Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lodi Native: Excellent Old-Vine Zins Shine in 2014

Lodi is a gold mine of delicious, fascinating wines. Old vines, tons of relatively obscure grape varieties, winemakers carving out their own style.

My favorite aspect of the Lodi wine renaissance has been
Lodi Native, a cooperative project between six like-minded winemakers. They each source Zinfandel from very old vines in a specific vineyard, and craft the wine using native yeast fermentation and no new oak. As far as Zin goes, they are relatively low in alcohol (all of these fall into the 14-14.5% range.)

Lodi Native Zins are dynamic, delicious expressions of Lodi terroir. To taste them all side-by-side is a real treat, and I was surprised again by the uniqueness of each vineyard and the dynamism of the Zinfandel grape. 

If you’re a Zin-head, you need to taste these. If you’re a Zin skeptic convinced you hold justifiable derision for the wines, try these wines and allow the scales to fall from your eyes. 

Most of the wines come from the sub-appellation of Mokelumne River, although one wine is sourced from an old vineyard in Clements Hills. 2014 is the third vintage of this cooperative endeavor, and I think it’s the best I’ve tasted (although the
2013 and 2012 iterations are both excellent). The wines are available as a six-pack only, for a total of $180. (Click here for more information).

I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted.

2014 St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Lodi Native Marian's Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Medium ruby color. Aromas of red cherries, wild raspberries so much earth (clay, charcoal), spice (pepper, tobacco) and floral (rose hips, potpourri) going on. Bursts onto the palate with juicy but tangy red and black plums, some serious tannic structure but vibrant acidity, quite balanced, really lively. Sweet violets, soy, pepper, rosemary, some cola, sarsaparilla, underlying smashed rocks. Wow, such a pretty expression of Zinfandel with lots of life for the cellar. 14.5% alcohol. Tim Spencer’s St. Amant sources all the fruit from this vineyard, a sandy loam site originally planted in 1901. (92 points)

An ancient Zinfandel vine in Marian's Vineyard - Mokelumne River, Lodi. Credit: Lodi Wine.
2014 M2 Vintners Zinfandel Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Medium deep ruby color. Deep and exotic on the nose with violets, clove, plum cake, wild green herbs, pepper and anise – tons to unpack. Bold texture, dry and sturdy tannins, medium acidity. Crunchy yet plump black and red cherries and plums, roasted figs. Fruit is matched with mushroom, clove, black pepper glaze, this is rich, earthy, but balanced and quite fresh. Serious cellar potential for at least 5-10 years. 14.2% alcohol. Sourced from a sandy loam and fine silty soil site on the western edge of the Mokelumne River AVA. (92 points)

2014 Fields Family Wines Zinfandel Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi, Clements Hills
Bright ruby color. Needs a lot of time but opens up to show chilled red and crunchy black currants, along with sage, pepper, rhubarb – this really needs air but it opens up incredibly well. Wow, this is such a structured wine on the palate, tons of tannins but they’re not harsh, underlying acidity keeps it balanced. Crunchy black currants and some blueberries along with deep earthy, charcoal, lengthy mineral tones. Black olive, sweet violets, coffee – wow. Long time for improvement. 14.3% alcohol. The only wine not from Mokelumne River, this Clements Hills site was originally planted in the 1920s. (93 points)

Look at that gorgeous color! These aren't your opaque, crimson-colored Zinfandels
2014 Maley Brothers Zinfandel Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Dark ruby, light purple color. A wow-inducing aromatic display of dark plums, black currants, raspberry, spiced tea, roses, cigar box, just gorgeous. Velvety texture on the palate but nice grip with moderating acidity that keeps this big wine tamed. Bountiful blueberry, dark plums, roasted figs, laced with clove, leather, and a flavor that seriously reminds me of a mesquite grilled, black pepper-crusted steak (and this would pair wonderfully with that!). Beautiful stuff now but this should be even more glorious in 3-5 years. 14.5% alcohol. From a fine sandy loam site planted in 1958. (93 points)

2014 Macchia Zinfandel Lodi Native Maley's Lucas Road Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Medium ruby colored. A spice and floral aromatic punch with roses, pipe tobacco, black tea, but it’s airy and floral, almost Pinot-like aromatic delicacy. Wow, this is full and suave with velvety but dry tannins and persistent acidity. The fruit is fresh and spicy and plush with black cherries, raspberries and blackberries. Lots of tobacco, potpourri, cigar box. A deep, clear mineral presence. A delicious, exquisite Zinfandel. The Maley family has been growing vines in Lodi since the 1860s, but this site was planted in the 1970s. (94 points)

2014 McCay Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Native Lot 13 - The Estate Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Deep ruby color. Plums galore on the nose, quince paste, smoke shop, rose potpourri, leather - lots going on. So delicious and bold but balanced so well with grippy tannins and medium acidity, just enough to keep the mouth watering. Plump blackberry, tart blueberry, plum cake, laced with cedar, cigar box, charcoal, roasted herbs, birch beer, deep and lingering charcoal and minerals. Complex, gorgeous, will get even better. This McCay family-owned and grown vineyard was first planted in 1915. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Revisiting a Beautiful South African Cabernet

The view from the Stark-Conde tasting room is, in a word, epic.
In 2014, I spent a few incredible weeks in South Africa. It remains one of the most impactful and memorable experiences of my life. I dream at least weekly about going back for the surf, the wine, the natural beauty, the wildlife.

But that's not feasible at the moment, so I'll settle for the next best thing: tasting wine I brought back from my trip. One of the best things about being a traveling wine nerd and collector is bringing bottles back from my adventures. I love to bury them and try to forget about them for at least a few years.

I recently popped a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from
Stark-Condé, an incredible winery located in Stellenbosch's Jonkershoek Valley. My trip there was fantastic, and the wines were delicious. But there's always a question in my mind when tasting wine on a vacation in gorgeous locations: Is this wine actually as good as I think it is, or is the bliss of the occasion causing me to love the wine more than I would in another context?

It's an academic question, and in the end it doesn't really matter. Tasting wines where they are grown and made is one of life's incredible joys. But, after revisiting this Cabernet three years after my trip, I'm still convinced it is excellent. In fact, I liked this bottle (with three years of age on it) even more than I did when I first tasted it in South Africa.

Notes below...
2012 Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon
South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch

$25 (in South Africa)
Medium purple color. Aromas of tart red and black currants, violets, eucalyptus, graphite, mint, bay leaf – gorgeous waves of fruit and non-fruit aromas. Medium acidity and a solid tannic grip combine well, this shows some smoothness and freshness but is still well-built. Black currants, plums, tart but suave fruit, laced with black olive, anise, violets, charcoal, notes of cedar and coffee. On day two I was getting all sorts of mushroom and olive oil notes. Very pretty, complex, memorable. Nothing like visiting a winery, buying a bottle, cellaring it for a few years and opening it to discover it’s even better than you remember. (91 points)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

High-Quality Virginia Wines from Stinson & Ankida Ridge

Stinson is one of my favorite Virginia wine producers, and the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Ankida Ridge have been causing a justifiable stir for a few years now.

I recently tasted wines from both producers, and found all sorts of reasons to get excited about the future of Virginia wine. If producers like these keep putting out wines like these, the best is yet to come.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Stinson Vineyards Mourvedre Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $21
Medium copper color. Aromas of white cherries, strawberries, nettle, white pepper and chalk dust. Brisk and crunchy on the palate but good, creamy texture. Fresh and tangy with grapefruit, red apple peel and wild strawberries. Lots of sea salt, white flowers, nettle, lovely, fresh, vibrant, complex yet gluggable. Vintage in, vintage out, a killer Virginia pink. Made from 100% Mourvedre. (88 points)

2015 Stinson Vineyards Rkatsiteli Wildkat - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $28
Deep yellow/pale orange color. Smells of saline, iodine, candied orange peel, white pepper, sour ale and Lemonhead candies, which is quite a cool combo. Light-bodied but some nice textural depth, with tingling acidity. Lemons, orange peel and kumquat fruit doused in limestone, chalk dust, quinine, mineral water, white flowers. Delicious, complex, nerdy yet not austere, this would be a good introductory orange wine. Made from a Georgian grape and in that style (with skin-contact fermentation) and aged 15 months in old French oak. 10.5% alcohol. The grapes were sourced from Horton Vineyards, which planted Rkatsiteli in 1998. (90 points) 

2014 Stinson Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $32
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black currants, spicy pepper, mint, sage, eucalyptus, some sweet floral tones, too. Medium+ bodied with dusty tannins and vibrant acidity. Tart black plums and cranberries with coffee, roasted herbs, pepper, there’s also this cool underlying brothy/savory streak. Ready to go now but could unwrap itself for a few years, surely. 56% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in 35% new French oak. (88 points)

2015 Ankida Ridge Rockgarden Vert - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge Foothills
SRP: $ 18
Lemon yellow color with slight effervescence. Aromas of lemon rind, lilies, honey and guava. Crisp and zesty on the palate with lively acidity and juicy tropical fruit (pineapple, guava). Notes of nettle and honeysuckle as well. Tangy finish, this is a simple wine but simply delicious. All Vidal Blanc made in a style as an homage to the wines of Vinho Verde. (86 points)

2015 Ankida Ridge Chardonnay - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge Foothills
SRP: $32
Medium yellow color. Nose shows yellow apples, apricot, lemon curd, along with hay, honeycomb, candle wax and floral perfume. Medium-bodied, only 12% alcohol but lots of depth and texture, and lots of vibrant acidity, so the result is an impressively balanced Chardonnay. Rich yellow apple and apricot jam mix with zesty lime, add in some honey, nougat, chalky minerals, white tea. Wow, this is high up there on my list of Virginia Chardonnays. A real beaut. Half maloactic fermentation, only 10% new French oak. 225 cases. (90 points)

2014 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge Foothills
SRP: $44
Pale ruby color. Nose shows sweet strawberries, tart cherries and cranberries, lots of rose petals, white pepper, sage and wildflower notes. On the palate I get a nice frame of light dusty tannins, crisp acidity, and a mix of sweet and tart red fruits. Lots of leather, chewing tobacco white pepper, soy, green herb notes, but some vibrant floral tones as well. Finishes crisp and vibrant – a delicious and impressive Pinot from Virginia. 250 cases. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wine Reviews: Summer Samples from Around the Globe

I’m back with another grab bag of wines from all over the world.

I was really surprised by three Greek white wines from Domaine Papagiannakos. Made from the Savatiano grape, traditionally used for the production of Restina, these are dry, zesty, complex white wines with unique flavor profiles.

There are some tasty, inexpensive rosés, and some delicious and value-driven wines from New Zealand.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Lekker Rosé - South Africa, Western Cape
SRP: $17
Pale watermelon color. Tart and spicy aromas of strawberries, white cherry, raspberry leaf, nettle. Light-bodied (11.5%), really zippy and easily gluggable, with white cherry, red apple and tart strawberry notes. Lots of dandelion, nettle, white pepper. Fun, zesty stuff. A blend of Grenache and Merlot. A collaboration between winemaker Nico Grobler of
Eikendal Vineyards and La Brune Wines in South Africa, and a firm called Wine Awesomeness. (85 points)

2016 Nik. Weis Selection Urban Riesling - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
SRP: $15
Pale lemon color. Classic nose of limes, white peaches, also some honey and yellow flowers. Juicy and ripe on the palate but this boasts zippy acidity on a light frame (9.5% alcohol). White peaches, guava, limes, mixed with notes of honeyed tea, slight mineral and river rocks. Delicious, classic, not super deep or complex, but a solid Mosel introduction for the price. (86 points)

2016 Les Domaines Paul Mas Cote Mas Rosé Aurore - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d'Oc
SRP: $11/1L
Pale watermelon color. Smells like rose hips, watermelon rind, white tea, some honey and clove, too. Plump but fresh with a bright and fun personality, vibrant and fruity with strawberries and white cherries. A nice kick of white pepper, nettle and cut flower stems. Solid one-liter buy that should be a hit at parties. 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 20% Syrah. (86 points)

N.V. Cote Mas Crémant de Limoux Brut Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Crémant de Limoux
SRP: $15
Light copper color. Bright aromas of strawberries, watermelon, quince, some freshly baked biscuits. Tart and a bit lean in body but bright acidity, fine bubbles, lots of fresh red fruits (cherries, strawberry, apple), along with some seashell and baby’s breath, hints of biscuits. Not too complex but put together very well, and quite delicious. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. (87 points)

2013 La Pinot Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $19
Pale ruby color. Nose of raspberries, red cherries, rhubarb and cherry fountain cola. Medium-bodied, light tannins, fresh acidity, framed well with candied but lighter-styled red fruits (wild raspberry, red cherries). Notes of white pepper, rhubarb, sweet cola, rose hips. Fresh and lively but lots of ripe fruit. Uncomplicated but fun. (86 points)

2016 Catalina Sounds Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $16
Pale straw color. Aromas of sea salt, lime, apricot, sliced salsa peppers and white pepper. Bright and zesty on the palate with slight waxy texture but so tangy. Apricot, peach, lime, sliced bell peppers, sea salt, lemon zest. Classic profile, shows significant complexity for the price. (87 points)

2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $13
Pale straw. A burst of lemongrass, summer rain on a green field, white peaches, lemon zest and nettle. Medium-bodied with refreshing acidity, this is full of kumquat, lime, white peach, juicy but tart. Notes of saline, shells, the greens are nuanced, not too overt, with nettle and lemon verbena. Textbook, but a lot of depth with a super zesty finish and some minerals and honey. So good for the money. (88 points)

2015 Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $19
Medium ruby color. Juicy black cherries, raspberries, cola, violet petals, cinnamon and clove. Medium-bodied, silk texture, soft tannins, medium acidity, bright cherries and red plums. Some roses, cola, clove. Soft, easy style, delicious, shows some solid complexity. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. (88 points)

2016 Nanny Goat Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
SRP: $23
Light ruby colored. Nose of candied red cherries, strawberries, spiced cranberry sauce, some roses. Silky and tangy acidity with light tannins. Fun, juicy, ripe red cherries, strawberry jam. Notes of cocoa, rose petals, rhubarb. Easy-drinking style with wide-ranging appeal. This wine sees 15% new oak for eight months. (87 points)

2015 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano - Greece, Attica, Markopoulo
SRP: $17
Medium yellow color. Aromas of sea salt, shells, honeyed tea, apricot and lemon curd. Lively and bright but rich textural elements, wonderful balance with this lemon curd, apricot and orange marmalades. I love the beautiful contrast between chalky, oceanic, mineral notes with these white pepper and spice elements, and the fruit is so delicious. 12.5% alcohol. (88 points)

2016 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano - Greece, Attica, Markopoulo
SRP: $17
Medium yellow color. Bright and zesty aromas with lots of floral complexity, crushed chalk, with a core of lemon zest and guava. Plush texture but medium-bodied (12.5%), fresh acidity. Delicious tropical fruits play off of lime and lemon zesty. Chalky minerals and honeycomb/spiced tea elements are beautiful together, and I love the depth and complexity of this wine, all while being super easy to sip. (89 points)

Greek orange wine? Yes, please!

2013 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Vareli Skin Contact - Greece, Attica, Markopoulo
SRP: $23
Rich gold color. Aromas of almond, beeswax, white tea, chalky notes, oyster shell, all on top of apricot and lemon curd. Rich, waxy textural dynamic but only 12%, so it’s light/medium-bodied, and this brisk acidity throughout makes for fascinating balance. Apricot, orange marmalade, lemon curd, along with almond, sea salt, honeyed tea. Lots of depth and nerdy orange wine complexity, but this is such a balanced and straight delicious wine as well. Love it. (90 points)

<85 points

2016 Jean-Claude Mas Arrogant Frog Lily Pad Pink Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d'Oc
SRP: $
Light watermelon color. Red and white flowers on the nose along with under-ripe strawberries, sweet roses and honeysuckle. Zesty and bracing, a bit sharp with white cherries, red apple peel and under-ripe strawberry tips. Leafy, white pepper notes. Fun but not the most balanced rose. 100% Syrah.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bold Reds from Walla Walla Valley Producer Cadaretta

When it comes to thrilling red blends, Washington’s Walla Walla Valley seems practically inexhaustible. One producer that has popped up on my radar over the years is Cadaretta, whose rich but suave wines I’ve enjoyed and reviewed in the past.

Cadaretta is owned by the Middleton family and their Anderson & Middleton Company, which began in the timber business near the turn of the 20th Century, before expanding into table grapes and, eventually, wine.

Their estate Southwind Vineyard is home to some 60 acres of grapes, with future plantings planned. The wines are made by Kendall Mix, who studied enology and viticulture at UC Davis and has worked at Robert Mondavi, R.H. Phillips. Kendall also spent 10 years making red wines for Washington wine heavyweight Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate, among other jobs.

These are dark and saucy red wines with a good amount of new oak evident, but they show a lot of complex non-fruit elements and some serious potential for cellaring. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Cadaretta Syrah - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Nose of dark plums, blueberries black cherries, cracked pepper, leather and loam. Full but silky with rounded tannins and moderate acidity. Rich fruit but shows a tart edge, plum, currant, blueberry, and the fruit is laced with notes of dark roast coffee, eucalyptus, cedar, leather, violets. A lot going on here. Good now but should do nicely with 2-4 years. Aged 21 months in 60% new French oak. (89 points)

2014 Cadaretta Southwind - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
SRP: $75
Bold purple color. Nose shows rich plums, blackberries, fig paste, charcoal, sweet violets and clove. Rich, chewy but deep and earthy, suave tannins and medium/low acidity. Rich waves of plums and blackberries laced with violets, sage, bay leaf, clove, cocoa powder. Complex, deep, delicious now but could improve for five years and then some. 37% Malbec, 37% Petit Verdot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 23 months in 60% new French oak, 14.6% alcohol. (91 points)

2013 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
SRP: $45
Rich purple color. Aromas of juicy black currants and blackberries, with mocha, topsoil, cedar, anise and charcoal. Full and dark on the palate with some solid grip from the tannins, medium acidity. Rich but tangy black and blue fruits, with lots of charcoal, loamy soil, smashed rocks, anise, eucalyptus, dark chocolate shavings. Solid, bold wine that could age for at least a few years but it is delicious now. 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec, aged 22 months in mostly French oak. (89 points)

2014 Cadaretta Springboard - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
SRP: $50
Light purple color. Inky but tart aromas of black and red plums, roses, violets, loam, tobacco and eucalyptus. Medium/full-bodied with velvety but strong tannins, rich but tangy red and black currant and plum fruit. Notes of smoky herbs and tobacco mix with dark earth, clove, cedar, graphite, shows a lot of balance and accessibility despite the density. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, aged in 60% new French oak. (89 points)

2014 Cadaretta Windthrow - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
SRP: $50
Light purple color. Nose shows tart black cherries, plum skins, pepper, sage, violets, coffee grounds. Structured broadly and grippy but some smoothness already, moderated by fresh, balanced acidity. Tart black cherries, blueberries, plum skins, laced with black pepper, smoky charcoal, leather, vanilla and cedar. Lovely complexity, depth for cellaring, but pleasurable and delicious now. 76% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 9% Grenache, aged 22 months in half new Hungarian oak and 40% new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon Southwind - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
SRP: $75
Rich purple color. Dark but tangy red and black currant fruit, lots of violets, eucalyptus, violets, pepper, coffee, deep but evocative, too. Full-bodied, velvety but structured tannins, moderate acidity, the balance is very nice. Tangy black currant and suave blueberry fruit, rich and saucy but vibrant, loaded with black pepper glaze, soy, coffee grounds, eucalyptus, sweet cola, graphite – so many complex flavors to coax out. This will pay off years in the cellar or a solid decant. Includes 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot, aged 23 months in 60% new French oak. (91 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

From the Cellar - Wines from July 2017

Summertime means fewer wine sample shipments, as the heat makes shipping wine to the Mid-Atlantic a shady enterprise. So, I get a bit of a break from tasting samples, which means, amidst periods of abstaining from alcohol altogether, I have time to open wines from my personal collection.

Over the course of July, I cracked open several awesome white wines, a solid pink, and a lovely red from Arianna Occhipinti.

Notes below...

2006 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein Winninger Röttgen Riesling - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Rich golden color. Aromas of glazed peaches, honeyed white tea, some oily elements, but also some tennis ball, honeysuckle, mountain stream. Plump texture but tingling acidity, delicious flavors of orange marmalade, apricot jam, bitter lemon, slight sweetness is balanced with brisk acidity and minerals. I get an interesting blend of smashed rocks, chalk dust, beeswax and even some green herb hints that make this wine pop. Not as deep and intense as I was expecting, and I’m not sure how much longer this will age (my last bottle was six years ago, whoa), but a very pretty Riesling from one of my favorite producers. (91 points)

2013 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay - South Africa, Cape South Coast, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Rich yellow color. Nose shows nutshells, nougat, almond, honey, white peaches and lemon curd. Refreshing, tingling acidity from start to finish, creamy though, and more oak influences than I remember (but not overblown for my palate). Lime drizzled on papaya and peach, mixed with peanut, honey, vanilla, but also some chalky minerals, sea spray and
crushed shells. Waxy richness but plenty of verve. Hints of oxidization starting to set in, so I wonder about cellaring this for more than a year or two, but still really solid. (92 points)

2009 Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Vieilles Vignes Clos des Briords
 - France, Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
On a blazing hot summer day, this was absolutely perfect. 2009 is unique in a richer, waxier way, but I found this wine still showed plenty of ripping acidity, brisk mineral and oceanic elements, and lots of tangy fruit. Nose of saline, lime zest, lemon curd, oyster shell. Palate shows this wonderfully rich textural element that plays off this racy acidity, result is great balance and depth even though this is a light/medium-bodied wine. Apricot, orange, lime zest, rocking with these oyster, chalky, sea salty notes, some nougat and honeycomb elements as well. I think I'll hold on to my last bottle for a year or two, but I don't think 2009 is typical in its long-aging potential, but who knows. All I know is this is continually the most dynamic $20 I spend on a bottle of wine. (92 points)

2009 Luneau-Papin / Domaine Pierre de la Grange Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Semper Excelsior - France, Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Gold color. Orange marmalade and lemon meringue mix with sea shells, seaweed, crusty sea salt, some honey and crunchy chalk notes, too. Bold texture, plump but shows bright acidity. Lemon curd, orange marmalade, even some bruised apple and baked pear notes, this is rich in texture and fruit but brisk from the tons of complex oceanic elements and the focused acidity. Finishes seriously like honey, orange jam and oyster brine – it’s excellent. A bold, chunky style for sure, glad I held onto this. While it has solid acidity, it seems like it may fatten out a bit too much over the longer haul, but still a beautiful wine. (92 points)

2016 Barnard Griffin Sangiovese Rosé of Sangiovese - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
A vibrant strawberry/watermelon color. Bright and lovely on the nose with roses, lilies, dandelion, white cherries, strawberries. Bright acidity frames this wine but it’s so ripe and juicy with cherries, strawberries, red apple peel, lots of rose hips, white pepper, candied apple peel. Bright and fresh and so delicious. (88 points) 

2013 Arianna Occhipinti Il Frappato - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
Medium ruby color. Airy and aromatic with tons of earthy, savory, herbal tones on top of orange peel, red cherry, some bright red flowers and tobacco. Sturdy tannins at first but it settles down quickly, bright acid throughout. Bold structure but expressive red fruits with Gamay-like brightness, complex and intriguing spice and funky notes: dusty earth, sage, pickling spices, smashed rocks, paved road, some goat hide. Yet it's elegant and floral and vibrant as well. I love this wine and wish I had more to hold for a few years. (93 points)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wine Book Reviews: Jancis Robinson's "Tasting Pleasure"

The combination of deep intellect, poetic sensitivity and a profound palate makes Jancis Robinson perhaps the greatest human to ever write sentences about wine. Thomas Jefferson and Ernest Hemingway have some great quotes, but their wine knowledge doesn’t even come. Hugh Johnson (friend and mentor to Robinson), has the knowledge and palate but he can’t compete with Robinson’s linguistic artistry.

The long-time British wine writer, and first woman to earn the prestigious Master of Wine title, has been churning out essays and wine books for decades, and she’s still going strong. Her BBC series about wine and her cadre of wine books were the basis for my early wine studies, and I continue to learn from her about far more than just vintage variation or fermentation techniques. She’s a skilled orator, a beautiful writer, and a passionate defender of maximizing pleasure through wine appreciation.

Recently, I went back and read one of her books called “Tasting Pleasure: Confessions of a Wine Lover.” Composed of musings, travelogues, wine tasting notes, and random wine-related thoughts, this book was first published in 1997. Some parts do come across as dated, but reading it 20 years later, I found it fascinating how much her thoughts on wine were still very relevant today. Even though the global wine industry has shifted dramatically in the past two decades, many of her thoughts about appreciating wine seem timeless.

Some of the book reads a little too much like an overly-detailed diary, and some parts are skippable, but there are little nuggets of wine appreciation wisdom I thought I’d share.

Why “taste” wine as opposed to just drinking it?

“The most common sort of conscious wine tasting (as opposed to just drinking, which anyone can do) is the most admirable one, tasting for the purposes of pure pleasure… It also makes perfect sense because just throwing something as heavily taxed as wind down the gullet — as a surprising number of people do — is a waste of someone’s money.”

On blind tasting:

“There is no doubt that guessing a wine’s identity on the basis of taste alone is one of the most impressive tricks a human can perform.”

The greatness of almighty Riesling

“Riesling is the greatest white wine grape in the world, a proposition I continue to disseminate to this day.”

On wine connoisseurship and the preeminence of pleasure

“I am very aware that these strange connoisseur creatures, who clearly allow their conduct to be swayed by previous experience, may sound a bit precious, perhaps suspiciously snobbish. But the difference between them and, say, a stickler for protocol or etiquette, is that they do what they do for the entirely sensible, selfish and laudable reason of maximizing pleasure. There is nothing whatever wrong with wine lovers who simple pour wine with careless gusto down their throats. There are times when that and only that will do. But those who will not meet a wine halfway, and who consistently ignore the story each wine has to tell, depirve themselves of a large part of the potential associated with each bottle. As I was to learn, a wine is more than just a liquid.”

On visiting South Africa during apartheid

“South Africa was fascinating – such a vivid clash of natural beauty and human brutality.”

On hoarding, re-selling wine for profit, turning wine into a speculative enterprise

Robinson tells a story about how she purchased a case of Pomerol Le Pin 1982 for $240, tens of times less than what those cult wines demand on the market today: “ I know I should feel triumphant about this but in fact I feel almost physically sick. I hate the way that something I bought to give myself and my friends innocent, escapist pleasure has been transformed into a financial asset that is crying out for management.”

“I have a horrible feeling that talk about those who take fine wine seriously is going to become increasingly dominated by money. I have already come across too many bores who confuse wine appreciation with financial appreciation.”

And to finish it all off her thoughts on wine speculation: “[I] thoroughly disapprove of anyone who deliberately uses wine for speculation.”

Saturday, July 29, 2017

McIntyre Vineyards - Classic Santa Lucia Highlands Wine

The McIntyre Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California. Credit: McIntyre Vineyards
Steve McIntyre (viticulturist, founder of McIntyre Vineyards) has extensive experience in California’s Central Coast. As owner of Monterey Pacific, his team farms 12,000 acres in Monterey County, and he has planted or farmed nearly a quarter of the vines in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

In 1987, Steve purchased an 80-acre site first planted in 1973-acre. This McIntyre Estate Vineyard is the source of some impressive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Steve also bottles a larger appellation blend Chardonnay, an old vine rosé, and a Merlot sourced from Arroyo Seco, among others.

This was my first time tasting McIntyre Vineyards’ wine, and I found them delicious, vibrant, showing a tasty mix of rich fruit without being too overt or emblazoned with new oak. They seem like solid examples of the high quality Chardonnay and Pinot that always excites me about the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

2014 McIntyre Vineyards Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $28
Medium gold. Aromas of buttercream, rich yellow apple, quince paste, salted almonds and biscuits. Full and round, creamy but moderate acidity, yellow apples and baked pears with hints of limes. Graham crackers, almond, sea salt, honeybutter, lots of deliciousness but it stays vibrant and none of the flavors are too overt. (88 points)

2014 McIntyre Vineyards Chardonnay Estate - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $38
Medium gold color. Nose shows bruised apples, pear nectar, along with white and yellow flowers, sea salt and crushed chalk. Rich and creamy with moderating acidity, the honeyed apple and baked pear fruit is mixed nicely with bright yellow floral notes, along with almond butter, graham cracker, hints of sea salt and chalk. Bold but balanced, and straight delicious, a little more verve and chalky notes than the non-estate Chardonnay. (89 points)

2016 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $24
Pale copper color. Smells of strawberries, watermelon, chalk dust, lemon zinger tea. Pleasantly plump on the palate but bright acidity. Crisp, chilled strawberry, cranberry and wild raspberry fruit, laced with complex notes of lemon verbena, mint, honeycomb, wild flowers and chalk dust. Delicious, complex, long finish. Impressive depth and complexity on this Pinot rosé. From a 45-year-old, own-rooted vineyard, this is a serious rosé that leaps out of the glass. (88 points)

2014 McIntyre Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Aromas show a nice mix of tart red cherries and rich black cherries along with rhubarb pie, roses, clove and tobacco. Medium/full-bodied, velvety tannins, vibrant acidity. Saucy but tangy fruit (black cherry, raspberry, some strawberry jam), with clove, cinnamon, cedar, violets, all woven in well. Lovely stuff, this could soften for a few years but no guilt about drinking it right now. (90 points)

2013 McIntyre Vineyards Merlot Kimberly Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
SRP: $25
Deep ruby/light purple color. Pretty aromatic display of red currants, deep black cherries, violets, sweet pipe tobacco, cola. Full-bodied, velvety tannins, moderating acidity, doused in black cherries, black currant and raspberry jams. Violet petals, loamy soil, soy and mushroom, charred herbs, vanilla, savory spices, all of these add complexity and serious deliciousness to this Merlot. At least five years (likely more) of development, but delicious now, too. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Delicious Value Wines from Spain's Navarra Region

A vineyard in the Spanish region of Navarra. Credit: Navarra US.
This week, I’m delving into a range of wines from the Spanish region of Navarra.

This region, which is located east of La Rioja, is only about 120 miles from north to south and 60 miles east to west, but it shows a wide range of soils and microclimates. With the Pyrenees Mountains to the north and the Bardenas Reales Desert to the south, the average vineyard in Navarra sits at about 1,300 feet in elevation. Navarra is home to a wide variety of both classic Spanish and international grape varieties.

Most of the wines in this report fall into that “bargain” range of $10-$15, but I found the quality and value to be very solid. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Bodega Inurrieta Sauvignon Blanc Orchidea - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $13
Light gold color. Super bright aromatics with lemons, ruby red grapefruit, some guava, honeysuckle, cut grass. Medium-bodied, slightly creamy with plump fruit (peaches, guava), but moderating acidity. Lots of cut flower stems, some honeyed tea, grass and oregano. Simple, delicious, summer- and salad-friendly stuff. (86 points)

2015 Bodegas Berceo Viura Mas de Berceo - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $15
Pale lemon color. Nose shows tart lime, green apple, saline and some white pepper and green grass. Medium-bodied, bright acidity, a lighter, steely style with flavors of lime, lemon and green pears. Notes of whipped honey and cut flower stems. Light, simple, pleasant wine made from the Viura grape. (85 points)

2015 Castillo de Monjardín Chardonnay El Cerezo Unoaked - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $12
Medium yellow color. Nose of honeyed tea, yellow apples, dandelions and nettle. Medium-bodied and clean with crisp acidity and plump fruit (peach, yellow apple, some lime juice on top). Notes of white and yellow flowers, some nougat and honey woven in but this is a tangy, lighter, shellfish-accompanying style of Chardonnay. (87 points)

2015 Camilo Castilla Muscat Rayo de Sol - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $15
Pale straw. Aromas of lychee, white table grapes, sweet floral perfume, tropical flowers. Round on the palate with sweet tropical fruit (papaya, pineapple, banana) and low acidity. A bit heavy but I could see many palates liking this. (82 points)

2016 Bodegas Ochoa Garnacha Calendas Rosado - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $15
Light watermelon color. Nose shows watermelon, white cherries, notes of cinnamon candy and nettle. Bold and juicy but very bright and crisp of white cherries, strawberries, watermelon, plump but tart fruit. Laced with honeysuckle, rose petal, raspberry leaf tea, honeyed notes. Some chalky mineral elements linger on the finish. So good for the price! (88 points)

2015 Castillo de Monjardín Garnacha La Cantera - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $15
Medium ruby colored. Nose of juicy red cherries, lots of spicy tobacco, pepper, sage and desert brush. Medium-bodied, light tannin, medium acidity, this is a fresh and easy-drinking wine but it shows lots of cherry fruit mixed with a fun mix of tobacco, sage, pepper, some sweeter cola and coffee notes. Lighter-styled for grill-outs and summer drinking. (86 points) 

2015 Bodegas Berceo Tempranillo Mas de Berceo - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $15
Deep ruby/light purple color. Nose shows tangy red and black plums with spicy pepper, sweet cola, leather. Medium+ bodied with light tannins and moderate acidity tangy red and black fruit but plenty of juicy ripeness. Soot, campfire, coffee and cola notes on the finish, drink now, this is a fun, delicious, grill-friendly Tempranillo at a solid price. (87 points)

2011 Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $23
Light purple color. Aromas of red plums, red and black cherries, tobacco smoke, charcoal and spicy pepper. Medium-bodied with velvety tannins, decent structure, medium acidity. Plenty of juicy red and black plums and cherries, mixed with notes of tobacco, charcoal, leather. Still a few years ahead but this would be good now with grilled meat and veg. (87 points)

N.V. Camilo Castilla Navarra Capricho de Goya - Spain, Navarra
SRP: $29/500ml
 An auburn/rich brown color. Nose of raisins, roasted figs, musk cologne, sweet cola, brown sugar, pepper. Full-bodied but sports moderate acidity (some volatile acidity) and moderate alcohol (16%), the sugar is balanced quite nicely. Roasted figs, candied apples, yellow raisin, mixed with pepper, root beer, caramelized sugar, a lot going on here. This shows tawny fortified notes mixed with Madeira-style acidity and baked elements, and the end result is delicious. A fortified, barrel-aged, Muscat-based wine. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

New Releases from Preeminent Oregon Producer Penner-Ash

Penner-Ash has earned wide consumer, restaurant and wine media respect for many years, and it’s easy to see why. For decades they have sourced fruit from some stunning Oregon vineyards: their estate vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton, Shea Vineyard, Hyland Vineyard in McMinnville, Zena Crown in Eola Amity Hills. Their wines are what one may call terroir-driven, they are vibrant, complex wines with all sorts of unique nuances. 
In a recent blind tasting of American Rieslings (detailed here), Penner-Ash showed quite well with their two Rieslings, a Willamette Valley AVA and one from a Hyland Vineyard-designated Riesling. So I was expecting goodness from the 2015 Riesling, and it delivered.  
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 
2015 Penner-Ash Riesling Old Vine Riesling Hyland Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville
SRP: $35
Medium yellow color. On the nose, this bursts with white peach, lemon zest, apricot, an oily note, honeycomb, new tennis ball, yellow flowers – lots going on here! The palate is medium-bodied with brisk, mouth-watering acidity, and the wine feels near bone dry but shows plenty of ripe fruit (orange, lime, peaches). Balanced with saline, minerals, tennis ball, orange marmalade, a long, lingering finish. Complex, delicious, beautiful stuff. (90 points)
2016 Penner-Ash Viognier - Oregon
SRP: $30
Medium straw color with a slight spritz. So much floral explosion on the nose: honeysuckle, orange blossom, dandelion, along with honey, peach nectar, green pear and guava. Full-bodied and plump but not heavy due to the moderating acidity. Pulses with lime, guava and white peach, lots of floral perfume and orange blossom along with honeycomb, waxy notes, and a lingering sense of minerals and saline. Big but vibrant for Viognier, a very pretty interpretation. All stainless steel, sourced from vineyards in the Rogue and Columbia Valleys. (89 points)
2015 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $65
Pretty rose/ruby color. Takes time but opens up to show deep red currant, red and black cherries, rose petals, spicy white pepper, clove, tilled soil. Crisp acidity frames the palate so well, but the tannic structure provides plenty of support without being harsh, and the balance is superb. Graceful but tart red and black cherries, some cranberry, tons of spiced black tea, tobacco, rose petals, white pepper, sage and earthy, floral complexities that linger long on the finish. This is a tightly structured wine that will probably see its best days five years from now, and age beautifully, but this an impressive young Shea Pinot from Penner-Ash. (94 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.