Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-22-2018

This week, I have a round-up of some wines from different California regions.

First off, I tasted some wines from Napa’s Amici Cellars and its sister brand of Sonoma County wines, Olema. The winemaking team at Amici and Olema consists of well-known, long-time winemaker Tony Biagi, and Jesse Fox. Amici offers moderately-priced takes on Napa classics (Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc), while the Olema wines offer a sample of Sonoma goodness for $25 or less. (There’s a Provencal rosé under the Olema umbrella as well, which is included in this report.)

I also tasted some wines from Wine Insiders, a direct-to-consumer wine company that operates kind of like a wine club without strict membership requirements. The wines selections are curated by sommeliers Tyson Koster and Christopher Hoel and sourced from different countries. Customers can receive a quarterly shipment of wines based on their preferences, or shop at will online. I tasted through their half-case of Lodi wines (which sells for $81) and found some wines that really deliver for the price (like many wines from this region).

Lastly, I found a $20 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir that punches above its weight class.

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

Wine Reviews: Alsace Gewürztraminer

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-15-2018

If you’re a frequent reader of these wine reviews, you may have seen me sing praises of Alsace. I love this region, which I first began exploring in high school, and its wines. But while Riesling and grapes from the extended Pinot family tend to be my favorite options, I have a lot of love for Gewürztraminer as well.

I love the intensity of floral and spice aromas, the rich, tropical, lychee-infused flavors. But as a huge fan of acidity in wine, Gewürz can present some problems. High sugar and low acidity can be an issue in some of the wines. But when sourced from the right spots (especially from Alsace’s calcareous soils) the wines are like nothing else. And the food pairing options (from autumnal soups to spicy pad Thai) can be uniquely satisfying. Considering there’s only about 20,000 acres of Gewürz planted on the planet, and Alsace is home to some 7,000 of those acres, there’s no better place to go if you’re looking to explore this aromatic white grape variety.

I recently received a few sample bottles of Gewürztraminers from Alsace, and tasted them single-blind. My reviews are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Gonzalez-Byass Sherries

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-08-2018

thumbnail (1)Gonzalez-Byass is synonymous with Sherry. Dating back to 1840s, the renowned Sherry firm began as a partnership between Manuel María González Ángel and a British importer Robert Blake Byass. Gonzalez’s pale fino Sherry, Tio Pepe, made a big impression in the British market, and Gonzalez-Byass continued to gain traction with a wide export market.

Today, the winery is still run by Gonzalez family members, and they’ve expanded into other regions of Spain as well, like Bodegas Beronia in Rioja.

These Sherries power on, providing a lot of quality, value, and some historical perspective. Sherry has a lot of fans today, of which I am most certainly one, and it’s remarkable to think about how these wines have found fans all over the world, over the course of several centuries. It’s nice, I guess, to see some good things change very little over time.

I recently received four samples from Gonzalez-Byass, and found them all to be excellent. I tasted these wines sighted. Notes below. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-01-2018

We’re headed back to California again for another roundup of samples I’ve received this summer.

This report includes some new releases from well-known Sonoma Chard and Pinot producer J Vineyards, Napa stalwarts Robert Mondavi and Trefethen, and a few other wines sprinkled in.

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

Wine Reviews: Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-26-2018

Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard is the Australian jewel in the crown of California’s Jackson Family Wines. Purchased in 2012, the winemaking is a coordinated effort between Chris Carpenter (of Napa Cab fame) and distinguished Australian winemaker Charlie Seppelt.

The site, which sits above the Onkaparinga River, has a long history, as vines were first planted in this area in the mid-1800s. Alan Hickinbotham established the company in 1971, planting dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz on these McLaren Vale slopes.

I recently received four reds from Hickinbothom, and was impressed yet again with these wines. Sure, they are packed with rich, dark fruit, but they show so much more than that. Depth, complexity, aging potential, vibrant acidity, complex non-fruit elements, these are fascinating wines that, I think, deserve serious respect. The Peake Cabernet was one of the most penetratingly beautiful Aussie wines I’ve tasted in quite a while.

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

Wine Reviews: South Africa

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-25-2018

If you’ve been a regular reader over the years, you may have heard me rant about South African wines. I love them. After a three-week pilgrimage there in 2014, my love for this country’s wines grew exponentially, as I realized how many exceptional wines were out there. The problem? Most were made in small amounts and weren’t available in the U.S.

Things have changed a bit since then, as more small importers are focusing on bringing high-quality South African wines to the U.S., many of which boast very attractive price points. One such group, New Jersey-based Vine Street Imports, sent me some wines from two South African producers that seem primed for the U.S. market.

Jurgen Gouws kicked off Intellego Wines in 2009. Although he doesn’t own any vineyards, or a cellar of his own, his passion for vibrant, nuanced wines is evident in the glass. He works with growers in Swartland to source fruit, and has a special love for the region’s older bush vines.

Francois Haasbroek is the man behind Blackwater Wine, which became his full-time focus in 2012. After studying at Stellenbosch University, and working stints in California and New Zealand, he was hired as winemaker at Stellenbosch’s Waterford Wine Estate, where he worked for nine years. Now with his own project, Francois sources grapes from all over South Africa’s Western Cape and focuses on natural acidity and steer away from density and new oak.

Both producers seem (to me), to be the kind of wines I want to see more of in the U.S., so I was excited to receive these samples, which I tasted sighted. My notes are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-18-2018

This week, I’ve got a round-up of recent samples from all over, all of which cost less than $30.

William Fèvre, known for ethereal Premier and Grand Cru Chablis, has an entry-level new release that offers a bit of everything I look for in a Chablis, and it’s a really solid buy at $25.

M. Chapoutier’s Domaine de Bila-Haut brand, always reliably good for the money, delivers again with their L’Esquerda red blend, a serious wine that brings a lot of complexity and aging potential.

Included in this report are a handful of wines from all over Italy (Veneto, Tuscany, Piedmont), all of which cost $30 or less.

Lastly, I tasted two whites and a pink from the Spanish region of Cariñena, all of which cost less than $15. It’s still summer, and these three wines pack a whole lot of goodness for their price points.

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

Wine Reviews: HLR Cellars

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-11-2018

Credit: HLR Cellars

Credit: HLR Cellars

On the border between Napa and Sonoma Counties, about a mile from Diamond Mountain, sits a lesser-known appellation: the Fountaingrove District. This area of Sonoma (which achieved AVA status in 2015) is where H.L.R. Cellars calls home.

Started in 2012 by Steve and Joan Heller, H.L.R. Cellars grows Bordeaux varieties in their estate vineyards, which are planted at about 1,300 feet in elevation. I had never heard of this producer before, but I’m always on the look for new (to me) producers from Sonoma and Napa, so I was excited to uncork these samples and give them a whirl.

I lined up the wines (a Cab, a Malbec, a Merlot, and two red blends) and single-blind tasted them. As I was typing up my notes, I did a double-take when I was looking at the prices. All of the wines clock in at $45 or less, and they bring a lot of deliciousness, but also a lot of depth, structure and excitement. That’s not always easy to find.

My notes below.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Virginia

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-05-2018

Since my last post on the Virginia Governor’s Cup winners, I’ve received a few samples from Virginia, which I’m always stoked to taste.

Stinson Vineyards has, for me, become such a reliable source of high quality, exciting wines, and when you factor in the easygoing price points, there’s a lot to get excited about here. I also taste some delicious white blends from Muse and Early Mountain.

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

Wine Reviews: Alto Adige Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-04-2018

Credit: Florian Andergassen

Credit: Florian Andergassen

Alto Adige is high on my bucket list wine regions to visit. This region in northeastern Italy seems like a unique crossroads, and it fascinates me with its mix of Italian and Germanic cultures and dynamic terrain. With vines planted in varied soils at elevations between 600 and 3,300 feet, indigenous and international varieties thrive here, and the wines are something special.

I recent read and reviewed Jason Wilson’s book “Godforsaken Grapes,” and he spends a good amount of time exploring Alto Adige (also called Südtirol). I was reading the book as I was tasting through some Alto Adige wines made from the indigenous Schiava (also called Vernatsch) and Lagrein grapes, and was shouting “Amen!” to myself as he ranted about the excitement available from these wines.

The region is relatively small (producing less than 4 million cases of wine a year) and perhaps a bit confusing for some consumers. The names of the winegrowing zones and grapes sound a bit odd, and everything seems to be called by at least two names. That said, if you’re up for exploration, there is a ton of delicious and exceptional wine coming out of Alto Adige.

While whites make up 60% of the wine grown here (led by Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay), I recently jumped on the chance to taste some reds from Alto Adige. Schiava is such a cool grape, making lighter-styled wines with juicy red fruits and delicious spicy, earthy notes. Lagrein makes more velvety, cherry-driven wines with cool black tea, leathery, clove elements. Both fascinate me for their food-friendly appeal and drinkability, and I use that term in the best sense of the word. And, considering these wines aren’t exactly big collector’s items, the prices can be very reasonable.

Below are my notes on a few Alto Adige reds, which I received as samples and tasted sighted.  Read the rest of this entry »