Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ankida Ridge Impresses with Virginia Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Ankida Ridge Vineyard. Credit: Christine Vrooman, Ankida Ridge
Virginia has built its reputation largely on Bordeaux-style blends, Chardonnay and Viognier, but Pinot Noir? At least one producer is making that case.

Last year, Ankida Ridge was the only Mid-Atlantic Pinot producer
invited to participate in the prestigious International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon. That’s as close to Legit American Pinot Producer status one can obtain, and Ankida Ridge deserves it.

Dennis and Christine Vrooman, who have a veterinary practice in Virginia Beach, planted a vineyard at their vacation home in 2008. At 1,8000 feet in the Blue Ridge foothills near Amherst, VA, this was not an easy task.

“We totally did not know what to expect,” Christine said during a recent virtual tasting. “We wanted it to be something different than what everyone else was planting, because this site is so different.”

Because of the elevation, Christine said Ankida Ridge stays about 10 degrees cooler on summer afternoons that lower elevation sites. The site is made of decomposing granite on steep slopes, which makes for good drainage in an area that recent bouts of heavy rain. My parents own a mill house property about a half hour east of Ankida Ridge’s vineyards, and I’ve seen what summer rains can do to the mountains in Virginia — it’s insane. But, Christine said, “Our vines don’t get wet feet.” And when a vineyard consultant checked out their proposed vineyard site, they said, if Pinot Noir can be grown anywhere in Virginia, it’s here. So the Vroomans took the leap and planted a few acres.

Sometimes referred to by Virginia wine nerds as Virginia’s Little Burgundy, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Ankida Ridge offer glimpses of Burgundian depth and elegance. The wines are lower in alcohol than many other Virginia wines, and they possess a sense of vibrant acidity that keeps my palate wanting more.

With their son Nathan as winemaker, Ankida Ridge now produces some 500 cases of wine per year, a very small amount, but they’re expecting production to double in the coming years.

Here are my notes on three Ankida Ridge wines I tasted…

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

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

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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fresh, Fascinating Wines from Australia's Bird in Hand

Credit: Bird in Hand. Adelaide Hills, Australia. 
We’re off to the Australia for this week, focusing on Bird in Hand wines. Hailing from the Adelaide Hills appellation, where their vineyards receive cooling influences from the Gulf of St. Vincent and the nearby Mount Lofty Range mountains, the wines are packed with fresh acidity in addition to gorgeous fruit. 

Founded in 1997 on what used to be a dairy farm, Bird in Hand wines are definitely worth checking out if you’ve long ago soured on heavy, low-acid, candied Australian wines.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Bird in Hand Pinot Noir Sparkling - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills
SRP: $25
A very pale copper color. Brisk and floral on the nose with white cherries, wild strawberries, red apple peel, baby’s breath, some sea salt. A vibrant and lip-smacking wine with vibrant tingly bubbles, but a whole lot of fruit: strawberry, juicy McIntosh apple, apricot and wild raspberries. Juicy but so vibrant, almost dry, with a complex mix of baby’s breath, lilies, sea salt, oyster shell, chalky mineral tones. An, intriguing and delicious Pinot Noir sparkler. (90 points)

2016 Bird in Hand Two in the Bush - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills
SRP: $16
Pale straw color. Aromas of peaches, lime, kumquat, drizzled with seawater, chalk dust and spicy tomato leaf. Medium-bodied with zesty acidity and pure green apple and lime fruit mixed with some richer papaya and guava nectar. There’s a great combination of sea salt, chalk dust and minerals that pervade the wine, and I get complex elements of floral perfume and spiced tea. Complex and gorgeous but you’ll also want a second glass because it’s so damn fresh and fun to sip. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Serious wine at a not-so-serious price. (90 points)

2015 Bird in Hand Chardonnay - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills
SRP: $25
Light gold color. Smells of limes, tangerines, white peaches with some almond, sea breeze and white floral tea notes. On the palate this shows precise acidity and plump texture on a medium-bodied frame. Lime drizzled on tangerines, peaches and yellow pears, the fruit is mixes with honey, almond, chamomile tea and chalk dusty. Fresh, vibrant, rich flavors of very nice balance. Indigenous yeast fermented and aged in 20% new French oak. (89 points)

2015 Bird in Hand Chardonnay Nest Egg - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills
SRP: $65
Light gold color. Aromas of kiwi, lime, apricot and bruised yellow apple, along with a combination of salty/chalk notes with richer buttered toast and nougat. On the palate this has a plush, lees-stirred kind of texture but precise acidity, which keeps it fresh and together. Lime, papaya, apricot, it mixes well with sea salt, lemon verbena and some almond and buttery notes. Delicious yet complex, rich yet vibrant. French oak fermentation, lees stirring, maloactic fermentation, so it’s a bold style, but it’s balanced well with vibrant acidity and delicious fruit and non-fruit complexity. (92 points)

2015 Bird in Hand Shiraz - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills
SRP: $30
Dark purple color. Smells like tart black cherries, gushing blueberries, black olives, charred earth and cracked black pepper. Full-bodied (14.5%), this is fleshy and dark with moderate tannic grip, no rough edges, and surprisingly fresh acidity. Plum, black cherries and boysenberry, juicy and dark with smoky tar, black pepper, black olive, charcoal. Vanilla and coffee are woven in well. Bold but elegant and wonderfully well-balanced, solid now but will improve for at least a few years. Aged 16 months in 50% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Bird in Hand Shiraz Nest Egg - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills
SRP: $85
Rich purple color. Gorgeous nose of currants, tart blueberries, blackberry jam, but not just fruit – lots of complex elements of graphite, anise, charcoal, black pepper, vanilla. Full-bodied with structured but rounded tannins and surprisingly vibrant acidity, which is one of my favorite aspects of this wine. Tart black cherry, blueberry and black currant mix well with anise, charcoal, violets, scorched earth and black pepper. Such freshness to balance out the bold fruit, and this has a lot of complex non-fruit elements going for it. Wow. Aged 18 months in French oak, this will improve for at least five or seven years. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Malibu Winery Shows Southern California Can Produce Exceptional Wine

Vineyards thrive all over California. North, South, East, West, there are far more wine regions than the average consumer is aware of. Humboldt, El Dorado, Temecula… Malibu?

When I hear Malibu, I think of surfing, especially this time of year when Southern California is graced with frequently large swells from the Southern Hemisphere. Malibu’s legendary point break is one of the most famous (and crowded) in the state. But take a trek to higher inland ground, and, sure enough, there are grapevines.

I recently tasted my first wine from the Malibu Coast American Viticultural Area, and was really impressed. It hails from Malibu’s Dolin Estate, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean near the Pacific Coast highway. Elliott and Lynn Dolin decided to plant a small vineyard in the backyard of their Malibu home in 2006. This estate Chardonnay apparently turned out quite well, and Dolin Estate has been expanding since.

With Central Coast winemaker Kirby Anderson in the cellar, Dolin Estate also produces a Bordeaux-style blend from a site in Newton Canyon, four miles from the coast and 1,450 feet in elevation. There aren’t too many grapes around here, so Dolin also sources Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from some well-known Central Coast vineyards.

The wine I tasted is called the Blue Note, and it is killer. Elliott Dolin was a session bassist for jazz bands, so this wine (a Right Bank Bordeaux-inspired blend) pays homage to the iconic NYC jazz club, the Blue Note. Elliott also has plans for a Left Bank-inspired blend named after the West Coast club, The Troubadour.

The wines
are available in some local bars and restaurants, local retailers, and online.

Below are my notes on two Dolin Estate wines I tasted recently.

2014 Dolin Estate Chardonnay Bien Nacido - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $39
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd, apricot, melted butter, graham cracker. Full-bodied with pleasant creaminess and fresh acidity. Rich but pure and vibrant with lime, apricot, bruised apple, richer elements of toasted nuts, lemon curd and honey mix well with sea salt and chalk dust. Packed with flavor, delicious but so lively. Fermented in 1/3 new French oak, 100% maloactic fermentation, aged 13 months in oak. (90 points)

2012 Dolin Estate The Blue Note - California, South Coast, Malibu
SRP: $45
Light purple color. Awesome aromas of black cherries, raspberry jam, roasted fig, coffee, candied pecans. Lovely balance on the palate with bold texture, velvety tannins, moderate acidity keeps it fresh. Tart plum, blackberry, the fruit is loaded with coffee, charcoal, tar, cedar and cola. This was an eye-opening wine for me in the sense that it was absolutely delicious, showed solid balance, lots of depth, and it’s the first wine from this area I’ve tasted. A blend of 44% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc, aged 21 months in French oak. The vineyard sits 1,450 feet above the Malibu coast. Intriguing and special stuff. (91 points)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hillsborough Vineyards: High Quality Virginia Wine from Loudoun County

Shades of green welcome visitors to the rolling hills of Loudoun County's wine country.
The Virginia wine scene has exploded in the 10 years or so that I’ve been paying attention. More and more wineries are popping up all over the state (in 2016, the state boasted more than 285). Virginia wineries sold more than 6.5 million bottles in fiscal year 2016, and sales have increased by 34 percent since 2010.

Living in the DC area, I make sporadic trips to Virginia wineries (in addition to tasting many more for reports on this blog and the daily wine site Terroirist.). But, with so many excellent producers, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up.

On a sunny day in May, I made a trek to Hillsborough Vineyards, nestled among the beautiful rolling hills of Loudoun County, to taste their new releases. I brought my toddler and a group of friends, and we spent a lovely afternoon tasting and chasing my kid through the vineyards. I knew I was in for solid Virginia vino, as I had tasted several Hillsborough wines not long before the trip. But the beauty of the location and the overall high quality of the wines still impressed me.

Cellar Master and Tasting Room Manager Jim Koennicke poured our group a range of Hillsborough wines and walked us through some history of the estate, its founders, and what makes their site unique. Hillsborough was founded by husband-wife duo Bora and Zeynep Baki, who hail from Turkey. They fell in love with the site that is now Hillsborough and set the building blocks for a boutique winery, which was finished in 2003. Today, the estate’s 36 acres contain 12 acres planted to vines, split into three vineyards. Winemaker Kerem Baki, who studied biochemistry and enology at Virginia Tech, keeps the family tradition going with some absolutely delicious wines.

Fascinating tidbit: Hillsborough is home to perhaps the only wine in the U.S. made solely from the Fer Servadou grape, which is indigenous to Southwest France. If this wine is any sign, this grape seems to do very well in Virginia’s humid climate, and I look forward to seeing if anyone else gives it a shot.  

If you live in the Washington, DC, area, I highly recommend a visit. It’s a beautiful area to hike and explore, and the wines will not disappoint. My notes on the wines I tasted are below…

Scoping out the vineyards at Hillsborough.
2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Carnelian - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Nose of juicy apple and bright floral notes. Salty and peachy and spicy with lots of floral elements. 100% Roussanne, this is a crisp and bright Virginia interpretation of this grape. All stainless steel. (87 points)

2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Petit Manseng Opal - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Aromas of honey, peach nectar, bright white flowers and herbal spice notes. Creamy, lovely texture on the palate with bright acidity. The peach and apricot fruit mixes with honeycomb, saline and chalky mineral notes. A gorgeous Virginia Petit Manseng. (90 points)

2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Merlot Rosé - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
For a rose, this is so dark ruby colored. Smells super-fruity with raspberry and strawberry jams. Bright but lots of fruit, shows wide appeal and zesty elements to keep it fresh. (86 points)

2013 Hillsborough Vineyards Syrah - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
On the nose this is smoky, peppery and earthy with bright red berries. Plump but bright on the palate with structured tannins and lots of freshness. Not super complex, but nice bright red fruits with pepper and smoke. (87 points)

2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Ruby's Blush - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Sweet floral perfume and candied cherry aromas. Fruity and fun but not too sweet. A blend of 20% apiece of Tannat, Petit Verdot, Fer, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. (85 points)
Nose shows lots of spicy pepper and leather on top of red currants. Plush and silky with strawberry and red cherry fruit mixed with savory herbs. Lighter style, but fresh and tasty. Includes 13% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in French oak and one in bottle before release. (86 points)

2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Moonstone Late Harvest - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
So much honey and pineapple and flowers on the nose. Rich but not cloying on the palate with lots of juicy pineapple and peach, notes of floral spice.  All late harvest Viognier with 5% residual sugar. (87 points)

2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Bloodstone - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Such a spicy aromatic display with tart black currant, black pepper, leather, clove, sage and herbal liqueur. Juicy and tart with so much complex spice flavors (black pepper, beef broth, clove, grilled herbs). Unique flavor profile but some nice black currant fruit that balances out the spice. 100% Fer Servadou, which is supposedly the only such wine made solely from this variety in the United States. There’s another small vineyard of this grape nearby, but maybe there’s a bigger future for this grape in Virginia? (89 points)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

This week we’re focusing on a bunch of wines from all over the world. Most of these wines are inexpensive, easy-drinking wines designed for early consumption, but there are some really impressive bottles in the mix.

We have some solid values from Côtes du Rhône, four interesting wines from the Spanish region of Cariñena, and a few more from Arinzano, a Spanish winery in Aragon that has a D.O. Pago designation and excellent wines to justify it. We also have a few others from Italy, Australia and Argentina thrown into the mix.  

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

SRP: $11
Medium straw color. As the name would suggest, this is super floral on the nose, all sorts of white and yellow flowers along with lychee, peach and guava nectar. Light/medium-bodied with some tropical juiciness and moderate acidity. Lots of lychee and apricot with some lime juice, the fruit is laced with perfume and all sorts of orange and pear blossoms. Great picnic or party wine for the lover of floral white wines. A blend of Torrontes and 15% Pinot Gris. (86 points)

2015 Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet Max’s - Australia, South Australia
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Aromas of blackberries and tart blueberry with some spiced coffee, pepper, and vanilla and cedar notes that are blended in well. Plump and juicy on the palate with some light/medium tannins and some moderate acidity, which helps keep it going. Black cherries and blueberry fruit is bold but stays vibrant, and the fruit is matched with notes of cracked pepper and espresso. Delicious but also nicely structured. 70/30 Shiraz/Cabernet aged 12 months in French and American oak. (87 points)

2015 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Max’s - Australia, South Australia
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smells like tart black cherries and some blackberry jam along with black pepper, coffee grounds and sweet eucalyptus. Full-bodied, chewy texture, medium/low acidity, approachable but some decent structure. Black cherries and blackberries, gushing fruit, a little tartness to it though, along with loamy soil, dark chocolate and cedar shavings. A fun, accessible Shiraz but shows some structure and depth. Aged 12 months in 10% new French oak.  (87 points)

SRP: $11
Pale pink color. Fruity and fresh on the nose with strawberries, rose petals, hints of white pepper. Medium-bodied with bright acidity and fresh fruit (strawberries, white cherries, red apple peel). This nationally-available rose is reliable, simple, fun. Syrah with some Cinsault and Carmenere. (85 points)

2016 Ferraton Père & Fils Côtes du Rhône Blanc Samorëns - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône
SRP: $14
Medium yellow color. Aromas of peaches, apricots and limes with a white floral notes of honeysuckle and baby’s breath. Medium-bodied, slight creaminess but fresh acidity. This wine is packed with apricot and peach, and topped in some sea salt, honeysuckle, nettle, sliced cucumber. Good weight/freshness balance, a pleasant summer sipper for sure. A blend of Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne. (87 points)

2016 Ferraton Père & Fils Côtes du Rhône Rosé Samorëns - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône
SRP: $14
Light pink. Nose of wild strawberries, white cherries, floral perfume, some lemongrass and white pepper. Crisp and vibrant with plump texture and fresh acidity. Tangy white cherries and bright strawberries, lots of white pepper, spicy herbs, honeysuckle and roses. A lot going on for the price. A blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Cinsault. (87 points)

2015 Castello di Gabbiano Dark Knight - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $17
Deep ruby color. Aromas of plum cake, red currant, sweet cherry, vanilla and cedar. Medium/full-bodied with moderate tannins and acidity. Juicy black cherries and saucy blackberry fruit mixes with tobacco, cedar, vanilla and bitter chocolate. Fun stuff but impressive structure. Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot and 20% Sangiovese, this is the debut vintage of this wine from Gabbiano. (87 points)

2016 Contrade Malvasia-Chardonnay - Italy, Puglia, Puglia IGT
SRP: $10
Medium straw color. Tons of tropical flowers and fruit blossoms on the nose with some kiwi and guava, too. Juicy, tropical, creamy, dry with some moderate acidity. Pineapple and mango fruit, drizzled with lime, and lots of floral perfume freshness. Not super complex but it does what it does very well. 90% Malvasia and 10% Chardonnay. (86 points)

2015 Contrade Negroamaro - Italy, Puglia, Puglia IGT
SRP: $10
Rich purple color. Dark and saucy aromas with juicy but spicy black fruit, some charcoal and smoke, grilled herb and sweet vanilla notes. Medium-bodied, smooth tannins but they provide some structure, moderate-low acidity. This is a chewy, fun wine with rich blackberry and black cherry fruit, backed up by some smoky herbs, roasted chestnut and vanilla. Good introduction to this grape, this seems made for a wide audience. (86 points)

2014 Bodegas San Valero Particular - Spain, Aragón, Cariñena
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Dark cherries and tart blackberries with lots of spicy and earthy complexity (pepper, olive, soy, violets). Medium+ bodied with suave appeal and dusty tannins, medium acidity. Tart black cherries and roasted plum fruit mixes well with notes of smoke, teriyaki, pepper, violets. Lots of fun but also impressive depth. 100% Cariñena. (88 points)

SRP: $14
Rich, deep ruby color. Aromas of tar red and black cherries and plums, incense sticks, tobacco and some clay earth. Medium-bodied with light but slightly bitter tannins and moderate acidity. Tart red and black plums meet bell pepper, cracked black pepper and soy sauce. A hint of sharpness but still rather pleasant, although not too complex. A blend of Cariñena and Garnacha. (85 points)

2014 3C Cariñena Premium Selection - Spain, Aragón, Cariñena
SRP: $10
Light purple color. Spicy black cherries and raspberries on the nose with roasted herbs, pepper, some sweet roses and coffee notes. Bold and juicy on the palate but nice freshness and moderate tannins. Crunchy plums and tart black cherry with loads of pepper, clove and cinnamon and some sweet herbal tones. Delicious texture, structured but fresh and easy to sip. 100% Cariñena. (88 points)

2015 Bodegas Paniza Cariñena - Spain, Aragón, Cariñena
SRP: $10
Light purple color. Strawberry and raspberries, darker roasted plum notes, including spicy herbs, sweet and savory notes. Juicy and fresh on the palate with light tannins, but enough for some structure, moderate acidity. Tart raspberry and black cherries mixes with some raspberry cheesecake topping, notes of black pepper, roasted herbs, spiced coffee. Fresh and easy drinking, this is a great cookout wine that should please many palates. 100% Cariñena. (87 points)

2016 Arinzano Hacienda de Arinzan Rosé - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
SRP: $20
A deep watermelon color. Bright aromatic display of white flowers and dandelion but some darker cherry and strawberry jam richness as well, hints of pepper and tobacco. On the palate, this is richly-textured (14% alcohol), but some vibrant acidity keeps it balanced. Flavors of watermelon, ripe strawberry, red apple peel, laced with white pepper, tobacco, flower stems and green herbs. Bold but vibrant, complex and so, so delicious. 100% Tempranillo. (90 points)

2014 Arinzano Hacienda de Arinzano White - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
SRP: $20
100% Chardonnay. Medium yellow color. Bright and vibrant aromas but also a lot of richness, with lemon curd, juicy apples, tart pears, integrated almond and cedar notes with sea spray and chalk. Plush texture but vibrant acidity on the palate, richer baked pear notes blend so well with lemon curd and tart green apple. Notes of floral perfume, minerals, chalk, also some nougat and honey. Complex, elegant, delicious, this is so good, but will get better. 40% maloactic fermentation, some new and old French oak. (90 points)

2012 Arinzano Hacienda de Arinzano Tinto - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
SRP: $20
Rich purple color. Gorgeous nose of currants and red plums along with incense, charcoal, rose petal, lots of clay, tilled soil and tobacco barn notes – fascinating to sniff. Grippy tannic structure but such fresh acidity, it’s all pure and balanced. Raspberry mixes with red and black currant and the fruit is layered with pipe tobacco, eucalyptus, pepper, lots of earthy/spice and pine resin. Complexity is wonderful but it’s also so vibrant and easy to drink. Delicious now, but this could improve for more than a few years. A stunner at the price. (92 points)

2008 Arinzano Arinzano La Casona - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
SRP: $40
Dark ruby color. Gorgeous aromatic display: humidor, mint, sage, rich earth, on top of bold but tangy currants and cherries. On the palate this is full and structured with solid grip from the tannins and pretty, vibrant acidity. Black cherry and red currant fruit, lively and refreshing fruit, and complex non-fruit elements: cigar smoke, charcoal, forest floor, tobacco, cedar, graphite. A blend of 75% Tempranillo and 25% Merlot, aged 14 months in 40% new French oak and then seven years in bottle. This has 5-8 years ahead of it easily, but gorgeous now, especially with lots of air. (92 points)

<85 points

SRP: $18
Pale straw color. Smells of under-ripe green grapes, some chalk dust, bitter lemon and grapefruit pith. Tart and zesty on the palate with some white cherry, sour green apple and a cut floral stem note. Quite sharp, a bit too much bitter lemon and austerity for my palate. A blend of Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Chenin Blanc. 

SRP: $18
Pale salmon color. Aromas of rose bush, sour cherries and under-ripe strawberries. Tart and brisk on the palate with foamy bubbles. Sour white cherries, under-ripe strawberries, the fruit mixes with notes of nettle and bell pepper. Unbalanced and quite weird. A blend of Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc and Gamay. 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cool Wine Cork Craft With Just 2 Ingredients! (Corks + Fire)

Wine corks are great for making crafts. Coasters, bulletin boards, holiday tree decorations... you can do so many cutesy and crafty things with your leftover wine corks. Sure you could peruse dozens of Pinterest boards for detailed instructions on how to make a treasure chest or something... or you could just follow these two easy steps to make an awesome project with your wine corks.

Step 1: Gather corks into a large paper bag.

Step 2: Place bag of corks in a roaring pit of flame.

Corks are made of compressed tree bark, and they burn like mofos. They expand with heat and burn for an impressive length of time. Flaming wine corks make great kindling if you have some wet logs you're trying to get burning.

Wasn't that fun? Yay cork crafts!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Searching for America's Greatest Rieslings

“What are we going to do about Riesling?”

Stu Smith, co-founder of the historic Smith-Madrone winery in Napa’s Spring Mountain District, is a lover and producer of Riesling, so it was a serious question. Some friends and I had coordinated a blind tasting of American Rieslings, and it just so happened that Stu was in town. The stars aligned, and we all tasted and discussed American Rieslings.

Since the late 1970s, Stu has been crafting Riesling from his Spring Mountain vineyards, a wine I love for its classic riffs on of Riesling’s greatest elements: freshness, purity of fruit, an intriguing mineral presence.

The idea for this tasting stems from a comment I made on Twitter about Smith-Madrone’s Riesling — I got on my soap box and declared it perhaps the greatest American Riesling. Aaron Menenberg, a Virginia-based wine-lover who recently started a blog called Good Vitis, chimed in. Other producers popped up, and I began to realize how many other American Rieslings could be considered “great.” It wasn’t long before we came up with a plan: gather dozens of high-quality American Rieslings and blind taste them.

Riesling still maintains a reputation among the larger public as an overly sweet, syrupy white wine, and that’s a shame. Wine consumers know not all Chardonnay is oaky and buttery, and we all know Merlot isn’t worthy of Sideways-style disdain. But Riesling still can’t seem to shake its reputation for being too sweet.

Riesling is perhaps the world’s greatest white wine grape. (I like to argue that Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc challenge it for supremacy, but this is a purely academic exercise.) Riesling is incredible.

Stu Smith, the Spring Mountain master, right, and the tasting panel. 

But, like many great wine grapes, there is a lot of mediocre stuff. If you pick up a random Riesling at your local grocery store, the “Riesling is too sweet” critique would almost certainly be accurate. Stu mentioned a Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling he’d just purchased for $8. It was decent, he said, but admitted it was “too sweet.” I know the wine well (it comes from the world’s largest contiguous Riesling vineyards in Washington State), and it is indeed “too sweet.”

Nothing compares to the greatness of Rieslings from the best vineyards in Germany and Austria, but there are so many incredible Rieslings produced here in the U.S. The across the board quality was very high, with a few exceptional standouts. The wines were all over the dryness spectrum, from nearly bone dry to rich and honeyed with residual sugar. However, there were only perhaps one or two I would call "too sweet." In the vast majority of these wines, the sugar is balanced with Riesling’s innately crisp acidity.

Aaron and I gathered a few dozen Rieslings from producers we thought would deliver, and blind-tasted them (along with a few ringers from other countries). I fully admit some of America’s greatest Rieslings didn’t make it on this list: Stony Hill, Tatomer, countless others from Oregon, Washington, New York, Michigan, and on and on. I'm sure many people have dozens of suggestions of wines that should be on this list, and I'd likely agree with you on all of them. There are simply too many to taste through on a Sunday afternoon, and we're only mortals, so we tasted 37 different wines. Spoiler: the Smith-Madrone did show wonderfully (it was one of the tasting panel’s highest rated wines), and Stu seemed rightly stoked about that. I will admit, I found a few other wines I liked even more. Blind tasting is always full of surprises.

I didn’t track down all the pricing information, but check out if you’re interested in finding some of these wines. I’ve rearranged my notes from the order in which they were tasted in order to group them by state.


2015 Chateau Montelena Riesling- California, North Coast, Potter Valley

Nose of lemon oil, white peach, honey, straw. Zesty, clean and brisk on the palate with plump texture but the wine is balanced nicely. Limes, peach and orange marmalade laced with minerals and chalk dust. Lovely. (90 points)

2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling- California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District

Aromas of lime, banana, yellow flowers, apricot, peach. So vibrant on the palate with racy acidity but plenty of texture and packed with fruit (peach, orange, apricot, lime) with lots of quinine, minerals, mountain stream and honeycomb. Complex and delicious, so suave. (91 points)

2015 Galerie Riesling Terracea- California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District

Limes, peaches, baby’s breath on the nose. Zesty and crisp on the palate with peach nectar, white flowers, honey. Notes of almond and sea salt. Very pleasant, but having had the 2014 before and loved it, I was expecting just a bit more. (88 points)

New York

2015 Anthony Road Riesling Dry
- New York, Finger Lakes

Smells like limes, yellow apples, oranges, chalky, a classic nose. Brisk and lip-smacking with lemon/lime, yellow plums, juicy fruit but such focus. Fresh minerals and chalk notes linger on the finish. 11.7% alcohol, 0.7% residual sugar. (88 points)

2015 Anthony Road Riesling Semi-Dry- New York, Finger Lakes

Aromas of saline, minerals and orange peel. Bold but zesty on the palate with yellow plums, spiced apple, notes of honey, ginger and almond. Packed with flavor, sweetness is evident but balanced nicely. 11.7% alcohol, 1.7% residual sugar. (88 points)

2015 Red Newt Cellars Riesling The Knoll Lahoma Vineyards - New York, Finger Lakes

Nose of limes, white flowers, nettle, peach nectar – great diversity of aromas. Zesty acid but a plump frame with peach nectar, honey, graham cracker. Tropical deliciousness but balanced, a lot going on in this wine. 13.2% alcohol, about 0.4% residual sugar. (88 points)

2013 Red Newt Cellars Riesling Tango Oaks
- New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake

Nose of lemons, oranges, honey and white flowers. A bit thin but shows pleasant oranges, peach and honey tones. 10.6% alcohol, 0.5% residual sugar. (85 points)

2014 Red Newt Cellars Riesling The Big H Lahoma Vineyards- New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake

Nose shows kumquat, lime, perfume, honeysuckle. Creamy and rich but shows nice acidity. Sugar is evident, like the last sip of a cup of honeyed white tea, a nectary wine but delicious. 10.5% alcohol, 1.9% residual sugar. (87 points)

2014 Tierce Riesling Dry- New York, Finger Lakes

Pretty aromas of apricots, lemon curd, chalk, oil and almonds. Crisp and refreshing and bright with lots of mineral and quinine notes. Orange peels, lemon curd, minerals, bracing and zesty but packed with flavor. Very impressive. A collaboration between three winemakers (Peter Becraft of Anthony Road Wine Company, Kelby Russell of Red Newt Cellars and Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards) and three vineyards. (90 points)

2012 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Lake Dana Vineyard- New York, Finger Lakes

Nose of honey, apricot, bruised apple and cinnamon. Alsatian richness in style with lots of honey, orange marmalade, some tennis ball, yellow flower and roasted peanut notes. Bold and delicious but shows impressive balance. (88 points)

2014 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Dry- New York, Finger Lakes

Aromas of sea salt, lime zest, yellow flowers, peaches. Fresh and bright and crisp with delightfully tingly acidity. Juicy peach and orange drizzled with lime and topped in sea salt, crust minerals and chalk dust. Love this stuff. 11.6% with less than 1% residual sugar. (90 points)

2014 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Lot 11 Hanging Delta Vineyard- New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake

Aromas of yellow apple, lemon, pineapple. Juicy, rich, sweet, tropical, honey-infused with graham cracker and oil notes, but it maintains freshness in spite of the richness. (87 points)

2014 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239- New York, Finger Lakes

Bright aromatic display of chalk, lime zest and lemon curd. Crisp and zesty with a salty, oceanic aesthetic. Limes, peach, chalk dust, pure and vibrant with a long, nervy finish. 11.6% alcohol, 0.9% residual sugar. (89 points)

2014 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling No. 198 Reserve- New York, Finger Lakes

Nose of lime, lemon, floral perfume, lots of honey and deep floral tones. Precise on the palate, bold but balanced with vibrant acidity. Lemon/lime, pineapple, apricot, spiced apple. Balanced, rich, pure, delicious. 9% alcohol, about 7% residual sugar. (90 points)

2014 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Magdalena Vineyard- New York, Finger Lakes

Nose of rich guava and pineapple and some chalk dusty. Sugar cane and sea salt mix nicely on the palate, rich but pretty, with lots of peach and guava nectar as well as cantaloupe and honey. 12.5% alcohol, 0.8% residual sugar. (88 points)

2014 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry HJW Vineyard- New York, Finger Lakes

Nose shows lemon/lime, pineapple, oranges. Juicy and nectary but quite balanced with vibrant acidity. Guava, orange and apricot laced with honey and ginger. From a vineyard planted in 1977 on a plateau above Seneca Lake. (88 points)


2015 Penner-Ash Riesling- Oregon, Willamette Valley

Deep nectar on the nose with honey and Teddy Graham cookies. Bold, plump texture but vibrant acidity. Honey, graham crackers and orange marmalade, lots of flavor but it’s tied together well. (88 points)

2015 Penner-Ash Riesling Old Vine Riesling Hyland Vineyard- Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville

Aromas of lemon zest, lime peel, saline, tart apple. Fresh and lively with crisp acidity, lemon and cucumber water notes, some earthy spice notes as well. Refreshing and clean. (88 points)

2015 Chehalem Riesling Three Vineyard- Oregon, Willamette Valley

Nose shows lemons and limes with honeysuckle and chalk dust. Juicy palate, bold texture with honey, nuts, rich pineapple and peach but maintains crispness and vibrancy. Long finish with spiced apple notes. (87 points)

2014 Chehalem Riesling Wind Ridge- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Ribbon Ridge

Nose shows lemons, limes, Granny Smith apple and chalk dust. Focused, off-dry, rich texture but crisp acidity. Oranges and apricot laced with quinine and minerals. Bold stuff but a lot of fun. 12.6% alcohol, 1.2% residual sugar. (88 points)

2014 Chehalem Riesling Corral Creek- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains

Bright and floral aromas with baby’s breath and oranges and peaches. Zesty acid, pure and mineral-laden, juicy fruit but vibrant. Peaches and guava mixed with honey and nougat and hints of herbal spice. Lingering finish of mineral water and mountain streams. 12.5% alcohol, 1% residual sugar. (89 points)

2016 Trisaetum Riesling Wichmann Dundee Estate- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills

Rich aromas of honey, guava, canned peaches, clean laundry. Plump, rich and honeyed with guava and pineapple and whipped honey. Round and rich and sweet style, lacks a bit of verve but solid flavors. (85 points)

2016 Trisaetum Riesling Dry Wichmann Dundee Estate- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills

A spicy kick on the nose with lots of lemons, melon rind and oils. Bold texture but crisp and very bright, I liked this a lot better than the sweet version. Quinine, chalk dust, minerals, honey, ginger, all on top of bright citrus fruit. Beautiful. (90 points)

2016 Trisaetum Riesling Dry Coast Range Estate- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton

This wine blew me away, and I had to revisit it several times just to check my stoke factor, but I still loved it. So much depth on the nose: oranges, peaches, tons of floral complexity, lemongrass. Rich texture on the palate but so bright and refreshing. Honeycomb, quinine, jasmine, floral spice, guava nectar, peach juice – incredible complexity. I was convinced this was an Austrian ringer. Wow. (94 points)

2016 Trisaetum Riesling Ribbon Ridge Estate- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Ribbon Ridge

Lots of depth on the nose with floral spice and cardamom. Bold texture, velvety, sugar cane, pineapple, baked apple, spiced tea. Like southern sweet tea in deliciousness, but not the freshest wine. (87 points)


2015 Charles & Charles Riesling Art Den Hoed Vineyard- Washington, Columbia Valley

Aromas of yellow apples, honey, lime, spiced tea. Creamy, waxy texture but bright acidity. Very pleasant yellow apple and lime fruit with a crusty mineral finish. 12% alcohol, 1.4% residual sugar. (88 points)

2015 Sleight of Hand The Magician Evergreen Vineyard- Washington, Columbia Valley

Very sea-infused nose with lots of tropical fruit (guava, pineapple). Plump but quite dry with juicy oranges and pineapple, some baked apple and honey. Rich style and packed flavors but stays fresh. (87 points)

2014 Lauren Ashton Cellars Riesling- Washington, Columbia Valley

Aromas of honey, orange, peach and guava nectar. Rich and honeyed on the palate with plump, waxy fruit (peaches, apricot, guava), with hints of nuts and smoke. Chunky style but tasty. (85 points)

2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Riesling Eroica- Washington, Columbia Valley

On the nose, peaches, crushed sweet tarts and sea salt. Rich texture, sweetness balanced nicely with fresh acidity but this shows hedonistic notes too (honey, baked apple, spiced white tea). Lots going on. 12% alcohol, 1.2% residual sugar. (89 points)

2011 Rasa Vineyards Riesling The Lyricist- Washington, Columbia Valley

Nose of sweet oranges, yellow plums, honey and new tennis balls. Zesty and precise but also creamy and honeyed. Peaches, lime juice, laced with so many minerals. Complex, brisk, absolutely delicious, the depth and balance are so impressive. (92 points)

2013 Rasa Vineyards Riesling The Composer
- Washington, Columbia Valley

New tennis ball smell on the nose, but also lots of honeysuckle, summer peaches, drizzled with lime. Bright and floral palate with mountain stream freshness and minerality. Oranges, limeade, honey, graham cracker. The complexity is absurd, but the balance is fantastic. Long, lingering, mineral-encrusted finish. Very impressive. (92 points)

2016 Nine Hats Riesling- Washington, Columbia Valley

Sweet flowers on the nose with orange blossom and sea salt. Bold honey and graham cracker on the palate but medium acidity keeps it fresh. Tastes like banana peel and crushed Sweet Tarts, but in the best way. For a $13 Riesling, this is really solid. 13.4% alcohol, 1.3% residual sugar. (87 points)

2015 Long Shadows Wineries Riesling Poet's Leap- Washington, Columbia Valley

Never have I smelled a wine that smells more like banana Runts candy than this wine. Also some guava and honey. On the palate, this is fresh with lots of Sweet Tarts and, again, banana-flavored Runts candies. Floral, lots of spice, but so much sweet/tart candy notes. Fun, but not what I was expecting from this wine. I actually like the lesser “Nine Hats” wine just as much, but this was fun. 12.9% alcohol, 1.2% residual sugar. (87 points)


One bottle of Gainey Riesling did not show properly at this tasting, but the other (notes below) showed beautifully. I accidentally left the Blakeslee Riesling at home the day of the tasting. But both of these producers sent wines for this tasting, so I wanted to include them. These were tasted sighted the next day.

2014 Blakeslee Vineyard Estate Riesling- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills

Nose of peaches and papaya, lime, tennis balls, floral perfume. On the palate, this is pretty, vibrant and precise with light sweetness and crisp acid. White peaches, apricots, drizzled with limes, lots of floral tones, sea breeze, chalky minerals, just a touch of honey. Pretty, balanced, delish. (89 points)

2015 Gainey Riesling Limited Selection- California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

Rich yellow color. Aromas of peach nectar, lime juice, also some lilies and honeysuckle with crushed sea shells. Bold texture on the palate but vibrant acidity, it tingles the palate, residual sugar balanced nicely. Pineapple and limes with honeycomb and an underlying sense of dusty minerals and pleasant salinity. Very curious how this would age. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.