Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

Last month I reported on a range of new releases from California. Well, the samples keep pouring in, and we’re back for another round. 

This week’s report has a nice spread, from zesty Sauvignon Blanc to big and bold Napa Cabernet. The Chardonnays from Stony Hill and Shafer steal the show, but Chalk Hill and La Crema bring some solid offerings to the table as well. And Shafer and Cliff Lede wow with their Stags Leap Cabernets, while a few other producers offer up moderately-priced and delicious wines.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Gamble Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $25
Light yellow color. Bursting aromatics of quince, nectarine, lime, pineapple, some white pepper and dandelion notes as well. Rich texture, lovely depth, but the acidity is crisp and it frames the wine nicely. The fruit is rich and tropical (pineapple, kiwi) with tart lime and lemon crème, hints of almond and honey. Lovely freshness and minerality on the finish. 75% barrel fermented, 25% stainless steel, 13.1% alcohol. Fascinating and delicious stuff. (90 points)

2016 3 Badge Beverage Corp Pinot Grigio Moobuzz - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $17
Pale straw color. Bright aromatics of yellow flowers, honeysuckle, green melon, lemon crème. Zippy and fresh on the palate but rich texture. Plump pear, apricot, lime flavors, with dandelion, honeysuckle, hints of sea breeze. Impressive balance and depth for a Pinot Grigio at this price point. (88 points)

2015 Chalk Hill Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $42
Light gold color. Aromas show orange blossom, whipped butter, salted almond, on top of yellow apples and pears. Creamy, deep texture, but lovely freshness throughout, as the yellow apple and green pear fruit rolls in. Almond, nougat, whipped butter, with white tea, sea salt, chalk dust. Lovely balance, complexity is quite impressive, and it’s undeniably delicious. All maloactic fermentation, aged 11 months in about 50% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 Stony Hill Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $48

Light gold color. Gorgeous, enticing aromas of golden delicious apples, apricot, tangerine, with complex elements of spiced white tea, shaved ginger, honey and sea salt. Full and velvety on the palate, such depth of texture, but the acidity is lively and lip-smacking. Apricot and tangerine drizzled with lime, the fruit is tangy but shows great concentration. I get complex flavors of minerals, limestone dust, lemongrass, hazelnut, smashed sea shells… the flavors go on and on. Such purity and depth. A stunning wine from a master of Napa Chardonnay. Aged 10 months in old French oak. (95 points) 

2016 La Crema Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $20
Light gold color. On the nose, I get apricots, lemon curd, honeycomb, toasted oak, whipped butter. Creamy texture but refreshing acidity makes for a rich wine but it stays fresh. Bruised apple and apricot mix with whipped honey, cinnamon, nougat and floral perfume. Quite delicious for this style and price range. 7 months in 17% new oak. (87 points)

2016 La Crema Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $23
Gold color. Aromas of yellow apples and bruises pears, with whipped butter, yellow flowers, cinnamon and almond. Plush texture on the palate, rich and creamy and fun, with medium acidity. Pears and bruised apples with notes of honey butter, toasted bread and ginger. Rich and flavorful, fun stuff for lovers of big, rich Cali Chardonnay. 8 months in 17% new French and American oak. (87 points)

2017 Cline Cellars Mourvedre Ancient Vines Rosé - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $13
Light watermelon color. Ripe and juicy on the nose with melon, white peach, cucumber, nettle and honeysuckle. Plump texture on the palate with vibrant acidity. Strawberries, watermelon and white cherries mix with spicy white pepper, cinnamon candies, honeysuckle. Pleasant and ripe but quite complex, too, always so good for the price. (87 points)

2016 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $56

Rich golden color. Aromas are rich and plump with pineapple, apricot, bruised apple, along with whipped honey, salted almond, vanilla. Rich textural depth on the palate but the acidity is so surprising and fresh – loving the mineral and chalky depth. Bold apricot, yellow plum, bruised yellow apple fruit, laced with vanilla crème, whipped honey – notes of seashell – wow – pure and vibrant despite the intense richness of the wine. A gorgeous, stunning Napa Chardonnay, I’d love to see how this ages. No maloactic fermentation, aged 14 months in 75% new French oak. (94 points)

2015 La Crema Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Deep ruby colored. Juicy black cherries and dark plums on the nose, along with clove, cedar, violets and cola. Full and juicy on the palate with easygoing tannins and medium acidity. Black cherries and forward dark plums, the fruit is mixed with root beer, cola, smoky oak, dark chocolate and coffee. Fun, fruity, yummy stuff for near-term consumption. Aged 11 months in 31% new French oak. (88 points)

2015 Scotto Family Wines Sangiovese Masthead Mohr-Fry Ranch - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $30
Light ruby color. Smells of warm cherries, strawberry jam, topped with menthol, rhubarb, roasted coffee, mint chewing tobacco. Surprisingly fresh acidity with soft/fleshy tannins, great contrast in this wine between fullness and brightness. Sour cherries, sweet strawberry and raspberry jam, rich but fresh fruit with notes of tobacco, rose petals, mint, violets, coffee. Impressive stuff for near-term drinking. Includes 10% Zinfandel, the wines spend 18 months in French and American oak. (89 points)

2015 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $95

Dark purple color. Dark and rich on the nose, with deeply concentrated blackberry and cassis, graphite, loamy earth, spiced tea, violets, mint chewing tobacco, vanilla. On the palate, the acidity is quite refreshing, and keeps the wine moving forward despite the serious tannic backbone. Deep core of blackberry and cassis fruit, rich but shows a tart edge, with complex notes of chewing tobacco, eucalyptus, vanilla, cedar, graphite, all woven in very well. Another gorgeous example of this wine from Shafer, and the 2015 has lots of years in the cellar for this beauty. Includes 7% Merlot and 3% Malbec, aged 20 months in 100% new French oak. (94 points)

2015 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $78
Rich purple color. Dark aromas of blackberries and currant compote, with menthol, cedar, cocoa, pine resin, complex and evolving aromas. On the palate, well-built tannins but velvety, and crisp acidity makes this wine enticing. Black currant and dark plums laced with tobacco, eucalyptus, iron, cedar, dark earth. Lots of time ahead for this wine, another impressive vintage of this wine. Aged 21 months in 80% new French oak. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Three Tasty, Quirky Wines from Oregon's Teutonic Wine Company

Teutonic Wine Company produces serious wines with a playful, adventurous branding aesthetic, exemplified in the three wines in today’s report. Barnaby Tuttle and his wife Olga put their first vines in the ground in 2005, after a friend offered them her fallow farm land in Alsea, Oregon. Barnaby, a restaurant wine buyer with a serious love of German wines, left his career and started making his own wine at a shared facility in Carlton. 

Teutonic’s first vintage was 2008, a small amount of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Production has increased since then, as the couple found new fruit from other vineyards in the Willamette Valley, focusing on high-elevation, old-vine sites. Today they produce about 6,000 cases of wine, including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and others. With the exception of the red blend in this report, Teutonic’s wines are all single-vineyard wines 

I found the two whites really interesting and different: a Riesling blend bursting with tropical flavors and a floral, spicy, dry Muscat. The red wine is produced in cooperation with Red Fang, a groovy doom metal band from Portland, Oregon. The band worked together with Teutonic to release “Red Fang Red,” which is a pretty cool and slightly oddball (in a good way) red wine that I was excited to taste. 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2016 Teutonic Wine Company Jazz Odyssey Wasson Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $17
Light gold color. A tropical aromatic explosion of peaches, guava, lychee, honeysuckle, dandelion and circus peanut candies. Fresh but juicy texture, almost waxy, slight sweetness, packed with tropical goodness: guava, peach, lychee. Notes of honey and white flowers. Ripe, tropical, could use a bit more acidity for my palate, but it’s nice. A blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. (88 points)  

SRP: $17
Light gold color. Lots of tropical aromas (peaches, lychee, cantaloupe, guava nectar) with some honeysuckle. Medium acidity offers a nice frame to this plump, tropical wine (packed with kiwi, lychee, guava and tangerine fruit). I get notes of honeysuckle and baby’s breath. Juicy, floral, fun. 100% Muscat. (87 points)

2016 Teutonic Wine Company Red Fang Red - Oregon
SRP: $25
Light ruby color. Nose shows strawberries, wild raspberries, rose petals, white pepper, cola and tobacco. Light tannins on the palate, bright acidity, the wine boasts tangy cherries and raspberries, red apple peel. I get notes of cola, tobacco, white pepper and rhubarb, along with some coffee and cigar box. Light and brisk, but delicious, no jammy, fake fruit or oaky overtones, here, this is a simple-drinking, bright wine. An interesting blend of 80% Pinot noir, 15% skin-fermented Gewürztraminer and 5% Tannat, sourced from vineyards in the Willamette and Rogue Valleys. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Mid-Atlantic Chardonnay Steps Up

Chardonnay is one of the most widely-recognized and widely-planted grapes in the world. Thousands of mediocre and downright crummy Chardonnays are produced all over the globe. But, when sourced from the right place and made by the right people, it’s also one of the world’s greatest wines. 

I’m a lover of white Burgundy, Chardonnay-based Champagne, Jura Chard, not to mention my love for Chards from Oregon, California, South Africa, Australia, Chile, Argentina, etc., etc. But lately I’ve been tasting a bunch of Chardonnays grown closer to home (for me): America’s Mid-Atlantic region. 

Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and my home state of New Jersey are all home to Chardonnay made in diverse styles. My personal favorites come from Virginia producers Linden, Ankida Ridge, Blenheim, and others, but the delicious options from these states are many. From steely, brisk iterations to richer, buttery wines, Mid-Atlantic Chardonnay is a thing — a thing worth checking out. 

I recently tasted through six Chardonnays that exemplify what this grape can do in the Mid-Atlantic. Part of an online tasting and chat organized by Virginia wine guru Frank Morgan of #VaWineChat, the wines showed stylistic differences and deliciousness. 

Below are my notes on some solid Mid-Atlantic Chardonnays… 

2016 Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Red Lion - Pennsylvania, Chester County
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. Aromas show zesty limes, green apple, apricot, with notes of nettle, baby’s breath and honeysuckle. Crisp acidity on the palate with lovely freshness and crispness, but some textural depth, too. Crisp green apples, honeydew and lime, topped in honey, flowers and chalky notes. It has a crisp, stainless steel charm but shows plenty of depth and flavor as well. A vibrant, lip-smacking style – very good stuff! Low alcohol (11.4%), all stainless steel. (87 points)  

2016 Big Cork Vineyards Chardonnay - Maryland
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Nose shows apricot, bruised apple, along with nougat and honeyed white tea. Medium-bodied, slightly creamy texture, fresh acidity. Green apple, bruised pear, lemon crème, honeysuckle, and I get some nougat and almond. Vibrant and lively, thin and a bit short, but quite nice. This wine spends six months in stainless steel and five months in new and used French and American oak. (85 points) 

2015 Tarara Winery Chardonnay - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
SRP: $30
Light gold color. Warm, inviting aromas of hazelnut, almond, cinnamon, honey and yellow apples and flowers. Medium-bodied, medium acidity, creamy texture yet crisp. Flavors of baked apple, apricot, tangerine, lovely depth of texture but stays crisp, and the wine is accented by mineral, seashell and yellow flowers. Wow, this is really impressive stuff. All maloactic fermentation, aged 10 months in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points) 

2016 Old Westminster Winery Chardonnay Home Vineyard - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
SRP: $28
Pale yellow color. Aromas of zesty apples, apricot, lemon crème, some almond and honeysuckle. On the palate, the texture is creamy but the acidity is so pristine and focused. Green apple, apricot, lemon meringue, I get some steely, stony and saline qualities that are really attractive, and some white tea and honey as well. Beautiful stuff! (89 points)

2016 Old Westminster Winery Chardonnay Premier Home Vineyard - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
SRP: $32
Light yellow color. Steely and fresh aromas, with apricot, lemon crème, chalk dust, saline and raw almond. Creamy but zesty palate with lime and apricot and lemon crème. Depth of texture is impressive, and the notes of honey, almond and cinnamon blend so well with floral perfume, chalk dust and saline. Crisp but complex, a vibrant and delicious wine that should win over fans of all types of Chardonnay. Fermented in 50% new French oak, 25% neutral French oak and 25% stainless steel. (89 points) 

2015 Bluestone Vineyard Chardonnay - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $24

Rich yellow color. Rich and buttery aromas with toasted marshmallow, almond, hay, honey, but also floral notes with yellow pears and apples. On the palate, creamy, ploush texture with vibrant acidity, and lots of yellow apples and plums, apricots. Notes of hazelnut, cinnamon, honey butter, some floral and ocean spray elements. Rich but lively, the yum factor is high but it’s also crisp and complex. Half maloactic fermentation, about ¼ of the wine sees new French oak and there’s about 5% of new Acacia wood in here as well. (88 points)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Three Killer Champagnes from Krug

Photo credit: Krug.
Among wine-lovers, Krug Champagne needs no introduction. This iconic Champagne house has been producing some of the world's best bubbles since 1843. Now owned by the luxury giant LVMH, Krug Champagnes fetch high prices all over the world and are sought after by Champagne enthusiasts for the deep richness and absurd complexity of flavors.

So, naturally, when I heard Nicole Burke from Krug was going to be in DC pouring three Krug Champagnes, I jumped at the chance.

Nicole poured the newly-released 2004 Vintage Brut, and the most recent iterations of the classic non-vintage Brut Grand Cuvée (the 164th edition) and the new non-vintage Rosé, the 21st edition.

The Champagnes were all jaw-droppingly good, but they are also very pricey, approaching the "if you have to ask, it's too expensive" range of price tags. But the wines are downright phenomenal, if you can afford them.

My notes below...
2004 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut - France, Champagne
Rich and deep aromas but also some floral, chalky, baguette notes. The palate combines power and elegance so well, a gorgeous texture with bright acidity. Juicy apricot and lemon curd laced with almond, chalk dusty, mineral, honeyed tea, toasted baguette, candied ginger. Very young, but surprisingly complex, although I’d love to re-taste in a decade. (95 points)

N.V. Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée Edition 164eme - France, Champagne

Loving the nose, rich and boisterous, with apricot, toasted bread, lemon curd, almond. Pristine and zesty on the palate, complements the richness well. Honey, apricot, lemon curd, nougat, toasted baguette and bread dough, along with mineral and floral notes. Long, zesty, vibrant. Based on the 2008 vintage, this could benefit from cellar time for sure. (94 points)

N.V. Krug Champagne Brut Rosé 21eme Edition - France, Champagne
Lovely rose color. Aromas of red berries, red apple peel, blood orange, vinous and deep but also floral and chalky. Crisp and lively palate with a lovely richness of fruit (raspberry, strawberry, blood orange). I get complex elements of saline, chalk, roses, spiced tea and rhubarb. Delicious, deep, complex, long. Wow. Pinot Noir with 8% Pinot Meunier. (95 points)

Monday, March 19, 2018

25 South African Wines to Try Now

Vineyards in Constantia, overlooking Cape Town. Credit: WOSA.
I am a devoted preacher of the good news that is South African wine. I’ve been drinking them since I could legally purchase alcohol, mostly because I was able to find fun wines at cheap prices.

Sure, most of these wines were branded, widely-available, mass-produced bottles, but year after year I saw more and more South African wines popping up. New (to me) wine regions, exciting blends, diverse styles, delicious and unique flavors. And even the $12 wines tasted “real” in a way I struggled to find in similar wines from Australia or California.

I knew there was much more out there to be discovered though, so I was thrilled when I took a bucket list trip to South Africa a few years ago. In addition to surfing my ass off and exploring the insane natural beauty of the Western Cape, Southern Coast and safari preserves in the Northeast of the country, I visited a bunch of wineries and tasted a ton of really, really good wine. As the story usually goes with South African wines, their prices were very reasonable.

I brought a lot of wine back with me, but I also set out to locate some more South African wines in the States. It wasn’t easy, though, and I found myself constantly hoping importers would bring in more wines like the ones I found in South Africa — exciting, delicious, site-specific, inexpensive wines.

Fast-forward to 2018, and here on the East Coast, I’m coming across more and more South African wines that fit the bill. Wines of South Africa (a trade group), recently teamed up with the South African Embassy and a handful of producers and importers of South African wine for a master class and walk-around tasting. Of course, I was excited to see what was on offer, so I attended and tasted through a few dozen wines from a half-dozen producers and importers. I was not disappointed.

I’ve included details on 25 wines that I think represent what I’m trying to say about the quality of South African wines in recent years. Each wine is linked to Wine-Searcher, which will allow you to find where in the States the wine may be available. Most of these wines fall in the $10-$20 range, but prices sometimes vary from state-to-state, of course, and the price points listed come from Wine-Searcher averages or importer data.

Feel free to peruse these suggestions and explore what South Africa has to offer. You have more (and better) options now than I’ve ever seen.



2016 Indaba Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa, Western Cape
Aromas of white pepper and peach. Fresh and creamy, bright acidity, tangy citrus fruit, fun spicy elements. (86 points)

2017 Eagles' Nest Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Cape Peninsula, Constantia
Bright and spicy aromas of green apple, jalapeno, sea salt. On the palate this is a brisk and fresh Sauvignon Blanc with green apple, lime, along with chalk dust and cut flower stems. Spicy and fresh and fun. (87 points)

2016 Rickety Bridge The Foundation Stone - South Africa, Coastal Region, Franschhoek Valley
White pepper, flowers, sea salt and apricot aromas. Juicy and tropical but tangy, too. Honey, sea salt, cut flower stems and melon rind combine nicely. Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, and Nouvelle. (88 points)

2015 Ayama Chenin Blanc - South Africa
Super tropical aromatics with pineapples and lots of flowers. Crisp but creamy, impressive depth on the palate, with flavors of peach, nectarine and apricot, with some floral perfume notes. Fresh, fruity, fun, delicious. (88 points)

2017 Lubanzi Chenin Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland
This wine is so good for the money (a common thread in this tasting). Aromas of flowers, sea salt, chalk and yellow pears. Zesty and bright on the palate but plenty of texture. I like the salted almond, quince, apricot and floral combo, with some underlying minerals. Yum. (89 points) 

2017 Raats Chenin Blanc Original - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Love the floral aromas, fresh and bright. Creamy texture on the palate with bright acidity, peaches and nectarines topped on sea salt and honeysuckle. The texture and depth at this price is really impressive. (89 points)

2017 Rustenberg Chenin Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Aromas of apricot, nectarine and lots of flowers. Peachy and plump on the palate but crisp, too. Honey and sea breeze mix with white tea, minerals, chalk dust. Wow, there is a lot going on here, especially considering the price point. (90 points)

2015 Rustenberg Chardonnay - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose shows almonds, lemon crème, baked apple. Rich and plush texturally but vibrant acidity. Yellow apples, peaches and apricots topped in honey and raw almond. Lovely stuff! (89 points)

2014 Capensis Chardonnay - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose shows butterscotch, almond, yellow apple. Palate is rich, creamy, almost waxy but balanced by precise acidity. Yellow apples and pears doused in toasted almond, butterscotch, honeysuckle, notes of sea salt and chalk dust. Complex but also rich and plush. Unlike last vintage (100% new oak), they’ve dialed this back to 50% new oak. (92 points)

Sparkling & Rosé

2015 Twee Jonge Gezellen Krone Methode Cap Classique Cuvée Brut - South Africa, Coastal Region, Tulbagh
Biscuity aromas with yellow apples and sea salt. Crisp ad bright, salty and tangy, apples and ginger, along with buttered biscuits. For the price, this is a seriously good Champagne method sparkling wine. I’d take this over pretty much any similarly-priced Cava. (88 points)

2016 Ridgeback Viognier Methode Cap Classique - South Africa, Coastal Region
Interesting nose of yellow apples, pineapple, nettle and bread dough. Fresh acidity but plump and waxy with apricot, nectarine, pineapple and peach. Lots of fruit but some fun biscuit and almond notes. Really interesting to see a sparkling Viognier (hard to find), and this one is a lot of fun. (87 points)

2017 Rustenberg Rosé of Petit Verdot - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Loving this rosé — what a surprise! Spicy pepper and herbs on the nose along with white cherries and juicy strawberries. Plump and fruit on the palate (peaches and strawberries) but its fresh and tangy. I love the spicy, herbal, floral complexity here. (90 points)

2017 Zorgvliet Cabernet Franc Rosé Silver Myn - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Pale copper color. Red apple, spiced white tea and peach pits on the nose. Crisp and clean but punchy with red apple, apricot, mixed with bright rose petals and nettle notes. Really fun rose. (87 points)


2016 Indaba Merlot - South Africa, Western Cape
Aromas of plums and juicy raspberries. Easy-going tannins, medium acidity. Plummy and juicy, a bit simple, but fun and well-balanced for a wine at this price point. (85 points)

2017 Indaba Mosaic - South Africa, Western Cape
Juicy, dark fruit and spice aromas. Plush, juicy on the palate, crowd-friendly appeal with black cherries and raspberry jam. Notes of spiced tea. Not too complex, but very good for the money. (86 points)

2015 Kanonkop Cape Blend Kadette - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose shows leather, spiced tea, clove, on top of black currants and tart black cherries. Palate is smooth and tangy but structured with currant fruit laced in spiced tea, leather, iodine and animal hide. Fruity and fun but structured and complex with a few years of aging potential. (89 points)

2016 Lubanzi Red Blend - South Africa, Coastal Region
Lots of bright and juicy red fruits on the noose with some peppery spice. Soft tannins, medium acidity and plump red fruits on the palate. Notes of pepper, anise and loamy earth add some complexity. Pleasant and crowd-pleasing stuff. (87 points)

2016 Beyerskloof Pinotage - South Africa, Western Cape
Dark and saucy aromas with black cherries and violets. Smooth, plush, juicy with black fruits topped in pepper, leather, earth. Notes of cocoa and earthy add complexity, and while this is a dark and concentrated wine it stays vibrant. Lovely. (90 points)

2014 Zorgvliet Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Such spicy aromatics! Leather, pepper, scorched earth and funky herbs on top of black currants. Suave and balanced, medium tannins and acidity, juicy black cherries and dark plum fruit. Complexity comes in the form of cocoa, pepper, anise and iodine notes, along with some spicy herbal elements. This is delicious now but could easily age for 3-5. (90 points)

2013 Rustenberg John X Merriman - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Super spicy! Currants, pepper and leather. Dry tannins on the palate with a suave feel, plush and juicy. Cherries and currants laced with pepper, leather and black tea. Could age nicely. A Merlot-based blend with all five Bordeaux grapes. (89 points)

2014 Spice Route Chakalaka - South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland
Super leathery on the nose with funky earth and lots of black cherries. Smooth but structured on the palate, fresh acidity, juicy cherry and currant fruit. Complex elements of charcoal, black pepper, leather, coffee and clove. Impressive depth and complexity here. A kitchen sink blend of Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Tannat. (90 points)

2017 Luddite Wines Saboteur - South Africa, Western Cape
Big and bold on the nose (blueberry and blackberry jam) along with earthy, spicy notes. Dark and plummy on the palate, approachable structure but built well. Pepper and charcoal accents. Yum. (88 points)

2015 Kaapzicht Estate Pinotage - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose reminds me of plum caked and currant compote, with some anise and pepper. Plush texture but solid tannic structure. Plummy, fig paste, prune, along with pepper and animal hide and anise. Fruity but earthy/savory with lots of complexity. Could benefit from a few years of cellaring. (89 points)

2015 Ataraxia Pinot Noir - South Africa, Cape South Coast, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Wow, an impressive display here. Lovely aromas of red cherries, wild strawberries, tobacco, wet earth, Portobello mushroom. Fresh and zesty on the palate with dusty tannins, lots of tangy cherries and wild strawberries. Lots of black tea, tobacco, mushroom, rose hips. Complex and elegant but plenty of time ahead. (91 points)

2013 Eagles' Nest Shiraz - South Africa, Coastal Region, Cape Peninsula, Constantia
I love the burst of pepper on the nose, along with black cherries, black currant, leather and clove. Tangy acidity, dusty tannins frame it nicely, while the tangy black cherry and currant fruit mixes with clove, coffee, eucalyptus and earth. A Syrah with all sorts of complexity. (90 points)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Maidenstoen – Incredible Single-Vineyard Rieslings from California’s Central Coast

Michael Callahan has a thing for Riesling — an obsession, perhaps. But, as a Riesling-lover in general, and a big fan of California Riesling, I find it refreshing.

Michael, who works at Chamisal Vineyards, has scoured various Central Coast sites for Riesling , and has found some real beauties. Under his Maidenstoen label (which he started in 2013) Michael bottles single-vineyard Rieslings that speak clearly of their place. He seems to have set a mission with these wines: to pay homage to Riesling’s importance in the history of California wine, and to make sure Cali Riesling has a viable future.

“Although tastes change and financial decisions must be made, it is important to have advocates in order to keep some pieces of what California’s winegrowing history is,” Michael told me. “It is impossible to contribute to the greater world of wine without an understanding of our history and interpreting what is capable from our older vineyards. The story of California wine should be more than just Cabernet or whatever is selling for the most dollars.”

I say: Amen!

Even though dry Riesling is popular with consumers, Michael laments how some older Riesling vineyards in California have been pulled out or grafted to other varieties. And the price that growers can fetch for their Riesling make it a difficult endeavor. But lovers of dry Riesling have a lot to get excited about when it comes to California. Though few and far between, there are some thrilling Rieslings out there. And (like these wines that cost $22 a pop), the quality to price ratio can be incredibly high.

Michael recently sent me three of his 2016 Rieslings, sourced from select vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, Monterey and Edna Valley. My notes on these exceptional wines are below.

2016 Maidenstoen Wines Riesling Lafond Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
Light gold color. Nose shows lime, apricot, lemon candle, and some chalky, oyster she and sea salt notes, mixed with some spicy/floral notes. Creamy presence on the palate, but lovely focus and acidity. Orange zest, pineapple and lime fruit is topped in mineral dust, stony-flinty elements, spiced white tea. I get some wax and honeycomb too, but the wine stays focused and bright throughout. Gorgeous, deep, complex, age-worthy stuff. Sta. Rita Hills Riesling is rare, but this site contains some vines dating back to 1971! (94 points)

2016 Maidenstoen Wines Riesling Coast View Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Monterey County
Pretty gold color. Lovely aromas of apricot, orange, lime zest, waves of white flowers, chalky and ocean spray notes – rocky minerals and mountain stream, too. Plump texture but such mouth-watering acidity, the balance is lovely. Tart lime, apricot, airy and fresh and floral with honeysuckle and dandelion. Some mineral notes, limestone, that exquisite Riesling minerality and vibrancy, with a chalky, floral finish.  An exceptional California Riesling and absolutely delicious. From a 2,200-foot elevation vineyard on terraced rows, planted in decomposed granite soils. (93 points)

2016 Maidenstoen Wines Riesling Oliver's Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
Light yellow color. The nose shows sea salt, ginger, gorgeous lemon-lime and kiwi, yellow flowers, lots going on aromatically. Crisp acidity on the palate, such focus, but the fruit is rich and juicy (guava, kiwi, drizzled in lime). Brisk notes of mineral and chalk dust combine well with deep notes of honey and white tea. A long finish with stony mineral elements. Gorgeous depth but such freshness, too. From a clay soil vineyard six miles from the coast. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Aridus - Exploring Arizona Wine in Old Town Scottsdale

I hadn’t heard of Aridus before receiving some samples from them last year. But as I uncorked and tasted them, I knew I’d found another Arizona producer to watch.
The tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale has been open for about three years, and seems to be thriving. I was in Scottsdale for a conference, and decided to pop in to Aridus for a visit. I’ve never been a big fan of Scottsdale before (strikes me as a bit hokey sometimes), but I had an absolute blast tasting wine at Kazimierz, and enjoyed the eclectic wine list and incredible food at Cowboy Ciao.
Anyway, so Aridus: This tasting room is designed to turn more people on to the producer’s wines. They’re based in Wilcoz, Arizona, which is located in the southeastern part of the state, east of Tuscon. Scott and Joan Dahmner founded Aridus (a derivation of the Latin word for dry or arid) in 2012. They sources grapes from about 40 acres of estate vineyards above Willcox, Arizona (which sits at an impressive 5,200 feet in elevation). They also crush grapes from other vineyards in Arizona, and some grapes from New Mexico and California.
Arizona wines are prime for exploration right now. There are lots of conscientious producers experimenting with all sorts of grapes, making wines of all sorts of styles. Unfortunately, the wines are made in relatively small quantities, and not a lot of the wine gets distribution outside of the region. But if you’re ever traveling in Arizona, it’s worth looking into.
And with a tasting room right there in Scottsdale, Aridus is a great place to start.
Here are my notes on the wines I tasted…
2014 ARIDUS Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
Nose shows butter, honeyed tea and yellow apples. Creamy and plum but nice freshness. Bruised apple and apricot mix with candle wax, hazelnut and whipped butter. Delicious stuff. (88 points)
2015 ARIDUS Viognier - Arizona, Cochise County
A fascinating and bright interpretation of this grape. Salty aromas with white flowers and apricot. Peachy and juicy on the palate but the acidity is so refreshing and the fruit is crisp, laced with salted almond and white flower notes. A more restrained and less intensely tropical or honeyed take on this grape, and I love it. (90 points)
2015 ARIDUS Grenache - Arizona, Cochise County
Nose shows spicy red cherries, roses and pepper. Bold but not heavy, with light tannins and medium acidity, despite a 15%+ alcohol level, the wine feels almost light, with tart cherry and juicy red currant fruit. Notes of pepper, chestnut and vanilla add complexity. A delicious Grenache that goes down so easily. Will try to hold my bottle for two or three years to see what happens. (89 points) 
2015 ARIDUS Tempranillo - Arizona, Cochise County
Pepper, earthy, red plums on the nose. Rich but spicy with suave tannins and flavors of spicy red currants. Pepper, earth, sage. Spicy and delicious. (87 points)
2015 ARIDUS Cabernet Sauvignon - Arizona, Cochise County
Eucalyptus and spicy herb aromas with sweet red currants. Plush on the palate, medium acid, soft tannins, flavors of red currants and strawberry jam with cola, toasted oak, pepper and earth. Fun stuff. Aged 14 months in 80% new French oak. (87 points)
2013 ARIDUS Vintner's Reserve - Arizona, Cochise County
$60 (member’s only)
Sweet and dark and jammy nose with pepper and violets. Rich and juicy, well-structured but yummy, with plums, blackberries, scorched earth, sweet cola and cedar. Juicy and delicious but some solid complexity. 44% Zinfandel, 28% Syrah, 28% Petite Sirah, aged three years in oak and two in bottle before release. (88 points)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Gods of the Wachau: Pichler and Hirtzberger

I have been obsessed with the Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners from F.X. Pichler and Franz Hirtzberger for a solid decade now. And with each tasting of their wines, I’m constantly impressed and refreshed. The quality, depth, and focus of the wines is consistent across vintages, and with such site-specific nuances, the wines offer a master class in Wachau terroir. These are the kinds of wines that translate their site with clarity.

And they’re just so damned delicious. Not to mention age-worthy. I have a bunch of Pichlers and Hirtzbergers buried that I’m pretending I don’t know exist, at least for another five or six years. The wines age beautifully, but they’re also ready to drink young, because they offer such freshness and fruit.

I recently tasted three wines apiece from Pichler and Hirtzberger at Weygandt Wines, which imports these wines. As always, their offerings are well-priced for the high quality, and the knowledge of the staff (should you have any Austria or other wine-related questions) is top notch.

Here are my notes on the wines I tasted…

2014 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Federspiel Steinterrassen - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Lots of lemon, grapefruit and minerals on the nose. Stony and dusty and mineral-driven on the palate, dry and brisk and doused in lemon and slate and sea salt. Delicious stuff that should evolve so nicely. (91 points)

2015 Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Kirchweg - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau 

Loving the spicy complexity on the nose (white pepper, nettle, tobacco) with tropical juices mixed in. Peachy and rich on the palate, almost waxy, but also precise acidity and lots of zesty fruit. Tropical, too, and honeyed tea, but it stays elegant and spicy and complex. Wow this should age beautifully. (93 points)

2014 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Loibner Steinertal - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Gorgeous aromatics of spiced honeyed tea, peach nectar, mineral and limestone dust. Rich and waxy texture on the palate, with plump, tropical fruits. But the zesty acidity and complex floral, soap, incense sticks, nettle and perfume elements make for a seriously complex wine. As with all of these wines, I want to re-taste it in five years. (93 points)

2015 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibner Oberhauser - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau

F.X. (left) and the next generation (Lucas) Pichler craft exquisite
wines, easily some of the best Rieslings and Gruners in Austria.
Love the aromas of apricot, key lime, honey and salty, mineral notes. So precise and crisp on the palate, lush texture combines with crusty minerals and sea salt. Apricot and lime glazed in honey and white tea. Complex, long, elegant, age-worthy. (93 points) 

2014 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau 

Aromas of green apples, peaches, ripe but fresh with floral perfume and chalk dust notes. Such precision on the palate, an elegant and stony wine, but plenty of texture. Lime and peach laced with seashells, mineral dust, saline, cut floral stems. Delicious, deep, deserves lots of time, but a total beauty. (94 points)

2013 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Liebenberg - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Aromas of rich apricot, lemon curd, with spicy tobacco and minerals. Waxy and plump but zesty acidity, I like the combo of honey, tropical fruit with spicy ginger, white pepper, spiced tea, mineral, dusty earth. A layered, fascinating, delicious wine. (93 points)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Historic and Delicious Riojas from CVNE

I’m a huge Rioja evangelist. The history, the unique place in the spectrum of red (and white) wines, the quality and value available — these wines entice me. So I was excited to taste six different Riojas from CVNE

Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), dates back to 1879, when it was founded by two brothers from the Real de Asua family in Haro, Rioja Alta. You’ll see the wines referred to as “Cune” and hear the word spoken phonetically, which is based on an old misspelling that stuck.

Today the CVNE winery still sits on its original site and it is still controlled by direct descendants of the founding family. CVNE now encompasses four different wineries: CVNE, Imperial, Viña Real and Contino. The first Viña Real wines were launched in 1920, and the wines are made from grapes grown in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa province.

I tasted three wines apiece from CVNE and Viña Real, and was blown away again by the high quality, relatively low price points, and aging potential of these wines. If you’re looking to stock your cellar with some Tempranillo-based wines, without breaking the bank, check out CVNE.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2014 C.V.N.E. Rioja Cune Crianza - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta
SRP: $13
Ruby red color. Aromas of raspberry, strawberry, tobacco leaf, white pepper and leather. Bright acidity on the palate, a fresh appeal with dusty tannins and bright red cherries and strawberries. I get notes of raspberry leaf tea, coffee, cedar and tobacco. Fresh and lively but structured well and could use some near-term aging. Includes a combined 15% Graciano and Mazuelo. (88 points) 

2013 C.V.N.E. Rioja Cune Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta
SRP: $28
Deep ruby, light violet color. Aromas of raspberries, red currants, fig paste, along with spicy peppercorns, black tea and cocoa. Velvety and rich on the palate wity smooth but structured tannins and vibrant acidity. Currants and plum fruit, suave and tangy, with complex leather, cocoa, dusty earth, graphite and tobacco elements. Beautiful now, but aging potential for sure. Includes a combined 15% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. (90 points) 

2011 C.V.N.E. Rioja Cune Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta
SRP: $33
Deep ruby color. Lovely aromatics of leather, tobacco, library dust, cinnamon spice, on top of red currant and fig paste. So focused on the palate with suave tannins and refreshing acidity, along with tangy red and black currants and plums. Complex elements of cocoa, grilled herbs, chewing tobacco, spiced tea. Long finish with notes of mineral, vanilla and cedar. Beautiful now, but no rush on this. Includes 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. (92 points) 

2013 C.V.N.E. Rioja Viña Real Crianza - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja Alavesa
SRP: $15
Pretty ruby color. Tart and bright aromas of red and black cherries, red currants, with cocoa, tobacco, raspberry leaf and cedar. Bright and zesty appeal on the palate, lively and fresh with dusty tannins and flavors of tart red and black cherry fruit, some plum skin. Chewing tobacco, sage, cocoa, spice rub and pine add complexity. Approachable but structured, what a solid Crianza for the price. Tempranillo with a combined 10% Garnacha, Graciana, Mazuelo. (88 points) 

2013 C.V.N.E. Rioja Viña Real Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja Alavesa
SRP: $28
Deep ruby color. Nose shows dusty earth, leather, cigar box, roses and incense sticks on top of black cherries and spicy red currants. Structured but velvety on the palate, tangy and bright, too, with tart black and red cherry fruit. Complexity comes in waves: tobacco, sage, spicy herbs, leather, roses, black tea. Age-worthy but accessible now, the freshness and minerality on the finish is impressive. Tempranillo with 10% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo. (90 points) 

2010 C.V.N.E. Rioja Viña Real Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja Alavesa
SRP: $47
Deep ruby color. Aromas show rich, dark, yet tart fruits (black and red currants and warm berry compote), along with violets, leather and incense sticks. Suave and silky, structured but fin tannins, the freshness is lovely. Tart black cherry, red and black plums, the finesse and freshness in this wine is something else. Interwoven elements of dusty earth, lavender, leather, tobacco, violets. Beautiful now but many years of development potential. Includes 5% Graciano. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Wine Reviews: Colorado's Governor Cup Award Winners

I’ve been tasting the winners of Colorado’s Governor’s Cup Awards for two years now, and here’s my third installment.

Like Virginia’s renowned Governor’s Cup, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board kicked off a similar program in 2011. For the 2017 competition, 46 wineries submitted 325 wines, and the top 12, which I reviewed, are featured prominently as part of a
“Governor’s Cup Case.”

Colorado doesn’t crack the top 10 states in terms of production. According to the Colorado Wine trade group, Colorado wineries released about
178,000 cases in 2017. But with abundant sunshine (more than 300 days per year) and low humidity, the raw ingredients are there. And there seems to be quite a bit of enthusiasm and experimentation going on in Colorado.

A few of the “wines” in this case aren’t grape wines. A cider, a mead and a fruit wine are included. Also, one of the wines comes from Sonoma County fruit, which struck me as odd, and perhaps counterproductive, for a competition designed to focus on Colorado’s wine industry. That said, there were some delicious and impressive wines in the mix.

These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Infinite Monkey Theorem Sparkling Albariño
SRP: $55
Golden color. Lovely aromas of apricots, lemons, chalk dust, dandelion, honeysuckle, sea sat. Crisp and bright on the palate with faint but pleasant bubbles. Kumquat, tangerine and apricot fruit, juicy and delicious, mixed well with yellow flowers, chalk dust, smashed seashells, honeycomb. Wow, the complexity and deliciousness are impressive. This is a gutsy wine (considering the name, the fact it is a sparkling Albarino under crown cap, and costs $55), but it somehow pulls it off. (90 points)

2016 Bookcliff Vineyards Riesling
SRP: $14
Medium gold color. Aromas of peach, guava, lime, notes of sea salt and honeysuckle. Creamy texture on the palate, medium acidity balances out some sweetness. Peaches, yellow plum and yellow raisins. Lots of yellow flowers, with some honey, cinnamon sticks. Plush, rich, not too sweet. (86 points)

2015 Carlson Vineyards Lemberger Tyrannosaurus Red
SRP: $17
Pale ruby color. Aromas of sweet raspberries, strawberry jam, roses, some black pepper and rhubarb. Medium+ bodied with medium acidity and fleshy tannins. Spicy wild raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, the fruit mixes with notes of cola, rhubarb and black tea. Impressive take on this grape, food-friendly, fun (if not super deep or complex), well-made. (86 points)

2015 The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey Merlot Reserve
SRP: $28
Rich ruby color. Aromas of sweet plums, red and black currants, blueberries, some spicy tobacco and pepper and violets. Fresh acidity frames the palate, and the tannins and light and dusty, velvety red and black plums and cherries. Some leathery, charcoal, spiced tea, some roses and red licorice. Stays vibrant, bright, easy to drink, but shows some delicious and complex elements. (87 points)

2015 Guy Drew Vineyards Syrah
SRP: $18
Bright purple color. Tangy black fruit (blackberries and plums) along with ginger, cinnamon, black pepper and campfire smoke. Full-bodied on the palate with grippy, structured tannins and moderating acidity to set the stage for sweet but tart black currant and plum fruit. Lots of dark chocolate, espresso, gravelly-loam notes and some vanilla, cedar. Impressive, delicious stuff from Montezuma County. (87 points)

2014 Creekside Cellars Franc Colorado's Cabernet
SRP: $45
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black cherries and plums, along with black pepper, mushroom, cedar shavings, coffee grounds. Full-bodied, structured well but silky, with fresh acidity. Tart black cherries, blackberries, crunchy plum skins. Coffee, cedar and roasted chestnut mix with black olive, charred herbs and cracked pepper. A bit overt with oak influences perhaps, but still very well done. (88 points)

2015 Decadent Saint Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
SRP: $40
Medium purple color. Aromas of smoky and sweet black cherries, black currant, saucy and rich fruit with notes of mocha, eucalyptus, cigar lounge and vanilla. Surprisingly fresh acidity on a full-bodied frame with silky tannins. Fresh but bold with tart black currant and blueberry, the fruit is laced with graphite, sweet pipe tobacco, eucalyptus and cedar shavings. Rich but fresh finish. The wine is produced in Colorado, but the grapes are sourced from Sonoma County. (88 points)

N.V. Meadery of the Rockies Strawberry Honey Wine
SRP: $15
Deep copper color. Smells of strawberries, candied apple, white flowers, sweet perfume. Full and rich on the palate but moderate acidity, the sweetness is integrated well. Tangy cherry and strawberries, honeyed richness, candle wax notes, floral perfume. Plump but balanced quite nicely. (85 points)

2017 Colorado Cider Company Grasshop'ah
SRP: $11/4-pack cans
Shows a zippy, fresh appeal with plenty of ripe apple, apricot and peach along with notes of spiced herbs, white pepper, floral perfume. Zippy, fresh and fun. A lightly hopped cider. (87 points)

<85 points 

N.V. Colorado Cellars Raspberry
SRP: $15
Light cherry color. Smells like raspberry jam, maraschino cherries, red hot candies and rose tea. Juicy and sweet but some refreshing acidity keeps it from being too heavy. Candied fruit (raspberry jam, cherry cough drops, strawberry cheesecake topping) flavors dominate, with hints of roses and bitter tea. Grape wine with raspberry juice added.

2016 Whitewater Hill Sweetheart Red
SRP: $14
Bright ruby color. Aromas of sweet cherry preserves, prunes, currant paste, sweet coffee. Rich and sweet but some lively (surprisingly so) acidity. Red currant and strawberry jams mix with sweet cola, coffee, toasted coconut. Simple, fun, sweet red dessert wine.

2013 Two Rivers Port Château Deux Fleuves
SRP: $14/375ml
Deep ruby color. Aromas of cranberry sauce, fig paste, with cedar, sweet coffee and vanilla. Sweet and chewy on the palate with medium tannins and tangy acidity. Red currant jam, sour cherries, along with flavors of red licorice and ginger snap. Interesting flavors but the sweetness and sour aspects seem a bit off balance. 19.6% alcohol.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.