Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wine Reviews: California Zinfandel

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It’s been too long since I’ve focused exclusively on California Zinfandel. Well, it’s about time. Especially now that it’s summer and I try to grill food as much as possible – juicy Cali Zin and grilled veggies and meats, it really never gets old for me. And there were a few beauties in this tasting. 

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

2012 Grgich Hills Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $36
Rich riby color. Smells of tart red cherries, deep currants, juicy plums, along with lots of sweet spice, smoke and earth. Well-structured with fleshy but firm tannins and some acidity for balance, this is a mouth-filling wine but it feels velvety. Black cherry and red currant, the fruit is slightly jammy but it stays fresh as well. The fruit is topped with dried leaves, clove, coffee, cedar shavings, a complex blend of herbal tea and spice. In addition to all that, I get this underlying floral, tar and mineral element. The complexity here is phenomenal. Delicious and ripe but it doles out the fruit with suavity. A whopping 15.5% alcohol, but, wow, is it woven in well. Aged 15 months in French oak. This is a perennial favorite of mine, and this vintage is rocking. (92 points)

2014 Prisoner Wine Company The Prisoner - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Vibrant purple color. Smells rich and juicy, with raspberry and blackberry jams, candied cherries, along with vanilla, spiced coffee and dark chocolate shavings. On the palate, this is a full-bodied and jammy wine with chewy tannins and low acidity. Bold, saucy fruit (blackberry and raspberry jams and sweet black cherries). Sure there’s plenty of toast, vanilla and coconut but time coaxes out nuances of loam and spiced coffee and dark chocolate. Stylistically, this is uber rich and forward, but it is undeniably delicious. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Charbono, aged in 30% new French and American oak. (87 points)

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $37 

Bright purple color. Rich aromatic display of dark berry fruit, a bit jammy but it smells pure and vibrant, not confectioned. I also get some pepper glaze, sweet coffee and mixed green herbs. Full-bodied, the tannins provide structure but they’re not harsh, moderate acidity cleans up the palate. Lots of different fruit action going on here (blueberry, black cherry, sweet plums), and a nice mix of earth, fallen leaves, cola, root beer, dark chocolate. This wine leans forward with its fruit and hedonistic flavors but it’s structured very well and contains some significant complexity. Drink now or hold for a few years. Aged 16 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points) 

2013 Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Shamrock Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Bold aromas but the fruit is still bright, as cranberry sauce and raspberries mix with juicy black cherries, and I get a host of spiced coffee, clove and rose petals. Juicy acidity bounces off fleshy tannins, full bodied and chewy texture but not heavy (despite 15.5% alcohol). Tons of bright red fruit and black cherries, but I get a lot of non-fruit complexity in the form of anise, rose petals, tar and earth. Long finish. Delicious but serious Zinfandel, this comes from a vineyard perched at 2,800 feet in Northern Mendocino near Humboldt. Includes 3% Syrah, this wine is aged in about ¼ new French oak. (90 points) 

2013 Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Gianoli Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. A vibrant but jammy aromatic take, with raspberries, strawberries and some black cherry, along with some musk and spicy tobacco. A bold presence on the palate, that’s for sure, but this has a dusty tannic structure, I am really enjoying the bright acidity that makes this wine pop. The strawberry, cherry and red currant, the fruit is juicy and vibrant but plenty of texture. Notes of rhubarb pie, spicy tobacco, rose petals, some black tea, clove and library dust – loving the complexity of these intricate non-fruit flavors. Beautifully long finish. Wow. 15.5% alcohol. These grapes are sourced from the coastal mountains of the Mendocino Ridge AVA, in a site first planted in the 1880s. Aged in 30% new French oak. (91 points) 

2013 Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Perli Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge
SRP: $30
Vibrant ruby color. Rich red currant, raspberry and plum fruit, slightly jammy and sweet but still vibrant, accentuated by pine needles, fallen leaves, pipe tobacco and rose petals. Large and in-charge on the palate, these tannins add some serious structure to the wine, which shows medium acidity, and that keeps this beast of a wine bright. Darker fruit on the palate, like raspberries mixed with dark plums and blackberries, the fruit is rich and saucy. Notes of loam, tar and roses mix with sweet vanilla and roasted chestnut. Rich and hedonistic but so structured and exciting at the same time. From a steep (almost 60 degree) slope vineyard at 1,500 feet, this radical vineyard was first planted in the late 1800s. Includes 3% Syrah, this wine was aged in 25% new French oak, along with some old French and American oak. (91 points) 

2014 Ghost Pines Zinfandel Winemaker's Blend - California, North Coast
SRP: $20 

Dark ruby color. Smells of bright raspberry and blueberry jam, some cola, violets and mocha as well. A juicy and fleshy approach on the palate with medium-soft tannins, medium-low acidity and juicy red and black berry fruit (quite jammy). Fun, tasty, uncomplicated stuff with notes of cola, rose petals and sweet coffee. Mostly Lodi grapes, but fruit is blended in from Sonoma and Lake Counties. (85 points) 

2014 Frei Brothers Zinfandel Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Smells of jammy raspberries, strawberries, cola, sweet coffee and vanilla. Full-bodied but soft tannins, some moderating acidity. Jammy raspberries dominate, but I get some chewy black cherries, and the fruit is topped with cola, vanilla, cedar and sweet pipe tobacco and eucalyptus. A drink-me-now on the back patio (with the grill raring to go) kind of wine, but solid for the price. Includes 6% Petite Sirah, this wine was aged mostly in oak, a combo of new and old American and French. (85 points) 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Immersing Myself In Irish Whiskey

Originally licensed as Locke's in 1757, Ireland's
Kilbeggan Distillery keeps the spirit of history alive.
I recently spent two weeks in Ireland surfing sketchy reefs and exploring the unbelievably gorgeous coast of Counties Donegal, Sligo and others. This required a lot of driving on Ireland’s notoriously narrow-as-fuck roads. More than a few times, I was convinced that a double-decker bus or a dustbin lorry smashing into my car was going to be the last thing I saw.

So, when the driving was done and the panic attacks were beaten back, I got down to the business of tasting Irish whiskey.

Yes, Scotland is king, but if you’re a Scotch fan like me, you may find it refreshing to explore the different approach of Irish whiskey. There is no Islay brine in Ireland, and (spare one outlier) no smoky peat bombs that dominates many Scotch whisky. There is huge diversity in Irish whiskey, but, generally speaking, the best are smooth and silky with a range of pure floral, honey and malty flavors.

I didn’t taste nearly as much Irish whiskey as I would’ve liked, but I found some really fun stuff.

I also spent some time touring the
Kilbeggan Distillery, Ireland’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. For the whiskey lover, or any tourist interest in Irish history, I cannot recommend visiting this place enough. 

If you’re driving between Galway and Dublin, the Kilbeggan Distillery is right off the highway and, although clearly a tourist destination, it’s anything but a trap. The old distillery is filled with creaking original wood and massive open-top fermenters. The river still powers the 100-year-old mill, and old copper stills tower in the courtyard. You can even check out the oldest copper still in Ireland, which they still use.

Below are my notes on some of the Irish whiskeys I tasted on my trip.

Redbreast Mano a Lámh
This beautiful whiskey from Midleton Distillery is aged in first-fill oloroso Sherry casks. It's smooth and vibrant with lots of flowers, caramel, sweet oak and dried berry aromas and flavors. There's a lovely creaminess and elegance to this whiskey, and it goes down dangerously easy.

The Jameson Distillery in Dublin has a Disney-fied feel to it, but it's
worth a stop. This neighboring bar has a wide selection of Irish whiskey.

Jameson Crested Ten

Smells of honeys and pears with spiced tea and smoke. A bit biting on the palate but smooth enough with flavors of honey, baked pear, almond and smoke. This seems more smooth and less harsh than the regular Jameson bottling.

Galway Bay 10-Year Single Malt
Super floral with apricots and nut aromas. Quite smooth with tropical fruits and mixed nuts. A sense of woodsy spice pervades this whiskey, and I love it.

Green Spot 12-Year
Moderately smooth with lots of apples and caramel. I get some oaky and vanilla elements. Quite good.

Connemara Peated Single Malt
Pitched as Ireland’s only peated single malt whiskey, this would fit right in with its Highland Scotch cousins. It’s so smoky on the nose, with these peat and charred earth and bog aromas. Lots of smoke and spicy peat and clove on the palate but there are still some floral and honey tones. Delicious stuff - worth seeking out if you’re a fan of peat.

Tyrconnel Single Malt
A bit sharp on the nose but some honey, yellow flowers and baked pear liven it up. Creamy and honeyed with peaches, nuts, mellow herbal tones. A bit simple but solid.

This entry-level whiskey shows sweet aromas of malt balls and brown sugar. A sweet, nutty, malty whiskey with notes of honey and flowers. Straightforward, simple stuff but very tasty.

Kilbeggan 8-Year
A little deeper than the entry-level whiskey, but still shows that sweet malty aroma. Moderately smooth with floral perfume, honey, malt and soft spice notes. A bit more depth and silkiness.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Palmina - Santa Barbara Producer's Delicious Interpretations of Classic Northern Italian Grapes

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

I’ve known about Palmina’s wines for a while, but this was the first time I tasted them. The verdict for me is abundantly clear: these wines are fascinating and delicious.

Based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, Palmina has a singular and precise vision: to make site-specific California interpretations of some classic Northern Italian grapes. But these aren’t your burly, heavily-oaked Cal-Itals. Palmina’s wines share a characteristic elegance, refreshing acidity, and moderate alcohol content. These wines are made with native yeast fermentation and they’re aged in old oak barrels.

Steve Clifton kicked off Palmina in 1995. He started off only making red wines from sites around Santa Barbara County. He expanded to make a few whites, including a Pinot Grigio that may give people dismissive about this grape some cause to reconsider. I cannot remember a $20 California white wine I’ve gotten that excited about in a long time. For the floral, tropical-loving white wine drinker, the Malvasia Bianca is a must-try. Considering these wines all fall into the $20-$40 range, the amount of quality for the price is very impressive.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Palmina Pinot Grigio - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $20
Pale lemon color. Gorgeous aromatics: orange, lemon, nettle, white flowers, a wonderful saline component — an impressive and complex display. Medium-light-bodied and the acidity is laser-like precise. A clean and zesty wine but plenty of flavor and a slightly creamy texture on the palate. Lemon curd, tangerine, honeydew and key lime fruit, all of it pure and vibrant, topped in floral, saline, mineral and spiced tea notes. This ain’t your auntie’s Pinot Grigio. Holy moly this is good! Fermented in stainless steel, 12.5% alcohol, this is a great by-the-case purchase for summer. (91 points)

2014 Palmina Malvasia Bianca Larner Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon
SRP: $26
Medium yellow color. Wow, this is such a floral/tropical medley on the nose: lychee, pineapple, kiwi, green table grapes, honeysuckle, wow — I feel like you could dab this on your neck like perfume and smell amazing for a few hours. Medium-bodied on the palate, the zesty acidity balanced out nicely against the plush tropical fruits. I get guava, pineapple, lychee and mango, but it’s drizzled with lime and ginger and topped with flowers, flowers and flowers, and some mountain stream minerals. I’m usually less a fan of this much tropical and floral intensity, but this is also a nervy, refreshing and profoundly easy-drinking wine. Delicious. A light 12% alcohol, this is aged 12 months in old French oak. One of the best non-Italian examples of this grape I’ve tasted.  (89 points)

2013 Palmina Barbera Walker Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley, Los Olivos District
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Smells saucy and ripe with juicy cherries and plums along with sweet violets and basil as well. Medium-plus-bodied with dusty tannins and a tart and refreshing acidic presence. I love the sweet plums and cherries, the fruit is so ripe and juicy but crunchy. Elements of sweet clove, spicy pepper and sweet basil, the flavors are woven together so well. Very fresh and balanced, but I think this will unfold nicely with near-term cellaring. 14% alcohol, this wine spends 24 months in neutral French oak. (88 points)

2013 Palmina Dolcetto - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $20
Deep ruby color. Lovely sweet red and black cherry fruit on the nose along with cola, sweet herbs and cedar. Medium-bodied with smooth tannins and some moderate acidity. The red and black berry fruit is tart and crunchy but plenty ripe, and the fruit is doused in cola, vanilla, sweet black pepper glaze. Juicy but tart, fun but straight up delicious. (86 points)

2009 Palmina Nebbiolo - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $40
Bright ruby color. I love these aromas: black and red cherries, sour plums, along with some charcoal, smoke, chewing tobacco and balsamic notes – lovely complexity that opens up a lot with air. A real bright sense of acidity keeps this wine lip-smacking, but the tannins provide a sturdy structure, although they’re fined down around the edges and show no signs of harshness. Tart red plums and berries, the fruit is absolutely delicious, but the non-fruit flavors are firing: pipe tobacco, white pepper, roses, mossy soil. Really complex stuff here, and the flavors shift and evolve with air. I’ve only tasted a few really compelling American Nebbiolos, and this is one of them. Aged 42 months in French oak. (91 points)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bold but Beautiful Barossa Wines from Hentley Farm

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Hentley Farm is a relatively new player in the Barossa Valley (considering this region's long and rich history), but they are producing some stellar wines. In the 1990s, founders Keith and Alison Hentschke purchased their 150-acre vineyard in the Seppeltsfield area. Their first Hentley Farm wines debuted in 2002. Two years later, they purchased the adjacent Clos Otto block, which is now the source of their high-end Shiraz.

Their wines display the classic Barossa depth and concentration, but I was surprised at the vibrancy and freshness of some of these wines. While the Clos Otto is truly a stunner of a wine (with a price tag to match) the relative value of the other Hentley Farm Shiraz offerings is very impressive.

The wines are crafted by Andrew Quin, a horticulturist turned winemaker who worked with St. Francis in Sonoma and Jacques Lurton in Bordeaux before returning to make wine in his native Australia.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Hentley Farm's estate vineyards are located in the red loam soils of Barossa Valley, South Australia. Credit: Hentley Farm

2015 Hentley Farm Riesling - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
SRP: $22
Lemon-lime color. Vibrant aromatic of sliced limes and white peaches, mixed in with honeysuckle, crushed chalk and new tennis balls. Precise acidity frames the wine, this is laser-like in its focus but generous in its mouthfeel and fruit (lime, white peach, honeydew, lychee). I get a lot of oil, chalk, minerals and honeysuckle as well, along with a flinty, smashed rock element that lights up the finish. Very pretty stuff, dry and bracing but plenty of flavor and significant power that will enable this to stand some cellar time. The fruit comes from two blocks planted in the late 70s and early 80s in gray sandy loam and granite. (89 points)

2015 Hentley Farm Rosé - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $20
Gorgeous strawberry/watermelon color. Bright and fresh but tons of fruit (strawberry, watermelon, red apple peel) along with a lovely spiced tea and rose hip essence. Medium+ bodied, this is ripe and velvety but the acidity stays tart and fresh. More watermelon and tart strawberry, with some candied apple peel. I also get some white peppery spice, crushed shells and floral perfume. A fuller style but still so bright and refreshing. Grenache and Syrah. (88 points)

2015 Hentley Farm Shiraz - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $28
Bright purple color. The aromas are rich and dark, with blackberries, plums and black cherries, along with violets, clay and some mocha. Full-bodied and saucy but pleasant, this shows smooth but structured tannins, which are balanced by moderate acid that keeps the wine from being heavy. Flavors of juicy black cherries and blackberries mix with elements of fallen leaves, sweet eucalyptus, vanilla and hints of pepper and earth. Big but suave, this is drinking nicely now but could be tamed in the cellar for a few years for sure. Aged 10 months in 15% new French oak Sourced from seven blocks in estate vineyards at Seppeltsfield. (88 points)

2014 Hentley Farm Cabernet Sauvignon - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $28
Deep currant, purple color. Smells of fresh black currants and cherries, a lovely earth and savory herbal characteristic along with some coffee grounds. Full but silky with structured but fine tannins and some fresh acidity that keeps it in check. Juicy black cherries, cassis, the fruit has a tart and fresh edge. Notes of rose petals, bay leaf and clove, the toast and coffee elements are subtle and woven in well. Quite pretty now but I could see holding this for three or four years at least. (87 points)

2015 Hentley Farm The Stray Mongrel - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $28
Vibrant ruby color. I love these spicy, smoky, meaty notes that mix in with all sorts of red fruit (from tart strawberry to raspberry jam) — lots going on but the aromas are nuanced. Full-bodied but so vibrant with fine tannins and bright acidity, which keeps the wine fresh and forward. Jammy raspberries and strawberries mix with some roasted plum elements, the fruit is blended with earth, white pepper, green herbs and a streak of smoky-bacony goodness. Delicious now, but could open up in the cellar. Loving the vibrancy of this wine despite the 14.7% alcohol. A blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Zinfandel. (89 points)

The Beauty, The Beast & Clos Ott - a stunning Shiraz trio.
2013 Hentley Farm Shiraz The Beauty - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $60
Dark purple color. Needs a bit of air to show the full spectrum of its rich, dark fruit (blueberry, boysenberry, black cherry). I also get some violets, sweet pipe tobacco, black pepper and eucalyptus. A saucy but well-structured wine with sturdy tannins. I'm really surprised by the acidity, which cleans the wine up on the palate and keeps me wanting more. Gorgeous and pure fruit, tart but full, rich but silky, pretty much all the black and blue fruit you can imagine. Accents of pepper, soy, eucalyptus add complexity, and there's a fresh sense of rocky soil minerality as well. The vanilla, coffee and toast are integrated well. Gorgeous. I love it's youthfulness but this is definitely a candidate for five-to-eight years in the cellar. This spends 14 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points) 

2012 Hentley Farm Shiraz The Beast - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $85
Dense purple color. Bold aromas of saucy but tart black and blue fruit (blackberry, blueberry and tart black cherries). I get a lot of smoke, scorched earth, charcoal notes, which weave together with graphite, soy and eucalyptus. Full-bodied (of course, as the name and appellation suggest) but this wine has velvety tannins and some moderating acidity that keeps this beast of a wine tamed. The blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry fruit is pure, lively, ripe and tart. Such purity and vibrancy in this fruit, it’s straight up delicious, too. Loads of smoke, loamy soil, coffee, dark chocolate mixed in with notes of eucalyptus, white pepper, soy and cedar. Long, warm finish. A beast of a wine, sure, but beautiful as well as will get even more so with five or seven years in the cellar. (93 points)

2012 Hentley Farm Shiraz Clos Otto - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $165
Deep purple color. The aromas unravel to show saucy plums, berry compote, blueberry and currant jams, but the non-fruit complexities packed in here are really impressive: smoked meat, cracked pepper, charcoal, clove, dark roast coffee, vanilla. This is a deep and bold wine that needs time or a good decant to show its full aromatic potential. Full and velvety on the palate, this has some refreshing and surprising acidity and some sturdy tannins, so the structure is wonderful. Flavors of plum cake, boysenberry, blueberry and currant compote, the fruit is big but also pure, even elegant. Black olive, pepper, charcoal, earth, coffee and ginger snap cookie add all sorts of complexity. With time, more and more earth and spice flavors come out. Needs four-to-five years at least, but this is a beauty. From a low-yielding, east-facing, red clay block in the estate. (94 points)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

On My Wine Radar: Oregon Gamay

By now, if you’re remotely interested in wine, you know the goodness that is Cru Beaujolais. The Gamay grape’s spiritual home is the source of some fantastic (and still value-driven) red wines of elegance, purity and vibrancy.

Gamay does well in cooler climates. It can produce good fruit in lots of soil types, but granite and limestone soils tend to yield the most hauntingly beautiful examples. Outside of Beaujolais (and the Loire Valley, where it is frequently used in blends), where else can we find exciting hotbeds of Gamay? My vote goes to Oregon.

“It’s the perfect place to grown Gamay in the United States, said Kate Norris, winemaker and proprietor of Division Winemaking Company.

Credit: Division Winemaking Company
I met Kate for dinner in DC recently, and we tasted through a range of her Division wines. Kate makes some thrilling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but I was most intrigued by her focus on Gamay. Kate has conducted a Pacific Northwest case study of Gamay’s wide-ranging styles. She and her partner Tom Monroe worked in Beaujolais, under the mentorship of Christian Bernard of Domaine des Grands Fers, where they gained a deeper understanding of this beautiful, terroir-mirroring grape.  

She produces a delightful rosé of Gamay. Its a refreshing interpretation of this style that shows bright acidity, lots of floral elements and a pervasive sense of minerality. (The fruit actually comes from Willard Vineyard in neighboring Washington’s Yakima Valley AVA.)

Gamay vines from Methven Family Vineyard. Credit: Wikimedia

She also produces a Gamay Noir “Cru” from Methven Family Vineyards, a sustainably-farmed site in Eola-Amity Hills. Its a structured wine that pays homage to the Crus of Beaujolais, the renowned rocky vineyard sites that produce the region’s best wines. Kate admits the wine maintains a richer profile than most Cru Beaujolais, but touts the grapes signatures of freshness, minerality and deep floral-mineral tones. Theres not much of this wine to go around (about 80 cases), and this vintage was the first time she had enough grapes to ferment two separate lots (one lot was destemmed and the whole went through whole cluster fermentation).

Using some carbonic maceration she also releases a Division-Villages "Les Petits Fers" Gamay, which boasts a more approachable style similar to Beaujolais-Villages wines. Carbonic maceration involves intact grape bunches being placed in a carbon dioxide rich environment (such as a sealed tank), which begins a complex fermentation process that leads to wine of a lighter, fruitier style. Kate employs some semi-carbonic maceration, which she says, “brings am incredible textural component and freshness to wines, and when blended with traditionally fermented juice can expand the scope, intrigue, and complexity of the wine.”

Oh, yeah, and Division also makes an homage to Beaujolais Noveau as well.

“What other grape has this kind of diversity?” she said as we sipped her Gamay rosé. I did not have an immediate answer.

Chehalem, a Willamette Valley institution, has been growing Gamay since the mid-1980s, and they have about two acres planted in their oldest estate vineyard, Ridgecrest, a Ribbon Ridge vineyard that comprises clay, silt and loam on top of sandstone, basalt and siltstone rock. They blend the Gamay with about 20% Pinot Noir in a style that pays homage to the “passetoutgrains blends of Burgundy. Willamette Valley producer Brick House crafts a well-respected Gamay Noir. And Oregon’s Bow & Arrow is supposedly the country’s largest producer of Gamay. Willakenzie and Evening Land also dabble in Oregon Gamay.

These wines are still made on an artisanal scale, sourced from smaller vineyards and dedicated growers. Gamay doesn’t fit into Oregon’s top ten grapes in terms of production, and the Oregon Wine Board doesn’t have specific numbers on total acreage or annual production.

I have an inkling though, that there is untapped demand for these kinds of wines. They’re fresh, food-friendly, tend toward lower alcohol, and show moderate or light tannin structure. I’d love to see some Oregon Gamay on by-the-glass lists at wine bars and bistros. But even though it’s a niche wine at the moment, if producers keep sourcing high quality fruit to produce dynamic, vibrant, diverse wines, we will hear a lot more about Gamay from Oregon soon.

I’m not sure you can actually smell minerals, but this wine makes feel like I’m smelling all sorts of minerals, like they’re pouring out of a rocky mountain stream. I also get some cantaloupe and sea salt. Creamy palate but such precise, refreshing acidity. Pure and vibrant strawberry and peach fruit, along with notes of saline, minerals and rose petals. So fresh and pleasant, but by no means simple. More people need to taste this! (90 points)

I’m intrigued by Oregon Gamay, and this wine is one reason why. It smells like bright strawberries and jammy cherries and raspberries with notes of rocky earth and violets. Smooth but slightly chewy tannins, vibrant acidity, the wine comes off silky. Juicy black cherry and raspberry fruit topped with earth, roses, violets, subtle spice (Cinnamon? Pepper?). Richer fruit than a lot of Cru Beaujolais, but it’s on point with the fruit and earthy-mineral elements. Finishes clean and fresh. So pleasurable to drink, so good with all sorts of food, so inexpensive, what’s not to love? Some carbonic fermentation, some traditional, the combination is working well. From two vineyards, one in Eola-Amity Hills and the other in Umpqua Valley. (90 points)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Two Great Central Coast Producers: Alma Rosa & KITA

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

If you know Cali Pinot, you know Richard Sanford. This Pinot Noir pioneer has been exploring the potential of the Santa Rita Hills for more than four decades. In 2005, he and his wife Thekla founded another project, Alma Rosa, which focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The 2013 Blanc de Blancs and the 2013 Brut Rosé El Jabali Vineyard are the first sparkling wines Alma Rosa has produced since the project was founded in 2005. While new to the sparkling wine game, Alma Rosa's wines show no evidence of a learning curve. They're bright, crisp, complex and will likely age well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Alma Rosa Blanc de Blancs El Jabali Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $60
Pale lemon color. So perfumed on the nose with lilies, honeysuckle, sea salt, chalk, on top of limes and green apples. Precise acidity on the palate, a salty, breezy and crisp wine throughout. Flavors of limes and green apples mix with honeydew and white peach, and the fruit is peppered with chalk, flowers, minerals, honey and toasted nuts. Long and pithy finish. A very pretty and nervy California sparkling wine. A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. (90 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Brut Rosé El Jabali Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $65
Medium salmon color. So floral and vibrant on the nose with roses, daisies, strawberries, white cherries, sour patch kids and chalk – this is a crazy/awesome blend of aromas. Fresh, tart and brisk on the palate, this is a precise wine with flavors of crunchy red apple and wild strawberries. I get a complex blend of salty, chalky and mineral elements. Long finish. Very impressive bubbles (100% Pinot Noir). (90 points) 

2014 Alma Rosa Chardonnay El Jabali Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Pale gold color. On the nose, I get green apple, lime, floral perfume and some subtle chalk and honey. Medium-plus-bodied with crisp acidity and a slightly creamy mouthfeel (this undergoes 50% maloactic fermentation). Some pineapple accents the yellow and green apple fruit, and I also get some honeyed white tea flavors. Hints of chalk and a saline quality make this attractive. Bright but enough oomph and weight. 15% new oak used and nine months of aging on the lees, this is a well-priced, middle-of-the-road style Chardonnay. (87 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $35
Deep ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, clove and cola. Chewy, oily texture at 14.8% alcohol, but bright acidity and fine tannins balance it out. Tart cherries, strawberries and raspberries play with notes of cola, clove, roses and coffee. Forward and bold but vibrant. (88 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Barrel Select Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $
Deep ruby. Bright cherries and strawberries on the nose, with rhubarb, rose petals and more spice and cedar than the basic Sta. Rita Hills bottling. Smooth but chewy texture, this stays vibrant with fresh acidity and velvety tannins. Black cherry mixes with the tart red fruit, which is doused in coffee, cedar, cola and coffee. Warm but tart finish. (89 points)

2013 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Clone 667 La Encantada Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $
Medium-to-deep ruby color. A bit richer aromatically, with juicy strawberries and raspberry jam along with some sweet roses and clove. Lovely texture (dusty tannins, tart acidity) supports a medley of bright red currant, cherry and apple fruit. Accents of loam, tobacco, clove and cola. Full and chewy but stays elegant and refined. (89 points)

If Tara Gomez makes a mediocre wine, I sure haven’t tasted it. KITÁ’s winemaker crafts a wide array of different varietal and blended bottles, most of which come from the Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez (originally planted by Fess Parker). Her tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, purchased the vineyard in 2010, and Tara has access to some seriously high quality fruit from this sprawling 256-acre site. KITÁ also bottles some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Bruce Hilliard Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

2014 KITÁ Chardonnay Hilliard Bruce Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Very pale yellow color. Smells invigorating and bright with lemons, limes, green and yellow apples, floral perfume and crushed chalk. Tingly acid on the palate, this medium-bodied wine is delicate but packed with flavors. I get lemons, limes, apricot and tart green apple peel, backed up with some slight honey and white tea. This is a much more crisp and restrained style (all stainless steel) with lingering chalky minerals. Bring on the oysters. (90 points)

2013 KITÁ Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $55
Very light ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of bright strawberries, red cherries, red apple peel, along with some herbal and sweet spice elements. Medium-bodied (13% alcohol), smooth but structured tannins and lip-smacking acidity. Very pretty red fruit (tart strawberry, raspberry, juicy cherry), and the fruit is topped with pipe tobacco, leather, clay pot and a host of dusty, earthy and floral elements. So balanced and vibrant with a long, refreshing finish. Gorgeous now but should age well over the next few years at least. This spends 18 months in 20% new French oak. (92 points)

2013 KITÁ Cabernet Sauvignon Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $40
Deep ruby/light purple color. Smells of tart black and red currants and plum skins, along with smoke, earth and eucalyptus. Medium-plus-bodied, structured but accessible tannins, medium acidity, the balance is firing. Juicy black and red plums and currant fruit, which feel vibrant and crunchy on the palate. Flavors of smoke, loamy soil, tobacco and eucalyptus add complexity. Ill go out on a limb and call this wine refreshing (which is a phrase that, unfortunately, doesn't apply to many current California Cabernets). Accessible and lovely now but Id love to revisit this in two to five years. 13.5% alcohol, 100% Cabernet  Sauvignon, this spends 18 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wine Reviews: Worldwide Roundup

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

We receive a lot of samples from all over the world, but sometimes there aren’t enough to fit into a single tasting or under the same umbrella. In the past, I’ve called these catch-all reports “Odds & Ends” but these wines aren’t odd, and they’re not at the end of any list I would compose.

So, without further explanation, here are a slew of reviews of wines from all over world, made in all different styles.

These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Sparkling Wines
N.V. Ferrari Rosé - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Trentino, Trento
SRP: $36
Pale copper color. Smells of floral perfume, white cherries, strawberries, salted biscuits and freshly sliced rhubarb. Bright, almost bracing, acidity, this is a tart and crunchy sparkler with flavors of grapefruit and lemon. I get some salt, minerals and biscuit notes that add some complexity. Chill the shellfish, pop this wine, and enjoy. Aged two years on the lees, disgorged 2015. (87 points)

2011 Lieb Family Cellars Blanc de Blancs - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $30
Pale lemon color. Smells of biscuits and chalk on top of lime, pears and nectarines, and I get some breezy, oceanic and floral notes. Bright acidity on the palate with smooth texture and very fine, tingly bubbles. Oranges, limes and green pears, the crisp fruit is matched with biscuits, honey and sea salt. This is a lot of fun, not the deepest or most complex sparkling wine, but it’s put together well. I crave Long Island seafood. 100% Pinot Blanc matured for four years before release. (87 points)

White Wines

2015 Rutini Torrontés Trumpeter - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP: $11
Light gold color. So peachy and floral on the nose, like tropical salad, perfume and honey. Juicy, creamy texture on the palate with moderate acidity. A rich floral sense, like tropical yellow flowers topped with honey and white tea and. pineapple, mango and lime. Vibrant but rich wine, tasty, clean, well-made. For $11? Yeah, if you want to explore Torrontés, spend very little money, and you love tropical fruit salad — go purchase this wine right now. (86 points) 

2014 Lieb Family Cellars Pinot Blanc Reserve - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $22
Pale lemon color. Bright and refreshing aromas of lemons and limes, sliced green apple, peach nectar, some floral perfume and sugar cane. Crisp, clean and zesty on the palate, this is a light-bodied and nervy wine but it’s packed with flavor: limes, green apple, summer peach, accented with sea salt, crushed chalk, sugar cane and white flowers. Pretty, elegant, lip-smacking, begs for oysters and summer. (88 points)

Vibrant gold color. Smells of lemon curd, tangerine, drizzled with limes, and some bright white and yellow floral elements. Fresh and vibrant on the palate with moderate creaminess and a sense of refreshing acidity throughout. Lemon curd, orange peel, some juicy pears, the fruit is dusted with chalk and flowers. The oak-influenced flavors of nutshell, nougat and cinnamon are understated and nuanced, allowing the purity of the underlying fruit to shine through. Complex yet so easy to drink. This spends 10 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Stinson Vineyards Chardonnay - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $24
Light gold color. Clean and fresh aromas of yellow and green apples, white peaches and apricot along with some yellow flowers, nougat and hazelnut. Medium-bodied, a fresh and zesty appeal on the palate from the acidity. The white peach, apricot and glazed yellow apple fruit is ripe but vibrant, and backed up by flavors of honeycomb, yellow flowers, and a balanced blend of nougat and hazelnut. A middle-of-the-spectrum kind of Chardonnay, with plenty of ripeness and richer elements but a fresh and crunchy core. Fermented and aged in French oak (15% new), which seems to be just the right amount. (88 points)


2015 Lieb Family Cellars Bridge Lane - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $18
Very pale copper color. A bit under-ripe on the nose perhaps, it smells like nettle, the white tops of wild cherries, rose hips. Crisp and clean on the palate, this lighter-bodied wine shows a very slight creaminess to the texture. Wild strawberries mix with tart red apple peel, and I get some secondary notes of cut grass, nettle and white pepper. Simple, dry, crisp, fun stuff. Mostly Cabernet Franc with 22% Merlot, 10% Pinot Blanc and 5% Pinot Noir. (85 points)

2015 Willamette Valley Vineyards Rosé - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $24
Gorgeous strawberry candy colored. Very pretty and lively on the nose, with juicy strawberries, white cherries, orange blossoms, baby’s breath, rose petals – so fresh, fruity and floral. Crisp and vibrant on the palate, this is a medium-bodied wine with fresh acidity. I get strawberry, crunchy raspberries and red apple peel flavors, Lots of fresh roses, nettles, chalk and spiced tea. Very pretty and elegant but full of flavor. (90 points)

SRP: $12
Bright watermelon colored. Smells of strawberry jam, fresh watermelon and juicy red apples, and a note that reminds me of lemon zinger tea. Medium-bodied with a slightly chewy texture, but moderate acidity keeps it fresh. Flavors of red berry fruit and jams mix with a floral tea and honey element, a dash of pepper in there, too. A bit of a fatter pink wine in style, but well done and very tasty. A blend of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Grenache. It’s a 2014, so it’s a full year later, but this is holding up well. Drink now. (85 points)

2015 Stinson Vineyards Mourvedre Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $20
Bright pink/salmon color. On the nose, I get dandelions, nettle and clover on top of white cherries, raspberries and red apple peel. On the palate, this is a punchy and tart pink with a bright and crunchy personality. White cherries, ruby red grapefruit and red apple peel fruit is accented by white pepper, nettle, rose petals and lemongrass. Crisp, salty finish. So versatile and food-friendly, this is yet another iteration of a really solid Virginia rosé. (87 points)


2013 Trivento Malbec Golden Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $20
Deep purple color. Smells of dark plums, blackberries, the fruit is rich but tart with coffee and vanilla. Full-bodied, solid tannic grip, medium acidity, combining for a chewy texture. Dark and saucy fruit (rich blackberry, blueberry jam, plum skins), and I also get notes of dark roast coffee, scorched earth, iron and graphite. Jammy but well-structured, I’d actually like to see what a few years in the cellar does to this wine. All Malbec aged 12 months in French oak and a year in bottle before release. (87 points)

This best New World Malbec I've tasted
2013 Achával-Ferrer Malbec Finca Altamira - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, La Consulta
SRP: $140
Vibrant purple color. Gorgeous aromatics of black cherry, plum cake, roasted figs, mocha, violets, scorched earth, cinnamon, graphite and minerals. Full-bodied but the texture and balance is amazing – fine but firm tannins, refreshing acidity, it all combines for a mouth-filling but seamless wine. Flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, roasted figs and plum sauce, the fruit is pure and vibrant and complex. Loads of non-fruit complexities: cedar, violets, roses, potting soil, tobacco, eucalyptus, tobacco, sweet herbs and pencil shavings. Long, vibrant, complex finish. Wow, this is beautiful now, especially with a long decant, but will do wonders over the next 5-10 years. This Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira is my pick for the greatest Malbec from Argentina. One of three single-vineyard bottlings from this phenomenal producer, this comes from 80 year old ungrafted Malbec vines grown at about 3,500 feet. Aged 15 months in new French oak. (95 points)

2013 Yangarra Estate Grenache Old Vine - Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale
SRP: $32
Gorgeous summer cherry color. Smells of bright red and black cherries, strawberry jam, crunchy plums, all of it topped in a significant amount of pepper, anise and bacon fat. A full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) but juicy wine with fleshy medium tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity, this actually stays alive and fresh. Lots of cherry, strawberry and some blackberry fruit, which is ripe but also tart and crunchy. I love the clove, pepper and meaty notes here, with just a bit of coffee, cola and cedar. A very well-balanced, fresh and food-friendly Grenache for those who like some vibrancy in their Australian Grenache. From a biodynamically farmed vineyard first planted in 1946. Aged 9 months in older French oak. (89 points)

SRP: $26
Bold purple color. Nice mix of tart blackberries and jammy currants, along with wet soil, tobacco and bell pepper elements. Full-bodied, structured but smooth tannins, and medium acidity, it all combines for a silky but mouth-filling texture. Blackberry and black currant, ripe but a bit crunchy as well, which I like. Notes of earth, charcoal and pipe tobacco, it’s toasty but not too much. Finishes smooth yet rich. For years this has been a solid value, and Concha y Toro is continuing that history. Includes some Cab Franc, Merlot and Syrah. (88 points)

2014 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour
SRP: $30
Deep violet color. A lot going on aromatically: smoke, earth, savory herbs, leaves, mossy rocks, mushrooms – sort of like you were camping in the mountains, got up from the fire, took a walk, fell down an embankment and got a bit of everything in your nose on the way down. But in a good way. Also, some rich blackberries, currants and plums. A bold presence on the palate with structured tannins, medium acidity, a velvety but refined mouthfeel. Flavors of juicy plums, currants and blackberries, the fruit is totally packed with all sorts of cool stuff: mushroom, pepper, coffee grounds, sweet clove, black olive. There’s a deep, underlying sense of rocky, stony minerality that pervades the wine and lingers onto the finish. A young wine, but after a half hour it really starts to pop, although three to five years in the cellar will allow this to unravel into something even prettier. Now I want venison steak. Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Bila-Haut wines are all solid bargains, but this top-of-the-line bottling is a very good wine for the price. (91 points)

2014 Lieb Family Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $30
Juicy ruby color. I love these aromas: vibrant currants, cherries, lots of ripe fruit but it smells nuanced and tart, and notes of pepper, spiced coffee and cigar smoke. Impressive tannic structure on the palate, but they’re manageable, bright acid keeps it fresh and juicy. Tart red currants, cherries, a slightly darker fruit element. Lovely earthy/herbal/spicy complexity. Although this is a lighter-bodied wine (12.8% alcohol), it will have a lot to unpack as it ages. I’d love to taste again in four years or so. A wine to pour for that Loire Valley-loving friend who has spoken in ignorance about Long Island Cabernet Franc being sub-par. It’ll shut them up real nice. Includes 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 10 months in Hungarian oak.  (90 points)

Light ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of sour cherries, juicy strawberries, bright raspberries, along with some clove and rose petals. Medium-bodied with tannins like fine dust, the acidity is crunchy and tart, and it all lines up so well with the juicy raspberry, strawberry and wild cherry fruit. I get notes of loam, fallen leaves, rose hip tea and some clove. Lovely, fresh, bright and quite long. Drinking wonderfully right out of the bottle but I'd love to see what complexities evolve over the next three years. (91 points)

2013 Stinson Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $32
Deep ruby color. Fresh red currant, ripe but tart cherries, I also get scents of some tobacco, black pepper, fresh roses, sweet red pepper — lovely aromas. Fresh acidity frames this wine from start to finish. The tannins provide some structure but they’re quite smooth and very approachable. The fruit is so bright and vibrant (cherries, currant, some strawberry), lots of roses, rhubarb, pepper, tobacco and soy notes. Complex but fresh and downright fun to drink. 33% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot, 17% Cabernet Franc aged 18 months in 30% new French Oak. (89 points)

2013 Long Shadows Wineries Merlot Pedestal - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $60
Juicy purple color. Smells dark and concentrated, with plums, violets and dark chocolate shavings. Big and full on the palate with structured but chewy tannins, some moderate acidity helps tame the huge structure. The plum sauce, currant paste and black cherry fruit is jammy but velvety, and topped with some violets and earthy flavors. This wine is jam packed with vanilla, charred oak and toasted nuts. It’s heavy for my palate, but it’s still a very nice wine, perhaps one that could use a few years in the cellar. High-alcohol, oak-lovers, check out this wine, which was made with the consultation of Michel Rolland. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc, aged almost two years in mostly new oak. (88 points)

2013 Long Shadows Wineries Pirouette - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $60
Dark purple color. Smells of deep plums and rich blackberries topped in smoke, violets, cedar and loamy soil. Velvety but chewy on the palate, structured tannins for sure but there’s a beam of pure acidity that holds the wine together nicely. Dense flavors of blackberry, blueberry, such smooth fruit, which is coated in tar, loam, pencil shavings and sweet pipe tobacco. This is a cellar-worthy wine, but a very pretty one. A blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. (90 points)

2013 Buried Cane Heartwood Red - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Boisterously aromatic with juicy strawberries, cherries and some blueberry thrown in for good measure. I pick up rose petals, charcoal, black pepper and some sweet red hot candies. A full but very juicy wine with very smooth tannins and some moderate acid. Sweet strawberries mix with jammy black cherries, and the fruit is doused in smoky, meaty, peppery notes, along with some cola and roasted coffee. A bit of heat, but this is a fun, crowd-pleasing wine that brings a good amount of complexity and length with it. A wide-ranging blend of 37% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre, 13% Cinsault, 5% Counoise, and 2% Viognier. (87 points)

Fortified Wines

2011 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo Lake County - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $45
This dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon is a vibrant purple color. Smells of saucy currants, roasted figs, dark chocolate and violets. Full but smooth, a bit of heat from the 19% alcohol. Flavors of plum cake, currant sauce, topped with dark chocolate, espresso and caramel. Very tasty stuff with a long, warm finish. (87 points)

2011 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smells of red and black licorice along with plum sauce, lava cake, sweet caramel. Fully and chewy but smooth with easy-drinking tannins, some freshness from the acidity. I get flavors of plums, blackberry pie, blueberry cobbler, along with vanilla, cola, sweet coffee and roasted nuts. Delicious stuff, quite forward but stays vibrant. (88 points)

<85 points

2014 Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $16
A classic New Zealand Sauv Blanc aromatic mix of onion grass and white pepper along with guava and grapefruit. Medium-bodied on the palate with crisp and tingly acid. I get lemongrass, green onion and sliced jalapeno on top of the juicy ruby red grapefruit and lemon flavors. Fun, a bit simple and typical, but solid.

2014 Buried Cane Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $16
Smells sweet and jammy, like currant and blackberry jams with some cola, sweet cedar and coffee. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, medium-low acidity. The fruit is jammy, sweet and candied. It tastes good, but it tastes kind of gimmicky. I do get some fun cola, spiced coffee and sweet earth flavors. A bit short on the backend. Includes 16% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.