Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Expand Your White Wine Repertoire With Albariño From Rias Baixas

I got into Albarino in my early 20s, when I began seriously studying and exploring different wines of the world. I would snag an inexpensive bottle of Martin Codax to sip with friends and family during summer cook-outs, as these were reliably delicious and fan-friendly wines that didn’t cost more than $12 or so.

The Albarino grape and Rias Baixas are a perfect match for each other. More than 99% of the wine here is made from white grapes, which is very rare in a wine region. This is a diverse and exciting area for vineyards, located in Spain’s wettest region, the northwestern coastal are of Galicia. Here, Albarino has developed its own unique spot on the spectrum of white table wines. 

If you’ve tasted a handful of Albarinos, you may think you know what to expect: fresh acidity, juicy tropical fruit, lots of bright floral tones, something simple to pop on a hot summer afternoon. But I recently tasted 10 Albarinos from Rias Baixas (sponsored by the wine site Snooth), and was really impressed by the distinctiveness of these wines. I was expecting variations on a theme, but what I found was a diverse, distinct, nuanced group of wines.

There were salty, ocean-influenced, Muscadet-like interpretations alongside, floral, perfumed, pineapple-laden, Viognier-like elements. Aging the wine on the lees gives some wines a creamier texture, while brisk, lighter styles abound. And the price points are extremely attractive.

The wines came from three of the five Rías Baixas sub-regions: Val do Salnés, a thumb-like peninsula that reaches into the North Atlantic, and Contado do Tea and O Rosal, which abut the Mino River that divides Spain from Portugal. They were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Sub-region Val do Salnés

SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Aromas show apricots, peaches and nectarine with lilies and honeysuckle. Plump but fresh with crisp acidity. Salted lime on top of peaches and apricots, the fruit is laced with notes of chalk dust and honeysuckle. This is a bright and crisp wine with lots of chunky fruit and floral tones. Nice. (87 points)

2015 Vionta Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $15
Bright yellow color. So, so zesty with tons of key lime and lemon pith, and then some honey with sea salt and floral perfume on top. Medium/light-bodied but a very pleasant slightly waxy texture (relatively) and fresh acidity. Nectarine and key limes and doused in yellow flowers and perfume shop with notes of almond, sea salt and lingering minerality. Very vibrant, lip-smacking but shows boldness and depth as well. This spends 4-6 months on the lees. (90 points)

2015 Martín Códax Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $17
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz. Nose shows juicy peaches and papaya drizzled with lemon juice and topped with yellow flowers and honeycomb. Palate shows fresh acidity and a light texture with lots of minerals and briskness. Lemon and orange pith with white and yellow flowers. Zesty with lemon peels and baby’s breath and dandelion, but a juicier mouthfeel because of some maloactic fermentation. This is probably the most widely available Albarino in the U.S., and it is so solid for the price. (87 points)

2016 Pazo de Señoráns Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color, very slight spritz. Bright but deep aromas of orange blossom and honeysuckle, on top of apricot and limes, with some new tennis ball and white pepper notes. Medium body with a nice round/fleshy aspect, buttressed by fresh acid. Lemon and apricot fruit mixes with cucumber water, lily pad, white pepper, topped in orange and yellow floral notes. Mineral and saline notes on the finish. Impressive complexity but goes down so easily.  Equally delicious and intriguing. (90 points)

Sub-region Contado do Tea

2015 Pazo de San Mauro Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $17
Light yellow color with little to no spritz. Lots of lemon and lime zest on the notes with honeysuckle, buttercups and baby’s breath, a sea breeze and clean laundry element, too. Medium-bodied with vibrant acidity and a slight creaminess, but lots of verve. Apricot and lemon/lime topped with a hint of oregano and white pepper to accent the white flowers. It grows in complexity and boasts a crisp, salty finish. (88 points)

2016 Robalino Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $18
Bright lemon color, slight spritz. A more tropical punch with white peach and apricot on top of salted lime and lilies. Medium-bodied, pleasant slight creaminess to contrast with the bright acidity. Chalky, salty notes on top of papaya, banana, pineapple, drizzled with lime, followed up with some lilies and dandelion notes. (87 points)

Albarino grapes being harvested in Rias Baixas, Spain. Credit: Rias Baixas Wines.

Sub-region O Rosal

SRP: $19
Slight spritz and a light lemon color. Bright and floral with nettle, honeysuckle, lilies, on top of lemon/lime, white peaches, banana. Medium-bodied, very focused and crisp with a salty-mineral aspect to the lime and lemon fruit. Notes of white pepper, cut grass and floral potpourri. Brisk and delish with a long, stony, chalky finish. (89 points)

2015 Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $14
Med yellow color. Juicy peach and orange on the nose along with the white and yellow flowers, hints of honey and sea salt. A fleshy and juicy texture balances nicely with the acidity and creamy but tart fruit (nectarine, yellow plum, lemon), add in complex notes of salted almond and cut floral stems. Stony minerals and crusty sea salt on the finish, impressive and tasty stuff. I may have guessed Muscadet in a blind tasting, but this has juicier fruit. (88 points)

2015 Santiago Ruiz Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $20
Pale lemon color with the faintest spritz. So bright and breezy with sea salt and jetty rocks underneath the lemon/lime, orange peel, yellow and white flowers – lots going on. Medium bodied with some flesh on its acidic backbone. Lemon and apricot fruit with some saline and seaweed notes (kind of cool), and notes of dandelion greens and honeysuckle. Long and crisp finish. Interesting flavor profile, but it’s all put together well. Albarino with some Loureiro, Godello, Treixadura and Caiño Blanco. (87 points)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Delicious Dry Reds and Port Wine from Portugal's Douro Region

Alright folks, let’s dig into the Douro, Portugal’s most heralded region.

Built on centuries of Port glory, recent decades have seen a large spike in the amount of high quality dry reds. Blended from traditional Portuguese varieties like Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and others, these dry reds can be stunning, age-worthy and very reasonably priced considering the quality.

Yes, you can spend a whole lot on dry Douro reds (some are included in this report), but I’m frequently blown away by the high quality, complexity and serious structure of many red blends in the $15-$25 range.

I recently tasted through a bunch of Douro wines, including a range of dry reds and a few entry-level Ports. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

SRP: $25
Bright purple. Nose of dark plums, black cherry, violets, dark earth and charcoal, pencil lead, sweet herbs and some vanilla. Medium-full-bodied with moderate acidity and a fleshy texture with some dusty but grippy tannins. Dark plums and black currant fruit, deep but fresh, with tones of charcoal, iron, vanilla, and cedar. Structure for a few years but this begs for summer 2017 grill-outs. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão, aged in concrete vats and old French oak casks for nine months. (87 points)

SRP: $65
Bright purple. Nose of black and some red currants, gorgeous roses and violets, potting soil, smashed rocks and asphalt, some cola and cocoa powder notes. Full with solid tannic backbone but it stays velvety and smooth and shows medium acidity for freshness. A great balance between vibrant and rich fruit (red and black currants and plums), complex elements of black pepper, clove, anise, loamy soil, pencil shavings. Complex but so well-rounded, with a smooth, long finished packed with rocky minerals. From vines planted in 1980 in schist soils, this blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca is aged nine months in old French oak casks. (91 points)

SRP: $100
Rich purple color. Such beautiful complexity and depth in the aromatic department: waves of black currant, plum, black cherry, roasted fig, accented by cocoa powder, iron, graphite, anise and chewing tobacco. Full-bodied with lots of tannic strength but plenty of moderating acidity, and it all lines up wonderfully. Dark but bright black fruit (currant, blackberry, dark plums), matched with graphite, charcoal, tobacco, mint, anise. Long, lingering, mineral-packed finish. A long, long life ahead for this beauty of a Douro red. From vines planted in 1947, this blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz is aged in old French oak for 12 months. (94 points)
SRP: $13
Deep ruby/light purple color. Aromas cherry pie and juicy plums, with some incense sticks, charcoal and scorched earth. Nice and tart on the palate with dusty/light tannins on a full-bodied wine (14.5%), but there’s plenty of sour cherry and black currant fruit. Notes of pencil lead, charcoal and coffee grounds. This is ready to drink but could hold two years or so, I could see this being a perfect Portuguese red for a by-the-glass list at a restaurant/wine bar. A blend of Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, aged nine months in French oak. (88 points)

SRP: $15
Bright purple color. On the nose: deep cassis, blackberry jam, roasted fig, lots of violets, cocoa powder, clove and coffee going on here. Juicy and plush on the palate, full-bodied and some grip to the tannins but it stays tangy. A core of bold but tangy fruit mixes with complex elements off roasted herbs, cocoa, violet petals , graphite. Complex but delicious, approachable now but structure to unwind for a few years. So impressive for the price. Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela, aged in French oak. (90 points)

SRP: $24
Light purple color. Aromas of tart blackberry and cassis, backed up with campfire smoke, anise, loamy earth and black tea. Tart acidity frames the palate for this medium-bodied but sturdy wine, and the balance is impressive. Dark blackberry and tart black cherry fruit play well with notes of anise, charcoal, pencil shavings and black tea. A serious wine for the money that deserves a good decant or a few years in the cellar. Mostly Touriga Franca, with Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. (91 points)

N.V. Graham Porto Six Grapes Reserve - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $24
Purple colored. Nose of roasted figs, currant jam, plum cake, some anise, vanilla and ginger snap. Full and sweet, easily approachable on the palate, I get blueberry jam, roasted fig, and plum cake topped with cocoa, licorice, vanilla, espresso. Good, consistent, reliable introductory Port. (87 points)

SRP: $42
Rich purple color. Rich aromas of plum cake, black currant, roasted figs, some cocoa, spiced black tea and ginger snap notes. Full but stays quite fresh with accessible but structured tannins. Flavors of black cherry jam, roasted plums and figs, laced with cocoa, coffee, sweet caramel and dusty earth. Impressive depth and complexity. A blend of old vine fruit form two different Graham vineyards, Quinta do Tua’s Old Terraces and Quinta dos Malvedos’ Vinha dos Barcos. (89 points)

N.V. Warre Porto Warrior - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $19
Medium purple colored. Aromas of roasted fig, blackberry jam, coffee, dark chocolate, charcoal and coconut notes. Full, shows some solid structure with chewy tannins and low acidity. A very cool earthy/tobacco note accents the black cherry and dark plum fruit. Notes of anise, spiced black tea and roasted nuts. Impressive depth and surprising complexity at this price point. (89 points)

N.V. Cockburn Porto Special Reserve - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $18
Dark ruby colored. Nose of saucy black cherries, fig cookies, vanilla and dark chocolate shavings. On the palate, this shows fig cookies, roasted plums, sweet coffee and chocolate shavings on a frame of light tannins and low acidity. Notes of vanilla and ginger snap, this is a simple, hedonistic wine for the price. (85 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bobal - the Red Gem of Spain's Utiel-Requena Region

The Bobal grape variety. Credit: Utiel-Requena.org
Here’s a grape and appellation you may not know much about: Bobal from Utiel-Requena.

At some 2,400 feet in elevation, this appellation in Spain’s Valencia region experiences short, dry summers and a climate that combines Mediterranean and continental elements. This is red wine country — about 95% of the 35,000 hectares of vines are planted to red grape varieties, and the Bobal grape counts for about 80% of Utiel-Requena’s vino.

The Utiel-Requena region lies inland from the Spanish city of Valencia.
Even though Bobal is one of Spain’s most commonly-planted varieties (behind Airen and Tempranillo), it’s not as well-known, perhaps due to its use as a blending grape with other varieties. Historically, it has been used in the production of bulk wine, usually sourced from flatter, lower elevation vineyards. But in the higher elevation vineyards of Utiel-Requena, producers take this native grape variety seriously, and it’s evident in the glass.

Bobal is a hardy and highly productive red grape with high levels of anthocyanins and resveratrol in its skins. The grapes tend to be dark colored, packed with black fruit and loaded with spice flavors. I’ve found surprising balance in many Bobal wines, stemming from the combination of sturdy tannins and frequently vibrant acidity. And these wines are even more attractive when you look at the price points.

I recently tasted a half-dozen Bobals, and found a whole lot of wine for not much money. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Bodegas Iranzo Tarantas Rosé - Spain
SRP: $12
Watermelon color. Nose shows strawberries, raspberries and watermelon with some cinnamon candy and white pepper. Fresh acidity frames the palate, this is a tangy and vibrant wine with sweet watermelon and tart white cherry combination. Notes of raspberry leaf, white pepper and rose tea. A vibrant, crisp, spicy rosé. (86 points)

2014 Pago de Tharsys Bobal Único Blanc de Negre - Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
SRP: $39
Pretty lemon. Aromas of bread dough and bagel shop with baked apples, apricot and raw almond. Light/medium-bodied with moderate acidity and flavors of apricot, baked apples and pears. Notes of cinnamon, almond and honeycomb mix with chalk dust and minerals. Rich flavors but fresh, and it finishes with hints of stuff like black tea and mushroom. Cool, delicious traditional method sparkling Bobal. (88 points)

2015 Bodega San Juan Bautista Bobal de San Juan Vinas Viejas - Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
SRP: $10
Deep ruby color. Nose shows spicy red currants and black cherries, herbal tea, black pepper, sage and tobacco barn – lots to unpack. Medium-bodied with fine/dusty tannins and fresh acidity – the black cherry and tart currant fruit is doused in black pepper, scorched earth, chewing tobacco, black tea. I love the earthy complexity in this wine, and it begs for well-spiced roasted meats and veggies because it has this freshness underneath that makes it deserve a spot on the table. A screaming value. (89 points)

2015 Bodegas Vibe Bobal Madurado Barrica - Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
SRP: $25
Dark ruby color. Nose of dark cherries, roasted plums, blackberries, black pepper, black tea, rose petals, rich earth, complex spiced tea notes, very pretty and deep. Medium-bodied with a velvety tannic structure and moderating acidity. Dark plums and black cherries, the fruit is rich but tangy and tart, and loaded with dark earth, black pepper, savory spice, charcoal, roasted coffee, - tons of flavor complexity but it is still so easy to sip. That said, this has structure to improve for at least a few years in the cellar. (91 points)

2014 Bodegas Murviedro Utiel-Requena Cepas Viejas - Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
SRP: $13
Light purple color. Lots of pepper, oregano, sage and tobacco aromas on top of the tart currant and black cherries. Medium-bodied with structured but dusty tannins and fresh acidity, which all leads to a lovely sense of balance. Tart black cherries and currants mix with loads of cracked pepper, spicy oregano, leather, anise, some roasted coffee and dark chocolate notes. Love this fresh, spicy, rich but balanced wine. Aged in French and American oak for eight months. (89 points)

2013 Dominio de la Vega Bobal Paraje Tornel - Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
SRP: $15
Light purple color. Nose shows spicy black cherries and red/black currants, along with black pepper, incense sticks, leather and soy notes. Dry and young, full-bodied on the palate with a chewy feel but some solid tannic backbone and moderate/low acidity. Dark currants and black cherry, rich and dark but not gloppy fruit, and it’s laced with roasted chestnut, coffee grounds, anise, leather, black pepper glaze. A saucy, savory wine with some cellar potential. Aged 12 months in new French oak and one year in bottle before release. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gorgeous Southern Oregon Wines from Troon Vineyard

Credit: Troon Vineyard
Southern Oregon is home to some gorgeous wines. Case in point: Troon Vineyard. Dick Troon first planted vines in Applegate Valley back in 1972, and after selling his grapes to other winemakers for years, he decided to build a winery and make his own wines. In 2003, local businessman and wine collector Larry Martin took control of the winery, replanted to some new varieties, and built a new winery and tasting room.

Under the guidance of General Manager Craig Camp and Winemaker Steve Hall, Troon now produces an array of different wines, from Vermentino and Riesling to red blends, Tannat, Zinfandel and Cabernet. In the cellar, Troon focuses on indigenous yeasts, little to no new oak, foot-trodden grapes, and the result are crisp, vibrant, complex wines with deep fruit and rich non-fruit complexity.

Below are my notes on four of Troon’s new releases, which were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Troon Vineyard Vermentino - Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $25
Light gold color. Aromas of limes and kiwi topped in lilies, orange blossom, honey, sea salt and nougat. Creamy texture on the palate, lots of body but it’s packed with zesty acidity, and the combination is precise and clean. Lemon curd, kiwi and lime topped in salted almond, cut flowers, honey and sea salt. Bold but so bright. A delicious Oregonian take on Vermentino, this is aged for a year on the lees in old French oak. (90 points)

2016 Troon Vineyard Riesling Whole Grape Ferment - Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
A stunning Riesling orange wine.
SRP: $20
Golden/orange color. What a cool aromatic display: honeyed tea, apricot, orange marmalade, nettle, honeysuckle, salted almond. On the palate, this is medium-bodied with brisk acid and a waxy but zesty texture. Orange peel, apricot and cinnamon-spiced apple play off of saline, chalk dust and wild green herbs notes. It’s damned delicious, loaded with minerality and salinity of a beautiful Riesling but shows the complex, wild notes of a skin-contact white wine. This is something else. (93 points)

2014 Troon Vineyard Tannat Estate - Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $45
Rich purple color. Nose: tart black currant, blackberry jam, anise, black pepper, menthol, charcoal pit — a lot going on here, the aromas need time (and a good decant) to show fully. Palate is dark and saucy with sturdy tannic grip but moderate acidity, which reigns the wine in and keeps the mouth watering. Tart blackberry and blueberry fruit, concentrated but still a bit of tanginess to it, backed up by loads of roasted herbs, charcoal pit, loamy soil, graphite. A lot to unpack in the cellar, but this is a beautiful wine. (92 points)

2014 Troon Vineyard M*T Reserve - Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $50
Rich purple color. Nose of rich black currant, plums and tart blueberry, with charred herbs, iron, graphite, potting soil and violets. On the palate, this is full-bodied, with sturdy tannins but a silky feel with moderate acidity. Dark plum, tart blackberry, black currant, the fruit is laced with savory herbs, black pepper, iron, deep minerals and crushed pencils. Rich and bold in flavor yet tangy and vibrant throughout. Gorgeous now but should be even better in 3-5 years. Co-fermented Tannat and Malbec aged 18 months in old French oak. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Showcasing Diverse Single Vineyards with California's Onward Wines

Faith Armstrong Foster. Credit: Onward Wines
Faith Armstrong Foster is a UC Davis-educated winemaker who earned her winemaking chops in Napa, but the vineyards that attract her rest well off the beaten path.

Onward Wines brand, she explains, is about highlighting unique and fascinating sites in order to craft single-vineyard, single-variety wines. “The whole brand is about showcasing growers, and what they’re doing,” Faith said during a recent online chat and tasting.

It would perhaps be more accurate to describe these as “single-block” wines, as her contracts with growers relate to a specific part of each vineyard, meaning she deals with the same section of vines each vintage. “It’s about a particular part of a vineyard,” she said, which allows her to work with the grower on specific farming methods to suit the vines.

Her vineyard sources are diverse, spanning many appellations and microclimates. She makes several different Malvasias from a site called Capp-Inn Ranch in the Suisun Valley, located two valleys inland from Napa. East of Carneros, she described this site as similar in soil and climate to fruit she’s worked with in Carneros, and the result is a crisp, refreshing style of Malvasia with loads of floral and tropical fruit notes.

Faith also sources what is clearly some stellar Pinot Noir from a site called Hawkeye Ranch in Mendocino’s Redwood Valley appellation. The Redwood Valley is one of those Wild West kind of appellations, sparsely populated with vines, lacking big tasting rooms or tourist traps. I’ve traveled extensively in this area of Mendocino, and it absolutely gorgeous. Small, usually organically farmed, vineyards are nestled among untouched redwood groves, cold streams and the occasional pear orchard. She enjoys working with this site because, as she puts it, the lack of grapevine monoculture means the vineyard, “has a lot of capacity to maintain natural balance.” And she makes three different wines from this same site: a rosé, a still red and a rosé Petillant Naturel sparkling wine.

Lasty, I tasted her Casa Roja Carignan, a sandy soil site in Contra Costa County. These ancient vines, planted in the late 1800s, impart a deep sense of spicy minerality and exotic complexity. For the price, the wine is a stunning example of what this grape (an historic staple of California winegrowing) can do. Faith has several other wines in her portfolio that I haven’t tasted (but would love to) including a Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir, a Redwood Valley Zinfandel, and a few others.

Overall, Faith’s wines take a minimalist approach, with quite low alcohol levels, brisk acidity, tart but tasty fruit, and a host of non-fruit elements that make the wines really pop. They are as delicious as they are fascinating.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Onward Wines Malvasia Bianca Petillant Naturel Capp-Inn Ranch - California, North Coast, Suisun Valley
SRP: $24
Pale lemon color with lovely faint bubbles. Complex floral aromas (baby’s breath, orange blossom, honeysuckle) on top of guava, white peach and lime zest. Crisp, bright and nervy palate with a slight salty, chalky mouthfeel and a refreshing tingle from the bubbles. Brisk and bright with orange pith, lemon wedge and so many floral elements: dandelion, orange blossom, clean laundry, potpourri. Tons of fun. (89 points)

2016 Onward Wines Malvasia Bianca Capp-Inn Ranch - California, North Coast, Suisun Valley
SRP: $20
Pale lemon color. Bursts with aromas of guava, lychee, white grape jelly and lots of spicy floral elements. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and flavors of juicy peaches and lychee with lime drizzled on top. So many floral elements: baby’s breath, dandelion, buttercups, honeysuckle. So, so floral, but it’s not one-dimensional. Crisp finish. (88 points)

2016 Onward Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Hawkeye Ranch - California, North Coast, Redwood Valley
SRP: $22
Pale copper color. Bright and fresh aromas of yellow and white flowers, cantaloupe, lime and wild strawberry. Zippy on the palate with a bright personality but some creamy, chalky textural elements. White flower potpourri, saline and white pepper top the tart strawberry fruit. Light but not simple, this has a bright mineral presence and long floral elements on the finish. (88 points)

2013 Onward Wines Pinot Noir Hawkeye Ranch - California, North Coast, Redwood Valley
SRP: $38
Vibrant ruby color. Aromas of crisp strawberries, raspberries, rose hips, with rhubarb and mushroom notes. On the palate this is crisp and lean at 12% but shows some dusty tannic backbone and crackling acidity. Juicy cherry and raspberry fruit mixes with rhubarb, sage, tar, gravelly earth. Brisk but enough depth, personality and complexity to pull it off, makes to entice the cellar for 2-5 years. Wow. (92 points)

2014 Onward Wines Carignan Casa Roja - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $30
Neon purple color. Gushing aromas of black cherries, red and black currant, tart blueberry, along with loamy soil, steak rub, coffee grounds. Full-bodied with some solid grip to the tannins but the acidity really helps a lot. Roasted plum, blueberry and black cherry fruit laced with tar, roasted chestnut, charcoal smoke. Complex, savory, spicy, really beautiful stuff with a long finish. This should do cool stuff over the next 3-4 years. (91 points)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Cool Off With Rosé - A Dozen Pink Wines Reviewed

I love a crisp dry rosé any day of the year, but Spring and Summer are prime pink time for obvious reasons. Digging in to the first crop of last vintage’s rosé is fun yearly task, and I’ve got a whole bunch of (mostly) 2016 rosés to get your mouth watering as the weather heats up. 

Some of these are very widely available (like the Chronic Cellars, Kim Crawford and Laurent-Perrier Champagne), while some (like the smaller production pinks from Virginia) aren’t easy to find. But here are my notes on a bunch of rosés that were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Rosé - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Pale salmon color. Smells like nettle, rose hips and rhubarb along with white cherries and wild strawberries. Brisk and vibrant with medium-body and lip-smacking acidity. Bright white cherries and wild strawberries with notes of rose hips, flower stems, white pepper, chalk dust. Vibrant, clean, mineral-laden finish. Serious Pinot rosé, seriously delicious. Bring on Spring. From Dutton Ranch, Wat and Galante Vineyards. (90 points) 

2016 Cline Cellars Mourvedre Ancient Vines Rosado - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $13
Bright strawberry color. Nose shows white cherries and wild strawberries along with some white pepper and nettle. Medium-bodied with a fresh texture and bright acidity. Plump watermelon meets tart white cherries, and I get elements of baby’s breath, nettle and white pepper. Crisp, clean, refreshing, nice spicy kick on the finish. (87 points)

2016 Chronic Cellars Pink Pedals - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Medium watermelon color. Aromas of sweet red apples, white cherries and rose petals. Medium-bodied with a nice, plump texture and moderate acidity. Juicy watermelon and cantaloupe, with lemon and hints of baby’s breath. Fun stuff. Made from Grenache and 13% Syrah. (85 points) 

2016 M. Chapoutier Vin de Pays d'Oc Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
SRP: $15
Pale watermelon color. Aromas of sea salt, nettle and dandelion greens on top of wild strawberries and white cherries. Tart acidity makes this a lip-smacker, some creaminess and weight though. Tart white cherries and strawberries laced with nettle, lemon zest and fresh laundry. Vibrant, fresh, great for all kinds of occasions, foods and palates, this is a perennial performer for the money. 78% Grenache, 14% Cinsault, 8% Syrah. (87 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Alandra Rosé - Portugal
SRP: $8
Deep watermelon color. Fresh and bright on the nose with honeysuckle, rose petals, lime peel and white cherries. Crisp and dry and zesty with white cherries, sour red apple, watermelon rind, some white flower and cucumber water notes. Fresh, crowd-pleasing but shows surprising complexity. Delish and so solid for less than $10. A blend of Aragonês, Syrah and Touriga Nacional. (87 points)

2016 Kim Crawford Rosé - New Zealand, North Island, Hawke’s Bay
SRP: $18
Bright salmon color. Bursting aromas of strawberries and watermelon, lilies, white pepper and grapefruit. Medium-bodied palate with pleasant creaminess and zesty acidity. Tangy raspberry and strawberry fruit with a jolt of white pepper and jalapeno, some white flowers and rose hips. Lots going on here, crowd-pleasing and complex. A Merlot-based rosé. (88 points)

N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Cuvée Rosé Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $99
Bright salmon color. Nose shows chalky, dusty limestone, white flowers and pastry dough on top of some white cherries and wild strawberries. Brisk and bright and full of minerals and white and red flowers, I get lots of white cherries and tart strawberries. Chalky, limestone notes, sea salt and toasted baguette elements. Impressive complexity and depth, but it stays so lively and fresh. All Pinot Noir. (91 points)

2016 Early Mountain Vineyards Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $24
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
SRP: $20
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)

2016 Rosemont of Virginia Rosé - Virginia
SRP: $18
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
SRP: $24
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
SRP: $26
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)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Challenge Yourself with Delicious & Historic Georgian Wines

Imagine you consider yourself a huge fan of punk music, but all you know is Green Day and Blink 182. Then one day someone plays you the self-titled album from the Ramones. Your musical worldview is crushed by the weight of history and sheer awesomeness, forcing you to radically adjust your beliefs. This is the kind of experience Georgian wines offer the wine-lover.

Wine as a human endeavor arose from the soils of Georgia, which abuts the Black Sea on its western edge and stretches east toward the Caspian Sea. People have been fermenting grapes in this region for some 8,000 years. Yes, you read that correctly. Archaeologists have found lots of evidence of clay fermenting vessels in Georgia that date back to around 6,000 BCE. And Georgia boasts hundreds of indigenous grape varieties — go ahead, try and pronounce them: Tsolikouri, Tsitska, Jgia, Aladasturi.

My first experience with Georgian wines took place about 15 years ago, when I was living in Ukraine. I was still a teenager but I was legal in Ukraine, and the wine shops in Kyiv were packed with all sorts of Georgian vino. (During the decades under Soviet rule, Georgia was the grape basket of the USSR, producing millions of bottles of usually sweet wine for consumption by party officials and other privileged people.) I found dozens of funkily-shaped bottles with three or four languages on the label, which represented pure adventure for my inexperienced but curious palate. For three bucks a pop, they were good. Very good.

Over the years, as I returned to visit family in Ukraine, I snagged as many different Georgian wine bottles I could find. I cellared some of them and cracked them open for wine nerd friends in blind tastings just to mess with them and watch their confused faces when I unveiled the bottle.

And it’s easy to feel totally confused by Georgian wine bottles — their labels are to the average consumer what J.L Borges’ “Labyrinths” is to those looking for a beach read. Sure, the Georgian alphabet looks beautiful with its rounded edges and intricate swirls, but it’s near impossible for the outsider to decipher. Then there are the words that appear in English. Kindzmarauli, for example. Is it: a) a region; b) a grape variety; c) a producer; or d) a proprietary style? It isn't so simple.

If you’re a wine nerd and ponder questions like “Do tannins exist in white wines?” or “What are the limits of minimalist winemaking?” then it’s time to explore Georgian wines. If you’re a casual drinker who is curious about what this “natural wine” phenomenon is all about, Georgia is the place. Or if you’re just looking for something completely different to drink with big meals and family gatherings, dig into Georgian wines.

In recent years, Georgian wines have seen a lot of attention from hip restaurants and sommeliers in places like New York and San Francisco, especially in restaurant and wine bars focused on the concept of “natural wine.” Regardless of your thoughts about the loaded label “natural wine,” this heightened focus on Georgia should not be lumped in with some trope about pretentious wine hipsterism.

Georgian wines are as wild and old school as it gets, and evangelists for Georgian wines possess justified passion. Also, the recent focus on Georgian wines doesn’t stem from some drastic change in the Georgian winemaking culture, although a marketing presence in the United States has helped open up some eyes. Georgian wines are ancient, and this cradle of winemaking culture does not react as quickly and precisely to changing market trends like California and other savvy New World wine cultures.

I think a lot of the attraction toward Georgian wines stems from a shift in the American consumer base toward unique, “natural,” even challenging wines. And for wine gurus who fancy themselves experts, Georgian wines offer a dizzying lesson in humility. To wine newbs, Georgian wines offer endless exploration and some aroma and flavor profiles you won’t find anywhere else in the world. No matter what your background or experience with wine from other countries, when it comes to Georgian wines, prepare to have your mind and palate jostled around. You may not “like” some Georgian wines — at a recent trade tasting, I found at least one wine that I would not consume. But all great adventures are, at times, odd or uncomfortable. That’s all part of the journey.

Traditionally, Georgian winemakers ferment their grapes in qvevri like these.
I won’t attempt to go into all the details here, but I want to touch on a few basics about how Georgian winemaking is unique. Organic and biodynamic vineyard practices are commonplace in Georgia, and many indigenous varieties fare well in their home soils. These are hand-made wines in the truest sense. Traditionally, Georgian wines have not been fermented in vats or barrels, but large clay vessels which are buried up to their necks in the ground. These vessels, called qvevri, are traditionally filled with whole clusters of grapes, where ambient yeasts start fermentation whenever they damn well please.

In most wine regions, white wines are destemmed and pressed very quickly, meaning the juice inside the grapes gets very little skin contact. This is what gives many Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris wines have bright flavors and pale color. But if you toss a bunch of white grape bunches into a qvevri and let all the juice, grape skins and stems do their thing (usually without help from commercial yeasts), you get a vastly different wine. Sometimes called “orange wines” due to their color, Georgian white wines can be fascinating and sometimes wild things. Overall, Georgian wines comprise a rainbow of colors in the glass — from clear lemon color to cloudy orange creamsicle, from pale strawberry to neon purple.

There are some winemakers in Georgia utilizing more modern winemaking methods, like less skin contact for white wines, fermentation in stainless steel, new oak barrel aging for reds. These wines are fascinating as well, especially when tasted alongside qvevri wines, and I expect Americans may see more of these wines popping up.

I recently attended a trade tasting of Georgian wines put on by Wines of Georgia, a trade group, where Georgian wine Alice Feiring presented a lecture on the history of Georgian wines. She literally wrote the book on wines from Georgia:
“For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World's Most Ancient Wine Culture.”

I tasted a few dozen wines and managed to get the names of producers, regions and grape varieties down for formal tasting notes (which was not an easy feat). I’ve pasted them all below for your perusal. If you’d like to track down any of these wines, I broke my tasting notes down by the U.S. importer. 

Terrell Wines

2014 Giorgi Revazashvili's Marani Chinuri - Georgia, Kakheti
Pretty aromas of floral spice and lemon curd. Tart, zesty, gorgeous acidity, lots of tart orange, lime juice, crusty minerals and earthy spice elements. Made without the typical extended skin contact. Lots to investigate, but this is straight delicious. Made from Chinuri grapes with some Gorguli and Mtsvane grapes blended in. 10% alcohol. (88 points)

2015 Archil Guniava Wine Cellar Kvaliti - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
Orange pith, honeycomb, lemon meringue, brisk acidity with waxy texture and complex spice elements. A blend of Tsolikouri, Tsitska and Krakhuna grapes. (87 points)

2014 Okro's Wines Melkos - Tsolikouri - Georgia, Kakheti
Orange zest, limes, very tangy and bright, surprisingly fresh, not as intense in the herbal/tea elements, stays bright. A blend of Melkos and Tsolikouri grapes. (87 points)

2015 Nikoladzeebis Tsitska - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
Chalky, mineral-laden, lemon curd, lime, zesty and bright and very refreshing, quite complex. Tsitska is the grape variety. (88 points)

2015 Nikalas Marani Kisi Akhoebi - Georgia, West Georgia
Smells like orange zest and all sorts of black and white teas and herbal spices. Tart, zesty ad pithy with some tannin from the skin contact, giving it a bold structure. Lots of tea, sage, pickling spice and some funky, earthy tones, but I find this wine delicious. Kisi is the white grape variety and Akhoebi is the vineyard, a respected, biodynamically farmed site. (89 points)

2015 Kortavebis Marani Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
Smells of honey, bruised pear and orange peel. Chalky texture, lots of brightness and bit to this wine, with orange and candied lemon. Notes of dusty earth and wild herbs, lots of complexity to ponder. (88 points)

2014 Antadze Winery Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
Smells like white tea, honey, sour apple, almond and spicy herbs. So pure and mineral-packed with spiced tea, apricot and honey notes. (89 points)

2014 Antadze Winery Rkatsiteli Amber - Georgia, Kakheti
Darker amber color with vermouth, spiced tea, orange peel, wild herbs. Chalky texture with lots of spiced tea elements. Fascinating, if somewhat inaccessible wine, but I find it so tasty. This bottling has an extra six months of whole bunch cluster fermentation in qvevri. (88 points)

2015 Kortavebis Marani Mtsvane - Georgia, Kakheti
Lots of waxy and herbal elements with orange blossom, green tea, honeycomb and spiced liqueur notes. (88 points)

2015 Makaridze Winery Aladasturi Rosé - Georgia, West Georgia
Smells like bitter lemon and orange marmalade. Zesty, Sour Patch kids-esque on the palate but lots of orange blossom, spiced tea, mushroom and rose petal notes. Wow, there is a lot going on in this wine, a rosé made from the red grape Aladasturi. (90 points)

2015 Tsikhelishvili Wines Jgia - Georgia, Kakheti
Aromas of spicy red berries, rose hips and raspberry bush. So spicy on the palate with vibrant acidity and moderate tannic structure. Crisp, bright red berry fruit doused in smoke, leather saddle and some funky spice. Intriguing but also delicious. Jgia is the grape variety. (89 points)

2015 Winery of Zurab Topuridze Chkhaveri Rosé - Georgia, West Georgia
A very cool rosé wine. Smells like red apples, sour cherries and tonic water. Tart and earthy on the palate with a unique combo of savory herbs, sour cherries and wild raspberry. (88 points)

2015 Archil Guniava Wine Cellar Kvaliti  - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
More dark fruits on the nose with notes of herbs, spices and tar. Smooth but structured, savory (mushroom, spice rub) but juicy currant and fig fruit keeps it vibrant. Long, smoky, leathery finish. Very impressive. Made from the Ouskhanuri Sapere grape, one of Georgia’s oldest grape varieties, and some Tsolikouri (a white grape) blended in. (90 points)

Blue Danube Wines

2015 Doqi Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
One of the few wines not fermented in qvervi. It’s made in a Western style (without skin contact, stainless steel), and it smells like Chenin with its ripe apple, juicy limes, honey and floral tones. Brisk, fresh, crisp, clean, lots of bright citrus and floral elements. Very pretty. (88 points)

2013 Kindzmarauli Marani Kakhetian Royal - Georgia, Kakheti, Kindzmareuli
Nose shows orange peels and spiced tea. Palate is tart but juicy with citrus and salted almonds. (87 points)

2014 Gotsa Tsitska - Georgia, Kakheti, Babaneuri Valley
Aromas of oranges and lemon zest. Crisp and bright on the palate with complex herbal tones and lots of salty, tea-laden spice. Some skin-contact tannins provide depth and structure but it stays vibrant. Wow, this one really gets me stoked. (91 points)

2004 Shavnabada Mtsvane - Georgia, Kakheti
Aromas of honey and oranges and wet tea leaves. Dried apricot flavors topped with complex elements of herbal tea and dried honey. Moderately oxidized but still shows some life. Aged in a monastery’s qvevri for many years before being bottled. Funky but fascinating, and I love the flavor profile. (87 points)

2015 Gotsa Saperavi - Georgia, Kakheti, Babaneuri Valley
A Jura-like combo of tart red fruit, spiced tea and red flowers on the nose. Crisp and bright with juicy cherries, rose petals and black tea. Delicious, balanced, complex, yet easy to drink. (89 points)

2015 Amiran's Wine Cellar Krakhuna - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
Smells like sour apples, potting soil and compost heap – seriously weird. So, so, so funky. This wine is perplexing, strange, wild, unbalanced. Krakhuna is the grape variety. (N/R)

Made in a monastery, this is an
absolutely fascinating Saperavi
2009 Shavnabada Saperavi - Georgia, Kakheti
A fascinating, delicious and contemplative wine. Nose of currants, pencil lead, dusty earth and herbal smoke. Such serious tannic structure, this is a dense wine but shows some vibrancy. Reminds me a bit of a young Loire Cabernet Franc with its dark fruit, complex non-fruit elements, and bright acidity, but this shows classic Georgian elements of black tea, pipe smoke and incense. Love it. This wine is aged eight years in qvevri. (91 points)

2014 Amiran's Wine Cellar Otskhanuri Sapere - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
Wow, pretty dark plums, violets, lots of earth on the nose. So structured with solid tannins and bright acidity, lots of tart black plums, currants, smoke, anise, dense herbal notes. Love it. Aged nine months in qvevri. Made from the Otskhanuri Sapere grape. (90 points)

2015 doqi Khvanchkara - Georgia, West Georgia, Racha, Khvanchkara
Dark plums and earth on the nose. Slight sweetness but it’s balanced nicely with zesty acidity. Juicy dark fruit and earth tones, almost Beaujolais-like. (86 points)

2014 Kindzmarauli Marani Kindzmarauli Original Semi-Sweet - Georgia, Kakheti, Kindzmareuli
Zesty oranges and ruby red grapefruit aromas. Herbal and spicy on the palate with sweet red currant paste. Fun, not too rich. (86 points)


2011 Artevani Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
Nose of salted almonds, green herbs and spice rub. Rich texture but refreshing with bright flavors of orange peels, notes of almond skin and wild herbs. Long, complex finish. (88 points)

2015 Artevani Saperavi - Georgia, Kakheti
Smells of savory spices, dark plums and sweet violets and cola. Pummy, dark, rich structure with bold tannins but bright acidity with bold black cherries and spiced black tea. Rich, burly structure, a lot more accessible considering it’s fermented in stainless steel (not qvevri). (88 points)

2015 Artevani Saperavi Medium Sweet - Georgia, Kakheti, Kindzmareuli
Dark purple color with aromas of violets and sweet plum cake. Coffee, flowers, dark earth on the juicy palate with dark, saucy black fruits. The sugar stands out too much but the flavors are tasty. (85 points)

Georgian Wine House

2014 Schuchmann Mtsvane - Georgia, Kakheti
Salted almonds and lemon curd. Zesty and fun if a bit simple. (85 points)

2013 Shalauri Cellars Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
Nose of dried apricot, orange peel, almond. Dry and herbal with some tea, honeycomb and orange peel elements. (87 points)

2015 Our Wine Rkatsiteli Akhoebi - Georgia, Kakheti
Smells like spiced tea, candles, pine tree and apricot with a vermouth-like spice and bitter element. Fermented in qvevri for six months with skin and stem contact. Fun but a bit weird (even in a Georgian wine tasting). (86 points)

2015 Dilao Amber Dry - Georgia, Kakheti
A fresher style with bright orange and apricot aromas and flavors, some peach nectar, some white tea elements but not too herbal of funky. A 50/50 blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane. (87 points)

2015 Dilao Saperavi - Georgia, Kakheti
This is really impressive and delicious. Fresh and juicy cherry and plum aromas with roses and violets. Pure and vibrant on the palate, plush tannins, fresh acidity. Packed with dark currant, lots of charcoal and spiced tea elements. Rich, fruit-forward, but balanced. Perhaps a great entry for New World palates into Georgian Saperavi. (90 points)

2015 Dakishvili Family Vineyards Saperavi Vita Vinea - Georgia, Kakheti
Smells of tart red plums, earth, incense sticks. Bright and vibrant but structured, firm tannins, crisp acidity. There’s some cedar and coffee (this wine is aged in oak after qvervi fermentation), but also some earthy, herbal, incense stick notes. Complex but so damn delicious. (90 points)

2014 Schuchmann Saperavi Pirosmani - Georgia, Kakheti
Smells like sweet cherries, cola and violets. Friendly, fun, dark and juicy and fruit. Pirosmani denotes a fruit-forward style of making Saperavi. (86 points)

2014 Schuchmann Saperavi - Georgia, Kakheti
Nose or rich, dark plums and cherries with savory herbs. Dry, sturdy tannins, juicy acidity, the plum and black cherry fruit is pleasantly saucy and I get complex notes of pepper and herbs. Delicious. (89 points)