Monday, October 29, 2018

New Zealand New Relases from Loveblock & Villa Maria

This week I’m focusing on two producers from New Zealand: Loveblock and Villa Maria.

Loveblock is a Marlborough-based project of Erica and Kim Crawford. This winery was founded after Kim Crawford was sold to Constellation Brands. Erica describes Loveblock as, “the product of my journey to organics, which started about 15 years ago.” The organic farm is home to vineyards, beef cattle, chickens, etc. The wines really surprised me, showing more focus and intrigue than a lot of Kim Crawford wines I’ve tasted recently. And the wines (priced between $23 and $30) show a lot of quality and value.

I have also included reviews of Villa Maria’s new releases. Recently, I attended an on-line video tasting with Villa Maria winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec, who came from a teaching background in Germany before she decided to take a break and travel the world. She found herself in New Zealand about a dozen years ago, and she was low on travel money. Kathrin scored a harvest job at a small winery, and immediately knew she had found her niche. “I decided this is what I want to do with my life… I’m going to make wine. I’m not leaving New Zealand.”

I’ve always found Villa Maria wines to be reliably good, reliably inexpensive, classic takes on the New Zealand staples. But I hadn’t before tasted the single-vineyard Taylors Pass wines, and I was very impressed.

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

2016 Loveblock Pinot Gris - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $23
Generous yellow color. Aromas burst with yellow apples, peaches, lemons, limes, with lots of honeysuckle, daisies, notes of sea salt and honeycomb. This wine is vibrant and live-wire on the palate with crisp acidity and lovely depth, texture, richness. Lime, apricot, green and yellow apples. I love this complex combination of salty seashells, dusty minerals with white pepper, flowers, perfume, lamp oil, all sorts of complex spice and floral elements. Vibrant, deep, delicious. 12.5% alcohol. (90 points) 

2017 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Pale yellow color. Bursting with thyme, basil, white pepper and dandelion aromas, on top of green apples, green melon and limes. Brisk and so fresh on the palate yet some nice weight, too. Green apples, green melon and kiwi fruit is loaded with spicy nettle, white pepper, honeysuckle, thyme, sweet basil. Some salty and mineral notes, too. Pretty but delicious and bursting with flavor. 13% alcohol. (89 points)

2015 Loveblock Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. So pretty on the nose with fresh strawberries, wild raspberries, red apple peel, along with rhubarb, warm clay, rose petals and some spicy clove and pepper notes. Medium+ bodied with a velvety feel, smooth tannins, and refreshing, tingling acidity, it’s all balanced very nice in a fresh and vibrant whole. Complex notes of white pepper, rose petals, bay leaf, rhubarb, some cola and cedar woven in nicely. Very well-done, delicious, balanced stuff. 14% alcohol, aged eight months in old oak. (90 points)

2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Bubbly - New Zealand, South Island
SRP: $15
Very pale straw color with a slight spritz. Aromas of white peaches, limes, kiwis, along with bell pepper and nettle. Crisp and bright on the palate with very faint bubbles, this wine has a fresh and appealing approach. Green apples, white peaches, some bell pepper, saline and nettle. Fun, pleasant stuff, classic New Zealand Sauv Blanc with light bubbles (C02 injected at bottling). (86 points)

2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $14
Pale lemon color. Bursting with aromas of gooseberry, white peach, pineapple, kiwi, along with spicy oregano and sliced cucumbers. Medium-bodied with zippy acidity and juicy tropical fruits (peach, pineapple, kiwi). Notes of sliced cucumbers, dandelion and oregano are woven in well (not too dominant). Classic Marlborough Sauv Blanc but I love the more nuanced flavors and balance style. (87 points)

2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard Taylors Pass - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough, Awatere Valley
SRP: $26
Pale lemon color. Spicy aromas of jalapeno, habanero, ruby red grapefruit, lemons, some oregano, a lot going on. Crisp and clean and bright on the palate, the texture is deep and rich at the same time. Lemon, ruby red grapefruit, kiwi, along with lemongrass, habanero, with sea salt and mineral tones. Lots of depth, texture and complexity in here. (90 points)

2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé - New Zealand, North Island, East Coast
SRP: $15
Pale copper color. Spicy, herbal and floral on the nose, like a rosebush with honeysuckle and nettle, mixed in with grapefruit and white cherry. Juicy on the palate, plenty of texture and fruit (ruby red grapefruit, strawberry, orange pith), with some white pepper, baby’s breath and those kind of spicy/floral tones. Attractive, balanced, well-made, Merlot-based pink. (87 points)

2017 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Private Bin - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $18
Bright, light ruby color. Super spicy on the nose with white pepper, leather, clove an rose petals, over top of red cherries and juicy strawberries. Light/medium-bodied (12.5% alcohol) with dusty tannins and fresh acidity. Raspberries, black cherries, mixed with sweet cola and roses and some tea. Light, refreshing and fun. (87 points)

2015 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Taylors Pass - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $42
Medium ruby color. Suave and savory on the nose with raspberries, strawberries, cherries, mixed with mulling spices, loamy soil and mushroom notes. Silky but structured with fine-grained tannins and crisp, lip-smacking acidity. Black and red cherries and strawberries, doused with rose hips, bay leaf and tobacco. Nice concentration, balance and freshness, in just the right amounts, with some cola and cedar woven in nicely. Very pretty stuff. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

This week, I’m tackling another group of wines from all over the globe.

Starting off with the newest vintage of Trivento’s flagship Malbec, Eolo, the 2014 again delivers a mouthful of delicious, complex, cellar-worthy Mendoza goodness.

A few Spanish wines make an appearance in this week’s report, including two inexpensive but solid Riojas from renowned producer Bodegeas Lan.
Carpenè Malvolti brings a pair of Italian bubbles into the mix. And South African stalwart Mulderbosch delivers four wines that bring serious quality at their respective price points.

There’s a new red blend from Virginia winery
Early Mountain that I really want to highlight. The inaugural 2015 vintage of their Rise red (a Merlot-based blend), really shines. It should, considering the price point, but this is a serious, delicious, Virginia red blend that will stand the test of time.

I also received three wines from the
Firstleaf wine club. Consumers can fill out a quick quiz to generate their first three-pack of wines for $15, plus shipping. The wines each come with story cards that provide technical and more general information about the wine or region. Members can rate their wines on the club’s website, and those ratings are used to generate more personalized wine selections for future shipments. I tasted three wines from an introductory shipment.

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

2014 Trivento Malbec Eolo - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $79
Deep purple color. Rich and enticing on the palate with waves of plums, blackberry, currant, kirsch, backed up by complex and evolving notes of anise, scorched earth, coffee grounds, mint chocolate chip, violets. Solid grip but no harsh tannins, this is velvety and smooth with medium acidity and pretty dark plum, blackberry and black currant fruit. Complex elements of leather, scorched earth, eucalyptus, mint, dark chocolate, tobacco. A complex mineral, earth, smashed rock element, too. A long-ager for sure but this is beautiful young. (92 points)

N.V. Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut - Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
SRP: $20
Bright watermelon color. Aromas of wild strawberries, white cherries, roses, spicy herbal notes. Juicy and fleshy on the palate but tangy, too, with watermelon and strawberry fruit. Notes of spicy herbs, rose petals, baby’s breath, which combines well with the fruit. Finishes fresh and salty. 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Raboso. (87 points)

N.V. Carpenè Malvolti Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 1868 - Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
SRP: $19
Pale straw color. Aromas of sea salt, dandelion, magnolia petals, baby’s breath and green apples. Tart and brisk on the palate with lemon, green apples and limes, backed up with a floral punch of magnolia, rosewater and dandelion. Sea salt and dusty, flinty notes add complexity. Crisp and delicious, quite complex for the price. 100% Glera. (88 points)

2017 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa, Western Cape
SRP: $17
Medium yellow color. Super fresh and green and crunchy on the nose (limes, kiwi, green apples) with white pepper, sea salt, lemongrass and fresh, floral breezy notes. Crisp and zesty on the palate but nice depth and texture. Green apples, apricot, lemons and limes, backed up with sea salt, honeysuckle, an interesting herbal/spicy note that accents the wine but doesn’t dominate the other elements. So well put-together, this is a great vintage of this wine which is, per usual, killer for the price. (90 points)

2016 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard Block A - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, Bottelary
SRP: $33
Deep yellow color. Whoa! On the nose, a burst of tropical insanity (pineapple, white peaches, some lemon curd) doused in lamp oil, sea spray, nougat, honey butter, hay and rich vanilla. Plump and juicy on the palate, zesty but rich, with flavors of key lime pie, bruised yellow pear and fresh white peaches. Rich and suave but bright, too, with really cool minerals, ginger, musky cologne and sea spray, honeyed white tea. From 33-year-old vines, this shows the ripeness of the vintage and was aged 10 months on in French oak barrels. (91 points)

2017 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé - South Africa, Coastal Region
SRP: $12
Pale watermelon color. Fresh and floral nose with white pepper, nettle, rose petals, and some juicy strawberry and white cherry aromas. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely, but there’s a plush, inviting mouthfeel as well. White cherries, strawberries, watermelon, mixed together nicely with white pepper, sliced cucumber, nettle, rose hips, some breezy, salty notes. Lovely balance with fruit, freshness and complex flavors. (88 points)

2015 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
SRP: $22
Light purple color. The nose shows gobs of black cherries, currants and blueberries, along with lots of black pepper, leather, sage, bay leaf, vanilla and cedar. Tangy acidity keeps this full-bodied, medium tannin red stay fresh, but this is also a big and dark wine loaded with black currants and blueberries. Lots of black pepper, cigar smoke, menthol, with dark chocolate and vanilla woven in nicely. Ready to go or could hold for a few years, this packs a lot of complexity for the price point. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged in 30% new French oak. (89 points)

2017 Delia Tempranillo - Spain
SRP: $9
Medium ruby color. Juicy raspberries, cherries and red currants on the nose with sweet roses, tobacco and cola. Medium-bodied and fresh on the palate with light, easygoing tannins. Raspberries, cherries and strawberries, juicy but tangy fruit, mixed with roses, herbs, menthol, smoke and coffee. Light and fresh but lots of fun, and really solid for the price. (86 points)

2015 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza D-12 Eighth Edition - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Aromas of tangy black cherries mixed with spice rub, tobacco, leather, vanilla and cedar. Full-bodied, smooth tannins, with tangy acidity, and it mixes well with the crunchy, tart black cherry and currant fruit. Notes of scorched earth, tobacco, leather, some black olive, topped with vanilla and coffee. Delicious, early-drinking Rioja. (87 points)

2010 Bodegas LAN Rioja Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smells of tart black cherries and currants, tangy plums (just smelling it makes my mouth water), with mint, tobacco, coffee, loamy soil and graphite notes. Fresh acidity frames the wine nicely, solidly-gripping tannins mix with tart black cherries and currants, backed up with violets, black pepper, mint, black tea, coffee, lots of complex elements. Underlying earthy, mineral notes, this is a vibrant and fresh wine but also structured and ageworthy. Tempranillo from Rioja Alta and 10% Mazuelo. (89 points)

2015 Early Mountain Vineyards Rise - USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $95
Deep purple color. The nose shows gorgeous depth of fruit (blackberry, cassis, dark plums, roasted fig), along with lavender, violets, sweet cocoa and wet forest/woodsy notes. Solid tannic backbone on the palate but underlying fresh acidity keeps it in lovely balance. Tart black cherries, currants and plums, tangy but bountiful fruit, laced with anise, violets, clove, coffee, all woven together so nicely. Pure, delicious, complex, I’d love to cellar this for a decade. Early Mountain makes a serious statement with the inaugural vintage of this Rise red. 57% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 14% Petit Verdot, and 14% Tannat, sourced from their Quaker Run vineyards on the southern side of Doubletop Mountain. 240 cases produced. (91 points)

2017 International Archives Sémillon - Australia
SRP: $22
Deep yellow color. Nose shows apricot, pineapple, lemongrass, honey and a rosewater note. Plush texture, moderate acid keeps it bright as juicy white peach and pineapple fruit carry the wine. Honey, some cotton candy notes, baby’s breath and cut flower stem notes. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff for the money. From Firstleaf. (85 points)

2017 Paso del Tiempo Syrah - Spain
SRP: $26
Deep purple color. Nose of juicy raspberries, sweet plums, cola, coffee, roses. Full-bodied with soft tannins and medium acidity. Tart plums meet sweet raspberries and candied cherries, backed up by roses, sweet cola and coffee. Fun, simple, crowd-pleasing stuff. From Firstleaf. (85 points)

2017 PrimaZon Malbec - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $26
Light purple color. Aromas of dark plums and black cherries, along with violets, warm clay, tobacco, cedar, espresso. Fresh acidity on the palate frames the wine nicely, and it has velvety, accessible tannins. Tangy black cherries, plums, raspberry jam, the fruit is mixed with cola, coffee, sweet pipe tobacco and vanilla. Fun, pleasant, widely-likeable stuff. From Firstleaf. (86 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

High Quality Bordeaux from the Edmond de Rothschild Portfolio

The Rothschild family has a long and storied history in Bordeaux, dating back to 1868, when James de Rothschild bought Chateau Lafite .

About a century later, descendant Edmond de Rothschild, then co-owner of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, wanted to purchase a Bordeaux property to try something new. So, in 1973, he took control of the derelict Chateau Clarke in Listrac-Médoc, and also bought Chateau Malmaison in Malmaison in Moulis-en- Médoc. Though in different appellations, the properties adjoin each other.

A decade later, Edmond’s son Benjamin de Rothschild snatched up the Right Bank estate Chateau des Lauret in Puisseguin Saint-Emilion. Together, these three estates comprise the French holdings of the Edmond de Rothschild branch, but the company also owns properties in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Argentina.

I recently attended a trade tasting sponsored by the Edmond de Rothschild group, featuring their three Bordeaux brands. I found a lot to love about these wines, especially the quality-to-price ratios in these wines. The new oak has been dialed back over the years, and the 2015s (a stellar vintage by almost any account) really shine.

My notes on the wines are below...

2011 Château Clarke - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Listrac-Médoc
Nice nose of damp earth, mushroom, leaves, red pepper flakes, on top of red and black currants. Grip is nice and dry, medium acidity, with suave black cherries and currants. Structured but smooth and velvety with a noticeable oak signature, but some nice leather, leaves, anise and spiced tea as well. A 70/30 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from limestone/clay soils, aged 16 months in 2/3 new oak. (88 points)

2015 Château Clarke - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Listrac-Médoc
A deep nose of juicy red and black currant fruit, so pretty, with deep floral tones, too. Young and grippy but fresh and vibrant as well. Juicy black cherries topped in leather, cocoa, clove, lovely earthy and floral tones. Elegant even this young, I’m really impressed with the vibrancy. The oak and extraction has been dialed down since the 2011 (when Michel Rolland was consulting), this is a lovely wine with time ahead. (90 points)

2011 Château Malmaison Baronne Nadine de Rothschild - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Super juicy on the nose with plums and cherries, lots of roses and violets, along with clove, wet earth and cedar. Suave, velvety, still built well with tannins but fresh as well. Currants and tangy plums along with violets, earth, clove, cedar and vanilla. An 80/20 blend of Merlot and Cabernet planted in limestone, clay and gravelly soils, aged 16 months in 1/3 new oak. (88 points)

2015 Château Malmaison Baronne Nadine de Rothschild - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Lovely aromas of plums, dark currants, rich but airy, with clove, earth, tobacco and deep floral tones. Pure and rich on the palate but focused and fresh, the balanced between the acidity and tannins is on point. Crisp red and black plums, the fruit is redder and fresher than the 2011. Complex violets, clove, tilled soil and tobacco. Pretty now, but this will age nicely. Insane value. (91 points)

2014 Château des Laurets - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Puisseguin-St. Émilion
Juicy ripe black cherries and dark plums on the nose, with bell pepper, iron and scorched earth notes. Nice grip on the palate, tight and dry, with medium acidity. Crunchy dark cherry and currant fruit mixed with spiced tea, tilled soil and cedar. A bit tight and could use some time to open up, but nice for the price. 100% Merlot planted in limestone and clay soils, aged 14 months in 30% new oak. (87 points)

2015 Château les Laurets Baron Edmond De Rothchild - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Puisseguin-St. Émilion
Deep aromatic display of dark cherries and currants, with violets, pepper and earth. Grippy and young on the palate, great concentration, moderating acidity, young but balanced nicely. Dark cherries, plums, currants, gorgeous, velvety fruit mixed with iron, pepper, violets, cocoa, grilled herbs. Young but beautiful. This cuvee is made from plots at the highest part of the vineyard, which are treated differently for this blend, which is still about 80/20 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, aged 16 months in 100% new barrels. (91 points)

Monday, October 15, 2018

New Releases from California: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir need no introduction, so let’s get right to it.

We have a solid group this week, with offerings from Ramey, Cambria, Jed Steele, Gary Farrell, Frank Family and Cline Cellars, and the wines span the 2015 to 2017 vintages.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted,

2015 Ramey Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Medium gold color. Rich aromas of yellow apples, apricot, baked apple, with nougat, honeysuckle, sea salt, peanut shell, with yellow flowers. The palate is bold in its texture, but the acidity is refreshing and lively, and the balance is lovely. Apricot, lemon curd, baked apple and juicy yellow pears, topped in sea salt, almond cake, toasted coconut, with floral and ginger notes. Complex and despite its powerful aesthetic. Aged 20 months in 23% new French oak. (92 points)

2015 Ramey Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Medium gold color. Bold and lush aromatically with peanut shells, almond butter, honey, whipped butter, but also salty, lemon meringue, crushed shells and orange blossoms. Lovely depth of texture on the palate with velvety and rich fruit but lively acidity. Lemon curd, apricot, yellow pears. Toast is here (toasted nuts, almond cake, vanilla, coconut) but also notes of hay, sea salt, honeysuckle, white tea. Richly flavorful but pretty, too. Aged for 20 months in 21% new French oak. (92 points)

2015 Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $22
Medium yellow color. Smells of yellow apples, apricot, lemon-pineapple cake, along with honey, almond and green olive notes. Creamy texture, vibrant acidity, with lots of yellow plum, apricot and lemon crème flavors. Notes of honey, almond, sea salt and white tea add complexity. Rich flavors but that classis Santa Maria Valley freshness keeps it bright and inviting. Aged six months in 21% new French oak. (88 points)

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Rich yellow color. Big and bold aromatics, with glazed apples and pears, apricot, lemon crème, with honey, flowers, nougat and vanilla. The texture on the palate is lovely, creamy and rich but also vibrant, backed up with medium acidity. Lots and lots of fruit, lemon crème, orange marmalade, apricot and baked pears, but also complex notes of almond, honey, gingerbread, with some floral tones, too. Rich and flavorful but done very well. Barrel fermented and aged nine months in 34% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Steele Wines Chardonnay Durell Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Carneros
SRP: $36
Light yellow color. Aromas boast toasted almond, honey, graham cracker and ginger, along with baked apple and lemon curd. Plush texture on the palate with crisp acidity, which is great, and at 13.8% alcohol, it’s not heavy, but packed with lemon curd, key lime pie, apricot and baked apple. Bold but complex, with almond, mineral, sea salt, ginger and floral tones. Love the vibrancy and minerals here. Fermented and aged 10-12 months in French oak, 20% new. (91 points)

2017 Steele Wines Chardonnay Parmelee-Hill Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $30
Deep yellow color. Aromas of rich yellow apples and apricot, topped in honeysuckle, hay, almond and peanut shell. Medium+ bodied (13.5% alcohol), this shows rich textural depth but solid underlying acidity keeps it bright. Yellow apples, apricot, baked pear, drizzled with lime, and I get complex elements of almond, fresh biscuits, peanut brittle, spiced tea and ginger. Rich and flavorful but balanced very well. Barrel-fermented and aged 10-12 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Deep ruby color. Aromas of sweet black and red cherries, raspberries, and strawberries, along with roses, spicy tobacco, white pepper and black tea. Crisp and fruity with spiced cranberry sauce, plums, black cherries, the fruit is juicy but vibrant. Floral, spicy, smoky tobacco, roses and rhubarb, with notes of clove and cedar woven in well. Lovely balance here. Aged 10 months in 33% new French oak. (90 points)

2016 Ramey Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP $50
Light cherry color. Aromas of bright strawberries, raspberries, along with rhubarb, raspberry leaf, eucalyptus, mint and cedar. Full-bodied (14.5%) with dry but velvety tannins and medium acidity that wraps it together nicely. Juicy red and black cherries, raspberries, along with rhubarb, cola, pepper, mint, earth. Some coffee and cedar woven in quite well. Hints of savory elements on the finish that should evolve with time. Pretty now, but I’d like to revisit in 3-4 years. Aged 14 months in about half new French oak. (91 points)

2016 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Selection - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Deep ruby colored. Lovely nose of juicy red and black cherries, spiced cranberry sauce, some spicy herbs, rhubarb, cola, accented with coffee and vanilla. Full but suave with silky tannins and fresh acidity. Black cherries, strawberries, cranberry sauce, mixed in nicely with cola, rhubarb, rose petals, spicy green herbs. Anise, coffee and vanilla woven in well. A bright appeal but full of fruit, crowd-pleasing and early-drinking but “serious,” too. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak. (90 points)

2016 Steele Wines Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Carneros
SRP: $36
Light, bright ruby color. Nose shows a vibrant and spicy appeal with tart cherries, cranberries, strawberries, along with rose hips, menthol and white pepper. Medium/full-bodied with velvety tannins and crisp acidity, a plush but tart combo of red and black cherries, wild strawberries and spiced cranberry sauce. Roses galore, white pepper, eucalyptus, accents of coffee and oak, all integrated really nicely. This is complex, vibrant and really good for the money. This spends 16 months in 20% new French oak. (91 points)

2016 Steele Wines Pinot Noir Shooting Star - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $15
Bright ruby color. Subtle and spicy aromatics of tangy raspberries, red apple peel, green herbs, black pepper and sliced rhubarb. Medium-bodied, 13.5% alcohol, with light tannins and fresh acidity. Crunchy red fruits (red apple, strawberry, cranberry) with notes of rose hips, rhubarb, black pepper and oregano. Subtle, tangy, fresh, balanced, it’s very rare I find a $15 California Pinot Noir with those kinds of refreshing elements. Aged nine months in French and American oak. (87 points)

2015 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Nose boasts strawberries, raspberries, red cherries, fresh but ripe with some rhubarb, rose petals, eucalyptus and cedar. This is really refreshing on the palate with lovely brightness and a crisp feel, with light tannins. Plenty of juicy raspberries, cherries and strawberry fruit, not too rich or dark, which I love. Raspberry leaf, rose hips, nuanced cola and coffee. Fun and inexpensive, but also balanced and complex, so good for the price. Aged eight months in 30% new French oak. (88 points)

2017 Cline Cellars Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Rich and juicy aromas of sweet black cherries, raspberry jam, plum cake, sweet cola and vanilla coffee. Chewy texture on the palate with light tannins, medium acidity. Jammy and sweet fruit (black cherries and raspberries) with notes of cola, violets, and vanilla coffee. A jammy, fun approach. (85 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Murrieta's Well Shows what LivermoreValley Can Offer

If you’re unfamiliar with the wines of California’s Livermore Valley, Murrieta’s Well might be a good place to start. This Livermore Valley producer sources grapes from about 100 acres of estate vineyards on a site that dates back to the 1880s. That’s when Louis Mel purchased the property and planted a vineyard based on cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux. 

His friend Ernest Wente purchased the vineyard in the 1930s, and it has been under the Wente family’s control ever since, though the Murietta’s Well brand was established in 1990. 

These wines are sourced from estate vineyards, like Louis Mel Vineyard (which sits at about 575-715 feet in elevation) and the Hayes Vineyard, which rises to about 860 feet. The valley stretches east to west, which allows cooling fog and breeze from the San Francisco Bay to roll. Combine that with old riverbed soils (gravelly, clay), and winemaker Robbie Meyer has some high quality fruit to work with.

These wines make a good, refreshing argument for why this important and historic California wine region is still exciting today. I received these wines as samples and tasted them sighted.

2016 Murrieta's Well The Whip - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $26
Light yellow color. Peaches, lychee, magnolia, fresh laundry and ginger on the nose, a really interesting combo. Pleasantly juicy with orange, lychee and pineapple fruit, a waxy feel but vibrant acidity. The fruit is accented with baby’s breath, white tea, raw almond, floral perfume. Chunky fruit but fresh throughout. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat and Viognier. Aged 14 months in a mix of barrels and stainless steel. (88 points)

2017 Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Light watermelon color. Bright and floral with baby’s breath, cherry blossom, wild strawberries, juicy watermelon, a spicy green herbal note, too. Medium-bodied, plump texture but moderating acidity. Flavors of strawberry, white cherries, watermelon, apricot, with lots of white flowers, rose petals, honeyed tea and a spicy white pepper note. Complex, fresh. A blend of Grenache, Counoise and Mourvedre. (89 points)

2016 Murrieta's Well The Spur - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $35
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of blackberries, currant paste, roasted fig, with vanilla coffee, roasted herbs, anise, clove, some sweet violets and root beer notes. Medium-bodied and plush on the palate with smooth tannins and vibrant acidity. Juicy and tangy fruit (black cherries, raspberries, juicy plums), the fruit has a nice crunch to it, and I get elements of spiced black tea, anise, cedar, espresso and mint. Yummy for sure, but shows freshness as well. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Aged two years in 40% new oak. (90 points)

2016 Murrieta's Well Merlot Small Lot - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $46
Bright purple color. Nose shows rich but tart blackberries and black cherries with earthy, smoky notes, along with violets, coffee grounds and eucalyptus. Medium/full-bodied with fleshy tannins, the fruit (blackberry, dark plums, black cherries) is juicy but fresh acidity keeps it tangy. Notes of roasted coffee, tilled soil, violet petals, some vanilla and cedar woven in well. This is delicious, balanced, vibrant. I’m impressed. Includes 5% Cabernet, all the fruit comes from the Sachau Vineyard, gravelly, sandy loam. The wine is aged 18 months in 60% new French oak. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, October 5, 2018

If You Haven't Been Paying Attention to VA Wine, Now's the Time

I love Virginia wine, and I don't pass up an opportunity to shoot down naysayers. But since I've been paying attention to Virginia wine (for about a decade), I hear less and less of that nonsense.

Virginia wine has expanded drastically in that time, and the state now boasts some 300 wineries. I avoid any talk of "signature" grapes or styles in Virginia, because the wines are so diverse as to make such terms irrelevant.

For years now, I've been tasting a lot of wines curated by Virginia guru Frank Morgan, who founded VA Wine Chat, a tasting series that brings together people in real life and online to taste and talk about Virginia vino.

So I was stoked to join him and the wonderful crew at Flight, a DC wine bar, to kick of October as "Virginia Wine Month."

We tasted some exceptional Virginia wines that I wanted to share. There are no shortage of excellent producers in the Commonwealth, but the ones included in this tasting are definitely some of my favorites.

If you're still skeptical of Virginia wine, or never really jumped in, now's a great time!

My notes on the wines I tasted are below...

2017 King Family Vineyards Chardonnay Small Batch Series - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Aromas of spiced tea, yellow apples, honey, almond. Deep texture, a lot of concentration but freshness as well. Lots of honeyed tea and almond and some floral, dusty complexity. (89 points)

N.V. Virginia's Heritage - Virginia
Deep ruby color. Aromas of raspberries, red currants, spicy pepper, roses, violets, earth. Crisp and lively on the palate, structured nicely but fresh acidity as well. Raspberries, tart cherries, doused in roses, chewing tobacco, grilled herbs. Lots of different elements woven together well. A blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, blended from barrels of Bordeaux varietal wine submitted from 16 different Virginia wineries (2016 & 2017 vintages), and then blended and aged in Virginia oak. It is released at the individual wineries as a way of celebrating 400 years if Virginia wine (next year is the 400th anniversary of the House of Burgess act that required colonists to plant grapevines). (88 points)

2014 Glen Manor Vineyards Hodder Hill - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Aromas of spicy dark currants, violets, pepper, deep and herbal, too. Rich but plump on the palate, plenty of freshness, lots of tart black currant fruit. Spicy, earthy, with pepper, mushroom, coffee, anise, dark chocolate shavings, forest floor. Structured wonderfully, but fresh as well. Plenty of time ahead hear. Wonderful stuff. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. (91 points)

2015 Rosemont of Virginia Kilravock - Virginia
Gorgeous nose of crushed red and black berries, herbs, black pepper, cinnamon. Crisp and fleshy, tart red and black currant fruit, and lots of savory elements of pepper, mushroom and earth mixing with violets and rhubarb. Really impressive. Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (90 points)

2013 Williamsburg Winery Adagio - Virginia
Vibrant purple color. Aromas are spicy and herbal, also incense, violets, lavender on top of gushing blackberry fruit. Grippy structure but crisp acidity. Plums, blackberries, suave fruit with deep graphite and smoky elements, some herbs and soy and black pepper. Deep, age-worthy, this is 12.8% alcohol, a blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, aged 14 months in all new French oak. (91 points)

2016 King Family Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
So lovely on the nose, with deep, juicy plyums and blackberries mixed with cinnamon, coffee and grilled herbs. Plush texture on the palate with crisp acidity that keeps the wine so lively. Crunchy red currants and juicy black cherries mix so well with violets, eucalyptus, charcoal smoke, green herbs, black pepper. Lovely stuff, but this needs time to age. A blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. (91 points)

1999 Linden Chardonnay Hardscrabble - Virginia, Northern Virginia
Gorgeous aromatics of apricot, lemon curd, ginger, graham, sea salt, honey. Pretty and exquisite on the palate with pristine acidity and a lovely, velvety texture. Honey, almond, sea salt and ginger mix with apricot, lemon and apple fruit. This is harmonious, balanced, complex and still so youthful. A gorgeous Hardscrabble that showed wonderfully. (92 points)