Monday, April 24, 2017

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

There’s a little bit of everything in this catch-all tasting of newly-released wines from California: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, white blends, Chard, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Malbec, etc. 

2016 Cline Cellars Pinot Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $13
Medium yellow color. Nose of orange peels, lemons and honeysuckle. Medium+ body, fresh acidity, this is a peachy keen wine with lemon meringue and orange peel. Sea salt, white flowers, some mint and cut flower notes. Plump but fresh, some nice depth, too. (87 points)

N.V. Locations CA-4 - California
SRP $20
Rich yellow color. Interesting nose of baked pear, cinnamon-spiced apple, honey, apricot jam, but also some lemon zest and notes of daisies and nougat. Wow this is a chunky and plump wine, but there’s refreshing acidity that holds it together somehow. Flavors of baked apple and pear, orange marmalade, mixed with toasted almond, honeyed tea. A rich a full style but there is a nice mix of non-fruit flavors and the wine stays vibrant. This would be cool to sneak into a double-blind California tasting. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. (88 points)

2016 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $25
Light gold color. The nose shows intense lemon, gooseberry, apricot, and something that reminds me of lily pads and aquatic white flowers. Medium-to-full-bodied with such vibrant, but balanced, acidity. Lime/lemon, blood orange and apricot, the fruit is pure, deep, zesty with waxy/honeyed texture balanced off notes of chalk dust and mountain stream minerals. Long finish. An intriguing, impressive and absolutely delicious Napa Sauv Blanc, and such a solid value. Fermented in French oak barrels, stainless steel and concrete eggs. Includes 14% Sémillon, 3% Sauvignon Vert, and 1% Muscat Canelli. (91 points) 

2016 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $32
Medium straw color. Aromas of white peach and guava provide an excellent contrast with lime and nectarine, and I get some dandelion, white pepper and chalk. Vibrant acidity from start to finish, a bold presence but a brisk and crystalline presence. Apricot and lime fruit laced with lilies and chalk dust and honeysuckle, and a long finish. Pure and bright but lots of depth and ripe fruit. All Sauv Blanc, all stainless steel. (90 points)

2015 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $32
Light yellow color. Aromas of almonds and sea salt, pretty white flowers and honeyed biscuits on top of lemons and white peaches. Creamy but precise on the palate with vibrant acidity and a deep presence of minerals and salinity. Plump peach, tart lemon, mix in some crushed chalk, white pepper, almond, nougat and honeycomb. I really like the precision, balance and depth of this wine, and it lingers long on the finish. I’d love to see how this ages over the next three or five years, it’s that good. Aged six months in all new French oak. This has been my favorite vintage of this wine I've tasted so far, and winemaker Rob Davis calls it his most "Old World" wine. I always like this wine, but this vintage is really special. (92 points) 

2015 Cambria Chardonnay Bench Break - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $22
Medium gold color. Nose of apricot, orange peel, bruised yellow apple, notes of white flowers, toasted nuts and granola. On the palate, juicy, slightly waxy texture, moderate acidity – plump apples mix with tart limes, richer baked apple and bruised pear fruit, too, there’s a tempered amount of toasted nuts and popcorn, but also some white flowers, sea salt, chalky notes – a complex wine that has a lot to offer palates all over the Chardonnay spectrum. From Katherine’s Vineyard, aged about six months in mostly French oak, 14.4% alcohol. (88 points)

2015 Cambria Chardonnay Clone 4 - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $30
Light gold color. Wow, bursting aromas of crushed shells and sea salt with lemon/lime, orange peel, some apricot, lemon curd, juicy orange. Full-bodied and roundly textured but there’s lip-smacking and refreshing acidity. Plump peach, baked apple, drizzled with lime and tangerine, so much freshness in this wine, and the fruit is laced with notes of peanut shell, chalk dusty, sea shells, nougat and honeyed white tea. I love the balance and lingering minerality in this wine. Aged five months in French oak, 14.5% alcohol. (90 points)

2014 Cambria Pinot Noir Bench Break - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $25
Rich ruby color. Plump aromas of cherries and raspberry jam with some sweet cola, clove and rose petals. Full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) with saucy fruit (raspberry and strawberry jams) and moderate acidity. Generously fruit with notes of rose petals, cola, coffee. Tasty, plush and crowd-pleasing but stays quite balanced. From Julia’s Vineyard, aged eight months in ¼ new French oak, 14.4% alcohol. (87 points) 

2014 Cambria Pinot Noir Clone 4 - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $35
Medium ruby color. Lots of earth, savory spice and mushroom notes on top of aromas of red cherries, plums, rhubarb and rose petals. Full but suave texture on the palate with chewy tannins and refreshing acidity. Dark cherries mix with raspberry jam, summer plums. Notes of leather, pepper and mushroom mix with clove and cedar. Bold but balanced, showing yumminess, complexity and freshness is equal amounts. Delicious now but should be able to improve with a few years. Aged seven months in 23% new French oak, 14.2% alcohol. (90 points) 

2015 FEL Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
Medium ruby color. Aromas burst with roses, rhubarb, slight mushroom on top of juicy raspberry, red plums, strawberry — a lot going on here. Medium-to-full-bodied on the palate with smooth tannins and fresh acidity. Fresh strawberries and deep black cherries fruit, juicy and rich but shows vibrancy. Elements of cola, rhubarb, rose petals, soy sauce, grilled mushrooms, and quite a long finish. A few years would be fine, but this is ready to drink now. Aged 16 months in about 1/3 new French oak. (91 points)

2014 Berryessa Gap Malbec - California, Central Valley, Yolo County
SRP: $23
Deep ruby color. Aromas of dark plums and ripe black cherries, slightly roasted, and some violets, scorched earth and graphite. Full-bodied with medium-strength tannins and medium/low acidity. Flavors of plum cake and rich saucy fruit with clove, mocha, scorched earth and dark chocolate savings. Fun, plush, ready to go but also shows structure. All Malbec from the Coble Ranch Vineyard, aged 20 months in old oak. (87 points) 

2014 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo - California, Central Valley, Yolo County
SRP: $24
Light ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries, raspberries and red plums, also some mint, tobacco and cedar. Plump and juicy on the palate, accessible, but offers a lot of balance and vibrancy. Red cherries and plums, soft and fresh, with tobacco, roasted herbs, pine tree and anise. Impressive complexity, and a lip-smacking finish. All Tempranillo from Coble Ranch Vineyard, aged 21 months in old French oak. (90 points)

2013 Sutro Wine Company Merlot Warnecke Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Medium purple color. Aromas of tart red currant, juicy black cherries, violets, rocky earth, sage, sweet coffee and pipe tobacco. On the palate, plenty of structure but smooth and refreshing, too, silky texture combines with vibrant acidity. Pure, lively red and black currants with complex notes of grilled steak, chorizo, spice rub (love it!), and lingering notes of mineral and forest floor. Very impressive now, but this is gorgeous, and will continue to excel for more than a handful of years. Includes 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 32 months in old French and Hungarian oak. (93 points)

2013 Sutro Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon Warnecke Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $50
Rich purple color. Gorgeous aromatic waves of cassis, black cherry and blueberry, mixed with complex notes of eucalyptus, anise, dark roast coffee, dark earth and charcoal notes. Full and structured with firm tannins but it has a velvety feel and refreshing acidity. Flavors of chilled blueberries, rich black currant, bold fruit but stays very fresh. Lots of complex earth, herbal and savory elements (eucalyptus, smashed rocks, asphalt, pencil shavings, mushroom). At least a decade of excellence ahead, but this is very pretty now. Wow, this producer is one to check out. Includes 7% Merlot, aged 29 months in a mix of French and Hungarian oak (20% new). (93 points)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Alsace is Primo for Pinot Blanc, Gris & Noir

Alsace is primo Pinot territory. Not just Pinot Noir, of course, but its related varieties Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc have long and heralded histories in this region. I recent tasted through a few Pinots from Alsace and, unsurprisingly, I found a lot to like. 

I love the vibrancy, tanginess and minerality of this wines. But, especially in the whites, there’s such enjoyable interplay between plump texture and rich fruit flavors. There’s always some level of difficulty determining
how sweet an Alsace white wine will be (demonstrated by the two Pinot Gris wines in this tasting). If it says “vendange tardive,” meaning late harvest, you know you’re in for some sugar. But, otherwise, determining sweetness isn’t easy unless you’re well versed in the producer’s style. 

What’s easy about Alsace is the fact that the grape varieties are generally listed right there on the front label, and the prices can be quite reasonable.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc - France, Alsace
SRP: $ 16
Light gold color. Smells like fresh limes and white peaches topped in crushed chalk, limestone and intense white and yellow flowers. Medium-bodied with brisk acidity and a pleasant, slightly honeyed texture. Tangerine and peach nectarine blend with chalk, saline, white pepper, cut flowers. Deep, lingering sense of minerals. Crisp but lots of flavor and texture. (90 points)

2014 François Baur Pinot Blanc Herrenweg - France, Alsace
SRP: $18
Light gold color. Pretty and rich on the nose with lemon curd, lemon oil and tangerine, also some crushed shells, floral perfume and vanilla potpourri. Deep texture with bright acidity. Complex, balanced, rich and honeyed but lip-smacking and vibrant. Apricots, lemons, orange marmalade, the fruit blends with spiced white tea and salted almond. Very long, impressive in depth and complexity. I’d love to see how this ages over the next three to five years. (90 points)

2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés - France, Alsace
SRP: $20
Light gold color. Nose of lemon curd, apricot, pineapple, notes of crushed shells. Plump texture with fresh acidity, just a hint of sweetness, and it all lines up in balance. Juicy fruit (apricot, orange, lemon curd), mineral water, quinine, mint and sea salt notes with elements of white flowers and clean laundry. Very delicious but also precise and age-worthy. Long, lasting, mineral-encrusted finish. 13.5% alcohol and about 7 g/l residual sugar. Pure Alsace Pinot Gris goodness. (90 points)

2010 Maurice Schoech Pinot Gris Mambourg - France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
SRP: $30
Rich golden color. Smells like candle waxy, quinine, honeycomb, slight oxidative notes but woven in well with the bruised yellow apple and orange marmalade. Plump and richly textured with significant sweetness and moderate acidity. Flavors of apricots, orange marmalade, lemon pith, with notes of lamp oil and wax. Finishes with minerals and floral complexity. It seems a bit too sweet for my preference (40 g/l sugar) but quite nice. (87 points)

2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés - France, Alsace
SRP: $26

Very pale ruby color. Smells bright and refreshing with pomegranate, sour cherry and wild strawberry along with pepper, mushroom and lots of roses. Medium-bodied with fresh, lip-smacking acidity and subtle tannic structure. Crisp, chilled red fruits mix well with earth, mushroom and rosebush notes. Bright, refreshing, open for business and near-term enjoyment. (88 point)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, April 14, 2017

This Spring & Summer, Check Out Virginia Rosé

If you’ve perused this blog at all, you know I’m a big supporter of Virginia wines. Are they among my favorite in the world? No. Do they take up a lot of space in my cellar? Not really. But with DC as my adopted home town, Virginia wine country has a very special place in my heart. And more and more producers are turning out all sorts of well-made, delicious, specifically Virginian wine.
Now that the spring is in full swing, you’ll likely see more and more rosé wine on the shelves. I’ve been seriously into wine for about a decade, and one of the most exciting big-picture trends I’ve seen over that time is the growth in popularity, quantity and quality of American dry rosé. Wine-drinkers in the U.S. have embraced dry, crisp, delicious, diverse pink wine as part of their consumption habits.
Wineries across the country can barely keep up with demand, especially in Virginia. I had a hard time finding recent statistics on Virginia rosé, but here’s my anecdotal evidence: There are more (and more very good) Virginia rosés than ever before. Almost all wineries make them, and now through early fall is prime pink wine time. So if you live in the DC-MD-VA area, get out there and find some!
Photo Credit: Frank Morgan - Drink What U Like
I recently tasted through seven different Virginia rosés during an online meetup with VA wine guru Frank Morgan and the winemakers from each of the wineries. It was a good chance to see what’s going in with Virginia pink and chat with the winemakers about how rosé fits into their portfolios.
These wines are all purposefully made into rosé, meaning the vineyards and grapes are managed with rosé production in mind, as opposed to some rosés made with grapes that didn’t fully ripen. A lot of rosé is sold directly to the consumer from tasting rooms (which are popular tourist destinations in the spring and summer months) while others have some small distribution around mid-Atlantic shops and restaurants. If you’re in the area, the best way to experience refreshing VA rosé is to head out to a vineyard and taste for yourself. Virginia wineries are located in some gorgeous country, and a crisp, cool pink on a hot day is a privilege worth seeking out.
Here are my notes on the wines I tasted…
2016 Early Mountain Vineyards Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
Pale strawberry color. Bright and brisk aromas of white and red flowers, white cherries, strawberries, some green herbs and perfume. Crisp and zesty on the palate with fresh strawberries and tart white cherry notes, a white tea, green herb and baby’s breath notes. A refreshing salinity and minerality. Lots going on here but so lip-smackingly delicious, too.  60% Merlot, 25% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec, alcohol 12.2%, whole-cluster pressed, stainless steel fermented. (89 points)
2016 King Family Vineyards Crosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Rich watermelon color. Nose shows juicy peaches, nectarines and tart white cherries with white pepper, nettle and hyacinth. Bright and zesty palate, very perfumed (white flowers, perfume shop, a mass of honeysuckle, spiced floral tea), and some bright white cherry and watermelon rind fruit. Complex, generous texture, exciting yet straightforward and lively. 85% Merlot with some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (87 points)
Color like watermelon Jolly ranchers. Nose of red apple, strawberry jam, rose petals, a note of cut flower stems. Medium-bodied with a fleshy texture and crisp, lip-smacking acid. This is a vibrant and crunchy dry wine with strawberries, juicy cherries and red apples, notes of honey, flowers, chalk dust, minerals and cheese rind. Wow, I am really surprised at how much I like this wine. Intensely fresh but also rich in fruit and flavor, very gluggable but showing solid complexity. All Chambourcin rose from a vineyard planted specifically for rosé. (89 points)
2016 Breaux Vineyards Rosé - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Pale watermelon color. Nose of McIntosh apple, sour cherry, raspberry leaf and bell pepper. A creamy, smooth, mouth-filling texture but dry and still very fresh. Red apple, strawberry, juicy fruit mixes with honeyed white tea, almond, white pepper, some Southern sweet tea (although tastes dry). Fun stuff. I like the combination of richness and spiciness in this wine. 38% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot. (87 points)
2016 Breaux Vineyards Cellar Selection Nebbiolo Rosé - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Medium copper color. Tons of white pepper and wild green herb aromas, lavender and roses on top of tart white cherry and strawberry fruit. Palate is 14.1% so there’s a creamy and even waxy texture but the acidity is lovely and supports white cherry, tart red plum and apple. Lots of white pepper and wild herbs and flowers, this is surprisingly complex, rich but vibrant, so delicious. All estate-grown Nebbiolo fermented in neutral oak and stainless steel. (90 points)
2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Serefina - Virginia, Northern Virginia
Strawberry jam color. Smells like strawberry jam, Swedish fish candies, watermelon and rose petals. Medium+ bodied with brisk acidity. Flavors of sweet red apple, grapefruit pith, strawberry jam mixes with notes of rosewater, oregano, bitter seaweed and saline. Strange but fun. This is such an odd wine but oddly sort of attractive. Made with 90% Petit Manseng fermented in stainless steel, with 10% Tannat fermented on its skins in old French oak and blended in. (83 points)
2015 Hillsborough Vineyards Serefina - Virginia, Northern Virginia
Dark cherry juice colored. A cider and orange wine-like aspect of wild yeast, candied orange peel. Medium-bodied and crisp with a spritz and a delightfully tangy bite. This is much better than the 2014, it shows more fruit and less austerity and oddities. Lots of cherries and blood orange with a tangy herbal and white pepper element – a sour beer/orange wine aspect to this wine, but it’s also neither of those things. Still perplexing, just a lot more accessible and approachable (and more delicious) than the 2014. Mostly Petit Manseng with some red wine (made from Tannat) blended in. (87 points)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lodi Rules: Sustainable Certified, Straight-Up Delicious Wines

I’ve praised Lodi in the past for being “a big tent freak show of awesomeness” because there are so many different and obscure varieties, gnarly old vines and a real spirit of experimentation among Lodi winemakers. This historic region located near Sacramento was long a producer of bulk wines, mostly Zinfandel. But that’s an old story. The new Lodi is a thrilling place for the wine-lover to explore.

Lodi has gotten lots of attention lately (including Wine Enthusiast’s Region of the Year in 2015), and I think a lot of this stems from the efforts of the the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the region’s trade group. Representing more than 750 growers, this group has been preaching the gospel of Lodi wine for about a quarter century, but they’ve really stepped it up in recent years.

Lodi boasts varied soils that can help dozens of grape varieties flourish, a Mediterranean-like climate with wide diurnal temperature swings, and a host of experienced growers and winemakers who take the grapes seriously. For consumers, this means a wide array of styles, blends, varietal wines, and a lot of them are less expensive than wines of comparable quality from other California regions.

Old vines are treasures, and Lodi has plenty of these vineyard gems, but their existence isn’t guaranteed. Growers face financial and development pressure to rip out old vines, or replant with new and more productive vines. Also, gnarly old vines require more labor-intensive hand harvesting. It’s more expense for less wine, but the finished wines can be fabulous.

Lodi is also on the cutting edge of environmentally-friendly farming and winemaking certification. I recently attended an on-line tasting (with Aaron Shinn of Round Valley Ranches, winemaker Chad Joseph and Stuart Spencer of the Lodi Winegrape Commission) focused on breaking down the Lodi Rules Sustainable Winegrowing Program. This is an extensive certification process that takes into account all sorts of different aspects of viticulture: pest control, soil, water, business practices. Based on 101 different measurable standards, the goal is to reduce pesticide risk to humans, animals and ecosystems. Since 2005, the program has certified about 24,000 acres in Lodi, and almost 13,000 acres in other areas of California. Some winemakers offer financial incentives to their growers to get certified, making it a little bit easier to get the vineyards up to snuff. According to the LWC, those incentives have exceeded $7 million since 2010.  

Below are my notes on the four wines I tasted.

SRP: $20
Light straw color. Aromas of white peaches and limes mix with honeysuckle, nettle and oregano. Crisp and clean on the palate but plenty of texture and bright acidity. Crunchy limes mix with juicy white peaches and guava nectar. Notes of sea salt, cut flowers, and I get refreshing minerals on the back end. This is serious Lodi Sauvignon Blanc. All stainless steel, 13% alcohol. (89 points)

2015 Bokisch Vineyards Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
SRP: $18
Light gold color. Bursting aromatic display of white and yellow flowers, lemons, limes, white peaches, along with honeysuckle, chamomile tea and some sliced cucumber. Brisk acidity meets a moderately creamy mouthfeel on a medium-bodied wine, it’s all balanced quite nicely. Juicy white peaches and tangy lemon blend well with notes of dandelion, white tea, honeysuckle and sea salt. Lively, refreshing, showing solid complexity but goes down so easily. All stainless steel, 12.5% alcohol.  (90 points)

2014 Michael Klouda Zinfandel Broken Vine - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $26
Light purple color. Interesting nose, because I get a mix of bright strawberry and raspberry with darker notes of prune and roasted plums, backed up with some spicy herbs and red flowers. Full-bodied but not thick at 14%, this wine shows moderate tannins and acidity. Juicy raspberry mixes with sweet black cherry, the fruit is pure and fresh and backed up with notes of incense sticks, clove, light roast coffee and red licorice. Packed with deliciousness but this stays fresh and vibrant as well. Aged 16 months in used oak. (90 points)

2014 Michael-David Vineyards Cabernet Franc Inkblot - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $35
Extracted purple color. Rich, dark, saucy aromas of black currant, blueberry, mulling spices, sweet coffee and black pepper glaze. Massive on the palate (15.4% alcohol) this has sweet, chewy tannins and low acidity. It’s extracted and rich and too heavy for my palate, but the fruit is delicious (plum cake, blueberry jam, sweet black cherries) and I get notes of coffee, vanilla and anise. I see how this would be a huge hit with a lot of wine drinkers, but it doesn’t seem balanced to me. I would never peg this as Cab Franc in a blind tasting. I probably would’ve guessed The Prisoner. Maybe this needs time, or maybe I will never wrap my palate around it. (Note: By day 2, this was a lot more interesting, so time is the key, I think.) This wine includes some Petite Sirah and is aged 21 months in French oak. (85 points)

Monday, April 10, 2017

New Post on The Inertia: Planning Epic Surf & Wine Trips

My favorite trips revolve around my two favorite things: surfing and wine. Luckily, there are many regions that produce both incredible wine and epic surf.

My new post on the top regions for wine and surf is now up at The Inertia.

Check out the full piece here.

Wine and waves pair perfectly and can be found together all over the world. Credit: Txakoli Ameztoi

Sunday, April 9, 2017

South American Value Wines From Trivento & Concha y Toro

Argentina’s Trivento and Chile’s Concha y Toro have been releasing delicious, crowd-friendly wines all of America for many years. With a series of appellations and brands, you can spend $10 to $25 and be pretty sure you’re going to get something solid. And each producer has high-end wines like Eolo and Don Melchor that are tremendously good.

I think the wines in this report offer casual or new wine drinkers a good introduction to the wines and styles widely available from Argentina and Chile. And there’s a little something (especially in the Marques to Casa Concha series) wine geeks should find interesting.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Trivento Malbec Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Medium ruby color. Aromas of bright red cherries and raspberry jam along with tobacco, cedar, anise and rose hips. Medium-bodied with light tannins and refreshing acidity, and it’s all balanced nicely. Raspberry jam and red plums mix with some loamy soil, cedar, mint and vanilla. Not deep or complex but a tasty, fresher style Malbec. (86 points)

2014 Trivento Malbec Golden Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $21
Deep ruby/light purple color. Nose of dark plums, vibrant black cherry and cassis, along with a complex web of violets, cedar, vanilla, charcoal and rocky, dark soil. Full-bodied and solidly structured with tannins but freshened with acidity. Juicy black cherries and tart blueberries blend so well with notes of roasted green herbs, black pepper, tobacco, graphite and violet petals. Good now but could hold for a few years. (89 points)

SRP: $17
Bright purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose with tart blueberry and black currant fruit, along with dark roast coffee, black licorice, graphite, potting soil and cedar notes. Full-bodied with silky tannins, offering some moderate grip, but there’s refreshing acidity. Dark currant and juicy but tart blueberries mix with loamy soil, graphite, charcoal, sweet pipe tobacco and espresso. Yummy but also serious in the sense that it could age a few years. (88 points)

SRP: $22
Bright yellow color. Aromas of juicy green apple mixed with richer, cinnamon-spiced, baked yellow apple, and a dollop of whipped cream, toasted nuts and vanilla. Full-bodied with a generously creamy texture but the acidity whips in and keeps it all quite clean and refreshing. Juicy yellow apples and pears mix with notes of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and cream filling, but there’s also some chalk dust and sea breeze notes underneath. Rich and bold but stays fresh. From the Quebrada Seca vineyard in Limari. (89 points)

SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose of ripe blackberries and cassis, violets, mint, cocoa powder, charcoal. Full and saucy on the palate, but suave, with medium/firm tannins and moderate acidity. Tart black currant, gushing black cherry, the fruit is mixed with loam, graphite, mint, mocha and vanilla. Lots going on here, and more and more comes out with air. Another great example of this perennially-performing Chilean Cabernet. 100% Cabernet from the Puente Alto and Pirque Vineyards. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Steele Wines: Long-Time Lake County Winery Produces Fun Wines at Moderate Prices

Jed Steele has been making wine in California for about 45 years. He first worked as a cellar rat at Stony Hill in the late 60, before getting his Master’s in Enology from UC Davis and heading off to work for Mendocino’s Edmeades. Add in some work at the burgeoning Kendall-Jackson, and Jed had all the experience he needed to start his own label in 1991. 

Steele, based in Kelseyville near Clear Lake (in Lake County), produces more than 20 different wines, everything from Aligote to Zinfandel. Jeb’s extensive experience in different California wine regions has allowed him to source fruit from many different sites. So I was surprised to see Chardonnay from Santa Barbara and Zinfandel from Mendocino all in the same lineup.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Steele Wines Chardonnay Steele Cuvée
- California
SRP: $21
Medium yellow color. Aromas of green apples and grapefruit with some honeyed herbal tea and flower vase notes. Medium-bodied, slightly waxy texture but fresh acidity. Green apples and bruised pear, vanilla crème, sharper notes of white pepper and dandelion. Some contrasting elements, but it’s still a fun wine. Aged 8 months in 20% new French oak, 13.5% alcohol, the fruit comes from several sites across California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino’s Redwood Valley. (86 points) 

2015 Steele Wines Chardonnay Durell Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $30
Pale yellow color. Aromas of peach nectar, yellow apple, honey, some chalk, mint and almond notes. On the palate, this shows a creamy, medium+ body but some fresh acidity. Limes mix with richer bruised apple and apricot fruit, and there’s a pretty contrast between the floral and grapefruit zest notes with some green tea, yellow flower and honey notes. Impressive, fresh, lengthy stuff. Aged 10-12 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points) 

2015 Steele Wines Cabernet Franc Rosé - California, North Coast, Lake County

SRP: $15
Bright watermelon color. Super floral nose with bananas, watermelon and cherry candy. Plump and juicy palate with some moderating acidity. Chunks of watermelon, raspberry jam, some tart white cherry notes, too, along with lots of floral perfume and banana peel. Fun, up-front, gluggable stuff. From the Silva Vineyard in Lake County. 14% alcohol. (85 points)

2013 Steele Wines Pinot Noir Goodchild Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Brisk aromas of chilled cranberries, juicy raspberries, rhubarb, clove and eucalyptus. Full, bold, chewy-textured, but freshness from the acidity and easy-on-the-mouth tannins. Rhubarb, rose petal, top soil and pickle notes mix in with some clove and vanilla. Stays ripe but this is such a crisp and vibrant style. 14.5% alcohol, aged 12 months in 30% new French oak. (89 points)

2013 Steele Wines Zinfandel Century Old Vines Catfish Vineyard
- California, North Coast, Clear Lake
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose of bold black cherries, currants, grape jelly, violets and anise. Full-bodied with surprisingly sturdy tannins and medium acidity. Dark cherries and blueberry fruit, ripe and juicy but showing a tart edge, mixes with loam, rocky soil, black pepper and black licorice notes. Delish, complex, some years of cellar potential, too. A single-vineyard wine from Kelsey Bench, Lake County, this includes small amounts of Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet, Petite Sirah and Cinsault. aged 12 months in 35% new hybrid French/American oak barrels, 14.5% alcohol. (89 points)

2013 Steele Wines Zinfandel Old Vine Zin Pacini Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. Rich and dark and saucy aromas of cherries, boysenberry, roasted coffee, violets, dark chocolate. Full and dark (15.2%), some tone to the tannic grip, some moderate acidity helps keep it from being too heavy. Black cherries and blackberries, loaded with roasted coffee, violets, sweet cola, black pepper glaze, some vanilla and ginger cookies. Opens up and shows a cool teriyaki jerky note. I think a few years would help this unwind even more. 15.2% alcohol, this spends 12 months in American oak. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Revisiting Some of Arizona's Best Vino: Page Springs Cellars

In a recent blog post, I made my argument that Arizona has some incredible places to grow wine grapes and many producers are crafting high-quality wines with unique, distinctly regional signature. Check out that piece for more detail, but, to break down my thesis: Arizona boasts a solid combination of climate, high elevation sites, diverse soils, and plenty of savvy winegrowers and winemakers, which makes it an exciting place for the adventurous wine-lover. 

During a recent trip to Arizona, I spent a few days hiking my ass off in the Grand Canyon. Since my legs had pretty much stopped working, wine-tasting on a sunny Arizona Saturday was the best option for sure. So I brought my parents to my favorite wine spot in Arizona:
Page Springs Cellars. Located in Arizona’s Verde Valley appellation, this producer always impresses me with a wide range of fascinating, delicious, and expertly-crafted wines. 

Eric Glomski is the man behind the bottles. A hard-charging, relentless Arizona wine guru, Glomski formed Page Springs Cellars and Arizona Stronghold Vineyard (another purveyor of awesome Arizona juice) with musician and Tool-frontman Maynard James Keenan in the mid-2000s. The two men parted ways, and now Glomski controls both Page Springs and
Arizona Stronghold, while Keenan has gone on to focus on his Caduceus and Merkin Vineyard wines.
Page Springs sources grapes from several estate vineyards in Yavapai County, as well as vineyards in other growing regions like Cochise County, located in the southeastern part of the state. Page Springs releases a staggering amount of wines each year, from single-vineyard Roussanne and Vermentino, to quirky white blends, to varietal reds, and blends of varying Rhone and Italian grapes. These are small lot wines with regional signatures you can taste. 

The beautiful, cooling Oak Creek runs right past Page Springs Cellars and some estate vineyards.
Some 20 miles upriver, this same creek winds through the epic red rock formations of Sedona, Arizona.
In my experience, I have not tasted a “bad” wine from this producer. These wines are almost always exciting in a wine nerd way and delicious in a “pour me another glass” way. The tasting room staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and there is plenty of room for a picnic, space to walk by the creek, and even a massage parlor if you want to relax after hiking in nearby Sedona.

I first wrote about Arizona wine in 2012, when I visited Page Springs Cellars. I had been looking for some interesting Arizona vino, and I found plenty of it. My recent visit was a good way to delve back into these wines and remember just how good they are. 

Below are my tasting notes on a handful of Page Springs’ wines.

The gorgeous Page Springs Estate Vineyard in Yavapai County. Oak Creek lies just beyond those trees, bisecting this vineyard and the one on the hillside in the background.
2015 Page Springs Cellars Counoise Stillness - Arizona, Yavapai County
Lemons and chalk and white pepper on the nose. Bright acidity, crunchy citrus, white pepper, crushed chalk, very zesty, a bit lean, but begs for oysters. Made from 100% Counoise, but made as a white wine. A rare wine for Page Springs, but it works! (87 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Vino del Barrio Blanca - Arizona
Light yellow color. Smells like peaches, green melon, nectarine, a tropical burst with some sea salt, lilies, new tennis ball stuff going on. Plump but fresh on the palate with bright acid and a pleasantly honeyed texture. Peaches, green melon rind, wax candles, a pungent white flower note, some sea salt, honeyed green tea. Complex but so gluggable, a great combination of richness and freshness. 47% French Colombard, 23% Grenache Blanc, 17% Malvasia, 11% Roussanne, 2% Vermentino. A great example of the Arizona blending and experimental ethos, with delicious results. (88 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Vermentino Dos Padres Vineyard - Arizona, Yavapai County
Aromas of chalk, lilies, dandelion, green apples and lemons. Interesting contrast between a creamy/waxy texture and refreshing acidity. Peaches, juicy apricot, salted almond and candied lemon peel notes. Very pretty, very delicious. (88 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Roussanne Dos Padres Vineyards - Arizona, Yavapai County
Aromas of yellow flowers, bruised yellow apple and honey. Plump texture but this is full of refreshing acidity. Juicy apricot, nuts, honey, peach nectar – lots going on here, but it keeps me salivating and intrigued. Interested to see how this ages over the next few years. (88 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Marsanne Dragoon Mountain - Arizona, Cochise County
Aromas of honey, apricot, peach nectar, mango slices. Plump and smooth, less acidity than the Roussanne, but still tasty. Bruised apple, cinnamon and honeycomb. Interesting example of this grape and place. 100% Marsanne. (87 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars La Serrana - Arizona
On the nose, almond, lemon curd, dandelion, peach slices. Juicy, waxy texture but fresh acidity. Nectarine, glazed pear, bruised apple. A bit fat, and lower on the acidity than a lot of the wines I like from this producer, but it’s still well done and very tasty. A blend of 61% Roussanne, 25% Viognier, 14% Marsanne. (86 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars El Serrano - Arizona
A reliably exciting Arizona red blend, which changes year to year, based on Rhone varieties but including a bit of this and that. This smells like pepper, leather, juicy dark cherry fruit. A bit darker fruited, with smokier, resin tones, but maintains structure and some freshness. I could see this being a great barbecue wine. (87 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Mule’s Mistake - Arizona, Cochise County
What a fun and delicious red blend. Light strawberry color with aromas of strawberries, raspberries, pepper, spice rub, rhubarb and leather. Medium-bodied with zesty acidity and smooth, silky tannins. Bright red fruit and mixes with tobacco, pepper, cherry cordial, red licorice – a cool combo of fresh flavors. Drinks like a Beaujolais-Villages, has spice like a Rhone blend, but it is pure juicy Arizona fruit. So good for the money. A kitchen sink blend of Sangiovese, Grenache, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Syrah, Couoise, Malvasia, Merlot and Mourvedre. (87 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Grenache - Arizona, Cochise County
Light rose color. Smells like fresh strawberries and tobacco. Tangy and brisk on the palate with light tannins and a lip-smacking appeal. Wild strawberries and red apple peel mixes with clay soil and leather. A crisp and vibrant Grenache that includes 11% Barbera. (86 points) 

2013 Page Springs Cellars Grenache Neutral Oak Page Springs Estate Vineyard - Arizona, Yavapai County
Medium ruby color. Smells like strawberries, pomegranate and red apple peel along with sagebrush, dusty earth and warm mulling spices. Fresh and crisp with medium/light tannins and a pure setting of crunchy red fruit (strawberry, cranberry, pomegranate). Notes of warm clay, tobacco, dusty earth, pot smoke, rose petal and rocky minerals add all sorts of complexity. Wow, this is phenomenal stuff. (91 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Malbec Fort Bowie Vineyard - Arizona, Cochise County
Unlike any Malbec I’ve tasted, but I dig it. Bright and red-fruited on the nose (candied strawberry, red apple) and some desert herbs. Tangy and refreshing on the palate’s medium-bodied frame. Juicy red plums and strawberries with notes of chestnut and herbs. Fun stuff. (87 points) 

2014 Page Springs Cellars MSGc - Arizona, Cochise County
Love this wine. Smells like black and cayenne pepper, bay leaf and oregano topped on juicy cherries and plums. Structured with moderate-grip tannin, freshened with acidity, enticing with its plum cherry and bright strawberry fruit. SO much pepper, sage, earth, and other complex elements to coax out with air. Well-built but so vibrant. 35% Mourvedre, 33% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise. (90 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Syrah Deep Sky Vineyard - Arizona, Cochise County
Dark purple color. One of the darker, saucier wines I’ve tasted from Page Springs, this shows blackberry, peppercorns and roasted earth scents. Juicy but dark plum and blackberry fruit, moderate tannins and acidity line up nicely. Lots of pepper, loam, soy, warm clay, charcoal. Age-worthy, but delicious now. 100% Syrah. (90 points) 

2015 Page Springs Cellars Vino de la Familia - Arizona, Cochise County
Dark purple color. Smells like dark plums, blackberries, black olives and pepper. Dark and saucy but smooth, not dense, with medium/low acidity (a rarity in Page Springs wines). Plummy and blackberry-laden with notes of roasted peanuts, candied pecans, dark earth, clay and graphite. Delicious. A blend of Petite Sirah with 33% Syrah and 3% Roussanne. (87 points)  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Zena Crown & Gran Moraine - Killer Oregon Pinot & Chardonnay

Winemaker Shane Moore. Credit: Zena Crown Vineyard.
The first time I tasted Zena Crown Pinot Noirs, I was amazed. I knew nothing about this producer, knew only vaguely about the quality of the vineyard, and knew that I enjoyed the fresh appeal of many 2013 Willamette Valley Pinots. But as I tasted and re-tasted these wines (in order to check my high level of stoke), I became more and more convinced that these are exceptional Pinots. So I jumped at the opportunity to re-taste these wines with Zena Crown winemaker Shane Moore during his recent visit to DC.

Zena Crown Vineyard is one of those recent purchases by California wine giant Jackson Family. Like Copain and Siduri (two stellar Sonoma-based Pinot Noir producers purchased by the Jackson Family in 2016 and 2015, respectively), Jackson Family has been fastening several Pinot Noir jewels into their corporate crown. As a big fan of both of those California producers, I was a bit worried at the purchases, fearing the wines I had loved would be altered to fit sales goals of the parent company.

The Zena Crown Vineyard in Oregon's Eola-Amity Hills appellation. Credit: Zena Crown Vineyard
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Shane, who was installed as Zena Crown’s winemaker, says he feels Jackson Family has given him the power and the backing to move forward and make the best wines he can.

If I was on the board of Jackson Family Wines, I’d sure as hell let Shane run the show. His wines are fantastic, fresh, vibrant examples of the high quality Pinots and Chardonnays coming out of Oregon. (Especially with back-to-back-to-back solid vintages 2014-2016, there are going to be a lot of exception Oregon wines out there for years to come.)

Shane is also winemaker at
Gran Moraine, a Chardonnay and Pinot producer that kicked off in 2013. Made from Yamhill-Carlton fruit, these wines are lip-smacking and delicious. The Chardonnay was particularly impressive.

During dinner, Shane told me that his favorite Pinot Noirs come from Burgundy’s Volnay village. I love Volnay wines, too, so our palates align a bit more than I had predicted. Bright red fruit, complex earth and floral tones, bright acidity, moderate weight but plenty of tannic structure — these are the Pinots that make me swoon. As such, I’m a huge fan of Zena Crown’s 2013s. They’re accessible and crisp but offer plenty of depth and structure.

Below are my notes on the Gran Moraine and Zena Crown wines I tasted.

2016 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir Rosé of Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $30
Pale strawberry color. Lively and crisp aromas of watermelon rind, honeydew, chalk dust and rose hops. The palate shows that lovely balanced contrast between a fleshy and juicy texture with crisp, lip-smacking acidity. Spicy floral tones mix with white pepper and nettle. Whole-cluster pressed and later the pale juice is blended back in with some carbonic macerated Pinot Noir. (90 points)

2014 Gran Moraine Chardonnay - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Deep and fascinating aromas of mixed nuts, honeysuckle, lime and complex white and yellow floral tones. Wide-textured and some pleasant creaminess but lit up by intense acidity, the balance is pristine. Limes and apricots topped in butterscotch, floral perfume, toasted nut, sea shells, crusty chalk and a streak of minerals. Long finish. Gorgeous stuff. (94 points)

2013 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Pretty aromatic display of rhubarb, roses, herb garden and top soil, on top of pure red cherry and cranberry sauce. Silky and vibrant on the palate, light but structured very well with brisk acidity and crunchy, complex red fruits (cherry, pomegranate, cranberries). Notes of spiced tea, roses, anise and pine resin add lots of complexity. A vibrant and delicious Pinot for near-term drinking. (92 points)

2013 Zena Crown Pinot Noir Slope - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills
SRP: $100
What a beauty to sniff. Waves of bright and juicy raspberries, McIntosh apple peel and red currants, along with lots of rose petals, cola, rhubarb, spiced black tea… and a whole lot more to coax out as well. Bright and crisp on the palate with a blend of earth, mint, clove, white pepper, rhubarb and tobacco. So much depth and texture for a sub 13% ABV Pinot. Age-worthy for sure, this will be exceptional in a few years despite it’s early-drinking appeal, like a lot of 2013s right now. (94 points)

2013 Zena Crown Pinot Noir The Sum - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills
SRP: $75
More spice and darker fruit than the Slope, lots of broth and pepper but still fresh and lively. Palate shows gorgeous concentration despite its lightness, so much complexity and depth for a 12-something-% Pinot. Takes a bit more time to open up than the Slope, but it shows complex and delicious black cherries and raspberries, and a host of mushroom, earth, black tea and rose petal elements. This will do some wonders in five or six years. (93 points)