Bordeaux for the everyday drinker – Cru Bourgeois du Médoc

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  In preparation for my trip to Bordeaux in March, I am wandering back through my sample closet and I came across this box of Cru Bourgeois from an online tasting last year.  Sadly, the wine didn’t arrive before the tasting, so I’ve been waiting for a god opportunity to work through them.  And here we are! Many, myself included, shied away from Bordeaux because it was imposing, expensive, and somewhat of an old man’s drink.  Anyone who has watched Downton Abbey can imagine Carson in his office, accounting for the bottles of Claret he carefully curated for every meal.  I used to be somewhat afraid of, and frankly didn’t care for, much of the Bordeaux that I have tried in the past – until I attended my first Bordeaux tasting. But, the big, bold, tannic Bordeaux of that event overshadow the delightfully affordable and approachable wines that the Bourgeois showcase.  The bourgeois, the merchants and craftsman of the region, thought to be inferior, slowly acquired some of the best land, while simultaneously being exempt from taxes for the sale of wines. In the original Bordeaux classification of 1855, which was as much as a popularity contest and legacy fraternity as anything else, many of the Cru Bourgeois producers were excluded.  Making Cru Bourgeois a lower class wine than Cru Classé, and yet still higher than the old Cru Artisan classes caused quite a stir; meanwhile, the quality of the Cru Bourgeois is widely regarded as a similar and sometimes higher quality level wine than the Cru Classé. First, let’s have a Bordeaux Primer: The Grapes (red) Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc Merlot Petite Verdot Malbec Carménère Left Bank (Médoc included) Cabernet Sauvignon (usually 70% or more) Cabernet Franc (~15%) Merlot (~15%) Right Bank Merlot is most common in Saint-Émillion and Pomerol The first Cru Bourgeois list was drafted in 1932, with 444 estates.  Further refinements and tiers were developed in 2003, creating a final list of 247 properties.  After a short period of being Banned in ‘Bama … or rather France, the term Cru Bourgeois was finally allowed back at court in 2010 in a very different form than originally intended.  In this modern iteration, there is one level of quality, awarded to specific wines rather than Châteaux, and particular attention is paid on production as well as the finished product.       Now you you’ve had your history lesson, it’s time to taste some of this wine! Chateau la Haye Saint Estephe 2014 Silky smooth Merlot based blend with a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot.  Muted forest fruits and berries with a touch of coffee, it finishes with black pepper and cocoa powder. Château Tour Castillon Medoc 2014 Voluptuous Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sav blend is a screaming value at only $21.  Rich cherries with a smoky finish, the tannins are still firm and this could age well for a few more years.  Merlot focused, it was probably the most fruit forward and plush, with blackberries, […]

The changing face of Prosecco

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When you think of Prosecco, most often, you probably think of the inexpensive fizz that is poured at brunch, with a bottomless mimosa, or as an everyday drink . I admit, I was no big fan of Prosecco before I experienced the journey I’m going to share with you.  Made in the bulk, or Charmat method, the bubbles tend to be large, the flavor is – to say the least- unique, and it tended to be a bit low brow.  Or so I thought. Enter #winestudio this year, when I was exposed to the changing face of Prosecco and the new DOCG:  Prosecco Superiore.  The Prosecco Superiore DOCG has elevated the art and style of Prosecco to be not only more competitive with other sparkling wines of the world, such as American sparkling wine and Champange, but also raised the standards of quality and taste within the category. There are three DOCGs for Prosecco, Conegliano Valdobbiandene Superiore which encompasses 15 communes, Conegliano Valdobbiandene Superiore Rive, in which wines must be made from a very specific commune or vineyard, and Valdobbiandene Superiore di Cartizze, which is about 107 hectares.  All of these DOCG areas are smaller, and technically a subset of the larger Prosecco DOC, which also includes the Prosecco DOC Treviso and Asolo Prosecco DOCG.  Confused yet?  Let’s just think of it as concentric circles, where the outer ring is Prosecco DOC, and the DOCGs are smaller, inner rings, where the DOCGs fit snuggly in the center side by side.  This handy graphic above from the Prosecco folks explains it much better: Located a short 50 kilometers from Venice, Conegliano Valdobbiandene is a steeply hilled area of 15 small commnues that was originally recognized as a DOC in 1969.  When, as Italy does, the communues and productions area rules were refined and revised in 2009, the area was upgraded to a DOCG, recognizing the highest quality wines. Having had the opportunity to taste through he portfolio of both Nino Franco, as well as the vast variety of several producers from Conegliano Valdobbiadene (more on that later), I am excited at the endless styles and improved quality this Italian sparkler has to offer. These wines were provided by the winery, PR agency, and #winestudio in consideration for participation in the weekly online tastings at #winestudio.   Some participants paid a fee to receive certain wines. Before we get in to the deails of Nino Franco, let’s review what makes Prosecco Prosecco.  By definition, is not Champagne.  While the term Champagne is often used like Coke for soda, or Kleenex for tissues, it is in fact a proprietary name based on the region and a few additional factors.  Prosecco is much the same.  The most obvious difference is that Prosecco is from Italy, but it is also produced from a particular white grape – glera.  Glera is a white grape that is thought to have originated in Slovenia.  Until 2009, Glera was referred to as Prosecco in that region of Italy, making for a somewhat confusing […]

Von Winning – Winning wines from Pfalz

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  This sample was provided by Wines of Germany for consideration. There is something magical in the wines of Germany.  From pinot blanc, to the hidden gems of pinot noir, there is something for everyone.  This rich white, from the Pfalz region of Germany, is from a compact yet importnat area meandering through some of the most fertile land in the area.  One of Germany’s largest and most important wine producing regions, it sits between the Rhine and the Haadt mountains in a compact 45 long by 15 miles wide. While only 40% of the wines from this region are red, pinot noir is becoming increasingly more important here.  Generally known for it’s table wine products (Landwin and Deutscher Wein), but the increase in pinot noir has made it a very popular region.  Given it’s proximity to Alsace, the varietals planted and the culture is very similar.  Pfalz has a warmer, dry climate, which gives rise to a richer, more concentrated wine style then it’s neighbors.  Additionally, the vineyards are clusted at hte base of the Weingut von Winning was founded in 1849 and is planted to 158 acres, focused on riesling.  They also product sevearl other varieties, and The Von Winning Weissburgunder II is a delicious oaky rendition of pinot blanc.  The pale gold color looks like it would be sprightly, but the rich peach and stone fruit shows off a touch of salinity at the finish.  Mouthwatering spice notes from the oak make me want to go back for more.  This would be a lovely wine with your holiday ham, or for those red wine drinkers who prefer a richer white. $30  

Zinfandel – America’s Heritage Grape

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Zinfandel has suffered something of a bad rap recently, with people thinking immediately either “white zin” or “jammy zin”.  The truth, of course, is that there is much more to America’s Heritage Grape than those two simple interpretations. With zinfandel grown all over California, as well as all over the world, it is one of the most diverse varieties in both grape and style.  From Primativo to Crljenak Kastelanski, the genetic make up is the same – but both terroir and winemaking style yield vastly different results. Here in California, the areas of Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi, and the Sierra Foothills are well known for their Zinfandel.  Today, I am reveing 4 different zinfandels that are perfect for your thaknsgivng talbel.   2015 Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley   Bright red and red flowers on the nose.  Black cherry, baking spices leaping out of the glass.  The first sip surprises you with the acidity, and cranberry overwhelms . Rosehips and hibiscus dance around my mouth with juicy ripe strawberries on the mid palate.  It finishes with white pepper and chalk, and mouthwatering rhubarb.  There is nothing jammy about this zinfandel.  $25 2016 Trentadue La Storia Block 303 Another classic, La Storia has been making excellent zinfandel for years.  This block designate has the immediate sense of presence from warm Alexander Valley, with dried cherry, prune, and raisin on the nose.    Boysenberry jam and cherry compare on the palate are rich but not overly jammy.  There is still a hint of red current and a nice cranberry note that keeps the acid in balance . Finishes with a cloud of black pepper. Big and bold but not a bruiser.   $22   2015 Peachy Canyon Paso Robles Westside Softer and earthier on the nose, clear aromas of blackberry and bosenberry.  Jammy at first, but the inky dark color belies the spicybackground.  Coffee, roasted meats, the slightest hint of campfire, the classic blue and black fruit of Paso Robles come out to play.  With over a dozen differnet zinfandels on Peachy Canyon’s roster, this is a classic stewed fruit and raisey Paso example.  $22   Erostasia Reserve Old Vine Lodi Probably one of the most well known zinfandel regions, Lodi has been producing big, bold wines for over 100 years.  This classic example is perfect for a cold winter night, with stewed fruit, prune, and boysenberry jam layered in strong baking spices like nutmeg, the dark notes of smoked meat, and stewed fruit are accented by the 22 months in new oak, and you can taste the classic vanilla laying over the fruit.  This will stand up to hearty fare like chicken wings with blue cheese sauce and ore. These four wines are very different, and all very much zinfandel.  With such diversity, make sure you have a zinfandel on your table for your holiday celebration and enjoy America’s Heritage Grape! And don’t forget about the Zinfandel Experience here in San Francisco, January 18-20.  Celebrate all things zinfandel with 3 unique events, and taste […]

Viura – the illusive white wine of Rioja

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  If you’ve like Spanish wine, you undoubtedly love Rioja.  The backbone of Rioja was build on Tempranillo, and is dominated by rich, red wines, but did you know that Riojo also has refreshing and lovely white wine? While there actually is a Tempranillo Blanco grape, the shining star among the allowed white varietals in Rioja is Viura.  A mildly acid white grape, it is often used as a blending component, and was nearly wiped out by phylloxera.  When they replanted, much of it was replaced by Malvaia and Garnacha Blanca.  Viura is also one of the most im . portant grapes in Cava production, where it is known as Macabeo. Viura is an excellent alternative to Chardonnay, and if you see the Lopez de Haro Blanco in your wine travels, be sure to check it out. 100% Virua, these grapes were hand harvested and spent a short 3-4 months in oak, keeping the vibrant and fresh flavor.  A low 12.5% ABV (Hallelujah!) this is a wonderful choice for brunch or lunch, wit tropical flavors, peach, fresh citrus, and a lush mouthfeel.  Yum!   Thanks to another great selection from Vintae and Lopez de Haro!      

Onward Wines

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When I was first introduced to Onward Wines, I was intrigued by the thought of three wines made from Malvasia Blanca, as I thought of how to approach a piece on unique wines for weekend brunching.  I love Malvasia, and there is really none to speak of in the US – save this little patch of land in Contra Costa County. Further investigation in to Faith Armstrong Foster’s wines, however, revealed wines that are expressive of terroir in its purist form, quality, uniqueness, and a sense of place in every glass. Onward 2015 Pétillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley Beginning with the beguiling Pétillant Naturel, made from Malvasia Bianca, the Onward selections express freshness that can often get lost in the shuffle.  Pet-Nat, a fun, rustic take on sparkling wine, captures bubbles the old fashioned way.  Bottling these wines before primary fermentation occurs, without the addition of a dosage or yeast, Malvasia Blanca makes a natural muse for this style. With nutty Marzipan, hazlenut and lychee notes, complemented with Asian pear and honey, the Pet Nat holds peaches and brioche, with ah hint of ripe tuscan melon.  There is a natural salinity coming fro the Malvasia, and a pinch of citrus zest to keep it fresh. This Pét-Nat is floral and fruity, but refreshingly bone-dry. The opening aromatics are like sticking your nose in a fermentation vat, with yeasty brioche notes and lively youthful freshness. To follow are notes of night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kaffir lime scones with preserved lemon…and a refreshing hint of sea air….and did I mention soft tiny delicate bubbles! Onward 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley Like a summer day in a bottle, Malvasia Blanca jumps out of the glass with stone fruit, fresh and floral notes and a searing acidity to refresh your hot and dusty taste buds.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, adding much needed texture and tannin, the wine was finished in stainless steel while the lees were stirred every two weeks.  Oh so very fresh and happy, kumquats and pears dance around golden delicious apples with a splash of fresh cream. Onward 2013 Pinot Noir, Hawkeye Ranch, Redwood Valley The often forgotten Redwood Valley, deep in the forests of Mendocino County, is an interesting growing region.  With cooler than average temperatures, dense Redwood groves and chilly damp fog, it’s a challenging place to grow any wine – let alone pinot noir.  But grow it does, and this example is a beautiful expression of cool climate pinot noir. Pale and clear, wild strawberries are front and center with bright hibiscus and Queen Anne cherries.  Juicy pomegranate and rhubarb are rounded out with lingering methol and forest floor notes.   Onward 2014 Carignane, Casa Roja Vineyard, Contra Costa County i love Carignane.  It is one of those lost grapes of California, and was, at one point, a huge part of the old Italian field blends that helped to solidify the commercial wine industry in the state.  Often overlooked, […]

Achaval Ferrer

Achaval-Ferrer – wines of distinction from Argentina

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When you think of a classic wine from Argentina, you probably think of Malbec.  But would you also think of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and yes – even Merlot?  What exactly is Cabernet’s role in Argentina anyway? Enter the upstart minds of Achaval-Ferrer.  In 1995, the first twinkle in the eyes of the winery partners appeared, with their minds set to the gestalt of creating the best wines possible.  In 1998, the first property was purchased, Diamonte Vineyard and the winery was founded. So, last month on #winestudio, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, from Malbec to Cab Franc, and what a journey it was!  Wine Studio is an ongoing educational project that seeks to bring writers, wineries, and consumers together on Tuesday evenings on Twitter. For the month of April, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer.  My favorites of this series are outlined below. One Tuesday in April, which happened to be #worldmalbecday, we tasted two wines blind.  Naturally we knew that they were 100%, or at least, significantly, malbec based, but what no one anticipated was that we were actually tasting two vintages of the same wine, with very different results. These wines were the 2012 & 2013 Quimera, named for the top of the line blend that is made, lke all good wine, in the vineyard.  More than simply the sum of it’s parts, the blend varies ever so slightly every year but is always predominately Malbec.  To showcase the other varietals that Achaval-Ferrer focuses on, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is blended in. 2012 Quimera Earthy forest floor erupting n eucalyptus and menthol.  Tobacco and dark chocolate mingling with blueberry and blackberry, with old fashioned black licorice on the finish. Astute and developed but can be cellared for years to come.   $30   2013 Quimera (pre-release) Bursting with fruit, classic Malbec.  Fresh plums, baking spice, hint of dried lavender and herbs de Provence. What we didn’t know at the time of tasting s that this was the same wine, same blend, but with vintage variation.  According to the winemakers, 2013 was actually a clear year at the site, however, the fruit was showing more, undoubtedly due to it youth. So what is the point?  The point is that wine is a living thing; wine changes in the bottle, but it changes in the vineyard.  The same wine can be impacted by climate, localized weather, harvest conditions and so much more. Also, there is more to Argentina than fruit bomb Malbecs.  While they are fun, and great for a party, there is more and more of a Bordeaux influence creeping in; this is natural given the origins of Malbec in Cahors (just south of Bordeaux) and it’s use in many Bordeaux blends.  Stylistically, Malbec from France is quite different, but as time goes on and Argentinian wine grows up, you can see the development of these restrained and austere styles. So go out and taste some Argentinian blends!  They are relatively inexpensive, and while not cheap (compared to many mass […]

Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

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  When I first tasted the Sidebar Cellars Kerner, from the Mokelumne Glen vineyard in Lodi, I thought to myself, “wow this is a fun little white”, as I sat in the heat of Lodi in April.  At that time, we were exploring the Mokelumne River AVA, and I didn’t make the connection to David Ramey of Ramey Cellars. Fast forward to 2016, and as I get my rosés ready to rumble, a little birdie told me that Sidebar Cellars did a rosé.  Knowing how much I love pink wine around this time of year, I made sure I got my hands on one and I was glad I did! Sidebar Cellars was born out of Ramey’s desire to play around a bit, and presents a departure from the Ramey Wine Cellars more austere lineup of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon; hence, Sidebar. The 2016 Sidebar Cellars Russian River Valley Rosé comes from an old-vine Syrah vineyard, and represents a refreshing change of pace from the more common place saignée (bleed off) Pinot Noir rosés, which while delicious, can get a little boring. Bursting with strawberry and peach on the nose, herbal rose hips and hibiscus came through on the palate.  Tart plum skins and tannin give this wine some oomph, while ruby red grapefruit hides at the back f the palate, offering a refreshing finish.  The zesty green apple and lime lingers on your palate with a hint of pickled watermelon rind, and keeps you going back for another sip. This is a great summer sipper and pairs surprisingly well with sriracha potato chips!  It would also be an excellent match to your Easter Ham or a roast chicken. Special thanks to Alexandra O’Gorman, Communications Director at Ramey Wine  Cellars for this delightful sample!  

Winesense, nonsense, Riesling sense!

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When I was studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine credential, one of the most challenging regions for me was Germany.  Not because of the wines specifically, as while there are some unusual varietals, most German wines are fairly well known, but for the simple reason that deciphering a German wine labels is an exercise in linguistics, frustration, and a pyramid that  would make Giza look simple. The Rise of Riesling One of the most classic German wines is Riesling.  Riesling is one of the most complex, diverse, and wondrous wines in the world, and I often want to say “taste the rainbow” when I think of Riesling.   From bone dry, to sticky sweet, oily and petrol driven, to chalk and shale, Riesling is produced in a wide variety of styles.  Understanding how to find the specific style you are looking for is part of the mystery and fascination of German wine.   Cracking the Code Varietal The grape variety is clearly marked, so that’s easy.  We have Riesling Must Weight Next, to determine the level of ripeness – or more technically the must weight of the harvested grapes (which really does not have any impact no sweetness of the finished wine), we look at the Prädikat level.  For example, a Riesling picked at it’s fullest potential ripeness, or just a hare’s breath past late harvest, is known as Spätlese.  If you’re looking for something that is picked below full ripeness, go for a Kabinett.  For the sweet sticky beauty of a dessert wine, you want a wine that is at least Auslese, which is late harvest, but true stickies are Beerenauslese or Trokenbeerenauslese.  Confusingly, Troken is also the word for “dry”. For this wine, it’s marked Spätlese, next to Riesling. Are you with me? How Sweet It Is Here we get to the tricky part.  Since you need to determine the level of sweetness separately from the must weight, you need to classify the taste of the sugar content, using Troken (dry) or Feinherb (off-dry). This wine is dry, or Trocken. The relatively new Riesling Scale can help us Americans with these things.  While some people disparage the International Riesling Foundation’s dumbing down of Riesling, at a simple level, it’s helpful. That said, remember that Riesling is a high acid grape.  Acid balances sweetness, so that even a Medium Sweet Riesling may not play that tune when you are drinking it with maple smoked salmon. Are You A Good Witch, or a Bad Witch? Now that we understand what the flavor profile might be in the glass, we need to look at where it is from.  The Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein (QmP) designations denote quality wine and quality wine from a specific region, and table wine (Taflewein) and bulk wine (Landwein) are the lower brow everyday wines. This wine is Prädikatswein, a quality wine from a specific region The Mosel Right.  So really, there are many layers of classification but once you understand the basis for categorization, you can generally interpret what to expect from the wine. […]

AA Badenhorst – Swartland history in a glass

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If you ask the average person about South Africa, typically you will hear Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, and Pinotage.  If you ask a wine persona about South Africa, you are likely to hear Pinotage and Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is a unique white wine, with origins in teh Loire Valley of France and is made is a wide variety of styles.  In the South African wine growing regions, Chenin is king. With 60ish official appellations, and nearly 100,000 hectares plated to vine, wines range from average to exceptional. The Swartland region of the Western Cape winelands in South Africa, is one of the youngest wine regions in the country, and rapidly growing.  The decomposing granite soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes. Planted in the 1950s and 1960s with Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, and Grenache, the Badenhorst is located in the  Swartland region of the Western Cape, which is a younger wine region but growing.  The decomposing granite and shale soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes. Co-owner Adi Badenhorst is a bit of rebel, taking the time to make even the smallest decision such as picking for peak freshness and blending choices.  Raised in a farming community with his cousin Hein, they purchased the Kalmoesfontein farm in 2007 and set about restoring the badly neglected property. Modeling it on the farms they grew up on with an eye towards making natural wines, the Badenhorts maintain the old techniques of dry farming and hand foot crushing whole clusters.  Using concrete tanks and large wooden vats for fermentation, these wines have a taste of yesterday, with earthy back to the earth flavors and mouthfeel. With his blends co-fermenting in a bit of a mish mash, Adi doesn’t using rules or classic winemaking by numbers to make his wine.  Instead he relies on what nature has done n the field. 2012 AA Badenhorst Red Blend This complex blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Shriaz, Mouvedre and Tinta Barocca is a lovely representation of how Rhône varietals do well in many climates.  You might know that Cinsault is one of the parent grapes of Pinotage, but here, it is an earthy backbone to this lush red wine and I love the flavors it imparts.  Cinsault here, is an old school country grape, and was often used to make bulk or table wine.  Today, is once again a premium grape. Aging in 4000 liter casks for 16 months, the oak is a very subtle note and not at all influential in this easy to drink red. The savory, smoke meat mingles with old leather and black tea while ripe blackberries layer with dried herbs for a pleasing, masculine blend.  There is fruit here, but the key notes are savory and herbal which is a nice departure from a bold and bombastic Shiraz or Southern Rhone blend.  The silky tannins finish with a minty fresh dusting of black pepper. The $30 price tag shouldn’t deter you […]

How Green was my Valley

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Driving along highway 116 in western Sonoma County, you may have driven by the former River Road Vineyards, now the Rubin Family Wines complex – a sprawling, aging wood complex including a restaurant and bar patio, as you head towards Forestville. This area of the Russian River Valley has been home to some of the world’s best pint Nor producers for decades, and while River Road Vineyards had been experiencing somewhat of an identify crisis in the mid 2000s,  in 2011, the Rubin Family of Wines tok over the property. A particularly ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, the fog often lingers here beyond other area of Russian River, cooling down the vineyards and adding an earthy, acid driven profile to the wines. The Rubin Family of Wines is committed to producing exceptional wines. Sourced from both the River Road estate and other local sources, the Ron Rubin brand includes a Pinot Blanc and two Pinot Noirs, as well as a Chardonnay and Syrah. With specific attention paid to the vineyards and resulting wine, the dedicated winemaking team focuses on passion and precision. 2015 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Pinot Blanc Stainless steel fermented with a touch of neutral barrel blended in, this is a classic Pinot Blanc in style and weight.  Ripe pear, juicy peach, crisp golden apples bathing in honeysuckle fields.  Finishes with tart lime and bright acidity.  A refreshingly low alcohol wine, it comes in at only 13.5% abv.  The early harvest of 2015 came from Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block a mere 1.5 miles from the Rubin Estate, and since Pinot Blanc is unusual for Sonoma County, this was a rare treat (only 3.5 acres are planted in Green Valley). $30 2013 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir A bold Russian River Pinot Noir with brown sugar, black cherry, and Dr. Pepper notes layering on top of chocolate mocha.  Rich but still fresh with earth and wet leaves.  I really wanted this wine to have more acid, but this is a crowd pleaser to be sure and would be popular at any gathering.  Also low in alcohol, and unusually so given the region and the flavors, this clocks in at 13.7%.  With a long and slow ripening season in Green Valley, the estate Pinot Noir is a mix of hand harvested clone 667, 115, 777 and Pommard.  The Pommard adds a richness to the wine, with a soft and round body with the 9 months of French Oak give it the spice and vanilla backbone. $40 Special thanks to Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications for the hookup!

Black Magnolia is no dark flower

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When my friend and marketing guru approached me about trying a new Oregon wine, I, unsurprisingly, leap at the chance.  After all, Oregon, and Pinot Noir, are some of my favorite things. When I learned that it was partially sourced from Hyland Vineyard, which provides fruit to some of Oregon’s most prestigious brands, and is also one of the oldest vineyards in the area, I was even more intrigued. I know that Hyland Vineyard produces fruit that goes in to some of my favorite wines.  Along with the Olsen Vineyard & Domaine Loubejac Vineyard, Black Magnolia has a significant pedigree.   With the goal to make an outstanding Oregon Pinot Noir that has a friendly price point, and that is representative of the highest quality wines from the region, the Black Magnolia Wines team delivers on target and on budget. Widely believed to be an exceptional vintage throughout Oregon, the 2015 Black Magnolia Willamette Valley Pinot Noir holds up its end of the bargain. With classic, yet muted cherry notes, telltale glimpses of cedar and fresh floor show through the black raspberry on the surface.  A hint of spearmint plays with the juicy orange and rose hips, while young and firm tannins highlight pipe tobacco and cracked whole spices.  A bright and shiny acidity is indicative of the Willamette, and with the 2015, one would expect it as odd numbered years tend to be the critics darlings. One might expect this wine to be $30-45, as many Oregon Pinots are, but the stunning $22 price tag makes this a case worthy selection. Well done Black Magnolia!  I can’t wait to see what else these cats come up with.  With a combined experience from Burgundy to New Zealand, anything is possible. Special thanks to April Yap-Henning for spreading the love about this wine and arranging for this yummy samples!  

Location, Location, Location

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Winemaker Dave Phinney has a 20 year history in the wine industry, when he was first inspired by a semester abroad in Italy.  Introduced to wine culture on this trip, he started working for Robert Mondavi in 1997.  Being an industrious young wine enthusiast, he began making his own wine n 1998, with a few tons of California’s heritage grape:  Zinfandel. Over the next 10 years, Phinney continued to make his own wine, as well as developing several wine brands.  Today, his international travels and wine knowledge led him to create Locations Wine, which represents his in creating wines that best represent the regions, while making wine less complicated, and aren’t restricted by local appellation rules and regulatio.  This allows freedom of expression that can sometimes be stymied by the local laws. Locations Wines come from Spain, France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy, as well as a diverse American portfolio that are all unique.  Free to completely express the wines of these regions, Phinney’s wines break all the rules but yield delicious results that are simple, yet complex, and fun.  First up, Locations Wine F4 – France .  With an $18 price point, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Bordeaux varietals is soft and supple with leather notes, tobacco leave and Herbs de Provence while ending with a savory herbal finish.         Next, E4 – Spanish Red Wine is a blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan/Cariñena.  This grippy Spanish beast evokes the classic tables wines of Spain, with dried figs, cracked pepper and espresso.  Dark and silky, the dark purple fruit surrounds you like a warm blanket.       My favorite of these three was by far the Locations Wine AR5 – Argentinian Red Wine.  This supple belnd of the classic Argentine Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is deeply concentrated.  Hailing from the Uco Valley, southwest of Mendoza, the 3,000 foot elevation adds a gritty yet pleasing mineralality and complexity to this wine.  The now commonplace blending grape of Cab, adds dimension and complexity to the sometimes overpowering boldness of the Malbec.  Inky and unctuous, boysenberries and chocolate leap out  the glass and make me smile. All Locations Wines are priced ~$18, making them an easy sell for Tuesday night, as well as a backyard barbeque.  With the freedom to experiment, Phinney takes his Orin Swift baseline and explodes on the scene with these new and inventive wines. Stay tuned for more from Locations Wine, including wines from CA, OR and WA. Special thanks to Balzac Communications for introducing me to these interesting wines!      

On the Left Coast, we do things a little differently

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  Here on the Left Coast, we do things a little differently.  We may lean a little left, we may be innovative.  And we certainly approach wine with a creative verve. Left Coast Cellars has been making world class wines in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon since 2003.  I was first introduced to Left Coast when I attended a conference in Oregon, and me Ivy Hover, DTC Manager and all around great gal. Committed to sustainability, Left Coast Cellars is certified.Salmon Safe, as well as LIVE and several other sustainably responsible certifications.  With a wide variety of both Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other Oregon classics, the estate sits in the Van Duzer corridor, making it an idea place to grow these grapes.  The cooler fog and breezes from the Pacific Ocean cool down the 9 vineyards and make it a magical spot. The Field of Dreams vineyard was planted in 2007, with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.  Here, the rebel Pinot Meunier that I tasted was born. Left Coast Cellars Pinot Meunier is typically used in their sparkling wine, which is also common in Champagne, but they make a small amount of still Pinot Meunier and I was lucky enough taste it.  Intensely earthy, with violets and cigar box flavors, this mutation of the Pinot Noir grape is simply stunning.  For those wine lovers who don’t like Pinot Noir, seek out still Pinot Meunier.  The richness and complex earthy spice will make your tongue dance with joy. One of the crowd pleasers is the budget friendly 2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir.  Bottled under screw cap, this 100% Pinot Noir is bright, youthful and fun – and is a drink now style that will please even the pickiest pinot drinker.  With tell tale Oregon brightness, the fuller boded blackberry, plum and bing cherry flavors float above the forest floor and spruce flavors that are so often a part of the Wädenswil clone that makes up part of the blend.  $24 Stay tuned for more Left Coast Cellars reviews!  Special thanks to Ivy for sending this yummy juice.          

Two Hands #winestudio

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Australia.  The birthplace of Shiraz.  The wild frontier.  All of these things conjure up images of the pioneering spirit of the Aussie wine industry.  With Two Hands Wines, this story continues with quality, not compromise, from some of South Australia’s best known wine regions. The idea for Two Hands was born in September 1999, when founders Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz set out to make their own mark on the wine industry with the goal of making the best possible representation of Australian wine:  Shiraz. With so much Australian wine being exported around the world, the duo knew that best in class wines were not always being represented globally.  With an eye on the prize of making spectacular iwnes that representaed each of the regions and blends, as well as representing the all encompassing terroir, they set out ot highlight the trademark grape of Australia. The first vintage was produced in 2000, and today, they have three distinct product lines and over 10 wines in production.   Quality without compromise is central to the Two Hands philosophy, driving all the decisions from fruit and oak selection to packaging and promotion.   Throughout the month of October, we were able to taste six spectacular wines from Two Hands, from the Garden Series, the Picture Series, and the penultimate Ares.  Sharing our conversations with winemaker Ben Perkins, as he walked us through his inspiration and style choices.   2014 Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz Bawdy, brawly, bold and inky dark purple..  This is what I think of when I think of Barossa Shiraz.  Full bodied and bursting with blackberries, espresso, old leather and cracked pepper, this is a bruiser.  The bitter espresso tannins mellow out after a bit of air, and I enjoyed it more at the last sip versus the first.  Using only 15% new French oak gives this wine lovely structure without overwhelming it.  Crafted from several parcels, each was crushed and fermented in small open top containers.  Each batch was vinified separately, and blended just before bottling.  ~$22   2014 Angels Share McLaren Vale Shiraz Rounder, softer, less masculine than Gnarly Dudes, the Angels Share reminds of why I love McLaren Vale.  The savory, herbal notes show bacon, tomato leaf and eucalyptus flavors, with dark cherries and chocolate at the finish.  The silky tannins work well with this unfined and unfiltered wine, which also uses minimal oak aging to maintain the fresh and fruity flavors.  ~$22     2014 Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon   Dark and chewy, this earthy Cabernet was quite herbal with firm tannins.  Espresso and lavender pop out and play.  As with many cabs, this wine spent more time in oak, with 15% new French balancing out a combination of one to five year old barrels.  The result is a fresh but firm minty, earthy, McLaren Vale cab, that is a great example of what Australia has to offer beyond Shiraz.  ~$22   The Picture Series demonstrates outstanding value in Australian Shiraz (and Cabernet), while showing the key […]