but the tannins have a lovely silky and creamy presence on the palate. Black cherry fruit, currants, plums, mix them with some red berry accents. I love the cola and eucalyptus notes, and the blend of cedar, cigar box and vibrant floral tones. I also get some sweet clove and baking spices. For me, this is the silkiest of the four, the most elegant, yet it has plenty of structure and concentration for aging for quite a while. Very pretty stuff with lots more to show. Aged 17 months in 45% new French and American oak. (91+ points)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Domaine Servin: a Slice of the Sea in Chablis

I love the mineral intensity of Chablis and the aura of the sea that pervades so many of the wines. But as far as I’ve been able to tell, Domaine Servin puts out some of the most intensely oceanic wines from this storied region. The aromatics and palate are soaked in ocean surf, sea salt, seaweed, crushed shells, jetty rocks. As an obsessive surfer, these elements are so deeply ingrained into my senses that I get stoked as soon as I sniff a Servin. When tasting through the whole lineup, the complexity of ocean-related scents is mind-boggling.

Winemaker Francois Servin has deep Chablis roots. He comes from a long history of Servin winemakers (the last five generations were all named Marcel), and the Servin family’s history in Chablis stretches all the way back to the 1600s. The Domaine holds 35 hectares (about 85 acres) of Chardonnay vines in four Grand Cru vineyards and six Premier Cru vineyards. All the vines, averaging 40-years-old, are planted in the famous Kimmeridgian soil, ancient limestone-rich earth which blesses wines with glorious minerality and brisk oceanic elements. 

When reading about or discussing the best Chablis producers, I don’t hear Domaine Servin thrown around with the likes of Raveneau or Dauvissat, and I think that makes sense. But Servin’s wines are stunning in their purity, length and seem capable of lots of time in the cellar. And when factoring price into the equation, Servin deserves serious attention. 

In the $30-$40 range, Servin Premier Crus are dollar-for-dollar some of my favorite Chardonnays
I tasted through all these wines at my favorite DC shop, Weygandt Wines, during one of their stellar Saturday afternoon grand tastings. If you’re based in the DC Metro area, you should definitely sign up for their email newsletter so you can keep up with delicious and highly educational tastings like this.

My notes...

2013 Domaine Servin Chablis Les Pargues - France, Burgundy, Chablis
Vibrant and bright, green pear and lime along with a salty-floral combo. Crisp and clean and a great intro to Servin’s approach. Solid value. This vineyard is no longer a 1er Cru, but this wine begs to differ. (87 points)

2012 Domaine Servin Chablis Cuvée Massale Vieilles Vignes - France, Burgundy, Chablis
Some honey and white peach along with the salty-floral signature. Powerful spine of acid, the green apple and pear fruit is backed up by salty minerals and hints of nuts and oil. For the price, what a beauty. (88 points)

2013 Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Les Forêts - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
So oceanic on the nose, floral, lime, iodine. Salty and oceanic on the palate, just a lovely verve to the wine, tons of minerals. Not at all a rich wine, but it’s more than just a lean and bracing wine, the weight is wonderfully balanced. A beauty, but so intense and young. (91 points)

Soil full of limesoney goodness is key in the best
Chablis, imparting loads of minerality and oceanic flavors.
Image from Domaine Servin.
2013 Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
Intense seashell aromas, yellow flowers, some more orange notes mixed in with the limes. Crisp and bright, racing with minerals. A bit more weight than the Forets, but still gorgeously crisp. A gorgeous young Chablis. (92 points)

2013 Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaucoupins - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
In addition to the lime and sea brine, I get some interesting orange blossom, lively minerals and chalk. Crisp and bright, so mineral-driven, but full of honeysuckle and chalk. I’m really digging the oceanic vibe and intensity of this wine. (92 points)

2013 Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
Greener fruit on the nose, lots of sea salt, even some seaweed and salt-crusted surfboard aromas. Tangy and briny on the palate, the chalk and minerals are gorgeous and complex, needing a few years to unwind. Lime, green pears, finishes long with oyster shell and wetsuit notes. (91 points)

2013 Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
Peachy goodness on the nose, airy and salty of course, more flint and chalk. Richer than the others, relatively speaking, still intensely oceanic and salty. Green pears, limes mix with hints of white peach and honeysuckle. Beautiful stuff, so long, delicious and thought-provoking. (93 points)

2011 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
Even brinier than the others, this is also super floral and full of stones, hints of herbs. Clean, zesty, deeply mineral-driven, so nervy and tart. Pears and green apples, laced through with chalk and minerals. Wow, I’d love to taste this again in four or five years. (93 points)

2012 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
Bright and floral, elements of candied orange accent the stones, minerals and oceanic aromas. Ripe and showing some honey on the palate, but also tremendously dry, bright, clean and refreshing. Hints of white pepper and chalk linger. Lacking a bit of roundness and depth of the 2013, but the cellar will have a few things to say about this wine. (91 points)

2011 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Bougros - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
Lots of elegance and finesse in this wine. Chalky, oceanic, floral, seaweed aromas. Creamy, hints of toast, but lively acid, stones, minerals, sea salt, mixed nuts. So complex. (93 points)

2012 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Bougros - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
More floral in approach, oranges, chalk, sea salt aromas. Ripe and open but lively acid and lots of ocean spray and minerals. Interesting candied orange, white tea, hints of honey. Long life ahead. (92 points)

2012 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
So elegant yet intense at the same time, a bit tightly-wound though. Slate, chalk, lime, orange peel aromas. Nervy, bright, clean, salty, with crushed rocks, copious minerals. Striking freshness and youth, but full of cellar potential. (92 points)

2012 Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
Aromatic bliss: seashells, seaweed and jetty rocks mixed with lime and lemon curd. Great concentration on the palate but the acid is pure and intense. I love the weight and mouthfeel and the excellent balance with the acid. And the flavors: lemons, limes, crushed rocks, yellow flowers, hints of honey. A beautiful wine with a long future. (93+ points)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Want Complex, Reasonably Priced Sangiovese? Look to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you’re looking for delicious, age-worthy Tuscan reds, but don’t want to spend a lot of money, you really need to explore Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Perhaps overshadowed by the big boys of Brunello di Montalicino, which garner more critical acclaim (and come with correspondingly higher price points), there are lots of exciting wines hailing from Montepulciano. Here, Prugnolo Gentile, the local clone of Sangiovese, is the staple. But winemakers are allowed to blend in up to 30 percent of some indigenous grapes like Canaiolo and Mammolo, as well as international red grapes and even some white grapes, (although few producers use the entire pallet allowed by the appellation laws).

I recently tasted through some Vino Nobile wines at
Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC, and was impressed by the across-the-board quality. At the tasting, arranged by a trade group called the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, I was joined by a group of Vino Nobile winemakers and the mayor of Montepulciano, Andrea Rossi. 

Several of the producers were quite young, and the discussion turned to the differences between the Montepulciano of old and the more recent released. They explained how a new generation of young winemakers is stepping up to the task, willing to put in the time, effort and money to make the best wines possible from their sites and to promote them to a wider audience.

Marco Anselmi took over his family estate when his grandfather died in 2006. The 2007 Vino Nobile we opened represented his first vintage as winemaker. Marco named the wine “Damo” in honor of his grandfather, but he readily admits his grandfather came from a different time and place — and he made very different wine. 

Marco talks about lowering yields in the vineyard, rethinking vine density and clonal selection, and using sustainable farming and winemaking practices. I’m sure Damo’s wines were interesting (and I’d love to taste them next to Marco’s), but it’s inspiring to hear a young winemaker speak so passionately about raising the caliber of his hometown wines. 

My notes on the wines are below the fold. While these wines are not easy to find in the States, poring through Wine-Searcher yields price points in the $20-$30 range. 

2010 Della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva Tenuta di Gracciano - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Bright and floral on the nose, with light roast coffee, elegant red fruit tones and tart red berries. Silky but firm on the palate, the purity of the fruit is impressive, red currants and red/black cherries. I pick up scents of roses and loamy soil, along with hazelnut-toasty notes on a balanced, elegant, food-friendly frame. Long and worthy of cellar time, but showing very well right out of the bottle. (89 points)

2010 La Bandita e Lunadoro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Quercione Riserva - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
My wine of the night, this is the whole package: depth, elegance, complexity, a food-friendly and contemplative wine. Spicier on the nose, I get black cherries and currants accented with plenty of sweet baking spices, cola, pepper and dried flowers. Young, but it opens up on the palate to show a lot of depth and intrigue: exotic roses, cola, cinnamon and tobacco on top of crunchy red berry fruit. Graphite, dusty soil, hazelnut and cola add complexity, while fine tannins and fresh acid form a silky frame. Really opens up with air and gets more and more complex. Gorgeous now, but will develop well over the next three to five years for sure. I was surprised to see this wine is 15% alcohol, as it is incredibly well-balanced. 90% Prugnolo Gentile and the rest Canaiolo, Mammolo and Merlot. (91 points) 

2008 La Braccesca (Antinori) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva Santa Pia - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
More open aromatically, showing black cherries and raspberry jam, underneath some cola, roses, fig paste and an herbal kick. Bright, clean acid with firm tannins, but they’re velvety and the wine is approachable. Tart cranberries and cherries, raspberries, mix in some loam, clay, sweet herbs and green coffee. Dusty, earthy notes become more prominent with air. Long finish, a very pretty wine but plenty of evolution to come. 90% Prugnolo Gentile and 10% Merlot. (89 points)

Honoring the past, looking to the future.
2007 Montemercurio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Damo - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Aromas of dark berries, loving the granite and rocky elements in this wine, along with some violets and sweet coffee. Silky tannins, moderate acid, still quite structured but one of the smoother wines in the tasting. Deep black cherry and plum flavors are blended with notes of rocks, loam, coffee and sweet baking spices. Smooth and ripe but complex and long-lasting. Only 70% Prugnolo Gentile, the minimum required, with Canaiolo and Mammolo blended in. (88 points)

2006 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Poggio Sant’Enrico - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Initially a bit stemmy and rough on the nose, but it opened up considerably to show black cherries, currants and tobacco. Fleshy on the palate, still firm tannins, a bit lower on the acid. Red currant and plum fruit tasted a bit stale to me at first, but the wine changed significantly after an hour to show more vibrant fruit. I also get tobacco, loam and granite notes, and a significant amount of smoke and charcoal. Perhaps needs a good decant, as it got better and better over the course of the dinner. 100% Prugnolo Gentile. (87 points)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wagner Family Teams Up With Ruth Chris Steakhouse

The Wagner Family wine empire casts a long shadow, from the stunning flagship Caymus Cabernet, to their rich Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, to the confectionary Conundrum. It’s truly a family affair, led by Chuck Wagner, who helped his parents launch Caymus Cabernet’s first vintage in 1972. His son Charlie crafts the popular Mer Soleil Chardonnays, while Joe heads up Belle Glos, which produces a series of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs with a rich and dark-fruit-dominated style. Chuck’s daughter Jenny now oversees the family’s Emmolo label, which produces a bright and fresh Napa Sauvignon Blanc and a Merlot (which I’ve yet to taste).

You may well recognize the Wagner Family’s more popular, large-production wines, the Conundrum red and white blends and the sugary-sweet Meomi Pinot Noir. I’m not a big fan of these wines, although I recognize they have broad appeal and crowd-friendly style. But I was excited to taste through five Wagner Family wines at a tasting dinner yesterday sponsored by Ruth Chris Steakhouse. Part of a promotion to celebrate the restaurant chain’s 50th anniversary, the Wagner Family has teamed up to sponsor dozens of wine dinners across the country. Many of the dinners were held on April 30, but a few more coming up this weekend.

The food pairings were prepared and executed well, and they complemented the individual wines. The highlight of the dinner, the Caymus Special Selection Cabernet and the filet mignon, is, of course, a match made a hedonistic heaven.   

I took notes of the five wines tasted, which are posted below:

2013 Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
Aromas of lime, white peach, seashells and sea salt. Tangy and bright on the palate, this wine shows lime and lemon zest but backed up by guava and white peach, some honeysuckle. Still a refreshing wine, I appreciate the lightness on the palate. No greens here, just a bright, tangy, refreshing, citrus-focused Sauvignon Blanc. A bit lacking in complexity, but still high quality juice. (87 points)

2013 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
A deep golden color, with equally rich aromatics: honey butter, mango, spiced applesauce, bruised golden apples, just ripe and generous all around. Creamy and rich on the palate yet some refreshing and vibrant elements from the acid. White peach and golden apples and dusted with almond shells, peanuts, cinnamon, vanilla and toasted white bread. Lingering acid keeps the palate refreshed and the taster coming back for more. Stood up very well to a crab bisque. (88 points)

2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Dairyman - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Deep ruby-purple color. The nose shows tons of dark fruit (cherries, blackberries, plums), rich black cherry cola and sweet coffee. On the palate, this is big, bold and extracted with a Zinfandel-like chewy jam approach. Cola, mocha, sweet chocolate. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious, but it's very high octane and lacks freshness and vibrancy. My friend at the tasting dinner, upon first tasting this, leaned over to me and asked, genuinely: “Are you sure this is Pinot?” Tasted from magnum. Perhaps some time will help this unwind a bit, but I'm not so sure without much acid. (86 points)

2009 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection - California, Napa Valley
A rich and velvety Cabernet for sure. Deep purple color with thick, slow-draining legs. Dark currants, loam, cola, hints of smoke and pencil lead on the nose. Bold and ripe, velvety and well-integrated tannins, not much acid. Sweet blackberries, cassis and black cherries galore, the fruit is mixed in with elements of coffee, loam, cola and vanilla, a hint of menthol comes out with time. Chewy and bold but so silky with a finish of caramel sauce and toast (100% new oak). Doesn't seem to have the solid tannic structure for aging too many years past 2020 or so, but I'd like to try this again in three or four. This wine and filet with mushrooms, yeah, good stuff. (93 points)

2006 Mer Soleil Late - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
Deep golden-orange color. Honey, glazed pear, nutmeg and cinnamon on the nose. Full and rich on the palate, sweet, honeyed and lacking acidity. Dried apricots, baked apples, dried pears, candied apples, honey and caramel. All sweetness and rich flavors, which are delicious, but lacks complexity or freshness. Late harvest, botrytis Viognier. (85 points)