Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spanish Garnacha: Reliable, Tasty, Inexpensive

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

For wine newbs and nerds alike, Spanish Garnacha offers a lot of fun options, many of them for a moderate price. This grape (the same grape as Grenache) has historically been used in blends, but it's common as a varietal wine. "Garnacha" is featured frequently and prominently on many Spanish wine labels. A juicy red grape (and the base for the Southern Rhone wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape), Garnacha is becoming more widely known among consumers looking for something smooth yet bold and fruity.

Apparently every grape now has to have it's own "day," so on September 18 I tasted some Spanish Garnacha on Garnacha/Grenache Day. In an online video tasting sponsored by Snooth, Guillermo Cruz, sommelier at the award-winning Mugaritz in San Sebastian, said customers frequently ask for a bottle of Garnacha by name, which was an uncommon request just a few years ago.

Like any wine from any region, the $10 bottles with screwcaps and kitschy labels are most likely going to be sweet, candied wines without much depth. But perhaps unlike many regions, Spanish Garnacha quality rises quickly with only slight cost increases. There are lots of real, terroir-driven wines out there for $15-$25, which isn't as easy to find with some popular red varieties.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Grandes Vinos y Viñedos Cariñena Beso de Vino Old Vine - Spain, Aragón, Cariñena
Juicy ruby color. Nose of candied red berries, red licorice, caramelized sugar, coffee and vanilla. Medium-bodied, soft drinking tannins, moderate-low acid. The red berry fruit is sweet and chewy, mixed in with notes of Brazil nut, campfire logs, vanilla and coffee. Fun, simple, easy-drinking Garnacha for near-term consumption. (81 points)

2013 Bodegas San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud Las Rocas - Spain, Aragón, Calatayud
Bright ruby colored. Smells like raspberry and currant jam, some earthy, sweet violets and black pepper as well. Soft tannins, medium acid for freshness on the palate. The raspberries and red and black cherries are tangy but sweet. Notes of cedar, loamy soil and coffee mix with peppery spice and tobacco. Ready to drink, a crowd-pleasing, food-friendly wine that offers some subtle complexity. (86 points)

2013 Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Campo de Borja Coto de Hayas Centenaria - Spain, Aragón, Campo de Borja
Medium ruby color. Bright and juicy with red and black plums, lots of rose petals, some dusty earth, cocoa powder and charcoal. Full-bodied with dusty tannins and chewy fruit. Black and red cherries and plums, the fruit is juicy and ripe and laced with notes of vanilla bean, coconut shavings, charcoal, dusty soil and pipe tobacco. A big wine but accessible and stays relatively fresh. Pair with grilled everything and guests who love oaky Napa Cabernet. (87 points)

2010 Viñas del Vero Somontano Secastilla - Spain, Aragón, Somontano
Medium ruby colored. A bit musty on the nose, with wet leaves and old library books, but also a lot of black cherries and blackberries, Full-bodied, bold tannic structure, but some nicely tart acid to keep it balanced. Black cherries, blackberries, roasted fig, a darker wine with deep notes of loam, iron, charcoal and black licorice. Tobacco, black pepper, add in some mocha and wood shavings, but not too much. Some decaying leaves and mushrooms, too. A bit tight at first but gets all sorts of open and exuberant with an hour or two. Settles down on day two and gets smooth and earthy. Would like to revisit in three years. (88 points)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Acinum — Good Intro to Wines of the Veneto

Vias Imports — a big player in the U.S. when it comes to Italian imports — has just launched its own label, Acinum. Hitting the nationwide market this month, these wines are solid, value-driven examples of the classic Veneto wines: Prosecco, Soave Classico, Valpolicella and Amarone.

The wines are a result of collaboration between the chairman of Vias Imports, Fabrizio Pedrolli, grower and oenologist Enrico Paternoster. For those looking for an introduction to the wines of the Veneto, these widely-available bottles would be a good and inexpensive place to start.

These bottles were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

N.V. Acinum Prosecco - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $11
Pale straw color. Bright and floral nose with a nice mix of lemon-lime and richer peach and guava aromas. Refreshingly crisp and quite dry but plenty of fresh fruit: peaches, lime, kiwi, yellow apple. Add in some hints of honeysuckle, lilies and a slight saline and seashell aspect. A brighter and crisper wine than a lot of Proseccos at this price point that can take the sweet flower and canned peach approach. Impressive for the price. (86 points)

2014 Acinum Soave Classico - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
SRP: $11
Light yellow color. Bright nose of clean laundry, floral perfume and a mix of kiwi and yellow and green apples. Juicy kiwi, peach and apples on a medium-bodied frame. Moderate acid keeps it all clean, some creaminess adds texture. I get some notes of white tea and floral perfume, hints of saline as well. Bright, clean, refreshing, well-balanced. Great for the price. (85 points)

2014 Acinum Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella
SRP: $16
Pale ruby color. Smells of tart red apples, wild strawberries, some darker cherry notes, rose petals and green coffee. Medium-bodied with some refreshing acidity, medium tannin but a tiny bit astringent. Tart red apples, strawberries and cherries mixed in with notes of cedar, clove and coffee. Ready to drink but has some fun flavors and structure to offer. (85 points)

2013 Acinum Ripasso della Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Ripasso della Valpolicella
SRP: $23
Medium ruby color. Rich red and black fruits on the nose, cherries, plums and currants, mixed in with richer, darker elements of prunes and fig paste, roses, violets and potting soil. Full-bodied, tannins have plenty of structure but a velvety presence on the palate. Medium-low acid, the plum fruit is dark and rich yet crunchy around the edges, plenty of coffee, pipe tobacco, clove, anise cookie and cedar shavings. Not super complex but quite solid stuff. Best with plenty of air or a year or two in the cellar. (87 points)

2012 Acinum Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $55

Dark ruby color. Saucy and rich on the nose, with dense black cherries and plum fruit, a couple waves of sweet mocha, clove, dark chocolate shavings and rich dark soil. Rich and full but maintains a juicy, chewy approach. Dark plums and cherries, the fruit is rich but laced with savory elements. I get pine sap, espresso, charcoal pit, dark chocolate, clove, spearmint chewing tobacco, lots of complex flavors underneath waiting to come out. (89 points)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pahalniuk's Horror Novel "Haunted" is Terrible

I’ve never read a back cover like the one on ChuckPahalniuk’s novel “Haunted.” 

“… the author goes to work on you, pounding you until there is nothing left but a big bag of bones and blood and pain.”

“There are paragraphs here – entire pages, in fact – that are as disgusting as anything I’ve ever read.”

“bloodied by the profound horror of narcissism.”

The collection of blurbs reads like a critique of Cannibal Corpse lyrics.  As a lover of most things horrifying and gruesome (and a fan of some of Chuck P.’s other novels), I’m the target audience here. I fell for it, too — I snagged this book up at some second-hand store a few months back. But, unfortunately, this book is fucking garbage.

Look, I’m no prude. I despise taboo and I enjoy plenty of transgressive fiction. I love fucked up horror movies and I’m a big fan of some of the most gruesome and extreme examples of death metal and grindcore.  But, while Devourment’s album “Conceived in Sewage” is vile, it’s also fun, intense, meticulously constructed and artistic. “Haunted” is none of these. This novel is vile but it’s also lame and sophomoric.

Here’s the plot summary from the back jacket: “Haunted is a novel of twenty-three horrifying, hilarious, and stomach-churning stories. They’re told by people who have answered an ad for a writers’ retreat and unwittingly joined a ‘Survivor’-like scenario where the host withholds heat, power, and food. As the storytellers grow more desperate, their tales become more extreme, and they ruthlessly plot to make themselves the hero of the reality show that will surely be made from their plight.”

Basically, Pahalniuk’s novel is a series of tired riffs on the “Saw” movies. It’s a long, drawn-out masturbation session of overindulgent violence and a childish fascination with depravity and voyeurism. Any literary aspirations are drowned out by repetitive and stale storytelling.  Pahalniuk is crass for the sake of crassness, and the result is a hollow novel that lacks anything resembling literary value. Some may search for cultural critiques in this loose assemblage of stories, but the commentary on reality TV, sadism, violence and consumer culture sounds half-assed, and it’s overshadowed by shock-and-awe exuberance.

As far as the plot goes, a reclusive Mr. Whittier lures a bunch of depressed and aspiring writers to his mansion for a three-month retreat from the outside world. Mr. Whittier (a stand-in for the “Saw” dude), keeps the writers captive and forces them into a pit of self-mutilation and gore. “To create a race of masters from a race of slaves,” that’s Mr. Whittier’s supposed goal.

But, in order to make a captive torture story work, the writer have to lay out the physical aspects of the cage. The “Haunted” reader, though, gets no real information about the mansion or how exactly the writers are stuck there. Why can’t the captives jump out of windows or sneak through the fucking basement exit? Or break down the front door? Chuck P. can’t be bothered with these details, because there are descriptions of anuses and amputations to deal with.

I was hoping to find this book clever for its somewhat unique structure. Nope. The novel unfolds in groups of three. We get quick snippets of narration describing what’s happening in Mr. Whittier’s mansion. Then we get a poem from each of the captive writers. Then we get a story they wrote (some are decent, most are shitty). Some of these poems and stories tie together, loosely, some seem irrelevant and tacked on.

Amid the blood and guts, Chuck P. squeezes in some commentary on the lure of horror stories and the need to create demons in order to distance ourselves from them.

“That’s how a scary story works. It echoes some ancient fear. It recreates some forgotten terror. Something we’d like to think we’ve grown beyond. But it can still scare us to tears. It’s something you’d hope was healed.”

“When we die, these are the stories still on our lips. The stories we’ll only tell strangers, someplace private in the padded cell of midnight. These important stories, we rehearse them for years in our head but never tell. Those stories are ghosts, bringing people back from the dead. Just for a moment. For a visit. Every story is a ghost.”

I find some of these ideas interesting, but I wish he would’ve written an essay on horror stories instead. In an afterword, Chuck P. offers up a few thoughts about the purpose of gross and transgressive fiction. He writes: “There are places only books can go.” But mostly he spends the afterword bragging about how reading a short story contained in this novel has caused dozens of people to faint. Cool story, bro.
Oh well, at least the glow-in-the-dark cover looks spooky.   

After reading this book, I feel the need to pick up some H.P. Lovecraft to clear my mind with some quality horror.

Friday, September 18, 2015

North Gate Vineyard - Tasty Wines from Loudon County, Virginia

If you enjoy Virginia wine, and you’re social media savvy, there’s only one online place to gather: #VAWineChat. Frank Morgan, a friend and fellow blogger who tweets @DrinkWhatULike, has been bringing wine lovers and Virginia vintners together since 2013.

I recently popped some corks and tuned in as Frank met with Mark Fedor of North Gate Vineyard of Loudon County. I’d tasted and enjoyed a few North Gate wines before, including the
2015 Governor’s Cup Award-winning 2012 Meritage, so I was expecting good things. The wines delivered.

North Gate planted its first vines in 2002 and kicked off the winery in 2007. For a relative newcomer, proprietor Mark Fedor says he feels like a veteran in Loudon County. There were just 18 wineries in the county when North Gate opened, Mark says, but that number has more than doubled to 42 now.  

Mark was proud to point out
the winery’s environmental certifications. A lot of these certifications are not easy for the average consumer to understand, but it seems clear North Gate Vineyard has ingrained environmentally sound methods into many of its practices. This is something I think should always be pointed out and celebrated.

As part of the Twitter-based tasting, participants sipped through three North Gate wines, a Viognier, a Merlot and a Meritage.

Viognier is Virginia’s official state grape, and consumers have a ton of options to choose from. Mark says it’s hard to define Virginia Viognier as a category because the wines are so diverse. “As an industry we haven’t come down to one style of Viognier,” Mark says. “We have so much diversity that people are somewhat confused as to what it should be.” A lot of growers let the fruit hang long on the vine, which drives up the alcohol content and allows the grape to reach the heights of honeyed creaminess. But more and more producers are picking earlier, refraining from too much new oak, and releasing Viogniers with a bright and steely posture. I found Mark’s wine to be somewhere in the middle of the Virginia Viognier spectrum. It’s creamy, tropical and floral but stays fresh and balanced.

2014 North Gate Vineyard Viognier - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Pale gold color with a tinge of copper. Smells of pineapple juice, guava, kiwi and some dried honey and spicy white wildflowers as well. Very creamy and smooth on the palate, the acid is a bit low as the wine runs like honey, but not too full. (The label says 13.8% alcohol but supposedly the wine is somewhere north of 14%.) Super tropical, with pineapple, papaya, guava, the fruit is doused with whipped honey butter, lilies, baby’s breath and nougat. Fun stuff, very ripe and forward but stays steely and bright. (87 points)

Merlot has found a sweet spot in Virginia. It seems every time we talk about Merlot, the movie Sideways comes up, and the conversation turns to the ensuing popular dissatisfaction with this noble grape. Look, there have always been shitty Merlots and there always will be. But I’m glad Virginia growers have stuck with this grape and taken it so seriously. Lots of high quality Merlot is coming out of Virginia, and many of them carry modest price tags. A number of the
2015 Governor’s Cup winners had Merlot in them, usually blended with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. North Gate’s Merlot is a solid buy at $19, and their Merlot-based Meritage is no joke.

2013 North Gate Vineyard Merlot - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Vibrant but deep ruby color. Juicy black and red plum fruit on the nose, mixed in with cedar shavings, light roast coffee, loamy soil. Tangy acid meets fine-grained tannins, making this an easy-drinking wine with a delightfully fresh appeal. The fruit is juicy and tart (black cherry, red and black plums, wild blueberry). Lots of mocha, cedar, roasted coffee and cinnamon sticks… hints of loam and dried violets. I love the freshness and vibrancy of this wine. Probably not one to store for more than a few years, but a delightful Virginia Merlot. Another example of how Merlot kills it in Virginia. The wine is aged for 17 months in 25% new French oak and includes 10% Petit Verdot. (87 points)

2013 North Gate Vineyard Meritage - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Deep ruby color. Tart red and black cherries and plums on the nose. I get some coffee, dark chocolate, smoky toasted oak. Tart and crunchy on the palate, dusty tannins of medium strength give this structure. The black cherry and plum fruit is tangy and fresh, laced with notes of smoke, cherry wood, anise and dark chocolate. Forward with the oak but the wine still maintains and fresh presence on the palate. Accessible now or good for near-term aging. Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. (88 points)

I just found out North Gate also produces a
non-vintage Rkatsiteli, which I now have to try. There aren’t too many American vintners who try their hand at this ancient white grape from the Republic of Georgia. 

If you’re a fan of Virginia wine, or just touring the beautiful winelands of Loudon County, Virginia, North Gate is a good bet. I’ll definitely be stopping by the next time I plan a Loudon County wine trek. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Summer - Fall Transitional Wines <$20

In the mid-Atlantic the humidity is finally fading, so fall is an amazing time to be outdoors. I’m constantly grilling, reading a book on the patio, sneaking away to the beach when the waves kick up and the crowds die down. In my glass, I move away from my standard summer selections (bright pinks and crisp whites like Muscadet and Chablis), and I look to medium-bodied reds, wines that pack freshness and ripe fruit but also offer more savory and spicy aspects. I look for bottles to pair with late-ripening vegetable dishes and my own conception of autumn.

Click here to read the full article on Snooth.

Credit: Luca Zanon/Unsplash.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tasting Some 2013 California Pinot Noir

This post first appeared in the daily wine blog Terroirist.

I never tire of tasting California Pinot Noir. Since my last tasting report published in May, I’ve tasted a few newly-released Pinots from across the state. From the $15 multi-regional blends to the $60 100% new oak bottlings, it’s always fun and educational to explore what’s happening with Cali Pinot.

In this batch, I especially liked the two Masút Pinots, which were the first wines I’ve tasted from the relatively new Mendocino American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Eagle Peak. If these wines are any indication of what’s coming out of this region, I can’t wait to taste more.

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

2013 Tolosa Winery Pinot Noir Estate “Clonal Select” - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $45
Medium ruby colored. On the nose, I get juicy fruit (cherries, raspberries, red currants), some green herbs, peppery spice and light roast coffee. Medium tannic structure, brightness from the acid, the fruit (black cherries, red currants, some raspberry jam) is juicy but shows pleasant tartness. Slight toast and roasted chestnut, also some tobacco and black pepper. Maintains elegance despite youth and the finish is quite long and ends fresh. I’d like to taste this again in two or three years but showing well now, too. (89 points)

2013 J. Wilkes Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $26
Deep cherry colored. Dusty and smoky nose with rich red and black plums, some toasted nuts and sweet cola. Bold structure on the palate, full-bodied, medium acid. The black cherry and plum fruit is rich and ripe yet showing some tart edges, tossed with cola and toasted nuts. Forward, rich, a bit intense, although complexity comes in the form of charcoal, roses and tobacco leaf. A bold style, but still a lot to like. (87 points)

2013 Magnolia Court Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
Light ruby color. Super fruity nose: strawberry jam, cherry pie topping, black cherry soda, hints of pepper and coffee underneath. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, medium-low acid. Easy-drinking approach, light and slightly chewy. The red fruit is both sweet and tart at the same time, like raspberry and strawberry jam mixed with red apple peel wild cherries. Some toasted coffee on the finish. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff. (85 points)

2013 Liberated Wine Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Monterey County
SRP: $20
Medium ruby colored. Tangy red fruits on the nose (currants, strawberries and cherries), a bright appeal but also some sweet cola, roses and clove. Medium-bodied, light tannins, tangy acid; Red and black cherries, some raspberry jam, tart red currants, a juicy approach with notes of clove, cedar and birch beer. Fun, tasty, juicy, shows a level of balance and freshness that is quite attractive. (86 points)

2014 Fess Parker Pinot Noir Parker Station - California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
Light ruby color. Nose of strawberries, red cherries, red licorice and some coffee, sweet but fresh. Medium bodied with medium-light tannins, a bit of tang to the acid. Bright strawberries and cherries, mixed with roses and cola and cedar, woven together well. Fresh, juicy, red-fruit-driven, not too complex but a good drink-me-now Pinot for sure. A blend of fruit from Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. (85 points)

2013 Masút Pinot Noir Two Barrel Estate Vineyard - California, Mendocino County, Eagle Peak
SRP: $60
Medium-dark ruby color. Nose of deep black cherries, some raspberry and strawberry, too, deeply floral, with violets, also some vanilla cola and cedar. Medium-firm tannins, medium-plus acid, chewy yet pretty fruit (black and red cherries, some strawberry jam). Silky yet full, showing complex flavors of coffee, tobacco, dusty earth, sweet cola, dark chocolate and cedar shavings. Could use a few years, but quite approachable at this point. For 15 months in 100% new French oak, I’m impressed by its balance. (92 points)

2013 Masút Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard - California, Mendocino County, Eagle Peak
SRP: $40
Medium-deep ruby. Lovely, elegant aromatic approach: roses, lavender, lovely red currants and strawberries, some deep and rocky elements, earth and charcoal. Fresh acid on the palate, bright and elegant with dusty tannins and great balance. Tangy yet fleshy red berry fruit, pulls off the rich yet pretty appeal with ease. Complex loam, pipe tobacco and dried roses along with notes of cedar and cherry wood. Long finish. Beautiful, elegant stuff. Beautiful stuff, aged 15 months in 50% new oak. (93 points)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Columbia Valley: Options at All Price Points

Columbia Valley is a huge area with multiple sub-appellations, home to a diverse array of grape varieties and wine styles.

I recently tasted through a few Columbia Valley whites and reds, and found some really nice bottles. Like any region, there are those larger-production blends that offer some fun flavors but leave the palate and mind wanting more. But I also came across a few higher-end wines that are quite exciting. It’s hard to generalize about an entire region, but I think these wines represent a good cross-section of what’s available from Columbia Valley.

2014 Buried Cane Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Dark straw color. Peaches and papayas on the nose, some white flowers and honeyed tea, a sweeter, perfumed aspect. Medium-low acid. Chunky pineapple fruit on the palate (papaya, pineapple and mango), with notes of honey, white tea, nougat, sweet white flowers and honeysuckle. Tasty, attractive, fun, not ultimately deep or complex but very good stuff for the price. Aged six months in 20% new French oak, includes 11% Semillon. (85 points)

2014 Nine Hats Cellars Pinot Gris The Benches - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $12
Light gold color. Nose of peaches, white flowers, lime peels. Creamy body, moderate acid, lemon-lime, white peaches, lots of floral kick and laundry freshener. Waxy, a hint of raw almond and nettle. Clean, refreshing, bright yet full of fruit and flowers. (86 points)

SRP: $20
Pale lemon color. Bright but complex aromatics, like limes, white peach and papaya topped with sea breeze, white flowers and clean laundry. A zesty and brisk wine but such pleasant richness, creaminess and sweetness as well. Peaches, apricot, papaya, drizzled with lime, I like the potpourri, straw, crushed chalk, ocean spray and ginger notes. Complex but stays zesty and downright fun. Delicious now, but perhaps it could do some cool stuff in the cellar. 89 points

2014 Dolan & Weiss Pinot Grigio Julia's Dazzle Rosé Benches Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills
SRP: $16
White cherry and watermelon colored. Smells of roses and dandelions, white peaches, lime zest. Crisp and clean on the palate but a creamy, waxy feel. Tart white cherries, orange peels, ruby red grapefruit mixed with honeycomb, lesser amounts of pepper, roses, dandelions and chalk. Good balance, tangy stuff, very pleasant and creamy too. The label had me thinking this was a gimmick wine, but it’s really solid juice. (87 points)

2012 Mullan Road Cellars Red Wine Blend - Washington, Columbia Valley 
SRP: $50
Medium purple color. A sweet spice kick (clove, cinnamon?), along with rich but tart fruit (black and red currants, blackberries), backed up by notes of coffee, coconut and cracked pepper. Forward and ripe on the palate with moderate tannins, some tang from the acid. The black cherry, raspberries and blackberries and juicy, ripe, flowing and velvety. Root beer, cola, vanilla and clove add complexity. Juicy, ripe and open, yet so very pretty. Smooth and refined, despite the structure. Hints of baking spices, toasted oak and malt balls. Some interesting complexity to unravel in the cellar, but showing well now. A Dennis Cakebread project, this blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc shows a whole lot to love. (91 points)

2012 Cadaretta Windthrow - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $50
Vibrant purple color. Bold aromas of the juiciest raspberries and blackberries, some caramel, dried rose petals, vanilla, cedar. Full bodied, a velvety feel to the tannins, moderate acid. The fruit is concentrated and rich, with juicy blackberries and black cherries, add in vanilla, toasted nuts, sweet floral notes, hints of black pepper glaze. I get some dusty-loamy aspects, sweet coffee. Velvety and rich, approachable but it could benefit from two years or more. 56% Syrah, 25% Grenache and 19% Mourvedre, aged 17 months in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points)

2011 Buried Cane Heartwood Red - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Medium purple color. Tight upon opening, needs swirling and time to show the black cherry, raspberry and dark plum fruit, along with hints of white pepper and tobacco. Medium-to-full-bodied with some velvety tannins and moderate-to-low acid. Lots of black cherries, dark plums and blueberries underlined by mocha, violets, some caramel and roasted red pepper notes. Opens to show barbecue sauce and coffee grounds flavors. A bit compact though and could use air or a decant. A wide-ranging Rhone blend of 54% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 14% Mourvedre, 7% Grenache, 6% Counoise and 4% Viognier. (88 points)
2013 Columbia Winery Chardonnay - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Light gold color. Smells like oranges, yellow apples, honeybutter, some floral white tea notes as well. Creamy body, medium weight, medium acid. Rich yellow apples, papaya, drizzled with honeycomb and hazelnut. Some circus peanut candies and caramel apple. Fun stuff, not really complicated, but tasty. (84 points)

N.V. Columbia Winery Red - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $14
Bright ruby color. Aromas of fig cookies, raspberry jam, mocha. Medium-light bodied, low tannin and low acid. Red apple peel and raspberry jam blend with toast, vanilla and caramel flavors. Tastes manufactured, the toasted oak is a bit much, overwhelms the sweet red fruit. (78 points)

2013 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley 
SRP: $16
Medium ruby color. Smells of currant jam, roses, sweet vanilla and coffee. On the palate, light tannins, medium acid, tart cranberries, roasted plums and black currants mix with sweeter cherry jam, toasted oak, mocha and sweet vanilla. A fun, fruit-forward wine with easy drinking appeal for the near-term. (79 points)

2013 Columbia Winery Merlot - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $16
Light purple color. Smells like raspberry cheesecake topping, black cherry soda, vanilla and coconut. Light tannins, low acid, a candied, chewy feel to the palate. The black cherry and plum fruit tastes sweet and slightly cooked, mixed in with vanilla, caramel and espresso. Simple, sweet, syrupy, lacks a signature of place. (78 points)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Celebrating the End of Summer with Muscadet and Chablis

Well, Labor Day weekend is in the past and autumn is on the way. But it’s still hot here in the mid-Atlantic and, now that the crowds have subsided, it’s still prime time for the beach.

I drink Muscadet and Chablis all year, but they’re my go-to choices for hot weather. I had some friends over this weekend and popped a bunch of bottles, but these two were the best of the bunch.

2010 Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Les Forêts - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
Light gold color. Love the salty, briny, oceanic nose on this. Lemon peel, candied ginger and almond notes, too, really lovely to sniff. Medium-bodied, tangy acid, plenty of life and briskness. Orange and lemon peels with richer yellow pear fruit as well, all of it slathered in crusty sea salt and oyster shells. Love the way these honey and nougat notes are woven in so well. Complex, long, mineral-laden, lots to contemplate but so fresh and easy to drink. Glad I opened this now because it’s singing, but I’d be interested to try this again in 2017 or so. 
(92 points)

2014 Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Vieilles Vignes Clos des Briords - France, Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
I can’t believe it’s taken me until Labor Day weekend to pop the new vintage of Briords, but glad I did. A beautiful wine, per usual, classic nose of seashell, chalk, talc, lemon-limes, oyster, white flowers, hints of white peppery spice underneath. Salty and crunchy with the lime and lemon fruit. Gorgeous acid but balanced by some creaminess. Notes of chalk, clamshells, talc and limestone make this a complex, mineral-laden wine that begs for all sorts of shellfish. Glad I have some more to cellar. Will check back in two or three years because I love how these age. (92 points)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Good Mosel Riesling for <$15

When it comes to Mosel Riesling, I like a diversity of styles. But the terroir explorer in me almost exclusively buys and cellars single vineyard wines so I can compare and contrast the different individual sites and producers. 

But there is a place for inexpensive regional blends from every region. And the 2014 Urban Riesling from St. Urbans-Hof is a solid entry-level Riesling for the price. This reliable producer sources non-estate grapes and blends them into a bright, refreshing Riesling.

If you're just getting into German Riesling and don't know where to start, this is as good a place as any. If you're a Mosel nerd but looking for something inexpensive to have around while the beauties age in the cellar, well, here ya go. 

2014 Urban Riesling - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Light gold color. Pleasant nose of juicy peaches, lychee and honey, some chalky, rocky elements. Moderate sweetness is kept in check by refreshing acid. Juicy white peach, green pear, lychee, some waxy, dried honey and clover elements. Bright, tangy finish with minerals and candied orange peel. Impressive amount of dusty minerality for an entry level wine. Lots of fun. Well worth $14, and a great introduction to Mosel Riesling. 9.5% alcohol. (87 points)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Idaho Wine: Prime Time to Explore This State's Vino

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

People make wine in all 50 states. You’ve probably heard this before and thought: Yeah, but how many states produce wine worth buying and drinking? California, Oregon and Washington State lead the pack, of course, and wines from New York and Virginia have been showing great stuff for many years now.

So, which state is next to prove itself to the broader American palate? Michigan is home to some exciting vino. Missouri has been a key player in the history of American viticulture. And I’m a big fan of wines from some high elevation vineyards in Arizona. New Mexico, Texas, Maryland — the patriotic palate has plenty of options.

Well, what about Idaho?

When I told my wife I’d be tasting through a dozen Idaho wines she asked: “Umm… are they potato wines?”

I’m sure Idaho winemakers have heard similar comments more times than they care to remember. It can’t be easy convincing the average American wine drinker they should consider shelling out money for a wine from a state they know little about and have probably never visited. But if you shelve any preconceived notions and actually taste the wines, you may be surprised.

Idaho wine isn’t new, but it’s growing. In 2002, the state was home to just 11 wineries. By 2014 that number had grown to 51, according to the Idaho Wine Commission. These wineries produce more than 200,000 cases of wine a year, but that amount doesn’t even put Idaho in the top ten states in terms of production. (A bit of perspective: Ohio, the tenth-largest wine producing state, churns out about four times more wine than Idaho, according to Wines Vines Analytics.) So it’s understandable that Idaho wines don’t get much recognition on retail shelves or placement on restaurant lists outside of the immediate area.

Most of the states wineries are located in the Snake River Valley, southwest of Boise. In 2007, the Snake River Valley became the state’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA), an area that includes parts of eastern Washington. Several Idaho wineries in the Willow Creek area (a more hilly and rugged region) applied for their own AVA status in 2013, but that AVA is still pending.

I’d tasted a few Idaho Rieslings before, but this mixed case was my first real introduction to the state’s wines. And, I have to say, they make a good argument that Idaho wines should be taken seriously. I appreciated the freshness in a lot of these wines, and many of them have moderate alcohol levels. Also, the price points are generally quite attractive. If I have an overall concern about this lot, it’s the overreliance on new oak. Much of the underlying fruit seems solid, but too many of the nuances are overpowered by toasted barrel scents and flavors.

Still, if this batch is any sign, there’s a lot to explore in Idaho.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2012 Ste. Chapelle Riesling Special Harvest - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $12
Rich golden color. Bright nose of limes and white peaches with sweeter notes of honeycomb and sugarcane, and a new plastic toy smell (I know that sounds strange but it’s something I think of in some Rieslings, and this one totally has it). Sweet and rich on the palate, the acidity helps it out a little bit, but we’re dealing with a honeyed wine, covered in white peaches, guava paste and sugar cane. Fun and tasty but not enough verve, lacking in acid and minerality. (84 points)

2012 Bitner Vineyards Riesling Reserve - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $17
Pale yellow color. Bright and clean on the nose, fresh laundry, limes, green apples, hints of white pepper and chalk. Bright acid, a lean and taut wine (0.5% residual sugar) with crisp green apple, lime peel and nectarine elements. A nice mix of stony minerality and chalk. Not too deep, but it does what it does well. (85 points)

SRP: $15
Pretty light gold color. Bright aromatics, pineapple and kiwi mixes with lime and green melon, some breezy, floral and honeyed components as well. Full-bodied, moderate acid, a creamy, rich body. Flavors of cantaloupe, kiwi and white peaches, the fruit is juicy and tropical. Notes of almond and birch bark, some honeycomb, floral notes last onto the finish. Interesting to taste this Idaho interpretation of Viognier, a richer, chunkier style but still welcome on the table.  (86 points)

2010 Snake River Winery GSM Arena Valley - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $21
Pale ruby color. Smells of tart red currants, raspberry, matched with pepper, dried roses, some clove and toasted oak. Medium-bodied, medium tannins that are fined down nicely around the edges, some refreshing acid. Flavors of tart red currants mix with blackberry and raspberry jam, the wine is laced with notes of clove, pepper and toasted oak, a bit too much of the latter for my palate. But it finishes tart and crunchy with floral and spice notes. 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. (86 points)

SRP: $22
Medium ruby color. Nose of currant compote, plum sauce, jammy raspberries, a sweet and spicy element, like honeyed fruit tea and black tea mixed together, some alcohol shows through at 14.2%. Full-bodied, a rich and chewy mouthfeel with moderate tannins, providing a dusty structure, some freshness from the moderate acid. Dusty and earthy, with black pepper sauce, bay leaf, black tea, some complex notes of cedar, coffee and roasted chestnut but it holds the new oak well. A big wine but balanced quite well with a lot of complexity to unravel, could last for four or five years, I’m guessing. A big five Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. Impressive stuff. (88 points)

SRP: $25
Medium ruby color. Bright and floral on the nose, tangy strawberries and cherries, some spicy tobacco, eucalyptus and cherry wood notes. Medium-bodied, the tannins are dusty and approachable, the acid keeps the wine tangy. Bright red and black cherries, some strawberry jam notes. Fresh and juicy and accessible at 13.7% alcohol, I like the earthy and eucalyptus notes. But vanilla, coffee and cedar drown out the finish. Good fruit underneath, but a bit too strong on the oak. (85 points)

SRP: $23
Deep ruby color. Jammy black and red berries on the nose, along with violets, rich and sweet earthy notes mixed in with some sweet basil and sage aromas, toasty oak. Full bodied, velvety tannins still providing plenty of structure, moderate acid. Rich black currant, black cherries, the jammy and chewy fruit is supported by savory notes of cracked pepper and beef brisket. Toasted coconut and mocha, lots of it, but the structure and strength of the other flavors pulls the wine together and keeps the oak from dominating. 92% Syrah, 5% Viognier and 3% Petite Sirah.  14.6% alcohol. (88 points)

2012 Cinder Tempranillo - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $30
A deep ruby color. Smells smoky and toasty, like someone threw chestnuts and cedar planks on a fire pit then doused them in cherries and plums, then topped it off with tobacco and mocha. Medium-bodied, smooth tannins, the acid offers freshness. Black cherries, plums and some red currant fruit, which is matched by notes of toasted almond, roasted coffee, backed up by some spicy tobacco and black pepper. Bold and toasty (21 months in oak) but this is still a smooth and approachable wine that’s good for drinking in the near term. 13.5% alcohol. (86 points)

SRP: $25
Dark ruby colored. Aromas of roasted coffee, black and red cherries, a deep sense of tobacco and soil. On the palate, the wine shows dusty-velvety tannins on a medium-bodied frame with medium acid. Spicy red raspberries, juicy cherries, some tart blackberries, the fruit is mixed with spiced coffee, cedar shavings and toasted almonds. Feels silky and smooth on the finish, an interesting take on this variety, but perhaps a bit too high on the oak that it jumbles the other aspects. (86 points)

2012 Sawtooth Malbec Trout Trilogy - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Smells of tart red currants, juicy black and red cherries, topped with some roasted chestnut, violet and potting soil aromas. Full-bodied (14.6% alcohol), silky tannins but plenty of structure, the refreshing acid really keeps this wine alive and bright. Chewy blackberry and plum fruit but tart aspects as well. Earthy with charcoal, graphite and tar accents, definitely showing its oak signature with chestnut, mocha and dark chocolate shavings, but there’s a lovely balance and freshness to this wine, elegance even. Drinking well now but I’d love to revisit this wine in three or four years. Impressed. (90 points)

2012 Huston Vineyards Malbec - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $29
Deep ruby color. The nose is dark and deep with currants, fig paste, blackberries, anise, charcoal and freshly paved roads. Silky tannins but still sturdy, refreshing acidity, makes for a pleasant and unassuming presence on the palate. Plenty of chewy fruit though, blackberries and black cherries, hints of crunchy skins in there. A complex web of anise, flower pot, sweet cedar, eucalyptus, pine tree and cherry wood. Moderate-long finish with hints of mineral and graphite. Ready to drink but time ahead, a very good effort, surprising in its balance. (88 points)

2011 Hat Ranch Winery Malbec - Idaho, Snake River Valley
SRP: $27
Vibrant ruby color. Nose of tart plums and red currants, rose petals, some smoke, earth, coffee and cedar. Medium-bodied, this wine shows some refreshing acid and fleshy tannins with a smooth but slightly dusty mouthfeel. Juicy black currants and plums abound, the fruit is blended in with dark chocolate shavings, espresso grounds. Very pretty, bright and refreshing wine despite the rich and ever-present oak (24 months in oak). I’d like to try this again in two years.  (87 points)