Wine Reviews: Chablis

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-14-2017

God, I love Chablis. I taste a ton of California Chardonnay, and I am a massive fan of more Cali Chards than I can count. But, when I sit down to taste a bunch of Chablis, my mouth starts to water before I even take a sniff.

Unfortunately, I can’t drink Raveneau on the reg. If I won the lottery, I’d be snatching them up by the case. But, while the top echelon of Chablis producers demand serious money, there are a lot of producers of good, and sometimes exciting, Chablis for a reasonable amount of money.

This tasting included wines from all over the quality and classification spectrum of Chablis, from Grand Cru down to Premier Cru, generic Chablis, and Petit Chablis. (However, my favorite was the Premier Cru Fourchaume)

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

Wine Reviews: Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-08-2017

About a decade ago, when I was a struggling newspaper reporter with a flashy new ID to purchase wine and a measly budget with which to purchase it, I cut my teeth on inexpensive Bordeaux. These wines didn’t need years in the cellar (which I didn’t have) — these were cheap, zesty Sauv Blancs for salads and fish and fresh and Merlot-tinged reds for everything else. I found a lot of fun wines, but even as a wine newb, I was turned off by some of the acidic, weak, and stemmy wines. Flash forward to today, and I think it’s fair to say the overall quality of entry-level Bordeaux has made an impressive leap.

While I still taste some wines I’d much rather avoid, those wines seem fewer and farther between. There is plenty of juicy and fresh blanc and rouge out there. If you’re dropping cash on some grand vin from a respected Chateau, it’s probably a good idea to give your palate a primer on the vintage. 2013 is widely disparaged as a vintage, but some of the wines have a fresh and tangy, early-drinking presence that I find attractive. And the 2014s are overshadowed by the hype of 2015, there are some really good wines that you may be able to snag for less. And wines from less prestigious appellations can give you an idea on what to expect from the serious stuff.

A few weeks ago I pointed out a few bargain-heavy, tasty, accessible Bordeaux reds from the Cotes de Bordeaux appellations. I’m back this week with a case of Bordeaux (white, red and sweet) from Vins de Bordeaux, the region’s trade group.

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

Wine Reviews: Pinot Noir Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-07-2017

It’s time for a whole lot of Pinot Noir. Well, it’s always time for Pinot, but I recently tasted through a bunch of them from all over the world, most of which are not very expensive.

This report features a few leaner, zestier versions from Alsace, most of which I think over-deliver for the price. Speaking of good prices, we’ve also got some value-driven Pinots from lesser heralded villages in Burgundy. While not exactly thrilling, some of these $20-$25 bottles are seriously good for the money. Lastly, I’ve included a Pinot from Italy and a few from California that I received after I’d already conducted my California Pinot single-blind tastings for the fall.

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

Wine Reviews: Zena Crown Vineyard

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-31-2016


Credit: Zena Crown Vineyard

This week, let’s dive into some serious Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: Zena Crown Vineyard.

These Pinots are sourced from a southwest-facing slope, a volcanic soil site that has been bottled as a vineyard-designated wine from heralded producers like Beaux Freres and Penner-Ash. This Zena Crown Vineyard outfit formed in 2013, a cooperative project between winemakers Shane Moore and Tony Rynders. Seventeen different blocks of Pinot Noir (planted to many different clones) comprise the Zena Crown Vineyard, and these wines show off Shane and Tony’s blending prowess, as each wine is a combination of various clones and plots.

This is precise, vibrant, delicious Oregon Pinot Noir – full of racy acidity, lip-smacking mineral presence, tart but delicious red fruits, and loads of complex earthy, spicy notes. Each has its own personality, but they share serious structure, alcohol levels in the high 12% range, and invigorating acidity. These are Pinots share with wine nerd friends and engage in pleasant debate about whether that note on the finish is rooibos tea, eucalyptus, sage, white pepper — and everyone would be right. These wines pack that real sense of intrigue and mystique, but it’s by no means a purely intellectual exercise. They’re damned delicious.

These Pinots are stunning right out of the bottle, but time and air do wonders, as will serious cellar time. If I were buying in, I’d cellar a bottle apiece for at least four or five years, because there’s so much complexity to unwrap.

The wines all spend about 17 months in French oak, most of which (75-90%) are new, but that new oak is woven in wonderfully, softening the tannins a bit and imparting some flavors but by no means overtaking the fruit and non-fruit flavors. They’re stunning interpretations of Eola-Amity Hills Pinot and I imagine any Oregon Pinot enthusiast would be stoked to get their hands on some.

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

Wine Reviews: Colorado Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-24-2016


The Colorado River flows through the state’s Grand Valley AVA. Credit: Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

Back in March, I reviewed a case of wines from Colorado, the winners of the state’s 2015 Governor’s Cup Awards. While I found some fun bottles, some wines felt out of whack, unbalanced, weird. I recently tasted through this year’s top 12 Colorado wines, and found much more to get excited about.

Colorado, better known for brews than vino, has been growing in recent years. In 2009, Colorado wineries sold about 100,000 cases, but that number had jumped to almost 150,000 by 2015, according to Colorado Wine.

With abundant sunshine (more than 300 days per year) and low humidity, wine grapes can thrive. But high elevation vineyards (from 4,000 feet to a staggering 7,000 feet) and Colorado’s climate can make for some tough conditions.  “Low yields and large year-to-year yield fluctuations are characteristic of Colorado grape production, even in the Grand Valley AVA, due to cold temperature injury,” according to a 2016 report from the Viticulture and Enology programs at the Colorado Wine Industry.

But some solid wines are coming out of the state. My palate tends toward Colorado reds from Bordeaux varieties, although Syrah can do well, too. What I like about a lot of these wines is the combination of generally moderate alcohol content, structured tannins, and a tangy zip of acidity that keeps the wine fresh. And the prices for some of these wines make exploring them easier. That is, of course, if you can find any, as the wines are made in small quantities and not available in many markets.

However, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure and gorgeous scenery to pair with wine-tasting, perhaps a trip to Colorado should include some wine tourism. I know that’s my plan.

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

Wine Reviews: California Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-17-2016

This group of California red wines arrived late in the season, after I had already conducted several single-blind tastings. So, I threw them all together. There are some serious goodies in here from Shafer, Galerie and Stonestreet. With bold, delicious reds like this, I say let it snow!

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

Wine Reviews: Gallica

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-11-2016


Rosemary Cakebread. Credit: Meg Smith.

When it comes to long-running Napa winemakers, Rosemary Cakebread’s resume is legit. Since 1979, she’s been immersed in the Napa wine scene, from cellar jobs at the famous Inglenook Winery, to a winemaking gig at Cabernet heavy-hitter Spottswoode, to crafting sparkling wine at Mumm — she knows her stuff.

A UC Davis grad, Rosemary started Gallica in 2007 so she could, “do what I wanted to do.” She focuses specifically on single-vineyard wines from organic sites, branching out from Napa Cabernet to include Albarino and Rhone varieties in the Sierra Foothills and Santa Lucia Highlands. Named after an ancient variety of European rose, Gallica pays homage to Rosemary’s love of aromatics in wine, which shows wonderfully in the four wines I’ve tasted.

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 12-10-2016

I don’t drop lots of dough on Bordeaux futures and I don’t collect a lot of Bordeaux — but I sure do like drinking it. Of course, most of the really good stuff is very expensive. But there are a range of lesser-heralded appellations producing more approachable, and affordable, Bordeaux.

The four Côtes de Bordeaux appellations were created in 2009, and the rules for the appellations laid out in 2011. These four Côtes de Bordeaux appellations (Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, and Francs) amount to about 9% (about 5.3 million cases) of Bordeaux’s total production. Of the Côtes, Blaye is by far the largest area, comprising more than 14,000 acres, while Francs is the smallest (less than 1,000 acres). Spread across the hillsides of the right banks of the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, these appellations are dominated by plantings of Merlot. The grape amounts to 50-70% of total plantings in each appellation, with the rest a mix of other Bordeaux varieties. And even though these are inexpensive wines that most consumers won’t bother to cellar, each of these wines could improve with air, a good decant or even a few years in the cellar.

I recently tasted through four such wines, one from each appellation. They’re all priced between $10 and $16 a pop, so they’re a great way to introduce yourself to Bordeaux without paying much. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-03-2016

We’re back with a grab bag of wine samples from all over the world. This report includes a bunch of wines from Chile’s Concha y Toro (always a reliable producer), including the heralded Don Melchor Cabernet. We’ve got some Champagne, a perfect holiday Port, and some exciting wines from Roussillon.

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

Wine in the Wilderness – Exploring Humboldt’s Lost Coast

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-29-2016

15036224_10154698717797173_6457924708238591057_nNo highways cut through here. Mountains drop precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. Everything is wet and the nights are long and cold. This mountainous coastal region of northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt Counties, called the Lost Coast, is the largest stretch of coastal wilderness in the lower 48 states.

I came here for the waves, the stoke, the mountains, the serene darkness of the forest. And, yes, the wine. They make damn good wine out here.

I visited Andrew Morris, the winemaker and proprietor of Briceland Vineyards, on a rare warm and sunny morning in November. The sun poked through after a terrible downpour that lasted all night (a local told me it rained four inches). My friend and I were forced to bail, soaked and frozen, from our flooded tent and sleep in our car. In the morning, we checked the surf, but the tide was dead high, making it impossible to reach our spot. So we grabbed some coffee and drove over the mountains to see Andrew. The drive east on Shelter Cove Road could be described using any or all of the following words: gorgeous, sketchy, stunning — holy shit, bro, you’re way too close to the edge! — mindboggling, etc.

When rainstorms come early, they can be a big threat to the grape harvest, but the grapes had been harvested more than a month ago. My brother, travelling buddies and I visited the Lost Coast in full-swing rainy season. But we lucked out, and only got one soaking wet night out of five. Even when it’s not actively raining, the Lost Coast is a wet place. The air tasted of mountain stream and I could watch individual droplets drift in the thick fog. Cold mountain streams cut through forests, waterfalls pour down rocks cliffs into the sea, dense fog packs narrow valleys, rich moss and ferns pad the ground while massive redwoods block out the sun. After a soaking wet October, mushrooms flourished in the woods. My brother is a mushroom foraging guru, so I just followed his lead and cooked the mushrooms he said were both safe and tasty. (Hand-foraged mushrooms sautéed over a campfire paired with Humboldt Pinot is an epic palate experience.)

This is an extreme place in every way, and that’s why we came. The weather swings can be extreme. Ditto for the waves, which ranged in size from pumping 10 feet to death-defying 30 feet. My brother and I, lifelong surfing buds, caught some incredible waves, but also spent too much time underwater, getting worked by the cold, chunky surf and currents. Here, the surf is sketchier, the waters sharkier, the roads hairier, and the marijuana smells much, much better. Read the rest of this entry »