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)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wine Book Review: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Penguin Original - $17 - On Sale 3/28/17
Calling all gonzo wine geeks, aspiring somms, restaurant lifers, science nerds and culture critics! There is something in Bianca Bosker’s book Cork Dork for all of you.

The run-on title (“A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste”) aside, this book is as fresh and fun as a Wachau Riesling. Bosker’s book is packed with helpful information, wrapped in honest inquiry, and slathered with humor and wit. “Less a journey from grape to glass… this is an adventure from glass to gullet,” she writes. And, sure enough, there is a whole lot of cork-popping, glass-draining hedonism recollected in 300-something pages. But there’s also plenty of information that should be useful for both wine novices and other “cork dorks.”

Many readers may have seen the movie Somm, and its sequel, which chronicle several sommeliers studying for the Master Sommelier exam. While I liked Somm, I feel Bosker’s book may be an easier hook for casual wine fans who want to know about the fast-paced, bottle-clinking life of America’s wine stewards. Bosker’s book jumps into some of the same waters (the pre- blind taste test jitters, cramming for the written test, stressing out of the service exam), but she tells the story from the perspective of an outsider, a neophyte, a “civilian.” Combined with her punchy, intelligent prose, this outsider perspective on the hardcore New York wine subculture makes it accessible.

Having spent much of her journalism career focused on technology, Bosker strives to break complex subjects down into digestible parts. Where there is myth, she wants to find demonstration. Where there are powerful personalities making wide-sweeping claims (there might be a few of those in the wine world), she wants to find out if those claims hold up to scrutiny.

But Bosker does more than rehash stories about the intensity of wine study programs and the difficulty of big blind tastings. She spends time with flavor scientists and neuroscientists to try to figure out whether wine expertise is a definitive, demonstrable thing.

“Somewhere along the skeptic spectrum between atheists and flat-Earth truthers, there is a sizeable contingent of people who believe wine expertise plain just doesn’t exist,” Bosker writes. But then, instead of throwing her hands up, she goes out and investigates. She even goes under an fMRI after her year-long wine studies to see how they have altered the way her brain works.

Using language to describe wine is, it turns out, is important to how our senses perceive and how our memory registers wine. Especially in the context of sommelier study programs and blind tasting — it is absolutely necessary to assign specific wines labels and descriptors using language. Bosker talks to researchers about this topic, and there are some fascinating results: Language helps us understand wine.

Summarizing one researcher’s findings: “If we don’t have the vocabulary to describe an experience, our struggle to convey that encounter in words — and it will be a struggle — corrupts our impression of it, a phenomenon known as ‘verbal overshadowing.’ Asked to talk about something like a glass of wine, people who lack the terminology to do so later become far worse at recognizing the same wine again than individuals who weren’t pressed for words. People who have jargon to rely on aren’t as affected by verbal overshadowing.”

The science Bosker digs into is too in-depth to cover here, but I’ve included two quotes from Bosker below, in which she is summarizing scientific studies. 

“Professional tasters really have taught themselves to experience wine differently from amateurs. And the smells in a glass of Cabernet Franc are not… tickling the leftover, primitive side of our gray matter. To the contrary, wine demonstrably activates more advanced, higher-level parts of the brain.”

“Similarly, wine expertise comes by paying attention, sensing clearly, and then imposing meaning onto those physical sensations. Language, for instance, is thought to play a key role in boosting odor discrimination. The pros improve their olfactory skills as they learn to assign names and meanings to smell.”

No dead horse wine topic has been beaten more than the wine tasting note. I’ve written thousands of them and read dozens of screeds about their frivolous nature. But Bosker, while acknowledging the absurdity of some extremely purple prose, approaches this subject with an open mind, and achieves the near impossible: she writes about how we describe wine in a way that is fun to read.

I also appreciate her perspective as a woman in the wine world, as those voices are not always amplified as much as they should be. Bosker talks openly about being hit on by obnoxious drunk men at La Paulée, being groped at wine tasting events, and otherwise being objectified and harassed by pompous jerks. As a man, I’ve felt awkward and out of place in many wine crowds, but never have I feared for my safety or personal privacy, so I appreciate Bosker bringing those issues to light in the way she does.

This book is a fascinating read for wine-lovers all over the nerd spectrum, and I highly recommend it.

I’ll finish off with two memorable quotes from Bosker’s friend Morgan the Somm, who takes Bosker under his wing and has a way with wine words.

“Bottles of wine are ways that my humanity will be changed.”

“Wine for me is just a touch point to a wider world view: That I am not important. That I am a sack of water and organs that’s going to be here on Earth for eighty years if I’m lucky. And so I should figure out some way to make that count.”

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Digging into Canadian Wines: Ontario

Most of my experience with Canadian wine has come through random ice wines thrown into holiday tastings, and the stray Pinot Noir or Riesling that shows up in a larger group of bottles. But I had never sat down to a formal tasting of Canadian wines until recently, when my friend Aaron Mendenberg, who blogs at Good Vitis, cracked up two dozen bottles from Ontario.

I’m not going to fully re-hash what he has already so fully detailed in this post, but I did find this to be an educational tasting. Almost all of these wines came from the Niagara Peninsula, which, as its name indicates, juts out from the Niagara region into Lake Ontario. This area has 10 sub-appellations, known indicated by the various “VQA” designations you’ll see on Canadian wine bottles. This area of far southern Ontario seems full of interesting soils and unique micro-climates, with vineyards planted on the south shore of Lake Ontario and buttressed directly to the south by Lake Erie.

Overall, these wines were all over the place. From absolutely delicious and very impressive, to undrinkable and faulty, and in the middle I found some wines with squandered potential. That said, there’s a lot to like about the lower alcohol, higher acidity, tangy fruit-driven wines of this region. These wines beg for seafood and salads and charcuterie.

Below are my notes on the wines I tasted.

2014 Norman Hardie Chardonnay - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula VQA
Smells like peanut shell, limes, sea salt. Brisk and lean, a bit austere, with limes, lemons and green apples. Hints of nut and chalk. Finishes like tonic water. 12.4% alcohol. (84 points)

2014 Norman Hardie Chardonnay County - Canada, Ontario, Prince Edward County VQA
More floral aromas with white peaches and lemons. Brisk and light (11.4% alcohol), this is kind of watery and light. Cucumber and lemon water mixed with limes and dusty chalk. Could be nice well-chilled with oysters but very light. (84 points)

2012 Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay The Rusty Shed - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Aromas of lemon water, cucumber, nectarine and soapy notes. Creamy, leesy texture but fresh acidity, a little more weight at 13.5% alcohol, rounded out a bit more. Limes, apples, apricot, some floral and soapy notes. Not too deep but more balanced. (86 points)

2013 Bachelder Chardonnay Wingfield Block Wismer Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
A bit more golden color. Aromas of white and yellow flowers, peaches, juicy apples, a deeper, more complex nose than the other Chardonnays. Bright and zesty but shows more depth and juiciness, pleasant creaminess, too. Nectarine, peach, lime, notes of sea breeze and white pepper. A more complete wine, and very delicious. It really opens up with air. 13.5% (89 points)

2013 Southbrook Winery Chardonnay Poetica - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Four Mile Creek VQA

2013 Stratus White - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
So peachy and tropical on the nose, also some chalk dust and new Lego set scents. Plump and pleasant texture, less acidity (comparatively) but still fresh. Honey butter, peaches, guava, some toasted nut notes. A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viognier, but if tasted blind I would have guessed a white Rhone blend. (87 points)

2013 Charles Baker Riesling Stratus - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Vinemount Ridge VQA
Aromas of juicy peaches , orange, lilies, new plastic toy. Light and very lean on the palate with peaches and limes and a bit of chalk. Not much depth, quite dry (10.1% alcohol), perhaps a bit more residual sugar would have fleshed this out a bit more? Still fun though. (84 points)

2015 Cave Spring Riesling Cave Spring Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Smells like a freshly opened can of tennis balls with sliced white peaches dropped in. Bright acidity, a bean lean in texture (11.5% alcohol). Orange peel, some peach nectar, the fruit is a bit light and hidden, some notes of chalk and white pepper. Simple but pleasant, yet I find myself again thinking a hint more sugar could round this out. (84 points)

2016 Malivoire Pinot Noir Rosé Moira Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Palest copper color. Smells like banana and peach yogurt. Chalky, weedy, like underripe strawberries with the greens tossed in. Weird. Tastes like this was a regular Pinot whose fermentation got stuck, so they tossed in a random yeast to see what would happen, and not much good happened.

2015 Southbrook Winery Vidal Orange Wine - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
Smells like an austere Basque cider mixed with brettanomyces. Dry, bitter lemon and orange pith, some honey, grapefruit peel. Biting, bitter, off-putting. I’m a big fan of many a strange orange wine, but this is just awful.

2015 Malivoire Gamay Small Lot - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Smells like juicy cranberries, raspberries and rose petals. Darker fruit on the palate, more black cherry, showing bright acidity and structured tannins. Notes of roses and earth. Simple but refreshing. (85 points)

2015 13th Street Gamay Noir - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Peninsula VQA
The 13th Street Gamays were surprisingly delicious and very impressive.
Dark cherry colored. Smells like black cherries, Swedish fish, beef jerky, black pepper dust. Fresh acidity meets structured tannins in this well-balanced wine, which shows black cherries and juicy plums. Notes of tar, wild boar, gravel. Drops off a bit too quickly but this is put together quite nicely and shows some classic Gamay qualities while being an interesting and unique interpretation. (87 points)

2014 13th Street Gamay Noir Estate Sandstone - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Four Mile Creek VQA
Smells of juicy red cherries, violets and beef jerky. Grippy tannins, surprisingly so, but refreshing acidity balances nicely with juicy, dark cherry fruit. Complex elements of loamy soil, tar, minerals and peppered steak. Complex, good cellar potential, a very good Gamay from vines planted in 1983. (88 points)

2012 Malivoire Pinot Noir Mottiar - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Smells like rubber and cherry pits and tar. Bizarre on the palate, it tastes like ground-up cherry pits and bitter cherry skins. Some tar and pepper notes. Strange, unbalanced, not particularly faulted but I couldn’t figure this wine out at all.

2013 Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyards
- Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, St. David's Bench VQA
Aromas of strawberries, cranberries, rhubarb, white pepper and cinnamon. Juicy and bright with light tannins and crisp acidity. A nuanced style with bright red cherries and tart strawberries, backed up with notes of tar and tobacco. Fun stuff, not too deep, this could likely improve with a few years in the cellar. (87 points)

2015 Cave Spring Pinot Noir - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Escarpment VQA
Love the nose: bright, juicy cherries and strawberries, with rose petals and darker, savory herbs and spices. Medium-bodied (12.5%), structured so well with firm tannins and bright acidity. Tart cherries and juicy red plums mix nicely with cocoa, clove, tobacco, floral perfume and loamy soil. Impressive, and should improve for quite a few years in the cellar. (88 points)

2012 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Gravity - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Nose of cherries, sweet clove and campfire smoke. Juicy and fresh with medium/light tannins and moderate acidity. Dark roasted cherries and plums (darker than the nose suggests) with notes of mulling spices and toasted notes. Fun and tasty, but a bit too brazen on the oak for my palate. (86 points)

2014 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir
 - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Funky nose of broth and pepper on top of cherries and strawberries. Medium tannins and acidity with dark cherry and plum skin flavors, along with wet earth, dusty cellar and toasted oak. Fun and juicy but a bit too toasty and smoky for the depth of the wine. (85 points)

2015 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Peninsula VQA
Smells of roses, rhubarb, cranberries – quite pretty. Fresh and light on the palate with light tannins and bright acidity. Red cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, floral tea. Juicy, vibrant, tasty. (86 points)

2014 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir County - Canada, Ontario, Prince Edward County VQA
Wild and brothy on the nose. Soft tannins on the palate, fresh acidity, juicy red cherries and rose petals. Lots of brett in this wine, so a bit too many band-aids in the horse pen, but not undrinkable.

2012 Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Ave Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Interesting scents of cherry pits, olive juice, violets and dark soil. Well-built with tannins and bright acidity. Dark cherries and plum fruit, fresh and juicy, with notes of wet earth, soy, coffee, charred wood. Delicious and fun but could improve with a few years in the cellar. (87 points)

2013 Stratus Cabernet Franc - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
Smells like dark cherries and blackberry jam topped in celery seed and asparagus, but it actually works quite nicely. Dark and fleshy on the palate with saucy dark fruit on a frame of structured tannins and medium/low acidity. Brambly, peppery, topped in celery seed. Really opened up with a few hours and started getting more expressive. Interesting stuff. (87 points)

2012 Stratus Red - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
Smells of bloody steak on top of plum cake, dark currants and magic marker. Dark and plummy on the palate, a bit more fleshed out and complete than the Cab Franc from this producer. I get structured tannins, moderate acidity, dark and saucy black fruit. Notes of loam, pepper, charred wood and cocoa add significant complexity. This should improve well for at least a few years. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Tannat. (88 points)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It’s time for a round-up of new releases from California. I gathered together some of the samples I’d received over the winter and early spring and collected them into this catch-all report.

I recommend a lot of small production, hard-to-find wines from California (because those are the greatest), but it can be harder to find larger production, widely available wines from California that deliver deliciousness and some excitement. The Q Wines are available in retail stores nationwide from WX brands, and they really deliver in their price points and availability.

The Eighty-Four Wines are the result of a project between Elias Fernandez and Doug Shafter, named after the year in which they began making wine together. And we have a Chard and a Pinot from Alder Fels. Lastly, throw in some Cabs and blends from Napa producers Silverado Vineyards, Rombauer, and Shafer. Most of those wines need time but are great examples of the beautiful reds coming out of Napa from the 2013 and 2014 vintages.

2015 Q Collection Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $18
Light ruby color. Nose: tart strawberries, raspberry leaf, red apple, some smoky, green herb notes. Medium-bodied on a fresh frame with light tannins and bright acidity. Red apples, strawberries, wild raspberries, the fruit is crisp but juicy, and tastes of a higher quality than the price point might suggest. A bit lean, and some shortness on the finish, but it shows some interesting cigar box, rhubarb and white pepper notes. (87 points)

2015 Q Collection Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $18
Medium yellow color. Aromas of dandelion, tulips, juicy bruised pear, some toasted almond and peanut shell, hints of honeycomb. Juicy and pleasantly plump texture on the palate but moderate acidity keeps it refreshing. Lemon curd, yellow apples and pear, mixed in nicely with notes of honeyed white tea, butterscotch, some hints of white flowers and chalk. Tasty and crowd-pleasing without being heavy, and it stays quite fresh. Solid buy. (87 points)

2014 Q Collection Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $19
Juicy purple color. Aromas of jammy currants and black cherries, light roast coffee, cola, eucalyptus, hints of roasted chestnut and violet. Full-bodied but juicy with soft tannins and moderate acidity. Fleshy black currant and blackberry jam with some violets, cola and eucalyptus. Fun, approachable, great early drinker but this tastes “real” and far less baked or sweet than a lot of sub-$20 California Cabernets. Another good buy from this brand. (87 points)

2015 Adler Fels Chardonnay The Eagle Rock - California
SRP: $20
Bright gold color. Fresh but richly tropical aromas of papaya, kiwi and white peach with white and yellow flowers and honey notes. Full and creamy yet pleasantly fresh on the palate, with yellow apples, papaya and peach fruite. Notes of almond, barley, honey and floral perfume. Forward and packed with flavor but a bit of needed freshness, too. Half the fruit comes from the Russian River, half from Monterey. (87 points)

2014 Adler Fels Pinot Noir The Eagle Rock - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $28
Deep ruby color. Bright and juicy aromas of raspberry and strawberry jams, candied red cherries, cola and rose petals. Medium+ bodied with soft, easy tannins and moderately fresh acidity. Flavors of juicy strawberries and jammy raspberries play well with cola, sweet roses, rhubarb pie, vanilla. A fun, slightly candied style, but a tasty, plush Pinot for early drinking. Most of the fruit comes from Santa Rita Hills, about a quarter from Russian River. (87 points)

2016 Eighty Four Wines Albariño - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $28
Light gold color. An aromatic burst of wet grass, lilies, dandelions and spring rain on top of some lemon and green melons. Precise, lip-smacking acidity on the palate, but some rich texture as well. Lemon meringue, nectarine and green melon fruit, which are matched with notes of straw, sea salt, white pepper, flower stems, a long sense of mountain stream minerality in this wine. Incredibly fresh, surprisingly complex, unsurprisingly delicious. The more Napa Albariño I taste, the more I fall in love with it, and this is a great example. (90 points)

2013 Eighty Four Wines Malbec - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $42
Rich purple color. A boisterous, plum-laded nose along with blackberries, tobacco, mint, chestnut, graphite and coffee grounds. Full-bodied with moderate-grip to the tannins, a full and velvety wine but it boasts some vibrant acidity. Red and black cherries and currants, the fruit is ripe but crunchy, and mixed with potting soil, coffee, mint, violets, graphite and eucalyptus. Rich and expressive but structured nicely for some cellaring, too. 100% Malbec aged 20 months in ¾ new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $40
Rich purple color. Smells like black cherries, roasted currant, sweet figs, along with dark roast coffee and vanilla. Full and juicy on the palate with medium/soft edges and moderate acidity. Juicy currant and black cherry fruit mixes with vanilla, sweet herbs, charcoal pit, earth and smoke. Fun stuff to rink over the next few years. Includes 8% Malbec, 3% Petite Verdot and 1% Merlot, aged 28 months in 35% new oak. (88 points)

2014 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Light purple color. Deep red and black currants, yet fresh and juicy, also loaded with eucalyptus, menthol, cola, coffee and violets. Full-bodied, velvety but grippy tannins, medium/low acidity. Juicy black cherries and currants, laced with espresso, dark chocolate shavings, mint, eucalyptus, sweet clove. Very pretty, well-structured for near-term aging or a good decant, but surprisingly approachable. Includes 11% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, aged 17 months in 70% new French oak. (89 points)

2013 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon GEO - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Dark purple color. On the nose, it gushes with dark but vibrant plums and black currant, a deep floral and earth element mixes with clove, coffee and mole sauce – lots going on. Full-bodied, mouth-filling, sturdy tannins but medium acidity helps keep it fresh. Currants, blackberries, gorgeous fruit, velvety but fresh; the fruit is laced with iron, dark chocolate, coffee. Seriously structured, but seriously beautiful, with time to spare in the cellar. 88% Cabernet with 12% Petit Verdot, all from Mt. George Vineyard, aged 17 months in 38% new French and American oak. (92 points)

2013 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $125
Such dark purple color. Gorgeous deep currants and blackberries, with roasted herbs, smashed rocks, iron, violets, some tobacco and clove, such aromatic complexity to unpack. Full and sturdy on the palate but some freshness despite the density. Gorgeous, deep fruit (plums, currants, blackberry), mixed with smoke, roasted chestnut, smashed rocks, minerals, some vanilla coffee and coconut but mixed in well. Long time ahead. All Cabernet from the Silverado Vineyard, aged 18 months in about half new French oak. (93 points)

2014 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $90
Opaque purple color. The nose is deep, complex and constantly evolving with a core of blackberry and dark currant fruit, smashed rocks, rich loamy soil, anise, tobacco and violets – lots to unpack. Fully loaded on the palate, a viscous wine with medium-low acidity and a powerful tannic grip. A young but gorgeous wine texturally, and concentrated blackberry and cassis. The fruit’s matched with flavors of anise, charred earth, cocoa powder, espresso and graphite. A sleek and enticing presence despite its youthful density. Best to let it sit for a few years, I think, but this should hold up for many more. Includes a combined 5% Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, aged 10 months in all new French oak barrels. (93 points)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Desert Reflections: Wine and Wilderness in Arizona

I recently spent nearly two weeks gallivanting around the Arizona desert. It was a much needed respite from DC — these days it feels like living in the middle of a slow-moving, 20-car pileup. And, while I love this town, I need to flee it most frequently, for the ocean, for the mountains, for the desert, for winelands.

Views like these are why I hit the trails in Arizona.
While I was hiking down the Grand Canyon’s South Rim to the Colorado River, in between gasping at the incredible views and pounding lots of water, my mind fired off plenty of questions. One popped up, and I thought about it for a while: Why do I write about wine? With so many pressing topics I could spend my writing time on, why fermented grape juice?

I came up with a pretty straightforward answer: I write about that which I love to discover. And I love discovering intense physical experiences within natural surroundings. I thrive off the sensory input. Riding waves in the ocean, swimming in rivers, hiking into canyons, searching for wildlife in the desert, tasting wine. That last one may not seem like it belongs with the others, but when you immerse yourself in the process, wine appreciation can be every bit as exhilarating as a hike or a wave. And wine from a specific place can tell you so much about what makes that place distinct.

Arizona is home to more than 80 wineries, according to the
Arizona Wine Growers Association. According to the TTB, Arizona produced almost 200,000 gallons of wine in 2012 (roughly one-fifth the quantity of wine from Virginia). So there’s not a lot of it to go around, and you’re not likely to find much AZ juice shipped out of the state. But the state’s wine industry is growing and living up to its potential. I’ve been traveling to Arizona and tasting wine for about six years now, and the quality these days is superb.

Like wine from every state, there is plenty of uninspiring juice. You can find plenty of weird-tasting pinks and sweet sangria-style bottles sold for $10 or so. But unlike wine from every state, Arizona boasts exceptionally good wine in the $15-$25 range.

What makes Arizona wine so good? Here are four factors to consider.

High elevation

I love Napa Cabernet from mountain vineyards. But you’ll see the term mountain thrown around when the vineyard sits at around 1,000 feet in elevation. In Arizona, most vineyard are planted around 3,500 to 5,500 feet in elevation. This is how wineries in Arizona are able to produce wines that show a striking sense of freshness and balance, because the temperature is moderated by the increased elevation. Vineyards planted on a valley floor would be scorched. But there are vast slopes and high plateaus that provide the all sorts of enticing places for vines to thrive. 

Page Springs Vineyard, located in Arizona's Verde Valley appellation, is home to some of the state's most dynamic wines.

The best Arizona vineyards are planted in areas that achieve plenty of sunshine and heat during the day, but cool down quite a bit at night, providing the vines with needed rest and the resulting wines with more balance and freshness. News flash: It gets hot as hell in parts of Arizona. The first time I visited Verde Valley to taste wine, it was more than 100 degrees outside and this winter-lover thought he was going to suffocate. But cooling winds and the diurnal temperature swings (much of this related to the high elevation), really help moderate this brutal climate.

Arizona gets only about 13 inches of rain a year, in two distinct wet seasons. Winter storms that make their way inland from the Pacific Ocean provide winter rains. But Arizona also gets what locals call monsoons — fast moving heavy bouts of rain pulled inland from Mexico. These storms usually occur between June and August, when grapes are in the midst of key ripening stages, providing much needed water. Rot and mildew are less of a worry here than in far more humid climates, because the desert terrain usually sops up heavy rains very quickly. Much of the rain gets flushed out through mountain washes and streams that can go from bone dry to rushing overnight. 

It's a dynamic and harsh landscape, but the plants that eke out a living are incredible species.


There's limestone in them thar hills.
Vines planted in limestone soils soak up so much verve, minerality and vibrancy, which can be tasted in the finished wines. (If that sounds crazy, well, we should taste 10 wines from limestone vineyards... it will be a delicious and enlightening experience.) Limestone soils contribute to the pristine nature of many wines from Burgundy. Arizona has limestone soils all over the damned place. Driving north from Phoenix into the Verde Valley appellation, I saw sheer cliffs of crumbly limestone peppered with saguaro cacti and palo verde trees. I climbed a limestone-encrusted peak in Tonto National Forest, and came back with boots coated in white limestone dust and dusty red earth. 

Cochise County, located in the southeastern part of the state and home to many of the state’s best vineyards, is loaded with limestone as well. Limestone Mountain, a 7,000-foot peak, is one example of the area’s stunning landscape.

But the soils are incredibly diverse. Think of Arizona as arbitrary political lines drawn around a giant insanity of rock formations. Sandstone, granite, red clay, sandy loam, and all sorts of rocks and minerals that I have never heard of before. Winegrowers have plenty of options to plant all sorts of wine grape varieties. And Arizona growers have been working hard to match rootstock, grape variety and soil in order to grow high-quality fruit. In the right hands, these grapes can be made into delicious wines that express their specific vineyard sites in a strong way.


Arizona has a long wine history — Jesuits planted the first grapevines here in the 1500s. Pioneers in the 1800s and early 1900s also planted vineyards for wine near Sedona’s Oak Creek. The Arizona Wine Grower’s Association (formed in 1983) traces the history of the modern Arizona wine industry to the early 1980s, “following the development of experimental vineyards by the University of Arizona. Led by
Dr. Gordon Dutt, studies were completed demonstrating the feasibility of various wine growing regions. In 1982, a collection of new laws enabled the Arizona Farm Winery Act. The first licensed wineries in Arizona were formed shortly after the enactment of the new law. Dr. Dutt himself formed Sonoita Vineyards, the first winery of this modern era.”

Arizona rocker and Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan gets a lot of credit for bringing larger attention to Arizona wines. He’s behind the successful and delicious wines of Caduceus (located in Jerome) and Merkin Vineyards, and has partnered with several other key figures in the Arizona wine industry. More and more wineries are popping up, and many of them aren’t taking the tourist trap tasting room route, but applying modern vineyard and winemaking techniques to produce exciting and tasty Arizona wines, usually in small quantities. The blending prowess of many Arizona vintners is impressive. It’s not uncommon to find delicious red or white blends made from 10 or more grape varieties. Your average GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) might include a handful of lesser known Rhone grapes (like Counoise), some Spanish grapes (like Graciano), even some Italian grapes (like Barbera).

I bought almost as much Arizona wine as I could find while exploring this gorgeous state. That love of discovery paid off, as I found some very tasty bottles. Out of the few dozen wines I tasted in all, only one was bad (and it was flawed by very high volatile acidity). Here are some of the Arizona wines I liked from my recent trip. (Detailed tasting notes on a Page Springs tasting coming soon.)

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 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)

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)

2012 Dos Cabezas Wine Works El Norte - Arizona, Cochise County
A peppery, beefy, smoky nose with plenty of black cherries and blackberries. Full, dark and saucy but has a bright streak as well. Blackberries and roasted plum fruit topped with pepper, anise and leather. A bit light on the tannin for the weight, but very good, plenty of rich fruit but complex non-fruit elements as well. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. (89 points)

2014 Dos Cabezas Wine Works Red - Arizona, Cochise County
Medium ruby color. Smells like violets, sage and roasted earth on top of sweet red berries. Full but smooth, light tannins, medium acidity, a bit of candied fruit but the overall feel isn’t sweet. Plums, currants, loaded with violets, green herbs and smoke. I need to seek out more wines from this producer for sure. A blend of all sorts of kitchen sink red grapes, a good intro to the red blends of high elevation vineyards in Cochise County. (87 points)

2015 Arizona Stronghold Vineyard Nachise - Arizona, Cochise County
Vibrant ruby color. Juicy aromas of cherries, raspberries, red plums, red clay earth, creosote, oregano and pine – these descriptors may sound quixotic, but this wine seriously smells like hiking in the Arizona high desert (something I did plenty of on this trip). Plummy, juicy cherries, sweet raspberry fruit on the palate with medium/light tannins and moderate acidity that keeps it fresh, light, but not unstructured. Complex elements of clay, sage, dusty red earth and pepper. So good for the money, but this is a near-term drinking wine. 46% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 13% Petite Sirah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Counoise. (89 points)

2014 Arizona Stronghold Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Dala - Arizona
Light purple. Aromas of plums, black cherry ice cream, coffee, vanilla, roasted earth and red clay. Full and juicy on the palate, chewy style with moderate acidity. Juicy black cherries and plum fruit mixed with violets, cola, roasted coffee and clove. An easy-sipping style, vibrant but packed with juicy fruit. A solid buy for my palate over many other American Cabs in this price range. (87 points)

2015 Caduceus Cellars Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra - Arizona, Cochise County
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy red and black cherries, with roasted earth, clay, sage and pepper. Silky on the palate, but does have a bit of grip. I love those Cochise County notes of warm clay, roasted earth and desert herbs. Juicy plums and red currants offer plenty of deliciousness, while non-fruit complexity offers much to contemplate and lots of food pairing options. A blend of 45% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre. (90 points)

2012 Callaghan Vineyards Graciano - Arizona, Sonoita
$ - Unsure, maybe $20-range?
A cool find by my father-in-law, who visited this winery. It’s high on my list to visit on my next trip back, but I was excited to try a Graciano from Sonoita, and I started thinking about comparisons between this area of Arizona and northern Spain. Anyway, this smelled like roasted plums, dark cherries, violet petals, white pepper, gravel and a note that reminded me of a pottery kiln. Full on the palate but very smooth with medium acidity. Plums, cherry pie, cranberry sauce, at 15% this fruit is full-throttle and serious, but I also get complex elements of dusty earth, roasted herbs, anise, black licorice ropes. Rich but nuanced, this has held up well and I bet it could continue to improve for a few more years. Unique and delicious stuff, I don’t think I’ve come across a 100% Graciano from anywhere in the US, let alone Arizona. (89 points)

The Superstition Mountains offer incredible hikes - summiting this was equal parts challenging and rewarding.

Sedona, Arizona is one of my favorite places to explore. Lots of great hikes, lots of great wines within an hour or two's drive.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

More Napa Excellence from Smith-Madrone

The three Smiths, keeping Napa history alive with their incredible Spring Mountain District wines. Credit: Smith-Madrone.
When it comes to old-school, time-tested Napa producers, I have so much respect for Smith-Madrone. And on top of being an historic piece of the Napa wine puzzle, this winery continues, vintage after vintage, releasing exciting, even thrilling wines.

Founded in the early 70s, (the first vintage was ’77) Smith-Madrone’s winery is located on Spring Mountain, west of St. Helena. The operation is run by brothers Stuart Smith, managing partner and vineyard manager, Charles Smith III, winemaker, and Sam Smith, assistant winemaker. Their estate vines cling to steep slopes between 1,300 and 2,000 feet in elevation on soils of red, stony clay. A pioneer of dry farming in Napa, Smith-Madrone produces about 4,000 cases a year of dynamic and lively wines, which consistently show a sense of refreshment, purity and minerality, in addition to that deep, mountain Napa fruit. And, perhaps most exciting of all, the prices are so reasonable when compared with many other Napa wines of this quality and provenance.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  

2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $30
Light gold color. Complex aromas of white peach, lime and banana, along with white tea, floral perfume, notes of saline and crushed rocks. Plum fruit (nectarine, peach, lime) but it's pure and zesty with a dry profile and focused acidity. Lovely mix of chalk, mountain stream, minerals, nettle, cut flower stems. Super clean and refreshing but lots of staying power for the cellar. One of the most consistently inspiring Rieslings from California, Smith Madrone has been putting out high quality Spring Mountain Riesling since 1983. I’d love to see how this beautiful wine ages for a decade. (91 points) 

2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $32
Light gold color. Bursts with aromas of lime, orange, peach, dusted with chalk, and there’s definitely a good amount of wood in here, some nougat and honeycomb. Medium/light-bodied (12.8% alcohol) with lovely creaminess and precise acidity. Tart lime and nectarine mixes with yellow apples and rich peaches, and the fruit blends wonderfully with notes of chalk dust, mineral, white tea, and the toasted wood and almond cake notes are woven in very nicely. Long, lingering, delicious finish. This is always a very good Chardonnay, ditto for the 2014 vintage. Fermented and aged 9 months in all new French oak. (92 points)

2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Gorgeous aromatics of black cherries, dark plums, saucy but fresh, with complex elements of tobacco, graphite, charcoal dust and vanilla. Full-bodied but smooth, structured tannins but fresh acidity, and the texture is wonderful. Black cherries, black currants, juicy plums, the fruit mixes with loamy earth, wet leaves, gravel, charcoal. A significant amount of coffee, wood and vanilla, but there are enough other elements that these flavors don’t overwhelm. Long life ahead but not inaccessible now. All estate fruit from 1,800-foot elevation slope, includes 12% Cab Franc and 6% Merlot, aged 18 months in 75% new French oak. I feel like you can spend twice this price and not get nearly as much Napa Cab awesomeness. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.