Thursday, December 29, 2016

Nerdy & Delicious Loire Wines from Domaine de la Roche Bleue & Christophe Foucher

If I’m looking for fascinating, intriguing and delicious wines in the $20 range (which is always the case), I look to the Loire Valley of France. 

Many of these offerings are “natural” wines in the sense that the winemakers use organic viticulture and take a minimalist approach in the winery (old oak, native yeasts, no additional sulfur, some wines are corked by hand). They’re not “natural” wines in the sense that they’re faulted, off-kilter or shittily-made (per a Robert Parker-style critique). 

They’re pure expressions of fascinating grapes planted in unique soils and produced with minimalist intervention in the cellar. If you’re tired of in-your-face oak and alcohol, and looking for wines that express their terroir like poetry, there are so many options to explore in the Loire Valley. These three wines, and these two producers, are just some of many. And, taken together, these are three of the best $20 bottles I’ve purchased all year. 

Christophe Foucher organically farms the quirky Menu Pineau grape in the village of Touraine, ferments his wines in old oak and doesn’t add any sulfur. Sebastien Cornille is the winemaker at Domaine de la Roche Bleue, and he makes some fascinating whites, reds and a sparkling rose that are guaranteed to get your palate and intellect going. Two out of the three are labeled as Vin de France because, despite coming from sites in Loire Valley appellations, they don’t adhere to appellation rules regarding permitted grapes. But they express their Loire terroir with finesse.

Below are my notes on three exciting Loire wines I tasted recently.   

2014 La Lunotte (Cristophe Foucher) Le Haut Plessis - France, Vin de France
Light gold color, a bit cloudy but no worries. Unique nose of preserved lemon and quince, potpourri, nettle and briny ocean jetty. Medium-light-bodied with racy acidity. Bitter lemon meets quince and melon rind, and the fruit is laced with minerals and complex spicy/herbal notes. Precise and clean but also exotic and flashy. Tingling, mineral-heavy finish, this would verge on the austere if it wasn't so damned delicious. A very interesting wine made from a grape called Menu Pineau, which is sourced from vineyards in Coufy, near the estate of Clos Roche Blanche. (90 points)

2014 Domaine de la Roche Bleue Jasnières Sec - France, Loire Valley, Jasnières $20
Light gold color. The nose is brisk and salty with seashells and white flowers on top of limes and lemon meringue. The palate is so bright and zesty but it’s not lean, showing juicy and creamy aspects. Gorgeous lime, lemon and apricot fruit topped in complex mineral, chalk, seashell, white tea and honeycomb elements. Long and nervy but so delicious. Such a great Chenin Blanc for $20. Comes from 10-25-year-old vines planted in clay/silex soil on limestone. That’s it — anything from this producer, I’m buying on the spot. (90 points)

2015 Domaine de la Roche Bleue Vin de France La Petillante - France, Vin de France
What a cool wine. A rose pet nat made from 100% Pinot d’Aunis grown near Jasnieres (but a Vin de France appellation). A pale rose color in the glass with light froth. Salty and spicy on the nose with some apple peel and white cherries. It's tart and bracing on the palate and insanely refreshing. Ripe strawberries mix with tart white cherries, and I get loads of minerals, chalk, seashells, some nettle and white pepper. Not too weird, but definitely exciting and nerdy. This wine is so refreshing and delicious that it almost feels hydrating to drink. Love it. (90 points)

These wines were imported by Fruit of the Vine and I purchased them from Chambers Street in NY, NY.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Favorite Wines of 2016

2016 was a yin-yang year. So much awesomeness in my personal life, but so much shite on a world-wide scale. Sometimes it’s hard to keep that positive mental attitude in a world that’s literally and figuratively burning.

Wine helps. And great wine can work miracles. I consider myself immensely lucky to have traveled to some amazing wine country and wrapped my palate around some epic wines over the past 12 months.

Interesting how it worked out, but all of my favorite wines this year came from two specific events.

The first was my inaugural trip to the Portuguese island of Madeira. This has been a bucket list trip of mine for at least a decade, since I first saw pictures of volcanic cliffs dropping off into deep, pristine Atlantic surf.

In February, I spent a week there, touring and tasting most of the island’s producers, who make the most unique and age-worthy wines in the entire world. (That’s my opinion, but it’s also as close to absolute truth as one can get with sweeping statements about certain wines).

Most of these earth-shattering wines came from the
historic Madeira producer D’Oliveiras, where I tasted a bunch of wines from the 19th Century. (Click here for my primer on this historic island’s wine.)

The rest of my favorite wines came from a vertical tasting of the heralded Second Growth Bortdeaux estate, Chateau Cos d’Estournel. Vertical tastings are always enlightening, and tasting this many wines from one epic estate is wine nerd heaven.

Below are the notes on my top wines of the year.

1850 D'Oliveiras Madeira Verdelho (Portugal, Madeira)
It's so difficult to wrap my head around an historic wine like this. First of all, it's an intellectually fascinating experience, which evokes dreams of centuries past. I won't claim to be able to separate the historical significance of the wine from the sensory experience of tasting the wine. But, tasting the wine itself is one of the most amazing experiences in my wine lifetime. I'll attempt to describe this thing. First off, it still has fruit on the nose, kind of like quince paste and preserved lemon, but I get complex elements of clove, old furniture shop, cigar smoke and wood varnish. On the palate, this wine shows a pleasant bitterness, while the sweetness balances perfectly with the high acidity. One flavor evolves into another, and into another, and then back again, like a blissful circle. I'll throw some words at a few of these flavors: caramel, varnished wood, cigar box, candle wax, leather, sea salt, yellow raisins, candied lemon peel, old library books, sweet floral potpourri, spiced tea. The complexity is ridiculous. So, this is an incredible intellectual experience in and of itself, but the aromas and flavors of this wine are ethereal. Perhaps the best thing to ever grace my palate. (99 points)

1954 Justino Henriques Madeira Verdelho (Portugal, Madeira)
The aromas on this wine are complex, intriguing and sort of ridiculous. Clove, almond, anise, flowers, potpourri, all sorts of nuances. So pure and silky on the palate, the balance is impeccable. Smooth but complex, bright but rich, such a sexy and fascinating wine. Flavors of yellow raisin and dried pineapple are pure and delicious, followed up by waves of caramel, wax, almond, sea salt. So insanely complex that I would need a long time to analyze this wine and pull out all the nuances. But, in the end, it’s just a supremely enjoyable wine to sip. One of the best wines of the trip, and actually one of the best wines I’ve tasted in years. (98 points)

1927 D'Oliveiras Madeira Bastardo (Portugal, Madeira)
I am so blown away by this wine. It's not just intellectually and historically fascinating, it has amazing and haunting aromas and flavors, and the complexity is ridiculous. On the nose, I get dried fruits, nuts, surprisingly fresh flowers, salt air, white pepper, all of it nuanced and gorgeous. The palate is silky but tart, and I can't believe the liveliness, purity and vibrancy on this wine. The fruit is not just kicking, it comes out swinging with oranges, sliced pears and dried mango. The complex elements of smoke, nuts, spice and earth are profound. So balanced and elegant, so long and pure. Unbelievable stuff. (98 points)

1894 Henriques & Henriques Madeira "Founder's Solera" (Portugal, Madeira)
One of my favorite wines of the trip. What a stunner. Aromatically, I get old leather, cigar lounge, brown sugar, musk, eucalyptus and floral potpourri. Full and so complex but the brightness is incredible. Flavors of musk, leather, library dust, clove, cinnamon and coffee. But it's still so vibrant with these elements of orange marmalade, cocoa and white flowers. So long and pure. Whoa. (97 points)

1907 D'Oliveiras Madeira Malvazia (Portugal, Madeira)
So dark colored. Sharp aromas (the volatile acidity is evident) but it’s packed together with hay, floral tea, cigar shop and smoking jacket aromas. Rich but so floral on the palate with a dizzying array of complex flavors: spiced tea, graham cracker, cigar smoke, sweet coffee, dried roses. So alive, complex and long, a pure joy to sip. (97 points)

1890 D'Oliveiras Madeira Verdelho (Portugal, Madeira)
A real treat to taste. I get some orange peel, honeycomb, caramel and green coffee aromas. So pure and smooth on the palate, I can't believe how balanced and precise this wine is. Filled with tobacco, peppper, floral spice, roasted chestnut and coffee bean. No real fruit here, but the other flavors are rocking and the wine stays bright and tangy. Long finish with notes of mineral and quinine. Wow. (97 points)

N.V. Barbeito Madeira Malvazia Over 40 Years Old "Mãe Manuela" (Portugal, Madeira)
What an absolutely gorgeous wine. Props to Ricardo Freitas for putting this wine together to honor his mother – it’s an amazing tribute. Smells of sweet clove, complex almond and pecan, baked squash, dried apricot, polished wood and anise. On the palate this is waxy and sweet but the balance is pristine. The complexity of flavors nears the absurd: nuts, dried fruits, minerals, sea salt, rooibos tea. Smooth, sweet, tangy, precise. This is phenomenal stuff. During an epic Madeira trip, this was one of the highlights. (97 points)

2005 Château Cos d'Estournel (France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe)
A textbook example of near-perfect Bordeaux, as far as I can tell. Concentrated but elegant aromas, rich black cherry and currant fruit, accented by gorgeous earth, incense, dried floral and complex spice tones. So elegant on the palate despite the firm structure. Seems perfectly balanced between acid, tannin and fruit. Black and hints of red currant, the fruit is so pure and precise, and backed up by curling waves of incense, cedar, fallen leaves, graphite, mocha and cardamom. Simply phenomenal, and I bet it's just getting started. My wine of the night. A real treasure to taste. (98 points)

2010 Château Cos d'Estournel (France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe)
A bit "brighter" than the 2012 aromatically, but also intense and quite compact at this young age. Dense black cherries and currants on the nose along with coffee, roasted nuts and rich earth. Full and chewy with dense tannins but there's also a vibrancy and cleanness to the wine that makes it incredibly attractive. Rich black cherries, currants, loaded with coffee, roasted nuts, gravel, cocoa, violets, pepper glaze. Long, full, incredibly long finish. Amazing aging potential here - it's almost a shame tasting this so young, but it's an awesome experience to taste this wine at this point in its lifespan. Ridiculously good. (97 points)

1985 Château Cos d'Estournel (France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe)
This wine stands out for its bright, red-fruited approach. Smells tangy and herbal with bright red currants, red apple peel, violets, bay leaf, cigar smoke, floral perfume - an incredibly complex and elegant nose on this beauty. Bright and clean on the palate, with refined tannins and fresh acid. The red currant fruit is laced with rose hips, white pepper, cardamom, floral perfume, oregano and tobacco. Long, crisp finish, full of complexity. So bright and sexy, and showing wonderfully. Not the most heralded wine in the lot, but for my palate, the freshness on this wine is so damn attractive. (97 points)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ring in 2017 with Champagne!

2016 is almost behind us — Finally!

It’s been a crazy, awesome, terrible year, so let’s pop some Champagne and raise a glass to 2017!

When it comes to bubbles, Champagne is the Alpha and Omega. So if I’m going to bust out the bubbles around the holidays, I’m bringing Champers. The terroir of Champagne is diverse but exquisite, so I try to find single-vineyard Champagnes, and learn about the vineyard, soils, winemaking

If you’re looking for bubbly recommendations, check out this new article on Snooth. You’ll find bubbly tips from myself and a host of other wine writers.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Rocky Mountain Wine: Surprisingly Good Vino from Colorado

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Back in March, I reviewed a case of wines from Colorado, the winners of the state’s 2015 Governor’s Cup Awards. While I found some fun bottles, some wines felt out of whack, unbalanced, weird. I recently tasted through this year’s top 12 Colorado wines, and found much more to get excited about.

Colorado, perhaps better known for brews than vino, has been growing in recent years. In 2009, Colorado wineries sold about 100,000 cases, but that number had jumped to almost 150,000 by 2015,
according to Colorado Wine.

The Colorado River flows through the state's Grand Valley American Viticultural Area. Credit: Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

With abundant sunshine (more than 300 days per year) and low humidity, wine grapes can thrive. But high elevation vineyards (from 4,000 feet to a staggering 7,000 feet) and Colorado’s climate can make for some tough conditions. “Low yields and large year-to-year yield fluctuations are characteristic of Colorado grape production, even in the Grand Valley AVA, due to cold temperature injury,” according to a 2016 report from the Viticulture and Enology programs at the Colorado Wine Industry.

My palate tends toward Colorado reds from Bordeaux varieties, although Syrah can do well, too. What I like about a lot of these wines is the combination of generally moderate alcohol content, structured tannins, and a tangy zip of acidity that keeps the wine fresh. And the prices for some of these wines make exploring them easier. That is, of course, if you can find any, as the wines are made in small quantities and not available in many markets.

However, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure and gorgeous scenery to pair with wine-tasting, perhaps a trip to Colorado should include some wine tourism. I know that’s my plan.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Plum Creek Riesling Dry - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $16
Medium yellow color. Aromas of juicy peaches, white flowers, papaya and honey. Tangy and pithy on the palate with crisp acidity and flavors of lime peel, white peach and apricot. Quinine, flower stems and sharp dandelion notes but a nice honeyed presence despite the dryness. Actually quite nice but an interesting flavor profile for Riesling. (85 points)

2015 Red Fox Cellars Tempranillo Long Day Rosé - Colorado
SRP: $19
Pale salmon color. Bright strawberries, watermelon rind and floral perfume on the nose. Bold texture for 13.5% alcohol, almost waxy, but fresh acidity keeps it lip-smacking. Flavors of watermelon rind, white cherries, strawberries, juicy fruit but a fresh appeal. Yellow and white flowers mix with hints of white pepper and green tea. I’m impressed! (86 points)

2013 Kingman Estates Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Medium purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries and dark plums meet smoky charcoal, eucalyptus, mint and bell pepper. Medium bodied, impressive grippy tannic structured, medium/fresh acidity. Black cherries and currants, dark and smoky, with notes of cola, coffee, loamy soil, tobacco. Quite woody (a fistful of oak shavings in the teeth), but, that aside, the wine is quite nice. I’m interested to see what three-to-five years of cellaring does to this wine. (87 points)

2013 Snowy Peaks Winery Petit Verdot - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $27
Bright purple color. An aromatic blast of spicy black pepper, bay leaf and pipe tobacco on top of tart red and black currants. On the palate, bright acidity plays with serious tannic grip and nicely balanced fruit of the tart red and black plum variety. Lots of tar, anise, graphite, smoke, spicy oak. Despite its solid structure, this stays fresh, although the wine will definitely improve in the cellar. Very nice! (88 points)

2013 Bookcliff Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve - Colorado, Grand Valley
I don't have lots of experience with Colorado wines, but Bookcliff has
been a standout in the past two years of the Colorado Governor's Cup.
SRP: $25
Deep ruby colored. Smoky herbs and pepper on the nose with chewing tobacco on top of tart black cherries. Medium-bodied with bright acidity that balances nicely with structured tannins, combining in a pure and silky mouthfeel. Black cherries and red/black currants, ripe but crunchy, the fruit is laced with tobacco, loamy soil, rosemary and cedar chips. Coffee and oak linger with fresh acidity on the finish. Impressive in its balance, and this could age nicely for at least a few years. (88 points)

2014 Bookcliff Vineyards Syrah - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Light purple/dark ruby color. Aromas of tart black cherries, red currants, herbs (sage/bayleaf) with black pepper sauce. Full-bodied with sturdy tannic grip, vibrant acidity, I like the balance with the tart black cherry, red currant and dark plum skin. Air and time open up all sorts of nuances like pepper, charred meat, charcoal, tobacco and graphite. Concentrated but showing such freshness and vibrancy for a Syrah with 14.5%. I’m seriously impressed with the quality to price ration of this Colorado Syrah. (88 points)

2013 Bookcliff Vineyards Ensemble - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black currant, dark coffee, violets, cola, some green herb scents. Full-bodied with grippy tannins and black and red currant fruit. Notes of dark coffee, pencil shavings, anise and cinnamon spice add some complexity. A bit dense, this could use a few years of sleep. A bit heavy on the oak, but a nicely made Bordeaux blend of 52% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. (87 points)

2014 Whitewater Hill Shiraz - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $18
Light purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, blackberry and blueberry jam, along with pine needles, black pepper and flower pots. A silky. medium-bodied presence on the palate with fine tannins and crisp acidity. Tart black cherries and blackberries are loaded with soot, pine, charcoal and black pepper. Tangy and a bit sharp but shows some tasty elements. Grown at 4,800 foot elevation. (86 points)

Despite labels reminiscent of '90s Arizona
Diamondback jerseys, these Cabs are legit!

2014 Whitewater Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Medium purple color. Smoky aromas of charcoal and tobacco on top of tart blueberries, cedar and pine. Medium-bodied with moderate-structured tannins, fresh acidity, nice balance. Tart blackberry and blueberry play will tobacco, bell pepper, scorched earth, a good dose of wood but the wine stays juicy and fresh and easy to drink (12.5% alcohol). A lot more personality and verve than so many sub-$20 California Cabernets. (87 points)

2014 Whitewater Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $29
A bit deeper purple color, with dark, rich aromas of blueberries and black cherries, along with tobacco, vanilla, earth and cedar. Pure and smooth on the palate with fresh acidity, sturdy tannins, plush but tart blueberries and black cherries. Lots of tobacco, roasted chestnut, wet soil and vanilla, all of it woven in together quite nicely. Rich in flavor and structure but so fresh and bright. Impressive stuff that should improve well in the cellar for at least five years. (88 points)

1991 Colorado Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - Colorado
SRP: $74
Medium ruby/light brick color. Aromas of red currant and strawberry jam, some serious volatile acidity, too, in the form of sun-dried tomato and wood varnish, along with some sweet tobacco and wet leaves. On the palate, the tannins still provide some light structure, a smooth mouthfeel, the volatile acidity adds a whole lot of sharpness. Dried red currant and red apple peel flavors topped with chewing tobacco, wet leaves and peat bog – some sweet coffee notes underneath. An interesting experience, but a bit of an odd one. (Not Rated)

2015 Fox Fire Farms Traminette - Colorado
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Smells like canned peaches, white grape jelly, spiced tea and Christmas tree. Juicy texture on the palate with fresh acidity, the sweetness is a bit high, making the wine a bit clunky. Flavors of white grape jelly, tropical fruit juice, spiced tea and sugar cane. It is rare that I find a Traminette I want to drink, and this one is not it. (78 points)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Screw the Gendered Wine Binary

A few years ago, I was tasting through a bunch of Chardonnays with a winemaker in Sonoma. As is unfortunately the case all too often at trade tastings like this one, no women were present. While tasting through a particularly oaky and creamy Chardonnay, the winemaker admitted he didn’t expect us to like it. He quipped, “I call this my cougar juice.” We all laughed, myself included.

I think about writing a lot. I think about wine a lot. So, I think a lot about how we talk about wine. And, lately, I find myself wondering why people still insert lame, outdated gender roles into the discussion.

For years I’ve heard men refer to wines with higher alcohol and riper fruit as being “slutty.” This comment is almost always made by a man (frequently dripping with disdain) who fancies his palate too refined for floozy juice. A search through a popular internet database of wine tasting notes reveals hundreds of references to a wine being “slutty,” and I’ve heard it used more times than I can remember.

I’ve heard a common refrain from some people in the wine trade that Cabernet (usually a more structured and tannic wine) is the woman you marry, while Pinot Noir (usually a more exotic but temperamental wine) is the woman you take to bed. This kind of talk strikes me as, well, pathetic. It speaks to a sense of male possessiveness and assumed superiority over women. From the nerdy/hot redhead girl next door to Marilyn Monroe, comparing a wine to women is so common in male-dominated wine circles that it’s not only gendered bullshit, it’s a boring cliché. It’s not clever. So why is it still a thing?

I like to think that some (or even most) gendered comments about wine are not made with the conscious decision to offend or denigrate women. Well-aged Barolo or Burgundy from great vintages is frequently described as elegant and feminine, and this is meant as a great compliment. In some sense, I understand how those words may make sense in describing fine wine, something so profoundly difficult to describe. I frequently refer to young Cabernet as being muscular or strong, and aged wines as being restrained, smooth and elegant. By attaching traditional gender stereotypes to wine, we’re perpetuating an outdated dichotomy. And we’re further complicating and sexualizing something that is already unnecessarily complicated and sexualized. 

Traditional gendered discussion of who drinks what has been changing, and there is certainly progress being made in breaking down some of these odd barriers. Last year, for example, the term “brosé” made the rounds in some popular publications. This term was used to refer to millennial men (bros) who drink rosé, a pink wine. This lighter, fresher, and sometimes sweeter wine is made from red grapes, but it is shades of pink in the glass. For decades (think white Zinfandel), rosé was stereotyped as a girly drink. The tired trope that pink wine is for the girls has always been bullshit, and I penned a piece last year encouraging men skeptical of rosé to “drink the pink.” Good news, dudes: there is no scientific study linking the consumption of pink, bubbly or sweet wine and smaller penis size. 

“Brosé,” like all gendered wine trend terms, has become a tired trope. But as it was catching on, Chloe Wyma discussed the trend in a well-written and insightful piece for GQ: “the rosé bro is inaugurating a freer, more egalitarian world of gender-fluid beverage consumption.” And that’s a good thing. If there’s a gender stereotype out there somewhere, I want to smash it, so I fully support this trend.

However, while I have been a huge supporter of the dry rosé movement for many years, I don’t see the need to pop my collar, gather around with a bunch of dudes and toast to open-minded, gender-nonconforming consumption habits. Dry rosé wine is fucking amazing. It is no revolutionary act for a man to drink pink wine in celebratory fashion. I’ve never felt self-conscious about drinking rosé and I don’t think anyone else should either.

Drink our canned wine, ladies! (Yoga pants/toned butts not included.)
Credit: Lila Wines PR image
Let me take a moment to address any men reading this who may be thinking, “Great, another person is telling me I have to be politically correct about shit. Now I have to be sensitive to chicks when I talk about booze? So lame, bro.” To be clear: you can talk about booze in any way you damn well please. Wine marketers and beverage PR folks are constantly re-mastering the gendered beverage binary, and I don’t think they’re letting up any time soon. (See: pink-labeled “Bitch” wines; the successful “Skinny Girl” brand; marketing gimmicks from “Little Black Dress”, Lila Wines, etc., etc.,)

On some level, I understand the approach wine marketers take when they try to target specific consumers with gender-based marketing. They’re trying to make a buck off a bottle (or box, or can) of wine, an object that has been gendered and sexualized for hundreds of years. I get it. But it’s tired. Very, very tired.

In an excellent piece for Punch Drink, Zachary Sussman laments that gender-based wine marketing is still so commonplace. “I just can’t figure out why this kind of type-casting is still happening in 2016.” And considering that all of the most face-palm-inducing marketing gimmicks are aimed at women, Sussman asks: “How is it advantageous to reduce the female drinkers they’re courting to the most generic lifestyle magazine stereotypes?” I don’t know, man. I don’t know.

To ferment my argument: Gendering and sexualizing our conversation about wine and alcoholic beverages is a) lazy; b) frequently dismissive of women; and 3) it’s an increasingly inaccurate way of discussing the subject.

When you actually dig into a typically gendered notion of wine consumption, you find it is likely outdated and frequently inaccurate. (Hell, I sip more California Chardonnay “cougar juice” than almost any woman I’ve ever met.) A 2012 study from Taylor & Francis Research group looked at wine consumption between 155 men and 150 women, focusing on how men and women consumed wine during various types of occasions. The results? Men and women consumed wine similarly in 16 out of the 22.

Bros, canned wine is for chicks. Solo cups for you.
Credit: Lila Wines PR image
Another aspect of the gendered/sexualized conversation about wine: it is frequently a one-way street. This dynamic is sometimes perpetuated by women, but, in my experience, not as frequently. When the woman I’m with orders a burly Cabernet, I’ve never heard her discuss her choice in “masculine” terms. And when a woman uncorks a young Bandol, do her girlfriends joke about her drink being butch or manly? 

I asked my friend Alison Marriott (who runs the wine consulting firm Bon Vivant) what she thought about this. “In all aspects of life I don’t find many women discussing or objectifying men in the same way that women are objectified by men,” she said. “I think that language is often a natural extension of one’s temperament, paradigms and belief system regarding gender and sex. This isn’t restricted to describing wines.”

Of course this phenomenon isn’t unique to wine. But when we talk about wine, we should remember what wine is. Wine is an historic agricultural product that contains alcohol, is delicious, and is intended to provide pleasure.

Why load that down with the weight of gender stereotypes?

I spent about six months batting this post around, and, in the meantime, several other voices have chimed in on the broad topic of wine and gender. For further reading check out "On Wine and Gender: Chambolle = Feminine. But Why?" by Jonathan Lipsmeyer, and "She Said, He Said" by Andrea Frost.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Best California Chardonnay I’ve Tasted All Year

I taste a ton of California Chardonnay each year, from my own personal collection and samples for tasting reports on the daily wine blog Terroirist. I like all styles of Chardonnay, from stainless steel-fermented, mineral-driven zingers to new oak-laden, creamy, nougaty richness, and everything in between.

But I recently tasted a new (both to me, and the market) Chardonnay that completely floored me. It’s the 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay from Kutch and it’s fucking awesome.

Jamie Kutch has been producing stellar Pinot Noirs from selected sites across Northern California for a decade now, but the 2014 was his first shot at Chardonnay. As a Chard rookie, Jamie stepped up to the plate and hit a goddamn homerun.

For a great piece on what brought Jamie Kutch, a former Wall Street dude, to make stellar wines,
check out this great profile from Lauren Mowery.

Here are my notes on this exceptional Chard…

2014 Kutch ChardonnayCalifornia, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium yellow color. What a crazy/awesome aromatic burst: lemon curd, lime peel, papaya, topped with crushed shells, chalk dusty, mountain stream, integrated notes of honeyed tea and toasted almond. Holy smokes. On the palate, this is medium/light bodied but not lacking in mouthfeel. So tangy and lively with its acidity, but balanced by richness of fruit (lemon curd, lime peel, tangerine). I get a complex host of sea salt, almond, floral perfume, chalk dust, mineral water, and kisses of cinnamon and green tea. Precise and nervy but so damned delicious, it tingles the palate for so long after the sip goes down. One of the most dynamic, thrilling and profound America Chardonnays I have tasted in a long time. A blend of two sites, Trout Gulch and Zayanta, this is barrel fermented (20% new oak) and aged 18 months. (95 points)

If you’re looking to buy Jamie’s wines,
you can sign up for Kutch’s mailing list.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Burly California Reds for the Cold Winter Months

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

This group of California red wines arrived late in the season, after I had already conducted several single-blind tastings. So, I threw them all together. There are some serious goodies in here from Shafer, Galerie and Stonestreet.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Galerie Cabernet Sauvignon Pleinair - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Rich purple color. Gorgeous blackberry and cassis, rich but elegant, and deep aromas of violets, cinnamon, vanilla and coffee mixed with dark earthy/spice elements – a lovely combo. Study tannic backbone on this wine but the refreshing acidity keeps it feeling silky. The black currant and blackberry fruit is a big dense at this young age, but shows tons of flavor and lots of potential for further development. I already get a host of cinnamon, charcoal, rocky soil, espresso. A complex and pretty wine that has its best to come. Definitely a winner in this price range of Napa Cabs. Aged 20 months in about half new French oak. (92 points)

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah - California, Napa Valley)
SRP: $35
Dark purple color. Dark and deep on the nose, with saucy plums and blackberry pie, a lot of other nuances: clove, coffee, vanilla, violets and potting soil. A massive and chewy presence on the palate with sturdy tannins and medium-low acidity (but just enough to keep this from being too dense. Blackberry and boysenberry, the fruit is chewy but shows a fresh edge, and I get lots of espresso, charcoal, black pepper and smoke. Rich, delicious, a bit compact now but this will age nicely for quite a bunch of years. Aged 20 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Shafer Merlot - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Dark purple color. On the nose, a dark core of saucy plum, black cherry and black currant, along with mocha, crushed rocks, violets, cola, campfire smoke and coffee. Very full-bodied with a huge and viscous presence on the palate, medium/low acidity. Black cherries, roasted plums and black currant, the fruit is dense but laced with flavors of violets, loamy soil, charcoal, vanilla, cedar, bourbon and spiced coffee. Huge and hedonistic, this goes for the jugular, but it is excellent for this style. I’d love to bury a bottle for five to seven years. Includes 14% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is aged 20 months in 85% new French oak. (92 points)
Teeth-staining deliciousness from Shafer.

2013 Shafer Relentless - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $87
Deep purple color. Intensely dark aromas of blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry topped in charcoal, magic marker, black pepper glaze and vanilla. Massive texture on the palate, this has a glycerin-like feel with grippy tannins and just enough acidity. Dense blackberry and blueberry fruit doused in shaved coconut, espresso, mint chocolate chip, black pepper glaze and sarsaparilla. Wow this is so delicious but so young. Can’t wait to see what happens to it in five to eight years. Aged 30 months in all new French oak, this contains 3% Petite Sirah. (93 points)

2013 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $45
Deep purple color. Smells of black currant, plums and roasted figs, peppered with eucalyptus, sage, rich earth and spiced chai. Full but fresh with sturdy tannins but vibrant acidity that keeps it balanced. Plum and black currant fruit, rich but tart, topped in smoky earth, eucalyptus, cedar, graphite and violets. Complex now but will be better in 3-4 years. This outperforms a lot of Napa stuff in this price point. Aged 18 months in 37% new French oak. (91 points)

2013 Bruce Patch Zinfandel Equavinity Landy Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Juicy purple color. Smells of vibrant black cherries and juicy raspberries, sweet cola, eucalyptus and pepper. Full-bodied with velvety tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Tart black cherries and plums blend so well with sweet violets, eucalyptus, vanilla cola, and really interesting notes of barbecue sauce, cayenne and black pepper. Long and complex but fresh with great balance and some structure for aging. Wow, and for $30?! Aged 20 months in American oak. (91 points)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gallica - Superb Wines From Diverse California Sites

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

When it comes to long-running Napa winemakers, Rosemary Cakebread’s resume is legit. Since 1979, she’s been immersed in the Napa wine scene, from a cellar job at the famous Inglenook Winery, to a winemaking gig at Cabernet heavy-hitter Spottswoode, to crafting sparkling wine at Mumm — she knows her stuff.

Rosemary Cakebread. Photo Credit: Meg Smith.
A UC Davis grad, Rosemary started Gallica in 2007 so she could, “do what I wanted to do.” She focuses specifically on single-vineyard wines from organic sites, branching out to work with Albarino and Rhone varieties in the Sierra Foothills and Santa Lucia Highlands. Named after an ancient variety of European rose, Gallica pays homage to Rosemary’s love of aromatics in wine, which shows wonderfully in the four wines I’ve tasted.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Gallica Albariño Rorick Heritage Vineyard - California, Sierra Foothills, Calaveras County
SRP: $36 
Medium gold color. Aromas of honey, cantaloupe, peach nectar, along with floral perfume, honey and hints of sea spray. Medium/full-bodied with a very creamy, almost waxy mouthfeel but there’s such pleasant acidity that keeps this wine fresh. The palate gushes with peach, orange peel, apricot jam, along with honeycomb, floral perfume and glazed nuts. A more hedonistic style of Albarino, this is absolutely delicious yet it stays so fresh and vibrant. This gets a bit of skin contact and also includes a dash of Muscat Blanc. This wine comes from a 2,000-foot, steep volcanic slope called Rorick Heritage Vineyards, and the average age of these Albarino vines is 20-25 years. A treasure of a site, and what awesome fruit. This is Rosemary Cakebread’s first white wine under the Gallica label, and she said she aims for lots of texture in her white wine, so she nailed this. What I love is the way that texture aligns with such vibrant acidity for a real sense of balance. 180 cases. (90 points)

2014 Gallica Grenache Red Wine Shake Ridge Ranch - California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
SRP: $50 
Vibrant ruby color. Gorgeous nose of raspberries, red currants and pomegranate, along with notes of iron, crushed rocks and spiced black tea. Full but balanced between medium tannins and crisp acidity. Bright red cherries and pomegranate mixes with darker cherry and plum, the fruit is ripe and vibrant and laced with notes of sage, tobacco, scorched earth, sweet clove, crushed rocks. I get this fascinating smoked meat and chorizo note that comes out more and more with time. Packed with flavor but so refreshing, too. A blend of 53% Syrah, 34% Grenache, 11% Mourvedre and 2% Viognier. Aged 17 months in 50% new French oak. 213 cases. From a site in Amador that sits between 1,500 and 1,700 feet in elevation. (91 points)

2014 Gallica Syrah Soberanes Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $60
Dark, saucy purple color. Aromas of rich black cherries, tart plums, scorched earth, charcoal, bacon fat and black olives. Plush and velvety on the palate, such intrepid balance between sturdy tannins and fresh acidity. Tart but rich fruit (black cherries, blueberries), gushing but refreshing and crunchy at the same time. The fruit is smothered in anise, grill smoke, charcoal, dark coffee, cedar, hints of vanilla. Seriously, the finish reminds me of a plate of delicious cured meat and olives, and it’s fantastic. A beauty to taste young, but this has five to eight years written all over it. Lots of complexity and elegance to unpack. 65% whole cluster fermentation, 153 cases. (93 points)
SRP: $160
Deep purple color. Gorgeous aromatic display of enticing black currant, dark plums and black cherries, topped in menthol, tobacco, cigar shop, graphite and complex earth notes. Full-bodied but pure and balanced. Dense, bold tannins but excellent balance from the acidity. Black cherry, blueberry, plums, saucy but full of tartness. Complex waves of cedar, pencil shavings, charcoal, iron and dusty soil cascade over the palate, and I get flavors of herbs, violets, potting soil and minerals as well. So complex, this needs lots of time in the cellar to show its best, but this is absolutely gorgeous. Includes some Cabernet Franc, this is sourced from a site in Oakville’s eastern hills, between 800 and 1,400 feet. 249 cases. (94 points)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Côtes de Bordeaux Offers Accessible Merlot-Based Reds for $10-$16

I don’t drop lots of dough on Bordeaux futures and I don’t collect a lot of Bordeaux — but I sure do like drinking it. Of course, most of the really good stuff is very expensive. But there are a range of lesser-heralded appellations producing more approachable, and affordable, Bordeaux.

The four Côtes de Bordeaux appellations were created in 2009, and the rules for the appellations laid out in 2011. These four Côtes de Bordeaux appellations (Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, and Francs) amount to about 9% (about 5.3 million cases) of Bordeaux’s total production. Of the Côtes, Blaye is by far the largest area, comprising more than 14,000 acres, while Francs is the smallest (less than 1,000 acres). Spread across the hillsides of the right banks of the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, these appellations are dominated by plantings of Merlot. The grape amounts to 50-70% of total plantings in each appellation, with the rest a mix of other Bordeaux varieties. And even though these are inexpensive wines that most consumers won’t bother to cellar, each of these wines could improve with air, a good decant or even a few years in the cellar.

I recently tasted through four such wines, one from each appellation. They’re all priced between $10 and $16 a pop, so they’re a great way to introduce yourself to Bordeaux without much expense.

2012 Château Lauriol - France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Côtes de Francs
SRP: $16
Light purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries and dark plums, rocky soil, sweet violets, chewing tobacco and coffee. A tangy acidic presences keeps this fresh, and the tannins are moderate in strength. Tart black cherries and plum skin, mixed with loam, pencil shavings, violets, and mint. A bit tart but tight at the moment, this will likely improve for more than a handful of years. 100% Merlot. (86 points)

2012 Château Le Grand Moulin Collection Grande Réserve - France, Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $12
Light purple color. A burst of paprika, white pepper and roasted game hit me on the nose (which I like), but there’s plenty of bright red currant and some darker cherry aromas, too. Tangy and bright on the palate with some dusty but structured tannins. The red and black currant fruit is fresh, a bit compact in its youth, but pretty. I get a whole lot of menthol, grilled steak and paprika flavors. This has me craving barbecue badly. Thing is, it stays quite fresh and lively, although the tannins could use some time to smooth out. 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec. (87 points)

2014 Château Paret - France, Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $10
Deep ruby color. Bright red currant and tart plums on the nose along with rosemary, sage and pepper. Medium-bodied with medium-strength tannins and tart acidity. There's a smoky tar note and some pepper, graphite and herbs that accents the juicy plum and currant fruit. Needs some time to open up, but very impressive for a $10 Bordeaux! Merlot with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. (87 points) 

2014 Château Lamothe de Haux - France, Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $16
Deep ruby color. Lots of dusty earth and red flower aromas on top of tangy cherries and red currants. Tart acidity mixes with medium tannin on a medium-bodied frame. Red currant and bright red cherries blend with potting soil, tobacco and a bit of coffee. Refreshing, simple, the most accessible in its youth of the four wines. 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. (85 points)

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Tasting of German Wines - More Than Riesling

I’m a huge fan of German wines, although I too often focus solely on the country’s greatest contribution to the world of wine: Riesling. Of course, Riesling is one of, if not the, greatest grapes in the world, and its ability to translate terroir into the glass is second to none. And while vineyards in the Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and other regions, produce some of the world’s best Rieslings, Germany is home to lots of other grapes.

I recently visited with some old friends from the Carroll County (Maryland) chapter of the American Wine Society of a tasting of German wines. It was great to catch up with a bunch of old wine friends and taste some diverse German wines, including some Pinot Noir (sometimes referred to as Spätburgunder on German wine labels) and Pinot Meunier.

Below are my notes on a few fun (and quite inexpensive) German wines.

2015 Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rose - Germany, Pfalz
A bright and floral aromatic display. Lots of texture here but bright acidity keeps it refreshing. Watermelon rind and crisp strawberry mix with a hint of floral spice. Lots going on here. (87 points)

2014 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Trocken - Germany, Rheingau
So many rocks and flowers and shells on the nose, also lemons and limes. Slight spritz, tart acidity, rushing minerality, a large dose of lemon/lime and some mountain stream elements. So vibrant with a hint of sweetness. (87 points)

2014 Villa Wolf Pinot Noir - Germany, Pfalz
Smells of white pepper, roses and sour cherries. Some structure here despite being so light and crisp. Spicy herbal notes accent the tangy red apple flavors. A bit simple, but I like the brisk, refreshing appeal of this Pinot Noir. (85 points)

2013 Weingut Darting Pinot Meunier Trocken - Germany, Pfalz
Love the aromas: spicy black pepper and green herbs, loamy soil, on top of red apples and sour cherries. On the palate this sports refreshing acidity on a frame of noticeably grippy tannins. Plenty of fruit in the form of ripe cherries and plums, but I love the non-fruit complexity: black pepper, smoke, earth, cedar and dried roses. Very pleasant now, but this could improve over the next three to five years. (89 points)

2014 Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett -Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Smells of honeys, peach nectar, guava, honey and oil. Sweet on the palate but clean and lip-smacking acidity keep it rather balanced, although this does show its sugar throughout. Flavors of beeswax and honey mix with guava and pineapple with an underlying sense of minerals and crushed rocks. I bet this will be even more delicious in three to six years. (89 points)

2013 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

Gorgeous nose of pears, honey and apricots. Exotic and floral on the palate but buttressed by lively acidity. Nectarine, peach nectar, pineapple, honey, mixed nuts, dried flowers. Lots going on here. Rich and unctuous but finishes clean. I’d love to retaste in five or six years. (90 points)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wine Reviews: Grab Bag from Chile and France

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

We’re back with a grab bag of wine samples from all over the world. This report includes a bunch of wines from Chile’s Concha y Toro (always a reliable producer), including the heralded Don Melchor Cabernet. We’ve got some Champagne, a perfect holiday Port, and some exciting wines from Roussillon.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Concha y Toro Chardonnay Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Limarí Valley
SRP: $22
Golden yellow color. Aromas of green and yellow pears, apricots, almond, honey butter, white flowers. Creamy palate but precise acidity, this vibrant Chardonnay shows a nice mix of bruised yellow pear with tart green apples and limes. Nougat and peanut shell notes matched by chalk and lingering minerals. Crisp throughout, but enough richness for fans of bolder Chards to enjoy. Long, lip-smacking finish. Aged 11 months in French oak. (89 points)

2014 Concha y Toro Carménère Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Rapel Valley, Peumo
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Aromas of tart black currants, blackberry and juicy plums, along with grilled green herbs, tar and campfire smoke. Plush and juicy texture on the palate, a kicking balance between fleshy tannin and medium acidity. Smoky earth, tobacco, anise, vanilla and coffee coat the black cherry and deep black currant fruit. Complex earth and pine forest notes come out with time. Delicious now, should get prettier over the next two or three years. Includes 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in French oak. (88 points)

2014 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $25
Medium purple color. Aromas of smoky charcoal, scorched earth and sweet pipe tobacco blend nicely with black and red currants. Medium/full-bodied with saucy tannins and rich fruit, but the wine maintains a fresh tang. Flavors of black currant and black cherry mix with coffee, charcoal, cigar lounge, rounded out with vanilla and clove on the finish. Ready to go but could age for a few. Includes a combined 8% Cab Franc, Merlot & Syrah, aged 16 months in French oak. (88 points)

2013 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor - Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $125
Medium purple color. Dense at first, but it opens up nicely as air coaxes out these waves of black cherries, dark currants, and lots of loamy soil, roasted herbs, graphite, coffee, and some tar and mineral notes – wow. A young wine with moderate grip to the tannins, there’s plenty of refreshing acidity that completes this wine and makes it delicious to drink young. The fruit is like a fresh blend of blackberry, dark plums, currant and blended with anise, charcoal, dense chewing tobacco, coffee grounds, vanilla, cedar planks, mint – holy smokes this is complex. Lots of vanilla and wood but enough other elements to balance it all out. 2013 was a very cold year, and it shows, as this is a much less compact, and far more fresh and tangy iteration of this classic Chilean Cabernet. Not as age-worthy as more classic vintages, but I love this fresh vintage signature. Includes 9% Cabernet Franc, the wine is aged 15 months in 2/3 new French oak. (92 points)

N.V. Forget-Brimont Champagne Premier Cru Brut Rosé - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Bright strawberry/copper color. Smells of red apples, strawberries, kumquat and some biscuits and chalk. Crisp and tingly on the palate with flavors of red apples, white cherries and strawberries. Notes of white flowers, chalk and shell add some moderate complexity. Light and refreshing. Not too complex or deep but it’s straightforward, good stuff that’s put together well. (87 points)

2015 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Aromatically, we’re dealing with juicy peaches, pineapple and some tangy lime notes along with white flowers and a hint of ocean breeze. Light, fresh and zippy on the palate but there’s a pleasantly waxy texture that makes it a lot of fun. Creamy peaches, pineapple, lime, with dollops of sea salt, cut flowers and honeyed tea. Crisp, clean finish. A very solid and reliable wine for the price. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Macabeu and Vermentino. (87 points)

2015 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages
SRP: $15
Medium ruby color. Juicy black cherry aromas with dusty earth, pepper, clove, sage and bay leaf notes. Medium-bodied on the palate with soft tannins and medium acidity. Black and red cherry fruit, some pomegranate, with a good mix of earth, charcoal, grilled herbs and pepper. Smooth, fresh, fruity but earthy, this would be fun with all sorts of food. A high quality bistro kind of wine. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. (87 points)

2010 Agly Brothers Côtes du Roussillon - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon
SRP: $38
Very dark color. Smells of jammy black cherries, deep blueberries, and a complex mix of graphite, anise, charcoal, dark soil and tobacco. Full-bodied with dry, structured tannins and some moderate acidity, this is a massive wine (15.5% alcohol) but it shows mystique underneath. Blueberry, blackberry, rich saucy fruit, lots of earthy complexity (soil, leaves, scorched earth, wood shavings) with some spicy anise and tobacco. Bold and boisterous but tight-fisted with lots of cellar potential. A blend of equal parts Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. Fermented in concrete, aged about 20 months in used French oak, followed by 18 months aging in concrete and 1 year in bottle before release. This is a cooperative project between Ron Laughton of Australia’s Jasper Hill and Michel Chapoutier. (91 points)

N.V. Warre Porto Otima 10 Year Old Tawny - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $26/500ml
Rich amber color. Aromas of roasted figs and apricot marmalade, caramel and brown sugar oatmeal. Rich texture on the palate but lots of vibrancy. Flavors of yellow raisins and apricot jam, along with dark chocolate with orange peel, honeycomb and roasted nuts. Delicious and rich but shows pleasant acidity and lightness despite the weight. Bottled 2015. (89 points)