Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-23-2016

We’re back with more California Pinot Noir! Since my last report, I’ve tasted through a range of Cali Pinots. This batch is stacked with goodies.

This report includes some stunners from three excellent Sonoma producers: Three Sticks, La Pitchoune, and Alma Fria. I find the latter to be a seriously impressive effort, and their Chardonnay is amazing, too.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. (The rosé was tasted sighted.) Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Arinzano

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-16-2016

IMAG394d1Sancho Fortuñones de Arínzano first produced wine in this Navarra site in the 11th Century. So, yeah, there’s some history behind this special spot.

Arinzano received a Vino de Pago classification in 2007, a heralded designation for certain estate-grown and produced Spanish wines.The vines are planted in loam, sand and limestone soils in a cooler area of the Pyrennes, and the vines climb to 1,600 feet.

In brief, these wines are exciting and delicious. Vibrant, bright, complex, full of earthy spice and complexity. And, considering the price, Arinzano is easy to explore.

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

Wine Reviews: Italian Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-09-2016

Recently, I’ve received a handful of wines from all over Italy, hence this catch-all report. This batch included some solid and relatively inexpensive whites and a kicking Brunello from Gaja. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Old Westminster Winery

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-02-2016

Old Westminster Winery gets my vote for the most exciting and dynamic wine producer in Maryland. This Old Line State winery is a family affair that dates back to 2008, when Jay and Virginia Baker (no relation) decided to plant a vineyard in the rocky soils of their Carroll County farm.

Today, they produce a wide range of whites, reds and sparkling wines that will smash any negative stereotypes you may have about wine in Maryland.

The Baker children (all in their 20s) have accomplished an impressive amount in a relatively brief period of time. Lisa crafts the wines, Drew manages the vineyard and Ashli heads up the tasting room and event planning. Together, they’re pushing the limits of Maryland wine’s potential, and turning quite a few heads (including mine) in the process.

Their 2014 Malbec was recently awarded Best in Show at the 2016 Maryland Comptroller’s Cup, and several of their other wines took home awards in this state competition.

I recently tasted a few wines from Old Westminster. These were  received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Zinfandel

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-25-2016

It’s been too long since I’ve focused exclusively on California Zinfandel. Well, it’s about time. Especially now that it’s summer and I try to grill food as much as possible – juicy Cali Zin and grilled veggies and meats, it really never gets old for me. And there were a few beauties in this tasting.

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

Wine Reviews: Hentley Farm

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-18-2016

Hentley Farm is a Barossa Valley player to watch. In the 1990s, founders Keith and Alison Hentschke purchased their 150-acre vineyard in the Seppeltsfield area. Their first Hentley Farm wines debuted in 2002. Two years later, they purchased the adjacent Clos Otto block, which is now the source of their high-end Shiraz.

Their wines display the classic Barossa depth and concentration, but I was surprised at the vibrancy and freshness of some of these wines. While the Clos Otto is truly a stunner of a wine (with a price tag to match) the relative value of the other Hentley Farm Shiraz offerings is very impressive.

The wines are crafted by Andrew Quin, a horticulturist turned winemaker who worked with St. Francis in Sonoma and Jacques Lurton in Bordeaux before returning to make wine in his native Australia.

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

Wine Reviews: Palmina

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-11-2016

I’ve known about Palmina’s wines for a while, but this was the first time I tasted them. The verdict for me is abundantly clear: these wines are fascinating and delicious.

Based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, Palmina has a singular and precise vision: to make site-specific California interpretations of some classic Northern Italian grapes. But these aren’t your burly, heavily-oaked Cal-Itals. Palmina’s wines share a characteristic elegance, refreshing acidity, and moderate alcohol content. These wines are made with native yeast fermentation and they’re aged in old oak barrels.

Steve Clifton kicked off Palmina in 1995. He started off only making red wines from sites around Santa Barbara County. He expanded to make a few whites, including a Pinot Grigio that may give people dismissive about this grape some cause to reconsider. I cannot remember a $20 California white wine I’ve gotten that excited about in a long time. For the floral, tropical-loving white wine drinker, the Malvasia Bianca is a must-try. Considering these wines all fall into the $20-$40 range, the amount of quality for the price is very impressive.

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

Wine Reviews: White Wines for Summer

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-04-2016

Summer and white wine are pretty much synonymous for me. Albariño is an A+ choice (especially if you’re looking for a high quality to price ration). Sauvignon Blanc is always in the mix as well. And there are lots of other tasty white varietal wines and blends crossing my path these days.

I will still drink red during these impending summer months, but I keep a bunch of white wine in the fridge to pop with dinner, because after a sweltering DC day, it’s hard to enjoy a hefty Cabernet.

Here are some reviews of some white wines that beg for the dog days of summer. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Alma Rosa & KITÁ

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-28-2016

If you know Cali Pinot, you know Richard Sanford. This Pinot Noir pioneer has been exploring the potential of the Santa Rita Hills for more than four decades. In 2005, he and his wife Thekla founded another project, Alma Rosa, which focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The 2013 Blanc de Blancs and the 2013 Brut Rosé El Jabali Vineyard are the first sparkling wines Alma Rosa has produced since the project was founded in 2005. While new to the sparkling wine game, Alma Rosa’s wines show no evidence of a learning curve. They’re bright, crisp, complex and will likely age well.

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

Book Review: A Glass Full of Miracles, by Mike Grgich

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 05-24-2016

Today is the 40th anniversary of the world’s most famous wine tasting. The Judgment of Paris pitted the best wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy against some underdog Cabernets and Chardonnays from California.

This momentous blind tasting was chronicled in the 2008 Hollywood film “Bottle Shock”, and the far more historically accurate book, “The Judgment of Paris” by George Taber, the only reporter present at the event. This tasting brought together wine experts from France and the United States to blind taste a wide range of wines. White Burgundies competed against California Chardonnays, while Bordeaux reds were pitted against some of California’s best Cabernet Sauvignons. In 1976, when the tasting took place, California wines were already rocking, but they were relatively unknown to the wine cognoscenti.

That all changed when the wines were unveiled. The French loved the Stag’s Leap Napa Cabernet more than Bordeaux, and they chose the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay over white Burgundies. The floodgates burst. The world wanted California wine.

That 1973 Chardonnay was crafted by none other than Miljenko (a.k.a. “Mike”) Grgich, a Croatian immigrant who had worked his way up in the Napa winemaking ranks. Perhaps more than any other individual, Mike Grgich was on the front lines of the Napa Valley wine revolution. When he first game to California in 1958, Mike was hired by Brother Timothy Diener of Christian Brothers Winery, which was the largest winery in Napa Valley at the time. He then took a position with legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards. From there, he bounced over to Robert Mondavi at the point when his winery was really taking off. Then, with Jim Barrett, Mike became a partner and integral part of the newly revitalized Chateau Montelena in 1972. It’s incredible to think that, in just a year’s time, Mike would craft a Chardonnay that blind tasters deemed higher quality than the best white Burgundies.

However, Mike didn’t even know the tasting was taking place. He figured something was up when Chateau Montelena received a telegram saying: “We won in Paris,” followed by a call from a New York Times reporter.

It was a miracle, Mike said. He recounts this event in his new autobiography “A Glass Full of Miracles,” which the 93-year-old published last month. It’s a beautiful and awe-filled foray into the life of a true California wine icon.

“The Judgment of Paris energized the wine world. Not only in California but around the globe, winemakers realized that they too might have the terroir to produce premium wines,” Mike writes. The 1973 Montelena Chardonnay was honored in a Smithsonian book titled History of American in 101 Objects. “It is amazing to me that as an immigrant to this country, I would live to see my Chardonnay considered an ‘American object.’”

This success gave him the last jolt he needed to kick off his own winery, Grgich Hills, which broke ground in 1977. It remains an exceptional source of Napa Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Grgich’s prose, like his wines, is delightful and lively. Unlike his wines, the prose is simple and uncomplicated, but I mean those words as praise, not criticism. Reading this book, I felt like I was sitting on a couch listening to Mike spin tales of the old days.

Grgich was born in Croatia and raised by a winemaking family. His memories of his pastoral upbringing are wonderful to read. From a very young age, he was drawn to wine’s ability to bring people together. “People like to celebrate with wine in good times, but it also helps them forget in bad times,” he writes. “In fact, it adds pleasure to any day.”

But World War II ushered in a brutal fascist occupation, which also disrupted and destroyed the winemaking cultures of coastal Croatian communities. When the partisans drove out the fascists, Croatia quickly transitioned to a Communist dictatorship. After years of such chaos and destabilization, Grgich had to leave. With no freedom to move about or move ahead with his aspirations, Grgich fled the country. He had heard that California was paradise, and he knew he had to get there. Somehow.

I’ll leave the story of his escape and travels to Mike, who tells it beautifully, but suffice it to say: his is an exceptional and inspiring story of a poor immigrant who refuses to let his dreams go unfulfilled.

If you’re at all interested in those thrilling years of Napa Valley’s evolution, this book is full of great stories and history. Also, for the Zinfandel lovers out there, Mike tells of his role in tracking down the mysterious origins of Zinfandel to its birthplace in Croatia, which is my vote for the coolest and most fascinating stories of a researching a grape’s heritage.

The book is essentially self-published by Grgich’s daughter, Violet, but it’s put together very well and includes a host of great color pictures. The hardcover sells for $40 from Violetta Press, the Grgich Cellars’ website (with a discount for club members), and Amazon.