Onward Wines

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.

 

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, Contra Costa is a prime growing area for Carignane as well as Zinfandel.

This inky dark wine jumps out of the glass with acid and spice notes, with rich blackberry notes.  The palate is juicy plum flesh, boysenberries, zesty hibiscus and fresh cranberry over a layer of black berry cobbler.  The rich blue and black fruit and tempered by brilliant acidity that keeps you wanting more.  You can just see the sneak attack by the field blend friends Mourvedre and Malvasia Nero hiding in there.

Onward doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can usually find Faith cruising around Napa or parts north seeking exceptional fruit.  The wines are available online and and select retailers and are priced beween $20 (Malvasia) and $40 (Pinot Noir) roughly.

A very special thank yuo to Charles Communications and Onward Wines for a wonder lives tasting, and these amazing wines!  I will definitely be adding these to my regular rotation of enjoyment.

For more of Faith’s wines, check out Farmstrong, hand crafted blends.

 

 




Achaval-Ferrer – wines of distinction from Argentina

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 marketed Malbecs) and can offer an eye opening look at what Argentina can produce

Achaval-Ferrer also makes a stunning Cabernet Franc which we also tasted and I highly reccomend!

 

 

Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

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!

 




AA Badenhorst – Swartland history in a glass

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 from this wine, and it should be enjoyed with a juicy burger, a steak, or any BBQ.

Special thanks to Colangelo & Partners and Wines of South Africa for providing samples and images!

 




How Green was my Valley

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!




Troon Vineyards M&T Reseve: An Unusual Blend from an Unusual Winery

You might not expect a dark and delicious red wine to come from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, but Troon Vineyard’s 2013M&T Reserve is just that.  This co-fermented blend of Tannat and Malbec is surprisingly low in alcohol at only 13.7%, but is rich in flavor!

Intensely floral, full of black licorice and dried lavender on the nose, the palate is full of bold espresso, dark chocolate and dark berries.  This is a lush wine but also has a beautifully ripe and bright strawberry finish, and is bursting with cracked pepper.

As I sip this wine on a cool and foggy summer afternoon, I can’t help but think of how cozy it would be with a roaring fire and some roasted pork, orange and is perfect for some nice homemade lasagne.

 Thank you Troon and Craig Camp for sharing these lovely wines!  Next up, we move backwards to the refreshing whites!




Troon Vineyard: Surprises from southern Oregon

When industry blogger and General Manager of Cornerstone Napa announced he was leaving California for the wilds of southern Oregon and Troon Vineyard, my first reaction was “what the heck?”.  Craig Camp had been instrumental in exposing a luxury Napa Valley brand to a new world of wine drinkers, launching a sister label (Stepping Stone, which is now Cornerstone black label) and had become an essential member of the blogging community.
It was with slight trepidation that I waited to hear about this new venture in Oregon.  But, knowing Craig, I trusted that it would be magical.  When the first updates started arriving, I knew we were in for a treat.
Troon Vineyard has over 40 years of history in the upstart region of Southern Oregon.  The original vineyards were planted in the 1970s, and was the site of experimental plantings, innovation, and a revolution in Southern Oregon wine.  In 2003, founder Dick Troon sod the property to Larry Martin, who planted new vineyards, diversified the portfolio and created the wines that we know today.  With Vermentino, Syrah, Tannat, and Malbec, as well as blends, Troon is blazing a new path in Southern Oregon.
Southern Oregon is often known for Tempranillo, with it’s bright acid and earthy notes.  But Troon goes a step farther and delves in to the big reds, traditionally known to both France and South America.

First up:

A renegade wine from Oregon’s Rouge Valley, the Troon Vineyard Malbec loves the rocky soils that are decaying from the mountaintops above the valley. This rich, bold Malbec is pleasing on a cold summer night, with ripe blackberry, a touch of smoke, and espresso notes dancing on plum pudding. Old saddle leather and cigar box aromas envelop the pop of acid at the finish, wrapping you in warmth and bold flavors without weighing your palate down, with silky smooth tannins.
Thank you Craig and Troon for introducing me to these lovely wines!  Next up, Troon Tannat

There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.

 

Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655

 

 

McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Dot…dot…dot

It’s hard to tell my looking out the window these days, but it’s high summer.  Generally speaking, high summer means warm weather, sunny days, and relaxing weekend BBQs with cold, refreshing pink wine.

Ellipsis Wine Company was founded in 2008 by Jonathan Neisingh, who, after growing up in the heart of Sonoma wine country (in Healdsburg) moved to San Luis Obispo to pursue his education in agribusiness (and wine!).  Completing his education and moving back to Sonoma County,  I met Ellipsis several years ago, at one of the large tastings here in SF.  At that time, I knew I loved their wine, and am thrilled to see them grow and develop over the last 8 years.  Growing up in Healdsburg, Jonathan saw first hand the industry grow and change over the last twenty years, which drives his passion to make world class wine (with the help of their consulting winemaker) that expresses each region’s unique terroir in every sip.

Ignoring the seemingly endless mist outside, summer can come in a glass!  Particular this glass of Ellipsis Wine Company Rosé of Pinot Meunier.  The first thing you notice about this beautiful pink wine is the depth of color:  a pure purple toned pink, it looks gorgeous in the glass, and the first whiff gives off a lovely savory dried herb character.   The first sip reveals savory watermelon salad with lavender, juicy wild strawberries, and tropical notes.  I love the mineralality that plays off of the juicy citrus, and the medium body makes it a great wine for grilled chicken, burgers and other summer fare.  I can’t wait to visit and get more of this fantastic summer sipper!  $25

Thank you to #winestudio and Ellipsis for another great Tuesday Tasting!

 

Rosé , Rosé , Rosé , Rosé

IMG_1065 (1)Will they ever be as sweet?

The answer is, no!  because rose has made a revolution, and there are new kids on the block.  Gone are the days of bygone all there was to rosé was a sweet, cloying white zinfnadel.  Today’s American pink wine is diverse, exciting, and runs from off dry to bone dry, from juicy strawberries to salted watermelon.

To focus on these diverse styles of rosé, this month’s #winestudio is focusing on the various style of rosé from Sonoma County.

The first up is Passaggio Wines, who’s winemaker Cindy Cosco loves to play with different fruit sources.  I’ve known Cindy for a while now, from her humble beginnings at Crushpad in San Francisco after a career in law enforcement, to her thriving tasting room on the Sonoma Plaza.

Starting with the Barbera, on through the Mourvedre, pushing through Rosé Colored Glasses (a Tempranillo) and on to her latest pink project from Merlot, there is always something new to taste form this eclectic winery.

2014 Mourvedré Rose (sold out) – quite possibly my favorite of the three, the Mourvedré Rose comes from Clarksburg, a warm climate in the Central Valley.  With juicy red fruit, strawberries and raspberries as expected, but with an herbal and floral finish, this is a perfect rose with grilled wild salmon or grilled chicken.

2015 Rose Colored Glasses – Sourced from Sonoma County, this starts out similarly to the Mourvedré, with bright red berries, it quickly reveals itself to be a stronger rose with deeper red fruit, watermelon, and a hint of spice.  A classic rosato style, it stands up well to burgers and other grilling meats.

2015 Merlot Rose – is the newest kid on the block, hailing from Carneros.  Low in alcohol and deep in color, it has classic Merlot flavors of cherry, plum and blackberry, but finishes with a beautiful green herbal note and savory dried herbs.  This is a fun addition to the club, and I can taste the salted watermelon salad, pork chops or turkey burgers.

Three cheers to Cindy and her rose project, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

While the Merlot rosé was a sample sent to me for the purposes of particiapting in #winestudio, all other Passaggio wines were purchased by…me!

Next up in #winestudio, Ellipses Wine Compnay Rose of Pinot Meunier!

 

A trip to Iberia within reach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain.  As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals.

With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry.  With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals.  When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals.

The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, whereCapturethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings.  In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes.  Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released.

Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine.  With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy.

I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service.  I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come.

Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings.  On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999.  While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish.

Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product.  The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs.  The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping.  Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture.

The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo.  Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira.   In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely grown in Rueda.  Confused?  Well, taste them side by side and you can see the differences.

 Moving on to the reds, Garnacha (once again) holds a special place in my heart.  Whether it’s Grenache, Garnacha, or GSM, the varsity of styles it can be made in – let alone Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and Grenache Noir (or Tinto), the diversity is delicious.  Tracing its origigans to the Aragon region of Spain, the Bokisch Garnacha fils your mouth with blackberries, boysenberries, and dark red fruit.  A finishing touch of blood orange and forest spices tease the palate as vanilla vapors envelop your senses.  I love to serve Garnacha with a slight chill, and of course, anything is better with fresh Manchego cheese.
IMG_0267A bolder red wine, Graciano is one of the grapes commonly used as a blending component in parts of Rioja.  It’s also thought to be the oldest variety commercially grown in Spain.  A deeply purple black wine in the glass, bittersweet chocolate, Mission figs and cherries, with a hint of fresh violets tempt you, while tobacco and old saddle leather round out the palate.  Graciano is a meaty grape, and this is a fantastic wine for steak and a classic Rioja cookout.
And now:  Mourvedre.  Mataro.  Monastrell!  Depending on where you are in the world, this blue hued grape is called different things.  In France, Mourvedre.  In Spain, it can be either Mataro, particularly in the Catalan dialect, or Monastrell.  The 2013 Belle Collne Vineyard Monastrell is classically blueberry, bergamot, and baking spices.
The passion and dedication of Markus and Liz are infectious.  His single focus of making Lodi a top wine destination of distinction, and their dedication to sustainability is second to none.  Keeping these wines affordable is also of critical importance, and with prices between $18-32, the QPR on these wines is outstanding.
If you are in Lodi, a stop at Bokisch is a must do ! The sweeping view from the picnic tables to the seven oak tress in the gently rolling hills is bliss, and it is less than two hours from the Bay Area.
Cheers!

 

bokish

 

K is for Knez

Knez WineryWhen I was first introduced to Knez Winery, I knew they would be something special.  It was no special occasion, or anything memoriable, it was just a bottle of fantastic pinot noir on the table one night at dinner.  Sometimes, it’s the little things.

I re-introduced to the label at a weekly tasting event at Arlequin Wine Merchant, where I had the chance to talk with the winemaker while I tasted the ones.  Once again, I loved not just the Pinot Noir, but the Chardonnay as well.

Fast forward to earlier this Spring, when I was meandering through Anderson Valley with my friend, we were working our way back south after a delightful day at Roederer, I stopped by The Madrones in Philo, a small collection of tasting rooms.  Here, I was able to taste through the then current releases of the Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir, as well as a historical look back at two other vintages.

Knez focuses on hand crafted, single vineyard wines influenced by the extreme climate of Anderson Valley, and the combination of marine influences, damn, cold, fog, and the soils of the area.  With particular attention paid in the vineyard, winemaker Anthony Filiberti practices a more hands off winemaking approach, preferring to do as little intervention as possible.  This old world philosophy encourages a sense of place to be developed in the wine, carrying the terroir over from vineyard to bottle.

The Cerise Vineyard, where the Knez Pinot Noir is born, was planted in 1995 to ten clones.  This mixture of clones, in 15 blocks, allows for careful selection and characteristics to be hand picked for each wine.

2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir

A brilliant cranberry color with a mountain strawberry nose, and bold, bright red fruit.  Strong acids with piquant notes of cranberry melt in to lightly scented vanilla flowers.  As the palate opens, Bing cherry, ripe raspberries and rose petals appear.  The mid palate reveals crushed minerals, cedar, and cardamon, cinnamon and anise, with a hint of violets.

2010 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir

Dark and brooding, with a kiss of brown sugar, the 2010 is a deep garnet color with forest floor aromas and earthy, cedar notes.  A touch of mint and wild berries blend with black cherry, deep raspberry and bergamot while dried lavender and white pepper dot the finish.

Currently the 2013 is $34 in the tasting room.  As these are library wines, I am unable to provide current pricing.  Please contact the winery for more details.

If you find yourself in Philo, be sure to stop in an taste the terroir at Knez!

 

 

Focus on Finger Lakes: Cabernet Franc Five Ways

IMG_9070It’s no secret that the Finger Lakes region of New York has long been known for it’s Riesling and aromatic white wines.  Often compared to wine growing regions along Germany’s Rhine river, the region has been making wine well over 100 years.  Initially famous for sparking wines the 1860s, the Finger Lakes won numerous international awards, spawing a boom in vineyards.  In fact, by the turn of the century, there were some 25,000 acres planted to vine.

Unfortunately, like much of the United States at the time, phyloxerra devastated the area in the early 20th century, leading to a gradual decline in the industry.  In 1951, Dr. Konstantin Frank emigrated to the region to work at Cornell University, which ran the Geneva Experiment Station.  Here, Frank and his team experimented wit Vinifera varieties grafted to hearty rootstock.  In 1962, the modern wine industry was born, when Dr. Frank founded Vinifera Wine Cellars

Today, the Finger Lakes have moved beyond it’s initial roots in Riesling, and is now producing high quality, low alcohol red wines.  In this batch, I tasted five Cabernet Francs from the Finger Lakes, 4 from 2012 and one from 2013.  All of these wines vary from 12.5 to 13.9% ABV, which for the US is exceedingly low. This refreshing difference brings back the earthy, herbal, aromatic qualities of one of my favorite grapes.

2012 Damiani Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc – earthy and dusty on the nose, with muted plums and bramble berry.  Rich black berry and smoke on the palate, with blueberry, cedar and campfire completing the voluptuous sip.  Velvety but with bright red fruit and acidity, it’s a lovely, balanced wine.  $22

2013 Hector Wine Company Seneca Lake Cabernet Franc – This is the first vintage of Cabernet Franc for Hector Wine Company, and is is fermented with 100% native yeast, with no fining.  Dark black and blue fruit on the nose, slight floral notes, the palate is rich and elegant, with juicy loganberry, milk chocolate and coffee notes.  Bright acid and juicy red cranberry round out the finish.  $22 (sold out)

2012 McGregor  Vineyard Finger Lakes Reserve Cabernet Franc – earthy and brooding, with forest floor and cedar on first sniff.  A lighter more restrained style of Cabernet Franc that reminds me of a young Bordeaux, dried cherries, dried herbs, cedar chips, and smooth tannins show early on.  More earthy and subtle than the Hector Wine Company or Damiani, the finish lends itself to wintergreen on a cool winter morning.  $22

2012 Chateau Layfaette Reneau Cabernet Franc herbaceous sachets meandering out of the glass,  with dusty ripe fruit on the palate, and dark tea flavors.  Dark chocolate, dried plums, blackberries, and current sprinkled with cracked pepper give way to firm tannins which linger, but the overall impression is suave.  $19

2012 Lakewood Vineyards Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc – the brightest in the bunch, with garnet / ruby coloring, and a nose full of grass and green herbs.  Stewed fruit, campfire smoke and dutch cocoa finish it off.  $16

Overall, these are clear expressions of Cabernet Franc that are ripe for the drinking.  The price point (under $25) and the lower alcohol are refreshing, and while they might be “hipster” today, they are the classic model from Europe, and old school wine-making in other parts of the New World.  Over time, they open up to reveal more personality, a deeply earthy core, and a sparkle of fruit on top.  I look forward to enjoying these over the next few days!  My personal favorites were the Hector Wine Company and the Damiani Wine Cellars, but I’d love to know what you think!

I am very much looking forward to visiting some of these wineries sand more while in the Finger Lakes in August for the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference! Special thanks to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and the wineries for providing these samples for review.

Horizontal Tasting: Mariah Vineyards Pinot Noir from Cartograph and Waits Mast

Cartograph & Waits Mast Mariah PinotI love it when a plan comes together!  One of my favorite things about wine, is tasting the expression of the winemaker in the bottle.  Every touch, every decision, every nuance in his or her mind ends up in your glass.  Pinot Noir particularly responds to a gentle hand, and there is no better way to taste that than by tasting wine crafted by two winemakers, with fruit from the same vineyard.

In this case, I am lucky enough to know two fabulous wine makers who are using Pinot Noir fruit from Mendocino County’s Mariah Vineyard.  As a long time fan of the delicacy and brightness of Pinots from Mendocino County, I fell in love with these two wines at first sip – but each on it’s own merits.  Now, having the opportunity to taste them side by side, I can key in on the specific attributes of each wine that make my taste buds smile.

The Mariah Vineyard is located in the extreme reaches of Mendocino, and is part of the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  This is one of the most fascinating AVAs for wine, as it’s a non-contiguous region that is specifically drafted from “Islands in the Sky” – all vineyards that fit in the Mendocino Ridge AVA must be above 1,200 feet in elevation, and exist entirely within the coastal zone of Mendocino County.  The vineyards in this magical plane are blanketed in a thick layer of morning fog, helping maintain the zingy acids, and sit in small patches of usable space on the ridgeline that is often covered in heavy Douglass Fir forest.  Here in the Islands in the Sky, some of the state’s best Pinot Noir is grown.

First, the 2012 Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). Rich strawberry and cherry mingle with wild mint and wood smoke.  Fresh cream is present, with a slight cola note on the background.  Bright cranberry acidity plays with an herbal finish of forest floor and pine needles, with Bing cherries threading through the entire palate.  The finish is coated in ground baking spices, reminding me of a gingerbread house and Thanksgiving’s cranberry sauce.

In contrast, the 2012 Waits Mast Cellars Mariah VIneyards Pinot Noir ($42) is slightly wilder, with more black cherry and bramble berry pie.  The cedar woods are more pronounced, and the mint is hiding in the background.  A slightly richer wine, brown sugar dances on my palate.  The Waits Mast is Little Red Riding Hood, meandering the forest, darting in and out of black raspberry bushes, hinting at black cherry and voluptuous bramble berries, while enjoying a softer, more velvety mouth feel.  The finish is dusted with a pleasant pinch of white pepper.

The primary difference in these wines comes from the clonal selection of the specific blocks in the vineyard.   While the Cartograph block uses clone 115 and 777, the Waits Mast is block is 667 and Pommard.  Pommard is known to be a richer style Pinot Noir, with dark fruit and depth of flavor, while the 777 has that eartly, forest floor and herbal character that I found in the Cartograph.  The 667 in the Waits Mast brings out that dark cherry and plush tannin.   Another key difference is the use of commercial yeast (Cartograph) vs native yeast (Waits Mast).  Does yeast make a huge impact?  Sometimes.  Ocassionally.  Maybe.  These subtle but clear differences can showcase the stylistic features that each winemaker wants,  while still representing the fruit in a clear and present way.

In the end, these wines are so similar, that the primary different is so subtle, it can be hard to pick up.  Stylistically, they are on the same page; flavor wise, there are ever so subtle differences, that make them both sisters, and yet, unique.  So, vivre le difference!  Now, go forth and make your own vertical.  See what is different, and what is the same.  You won’t be sorry!

 

Tilenus – Excellence in the lost art of Mencia

From one end of Spain to the other, the #OleWinos continuing adventures took us across the country – by trains, planes, and automobiles.  OK, there were no planes, but at times the high speed train from Alicante to Madrid certainly felt like one!

A two hour blur later, we piled in the rented van and took off for Bierzo, a small DO located in the northwest region of León.  Located in a lush, green, and hilly area of the north, there are many small valleys and wide, flat plains that are perfect for cultivating Mencia, the area’s grape.

Making our homebase the university town of Ponferrada, the castle loomed large over the walled old town where our hotel was.  With a viticultural history dating back to Roman times, the phylloxera plague nearly wiped out the industry in the 19th century.  With modern advanced in vine grafting, the vineyard economy slowly recovered, and producing grew to be a significant influence on the region’s economy.  In 1989, the DO was created.

With the heavy quartz and slate soils, vineyards are planted on moist, rich soil.  Here in Bierzo, only a handful of grape varietals are allowed:

  • Mencia, Alicante Bouschet, and a few experimental grapes for red
  • Godello, Palomino and Dona Blanca (and a few more experimental grapes) for white.
  • With these “experimental” varietals only allowed in Crianza (young) wines, the Riserva and Grand Riserva wines must only contain the classic varietals to carry the DO lable.

On this trip, we were exploring MG Wines‘ property Bodegas Estefania, which was founded in 1999.  Keeping in line with MG Wines mission of sustainalbe, unique, and local wines, “Tilenus”, as Estefania is commonly known as, meets and exceeds those expectations.

Bierzo

James the Wine Guy and the Dallas WIne Chick clowning around!

 

IMG_8944Bodegas Estefanía, much like the other MG Wines Group properties, prides itself of being sustainable, modern, and true to the native habitat of the region.  While they focus primarily on the indigenous Mencia group, they also make a Godella (white).  Our host, winemaker Carlos Garcia, led us on a bit of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – as we explored the rugged countryside where the vineyard are located.  On this particular day, it was drizzly and cold, so we scrapped our plans to explore the hilltop plot, and instead explored the oldest vineyard.

Here, in what was formerly the land of bulk wine and large coop wineries, Bodegas Esefania was founded in 1999, it was influential as the start of the Bierzo revolution.  Once an old creamery, it was acquired by bin 2014.  It’s primary brand, and what most people refer to the winery as, Tilenus, pays tribute to the Roman era of Bierzo; today, this history is on the wine labels, with the image ofa Roman coin, signifying the period of history when the Roman’s mined the area for gold.

The red earth undulated like a fault line, revealing many microclimates of peaks and valleys.  In these vineyards, 80% of the fruit is grown, with the additional 20% sourced from small, local vineyards.  Tilenus carefully maintains separate vinification of each vineyard, and each of the five Mencia based wines comes from a different area.  This gives each wine a distinct sense of terroir, and no two are exactly the same.

Keeping in the theme of MG Wines holdings, Tilenus uses the best tools available to them; in this case, the careful use of native yeast increasing the character of the Mencia based wines, and brings out the true local flavor of this little-known grape.  With the minimal use of oak so as to not overpower the delicate wines, the true expression can shine through beautifully.

IMG_8940

 

The wines of Tilenus reveal the nuances of the mineral driven Mencia grape; each one bringing out another layer of excellence and unique flavors.  Mencia is one of the most tannic wines in the world, and mastering the balance of structure is something that is difficult.  Tilenus seems to have done that just fine.

2014 Vendimia – at only $14, this entry level wine is a bit rough, but shows violets and forest floor, with limestone, plums, and bay leaves.  A great introduction to Mencia.
2008 La Florida s- dense rose petals and floral notes, hard spices and smoke masking purple fruit, dried plums, tobacco, and holiday spices.  $20
2006 Pagos de Posada – this top of the line example comes from small berries in a vineyard that has a lot of wind, keeping them dry.  Full of coffee, dark chocolate, and ripe purple fruit, with a dusting of peppercorn and mint.  Very elegant and balanced, with silky tannins.  $50
2007 Piesa – Hailing from the oldest parcel of land, it is an inky dark color with black fruit, chewy dried figs, and chocolate.  From a vineyard at 1800 feet, and only 1000 bottles produced, the dried sage and white pepper compliment the dense, dark fruit.

This whirldwind tour of Spain exposes us to some of the lesser known areas and varietals that should be better explored for anyone that loves wine.  MG Wines Group represents the best of these up and coming regions, with an emphasis on terroir, history, modern technology, and sustainable winemaking.  Three cheers to MG Wines for an outstanding portfolio, and experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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