Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lots of Value from Chile and Argentina

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Chile and Argentina have been producing slick, tasty, inexpensive wines for a long time. When I first started (legally) tasting and exploring wines after college, I bought up lots of bottles from producers like Catena, Trivento and Concha y Toro. They were attractive for their inexpensive prices and easily identifiable labels, the grape variety stuck on there front and center.

Fast forward a decade, and these producers are still standard bearers for South American accessibility. With large production levels and wide availability in many markets, these bottles comprise a cheap crash course in South American vino.

I found nothing novel or exciting in this bunch. These wines won’t leave you contemplating your existence. But for $12-$25, Chile and Argentina still deliver. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Concha y Toro Chardonnay Casillero del Diablo Reserva - Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $12
Light gold color. Green and yellow apples and pears, some honey and toasted almond notes, hints of white flowers. Medium-bodied, moderately-clean acid, simple yellow apples and pear fruit, kiwi. Moderate levels of toasted nut and honey butter, but still clean. Not too clunky or tropical, but not too complex either.

2013 Concha y Toro Malbec Casillero del Diablo Reserva - Chile
SRP: $12
Bright purple colored. Deep and plummy, smells of spiced blackberry jam, notes of coffee and loamy soil, sweet vanilla and milk chocolate. Juicy and ripe but tart, with chewy tannins, medium-low acid. Black cherries, dark plums, cola, toasted oak and coffee mix with dark chocolate shavings and a loamy, charcoal element. Darker flavors but a bright and drink-me-now personality.

2013 Anderra Cabernet Sauvignon - Chile, Central Valley
SRP: $11
Light purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, raspberries, cola, sweet vanilla and hints of earth. Soft tannins on the palate, medium acid, tart but chewy red berry fruit mixed in with elements of cedar, toast, coffee and hints of that Chilean loamy soil and roasted coffee. Fun, a good introduction to Chilean Cabs, but not too deep or complicated. Good for the price.

2013 Anderra Carménère - Chile, Central Valley
SRP: $11
Light purple color. Tart berries on the nose (black and red cherries and berries), some black pepper, tobacco, soy and toasted oak. Juicy on the palate with light-to-medium tannins, medium acid. The black cherry and plum fruit is topped with spicy pepper, roasted coffee, chicory and chestnut, notes of smoke and toasted oak mixed in. A yummy wine but showing a lot for this price point.

2013 Trivento Torrontés Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Pale straw color. Bursting aromatic display: white grape jelly, canned peach juice, kiwi and honey. Crisp acid, medium-body, a tangy white but juicy tropical fruit (white peach, apricot, guava, mango) notes of white flowers and grapefruit pith, a slight green herb (oregano? celery seed?). Richly tropical, very floral.

2013 Trivento Chardonnay Amado Sur - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $15
Medium straw color. Nose of green pears and lemon, some honeysuckle and nettle notes, hints of spice (maybe white pepper?). Crisp and clean palate, medium-bodied, the fruit is green and crunchy, backed up by notes of honeysuckle, lemon verbena and white pepper. Interesting stuff, I could see mistaking this for a Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a bit more tropical and not as green. Still, fun, refreshing stuff. 70% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Grigio and 10% Viognier.

2014 Alamos Torrontés - Argentina, Salta
SRP: $13
Light yellow-straw color. So floral (honeysuckle, orange blossom, magnolias), some pineapple, mango and lychee. Moderate acid, a juicy feel to the palate, the wine is laced with flowers and baby’s breath. The lychee, mango and guava fruit is rich but not too bold, as the wine maintains a bright appeal. Not too complex, but a great mix of freshness and tropical lushness. If you’re looking to discover Torrontés, this is a great place to start.

2013 Trivento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and blueberry jam, rich but also floral, some loam and vanilla coffee notes. On the palate, silky tannins, medium acid, medium+ body, a smooth yet rich wine. Black currant, blueberry and blackberry jams all mixed together, add in some coffee, vanilla and dark chocolate shavings. Fun stuff, drink now, a solid value.

2013 Alamos Malbec - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Light purple color. Jammy black cherries, dark plums and rich, juicy blackberries on the nose, notes of earth, vanilla and sweet violets. Medium-bodied, silky tannins, moderate acid. The fruit is juicy and ripe (blueberry, black cherry, dark plums), but it shows some tartness as well. Earthy, woodsy, pine sap, vanilla cola and coffee. Sweet coffee and dark chocolate on the finish. Impressive structure and quite balanced. Alamos reliability right here. Includes 6% Syrah and 4% Bonarda.

2013 Alamos Malbec Selección - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Deeper aromatics than the regular Alamos bottling, more blackberry, some blueberry, noticeably smoky and earthy with a solid dose of pepper black pepper and soy sauce. Medium+ bodied with velvety tannins and slightly less than medium acid. The blueberry, blackberry and cassis fruit is juicy but tamed. Quite complex in terms of the smoke, charcoal, vanilla, black tea and black pepper notes. Impressive finish, very good for the price. Aged in French and American oak for 9-12 months.

2014 Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Malbec Don Miguel Gascón - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of juicy black and red berry fruit, a nice smoky, campfire and earthy aspect to this wine as well, some sweeter vanilla and toast elements. Medium-full-bodied, some moderate acid for freshness, the tannins are fine but offer light structure to the wine. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is juicy and plush, laced with notes of loamy soil, campfire and roasted nuts, some sweeter toast and floral notes. Quite good for the price.

2012 Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Malbec Don Miguel Gascón Reserva - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smooth and rich on the nose, with saucy black cherries, blueberries and blackberries, a deep sense of rich soil, violets and mocha. Full-bodied, solid tannic structure, medium-low acid, the fruit is rich and chewy but the wine maintains a smooth presence on the palate. Flavors of violets, dark roast coffee, baker’s chocolate, vanilla and cedar last long onto the finish. A bit heavy with the toast, but backed up with some gutsy fruit and interesting earth elements. Includes 6% Petite Verdot.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wine Reviews: California White Wines (No Chardonnay)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Last week, I focused on California Chardonnay. This week, the focus is on, well, pretty much everything else. Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, unfortunately no Chenin Blanc. This summer I’ve tasted through a bunch of non-Chardonnay California white wines, and I’ve come across some interesting ones, some unique ones, and some that are just plain okay.

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

2014 Fess Parker Marcella’s - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $20
Light gold color. Interesting bright aromatic display, super floral but also some air freshener and new car kind of thing going on, along with juicy peaches, grapefruit and melons. Full-bodied, a honeyed feel with medium-low acid but enough to keep it relatively clean. A fruit salad of pineapple, peaches and cantaloupe, but I also get honey, lychee, circus peanuts and floral perfume. Juicy and ripe with lots of tropical goodness, definitely crowd-friendly. 86% Viognier, 8% Roussanne, 3% Marsanne and 3% Grenache Blanc. (85 points)

2014 J. Wilkes Pinot Blanc - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $17
Medium yellow color. Floral elements mix with green and yellow pears and apples, honeycomb and raw almond. Medium+ bodied, medium acid, the apple, pear and orange fruit is creamy but maintains a tart edge. Creamy elements of whipped honey and floral tea add some complexity. Richness from the almond and peanut brittle, and the full texture, but stays quite balanced. (87 points)

2013 KITÁ Grenache Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $22
Light gold color. Aromas of white peaches, yellow apples, topped with honey, dandelion, hints of toasted almond. Clean acid on the palate, the wine has a waxy, full texture but stays bright. White peach, green melon, yellow and green apples, the fruit has a refreshing tartness, which is complemented by the white tea, honeycomb and almond notes (not oaky, though). Hints of chalk, crusty ocean jetties and a slight green herbal spice notes. Complex, full of flavor, yet stays tangy, salty and refreshing throughout. Really unique style. I for one would like to see more California Grenache Blancs. (90 points)

2013 KITÁ T'aya Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. Aromas of green apples, kiwi, lime, margarita salt, some clover and ginger as well, a bit hesitant, needs air to come out and speak. Rich in texture but it has a lighter essence (12.5% alcohol), medium acid. The green and yellow apple fruit is fresh but fully ripe, quite subtle, hesitant even. Some hazelnut, toasted almond, hints of saline and chalk too with the richer honeyed elements. Hints of shaved lime and seashell on the finish. Generous texture but subtle flavors. 59% Marsanne, 39% Roussanne and 2% Grenache Blanc. Very good for the price. (89 points)

2013 Mercy Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
SRP: $16
Very pale straw color. Nose of grapefruit, white peach, some baby’s breath and apple core notes, hint of white pepper. Creamy body, medium acid, a bright but tropical appeal with notes of white peach, papaya, pineapple chunks and apricot jam. Some dried honey notes and a hint of nettle, white pepper and dandelion as well. (85 points)

2013 Mercy Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Zabala Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
SRP: $20
Light gold color. Hugely aromatic, showing grass, jalapeno and white pepper on top of white peach, green apple slices, white flowers, some richer honeyed notes but very bright overall. Zesty acid and a moderately creamy body set the tone for white peaches, green apples and lime. Very bright approach, racy stuff, some richer notes of honeycomb and papaya, hints of seashells and chalk. Moderate complexity, bold but maintains freshness. (88 points)

2013 KITÁ Sauvignon Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $24
Light gold color. Nose shows lemons, limes, grapefruit, lychee along with jalapeno, cut grass and oregano. Medium bodied, tangy acid. White peaches, drizzled with ruby red grapefruit juice, lots of grapefruit. Tangy and brisk throughout with notes of chalk, honeysuckle, green onion and spicy Italian oregano. Some hints of honey and orange peel on the finish. So food friendly, definitely a brisk style but showing some richer notes of nougat and raw almond on the finish. Quite complex, could even use some time to open up. Stainless steel plus 20% old oak for eight months. 13% alcohol. (89 points)

2013 Murrieta’s Well The Whip - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. Bright and juicy aromatics, white peaches, apricots, green and yellow pears, honeysuckle, baby’s breath. Fleshy texture, waxy yet vibrant from some refreshing acid, a clean, floral appeal. Green and yellow apples, white peaches, guava, drizzled with some lime, also showing lots of floral notes, like dandelions, perfume and air freshener. Notes of honeycomb, green tea and cucumber water as well. Some refreshment but also very tropical. An interesting blend of 28% Semillon, 24% Chardonnay, 14% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Orange Muscat, 11% Viognier, 11% Gewurztraminer, 1% Riesling. (87 points)

2013 Mason Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $17
Pale straw, hint of green. Explosion of white peach, grapefruit and cut grass on the palate, some spicy white pepper and honeysuckle, too. Crisp acid, quite a creamy texture with tasty, forward fruit (white peach, grapefruit, nectarine), accented by notes of white pepper, dandelions and honeysuckle. Not overly green, more focused on the creamy fruit, decent balance. Hints of chalk and white tea on the finish. (86 points)

2014 S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $26
Medium straw color. Complex yet airy aromatics: kiwi, white peach, honeydew, hints of honeysuckle, green chilies and chalk dust. Medium to full bodied, quite creamy yet kept refreshing with moderate acid. Juicy tropical fruit (papaya, kiwi, green melon, peaches), I really like the integration of the richer accents (honeycomb, nougat, ginger) with mineral, chalk dust and sea salt elements. Quite complex, full but stays precise with a long and clean finish. The juice sees a mix of French oak, Acacia wood and stainless steel. (90 points)

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Oakville - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $40
Medium gold color. Rich nose of white peaches, papaya, pears, green apple, slight notes of tea, toasted bread and honeycomb. Full-bodied stuff with juicy, ripe fruit (yellow apples, papaya, peaches) but surprisingly bright and persistent acid. Complex notes of honey, white tea, vanilla and ginger are mixed in well to the overall package. Rich and bold approach for sure, but still bright with lots of energy and different elements to enjoy. From To Kalon Vineyard, includes 11% Semillon, this is fermented in 12% new French oak and aged sur lie for nine months. (88 points)

2014 Silver Trident Sauvignon Blanc Symphony No. 9 - California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $28
Very pale straw color. Aromas of white peach, white cherries, lemon and grapefruit, hints of white pepper, lemon verbena and crushed chalk. Quite creamy and rich on the palate, a honeyed texture, medium-low acid pushes back a bit. The lemon, grapefruit and white peach fruit is juicy yet tangy. Notes of chalk, quinine, grapefruit pith, honeycomb and peach pits as well, just a slight note of white pepper spice on the finish. Rich and complex yet open and accessible. 70% Stainless steel, 30% French oak. (88 points)

2014 Mason Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Pomelo - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $11
Very pale lemon color. Floral and peachy on the nose, lots of honeysuckle, pears and tropical fruit. Medium-bodied, moderate acid, but the wine has the full of chunky tropical fruit. Papaya, pineapple, lime, mixed in with some honeysuckle and white tea notes. Uncomplicated but pleasant. Mostly Lake County fruit, but they mix in some juice from Lodi. (85 points)

2014 Mason Cellars Pinot Grigio Three Pears ­- California
SRP: $11
Light straw color. Peachy, white flowers, ruby red grapefruit, hints of nettle on the nose. Moderately tangy, it has a lot of body but the flavors aren’t very deep or complex. Light green apple, grapefruit and canned peaches, hints of honeysuckle and lemongrass. Decent, but lacking excitement. (82 points)

2013 Smashberry White - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

SRP: $15
Light gold color. Explosive aromas, yellow apples and canned peaches, lychee, honeysuckle, orange blossom. Richly-textured and honeyed on the palate, low acid, the white peaches, bruised apple and apricot jam flavors are rich and bold. I also get honeysuckle, orange blossom and honey. A full-on display of tropical fruits and tons of floral qualities, but lacking in some freshness and non-tropical intensity. Roussanne, Muscat and Riesling with 1.6% residual sugar. (83 points)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Novel Review: "Down the Shore" by Stan Parish

I picked up Stan Parish’s novel Down the Shore while strolling through a Barnes and Noble. Knowing nothing about it, I read the back cover and felt a bit worried. This story focusing on a teenager from the Jersey Shore who leaves home for a European boarding school. See, I am putting the finishing touches on a novel about a teenager from the Jersey shore who leaves home for a European boarding school. Fortunately for my manuscript’s chances at seeing the light of publication, this is where the storyline similarities end. Down the Shore (a term, in my experience, most people from Jersey don’t actually use) is filled with cocaine, money, tuxedos and black sedans. We’ve got finance, wealthy parents, guided duck hunts, guns and white collar criminal fathers.

My novel has is filled with punk rock, fistfights, conservative Christianity and the protagonist’s hardcore resistance to it.

The protagonist and narrator of Down the Shore, Tom, is a high school senior whose college plans just fell through. A few months before his narrative begins, Tom is busted and charged with selling pot. Harvard revokes his admission. He’s on probation, and since he can’t deal anymore, he’s largely on his own. He has never met his father. His mother is a loving and endearing character, but she’s very busy as operator of her own catering business. Tom helps his mother out, serving dinners and drinks to local 1%ers. 

Tom jumps on the chance to attend St. Andrews boarding school in Scotland and start over. At least that’s what he hopes will happen. His friend Clare complicates things a bit. Clare’s father, a big-rolling investor, is on the lam after some pretty serious white collar crime. He’s ripped off a whole lot of people (some of whom may be dangerous), and Clare wants to go were nobody knows his name. So he applies to the same boarding school, St. Andrews, at the Jersey boys head off to Scotland together.

In Scotland, there is more money, more cocaine, much more beer. But the past ghosts find their way across the Atlantic. And in an expensive boarding school (filled with rich kids, even a prince), it isn’t long before Clare catches hell for the sins of his father.

I’m a Jersey born and bred surfer, and there are parts in this book where Parish doles out golden nuggets of pure nostalgia and Jersey goodness. I love the bantering of locals when Tom goes to a party on an oceanfront house in Spring Lake, and later when he chats up the owner of a local seafood restaurant about the surf conditions. Tom cruises around Long Beach Island in December, remarking on the abandoned, cold, wave-swept atmosphere that I love so well. If you grew up in New Jersey or spent your summers “down the shore” (you friggin’ Benny), you’ll find a lot to like in this pages.

This is a beach read, a book to plow through, a novel filled with fast-paced dialogue and checkered passages of action and reflection.

As is common with young first-person narrators, Tom sounds a bit older and perhaps a bit too worldly. Sure his mother runs a catering business, and he helps out, but does Tom really know the difference between Sancerre and Puligny-Montrachet?

My other issue with Tom is his seeming lack of drive and passion about the future. No first-year college student truly knows what they want out of life, but Tom doesn’t seem to want much of anything. He is planning to study economics with the hopes of becoming a hedge fund manager, perhaps the perfect gig for an apathetic kid. He hooks up with women, but he never initiates the encounters, and he doesn’t really seem to care before, during or after. He’s also dishonest and cowardly. So it’s not easy to root for him to succeed. I get irritated reading about rich kids running to and fro with no concern for others, no introspection, no realization of their privileged status. Tom’s Jersey friends, some scrappy dudes who come visit him in Scotland, are a lot more likeable and relatable.

The author is a former GQ editor who attended Lawrenceville, a wealthy Jersey private school, and St. Andrews, so Tom is more like an alter-ego than a fictional narrator. Perhaps the narrator stuck too close to the facts to the detriment of the fiction. Still, I think this novel is a solid effort, and it’s a good choice if you’re headed “down the shore” any time soon.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tasting Report: California Chardonnay

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Since my last report on California Chardonnays, I’ve tasted through a group of interesting and exciting wines. The best hail from that beautiful Central Coast Chardonnay haven, the Santa Maria Valley, but I also found a few fun and inexpensive Chards that would please many a palate.

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

2013 Tolosa Winery Chardonnay Estate Edna Ranch - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $26
Light gold color. Nose of golden apples, yellow pears, orange rind, some chalky and salty elements back up against the nutshell and nougat. Full-bodied, creamy, medium acid, lots of yellow apples and pears, some juicy apricot and orange marmalade notes. Notes of toasted bagel, buttercream, vanilla and hazelnut, but stays lively and fresh despite the richness. This Chardonnay walks the line well. 35% new French oak barrels. (87 points)

2013 Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $22
Light gold color. On the nose I get butter, yellow apple and peaches, along with a nice mix of oranges and lemons. The palate shows some moderate acid and a full, creamy body. Yellow apples and peaches are glazed in honey and covered in chopped hazelnut and nougat. Toasted bread and butter on the finish, but also some bright floral and slight chalky notes. Not super complex, but good stuff, a lot of fun. Aged six months in 14% new oak. (86 points)

2012 Solomon Hills Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Medium gold color. Bright and vibrant on the nose with white peach, green and yellow apples, some kiwi, while the fruit is touched with honeysuckle, baby’s breath and crushed chalk notes. Clean, tingling acid meets a creamy, moderately rich body. The white peach, glazed pear and tangy kiwi fruit is bright but rich. I love the chalk, oyster shell, candied ginger and lime zest elements to this wine. A vibrant and fruity Chardonnay, but also very clean. Just enough toasted nut and buttered, flaky biscuit notes, but they don’t come close to overwhelming the other elements. A beautiful wine, highly complex yet effortless in its balance. (92 points)

2013 J. Wilkes Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $20
Light gold color. Green and yellow apples on the nose, some richer notes of melon, white peach, white flowers and honeyed tea. Richly textured, a creamy wine but some medium acid. A bold presence of fruit (apricot, apple sauce, orange marmalade), some nutmeg, hazelnut and caramel corn elements, hints of white tea and honeysuckle as well. A richer style wine with lots of flavor yet stays relatively fresh. (87 points)

2012 Bien Nacido Vineyards Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Light gold color. Very nutty and toasty on the nose, nougat and crushed almond shells on top of yellow apples and apricot jam. Ripe, rich yellow apples and apricot fruit, acid comes in and cleans a lot of it up. Almonds, peanuts, nougat, vanilla drizzled with some lime. Add in some honeysuckle, lilies, chalk, quinine and white tea notes. A rich and forward wine but I like the depth, complexity and the lively acid to keep this interesting. Long, rich finish yet the acid keeps it refreshing on the palate. (90 points)

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Dierberg Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $32
Light gold color. Nose shows yellow apple, juicy peaches, lime zest, some honeyed tea and light almond elements. A creamy, richness to the wine but the acid cuts through and jolts it to life. Peaches, yellow apples, some papaya, kiwi, lime drizzled on top. Honeyed notes, along with almond and spiced tea, but it stays juicy and tangy. A lasting sense of mineral and river rocks, clean and bright, chalk and seashells. Very complex, could show a lot to the patient. A wonderful blend of sunshiny fruit mixed with pure, mineral elegance. (92 points)

2013 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Jackson Estate - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $28
Medium gold color. Aromatically, we’re dealing with a high butter content, but it’s also very fresh with white and yellow floral tones, along with a fruit salad of yellow and green apples, apricot and pineapple. Full bodied and rich on the palate, almost oily, with medium-low acid. A high octane style with candied pecans, walnuts and cinnamon toast leading the way, backed up by baked pear and apple flavors, notes of honeycomb and lemon oil. Wow, I like plenty of big, toasty Chards, but you really need to love that style, in which case, buy this. If you hate that style, avoid this all costs. Aged nine months in 55% new French oak. (86 points)

2013 Oro Bello Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $20
Clear, light gold color. Aromatically, we’re dealing with some green melon, yellow apples, drizzled with a bit of lemon, underneath it all a sense of buttercream and almond shells. Moderate creaminess on the palate, medium acid, the yellow apple and apricot fruit is rich but accented by hints of lemon-lime. Almond, honeycomb, some toasted biscuits flavors. Moderate length, not very deep but a solid Chardonnay. Mostly oak-fermented, and aged in 30% new. (85 points)

2012 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay Cuvée Sauvage - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40
Bright gold color. Great combination of bright lime, green apple and wildflowers with richer elements of bruised yellow apple, pineapple cake and toasted bread. Juicy but bold texture, medium acid. I get lots of yellow apple, apricot and yellow pear, a bit of lime juice mixed in. Lots of honey butter, toasted almond, hints of vanilla, spiced applesauce, this is quite oaky yet it maintains nuance and cleanliness throughout. Complex and attractive in spite, but also because of, it’s bold approach. Aged 14 months in 94% new French oak. (89 points)

2013 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Pale gold color. Nose of salted lime, apple slices, brisk seashells and white flowers, some richer honeyed notes. Crispy, bright, lively acid, but a juicy and creamy body. Lemon curd, lime, apricot, green apples, rich notes of nougat and almond shell but it stays lively throughout. Tingly finish with sea salt and minerals. Really delicious stuff. 18% maloactic fermentation, this wine is aged six months in 40% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Réserve - California
SRP: $22
Medium golden colored. Buttery, creamy and rich on the nose, with yellow apple, mango, some floral notes and peanut shell. Medium+ bodied palate, acid in moderate doses. Creamy yellow apple, peach, some green melon mixed in. Interesting combination of nougat, honey butter and olive oil with notes of peanut shell. A rich style, but some freshness keeps and still food-friendly. From Monterey and Santa Barbara, aged nine months in 30% new oak, mostly French, some American. (86 points)

2013 Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay - California, Central Coast
SRP: $13
Light gold color. Smells rich with, melon and yellow apple glazed with honey and apricot jam, some peanut shell and hazelnut. Creamy body, quite rich, but some medium acid to keep it in tempered. Rich yellow apple, apricot and peaches, but some lime drizzled on top. Honey, candied pecans, peanut shells. Rich and yummy, showing a bit of brightness though. (86 points)

2013 Magnolia Court Chardonnay - California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
Light gold color. Tropical mix on the nose (papaya, green apple, lime) some green herbs, a kind of cotton candy and clean laundry element. A bold, waxy presence on the palate, some moderate acid. The flavors of baked pear, green and yellow apples and apricots mix with notes of toasted nuts, marshmallow, but also some chalk and mountain stream elements. Rich and attractive yet held together well. Surprised for the price. (86 points)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bargain-Hunting with Italian White Wines

Italian white wines get less love. Sure there are great white wines, many with correspondingly high price points, but it’s not always easy finding tasty but memorable vino bianco for relatively little money. 

There are plenty of cheap wines, but most of them are forgettable. I’m not saying any of these wines will change your life, but at $8-$23 a bottle, there’s a lot of summery goodness to be found in Italy’s white wines.

N.V. La Marca Prosecco - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $17
Floral nose with white peaches and honey and spiced tea. Spritzy and lively on the palate, with flavors of white peach, guava nectar, hint of honey, moderate sweetness but still clean and refreshing. Balanced but not cloying, no bitterness. (86 points)

N.V. Cantine Maschio Prosecco di Treviso Brut - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Treviso
SRP: $12
Very pale lemon color. Aromas of white peaches, orange and cherry blossoms, very floral and bright. Refreshing cut on the palate, but a creamy appeal, with juicy white peach, green grapes and green melon fruit. Some white floral and orange blossom notes. Bright and zesty, slight floral sweetness. Fun, uncomplicated stuff. (86 points)

2014 Aia Vecchia Vermentino Maremma Toscana - Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Maremma Toscana)
SRP: $12
Pale straw color. Nose of tart green apples, lemon peel, straw. Tangy and bright, some creaminess to the body, a bit of a waxy feel. Tart green melon and apples, some lemon, notes of cucumber water and floral potpourri. I like the sea salt and hint of mineral as well. Solid stuff for the price. (86 points)

SRP: $8
Medium yellow color. Fairly neutral aromatics (white peach, some green melon rind), hints of faint honeysuckle and lemon peel. Creamy body, bright acid, flavors of green melon, yellow apple, lemon pith, white tea and honeycomb elements. Good weight on the palate. Not complicated, but very refreshing. For $8, a solid summer sipper with salads and grill-outs. 50% Malvasia Bianca di Candia, 30% Trebbiano, 10% Greco, 10% Malvasia del Lazio. (85 points)

2013 Donnafugata Lighea Sicilia IGT - Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT
SRP: $23
A tropical fruit salad on the nose, with honeysuckle and lychee and lime drizzled on top. Crisp on the palate, with tingling acid, lots of papaya, melon and white peaches. Some herbal and white flower notes, white tea, river stones and saline. Dry, crisp, complex, begging for all sorts of Mediterranean food. A dry Zibibbo (Muscat d’Alexandria). (88 points)

SRP: $25
Pale yellow color. Bright and clean on the nose, white and orange flowers, white peaches, some lime and papaya. Creamy body, generously textured, crisp acid keeps it clean. A bright personality but some complexity of fruit flavors (lime, peach, green pear, papaya) mixed in with honeysuckle, green tea and chalky elements. Crisp, clean, moderately long finish, summer and food friendly but some interesting aspects to think about as well. (87 points)

2013 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
SRP: $15
Medium lemon colored, a slight spritz in the glass. Smells like the fresh laundry, with lavender, white flowers and cotton on top of some lemon and green apple. On the palate, medium bodied, crisp acid, this is a juicy and fresh wine. The green apple and lime fruit is crunchy and tangy, backed up by some honey and lemon tea. Fun stuff. (85 points)

SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Fresh and clean on the nose, with lavender, white lilies, lemon peel, some kiwi, cucumber water. Medium bodied with fresh acid and a slightly creamy mouthfeel. Flavors of green melon, kiwi and lemon pith mix with notes of river stones and green herbs, a bit of fresh laundry notes. Just a hint of minerality, which lingers on the finish. (87 points)

2014 Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio - Italy, Venezie IGT
SRP: $14
Medium straw color. Smells like kiwi, guava nectar, white flowers. Medium bodied, medium-low acidity, a clean and simple appeal with lime zest, guava and yellow and white flowers. Not thrilling, but a good summer sipper. (83 points)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

So, this $20 South African Pinot is Legit

I love South African wine. Since a three-week trip there in 2014, I've been dreaming of going back for more waves, wildlife and wine. In the meantime, I try to seek out some of the South African wines that make it across the Atlantic.

Cellar door prices in South Africa (especially with the strong dollar) are beyond reasonable considering the quality of many of these wines. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find those exciting, terroir-driven wines in the States. 

But here's one such wine. A 2012 Lothian Pinot Noir from Elgin, a ward of the Western Cape's larger Overberg wine district. Here, in a region known for apple orchards, the combination of ocean and mountain influences provide a cooler climate that begs for Pinot Noir.

And, holy shit, the price is right. $20? I taste a lot of delicious American Pinot Noir, but I can't remember a $20 American Pinot that was nearly this delicious and complex.

2012 Lothian Pinot Noir Vineyard Selection - South Africa, Overberg, Elgin
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Nose of tart red currants, raspberries, add in tobacco leaf, black pepper, rose potpourri, rhubarb-spice. Medium-plus-bodied, medium-plus acid, moderate tannins with some softness around the edges. Black cherries add to the juicy red berry fruit. Hints of toast and coffee mix with rose hips, rhubarb, white pepper, soy and spice. Juicy, forward, yet complex and it maintains the elegant appeal. Aged 11 months in 20% new oak. (90 points)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Checking Up on Rieslings from Alsace, Austria & Germany

I'm a huge fan of Riesling. Any season, any time of day, with any kind of meal, it's my go-to. I guess part of my love for Riesling stems from the time I spent exploring Germany and Alsace as a teenager, when I hiked around towns surrounded by vineyards, tasted a local Alsace Riesling and thought, "Holy shit, this stuff is amazing." 

But my love for Riesling has grown exponentially as I taste the new vintages and get more acquainted with specific vineyards. So I was happy to stop by my favorite wine shop, Weygandt Wines, and taste through a solid lineup of Rieslings. Most hailed from the 2013 vintage, and a few from 2012. Riesling guru and importer extraordinaire Terry Theise said this about the 2013 vintage in Austria: "No reason to be coy. For Riesling and Grüner Veltliner this is a classic vintage, a serious candidate for Greatness..." Germany and Alsace is showing similar promise in 2013. From what I've tasted, the 2013s seem to be possess plenty of those beautifully paradoxical qualities. They're zippy but juicy, bright but powerful, long-lasting but immediately pleasurable.

Across the board, the wines at this tasting were thrilling and delicious, many of them deserving of much time in the cellar to blossom and develop their inner complexity.

My notes from a lovely tasting...

2013 Schoffit Riesling Harth Cuvée Tradition - France, Alsace
Rich nose of peaches, apricots, lychee, honey and oil. Creamy body, tingly acid, clean but lush texture. Apricots, green apple, minerals. Tart, fresh, plenty of body, quite long. (89 

2013 Albert Mann Riesling Cuvée Albert - France, Alsace
Nose shows a nice mix of clean slate and floral elements, with some racy lime and green apples. Sea salty and chalky palate with lime, orange peel, lively acidity keeps this bright and incisive. (88 

2013 Birgit Eichinger Riesling Vom Berg - Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal
So peachy on the nose, with lychee and dried white flowers. Floral, full and creamy yet so tangy and fresh. Lime and apricot mix with smoke, slate and musk for a complex but intense wine. Could definitely use a few years in the cellar. (89 

2013 Birgit Eichinger Riesling Gaisberg - Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal
Smells of quince, apricot, peach nectar, a bit of honey. Juicy and plump on the palate but still fresh, peaches, nectarines, orange peel mix with a smoky minerals. I’d love to try this again in three or four years. (89 

2013 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Trum - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Nose is bright and full of peels (lime, orange, lemon), flowers too. Racy, juicy, yellow and green apples. The richness is matched with the lean, taut, stony characteristic. Very pretty stuff, beautiful young but will age. (90 

2008 Weingut Rudolf Sinss Windesheimer Sonnenmorgen Riesling S trocken - Germany, Nahe
Nose of apricots, white peaches, honey and chalk. Bright and bright with tangy acid but full of tropical fruits (peach, guava, apricot), notes of slate and chalk add complexity. (88 

2013 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling Schieferterrassen - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Great aromatic display of saline, potpourri, white pepper, guava and lime juice. Pristine palate, great balance between acid and richness. I get guava, kiwi and orange marmalade flavors, laced with complex minerals, slate, white pepper and chalk. Long, age-worthy but very pretty and complex. (91 

2012 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Federspiel Steinterrassen - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Gorgeous aromatics, complex, elegant yet full, lots of flowers, green apple, lemon/lime peel, minerals, chalk crusty sea salt. Fresh acid, lots of body, quite bold and could use some time to sleep. But the lime, orange, green apple and pineapple fruit is delicious and juicy, backed up by notes of smoky minerals, chalk and sea salt. Beautiful stuff, but I’d like to taste this again in five years. (91 

2012 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibner Steinertal - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
What a beautiful aromatic display: guava, peaches, potpourri, crushed stones and slate. Bright acid, a bold presence on the palate, the wine is both compact and young but also expressive and bold. Dry, chalky, mango, dried pineapple, orange peel, notes of clove, white pepper and quinine. Full, intense, age-worthy, I’d love to revisit this wine in ten years.(92 points)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Livermore Valley: Rich History, Rich Wines

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

When studying the history of California Wine, Livermore Valley pops up again and again. From the opening of the region’s first winery in 1880s, to the Chardonnay pioneering of Wente Vineyards, to Concannon’s work with Cabernet clones and Petite Sirah promotion. California, as a whole, owes a whole lot to Livermore Valley.

The map shows the demarcation of the Livermore Valley American Viticultural Area.
When I was first getting into wine, I drank a bunch of Concannon’s $10 Petite Sirahs and Cabernets. As I moved along in my wine journeys, I didn’t think as much more about Livermore Valley. But this west-east valley, which sits 35 inland from the San Francisco Bay, is home to some 4,000 acres of diverse grape varieties.  

I recently tasted through a group of Livermore Valley offerings and found some interesting bottles. Several of the wines boasted new American oak signatures, more so than I find in tastings of other California regions. But the richer wines (especially the Petite Sirah from Vasco Urbano) seem able to absorb it well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2013 McGrail Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. Clean citrus fruit mixed with tropical notes of papaya and kiwi, zesty with hints of white pepper but not really any green aromas. Almost full bodied, this is a creamy textured wine with moderate acid. Kiwi, papaya, pineapple, add in some lemon and lime zest, slight sense of chalk and seashell, hint of white pepper. Richly texture, but I like the bright flavors, no mean green elements. Tangy and crisp. From Ghielmetti Vineyard. (87 points)

2012 Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Conservancy -­ California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Smells of honeybutter, yellow apples, apricots, toasted nuts and vanilla. Very creamy on the palate, honeyed, but the acid actually keeps it in check a little. The fruit is a good mix of richer tropical elements with pears, apples and apricot. Toasted almonds, vanilla and nougat elements from the American oak are woven in to the overall package. Not really complex or deep, but it does what it does well. A Livermore Valley staple, Concannon Chardonnay is a solid value and consistently a good example of this creamy, nutty, rich style. Contains 5% Semillon. (85 points)

2012 Darcie Kent Vineyards Chardonnay Demayo Vineyard - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Rich golden color. Deep, rich aromatics, glazed pears, golden apples, apricot jam, mixed in with white floral, honey, toasted nuts and bread. Full bodied, a rich and chewy wine but some moderate acid. The bruised yellow apple, apricot jam and baked pear fruit is drizzled with lime juice and topped with toasted nuts and creamy oak. A big wine with a forward approach, but shows some complexity and zesty, food-friendly elements, too. (87 points)

2012 Cuda Ridge Wines Malbec - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $29
Light purple color. Red and black plums on the nose, along with lots of sweet spices (cola, chicory, pepper, ginger, anise). Easy-drinking, medium tannins, medium-low acid, the fruit is juicy and velvety, the black cherries and plums go down smoothly. But this wine is all about the spice and non-fruit elements of fire pit, black pepper, loamy soil and black licorice. Juicy and fruity but maintains some vibrancy. Great summer grilling accompaniment. Aged in 33% new American oak. (86 points)

2012 Darcie Kent Vineyards Zinfandel Field Blend Zin Demayo Vineyard - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. Sweet and lively aromas, baked plums, raspberry and strawberry jam, sweet violets, cinnamon toast, tart cherry rhubarb pie. Chewy texture, velvety tannins, medium-low acid, the strawberry and raspberry fruit tastes wild yet jammy, laced with notes of sweet cola, birch beer, roasted chestnut, menthol and tobacco. Sweet baking spices and earthy, leafy goodness lasts long on the finish. Chewy and rich but maintains some freshness and interesting floral-earthy complexity. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. (87 points)

2011 Nottingham Cellars Supremacy - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $65
Medium purple color. Juicy and rich aromas, plums, black cherries, blueberry pie filling, mixed with notes of tobacco and bay leaf, oregano, pepper and toasted oak. Full-bodied, firm tannins but fined around the edges, moderate acid helps balance out the richness. Juicy black cherries, dark currants, tart blueberries. Complex elements of smoke, tobacco, oregano, sweet coffee, vanilla and dark chocolate. Could use at least three years in the cellar, this is a dense yet contemplative wine. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc. (88 points)

2012 Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine Reserve - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $40
Medium purple color. Dark and rich aromas, the blackberry, blueberry and currant fruit is jammy but showing some tartness, backed up by sweet cedar, loam and coffee. Dusty tannic structure, medium acid, some more tart elements to the blackberry and currant fruit, jammy but balanced and crunchy. Notes of vanilla, cola, dusty soil, clay, eucalyptus and ginger snap. More structure and depth than the entry-level stuff, but still approachable and fun. Aged 22 months in French oak. (87 points)

2009 Fenestra Conjugation - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $42
Medium purple color. Deep waves of fruit (black cherries, red and black currants, blueberries), the fruit is rich and velvety, notes of sweet black licorice, eucalyptus and dark roasted coffee.
Bold and fruity, rich and chewy with plenty of tannic structure, medium-low acid. Love the deep, velvety black and blue fruit. Significant mocha, toast and cedar, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other elements of eucalyptus, pepper and sweet pipe tobacco. Long, full, yet leaves something to the imagination. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Aged for 33 months in a mix of French, American and Hungarian oak, 35% new. (89 points)

2011 Fenestra Petite Sirah Ghielmetti Vineyards - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $28        
Boisterous purple color. A really jammy nose, like blackberries, strawberries and blueberries all thrown together, mixed in with notes of sweet cola, root beer and an interesting savory glaze note, like sweet and sour plus black pepper sauces. Full-bodied and bold, good tannic structure but the edges are all rounded out, medium-low acid. Jammy blackberries and black cherries, some tart blueberries mixed in, complex sweet and savory elements battle it out, cola, vanilla, cherry pie and sweet mocha with black pepper and barbecue sauce. Finishes sweet and chewy. Interesting non-fruit flavor elements to accent the gobs of dark fruit. Aged 20 months in 44% new American oak. (87 points)

2012 Vasco Urbano Petite Sirah "Heine" Casa De Vinas "Long Row" - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $48
Intensely dark purple color. Nose shows deep blueberries, blackberries, boysenberry jam, a deep, sweet cola, violets and potting soil… mocha, some savory barbecue glaze notes too. A big and burly wine with solid, mouth-drying tannins, low acid and rich, jammy fruit. Blackberries, boysenberries, cassis jam, but the fruit is laced with complex charcoal, cola, toasted oak, vanilla, potting soil, coffee and black pepper notes. Despite its weight and oomph, the wine has a lot to contemplate and unravel, and could show more in the cellar. All Petite Sirah aged in 75% new American oak. (90 points)

2011 Steven Kent Petit Verdot Small-Lot Offering Ghielmetti Vineyard  - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Deep, dark, yet full of life on the nose: black currants, blueberries, black cherries, dark roast coffee, sweet clove, caramel and loamy soil. Full bodied with a firm tannic structure, medium-low acid. Black currants, blackberries, the fruit is rich and chewy. The wine is backed up by notes of smashed rocks, black pepper, pencil lead, dark chocolate and dark roasted coffee, slight hint of savory grilled steak. Deep, extracted, rich and toasty, this could use a few years to unwind. Aged 20 months in mostly new French and American oak. (88 points)