Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Two 2007 Sonoma Valley Reds

I like experimenting with aging California reds, even those that may generally be consumed within a few years of the vintage. Sometimes, this pays off, and the wines are gorgeous. Sometimes, like a recent tasting of two 2007 reds from Sonoma Valley, the results are more mixed. 

2007 was marked by small yields and small berry size, a product of a mild growing season, which Gundlach Bundschu
winemaker Jeff Bundschu said was welcome after a very dry winter.

Both wines had fresh acid and restrained fruit, although the Gun Bun Merlot’s fruit had waned further. Surprisingly, the Merlot’s tannins were stronger than the Syrah’s. 

2007 Eric K. James Syrah Moon Ridge Vineyard
California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
Medium ruby colored. Red and black cherries, some blackberries mixed in, laced through with notes of smoke, black olive and campfire soot. Full-bodied but the tannins have smoothed out, and the moderate acid makes it easy to drink. I like the black cherry and blackberry fruit, tangy but bright, and the elements of black olive brine, bacon fat and campfire smoke. Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers come out with time. Not incredibly deep or profound, but it does what it does very well. Lots of interesting flavors. (87 points)

2007 Gundlach Bundschu Merlot Estate Vineyard
California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
A bit flat on the nose, takes a lot of swirling to coax out the blackberry cobbler and currant jam aromas, some underlying woodsy notes of leaves, loam and moss, but very subtle. Tart and a bit bracing on the palate, the tannins and dusty but still holding down the structure. The fruit tastes a bit tired though, like currants left out in the sun, and the fruit falls flat when compared to the toast and tannic structure. Some smoky, charcoal notes, wood, moss and soil, mushrooms come out with time, but the fruit stays quiet. I usually really enjoy Gun Bun Merlots, but too bad the fruit seems tuckered out on this one, because the rest is still going. Opens up on day two, the wine calms down with time though, the tannins soften and even though the fruit is still lacking, the wine becomes more balanced. (85 points)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Discover Bargains in Portugal's Indigenous Grapes

Portugal has long been a source of value-driven wines that offer refreshment and food pairing options galore. But Portuguese wines also frequently possess a unique regional signature  they remind you that you are drinking a wine that could come from nowhere else. 

What makes entry-level Portuguese wines so exciting to explore (perhaps more so than many similarly-priced wines from some New World regions) is the preponderance of indigenous grapes. Among the plethora of wine grapes grown in Portugal,
some 250-plus different varieties are native to the land. Loureiro, Baga, Touriga Nacional, you may never have heard of these grapes, but discovery is part of the fun.  

You can spend a lot on Port and the increasingly renowned dry reds of the Douro Valley, but there are tons of wines in the $10-$20 range worth seeking out.

I recently tasted through three Portuguese wines for part of a Twitter (#winechat) tasting with
Master Sommelier Devon Broglie. The tasting was sponsored by Whole Foods, which is selling these wines, among others, as part of a recent Portuguese wine promotion. These wines by no means comprise a snapshot of the best Portugal has to offer, but less than $20, you can get a whole lot of Portuguese goodness.

2013 João Portugal Ramos Vinho Verde "Lima" - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
Light gold color. Nose of honeysuckle, white peaches, green apple slices, also some slate and chalky aspects. Juicy and bouncy on the palate with crisp acid. Clean and bright, lots of grapefruit, green apple and white peach play well off a sense of chalk and crushed rocks. I like the tingling acidity, the nervy approach, and the seafood friendly appeal. Not profoundly complex but nice stuff. Made from 100% Loureiro. (86 points)

2011 Luis Pato Beira Atlântico "Colheita Seleccionada" - Portugal, Beiras, Beira Atlântico
Bright ruby/cherry colored. Smells earthy and dusty, charcoal, anise and black pepper on top of bright black cherries and raspberries. Tart and bright on the palate with medium tannins and refreshing acid. A juicy, forward approach with black cherries and raspberries leading the way. I get smoky notes and some herbal kicks as well, backed up by earthy-dusty-charcoal aspects and sweet cola. Open, forward, fruity and fun but some elegance and earthy complexities. All stainless steel fermentation, aged two years in concrete tank, this is a blend of 70% Baga and 30% Touriga Nacional. (87 points)

2012 Quinta do Crasto Douro "Crasto" - Portugal, Douro
Deep purple color. Juicy plums and blackberries on the nose, along with rocky soil, some lavender, roses and coffee. Medium but manageable tannins, a fine and dusty wine, medium acid. Bright and juicy plums all the way, pure and fun. Notes of loam, charcoal, coffee and anise. Moderate structure for near-term cellaring but good to drink now. Great intro to the Douro that is sure to wine over many a palate. Long, earthy, smoky finish. A blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca. (88 points)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Adventure and Value in South African White Wines

The Constantia region, located on the Cape Peninsula, is surrounded by
False Bay to the east and the Atlantic to the west. The ocean influence, mountains
and cooling fog make this a great place for exciting and racy white wines.
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

While touring the Cape winelands last year, I tasted many Bordeaux and Rhone blends from Stellenbosch, and some delicious Pinot Noirs from the Southern Cape. But the biggest wine-related revelation from my trip was the high quality and value of South African white wines.

I tasted a lot of exciting Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines, but one of my favorite white wines of the trip was
a Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Clairette blend that floored me with its freshness and sea-salty elegance. It’s not as easy to find a lot of South African white wines here in the States, but they’re out there.

I recently tasted through three South African white wines that were delicious and full of value. These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer - South Africa, Cape South Coast
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Smells fresh, complex and exotic, richer notes of honey, guava and orange marmalade blend perfectly with white flowers, white pepper, seashells and chalk. Crisp and clean on the palate, easy to drink and very refreshing, yet the leaner qualities betray its complexity and richness. White peach, key lime pie, apricot, add in honeycomb, sea salt, jetty rocks, cucumber water, raw almonds, white tea. A deep sense of minerality. Long, refreshing, yet intense and young, with complexity to unpack with a few years in the cellar. Never heard of such a unique South African white blend: 53% Riesling, 21% Viognier, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Semillon and 2% Chenin Blanc. This deserves some serious attention on restaurant lists, as it’s made for seafood and spicy dishes. (90 points)

2014 Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc Bergkelder Selection - South Africa, Western Cape
SRP: $10
Pale straw color. Bright and bursting with aromas, a nice mix of grapefruit and lime with richer notes of white peach nectar, some hints of jalapeno and white pepper but it doesn’t overwhelm the fruit. Crisp acid on the palate but lovely creaminess to the texture. Flavors of white peach, lime, grapefruit green apple and apricot blend together nicely. Notes of white pepper, mussel shell and sea salt add complexity. Quite long on the finish, which is clean and tangy. High quality for the price. (86 points)

2012 Backsberg Chenin Blanc - South Africa, Western Cape
SRP: $15
Light gold color. Floral and bright on the nose with quince, white peach, salted lime, notes of honeysuckle, baby’s breath and crusty sea salt (that’s a good thing). Pretty texture, moderate creaminess matched with tingling acid, forward but elegant. I love the flavor combo of lime, apricot, quince and white peach. Fruity complexity, but also notes of almonds, sea salt, green tea, honeysuckle and honeycomb. Very pretty and food-friendly. (88 points)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pretty Pinot Noirs from Knez and Anthill Farms

Sonoma and Mendocino Counties are two of my favorite places in the world to explore. Of course, they’re also full of amazing Pinot Noir vineyards. 

Winemaker Anthony Filiberti has an encyclopedic knowledge of Pinot Noir vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino. After working for heralded Pinot producer Williams-Selyem, Anthony now tends vines and makes wine for
Knez (based in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley) and Anthill Farms, a Sonoma Pinot project that he runs with two other partners. 

I recently had a chance to meet Anthony and taste his wines at Weygandt Wines in Washington, DC. A laid-back Sonoma native, he’s easy to talk to and full of information about this vast Pinot Noir paradise.  

Knez focuses on fruit from Anderson Valley, Mendocino’s most famous and respected appellation, while Anthill Farms deals with individual plots from around the Sonoma Coast, a massive appellation composed of many different microclimates and soils. With the appellation blends (the Knez Anderson Valley and the Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast), Anthony says he aims for the brighter and more approachable juice. And at $30-$35, they’re great introductions to the house style.  

The 2013s from Anthill Farms were only recently bottled, but these wines are already strutting their stuff. While they have moderate tannic structure, the bright acidity and smooth red fruit makes them delicious to drink now. The 2012s from Anderson Valley are tremendously beautiful wines, but they could use a while in the cellar to soften their hard youthful edges. 

Here are some notes on the wines I tasted…. 

2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir - California, Mendocino, Anderson Valley
Floral and bright on the nose. Fine tannins, crisp acid, a juicy and vibrant approach. Silky but tangy cherry fruit, this is a vibrant and approachable wine, but it still has some density of flavor and texture. A whole lot of Anderson Valley Pinot for the money. From Cerise and Demuth vineyards. (90 points)

2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard - California, Mendocino, Anderson Valley     
Juicy cherries and tart cranberries on the nose, some earthy-spice elements as well. Great firm texture but crisp acid, a velvety feel, this wine is on point with balance. Chewy red fruit leather and crunchy red berries mix with cola, spice and minerality. Great concentration but elegant as well. Will have a lot to show in the cellar. From a gorgeous site 1,400-1,700 feet above the Anderson Valley, Demuth is home to some stunning Pinot (and Chardonnay). (92 points)

2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard - California, Mendocino, Anderson Valley
So perfumed on the nose, lovely deep berries, roses, violets, sweet spices and herbs. Tangy acid meets structured tannins, this Pinot Noir shows the structure of the 2012 vintage but it’s also very silky. Bright berries mix with herbs, cola, pepper and earth. Lovely stuff with an incredibly long finish. Will develop a whole lot of complexity in the cellar, but this is beautiful stuff. Not too far from Demuth, a bit lower in elevation (700-1,100) the Cerise fruit is richer but still wonderfully balanced. (93 points)

2013 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Bright and bursting with strawberries, cherries and roses. Juicy, tangy and fresh on the palate. Raspberries and sour cherries blend well with roses, earth and notes of black tea. Approachable but elegant and complex. Great stuff, a good introduction to the Anthill Farms approach. A blend from several vineyards: Peters, Tina Marie, Campbell Ranch and Hirsch. (90 points)

2013 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Bright and vibrant cherries and raspberries on the nose, along with complex elements of earth, rhubarb, cola and clove. Tangy acid and fine tannins are in wonderful balance on the palate, and the raspberry and cherry fruit is ripe, juicy and fresh. Love the herbal kick, the baking spices notes and the lingering minerals. 
From the hills west of Sebastapol, this is elegant and sexy stuff. (92 points)

2013 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Tina Marie Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Sweet cherries and raspberries on the nose, earthy notes as well. This is the juiciest and most forward wine of the bunch but still shows lots of crisp acid and a tangy feel. Strawberries, raspberries, some black cherries as well, lots of cola, pepper, clove. Ripe and bold but elegant and very pleasurable. This Russian River site is the warmest Anthony works with, but he’s still able to craft a terrifically balanced Pinot. (91 points)

2013 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Just wow. Gorgeous perfume: so floral and full of herbs and spices, so much depth in the red fruit. Full on the palate but juicy and crisp at the same time. Cranberry sauce, cherry rhubarb pie, red plums, the fruit is complex and exciting. I love the mix of green herbs, clove, tobacco and rhubarb. Gorgeous lengthy. Lots of dusty tannic structure, so will age well, but impressive in its young beauty. From a 700-foot vineyard near the Mendocino border, this is a remote, rugged wine of amazing purity. (93 points)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wine Reviews: Bubbles, Port & Sherry

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

American bubbles, Champagne, Sherry, Port, some samples are distinct in style and sporadic enough that they don’t fit into a designated category. Although, most of these bottles scream: Invite people over and open me!

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

N.V. J Vineyards & Winery Cuvée 20 - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $28
A pale gold color. Juicy and fresh on the nose, lots of buttered biscuit mixes with ripe oranges and tangerines, hints of sea breeze. Ripe yet bright on the palate with medium acid and some sweetness. Crunchy apples and tangerine flavors, some minerals, notes of chalk and sea shell. A wine that covers all the bases very well, perhaps a California bubbly that could work with a lot of palates. 54% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier. (87 points)

N.V. J Vineyards & Winery Brut Rosé - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $38
Pale salmon color, lots of fine mousse. Bready and yeasty on the nose with sliced McIntosh apples, wild strawberries, mixed white and red floral notes. Tangy on the palate, bright acid, subtle creaminess that lingers onto the finish. Hints of mineral and mountain spring on top of red apple and strawberries. Dry and clean on the finish. A refreshing and complex rose sparkler. About half-half Pinot and Chardonnay with some Meunier dashed in. (88 points)

N.V. Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Réserve - France, Champagne
SRP: $34
Light gold color. Golden and green apples on the nose, mixing with sweet flowers. Orange peel, apricot and grapefruit on a medium-bodied frame with fine bubbles. Fresh acid, not super tangy or aggressive, but not soft either. Grapefruit, apricot, golden apples, some sea salt and toasted baguette. Fresh, playful, not the deepest Champagne but good quality stuff. (88 points)

N.V. Jacquart Champagne Brut Mosaïque - France, Champagne
SRP: $38
Pale golden color. Very bready, doughy nose, a bit of sunflower seed and peanut shell, mixes with notes of green and yellow apple peel. With time some daisies and honeysuckle come out. Medium bodied, pleasantly tangy acid, a creamy and lovely texture. Flavors of lime and kiwi mix with apricot and yellow apple. Good doughy and nutty aspects, but some interesting mineral and seashell notes as well. Very crisp and seashell-dominated finish. Not incredibly complex, but I like this style. (87 points)

N.V. Jacquart Champagne Brut Rosé - France, Champagne
SRP: $46
Pale copper color. Smells of wild strawberries, white cherries, mix in some melon peel, roses, and green almonds. Tangy, light and clean on the palate. Flavors of strawberries (with the white and green top part thrown in as well) white cherries, watermelon rind and roses. Toasted bread, and lemon peel on the finish. Zesty and fun but not very complex. (85 points)

N.V. Aecovi-Jerez Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Alexandro Palo Cortado - Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
SRP: $26
A kind of guava-apricot juice color. Smells of nougat, seaweed, salt brine, olive oil, apricot nuts and orange marmalade — loving it. Full-bodied and bold but fresh acid helps the balancing act. Nutty with dried apricot and olive oil flavors, some dried flowers, marcona almonds, mixed in with orange peel and sea brine. Begs for nuts and hard cheeses, this provides lots of flavors and elements to contemplate and enjoy. A great wine to pour for friends and family and discuss the nuances. (90 points)

N.V. W & J Graham’s Porto 20 Year Old Tawny - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $63
A kind of raspberry-caramel color, very deep. Classic tawny notes of dried fruits (yellow raisins, cranberries, pineapple, prunes), along with spice, clove and cinnamon, dried honey and nougat. Full and caramelized on the palate, with tons of complex dried fruits, all the dried fruits you can name. I also get macadamia nuts, orange marmalade, honey, spiced apple cider, lots of complex stuff going on. Still refreshing though, and not goopy or overdone in any way. This screams holiday bliss. After tasting, I served this to a bunch of friends at a party, and everyone loved it. (91 points)

N.V. Graham Porto Six Grapes Reserve - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $24
Bright plum colored. Nose shows elements of roasted fig, plum cake, raisins and smoke with some anise cookies, coconut, vanilla and loamy and rocky elements thrown in. Full with dusty tannins but seems approachable. Plum cake, sweet cocoa and red licorice, creamy vanilla and mocha notes. Not as dark or dense as a vintage Port but still some nice rocky and mineral elements. Finishes with underlying notes of anise, pepper and spice. Seems ready to drink now and very approachable but still well-structured. (87 points)

2009 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $24
Aromas of fig paste and dried blueberries, add in some violets, caramel and coffee. Very approachable, with moderate but accessible tannins and I’m surprised by the acid that comes through. Full bodied but goes down quite easily, showing flavors of dried blueberries, black cherries and blackberries. The fruit is rich and sweet but vibrant, and I get a good dose of complex loam, smashed rocks, coffee and charcoal. Long finish with sweet cola and vanilla. A lovely LBV Port that is a great introduction to Dow’s for a very reasonable price. (90 points)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Three Value-Driven Cabs from Chile and Argentina

I love me some Napa Cabs, but it’s not exactly a place to go for value. Sonoma, Mendocino and Paso Robles are home to some decent value Cabernet Sauvignons, sure. But in the $20 Cab range, go for Chile and Argentina.

Chilean producer Montes churns out a massive amount of wine, from many different varieties and at many different price points. Their mid-level wines, the Montes Alpha label, tend to be quite complex for around $20. I recently tasted their 2012 and 2011 Cabs (which retail for about $18) and was impressed with the quality, complexity and even cellar potential.  

From Argentina, Trapiche’s mid-level wines, Broquel, are another source of quality and value. Their Broquel Chardonnay and Malbec are great for the price, as is their 2012 Cabernet, which retails for about $15.

You can spend a lot of money on Chilean and Argentine Cabernets, too, and many of the pricey wines are stunning. But these value-driven bottles are a good primer on South American Cabernet.


2011 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Alpha - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
Deep ruby color. Nose shows tart plums, currants and blackberries, mixed in with some notes of vanilla, violets, roasted figs, underlying note of loam and granite. Firm tannins but a bit more fined down and manageable than the 2012, Tart berries, perhaps a bit more towards the red berry and plum fruit, but still those darker fruit tones throughout. Lots of roasted coffee and dark chocolate here, but some deep floral and granite notes, loamy soil, some tobacco coming out. Still could use a good decant or another year. Includes 10% Merlot. (88 points)

2012 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Alpha - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
Deep ruby color. A bit deeper and more roasted berries on the nose than the 2011, perhaps needing a bit longer to open up aromatically than the 2011, or perhaps just a year younger and a bit more floral. Firm and drying tannins give the wine solid grip but moderate acid helps balance it out. All sorts of tart red and black plums and berries, intermingled with a sense of pencil shavings, loamy soil and smashed rocks. Some tobacco and roasted coffee notes along with the toasted oak. Needs a bit of time to open up, and much better on day two. Includes 10% Merlot. (87 points)

2012 Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon Broquel - Argentina, Mendoza
Aromas of blueberries and black cherries, lots of loam and spice, hedonistic elements of cedar shavings and vanilla. Juicy and full of bright fruit on the palate, the currant and blueberry fruit is rich but not overdone. Accents of smoke and loam, the oak is significant with vanilla and mocha signatures. Fine, moderate tannins mix with some medium acid and the combination is a fruity and rich wine that’s easy to drink but shows moderate complexity. (88 points)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Wine Reviews: California Cabernets

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

This batch of California Cabernet represents an interesting cross-section of regions, styles of vintages.

Running the gamut from candied, drink-me-now (or not at all) bottles, to sexy, cellar-worthy wines, diversity in Cali Cabs always intrigues me. Some of the wines I liked best were among the more expensive, but I was impressed with the high quality of several bottles in the $20-$40 range. And for about $50, I don’t know of a better Napa Cab than the 2011 Smith-Madrone.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.
2012 Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon “True Grit Reserve” - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Vibrant plum color. A deeper, darker yet more subtle nose on this one, lots of violets and cinnamon on top of the juiciest black and blueberries. Wow, what an interesting nose, so much flowers, roses and even white flowers and baby’s breath, really unique. A full and creamy approach on the palate, but the tannins provide a moderately firm grip, a bit lower than medium acid. So silky and creamy with coffee, melted chocolate, baking spices and some dried flowers. I’d love to see these complexities come out after three or four years in the cellar. Aged 18 months in 20% French oak, this Cab includes 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah. (89 points)

2011 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $48
Deep but bright purple color. A concentrated nose but it unwraps wonderfully with bright currants and plums, some intense notes of cedar, menthol, anise, smoke and paved road. Firm structure, the tannins are grippy but showing a coarse dusty presence, and the acid comes in balances it out perfectly. Tart red and black currants, lots of them, with some spiced cranberry sauce. Such complex earth and herbal notes that I could ramble on about them for quite a while. Suffice it say this is very complex. The spice and cedar elements are woven in perfectly with the earth tones. Hints of eucalyptus and mint on the finish, which is long and pure. Delicious now, but will be a beauty once cellared for four or five years. Includes 10% Cabernet Franc and 9% Merlot. (93 points)

2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $75
Dark purple color. Bright red currant aromas along with wild berries, complex and exciting notes of roses, cola, sweet cocoa powder and some A full-bodied Cab with firm tannic structure, I’m enjoying the clean acid and the sense of lightness it adds to this bold wine. Tart red currants mix with black cherries and dark plums, backed up by cola, pencil lead, pipe smoke and sarsaparilla. An oaky style (19 months in 91% new oak), a bit heavy-handed for my palate, with plenty of vanilla and toasted almond flavors, but the freshness keeps this exciting. A very long finish with tart berries and coffee. Includes 3% Merlot and 3% Cab Franc. Long life ahead, this would be easy to bury in the back of the cellar and forget for five to eight years. (92 points)

2011 Cornerstone Cellars “The Cornerstone” - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $150
Magenta color. Lots of loamy and dusty soil on the nose, coffee bean, notes of cedar and pine, mixed in with tart black and red currant fruit. Starts off with a dose of refreshing acid, the fine-firm but grained tannins provide some weight for the velvety fruit. Black cherries and red and black currant fruit, all of it ripe but crunchy as well, the wine glides across the palate. Complex notes of black tea, sweet cocoa, cedar and vanilla and integrated well with the earthy and herbal aspects. Needs time to expand but a beauty. Impressive stuff, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. (92 points)

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon “Stepping Stone” - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Dark yet vibrant purple color. Deep nose: currants, blackberry jam, smells like you made a paste out of currant skins. Sexy aromatic display with notes of flowers, deep earth, granite and sweet pipe tobacco. Full bodied, firm tannins but they’re fined down around the edges, medium-low acid. Well-structured and full of black and red currant and cherry fruit, a moderate level of extraction. Significant toast and mocha, this is a delicious and hedonistic wine that coats the palate but finishes long and clean. I’d love to cellar this for five or six years because it’s got a lot of stuffing for the cellar and complexity to unpack. Just a bit young at the moment but a very pretty Cab. (91 points)

2012 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $40
Bright purple color. Nose shows currants and dark cherries, sweet vanilla and cola, some elements of pencil shavings. A deeper nose, takes a bit more time to open. Full, velvety with dusty but firm tannins and moderate acid. The fruit is round but still tangy, black cherries and raspberries, accented by some dusty, earthy and loam elements. Toast-vanilla aspects are integrated and the wine finishes clean with complex hints of clove and roasted chestnut. Aged for 14 months in 35% new French oak, includes 6% Merlot. (90 points)

2013 Force of Nature Cabernet Sauvignon Mossfire Ranch - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $23
Deep ruby colored. Smoky nose, with roasted coffee, mocha and campfire on top of tart plums and red currants. Full-bodied and ripe, moderate tannic structure, medium-low acid. Smoky, roasted notes, like dark coffee, toasted nuts and caramel on top of blackberries and currants, some loamy elements. Hazelnut and clove on the finish. Bold, but working well, a lot of fun. Aged 12 months in 20% new French oak. (87 points)

2012 Tooth & Nail Wines “The Possessor” Tolliver Ranch - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $27
Bright ruby-light purple color. Complex aromas of plum cake and blueberry pie, but some deep floral and spice elements as well, along with mocha and cedar. On the palate, the blue and black fruit is so silky and juicy, but nice tartness as well. Dusty but firm tannins, some underlying medium acid keeps it balanced out. A tart but deep wine, so much juicy berries, with charcoal and graphite and crushed granite notes that are really connecting with my palate. Some vanilla and cinnamon on the finish. Lovely freshness but lots of fruits and spice, would be great with pork or grilled sausages. 14.5% alcohol. 70% Cabernet, 12% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah and 8% Malbec, aged 16 months in 30% new French oak. (89 points)

2012 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Réserve - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $28
Bold magenta color. Deeply fruity nose, dark and luscious berry fruit, laced with tobacco and pepper. Velvety texture to this wine, silky and smooth with fine tannins and some acid to keep it clean. Bright red and black berry fruit, lots of delicious clove and baking spice notes. Dark red flowers, a looming presence of sweet roasted nuts, black cherry cola and vanilla. Enough complexity to keep it interesting, but this is a bright and approachable wine, easy to drink and ready to go now. Dashes of Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot in here, aged in 20% new French oak. (87 points)

2012 Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $27
Ruby-purple color. Smells of black cherry ice cream, currant jam and roses, a unique and fun aromatic display. Acid provides freshness while the tannins are smoothed out and approachable. The fruit (black cherry, blackberry and currants) tastes tangy and tart, but also some jammy elements. Hints of tobacco leaf and cedar mix with mocha, clove and vanilla. Well done for the price. Includes some Petite Sirah and Merlot. (87 points)

2013 Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California
SRP: $10
So sweet on the nose, like violets and cherry pie and red licorice, rich oak. Soft tannins, medium acid, a juicy and sweet wine with cherry and currant jams, some spicy oak and candied apple peel, sweet roasted nuts as well. Juicy and candied, not really food friendly at all. (74 points)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Chateauneuf and Charcuterie

I love Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in part because of the food pairing options. As CdP ages, the wines evoke pepper, olives, herbs and meat. To keep things simple, I like pairing Chateauneufs with those same foods and flavors. 

Last night I got together with some old wine-loving friends and was reminded yet again of the bliss of a table loaded down with CdP and delicious meat. Urban Butcher in Silver Spring is a Mecca for Maryland meat lovers, and oh my did chef Raynold Mendizabal deliver yet again. 

We paired the wines (
which included some other non-CdP beauties) with an assortment of Urban Butcher's specialties: charcuterie, salume, cheeses, paté, porterhouse steak, and osso buco. The diversity of flavors and pairing options was amazing. 

Here are some notes I jotted down on the three Chateauneufs I tasted.

2001 Domaine Jean Royer Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Prestige - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Meaty aromatics, blood and pickling spices, some jammy red fruit as well. Full tannin on the palate yet a velvety feel. Black cherries, currants, fig paste, roasted plums, throw in some smoke and mushroom. Still plenty bold enough to stand up to lamb shank and root vegetables. (90 points)

2003 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Marie Beurrier - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Smells roasted and funky with smoke and pepper on top of the sweet red fruit. Full-bodied, not much acid, sturdy tannin. Earthy and meaty accents to the roasted, jammy red fruit. Notes of pepper, smoke, olive paste and meat drippings. Lots of complex funky elements that I really like. This paired wonderfully with paté. Definitely needs air and will hold up for quite a long time to come. (91 points)

2005 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 
Decanted, and it needed it. Plum cake, currants, green olives and some herbal notes came out with time. Full-bodied, quite tannic, medium acid, the wine was tight at first but became surprisingly approachable and even delicate after an hour or so. Chewy black and red berry fruit topped with olives, grilled herbs, smoke and roasted chestnut. Complex and long. A great showing, but this wine has plenty of time left and a lot of complexity buried within. (94 points)

 What's your favorite pairing with Chateauneuf?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Chatting About Virginia Wine with Breaux Vineyards

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.

Last week, #VAWineChat focused on the wines of Breaux Vineyards, a Loudon County winemaking institution. A good group of wine lovers gathered at the winery, while the rest of us followed along via live stream and tweeted our questions and comments to Frank.

Frank was joined by Jennifer Breaux Blosser, daughter of the founder Paul Breaux, who helps manage the estate, and Heather Munden, a chef-turned-winemaker from the San Francisco Bay area. Click here for a great profile and interview between Frank and Heather.

Breaux makes wine from all estate fruit, and Jennifer said the winery plans on increasing production from 10,000 to 20,000 cases over the course of ten years.

I found it interesting to hear from Heather about her transition from California (where she studied at UC Davis), to Virginia. In Virginia, she said, “you have things like snow.” Due to the cold, it also takes vines longer to establish themselves in the soil, sometimes more than five years. And what if it turns out you’ve planted a variety that doesn’t work in that particular site? “It takes a big wallet and a strong stomach,” Heather said, to acknowledge that the vines aren’t working and something else should be planted instead.

Left to right: Frank, Jessica and Heather chatting up Virginia wine.
We had an interesting discussion about whether Virginia Cabernet Franc is considered the state’s signature red, which grape is the most underappreciated in the state (Answer: Merlot), and all sorts of other wide-ranging topics.

While chatting, I tasted through three of Breaux’s reds, a 2013 Cab Franc, a 2007 Meritage and a 2002 Merlot. Overall, I found the wines quite interesting, bold but structured, and clearly capable of development in the cellar. The 2002 Merlot was fascinating, delicious, complex and evolved a lot over the course of the evening and into the next day.

My notes…. 

2013 Breaux Vineyards Cabernet Franc Lafayette - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
A bright ruby purple color. Juicy and fresh on the nose, black cherry, mixed currants, a significant dose of bay leaf, tobacco. Dusty but moderately structured tannins, bright acid, the wine is medium-bodied with a silky mouthfeel. Tart red currants dominate on the palate, mixed with some black cherries and plum skins. An interesting cedar, tree bark and wood shavings element, some chewing tobacco and bay leaf spices. With time, I get more green coffee and roasted chestnut. Some underlying toast and oak, but the wine still stays clean. Very enjoyable, a brighter, fresher style, lacking some of that sweet jam or stewed fruit I sometimes get in Virginia Cabernet Francs. Could probably age for a few years, but perfect for early drinking. (87 points)

2007 Breaux Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
Medium ruby color. Time needed to open up and coax out notes of red currants, wild raspberries, red apple peel, some caramel and sweet baking spices get more expressive with time. Full-bodied and bold at 15.2% alcohol. Still quite firm on the tannins, medium-low acid. Flavors of blackberry cobbler, red currants, plum skins. Toast, mocha and cedar shavings mix with some earthy, forest floor and roasted coffee notes. Opens up a lot to show more subtle and complex fruit, and those earthy spices really come out, especially on the second day: rosemary, thyme, black pepper. A deep, lingering finish. A higher octane wine at first, much prettier and silkier on day two. 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 10% Petite Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. (89 points)

2002 Breaux Vineyards Merlot Reserve - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun Count
A lighter ruby color. More relaxed and seductive nose of sweet cherries and wild strawberries, I’m also getting some white pepper, red clay, dried roses, hints of paprika and sun-dried tomato. Really interesting aromatic stuff. Still going and lively, on the palate, impressed by the structured tannins that provide support, medium-low acid though. A mouth-filling wine but smooth as well. Red plums and cherries gush, but show signs of mature complexity with the notes of potting soil, dried flowers, fallen leaves and sweet pickles. Roasted coffee and chestnuts too. Long, so smooth and silky, one of the most complex and thought-provoking Virginia Merlots I’ve tasted. (90+ points)

Thanks to the team at Breaux, Frank Morgan and all those who participated and made this yet another memorable Virginia Wine Chat.