Saturday, November 25, 2017

New Releases from California & Washington

Thanksgiving is over — whew! So, now we can talk about something besides wine and Thanksgiving dinner pairings, right? OK, good.

It’s been a busy fall samples season, and I’m still digging out, but I’ve been receiving a ton of California wines (which make up the bulk of this report) and want to highlight some good stuff.

This week includes some wines from Lake County institution Jeb Steele, who always manages to release impressive varietal wines, from various California appellations, for seriously good prices. I also have some delicious Zinfandels from Quivira, Ironstone, and Grgich Hills, sparklers from Mumm, and a few other wines from across the state. Lastly, I received three wines from Washington State producer Mercer, which I had not tried before, but found them very tasty.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

White wines

2016 Steele Wines Pinot Blanc - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $19
Pale straw color. Nose shows lemon, peaches, yellow flowers, green onion and dandelion notes. On the palate, crisp acidity but a medium+ bodied feel with some waxy texture. Flavors of kumquat, apricot, lemon, notes of almonds and sea salt. Bold presence but stays a bit fresh. Fermented in stainless steel, aged in old oak barrels. (87 points)

2016 Steele Wines Viognier - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $19
Pale yellow color. Nose shows peaches, guava nectar, lemon, yellow flowers and honey, and interesting combo of richness and liveliness for a Viognier. Plump texture on the palate but there is a surprising amount of acidity as well, and plenty of textural depth. Apricot, peach, kumquat fruit, mixed with honey and yellow flowers. Tasty, lively, juicy, tropically delicious stuff. Stainless steel fermented, aged in old oak for four months, this is a seriously food-friendly California Viognier. (88 points)

2016 Ron Rubin Pinot Gris - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Peachy and bright on the nose, with daisies and honeysuckle, green apples, lemon zest. Fresh acidity, voluptuous mouthfeel, laced with orange, peach kiwi, lots of bright fruit backed up with some honey, dandelion, sea salt notes. Tasty stuff. (87 points)

2015 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc Dry Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $31
Pale lemon color. Aromas of spices and herbs (oregano, lemongrass, white pepper) on top of guava and white peach. Plump texture, bright acidity, sets things nicely for the apricot, white peach and lemon fruit. Notes of honeysuckle, dandelion, baby’s breath, along with white pepper, oregano, sea salt, hints of cream and vanilla. Always a reliably delicious and intriguing Sauvignon Blanc, and 2015 is no exception. This spends six months on the lees in old oak. (90 points)

2016 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Bursting aromatics of guava, peaches, lemon curd, lemongrass and parsley. Punchy but zesty fruit (lemon, kumquat, guava) on a medium-bodied frame with fresh acidity. Notes of sea salt, nettle, white pepper, parsley, and chalky minerals add complexity. Impressive stuff, especially for the price. (90 points)

2016 Fields Family Wines Vermentino Delu Vineyard
- California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $21

Medium yellow color. Super peachy aromatics with lemon zest, orange peel, white and yellow flowers, cut stems, baby’s breath. Wow, this is so pretty and balanced, medium-bodied at 12% alcohol with zesty acidity. Lemon, lime, peaches, apricot, the fruit plays so well off of oyster shell, saline, chalk dusty, cut flower stems, a lot of depth and minerality in this wine. Wow, what an incredible California interpretation of this grape. Aged on the lees five months in old French oak. (92 points)

2016 Trefethen Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
SRP: $38
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd, yellow apples, lots of daisies and dandelions on top of nougat, roasted nuts and honey. Very exciting acidity on the palate with a medium-bodied frame, plenty of texture and fruit (yellow plums, lemon curd, bruised apples), but lots of freshness, too. Nougat, honeycomb and honeyed white tea notes add complexity. Rich in flavor but vibrant. Less than 10% maloactic fermentation, this spends nine months in about 20% new French oak. (89 points)

2015 La Follette Chardonnay - California, North Coast
SRP: $24
Bright gold color. Juicy yellow apples and baked pears, apricot jam, honeybutter, some floral perfume and roasted nuts. Medium+ bodied, moderate acidity that keeps this wine really fresh, along with green and yellow apples and pears. Notes of honey, salted almonds, cut flower stems. Rich flavor and wide appeal but some impressive freshness, too. (87 points)

2015 La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $38
Rich yellow color. Rich aromatic display of apricot jam, lemon curd, buttercream, toasted almonds, and some dusty/chalky elements. Bold textural presence on the palate, moderating acidity keeps if lively, and lots of fruit (apricot, lemon pie, banana), mixed with chalky-floral notes and nougat, vanilla elements. Highly delicious but balanced. (90 points)

2015 Mercer Estates Sauvignon Blanc - Washington, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills
SRP: $15
Pale straw color. Nose of cut green peppers, lemon, kiwi, oregano, honeysuckle. Crisp acidity frames the palate nicely, medium-bodied, with lemon-lime, apricot, kiwi and sliced apples. Notes of white pepper and honeysuckle. Light, zesty, fun stuff. (86 points)

Sparkling wines

N.V. Mumm Napa Brut Prestige - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. Smells like honey, floral perfume, baked apple, white peaches, some bread crumbs. Zesty on the palate but lots of fruit and texture (apples, peaches, apricots). Notes of honeysuckle, biscuits, chalk and lemon verbena add complexity. Consistent, reliable, a very good California sparkling wine for the price. 18 months on the lees. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier. (88 points)

N.V. Mumm Napa Brut Rosé - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $24
Light strawberry color. Bright aromas of red apple peel, strawberry, some toasted baguette, dandelion, rose hips. On the palate, crisp acidity but some creamy texture and fruit-forward appeal, with red apple, wild raspberry, dandelion, honeysuckle, rose petals and freshly cut stems, juicy and fruity but lots of freshness too. High quality stuff for the price. 80/20 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. (88 points)

Red wines

2015 Quivira Zinfandel - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $25
Deep ruby color. Smells of tart raspberries, sweet plums, spicy herbs, cola, red and black licorice candies. Plump texture on the palate with medium acidity and some light grip from the tannins. Black cherries, raspberries, plum cake, mixed with root beer, sweet herbs, and a dusty/earthy note. Delicious yet vibrant. Co-fermented with a bit of Petite Sirah. (88 points)

2015 Quivira Zinfandel Anderson Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $42
Bright purple color. Nose of blackberry jam, raspberries, loaded with complex earthy, spicy, tar, peppery notes, and some vanilla and coffee. Bold presence on the palate with serious structure from the tannins, surprisingly vibrant acidity, makes for great balance. Black cherry, raspberry, wild cherry, with tobacco smoke, charcoal, savory herbs, roses, some earthy-mineral tones. Flavorful, pretty, but can age nicely. (91 points)

2015 Ironstone Vineyards Zinfandel Old Vine Reserve Rous - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $30
Rich purple color. Aromas of smooth black cherries, boysenberry, roasted fig, the fruit is suave, mixed with charcoal, sweet black licorice, coffee — wow. Smooth texture on the palate but solid tannic structure, moderating acidity, the balance is lovely. Tart black cherries, sweet blueberries, boysenberry jam, delicious fruit mixed with black licorice candy, coffee grounds, vanilla, and a cool earthy/graphite/mineral component. Delicious but quite complex, a Zinfandel that begs for food and conversation. From a Mokelumne River AVA vineyard first planted in 1909, this spends 10 months in French oak. (91 points)

2013 Grgich Hills Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $36
Medium ruby color. Aromas of tart black cherry, raspberry, red plums, along with leather and roses and eucalyptus – beautiful stuff to sniff. Fresh acidity and dusty tannins work so well on this wine, tinged with black and red berry fruit. Complex elements of coffee, tobacco, leather, roasted chestnut and vanilla. This really opens up with time and shows more pepper and floral elements. I’d love to age this for 3-6 years. (92 points)

2016 Ron Rubin Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley SRP: $25
Light ruby color. Smells of sweet and tart red cherries and strawberries, along with spicy clove, cola, rhubarb. Medium-bodied, medium acidity, light tannins, a fresher, brighter take with strawberries and red cherries, backed up by cola, coffee, rhubarb and cinnamon notes. Fun, bright, food-friendly stuff but shows a solid amount of complexity for an early-drinking wine at this price point. (88 points)

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

SRP: $19
Light purple color. Tart blackberry, juicy black cherries on the nose, with enticing black pepper, soy, sweet eucalyptus and pine. Such lively, mouth-tingling acidity with moderate tannins for structure, and a frame of tart black cherries. Laced with white pepper, red pepper flakes, incense sticks, eucalyptus and cedar. A Loire throwback with juicy but tangy California fruit – this can improve for a few years easily. Sourced from the Stymie Bench Vineyard from within the Kelsey Bench Ava, this wine is aged 14 months in 30% new American oak. (90 points)

2015 Steele Wines Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $28
Light purple color. Nose of sweet plums and jammy blackberries and cherries, along with cocoa, violet petals, fall leaves, vanilla, lovely. Medium+ bodied with fleshy tannins and moderating acidity, juicy but bright with plums and blackberry fruit. Smooth and pretty with lots of spicy chewing tobacco, pepper, graphite and fallen leaves, mixing well with vanilla and cocoa. Delicious, and really good for the price. Aged 18 months in 30% new French and American oak. (89 points)

2013 Mi Sueño Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Deep purple color. Dense aromas of crushed blackberries, blueberries and black currant jam, with waves of sweet mocha, coconut, eucalyptus and rich earth. Rich on the palate with suave tannins, medium-low acidity, and plenty of dark, rich fruit. Plenty of coconut, mocha, sweet herbs, eucalyptus, coffee – plenty of complex, earthy notes as well. Delicious now but can improve for years. All Cabernet aged 24 months in 55% new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll - California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
SRP: $60
Rich purple color. Dark and suave on the nose with black currants, blackberries, lots of earthy, charcoal, smoky elements and sweet cola. Rich texture, dark plum and currant fruit, structured tannins, but some vibrant acidity. Lots of complex vanilla, earth, charcoal, sweet pipe tobacco, library books, leather – a lot of interesting elements that will evolve well over time. Includes 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot and 4% Malbec, this wine is aged 18 months in about half new oak (mix of French, American, Hungarian). (91 points)

2015 Mercer Estates Sharp Sisters - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Rich, saucy aromas of plum cake and black cherry mixed with cocoa, pepper, save, violets. Plush fruit on the palate (black cherry, tart plums) on a frame of fleshy tannins and medium acidity, balanced quite nicely. Notes of savory spice and beef, the fruit is hedonistic but the vibrancy and food-friendly nature of the wine is really attractive. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Carignan, aged 18 months in French and American oak. (90 points)

2015 Mercer Estates Malbec - Washington, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills
SRP: $25
Deep purple. Nose of tart black currants and plums, sweet coffee, violets, magic markers, anise cookie. Full but plush with some structured tannins and bright acidity. Crunchy blackberry, blueberry and dark plums laced with anise, cedar, coffee, mocha. Suave, silky, delicious now but this could age. Includes 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in French and American oak. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Checking in on 2015 Virginia Cabernet Francs

Cabernet Franc has been Virginia’s unofficial signature red grape for some time now, although I’d argue other Bordeaux varieties like Merlot and, more frequently, Petit Verdot shine just as bright.

According to the
2015 crush report, almost 400 acres of Cabernet Franc were planted in Virginia, which puts it behind only Chardonnay in terms of total acreage.

This grape does very well in Virginia’s humid climate and clay-heavy soils. Many wineries produce varietal Cabernet Franc, and even more use it as a blending grape, so if you haven’t tried one yet, there are plenty out there.

I recently tasted through five different Virginia Cabernet Francs, all from the 2015 vintage, and found a whole lot to like. My notes below…

2015 Blenheim Vineyards Cabernet Franc - Virginia
SRP: $22
Light ruby color. Aromas of sweet raspberries and juicy cherries, roses, cola, red apple peel, hint of clove. Medium-bodied with bright acidity and light tannins, fresh and appealing with red currants, raspberries. I get lots of black tea, clove, cola and rose petals. Vibrant, tangy, crisp, drinking very well now but will improve for a few years. Includes 5% Merlot, aged 9 months in almost all old oak. (89 points)

2015 Slater Run Vineyards - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
SRP: $25
Pale ruby color. Aromas of tart red cherries, sweet raspberries, roses, oregano, a lighter, fresher aromatic display. On the palate, soft tannins, fresh acidity, on a medium-bodied frame with an easy-drinking appeal. Notes of cola, sweet coffee, chocolate, mixed with leaves and roasted bell pepper. A lighter, early-drinking style with fresh appeal. All estate Cabernet Franc aged 12 months in three-year-old French oak. 12.5% alcohol. (84 points)

2015 Tarara Winery Cabernet Franc - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
SRP: $25
Medium ruby color. Aromas of tangy currants, black cherries, campfire smoke, roasted coffee, cola. Medium-bodied with a fresh and juicy appeal, medium acidity, medium-soft tannins. Plummy with black cherries, mixed with an interesting combination of black tea, roasted chestnut and earthy spice notes. Solid example of the quality of Cabernet Franc coming out of Loudon County. Planted in 1988 – with some silt, loam, limestone soils. All estate Cabernet Franc aged 14 months in 1/3 new French oak. (87 points)

2015 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc Private Reserve - Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County
Medium ruby color. On the nose, tart black cherries, pomegranate, with cracked pepper, coffee, violets, rhubarb. Bright acidity frames the wine with some light tannins, suave black cherries and tart black currant – mixed with loamy soil, and black pepper. Fun stuff to drink over the next few years, maybe more. 100% Cabernet Franc, 13.8% alcohol. (87 points)

2015 Williamsburg Winery Cabernet Franc Trianon - Virginia
SRP: $40
Deep ruby color. Bright raspberries and red currants, rose petals, rhubarb, cracked pepper and broth notes. Medium-bodied, dusty tannins, vibrant acidity – tart red cherries, raspberries, black cherries, notes of chewing tobacco and menthol and black pepper – toasty oak and roasted coffee but its integrated so well – smoothed out nicely with an hour of air – delicious. Curious how this will age over the next 2-5 years. Mostly estate-grown Cabernet Franc with 7% Petit Verdot. Aged in a mix of new and used French and American oak. 12.5% alcohol. (88 points)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Plenty of Quality & Value to be Found in Côtes de Bordeaux

If you’re looking for moderately-priced, accessible Bordeaux reds, Côtes de Bordeaux is a great place to start.

Wine made in the Côtes appellations, in aggregate, make up just 10% of Bordeaux wines, and they’re almost entirely red (with a few Sauvignon Blanc-dominated blends in the mix). Merlot is dominant here, backed up by Cab Sauv, Malbec, and other red Bordeaux grapes. Blaye is the largest of the appellations, producing more than 5 million cases, while the smallest, Sainte-Foy, produces only about 110,000 cases. In 2009, these non-contiguous appellations joined forces to create the
Union des Côtes de Bordeaux to collectively promote their wines.

The region’s calling card are small, family-owned estates who produce quality wines at moderate prices. Sourced from predominantly clay soils on the right banks of the Garrone and Dordogne rivers, these juicy, fruity wines offer a great Bordeaux introduction for new or intermediate wine drinkers, especially those seeking to snatch up a lot of wine for a little money. If you’re not sure of the style of Bordeaux wine you like, you can get adventurous without spending a ton — the wines in this report all retail for $12-$21.

Unfortunately, I don’t come upon a lot of these wines here in the U.S., but hopefully that will change. I for one would love to see more and more of these wines on by-the-glass lists at wine bars and restaurants.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Château Peybonhomme-les Tours Le Blanc Bonhomme - France, Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $21
Rich gold color. Lovely notes of honey, lemon curd, baked apple, mixed with chalky, floral, spicy herbal notes. Creamy texture on the palate, bright acidity, this is wonderfully balanced between richness and vibrancy. Lemon curd, yellow apple, spiced apricot jam, this is delicious with complex notes of spiced tea and floral potpourri. Impressive amount of depth and complexity for a wine at this price point. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Semillon. (91 points)

2014 Château Hyot - France, Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of black cherries, red and black with some nice savory spices (clove, bay leaf, black pepper), with violets and charred earth. Medium-bodied with some solid grip to the tannins, medium acidity keeps it fresh. Pretty and juicy with black currants and cherries, laced with cocoa powder, dark roast coffee, some potting soil and smoky charcoal notes. It really opens up nicely with air, and could improve for a few years. Very impressive for the price. Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. (87 points)

2014 Château Biac Felix de Biac - France, Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $25
Deep ruby color. Nose shows black cherries and tangy plums, lots of earthy, spicy, savory qualities here, some bacon fat and bell pepper, too. Medium+ bodied frame, really tight tannic structure with moderate acidity. Impressive concentration of black and red plums and cherries, mixed with cocoa, violets, graphite and wet rocks. Can drink well now (air will help) or cellar for a few years and let it unwind. 58% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc. (89 points)

2014 Château Carbonneau Cuvée Classique - France, Bordeaux, Sainte Foy Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $12
Medium ruby color. Aromas of black currants, tart red and black plums, loamy soil, cedar and sweet espresso. Moderate grip on the palate, fresh acidity, impressive depth on the palate for a wine at this price point. Pencil shavings, earthy, violets, incense sticks, pepper. Not super complex but seductive for the price. 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec. (87 points)

2014 Château Puygueraud - France, Bordeaux, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $18
Deep ruby colored. Aromas of red and black currants, dark plums, rich but exotic with notes of violets, clove, eucalyptus, anise, and fallen leaves. Full and nicely balanced on the palate with hard tannins for a wine at this price point, fresh acidity. Black currants galore, topped in cedar, roasted herbs and smoky charcoal. Impressive depth and concentration, this could age for at least a few years. 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec. Aged in 40% new French oak. (89 points) 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Vibrant Victoria, Australia Wines from Fowles

We’re off to Victoria, Australia this week, with a look at a range of wines from Fowles.

Fowles is located in one of Australia’s coolest winegrowing regions, the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria. Located about 80 miles north of Melbourne, this area is home to decomposed granite soils, low rainfall, and plenty of wind, which combine to form fresh wines with vibrant acidity.

Founder Matt Fowles is an avid hunter and gatherer, which is evident in the winery’s branding aesthetic. Fowles releases three lines of wines: Are you Game?, brighter and fresher-styled wines; Ladies who Shoot their Lunch, which Matt Fowles says are designed to be paired with wild game; and Farm to Table, richer wines to pair with farmed meats.

The Farm to Table brand wines can be found in the U.S. market for about $16 a pop, while the Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch wines should cost about $35 per bottle.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Fowles Wine Sauvignon Blanc Farm to Table - Australia, Victoria, Central Victoria, Nagambie Lakes
Light gold color. Bursting aromatics of white peach, kiwi, orange slices, with honeysuckle and fresh laundry notes. On the palate, creamy but zesty, white peaches, limes and green apples blend well with honeysuckle, floral perfume, and sliced cucumbers. Flora, punchy, but fresh and tasty. (86 points)

2015 Fowles Wine Cabernet Sauvignon Farm to Table - Australia, Victoria, Strathbogie Ranges
Lively purple color. Nose of blueberry, juicy black cherries, violets, sweet coffee, menthol and cedar. Full-bodied with velvety tannins and medium acidity. Dark plums, boysenberry, blueberry jam, mixed with sweet coffee, dark chocolate, cedar, menthol and black tea. Juicy and plump but not simple, this could stand up to lots of hearty foods. (87 points)

2016 Fowles Wine Pinot Noir Farm to Table - Australia, Victoria, Central Victoria, Nagambie Lakes
Ruby color. Aromas of rhubarb, rose petal, white pepper, on top of cool, crisp, chilled red fruits (strawberry, raspberry). On the palate, some light structure from the tannins but this shows a chilled, crisp vibe, with red cherries, tart red plums. I get notes of cola, rhubarb, menthol, some integrated cedar. Wow, color me impressed with this Victorian Pinot Noir. (90 points)

2016 Fowles Wine Riesling Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch - Australia, Victoria, Strathbogie Ranges
Light yellow color. Aromas of white peaches, lime juice, yellow flowers, chalk dust and quinine. On the palate, mouth-watering acidity, a salty, nervy aesthetic on this wine (which tastes dry or very near it). Lemon, lime, apricot, laced with chalky-mineral tones and spicy floral tea flavors. This would be so great with sushi or spicy seafood or veggie meals. (89 points)

Light gold color. Aromas of lemon curd, yellow apple, buttercream, sea salt, floral perfume. Medium+ bodied, plenty of refreshing acidity but also plush texture. Flavors of lemon crème and lime, yellow apples, mixed with almond, honeyed tea, buttercream, but also some sea salt and white flowers. Integrated and vibrant, immediately pleasurable but shows significant complexity. (88 points)

2015 Fowles Wine Shiraz Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch - Australia, Victoria, Strathbogie Ranges
Deep ruby color. Aromas of fresh black cherries, wild blackberry, notes of earth, loam and clay, with some black pepper and cedar. Medium-bodied, vibrant, lively acidity, moderate grip on the tannins. Flavors of plums, black cherry, along with cola, eucalyptus, pepper and cedar. Not “light” but more freshness and vibrancy that the term “Australian Shiraz” generally connotes. (89 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Virginia Wine Continues to Excite with 2017 Governor's Cup Winners

There are so many high-quality, delicious, diverse wines coming out of Virginia, more so year after year. If you don’t already know this, are you sure you like wine?

I have a complex relationship with Virginia wine, having tasted it for about a decade (and reviewed hundreds of Virginia wines, more than from any other state spare California). I’ve tasted a lot of bad or mediocre but overpriced wines from Virginia – a lot.

But, if you stick with some tried-and-true producers (Barboursville, Linden, Glen Manor, King Family, Veritas, etc., etc.) and keep an open mind to exciting new producers, you will find serious and delicious wines, and a thriving wine scene that offers a lot of excitement and diversity.

And with hundreds of wineries, it can be a bit daunting if you’re looking to get into Virginia wines. Luckily, each year, the Commonwealth makes a big deal about their wines with the Virginia Governor’s Cup. It’s a huge wine competition, judged by an experienced and highly-respected panel, and they release a Governor’s Case each year, the top 12 wines from the blind-tastings. I’ve been tasting these wines for five or six years now, and it’s always a fun and enlightening experience, a refresher on what’s going on in Virginia wine country. Some of my favorite Virginia producers don’t submit wines to the competition, but these 12 wines still represent some of the best Virginia has on offer.

These 12 wines are also a good way to dissect some of the “trends” in Virginia wine. Like the emergence of varietal Petit Verdot wines as serious contenders for best red in the state. The honing and perfecting of Bordeaux red blends, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc continuing to do very impressive stuff. And then there are the dry and sweet versions of Petit Manseng (perhaps my favorite grape in Virginia). There’s a lot out there.

If you want more information on the Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition and the case, here’s their site.

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

2016 Horton Vineyards Viognier - Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County
SRP: $20
Rich yellow color. Aromas of mango, bruised apple, some spiced tea, honey butter and flowers. Creamy texture with medium-low acidity and a waxy texture, balanced quite well though. Honey, butter and nougat on top of bruised apples and pear, mixed in with some cinnamon, vanilla and floral potpourri. Tasted blind, I’m convinced I would’ve guessed Chardonnay, but this is quite tasty. Includes 6% Petit Manseng. (87 points)

2014 Valley Roads Vineyards Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $37
Deep purple color. Nose shows tart black currants, smoky black cherries, along with pepper, tar, campfire, anise and espresso. Medium+ bodied, the tannic grip is there but fresh acidity makes it silky. Tangy black cherries and currants, delicious, ripe but crunchy, and the fruit is laced with smoky charcoal, anise, coffee, wet soil and asphalt notes. There’s some deep mineral tones underneath, and while the flavors are bold, there’s such a pretty, smooth mouthfeel. I wager this will improve for five to eight years. (89 points)

2014 Ingleside Petit Verdot - Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Northern Neck
SRP: $38
Rich purple color. Beautiful aromatics of black cherries, roasted plums, currant compote, along with waves of violets, potting soil, leather, spicy clove and coffee – Serious grip to the tannins but the wine is moderated by vibrant acidity, which keeps it balanced with the crunchy blackberry and boysenberry fruit. Lots of leaves, leather, clove and charcoal elements, some violets and pencil shavings as well. Long time ahead for this wine, but very impressive and it really opens up with air. Aged 18 months in French and American oak. (89 points)

2014 Veritas Vineyard Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 6th Edition - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $40
Very dark ruby color. Aromas of spicy pepper, bay leaf, oregano, on top of tart black currants and black cherries. Medium-bodied on the palate with some sturdy grip to the tannins and medium acidity. Tart black currants and black cherries mix well with graphite, charcoal, anise, black pepper, sweet vanilla. Tangy but rich, sturdy but fresh, I like the combination of earthy spice and floral tones on the finish. This has years of improvement but shows well in its youth. Aged 15 months in 45% new oak. (88 points)

2014 King Family Vineyards Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $36
Very deep ruby color. Smells like tart but sweet black currants, laced with cocoa, anise, violets, magic marker, dark chocolate and vanilla. Nice grip on the tannins, vibrant acidity frames the wine, and it’s packed with tangy black cherries, blueberry skins and tart plums. Mix in some smoky charcoal, coffee, graphite, loam, mineral tones, and this is a bright but deep PV with solid aging potential. Aged 21 months in 50% new French oak. (89 points)

2014 Jefferson Vineyards Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $25
Dark ruby color. Smells like crunchy red and black currants, mixed with cola, black pepper, anise and deep earthy tones. Medium+ body with solid tannic bite and refreshing acidity. The black currant and lingonberry jam fruit blends nicely with spiced coffee, charcoal, black licorice, roasted herbs. Great structure for at least five years of improvement, this is tart but deep wine that would both be great with a steak, while the acidity would help this cut through lots of lighter foods. (88 points)

2014 The Barns at Hamilton Station Cabernet Sauvignon - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
SRP: $28
Light purple color. I get aromas of currant jam, raspberries, sweet cola, anise cookies. Surprising tannic grip on the palate with medium acidity. Tart plum and currant fruit mixes with tobacco, earth, charred wood. A bit austere, could use some time to unwind, but a tasty Cabernet. Aged 15 months in French and American oak. (85 points)

2012 Breaux Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
SRP: $48
Medium purple color. Aromas of crushed blackberries, spicy currants, along with tobacco leaf, sage, dusty earth, incense. Grippy tannins mix with vibrant acidity on a medium-bodied frame, accessible but structured well. Black cherries and red/black currants are juicy but showing a little bit of age (in a good way), with more subtlety. The fruit is emblazoned with chewing tobacco, mint, eucalyptus, coffee, some (but not too much) charred wood. I also get some earthy, mineral tones. The fruit will fade before the tannins do but this has time ahead of it for sure. (40% Merlot, 40% Malbec, with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. (90 points)

2014 Michael Shaps Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $50
Medium purple color. Aromas show waves of currants and plums, clove and menthol, and a great mix of charcoal, clay soil, violets and anise – wow, these aromas evolve and shift wonderfully with air. Gorgeous balance on the palate with sturdy tannins and crisp acidity, along with fresh but deep black currant, plums and cherry fruit. I love the complex anise, menthol, charcoal, earth and spice rub elements. I also get some cedar/coffee, deep violets. Complex, gorgeous mouthfeel, I love this now but it’ll be stellar in five to eight years. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 22 months in 50% new French oak. (92 points)

2012 Barboursville Vineyards Paxxito
- Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County

SRP: $32
Golden colored. Rich aromas of glazed apricot, orange marmalade, sweet yellow flowers, honey, some lamp oil – great stuff. Plump texture, richly sweet with a bit of acidity to help keep it together. Orange and apricot jams, glazed yellow apples, juicy and delicious with notes of honey, mint, sweet tea, hints of caramel and floral perfume. Really well-rounded stuff, quite complex, a seriously good Virginia dessert wine. Made from a blend of Moscato Ottonel and Vidal grapes. (88 points)

2014 King Family Vineyards Petit Manseng Loreley - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge Foothills
SRP: $26
Golden orange color. Aromas of peach nectar, honeycomb, floral shampoo and olive oil. Plump and sweet on the palate but some moderating acidity (always nice from this grape), balances it out quite nicely. Creamy pear, apple pie, orange marmalade flavors, backed up by candied ginger, lemon meringue, almond bars and brown sugar. Lovely example of the quality of Petit Manseng dessert wines coming out of Virginia. 10% residual sugar, 13.5% alcohol. (88 points)

2014 Veritas Vineyard Petit Manseng - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $27
Deep gold color. Aromas of honey, nougat, sweet yellow raisins, daisies, baked apple tart – really lovely-smelling stuff. Plump texture on the palate with flavors of yellow raisins, yellow plums, honey, sweet tea, graham cracker and cinnamon. The flavors all work so well together, as does the rich texture and sweetness with the bright acidity that is key with this grape in Virginia. A lovely example of a style of dessert wines that I hope more people begin to recognize. 14.2% alcohol. (89 points)
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wine Reviews: New Releases from Italy

Most of the wines in this week’s report come from two Piedmont producers, Réva and Oddero. I found some seriously good and cellar-worthy Nebbiolos, and a host of other tasty Piedmont wines from these producers.

There are also two new releases from Sardinia included in this report. I apologize for the lack of suggested retail price information — these wines appear to be brand new to the U.S. market, so information is not yet available.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Réva Langhe Bianco - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Langhe DOC
Bright yellow color. On the nose, I get lemon and lime pith, cut flower stems, dandelion, and interesting notes of green olives and chalk dust. Creamy texture but zesty acidity, with flavors of lemon curd, orange peel and green apple. Notes of sea salt, chalk dust and dandelion add complexity. Brisk but pretty with significant textural depth. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris fermented in old oak and stainless steel. (88 points)

2015 Réva Barbera d'Alba Superiore - Italy, Piedmont, Alba, Barbera d'Alba Superiore
Light purple color. Smells of juicy dark fruit (gushing plums, black cherries) along with violets, cola, sweet coffee. Full-bodied and juicy with medium tannins and tart acidity. Plummy and packed with black cherries along with roses, violets, clove, some earthy-coffee notes. Delicious, fruity yet crisp and interesting. (89 points)

2016 Réva Dolcetto d'Alba - Italy, Piedmont, Alba, Dolcetto d'Alba
Deep purple color. Nose of violets, dark chocolate, sweet dark plums and black cherries, with notes of sweet caramel. Medium+ bodied with some dusty tannins, but not harsh, and tart, mouth-watering acidity. Fun and fleshy with fresh black cherries, fig paste, plum cake, and I get some dark chocolate, sweet cola, violets and loamy soil. Tasty, tangy stuff. (88 points)

2015 Réva Nebbiolo d'Alba - Italy, Piedmont, Alba, Nebbiolo d'Alba
Light ruby color. Bright red currants, tart cranberry, some roses, needs air but opens to show more spiced tea and earthy tones. Solid structure from the tannins, refreshing acidity, I get lots of tart red and black currants. Notes of graphite, loamy soil, charred herbs, some dark coffee. It’s a good introductory Nebbiolo, not a ton of depth but it hits all the right spots and could definitely benefit from five years in the cellar to unwind. From vineyards in Montforte d’Alba, aged 12 months in Austrian oak. (88 points)

2013 Réva Barolo - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bright ruby color. Aromas of tart red and black cherries and currants, rose potpourri, tobacco, rosemary. Sturdy grip, bright acidity, tart black cherries and red currants but the fruit is deep and concentrated, too, and the balance is impressive. Tobacco, graphite, fallen leaves, clove, and there’s a dusty, intriguing mineral component. So young but impressive. (91 points)

2013 Réva Barolo Ravera - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Deep ruby color. Rich, bold fruit aromas of black cherries, cherries plum skins, violets, loam, graphite, magic marker, anise. Full and grippy on the palate, this has serious oomph and bright acidity. Dense (of course this is very young) but it’s gorgeous, lots of plums, black cherries, tangy currants. Loaded with anise, loam, graphite, pepper, violets, leather. 15 years should do wonders. (92 points)

2013 Oddero Barolo Rocche di Castiglione - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bright ruby color. Nose shows dusty earth, tobacco and mushrooms on top of tangy cherries and plums, lots of red flowers and spiced tea. Seriously grippy and dry tannins on the palate with medium+ acidity, this is very young but not too harsh. Tangy red fruits (cherries, pomegranate, raspberry), loaded with black tea, roses, grilled mushrooms. Needs time but a vibrant young Barolo. (90 points)

2007 Oddero Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Calm ruby color. Wow the aromas burst with tart black cherries and red currants, along with leather, grilled mushrooms, wet earth, roses, coffee grounds. Dusty but strong tannins with vibrant acidity, dry and tight and needs lots of time, but it shows lots of vibrant, tart red currants, black cherries, plum skins. Notes of mushroom, leather, black pepper, coffee, and a host of underlying mineral and earthy tones. This really opens up and gets more floral and mineral complexity. Don’t worry about forgetting this in cellar for five years. (93 points)

2016 Olianas Vermentino di Sardegna - Italy, Sardinia, Vermentino di Sardegna
Bright yellow color. So, so peachy and floral on the nose, along with freshly cut oranges and some sea salt. Brisk and salty but also juicy and waxy on the palate, with salted lime, orange peel and summer peaches. Notes of cut flower stems, green tea, chalk dust, this has impressive complexity and depth but is also super bright and easy to drink – solid stuff. (89 points)

2016 Olianas Cannonau di Sardegna - Italy, Sardinia, Cannonau di SardegnaBright ruby color. The nose pops with raspberries, strawberries, black cherries, along with spicy herbs, tobacco and sweet coffee. Juicy and accessible on the palate with easy-going tannins and medium acidity. This is packed with raspberries and bright strawberries, it’s a lighter style but super fruity. Nice kick of pepper, clove, cola. Food-friendly, fun, a great barbecue wine for sure. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Few and Far Between - Wines from Malta

I had no experience with wines from Malta until earlier this fall. I knew wine had a long and storied history on this rocky, limestone-encrusted island in the southern Mediterranean, but I never had the opportunity to buy or taste one before. The wines aren’t made in large quantities, and most of them are consumed by the Maltese or tourists who flock to the island. There is very little wine exported, and none to the United States.

Located south of Sicily and east of Tunisia, this island is an independent island (although so many countries, occupying armies and empires have claimed this rock over millennia), with a complex culture and history.

But, as far as wine regions go, the wines are (relatively) easy to grasp. Malta is home to just five wineries: Marsovin, Emmanuel Delicata, Camilleri Wines, Montekristo and Meridiana. The oldest (Delicata and Marsovin) date back to the early 1900s, but winegrowing began seeing a renewed interest in the late 20th and early 21st Century. Still, this is a small island, with only 2,000 acres planted to wine grapes (when combined with its sister island, Gozo).

Until the 1990s, Maltese winemakers worked with indigenous varieties like Gellewza and Girgentina, vitis vinifera varieties whose exact origins are shrouded in mystery. It’s possible these grapes were brought to the island by Phoenicians, who began cultivating vines on Malta 2,000 years ago, but so far nobody knows for sure.

In recent decades, foreign investment and a desire to expand the region’s wine reputation led to the planting of popular international varieties like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. This is a hot, sun-baked island, and the wines show it with ripe flavors. But the wines also seem to boast a good amount of nuance, freshness, and lots of spicy, earthy flavors.

Two good friends of mine recently traveled to Malta, and brought back a case of wine with them. That’s the only reason I was able to get my palate on some of these rare wines, and I was excited to do so. They cooked a delicious Malta-inspired meal of charcuterie, squid ink-pasta, peppered steak. The food was fantastic and the wines were delicious and interesting.

I tasted wines from Meridiana and Marvosin, and my notes are pasted below. 

2016 Meridiana Fenici - Malta, DOK Malta Superiore
On the nose, I get flowers and pineapple along with wax and almonds. Crisp and bright on the palate but shows interesting waxy/rich textural elements. I get lemon, apricot, matched with floral perfume, sea salt, chalky/mineral notes. Fun stuff, this went really good with grilled veggies and a crème fraiche dip. A blend of Chardonnay, Vermentino and Viognier. (87 points)

2015 Marsovin Antonin - Malta, DOK Malta Superiore
This wine was really cool – it smells like spicy herbs, tar, red and black currants, along with menthol and leather, really fun to sniff. Not dense, shows fresh tannins, moderate acidity. Lots of red and black currants, laced with spicy herbs, rhubarb, anise, leather, and there’s a lovely earthy, mineral component underneath. Wonderful pairing with some squid ink pasta. (89 points)

2014 Meridiana Melquart - Malta, DOK Malta Superiore
Tangy, peppery, currant paste on the nose. Juicy currants and plums on the palate with a solid tannic grip, medium-low acidity. Savory herbs, earth, roasted chestnut, lots going on here. This paired wonderfully with a tomahawk steak. (88 points)

2014 Meridiana Syrah Bel - Malta, DOK Malta
These aromas pop with savory broth, clove, sage, cracked pepper, on top of blackberries and dark plums. Plump texture but serious tannic backbone. Plums and currants topped with sage, pepper, clove. Dark but not heavy. (88 points)