Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Adapting to a new climate reality in the Côtes de Bordeaux

Merlot vines at Chateau La Peyruche.
I was gearing up for a day of touring vineyards and tasting dry red wines in Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, yet I felt anxious. The temperature reached 104 Farenheit the day I arrived, and I had been reading about the record-breaking high temperatures across Western and Northern Europe. Prone to heat exhaustion and missing my air conditioner at home, I hydrated feverishly, soaked my cooling towel and hung it around my neck, as I headed out for the day. It reached 108 degrees that July afternoon.

The intense heat wave passed halfway through the trip, as rain fell on these vineyards for the first time in more than a month. And while this was one for the books, bouts of extreme heat are becoming more commonplace.

Known for its iconic sense of history and tradition, Bordeaux winegrowers and vintners are reassessing how they operate in light of climate change. From picking grapes earlier, to altering their blends, to considering new grape varieties altogether, winemakers are utilizing different tools to brace for the impact of a much warmer climate.

To be clear, I felt no sense of panic from anyone I spoke with about this topic. Winemakers all over the world are struggling with how to adapt to climate change (some more than others), and when it comes to farming, change is constant.

But as I talked to people in the wine industry during a week-long trip, I found a stoic acceptance that climate change will drastically alter the landscape of Bordeaux wine. Adaptations are necessary, and well underway.

Earlier this summer, the Bordeaux winemaker’s syndicate voted unanimously to amend rules for the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations, allowing for seven new grape varieties to be included for wines bottled under these appellations.

France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research has been testing dozens of grape varieties for years, to determine which might fare better in the hotter, drier climate to come. Among the new grape varieties are: Touriga Nacional (renowned grape of Portugal’s Douro Valley); Arinarnoa (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat); and Marselan (a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache crossing). White grapes like Petit Manseng and Albariño will also be permitted for white blends. These grapes may soon be included in these Bordeaux wines up to a combined 10% of the blend.

The move would only affect two appellations, but Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur make up about half of the wine produced in the entire region. The change still needs approval from the French government, so the process will take time. But this would be the first amendment to these appellation rules since the 1930s, and it demonstrates that Bordeaux winemakers are doing what they can to hedge their bets.

During my visit to the Côtes de Bordeaux (a group of appellations spread among the Entre-Deux-Mers and Right Banks) the shifting climate was a hot topic of discussion. All the winemakers I spoke with seemed to have a wait-and-see approach to planting these new grape varieties. While no one I spoke with voiced any objection to this move, neither was anyone chomping at the bit to plant Marselan — although one winemaker told me he had planted Albariño years earlier.

It’s too early to tell how vintners will weave these varieties into the larger quilt of Bordeaux wines. As I toured a new Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on a scorching, sunny day, Bertrand Weisgerber (owner of Chateau La Peyruche in Cadillac) said he sees opportunity in having different options when planting or re-planting a vineyard. “It makes sense,” he said. “I think it’s a good time to try new things.”

Wine producers here have been adapting to climate change in their own ways for years and years, because they’ve been seeing the change in their vineyards first-hand. “The wine industry has been [one of the] first to face this challenge,” said Stéphane Apelbaum of Optimum Vineyard Management & Consulting. “It seems like we’re having two seasons instead of four.”

At Chateau Les Conseillans, in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, I tasted some beautiful Merlot-based wines and talked about the future of the grape. Here on the Right Bank of the Garonne, the early-ripening Merlot grape has long dominated, backed up by the other major Bordeaux grapes. But Apelbaum says, as the climate changes, he sees Merlot’s dominance fading.

Stephane Apelbaum at Chateau Les Conseillans.
Thirty-five years ago, he said, Merlot was often harvested fully ripe at levels that led to an alcohol content of about 12.5%. In current vintages, he said, Merlot grapes are being harvested with potential alcohol around 15% or higher. Merlot grapes can be picked even earlier (which many winemakers are already doing), but not too early, or you end up with bitter and unbalanced wines.

This Merlot dynamic is leading some winemakers in these Right Bank regions to focus more on grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, which can ripen more evenly in warmer temperatures. And other, non-traditional grapes may feature more in future red Bordeaux blends. Apelbaum mentioned interest in Tempranillo as an option, given that long-term projections of Bordeaux’s climate start to resemble those of some warmer regions in southern Spain. Other winemakers I spoke with showed interest in Portuguese reds as well.

The changing climate can pose difficulties for winemakers trying to create balanced wines, said Patrick Honnef of Côtes de Castillon’s Chateau Page. But his Merlot-based reds (especially the 2016), showed that fresh, vibrant Merlots are still alive and well. “I would not say there is panic, but a lot of work to do,” Honnef said, adding that he would soon be visiting southern Spain to meet with winemakers and discuss how they’re adapting to climate change.

Even a region with such storied history and winemaking tradition, growers and winemakers will have to evolve and adapt with this new climate reality. At the same time, I found passionate winemakers who want to continue making wines that represent their house’s history, style, and terroir.

“We still have to respect the Bordeaux style,” Apelbaum said. “But we must prepare. We must face this.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

This week, I’m back with a catch-all report of wines I received these past few months but didn’t get around to reviewing until recently. (It’s been a busy and enjoyable summer, and I hope the same is true for you.) 

Smith-Madrone’s Spring Mountain wines are consistently some of my favorite from Napa, and I love their Chardonnay and Riesling. So, since I tasted these wines sighted, I tried to approach them with as much skepticism as possible. That said, the 2016s showed wonderfully. Crystal clear, pristine wines that are both begging for serious cellar time. And for the price, I’m still amazed these wines exist.   

C.V.N.E. comes through with some moderately-priced Riojas worth checking out. And Italy’s Garafoli provides three wines from Marche that offer some deliciousness and intrigue for the price. 

Lastly, Virginia’s Early Mountain delivers a juicy red quaffer for those late summer scorchers. 

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

2016 Garafoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Podium” - Italy, Marche, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
SRP: $26
Light yellow color. So perfumed, with aromas of peaches, limes, dandelion, floral potpourri, sea salt. Nice breadth of texture on the palate with vibrant acidity. Oranges, yellow plums, apricot, lots of fresh fruit, with plenty of sea salt and spicy floral potpourri, along with richer elements of honey and wax. Lots going on here. A single-vineyard Verdicchio, fermented and aged in concrete and stainless steel. (90 points)  

2018 Garofoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Macrina” - Italy, Marche, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. So floral, with lots of honeysuckle and daisies, along with peaches, honeydew and limes. Lively and crisp on the palate with a pleasantly plump feel. Honeydew drizzled with lime, and I get these notes of chalk, minerals, punchy herbal tones as well. This is pure summer fun but also shows significant complexity, especially for the price. Aged five months in concrete and stainless steel. (88 points)  

2016 Garofoli Rosso Conero Piancarda - Italy, Marche, Rosso Conero
SRP: $17
Deep, juicy purple color. The nose boasts raspberries and black cherries with smoky menthol, wild herbs, eucalyptus and pepper. Vibrant acidity, dusty tannins, with a solid core of red and black cherry fruit. Notes of smoky, charcoal, herbs, a bit sharp and linear, but there’s enough juiciness and complexity that it works. Spicy incense notes on the finish. 100% Montepulciano aged one year in oak. (88 points)  

2016 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Cune Crianza - Spain, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $13
Vibrant ruby color. Nose shows juicy black cherries, spiced cranberry sauce, clove, roses and tobacco. Crisp, lively and fresh on the palate with dusty tannins. The wine is ripe and juicy but stays fresh and bright. Raspberries, cherries, topped in cocoa, dusty earth, roses, clove and mint. Lots of complexity here for a wine at this price point. An attractive, inviting, drink-me-now Rioja. (88 points)  

2016 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Viña Real Crianza - Spain, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $16
Bright ruby color. Aromas of cherries, chilled strawberries, along with sweet roses, clay/earthy tones and cocoa powder. Fresh and bright, light tannins, juicy red fruit, crisp acidity. Cherries, raspberries and pomegranate mix well with roses, rhubarb, anise and mint. Fun, juicy, balanced, accessible but complex for the price. Aged 10 months in American oak. (88 points)  

2016 Com Tu - Spain, Catalunya, Tarragona, Montsant
SRP: $55
Rich purple color. Spicy aromatics with sage, pepper, creosote and mint, along with smoky cherries, sweet cranberry sauce, with cedar, coffee and incense. Juicy and full-bodied with suave tannins and moderating acidity, not too heavy for 15%. Raspberry and strawberry jam fruit mixes well with sweet coffee, mint, eucalyptus and pepper. The complexity is quite nice, smooth and accessible, totally delicious, but showing some complex floral, spice and earth tones. Grill-friendly stuff that packs a punch. A project from Rene Barbier Ferrer of Clos Mogador. 100% Garnacha from 35- to 50-year-old vines, aged 18 months in barrel. (90 points)  

2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $34
Light yellow color. Gorgeous nose of salted limes, apricot, pineapple, with dusty, chalky, sea spray notes. Laser-like focus on the palate, quite dry and vibrant. Juicy yellow and green apples with limes, and a complex mix of limestone, ocean spray, mountain stream and crushed shells. Such a lively, complex, balanced and age-worthy Riesling. Smith-Madrone does it again, and this vintage is a stunner for the cellar. 12.8% alcohol, about 0.7% residual sugar. (93 points)  

2016 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $40
Light yellow color. Aromas of juicy yellow apples topped in complex notes of honey, almond, cinnamon, sea salt, hay and chalk dust. Deep texture on the palate with pretty acidity and lovely balance. Yellow apples, candied lemons, orange peel and apricot, juicy and fruity but also airy and elegant. Salty, minerals, chalky, with notes of honey, nougat and hay. Gorgeous, deep, yet vibrant. Another beautiful Chardonnay from Smith-Madrone. Barrel fermented with 80% new French oak. I’d love to age this for five years. (93 points) 

2018 Early Mountain Vineyards Soif - USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $26
Deep but bright ruby color. Very pretty, juicy, fresh nose of red plums, candied cherries, bubble gum, with sweet pipe tobacco. Fresh and lively on the palate, light-bodied (12.3% alcohol) with soft tannins and zippy acidity. Plums, cherries, raspberries, super juicy but it’s also showing complex nots of earth, soy, rose potpourri and clove. So fun and delicious. An interesting semi-carbonic wine, a blend of 49% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 3% Chardonnay and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Soif means thirst in French and Early Mountain certainly made a gulpable, juicy, low tannin, crushable red in this difficult vintage. (88 points)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Bordeaux Newcomer Château Page is a Project to Watch

Patrick Honnef and Gerald Lecomte were neighbors before they were business partners. Patrick worked in the wine business while Gerald Lecomte came from the world of finance, and they would frequently spend time together, enjoying sports and drinking wine.

In 2011, they had hatched a plan to purchase a small vineyard and start their own winery. Chateau Page (which is a combination of the first two letters of their first names) is their cooperative project — and if you like suave, balanced Bordeaux, it’s a project to watch.

Patrick, who is German by birth, isn’t new to Bordeaux. He worked as technical director of Chateau d’Aiguilhe for 10 years. He also lives a good portion of the year in the ancient winemaking country of Georgia, where he oversees the viticulture at Chateau Mukhrani (whose wines I know and respect).

During a week of visiting winemakers in Bordeaux, I had the pleasure of meeting with Patrick and Gerald and tasting their wines. I had never heard of this very small producer before, but the wines showed a level of class and quality well beyond their humble beginnings.

The winery is located in the Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux appellation, which rises up from the banks of the Dordogne River and shares similar qualities to nearby Saint-Emilion. Patrick and Gerald’s vines (only about four acres) are located on a plateau with clay and limestone soils.

When they purchased the vineyard, it was in a sorry state, due to years of generous doses of herbicides and pesticides. Immediately, Patrick kicked off a transition to organic farming. While not common in Bordeaux, Castillon has a higher percentage (about 25%) of organic estates than most other appellations in Bordeaux. He says he saw change almost immediately. “The vines came back to life,” he said.

Their flagship wine is a blend of about 80% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. In certain vintages they also produce a Page Noir, which is about 90% Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted a few vintages of each wine, and really grew to appreciate their style. More old school in their earliest vintages, the wines had more pronounced dusty-earthy elements. While the wines seem even fresher and more refined in the 2016 vintage (which has quickly become one of my favorite recent Bordeaux vintages).

My notes on the wines I tasted are below. 

Patrick (left) and Gerald (right) of Chateau Page. Credit: Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux

2012 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Dark and saucy aromas, tangy black currants and cherries, with lots of earthy, smoky, peppery elements. Shows tannic guts on the palate, and there’s a lot of concentration in the blackberry and raspberry fruit, but the acidity is fresh. Notes of anise, graphite, smoke, this has an old school feel to it, like it needs a while to come around. The non-fruit elements are going to evolve into something beautiful, but there’s also enough delicious fruit to age as well. (91 points)

2013 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Saucy fruit, dark and plummy with violets, coffee, loamy earth. On the palate, this is dark and juicy with velvety tannins, more approachable than the 2012, moderate acidity keeps it lively, but this is a dark and juicy wine with a forward but fresh appeal. (89 points)

2014 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
So pretty, wow, lots of violets, floral perfume, anise, pepper, on top of pure, juicy cherries. Great balance on the palate, medium-velvety tannins meet vibrant acidity. Tangy red plums and red and black cherries mix well with lots of earthy, soy, violets, and underlying notes of minerals and graphite. Elegant, complex, a very expressive 2014. (91 points)

2015 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Gorgeous dark fruits on the nose (all kinds of fruit), pure and juicy, with soy, leaves, pencil lead. Such intrepid balance on the palate with great tannic grip and vibrant acidity. Plums, blackberry and cassis, laced with lots of violets, loamy earth, pencil lead and charcoal. Long time ahead for this wine. Really impressive stuff. (93 points)

2016 Château Page - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
The nose is gorgeous, waves of dark fruit, with lots of soy, pencil lead, leaves, coffee. Beautiful balance between tannic grip and vibrant acidity on the palate. Plum, blackberry and cassis fruit, complex and crunchy with violets, loamy earth notes. Complex forest floor, anise, cedar. Great concentration, but also balance. Another beautiful 2016, but this was is really special. (93 points)

2012 Château Page Page Noir - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Deep currants on the nose with lots of tobacco, pepper, leather. Serious grip to the tannins (this is a powerful and young wine) with medium/low acidity. Dark currant and tart plum skin flavors. I love the gravelly, earthy, tobacco notes. Still quite tight, but this is quite lovely and should do great things over the next five to ten years. (91 points)

2015 Château Page Page Noir - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Beautiful core of blackberry and cassis on the nose, with mint, pepper, leather. Pure and fresh, built on solid tannic group but the acidity is fresh as well, and the wine has an effortless feel at this young age. Blackberry and currant, smooth but tangy fruits, laced with complex earth, cocoa, pepper, anise. The depth and balance are delightful. (93 points)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Rolling the Dice on 1990s California Zinfandels

There's a well-known old saying that goes something like: There are no great wines, just great bottles of wine.

That is so true, especially when dealing with aged wines. And especially dealing with wines that are not traditionally cellared for long periods of time, like California Zinfandel.

Sure there are some known to age well (Turley, Ridge and Ravenswood come to mind), but Zinfandels are usually fun, early-drinking, juicy wines. What happens when they have 25 or so years of cellar time?

Well, in some cases, nothing good happens. But some bottles can really shine, as a recent tasting of California Zinfandels from the 1990s demonstrated.

These wines were all curated by a good wine-collecting buddy of mine who bought them from various sources over the years and kept them in good cellar conditions. But aging wine isn't an exact science, and some of the wines showed serious flaws - mostly volatile acidity, which can happen when aging higher alcohol wines for this long.

We all expected a few of the wines to be undrinkable, and we were right. But I'm not sure I expected some of the wines to pop out of the glass with life and wow me. A few sure did. Below are my notes of the aged Zins I tasted.

If you've tasted any good aged Zins recently, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. Cheers!

1992 Boeger Winery Zinfandel Walker Vineyard - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
This one is sported some stewed tomatoes on the nose with mint, leaves, hints of brambly red fruit. Light tannins, showing some heat, moderate acidity. Red cherries still there, with notes of coffee grounds, oak and leather. Actually a lot better on the palate than I was expecting. (86 pts.)

1990 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
Pepper and plums on the nose. Fresh, zesty, dusty tannins. Seems to show quite a bit of life left here with red plums and raspberries, and notes of pepper, soy and leaves. Impressive complexity on this refined, aged wine. (88 pts.)

1993 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Scherrer Vineyards - USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
A more muted nose with sweet cherries and coffee. Plum cake dominates the palate with soft tannins and medium acidity. Raisined, but showing some cool wild herb notes underneath. (83 pts.)

1991 The Terraces Zinfandel - USA, California, Napa Valley
Leafy aromas in a good way (like all kinds of forest floors) mixed with bell pepper, black pepper, on top of tangy red currants. Zippy, dusty and spicy on the palate with light tannins and crisp acidity. This is a really cool and fresh wine, and the red fruit is still going, while the earthy, savory, spicy notes take front seat. One of the better wines of the evening. (90 pts.)

1991 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
Tired but wild on the nose with strawberries, tomato leaf and a massive amount of paprika. Sour, tart and crazy on the palate with volatile acidity. The amount of insane paprika and cumin flavors cannot be overstated. (FLAWED)

1992 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
What a world of difference from the 1991! Shows lively strawberries and raspberries and red licorice on the nose. Plush, still going on the palate with dusty tannins and juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. Integrated notes of gamey meat, soy, black pepper glaze. This one is a lot of fun. (89 pts.)

1994 Storybrook Zinfandel Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
Yikes, this is a Sherried, Madeirized wreck. In a feat of palate masochism, I made myself taste it after realizing how messed up it was on the nose, just to have another point of reference in the wine fault memory. The wine was not pleasant in any way. (FLAWED)

1992 Ravenswood Zinfandel Dickerson - USA, California, Napa Valley Pretty yet bold on the nose with strawberries, plum cake, pepper, oak and cedar. Juicy on the palate with a rich texture but nuance and integration from age. Yummy strawberries and wild berries on the palate with complex elements of menthol, charcoal, leather, wild herbs. Wow, this is balance, delicious, has aged well. Just really good stuff. My wine of the night easily.  (91 pts.)

1993 Ravenswood Zinfandel Los Chamizal - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
Cherry pie on the nose with cola, herbs, pepper. Really ripe, juicy, dark and roasted, but it’s put together well and still lively. Juicy and dark but some black pepper, bell pepper and cocoa notes. Delicious stuff! (89 pts.) 

1993 Ravenswood Zinfandel Grandpère - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
This wine was a bit weird, dusty, with volatile acidity throwing things out of whack. Sour cherries and tart raspberries with dusty, earthy, sooty notes. Ah well. I was hoping this was still pumping. (FLAWED)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

California's Cartograph Rocks Sparklers, Chardonnay & Gewürztraminer

Cartograph dates back to around 2009, when founders Alan Baker and Serena Lourie came to Healdsburg with two barrels of Pinot Noir. 

Alan had been making his own wines at CrushPad, the San Francisco custom crush facility. Drawing on his tech consulting experience, he also oversaw CrushPad’s online platform, Crushnet. It was at this facility where he met Serena Lourie (whose background was in healthcare administration, technology and finance), and they came up with the idea for Cartograph. In 2016 Alan and Serena purchased their first vineyard, 10 acres of Pinot Noir near Sebastopol and Cotati. 

This was my first time tasting Cartograph wines, and it was a very pleasant experience tasting these wines together and seeing the nuanced differences, but also the stylistic similarities. The Pinot Noirs are fresh and lively, and the fruit has this fresh, red, early-picked quality, while maintaining the juiciness and fruitiness that you’d expect from Russian River Pinot. The inaugural vintage of their Estate Pinot Noir is something special, a really bright, elegant, floral, spicy Pinot. And their sparkling wines are on the leaner, zippier side, while showing solid complexity and depth. 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Cartograph Pinot Noir Brut Zéro Leonardo Julio Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Deep yellow color. Brisk and inviting on the nose with oyster shells and chalk dust over top of salted butter, biscuits, bread dough, apricot and lemons. Zesty and light-bodied on the palate but there’s plenty of texture and depth. Green apples, apricot and lemon work really well with these notes of saline, crushed seashells, chalk and minerals. A bracing (in a good way) Brut Zero that would pair wonderfully with shellfish. All Chardonnay, 11.9% alcohol. (91 points)

2013 Cartograph Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Leonardo Julio Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Pale copper color. Bright nose of strawberries, raspberries, rose petals, with bread crumbs, chalk dust and mint notes. Light-bodied, bright acid, fine bubbles, but there’s a nice creamy depth. Lemon meringue, sweet red apples, white cherries, the fruit is laced with chalky, mineral notes. Lovely depth, lots of chalky-dusty vibes, this is delicious, zippy, complex stuff. 11.9% alcohol. From the Leonardo Julio Vineyard. (90 points)

2018 Cartograph Dry Gewürztraminer Starscape Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $26
Deep yellow color. A peach explosion on the nose, with lemon-lime, guava, sea salt, and a spiced white tea and white pepper note. Dry, bracing, crisp on the palate, this has a really pleasantly brisk quality with lots of minerals and chalk elements. Peaches, guava and lime mix well with verbena, white pepper and honeysuckle notes. A nuanced, vibrant, complex California Gewurztraminer – that’s not something I’m used to writing! 13.3% alcohol. (90 points)

2016 Cartograph Pinot Noir Estate - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Medium ruby color. Rhubarb pops from the nose, along with roses, cola, sweet strawberries and raspberries. The palate is fresh and bright with dusty tannins and juicy fruit (strawberries, red currants, raspberries). I get notes of raspberry leaf, mint and white pepper that add complexity. Juicy, fruity and fun but really vibrant and lively. I’d like to see where this goes in 2-3 years. 13.6% alcohol. (91 points)

2017 Cartograph Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $48
Deep ruby color. Nose shows fresh but chilled red fruits (cherries, raspberries, strawberry jam) along with rhubarb, cola and some mushroom and pepper notes. Medium+ bodied, velvety tannins, medium acidity. Tangy yet juicy raspberries, red plums and strawberries, mixed with notes of cinnamon, clove and roasted chestnut. The earthy-complexity is very attractive and melds well with the ripe red fruits. 13.9% alcohol. (90 points)

2015 Cartograph Pinot Noir Transverse - California, North Coast
SRP: $64

Light purple color. Nose of sweet raspberries, cherries and strawberries, with healthy dollops of violets, rose petals and sweet herbs. Medium-bodied, brisk acidity, juicy and lively red fruits (cherries and raspberries). Notes of savory spices, mesquite barbecue, rose petals and cola add complexity. This is a ton of fun, shows a lot of personality, exuberant but balanced and lively. A blend of fruit from Choate Vineyard, Saltonstall Vineyard and Starscape Vineyard. 13.4% alcohol. (90 points)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Wine Reviews: California Reds

I’m back this week with a diverse handful of newly-released California reds.

I’ve long been a fan of Adam Lee’s Siduri Pinot Noirs. It was purchased by Jackson Family a few years ago, but based on this and other tastings, I’ve found the aesthetic seems to be staying quite similar to what drew me to these wines in the first place. And while it’s Sonoma fruit Siduri is known best for, Adam Lee’s first wine was actually produced from Anderson Valley fruit, and it’s really cool to see the wines come full-circle and show so well.

Napa’s Frank Family comes through with a Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon that bring a lot of personality for wines in their respective price ranges. And Louis Martini’s Sonoma and Napa Cabernets show themselves as accessible, fun but also “serious” wines that offer lots of value.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Cline Cellars Carignane Ancient Vines - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $23
Deep purple color. Aromas of sweet plums, black cherries (warm, mulled fruit) with cocoa, cola and sweet black pepper glaze. Full but fresh with suave tannins and medium acidity. Roasted plums and black cherries, the fruit is warm and rich, backed up with notes of spicy pepper, leather, coffee and charcoal grill. Fun, yummy, a solid choice to pair with pretty much anything that’s been grilled. All Carignane aged 12 months in French oak (35% new). (87 points)

2017 Siduri Pinot Noir Anderson Valley - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $40
Deep ruby color. Bright and juicy nose of raspberries, red currants, cranberry sauce, with lots of roses, violets, rhubarb and wild herbs. Plum and juicy texture but lively acidity, with dusty-light tannins. Crisp raspberries, cherries, pomegranate, tangy and chilled, with rose petals, rhubarb, mint and cola elements. Fruity and fun, but elegant, spicy, lively. It’s good to see Siduri keeping things going in this style. A blend of three-vineyards around Boonville, aged 15 months in 35% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Siduri Pinot Noir Edmeades - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $50

Medium ruby color. Lovely aromas of fresh cherries, raspberries and red plums, topped in cola, rhubarb, white pepper, violets, and some earthy-clay notes. Plush yet zesty on the palate with dusty tannins. Bountiful but crisp fruit (cherries, strawberries, raspberries), and I get notes of spiced tea, rhubarb, cola, violet petals and earth. Plump and fruity but vibrant and complex as well, this should do well with two or three years, but it’s very accessible now, too. From a block of Pommard clone in the Londer block of this vineyard, 50% whole cluster fermentation, aged 10 months in 33% new French oak. (92 points)

2016 Bear Flag Wine Zinfandel - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $30
Light purple color. The nose is juicy and sweet with black cherry, blueberry and raspberry jams, mixed with yummy notes of coffee, cola, sarsaparilla and vanilla. Full-bodied with smooth tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Lots of plums, raspberries, black cherries and blueberries, all cooked down into jams with notes of mint, sweet pipe tobacco and cola. Velvety, plush, fun, fan-friendly, but it also sports complexity and vibrancy. There’s this cool earthy, incense, pipe tobacco thing on the finish, too. Really yummy. (89 points)

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $58
Bright purple color. Big and juicy on the nose with currants, plums and black cherries, suave and fruity but complex notes of eucalyptus, tobacco, mint and dark chocolate notes. Full-bodied on the palate with a warm, inviting feel; velvety tannins, medium acidity. Very pretty fruit (black cherries, currants, dark plums), dark but tangy, and it’s paired well with notes of mint, eucalyptus, tobacco and vanilla. Harmonious and smooth, accessible young but has the structure to hold for a while as well. Includes a combined 10% Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this spends 20 months in 1/3 new French oak. (91 points)  

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Bright purple. Juicy, tangy aromas of cherries, plums and raspberries, with cola, mint, chewing tobacco and cracked pepper. Full but suave on the palate with velvety tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Jammy raspberries, cherries and plums, but the fruit shows a tangy edge, and it’s accented by notes of spicy mint, tobacco, black pepper, hints of espresso and vanilla. So fun to drink bow but this could age for a few years. Includes 9% Petite Sirah, this spends 16 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points) 

2016 Provenance Vineyards Deadeye - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. The aromas are dark and deep (currants, blueberries, blackberries), with anise, cocoa, vanilla and spice rub notes. This is big, juicy and deep on the palate, a mouth-filling presence with velvety tannins and enough acidity to moderate things. Waves of dark, smooth fruit blend well with cocoa, mint, scorched earth, cedar and tobacco. Graphite and mineral elements on the finish. Big (15.5%) but it holds itself together very well. Sourced from fruit from St. Helena, Howell Mountain, Oakville and Spring Mountain, aged 18 months in French, American and Hungarian oak (50% new). (90 points)

2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $40
Medium purple color. The nose is sweet and inviting , with plums, black currants and fig paste, and notes of cedar, cocoa, coffee and scorched earth. Full-bodied with a bold presence on the palate, smooth tannins but they provide some grip, medium acidity. Flavors of juicy dark plums and blackberries (deep but the fruit has a nice tangy edge). Notes of cocoa, cedar, coffee grounds and mint add complexity. A nice warm, slightly earth aesthetic. This is really pleasant yet complex — Louis Martini’s Napa Cab is killer for the price. Aged 21 months in 30% new French and American oak. (90 points) 

2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Light purple color. The nose shows plum sauce, black cherries and currants, warm but fresh fruit, mixed well with anise, cocoa, tobacco and vanilla. Full-bodied with a smooth, suave yet fresh appeal. Juicy and fresh black cherries, plum and cassis. Notes of tobacco, vanilla, clove and forest floor are woven in nicely. This is a really fun, accessible and early-drinking Cabernet, but complex, too, and consistently one of the better Cabs in this price range. Sourced from Frei Ranch and Barrelli Creek Vineyards, this includes some Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Merlot, aged 16 months in oak. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Celebrating Summer & Natural Wines with Maryland's Burnt Hill

I've grown tired of the term "natural wine."

When I first heard the term pop up a decade or so ago, usually among conversation with my dorky wine trade friends, it made some sense. It was used to describe a lot of the wines we all had liked for a long time: lower alcohol, no overt new oak, sometimes fizzy (Pet-Nat, for example), sometimes funky and quirky.

The winemakers who extolled this old-school, less technologically-focused aesthetic seemed like the kind of crunchy nerds I loved to hang out with. The focus on sustainability, biodynamics and other eco-conscious farming and winemaking methods has always resonated with me. And, of course, I found the wines to be delicious and fascinating.

But the term avoided definition or classification, and was used loosely and unsparingly. As the movement grew and garnered more and more attention in the culture, I noticed two loose camps begin to assemble.

The Natural Wine Evangelists seemed driven by levels of conviction and certainty that were beyond me. Now, I'm a semi-crunchy, organic-loving, biodynamic-supporting, nature-worshipping outdoorsman who really enjoys plenty of low-sulfite, extended skin contact, funky wines. But while I support low-intervention farming methods for environmental reasons, I'm unconvinced natural wines are any better for the human body. I have similar worries about the holier-than-thou attitude that seems to be a byproduct of the certain elements within the natural wine movement.

Then there are the Natural Wine Haters. They write off the entire movement as misguided, the wines as undrinkable, the natural wine-lovers as hipster lemmings. Their disdain for natural wines rivals the missionary zeal of the other side.

I'm not happy in either camp, although my sympathies lie with small producers trying to minimize their impact on the environment. But I find most of the discussion about what is and what is not "natural wine" and why it's good or bad to be exhausting. This is why I've written so little on the topic.

But I was beyond stoked to attend the inaugural
Solstice Festival at Burnt Hill in Montgomery County, Maryland. This natural wine festival attracted me, first and foremost, because of the people behind it. I first wrote about Old Westminster Winery in 2016. I could tell Drew Baker and his sisters Ashli and Lisa were onto something great, and I was going to keep my eye on them.

When they broke ground on their new farm, Burnt Hill, and started talking about Maryland Gamay, I was all ears. Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post has a great, in-depth write-up on Burnt Hill in the Washington Post, which I won't attempt to reiterate because, well, he gets it all down pretty damn well

The Burnt Hill Crew teamed up with a few dozen low-intervention winemakers from all over the country (and world). They all gathered at a gorgeous farm in the rolling hills of Clarksburg, Maryland, to crack open bottles and spread positive wine vibes.

Only a cynical teetotaler could manage not to have a total blast at this festival. Hundreds of people gathered under large tents to taste unique and quirky wines of all different varieties and styles. I saw a few greased mustaches, but found nary a hint of pretension. I met up with some old friends, made a few new ones, and enjoyed supporting one of the Mid-Atlantic's most exciting wine producers.

Through it all, I managed to take a bunch of tasting notes on some delicious wines, which are included below. Enjoy! I sure did. And I can't wait to celebrate the Summer Solstice again at this festival in 2020.

Broc Cellars

2018 Broc Cellars Chenin Blanc Pétillant Shell Creek Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Yeasty, lots of fizz, pear, honey, dusty, tart lemon, some spice and herbal tones, Really delicious. (90 points)

2018 Broc Cellars Friulano amore bianco Fox Hill Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
Tropical, floral, peach nectar, tiny bubbles, lots of flowers and fruit, balanced nicely, a transparent style, and I love it. (91 points)

2017 Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc Whole Cluster - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Juicy, cherries, plush, not too herbaceous, bright and spicy, whole-cluster fermented. (88 points)

Hiyu Wine Farm

N.V. Hiyu Apple Floreal Cider - USA, Oregon, Hood River County
Juicy, crunchy, fizzy, fun. (87 points)

2018 Hiyu Zinfandel Smockshop Band Rosé - USA, Oregon, Columbia Valley
Gorgeous cherry color. Rich texture, juicy raspberries, with spice and herbs. (89 points)

2018 Hiyu Grenache Smockshop Band - USA, Oregon, Columbia Valley
Spicy, earthy, strawberries, bright and fun, spicy and tangy with a charcoal and forest floor element. Very exciting. (91 points)

N.V. Hiyu The May II - USA, Oregon/Washington, Columbia Gorge
Deep auburn color. Shows caramel, spiced tea, tons of pepper and grilling spices, shows some tannins, some volatile acidity but it’s woven in nicely (kind of like Madeira) and the wine shows a lot of depth and intrigue. A blend of wines from five different vintages, skin-fermented Pinot varieties. A weird wine that actually really works out, and I’m a fan. (89 points)

Georgian wines

2017 Chona's Marani Mtsvane & Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
Almond, hay, waxy, apricot, sea salt. (88 points)

2017 Chona's Marani Rkatsiteli - Georgia, Kakheti
Very perfumed, briny, big texture, spiced tea and ginger, mint and menthol elements, a really balanced but wild wine that I found really impressive. (90 points)

2018 Baia's Wine Tsolikouri - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
Quince, orange marmalade, super zippy with briny, salty complexities, and hay, waxy, honeyed notes. Really unique and fascinating, totally delicious, a real surprise and treat. (91 points)

2018 Gvantsa's Wine Aladasturi - Georgia, West Georgia, Imereti
Super spicy red with cherries, strawberries, lots of incense, potpourri, spiced tea, bitter black tea. Fun stuff with some unique spicy flavor profiles. (88 points)

2016 Naotari Rkatsiteli Kisi Khikhvi Amber Wine - Georgia, Kakheti, Kvareli
So briny, dusty, earthy, a bit heavy and bitter. Pass. A blend of Rkatsiteli, Kisi and Khikhvi. (80 points)

2017 Orgo Saperavi - Georgia, Kakheti
Dark tart, anise, incense sticks, tangy plum skins and pepper. Fun! (87 points)


2017 Matthiasson Chardonnay Harms Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley
Salty and fresh with lemon crème, apricot. Pure, salty, a bit briny but lots of lush elements of honey and cream as well. Very pretty Chardonnay from Matthiasson, per usual. (91 points)

2018 Matthiasson Mataro Tendu - USA, California, Central Valley, Yolo County
Fresh, spicy, tangy, yet shows complexity. Vibrant red fruits with earthy, savory elements. Complex yet goes down so easily. (88 points)

2018 Matthiasson Tendu - USA, California
Barbera-based blend. Juicy, tangy but sweet cranberry sauce, raspberries, fun and fresh and crushable. (87 points)

2017 Matthiasson Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre - USA, California, Napa Valley
So fresh and floral with tangy red fruits and lots of pepper, potpourri, grilled herbs. Juicy but it’s really complex and spicy as well. (90 points)

Lightwell Survey

2016 Lightwell Survey Cabernet Franc The Weird Ones Are Wolves - USA, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Crushable, punchy, juice, nice floral, spice, tea elements. Has dashed of Petite Manseng and Riesling in it. Pretty cool stuff. (88 points)

2018 Lightwell Survey Blaufränkisch Dark Days - USA, Virginia
Really dark ruby color. Lots of fun, fresh, juicy strawberries and floral, spicy tones. 100% Blaufränkisch. (87 points)

2016 Lightwell Survey Hintermen - USA, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Peachy, tennis ball, magnolia flowers on the nose. Floral and juicy on the palate with super ripe peach, drizzled with lime, a mineral-rocky undertone. Really fun and cool stuff. Riesling and Petite Manseng. (89 points)

Fausse Piste

2018 Fausse Piste Muscat Fish Sauce Pet-Nat - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills
Spicy, floral, punchy, fine bubbles, really fresh. (88 points)

2018 Fausse Piste Oyster Sauce Grenache Rosé - USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
Grenache rose. Fresh cherries and strawberries, racy acidity. (89 points)

N.V. Fausse Piste Pizza Sauce - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
Zesty, cherry-driven, accessible but has this complexity of texture and flavors from the aging and solera-style of this wine. Easy-drinking in the best sense of the word, but a lot of fun, too. A multi-vintage blend of all sorts of red (and some white) grapes. (90 points)

Scholium Project

2015 Scholium Project La Severità di Bruto Farina - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
Deep texture, rich fruit (orange, lemon, peach) with spicy herbal tones. Vibrant and impressive. (89 points)

2016 Scholium Project The Prince In His Caves Farina - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
Lemon, peach, honey, waxy notes, some mint and white pepper. This has some skin-contact that gives it a lot more textural depth and some cool olive oil and almond elements. (90 points)

2016 Scholium Project 1MN Bechtold Ranch - USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
So aromatic with rose potpourri, pepper, clove, warm clay, tangy red apple and raspberry fruit. Gorgeous texture, dusty tannins, crisp acidity, crunchy red fruits laced with all sorts of earthy, savory complexities. A beautiful Bechtoldt vineyard that should do interesting things with age. Wine of the festival for me. (93 points)


2018 Purity Wine Verdelho Silvaspoons - USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
Whoa! No formal notes, but this wine wowed me and kept me at this table to try the others. (90 points)

2018 Purity Wine Roussanne Orange Carbo-Crush Oakstone - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Nevada County
So, this is really fun. Skin-fermented, semi-carbonic Roussanne – and it works! Texturally deep but fresh, with a pleasant bitterness and lots of complex spicy, floral tones. Fascinating and, yeah, weird, but it works. I bought a bottle to blind some wine nerds on and mess with them. (91 points)

2016 Purity Wine Grenache Covfefe Oakstone Vineyard - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Nevada County
So spicy, tangy, nice grip. Tart fruits with lots of pepper and earth and a fun but not overwhelming amount of funky, beefy notes. (87 points)

2015 Purity Wine Syrah Blackbird - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
Stewed plums, incense sticks, black pepper, mulling spices. A warm and roasted kind of Syrah, but still nice. (86 points)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wines for a Scorching Summer

Honestly, summer is my least favorite season. I make the most of it, sure, and I spend as much time outdoors as possible. But I’m prone to heat exhaustion and, and it’s going to reach 100 degrees in DC as I publish this. Eek.

So, I’ll be consuming massive amounts of water and hiding away in air conditioning today. During weather like these, except for the rare Beaujolais and a few other lighter reds, I rarely touch the stuff. Whites, bubbles and pinks are my go-to selections.

I’ve received a lot of wines that fit this bill recently. St. Urbans-Hof delivers two very different Rieslings that bring some serious value. And Oregono’s Troon wows me again with their new Granito Vermentino. Ramey’s new Fort Ross-Seaview Chardonnay is something to beold. And I’ve also reviewed a variety of rosés from the States and France. And Virginia makes an appearance as well, as I have two wines from one of my favorite producers in the Commonwealth (Early Mountain).

Stay hydrated and cool, folks! These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

White wines

2016 Troon Vineyard Vermentino Granito - USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $35
Lively yellow color. Aromas pop with nectarine, lime, with honeysuckle, mint, crushed shells, saline, all sorts of complexities in here. Gorgeous texture with a fresh and zippy appeal, and lots of fresh lemons, apricots and green melon. Such depth but really racy and bright as well, it’s so pretty and mouth-watering. All sorts of flinty, waxy, mineral elements underneath. Troon does it again with Vermentino, I love this expression of this grape. Fermented and aged in old French oak for 20 months. (93 points)

2018 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Dry - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
SRP: $18
Medium yellow color. Bursting aromas of peaches and apricot nectar, lime, with white flowers, clover and honey. A light/medium-bodied presence, fresh acidity on a dry frame, with limes, apricots and orange, along with honey, chalk and some flinty, mineral tones. Really crisp with a tingly, saline finish. A really good value, this would be a great introductory wine to convert “Riesling is too sweet” crowds into Mosel Riesling-lovers. (88 points)

2018 St. Urbans-Hof Estate Riesling Old Vines - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
SRP: $18
Light yellow color. I smell canned peaches, key lime pie and papaya, with honey and sea salt. Juicy texture on the palate, sweetness is woven in well with medium acidity. Flavors of oranage, papaya and peaches mix well with honey, clover, and some slight mineral, chalky tones. Fun, accessible, fan-friendly Riesling. (86 points)

2016 Ramey Chardonnay - USA, California, Sonoma County, Fort Ross - Seaview
SRP: $42
Rich gold color. Lots of depth on the nose, with big waves of fruit (lemon curd, yellow apples, apricot) along with bread crumbs, whipped honey, sea spray, crushed shells. Plush texture on the palate, the acidity is so fresh, all sorts of delicious fruit: apples, pears, apricot. Lush yet racy with fantastic freshness and balance. A lot of rocky, mineral, mountain stream clarity kind of elements going on here. A firing Fort Ross-Seaview Chardonnay that should do exciting things over the next few years. Aged 12 months in French oak (12% new). (93 points)

2018 Early Mountain Vineyards Five Forks - USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $26
Medium yellow color. Bold and tropical on the nose with lies, guava and lychee, topped in perfume, cucumbers slices and crushed sweet tarts. Light/medium-bodied, juicy but really crisp as well. Peaches, guava and lime abound, and there are all these complex floral and wild herb notes. I get this chalky, mineral, crushed shell element on the finish that I find really attractive. Serious summer fun herein. Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. (89 points) 

Rosé Wines

2018 Château Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Rosé Les Dauphins Reserve - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône
SRP: $10
Light copper colored. On the nose, I get white cherries, watermelon and red apple, with dandelion and daisies. Juicy texture with lively acidity, and lots of raspberry and red apple fruit. It has a nice floral potpourri, mint and white pepper element, woven in nicely, with a salty note. Fresh, fun, juicy, and solid for the price. Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. (86 points)

2018 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, IGP Pays d'Oc
SRP: $16
Light pink color. Nose boasts watermelon, peaches, along with cotton candy, sweet yellow and white flowers, with a hint of white pepper. Light and bright feel, but plenty of juiciness as well, and the balance is impressive. Peaches, melons and strawberries mix well with lots of roses, basil, and there are some chalky, steely, saline notes. Lots of personality for the price, per usual with M. Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut line of wines. A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault. (88 points)

2018 Domaine De Cala Côteaux Varois Prestige Rosé - France, Provence, Côteaux Varois
SRP: $25
Very pale copper. Nose pops with peach, apricot, steely-salty notes, sliced cucumber, orange blossom and white pepper. Crisp and fresh and zesty, a steely appeal, but lots of depth, too. Apricot, peach and orange fruit is accented by notes of minerals, chalk, white pepper and wild herbs. Finishes with a floral and salty note. Grenache, Syrah, Rolle and Cinsault. (89 points)

2017 Sosie Syrah Rosé Vivio Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
SRP: $25
Deep copper color. Aromas of peach, lime, yellow flowers, there’s also some deeper red fruits and rose potpourri. Crisp texture but a lot of textural depth on the palate. Red cherry and watermelon fruit mixes with elements of sea spray, honeycomb, even some olive oil and herbal tones. A lot of complexity in here, but it stays vibrant and fun, too. All Syrah, native yeast, barrel-fermented and aged in stainless steal and neutral oak. (90 points)

2018 Cline Cellars Mourvedre Ancient Vines Rosé - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $18
Bright watermelon color. Nose shows rhubarb, white pepper and mint on top of red apple peel, cherries and watermelon. Medium-bodied on the palate with nice, zippy acidity and a tangy, juicy appeal. White cherry, red apple and watermelon fruit mixes nicely with honeysuckle, mint and white pepper. Lots of fun flavors but shows good complexity as well. (87 points)

2018 Early Mountain Vineyards Rosé - USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $25
Pale pink color. A bright and ripe nose of peach nectar and strawberries topped in a cool mix of nettle, mint, green tea and honeysuckle. Fleshy but zesty on the palate with bright acidity and creamy texture. Red apples, peaches, apricots, and nice fruit salad topped with flowers, honey and white tea. There’s a kicking mineral and saline undertone that adds complexity. Lots going on, but also so pleasant and gulpable. 65% Merlot, 26% Cab Franc, 7% Syrah and 2% Petit Verdot. (89 points)

<85 points

N.V. Dark Horse Limited Brut Rosé - USA, California
SRP: $13
Rich strawberry color. The nose shows watermelon, strawberries, with sweet floral tones and cotton candy. Faint bubbles on the palate, medium acidity, a light and steely approach. Red cherries and raspberries, this is fun and fruity with some subtle floral tones. Good, crowd-friendly stuff. Simple, but good for the price.

2018 Mouton Cadet Rosé - France, Bordeaux
SRP: $10
Pale salmon color. Nose of tart green apples, white cherries; really spicy with white pepper and sliced bell peppers. Light and crunchy with a lean, green feel. Tart apples and white cherries play along with notes of white pepper, green herbs, sliced bell pepper. For me, this is too lean, green and lacking. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

To all my American friends, I hope you had a great Independence Day! I had a good time watching baseball, grilling, and cracking open a few interesting American wines. Speaking of American wines, I have a lot of California wines that have piled up in recent weeks, so here goes! 

Long-time readers may recognize Santa Ynez Valley producer Kita, whose wines I’ve found exciting, balanced and full of intrigue. Made by Tara Gomez and sourced largely from the Camp 4 Vineyard, which her Chumash Tribe owns, I’ve been blown away by these wines for about five years now, and they continue to excel. Tara and her wife, Catalan-born winemaker Mireia Taribo, also have a new project called Camins 2 Dreams. I tried their Santa Rita Hills Gruner and Syrah for this report, and these wines have so much personality.

I also got to taste the first two vintages of Mount Peak Winery’s Sentinel Cabernet Sauvignon. From winemaker Mark Williams, these are blended from different Sonoma fruit sources, including Monte Rosso Vineyard, and some Napa fruit as well. These are massively hedonistic wines, but they’re undeniably delish.

Paso Robles is known to many for juicy, high-octane reds from Rhone and Bordeaux grapes, but during a trip there two years ago, I really enjoyed tasting so many good wines from Italian grapes. To prove my point, I have two Barberas from Paso Robles in this report. Frankly, I’d rather drink this Giornata Barbera than most any Paso Cabernet at a similar price point.

I also tasted a few wines from Pellet Estate (which was a first for me). Made by Duckhorn-founding winemaker Tom Rinaldi, the project pays homage to Henry Pellet, who first planted grapes in this St. Helena site way back in the 1860s. The two Petaluma Gap Chardonnays really wowed me, and same goes for the Napa Cabernet.

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


2018 KITÁ T'aya Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. So bright and floral and attractive on the nose with white peach, orange, lots of magnolia, cherry blossom, wildflowers, and a distinct sea spray and stony note. Medium-bodied on the palate with rich texture, waxy yet zippy, with vibrant, surprising acidity. Flavors of white peach, nectarine, all kinds of melon, backed up by notes of salted almond, chamomile tea, sea salt and mineral tones. Bold flavors yet really nuanced and pristine, a white Rhone blend that should age nicely. 56% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 4% Grenache Blanc, aged seven months in French oak, 15% new. (91 points)

2018 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Gamble Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $28
Light yellow color. The nose boasts lots of peaches, guava, lemon crème, with nettle, cucumber slices and chalk dust. Zippy acidity and creamy texture fit nicely, and there is plenty of delicious fruit, like a summer salad of five different types of peaches drizzled with a little lime. Nuances notes of spices and herbs (nettle, white pepper, floral tea), and a chalky/mineral undertone that adds complexity. Lovely, fresh, balanced Napa Sauvignon Blanc. This wine sees stainless steel and some French oak, 20% new. (89 points)

2018 KITÁ Sauvignon Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $24
Medium straw color. Aromas of peach, lime and guava pop from the glass, with notes of white tea, mint, lemongrass, and steely, salty notes. Rich texture on the palate but zippy acidity and fresh but nuanced fruit (guava, papaya, lime). A pure and lively feel with notes of saline, lemongrass, mint and some honeyed tea notes. A lot going on here. (89 points)

2018 Rombauer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Aromas pop with peaches, green apples, honeysuckle, magnolia and mint. Creamy texture on the palate meets zippy acidity, fresh and balanced. Green apples, kiwi and papaya fruit blend well with verbena, mint, honeysuckle, and some creamy, honeyed notes. Vibrant, salty finish, a well-rounded Napa Sauvignon Blanc at a very reasonable price. Fermented and aged in a mix of stainless steel and used French oak. (88 points)

2017 William Hill Winery Chardonnay - California, North Coast 

SRP: $17
Light gold color. Aromas of buttercream, yellow apples, honey, buttered popcorn, some white flowers. A juicy, creamy texture but moderating acidity makes for a forward but balanced wine. Bruised apples, lemon crème, apricot jam, along with toasted biscuits, buttercream, and some saline elements. A lot going on for the price, this has those classic California Chardonnay notes but stays fresh and quite lively. (87 points)

2017 Talbott Chardonnay Kali Hart Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $23
Rich gold color. Smells rich and juicy with yellow apples, apricot jam, cinnamon spice and honeysuckle. Plump texture on the palate with a juicy, round feel, but the medium acidity balances it nicely. Green and yellow apples and pears, juicy and fresh fruit, and the notes of salted almond, coconut and vanilla are nuanced and mixed well with some salty, floral perfume tones. This shows an impressive amount of personality and vibrancy for this price point. (88 points)

2017 Chalk Hill Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $20
Bold gold color. Juicy nose of apricot marmalade, lemon curd, with salted nuts and honey butter. Full-bodied with a plump but fresh feel, moderating acidity setting the base for the apricot, yellow apple and lemon curd. I get notes of peanut shells, candied ginger and crushed shells, with notes of vanilla and butter woven in well. Solid, balanced, nuanced stuff, especially for the price. All maloactic fermentation, aged eight months in 30% new oak. (90 points)

2016 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate - California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $42
Medium yellow color. Bright and fresh on the nose with all sorts of citrus and apples, with some airy, salty and, yes, chalky notes, along with whipped honey. Plush texture on the palate, lovely creaminess/acidity balance here. Lemon meringue, orange creamsicle and yellow apples pair nicely with notes of sea salt, chalk and flowers. Whipped honey, buttered biscuits and toasted nut elements are woven in well. Lovely balance here, super delicious. All maloactic fermentation, aged 11 months in 42% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Pellet Estate Chardonnay Un-Oaked Sunchase Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Petaluma Gap
SRP: $42
Medium yellow color. Yellow apples, apricot, lemon crème on the nose, with sea salt, crushed nuts, ocean spray and honeysuckle. Crisp and lively on the palate with lots of depth of texture and flavors (lemon crème, apricot, crunchy apples). I get notes of minerals, sea salt, mountain stream, along with honeysuckle and ginger. Crisp, bright, but complex and flavorful. No maloactic fermentation, aged 10 months in stainless steel. (90 points)

2016 Pellet Estate Chardonnay Sunchase Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Petaluma Gap
SRP: $68
Rich yellow color. Gorgeous depth of aromas with baked apple, lemon curd, mixed with sea spray, crushed shells, honeycomb, peanut brittle and pie crust. Big and plump on the palate, rich in flavor but shows nuance and depth. Hedonistic elements of baked apple, buttered biscuits, toffee and candied ginger mix well with crushed chalk, white flowers and underlying mineral tones. Bold and lush, but also pretty and complex, I’d love to hold this for three to five years. 18 months in 30% new French oak with maloactic fermentation. (92 points)

2018 Camins 2 Dreams Grüner Veltliner Spear Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Light yellow color. So bright on the nose with lemons, apricot, green apple and papaya, with lots of airy, floral, salty tones, and hints of white pepper and mint. Crisp acidity frames the wine so well, on a medium-bodied frame, this shows plush texture but stays light and airy. Apricot, lemon, papaya, really pretty fruit topped with distinct salty, crushed rock notes. Finishes with cool elements of white pepper and mint. Foot-crushed, fermented in old French oak and stainless steel with natural yeasts. Very impressive Gruner that pays homage to Austria really well. (92 points)

Bubbles and Rosé

N.V. J Vineyards & Winery California Cuvée - California SRP: $27
Light gold color. Nose shows green and yellow apples with some ginger, baby’s breath and nettle, some salted biscuit notes. Medium-bodied, crisp and vibrant with some chalky, crushed sweet tart notes and cane sugar. Tangy green apples, crunchy pears, green melon, mixed with ginger, sea salt, cut flower stems. Fun, accessible, inexpensive sparkling wine. The inaugural release of this wine, which is a blend of different vineyards and varieties, bottled in March 2016, aged 24 months on the lees. (85 points)

2018 KITÁ Grenache Rosé Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $18
Light watermelon color. So pretty on the nose with peaches, apricot, lots of honey, white and yellow flowers, bright with a lot of spicy, herbal tones. Lovely freshness on the palate, texturally intriguing, with flavors of white cherry, peach, apricot — crunchy, pretty fruit. Complex, nuanced, lots of basil, mint and spice, but plenty of fun fruit that makes it so drinkable and fun. (90 points)


2016 Bella Luna Barbera Glenrose Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Adelaida District
SRP: $45

Light purple color. Bold aromas of dark plums and sweet currants, with a smoky, mesquite, roasted coffee and nuts quality, and some violets. Full and chewy on the palate with velvety tannins and moderate acidity, plenty of plums and black cherry fruit. I like this combination of incense sticks, clove, floral potpourri here – there’s a lot of spicy, floral complexity. And while the wine is super juicy, it stays lively. Showing so well now but this could age for at least a few years. All Barnera from a 1,700 foot elevation vineyard. (90 points)

2017 Giornata Barbera - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Beautiful aromatic display of raspberry and cherry compote, rose petals, anise, pepper, red cinnamon candies. On the palate, this is so fresh and vibrant, with dusty tannins on a medium-bodied frame – it really turns the tables on some stereotypes about jammy Paso reds, and I love it. Raspberries and cherry fruit, tangy and fresh with compels notes of black pepper, rose petals, leather, light roast coffee, some anise and cola notes. Complex and vibrant, but also really fruity and fun, this wine rides that line so well. What a screaming value. (92 points)

2017 Camins 2 Dreams Syrah Zotovich Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $46
Vibrant purple color. Lovely nose of plums and black cherries, laced with mesquite barbecue put, black pepper, and this really interesting earthy/graphite quality. Full-bodied but the balance is lovely, serious structure from the tannins but vibrant acidity, with black cherries and currant fruit. What I really love about this wine are these complex smoky, earthy, peppery, barbecue-y elements — there are tons of different tones, and no one particular one dominates. Long, fresh finish, this will age wonderfully for many years. My kind of California Syrah, I was amazed to hear this was the first crop of this block. 20% whole cluster fermentation, aged 10 months in oak, 30% new. (93 points)

2014 Mount Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sentinel - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $60
Medium purple. Nose shows chilled black cherries and gobs of black currants, with coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, clove and sweet violets. Big, full-bodied (15.5%) with structured tannins yet rounded around the edges, and medium acidity helps tone down the burly nature. Black cherries, black currants, rich but tangy fruit, laced with cedar, coffee, vanilla, mint, with earthy, charcoal notes. Herbal tones come out with air. Lovely stuff that could use some cellar love. Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% Petite Sirah, aged 18 months in 53% new French and American oak. 86% Sonoma County, 14% Napa County. (90 points)

2015 Mount Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sentinel - California, Sonoma County SRP: $60
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of dark and saucy black cherries, blackberries and boysenberry with anise, mint, cocoa, coffee and scorched earth. Full and suave on the palate with a nice backbone but rounded tannins and medium/low acidity. Waves of gorgeous black cherries and cassis, the juicy, dark fruit is laced with cocoa, coffee, scorched earth. I also get these anise, mint chocolate chip notes, and some earthy, rocky undertones. Lovely young, but this should do nice thigns in three to five years. All Cabernet, 51% Sonoma, 49% Napa, aged 18 months in 62% new French and American oak. (91 points)

2014 Pellet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Pellet Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $95
Deep purple color. Gorgeous depth of aromas with tangy black cherries, currants, dark plums, waves of pretty fruit backed up by eucalyptus, mint, cocoa, anise cookie and clove. Full-bodied with great tannic structure, but the wine has a velvety edge and moderating acidity, and the balance is in point. Plums, blueberries, black currant, juicy but tangy fruit, laced with cocoa, graphite, minerals, anise and earth. Complex but young, this deserves time, but it’s a beauty. Includes 8% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 21 months in 80% new French oak. (92 points)