Saturday, September 29, 2018

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

This week, I have a round-up of some wines from different California regions.

First off, I tasted some wines from Napa’s Amici Cellars and its sister brand of Sonoma County wines, Olema. The winemaking team at Amici and Olema consists of well-known, long-time winemaker Tony Biagi, and Jesse Fox. Amici offers moderately-priced takes on Napa classics (Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc), while the Olema wines offer a sample of Sonoma goodness for $25 or less. (There’s a Provencal rosé under the Olema umbrella as well, which is included in this report.)

I also tasted some wines from Wine Insiders, a direct-to-consumer wine company that operates kind of like a wine club without strict membership requirements. The wines selections are curated by sommeliers Tyson Koster and Christopher Hoel and sourced from different countries. Customers can receive a quarterly shipment of wines based on their preferences, or shop at will online. I tasted through their half-case of Lodi wines (which sells for $81) and found some wines that really deliver for the price (like many wines from this region).

Lastly, I found a $20 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir that punches above its weight class.

All the wines in this report were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $25
Light gold color. Aromas of honeydew, lemon crème, tart green apples, with some floral and note of honeyed tea. On the palate creamy texture, a rich and plush feel with baked yellow apples contrasting off lemon peels and green melon. Notes of honey, white tea, hint of clove and white pepper. Balanced nicely, vibrant and crowd-pleasing but not simple. All stainless .steel. (89 points)

2016 Olema Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Lots of fresh apples and pears on the nose, green and yellow, along with apricot jam, some honey, slight toasted nuts. The texture is plush but the acidity keeps it fresh, and the plump apples and pear fruit taste juicy and ripe. The honey, white tea and almond flavors mix in nicely. A fresh, flavorful and balanced Chardonnay for the price. (87 points)

2017 Olema Côtes de Provence Rosé - France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
SRP: $16
Pale copper color. Aromas of white cherries, wild strawberries, with nettle and cucumber water. Medium-bodied, crisp and brisk with white cherries, red apple peel and watermelon rind flavors. Notes of floral perfume and baby’s breath as well. Simple, pleasant pink. 60% Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, 10% Carignan. (86 points)

2016 Olema Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Juicy and ripe but fresh on the nose, raspberries, strawberries, cherry preserves, with notes of cola, incense sticks. Medium-bodied with moderating acidity and light tannins, this is an easy-drinking style with fresh red cherries and strawberries. Flavors of cola and rhubarb. Very nice for a $20 Pinot. (87 points)

2016 Olema Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $25
Bright purple color. Nose of saucy black cherries and currant am, with cedar, cocoa, some sweet coffee. Juicy and plump on the palate with smooth tannins and moderate acidity, juicy but tart, with black cherries and dark currants, mixed in with some violets, black tea, cocoa, coffee. Suave and juicy but fresh, too. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff, good for the price. Includes a combined 10% Malbec, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah. (87 points)

2016 Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Medium purple color. This is dark and saucy on the nose with blackberries, black currant, coffee, dark chocolate, some mint and cedar. Full and juicy on the palate with smooth, slightly chewy tannins, and medium acidity. Plump blackberry and fig paste flavors mix with vanilla, cola, coffee, cedar, some mint and chewing tobacco notes, too. Forward, rich and appealing, but put together well. Includes a combined 18% Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc aged 20 months in 70% new French oak. (88 points)

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Juicy black cherries and sweet raspberries mix with cola, rhubarb, light roast coffee and some white pepper. Full but smooth with light and velvety tannins and fresh, tangy acidity. Cherries, raspberries, crunchy red apples, with notes of rhubarb, pepper, coffee and mint. A lot of flavor, but more importantly, balance and vibrancy, which is really rare in a California Pinot at this price point. (88 points)

(The following wines are sold as a half-case for $81, or $13.50 per bottle)

2016 Saddlehorn Cellars Chardonnay Lone Cardinal - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Light yellow color. Nose boasts apricot, pineapple and guava, with cinnamon rolls, spicy clove and honeyed tea. Moderating acidity helps balance the plump texture. The wine is loaded with apricot, baked apple crisp and apple cider flavors, with notes of cinnamon, clove and honey. Rich but not too heavy, this has a pleasant simplicity to it. (87 points)

2016 Saddlehorn Cellars Pinot Noir Lone Cardinal - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Medium ruby color. A nice mix of tart strawberries and cherries with jammy, cheesecake topping notes, along with roses and rhubarb. Medium-bodied (13.5%) with soft tannins and medium acidity. Sweet red plums, cherry preserves and raspberries mix with rhubarb pie, spicy cedar, some floral and earthy tones. Juicy and jammy but stays lively. (86 points)

2016 Saddlehorn Cellars Zinfandel Lone Cardinal - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Deep ruby color. Aromas shows hammy raspberries and cherries, roses, cola, paprika and pepper spice rub. Fresh and fruity on the palate with smooth, soft tannins and medium-low acidity, and a chewy, playful vibe (13.5% alcohol). Raspberries and cherries, candied apple, this has a good amount of pepper, coffee, cola, clove and cinnamon. Pleasant and fruity but not too burly, this is a crowd-pleaser for sure. (87 points)

2016 Saddlehorn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Lone Cardinal - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Light purple color. Savory herbs and sweet cola on the nose, along with candied currants and fig paste. Plush on the palate with smooth tannins and moderate acidity, along with tart black cherries, blackberries, jammy currants, this is smooth and fruit. Notes of grilled herbs, smoky earth, vanilla coffee and black pepper. Yummy but fresh, sweet fruit but solid complexity, too. (87 points)

2015 Sierra Trails Sangiovese Special Selection - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Deep ruby color. Aromas of spicy black cherries, raspberries, juicy and ripe with black pepper, anise and cola flavors. Ripe and rich with smooth tannins on a medium-bodied frame (13.4% alcohol) with fresh acidity. Sweet black cherries and raspberry jam mixes with barbecue sauce, black pepper, smoky charcoal, earth and graphite notes. Impressive in its freshness and complexity. (89 points)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Benchmark Israeli Wines from Golan Heights Winery

Golan Heights Winery has been a key player in shaping the modern Israeli wine industry. After first planting vines in the Golan Heights in the late 1970s, the winery was founded in 1983. Thirty-five years later, it now boats almost 30 different vineyards, growing 20 different varieties, and the winery exports to more than 30 countries.

The Golan Heights family includes such wine brands as Yarden, Mount Hermon, and the U.S. brand Gilgal. Yes, the wines are kosher (and have been since inception), but don’t let that fact alone impact your opinion about their quality.

In January, Golan Heights became the first international winery to be
certified by the Lodi Rules, a sustainable farming initiative started by Lodi, California winemakers. At the time, Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, said, “We very much see ourselves as caretakers of a very special spot on the planet. We hope to act as a model for others in the Israeli wine industry in order to promote sustainability in our industry as a whole.”

So, how are the wines? I recently received four sample wines from Golan Heights (which I tasted sighted) and found a lot to get excited about. Dig in below!

2017 Golan Heights Winery Gewürztraminer Yarden - Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights
SRP: $23
Light gold color. Lush aromatics of lychee, glazed pear, apricot marmalade, some honey, but also lots of bright, floral, spicy elements that pop. Full-bodied on the palate, but moderating acidity keeps it zippy. Rich tropical fruits (papaya, apricot, pineapple), but also some zesty lime on top. Notes of spiced white tea, wild green herbs and honeysuckle add complexity, but this is so bright and easy to sip. Impressive example of this wine, and I really like the tropical but crisp style. (90 points)

2016 Gilgal Syrah Rosé - Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights
SRP: $17
Rich watermelon color. Nose shows deep fruit (red cherries, strawberries, red apples) along with enticing notes of white pepper, rose hips and honey. Medium-bodied but lots of rich, fleshy fruit (strawberries, cherries, watermelon, red apple), but zesty acidity keeps it fresh, and the balance is really nice. Nuanced notes of roses, rhubarb, bay leaf, white pepper. Bold enough to stand up to lots of foods but still a vibrant wine. A delicious, eye-opening rosé for me. (90 points)

2014 Gilgal Syrah - Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights
SRP: $17
Rich purple color. Lovely aromas of juicy, ripe blackberries, roasted plums, black cherry, black pepper, sweet barbecue sauce, with some anise, coffee, bitter olive. Full and saucy but fresh acidity keeps the lips smacking, with velvety, slightly chewy tannins. Loaded with earthy, charcoal, black pepper, sweet barbecue sauce, a kind of sautéed mushroom note, too. Interesting, delicious, vibrant Syrah. Aged 12 months in French oak. (88 points)

2014 Golan Heights Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Yarden - Israel, Galilee
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Waves of black currant, roasted fig and blackberry on the nose, along with anise, eucalyptus, coffee grounds and cedar. Full-bodied, quite sturdy with grippy tannins, medium acidity. Black cherries and blackberry, rich but tart fruit, with powerful notes of cedar and dark chocolate, and notes of herbs, scorched earth, tar and anise. Could use 3-5 years to develop, but this is a delicious Cab. Aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Try Some Tasty, Tropical Gewürztraminers from Alsace

If you’re a frequent reader of these wine reviews, you may have seen me sing praises of Alsace. I love this region, which I first began exploring in high school, and its wines. But while Riesling and grapes from the extended Pinot family tend to be my favorite options, I have a lot of love for Gewürztraminer as well.

I love the intensity of floral and spice aromas, the rich, tropical, lychee-infused flavors. But as a huge fan of acidity in wine, Gewürz can present some problems. High sugar and low acidity can be an issue in some of the wines. But when sourced from the right spots (especially from Alsace’s calcareous soils) the wines are like nothing else. And the food pairing options (from autumnal soups to spicy pad Thai) can be uniquely satisfying.

Considering there’s only about 20,000 acres of Gewürz planted on the planet, and Alsace is home to some 7,000 of those acres, there’s no better place to go if you’re looking to explore this aromatic white grape variety.

I recently received a few sample bottles of Gewürztraminers from Alsace, and tasted them single-blind. My reviews are below.

2016 Meyer-Fonné Gewurztraminer Reserve - France, Alsace
SRP: $24
Medium yellow color. Ripe aromatics of guava, quince, lychee and passion fruit, along with honeysuckle, clover patch and white pepper. Plump and boisterous texture on the palate, waxy and honeyed, but some moderate acidity tries to balance the sweetness. Plush tropical melee of pineapple, guava, lychee and papaya, along with honey, herbal tea, spicy clove and white pepper. Full, rich, yummy. 12% alcohol. (87 points)

2016 Beck-Hartweg Gewurztraminer Cuvée Prestige - France, Alsace
SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Such spicy aromatics, as cut flower stems, tobacco, magnolia petals, nettle and clove mix with lychee and guava fruit. Waxy texture with noticeable sugar, but medium acidity that keeps this rather balanced. Oranges, lychee, guava, the juicy fruit plays well with mangnolia, dandelion, clove and white pepper, and I get notes of sweet honey and exotic spice as well. Grows on me with air as complexity pops. Impressive. (90 points)

2016 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Calcaire - France, Alsace
SRP: $43
Medium yellow color. Rich aromatics of pineapple, apricot jam and lychee along with complex honeysuckle, clove, spiced tea and dandelion. Rich and plump on the palate, but the acidity comes through and keeps this one fresh and kicking (more so than the others in this lineup). Creamy pineapple, guava and lemon curd fruit mixes well with spiced, honeyed white tea, minerals, chalky notes, and a nutty-lychee component. Delicious, rich, but so vibrant, age-worthy too. From 30-year-old vines in calcareous soils, aged 18 months in old French oak, 12.5% alcohol. (91 points)

2014 Domaine Saint-Rémy Gewurztraminer Rosenberg - France, Alsace
SRP: $28
Deep yellow color. A tropical burst on the nose with peach nectar, guava, honey, bold floral perfume and spicy, waxy elements. Rich texture on the palate, plush and slightly waxy but fresh acidity moderates and livens up the wine. Oranges, guava, pineapple and lychee, dusted with mineral, spiced tea, floral perfume, rosewater, white pepper. I wager this could age nicely for quite a few years. Beautiful stuff. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Timeless Deliciousness of Gonzalez-Byass Sherries

Gonzalez-Byass is almost synonymous with Sherry. Dating back to 1835, the renowned Sherry firm began as a partnership between Manuel María González Ángel and a British importer Robert Blake Byass. Gonzalez’s pale fine sherry, Tio Pepe, made a big impression in the British market, and Gonzalez-Byass continued to gain traction with a big focus on the export market.

Today, the winery is still run by Gonzalez family members, and they’ve expanded into other regions of Spain as well, like Bodegas Beronia in Rioja.

These Sherries power on, and provide a lot of quality, value, and some historical perspective. Fino Sherries have a lot of fans today, of which I am most certainly one, and it’s interesting to think about how these wines have found fans all over the world, over the course of several centuries. It’s nice, I guess, to see some good things change very little over time.

I recently received four samples from Gonzalez-Byass, and found them all to be excellent. I tasted these wines sighted. Notes below.

N.V. Gonzalez-Byass Fino “Tio Pepe En Rama 2018” - Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
SRP: $27/750ml bottle
Light gold color. Awesome aromas of sea salt, olive brine, dried seaweed and jetty rocks, along with ginger, herbal liqueur and baked apple tart. Full but bright, creamy but focused, rich but a racy, saline quality throughout. Salted almond, green olives, candied orange peel, candied ginger, salted almond, jetty rocks and crushed seashells, with some green herbs thrown in, too. The complexity is so impressive, especially at this price point. This wine sees four or five years in Soleras, but has so much depth already. Wow. All Palomino grapes, 15% alcohol, 10.5 g/l of residual sugar. (91 points)

N.V. Gonzalez-Byass Sherry Palo Cortado “Leonor” 12 Años - Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
SRP: $25/750ml
Deep amber color. Loving the aromatic mix of green olives, candle wax, sea salt, with richer notes of honey, graham cracker, apricot, lemon meringue. Texturally, this is rich and seductive but vibrant acidity and a dry feel keeps it bright and clean. Baked apple, apricot and salted lemon blend well with olive brine, sea salt, ginger, musky cologne, along with graham cracker and ginger. Gutsy but elegant at the same time. All Palomino grapes, 20% alcohol, about 6 g/l of residual sugar. (91 points)

N.V. Gonzalez-Byass Sherry Palo Cortado “Apostoles” 30 Años - Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
SRP: $50/375ml
Deep amber color. Aromas show apricot jam, baked apples, glazed pears, along with honey, graham cracker and salted almond. Rich, full and suave but fresh, too. Flavors of sweet yellow plums along with complex notes of candied ginger, maple syrup. There’s a combination of sea salt and salted almond that is really intriguing. Rich but nervy, and totally delicious. Made from Palomino with 13% Pedro Ximenez. 20% alcohol and 50 grams/liter of residual sugar. (92 points)

N.V. Gonzalez-Byass Pedro Ximénez Sherry “Noé” 30 Años - Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
SRP: $50/375ml
Dark brown color. Aromas of figs, plum cake, berry compote, along with dark chocolate, anise, ginger snap, a lot going on. So rich and sweet on the palate but the acidity helps. Flavors of plum cake, fig paste, lots of coconut shavings, crème brulee and caramel. Plush, rich, intensely sweet, concentrated, yet nuanced. 15.5% alcohol, more than 400 grams/liter of residual sugar. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

We’re headed back to California again for another roundup of samples I’ve received this summer.

This report includes some new releases from well-known Sonoma Chard and Pinot producer J Vineyards, Napa stalwarts Robert Mondavi and Trefethen, and a few other wines sprinkled in.

I received these wines as samples and tasted them sighted.

2017 Chalk Hill Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $24
Rich gold color. Powerful waves of lemon curt, apricot and orange marmalade, but also some lime, sea salt, chalk dust, honeycomb, peanut brittle. The palate is rich in texture, velvety and smooth but the acid tingles. Lots of lemon curd and candied orange with notes of ginger, almond cake, honey, mixed with sea spray. The flavors, depth, balance, it’s all quite lovely, especially for the price. Aged eight months in 30% new oak. (90 points)

2016 Gehricke Chardonnay- California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $32
Medium yellow color. Plump aromas of apricots, yellow apples, bruised pear, with sea salt, honeybutter and almond. Rich texture on the palate but medium acidity, along with juicy yellow fruits (pineapple, yellow apples and bruised pear). Notes of cinnamon, toasted almond, sea salt, honey, rich but not too heavy. I love the underlying salty, mineral tones. Aged 20 months in French oak. (89 points)

2016 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $31
Medium yellow color. Ooh, I love the bright floral, sea salt, crushed almond shells and some honey, on top of lemon curd and yellow apples. On the palate, a lovely creamy texture makes this so pleasurable, but the freshness of the acidity cuts through nicely. Lemon curd, nectarine, juicy yellow apples, mixed with notes of almond, salted peanut, white flowers and honey, some mineral undertones add complexity. This producer, and this wine in particular, seem so reliably good to me. Aged nine months in 25% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Rarecat Rosé Jennifer - California
SRP: $36
Pale copper color. Aromas of peach, lime pith, nettle, roses and candy corn. Crisp and lively on the palate this is a steely and spice rose with flavors of green melon and peaches. Floral tones, white pepper, nettle, some sliced cucumber notes. Fun stuff, balanced nicely. 100% Grenache rosé. (87 points)

2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $63
Rich purple color. Gorgeous waves of currants and blackberries, along with eucalyptus, cocoa powder, mint, gravelly earth and vanilla. Full but suave, rich texture with chewy tannins but it stays lively. Juicy black currants, tangy blackberries, this is fruit and dark but also sports cocoa, earth, eucalyptus, mint and graphite. Lots going on here but it goes down quite easily. Ready to drink or hold for a few years. Includes 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot, aged 18 months in about 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 Trefethen Merlot - California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
SRP: $40
Light purple color. Bursts with juicy black cherries, blackberry, dark but tart notes, with cocoa, coffee and scorched earth. Surprisingly fresh on the palate with crisp acidity, medium-light tannins and tart black cherries and blackberry fruit. Notes of chewing tobacco, mint, scorched earth and vanilla coffee add some complexity. So fresh, goes down very easily, ready to drink. Aged 18 months in 40% new French, American and Hungarian oak. (88 points)

2016 Gehricke Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Aromas of sweet red and tart black cherries, with violets, vanilla, cracked pepper, coffee grounds. Full-bodied with velvety tannins and refreshing acidity that makes the wine pop. Sweet red cherries, tart dark plums, the fruit is mixed in nicely with black pepper, bay leaf, cocoa, violets and vanilla. Juicy and toasty but that fresh acidity really rocks. Includes 14% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in French oak. (88 points)

2016 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Bright ruby color. Very pretty on the nose but also lots of deep fruit, with black cherries, strawberries, lots of rhubarb and cola, but some violets, notes of clove and black tea. Full and suave with fresh acidity and smooth tannins, lots of red cherries, red plums, some strawberry jam, but the fruit stays fresh. Notes of cola, sarsaparilla, clove, earthy, black tea notes. Very nice for the price, delicious stuff. Aged nine months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 French Bar Petite Sirah - California
SRP: $19
Deep purple color. Rich and plummy on the nose with jammy blackberries, blueberries, notes of anise and cocoa. Plush and rich on the palate with suave tannins and medium-low acidity. Plums, blackberries and blueberries abound, mixed with pepper, anise, spicy dry rub and grill smoke. Fun, tasty stuff that would be perfect for a late-summer grill-out. All Petite Sirah, aged 13 months in French oak. (87 points)

2016 French Bar Gold Dust Red - California
SRP: $19
Rich purple color. Dark and sweet on the nose with blackberry jam, boysenberry sauce and roasted black currants, sweet violets, dark chocolate, roasted coffee. Deep and saucy on the palate with fleshy tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Black cherries, blackberries and roasted figs, backed up with cocoa, sweet coffee and violets. Fruity and rich but stays lively, too. 82% Petit Verdot and 18% Teroldego aged eight months in French oak. (87 points)