Wine Reviews: Chilean Carménère

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-09-2017

tGsMQlKCTyBQOEOpeLHT4fdC0tFsQn7Z5QBkadUn8KwpX92IBAlright, folks, it’s Carménère time!

As many wine nerds know, this native Bordeaux grape has found a thriving home in the warm, high elevation vineyards of Chile. Brought over from France in the 1800s, its true identity lay undiscovered until relatively recently — most people thought it was Merlot.

Nope! Carménère endures, and we have Chilean growers to thank for that. The country accounts for the lion’s share (>95%) of Carménère wine made anywhere in the world.

Within Chile, the grape has been challenging Merlot for the #2 spot (after Cabernet Sauvignon). With so many different valleys, terroirs, winemakers, growing and winemaking philosophies, Chilean Carménère is a diverse and dynamic category. I love the dark fruit, the herbaceous and spicy qualities, along with the tannic grip and moderating acidity I find in a lot of these wines, but the nuances are significant. While many are made to be consumed young, the more structured Carménères are clearly built to last.

And, when you consider the value of these wines, there’s a lot to get excited about. Year after year, I find more of these wines on offer in the U.S., and the quality and value seems to be consistent, with a few notable standouts.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Arizona Wines from Aridus

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-03-2017

uVESaUeSc5MSZLpKUY5RWYs5hVFWcG9oKYNo_cSkmBopX92IBScott and Joan Dahmner founded Aridus in 2012 in Wilcox, Arizona. Their winery, whose name is a derivation of the Latin word for dry or arid, sources grapes from about 40 acres of estate vineyards (which rests at 5,200 feet in elevation). They also crush grapes from other vineyards in Arizona, and some grapes from New Mexico and California.

Built in a re-purposed apple warehouse, the Aridus winery produces a dizzying array of wines, everything form a New Mexico Pet-Nat Malvasia Bianca to Cochise County, Arizona Syrah and Malbec.

2017 marked the fifth vintage for this winery, and the first year their estate vineyard yielded white wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Malvasia Bianca). This ambitious effort is another good example of what I see in the evolving face of Arizona wine. I find Arizona to be a dynamic scene full of exciting producers and diverse, delicious wines.

Why Arizona? “Hot days, cool nights, minerality in the soil,” Proprietor Scott Dahmer says. “I believe Arizona is the next up and coming grape growing region which will produce unique, world-class delicious wines.” (For more details on my Arizona wine country jaunts, and why I tend to agree with Scott’s strong statement, check out this piece I wrote earlier this year.)

I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-02-2017

This week I have another catch-all report, sourced from various samples received from wine regions around the world. The stars of the show for me are the Don Melchor, which is true to form and so suave, and a killer Merlot from McLaren Vale’s Hickinbotham. Oh, and Spanish producer Arinzano makes another appearance. We also have some more budget-friendly wines from France, Spain and Italy.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

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Wine Reviews: New Releases from California & Washington

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-25-2017

Thanksgiving is over — whew! So, now we can talk about something besides wine and Thanksgiving dinner pairings, right? OK, good.

It’s been a busy fall samples season, and I’m still digging out, but I’ve been receiving a ton of California wines (which make up the bulk of this report) and want to highlight some good stuff.

This week includes some wines from Lake County institution Jeb Steele, who always manages to release impressive varietal wines, from various California appellations, for seriously good prices. I also have some delicious Zinfandels from Quivira, Ironstone, and Grgich Hills, sparklers from Mumm, and a few other wines from across the state. Lastly, I received three wines from Washington State producer Mercer, which I had not tried before, but found them very tasty.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Côtes de Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-19-2017

If you’re looking for moderately-priced, accessible Bordeaux reds, Côtes de Bordeaux is a great place to start.

Winemade in the Côtes appellations, in aggregate, make up just 10% of Bordeaux wines, and they’re almost entirely red (with a few Sauvignon Blanc-dominated blends in the mix). Merlot is dominant here, backed up by Cab Sauv, Malbec, and other red Bordeaux grapes. Blaye is the largest of the appellations, producing more than 5 million cases, while the smallest, Sainte-Foy, produces only about 110,000 cases. In 2009, these non-contiguous appellations joined forces to create the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux to collectively promote their wines.

The region’s calling card are small, family-owned estates who produce quality wines at moderate prices. Sourced from predominantly clay soils on the right banks of the Garrone and Dordogne rivers, these juicy, fruity wines offer a great Bordeaux introduction for new or intermediate wine drinkers, especially those seeking to snatch up a lot of wine for a little money. If you’re not sure of the style of Bordeaux wine you like, you can get adventurous without spending a ton — the wines in this report all retail for $12-$21.

Unfortunately, I don’t come upon a lot of these wines here in the U.S., but hopefully that will change. I for one would love to see more and more of these wines on by-the-glass lists at wine bars and restaurants. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Fowles Wine from Victoria

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-18-2017

farm to tableWe’re off to Victoria, Australia this week, with a look at a range of wines from Fowles.

Fowles is located in one of Australia’s coolest winegrowing regions, the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria. Located about 80 miles north of Melbourne, this area is home to decomposed granite soils, low rainfall, and plenty of wind, which combine to form fresh wines with vibrant acidity.

Founder Matt Fowles is an avid hunter and gatherer, which is evident in the winery’s branding aesthetic. Fowles releases three lines of wines: Are you Game?, brighter and fresher-styled wines; Ladies who Shoot their Lunch, which Matt Fowles says are designed to be paired with wild game; and Farm to Table, richer wines to pair with farmed meats.

The Farm to Table brand wines can be found in the U.S. market for about $16 a pop, while the Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch wines should cost about $35 per bottle.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

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Wine Reviews: Virginia Wine Powers On

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-11-2017

MoEp9TM27rRAguPkWrkyuts36SPI-Wp2mUPq5WCYQngpX92IBThere are so many high-quality, delicious, diverse wines coming out of Virginia, more so year after year. If you don’t already know this, are you sure you like wine?

I have a complex relationship with Virginia wine, having tasted it for about a decade (and reviewed hundreds of Virginia wines, more than from any other state spare California). I’ve tasted a lot of mediocre but overpriced wines from Virginia, and if you want to talk about crappy Virginia wines, oh man, I’ve tasted so many of them. I also planted my own Chardonnay vineyard on a hillside of my parent’s property in Virginia’s Blue Ridge foothills, south of Charlottesville. Of course, it ended in disaster, and not a vine survived. This is not an easy place to grow grapes, but Virginia terroir is a thing, and winemakers are harnessing it.

If you stick with some tried-and-true producers (Barboursville, Linden, Michael Shaps, Glen Manor, King Family, Veritas, etc., etc.) and keep an open mind to exciting newer producers, you will discover serious and delicious wines, and a thriving wine scene with a lot of excitement and diversity.

With hundreds of wineries, it can be a bit daunting if you’re new to Virginia wines. Luckily, each year, the Commonwealth throws the Virginia Governor’s Cup. It’s a huge wine competition, judged by an experienced and highly-respected panel, and they release a Governor’s Case each year, the top 12 wines from the blind-tastings. I’ve been tasting these wines for five or six years now, and it’s always a fun and enlightening experience, a refresher on what’s going on in Virginia wine country. Some of my favorite Virginia producers don’t submit wines to the competition, but the case that is released each year still represents some of the best Virginia has to offer.

These 12 wines are also a good way to dissect some of the “trends” in Virginia wine. Like the emergence of varietal Petit Verdot wines as serious contenders for best reds in the state (at least that’s what I’ve been thinking lately). The honing and perfecting of Bordeaux red blends, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc continuing to perform with high quality wines. And then there are dry and sweet versions of Petit Manseng (perhaps my favorite grape in Virginia). There is some awesome wine country in the hills and valleys here in Virginia, go check it out.

For more information on the Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition and the case, here’s their site.

I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them all sighted.

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Wine Reviews: New Releases from Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-04-2017

Most of the wines in this week’s report come from two Piedmont producers, Réva and Oddero. I found some seriously good and cellar-worthy Nebbiolos, and a host of other tasty Piedmont wines from these producers.

There are also two new releases from Sardinia included in this report. I apologize for the lack of suggested retail price information — these wines appear to be brand new to the U.S. market, so information is not yet available.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Oregon

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-28-2017

Hey, Oregon wine lovers! It’s time to dig back into some Willamette Valley vino.

Earlier this year I reviewed some exciting new releases Penner-Ash, and I’ve got a few more in this report. This producer never fails to get my palate fired up, and it’s nice to see them still going strong as they celebrate their 20th vintage in 2015. There are a few Willamette Pinots from other producers thrown in as well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: New Releases from California

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-21-2017

2t3T3Lkl2KbYbFUtjC3j3byXEaKy-OiFT8ms-n0dh5YpX92IBLike many people, I’ve been so saddened to see the loss of life and the massive destruction from the series of wildfires all over Northern California. So, it’s hard to write about delicious California wines when so many people are still suffering. But I recently received a lineup of stellar California wines and, as I tasted them and followed the news of the fires, I was reminded of what makes places like Napa and Sonoma so special. Not just the finished wines, but the people who farm the vineyards, pick the grapes, make the wine, and get it to eager consumers like myself.

So let’s all raise a glass to those who have passed, and to the future of the resilient California wine industry.

This report includes some exciting Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Dierberg, and some solid Sonoma wines from Gary Farrell. I also tasted through two Merlots (La Jota and Mt. Brave) from mountain vineyards in Napa that I found to be flat-out gorgeous. Oh, and a few wines from Napa’s Shafer, including the new releases of their ever-popular Relentless Syrah and their iconic Hillside Select Cabernet.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »