Six Vintages of Trivento’s Eolo Malbec

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-11-2014

Victoria Prandina. Credit: Trivento.

Victoria Prandina. Credit: Trivento.

“Winemaking is an art not limited by age or gender,” says Victoria Prandina. As a young woman charged with crafting an old vine, single-vineyard Malbec, she proves this maxim.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Prandina, who makes Trivento’s “Eolo” Malbec in Argentina’s Mendoza region. She’s a dynamic person and winemaker, and her Malbecs are as structured and deep as they are refined and elegant.

We talked a lot about the vineyard, which sits at 3,200 feet, perched just 30 feet above the Mendoza River in the Lujan de Cuyo appellation. The 49-acre vineyard was planted to Malbec in 1912, but just 9 acres of prime plots are used for the Eolo bottling.

The wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, around 70% of which are new. The oak may help integrate the tannins and smooth the wine out, but I was pleased at the lack of overt or heavy-handed flavor elements from the new oak.

Trivento is owned by Chilean powerhouse Concha y Toro, and Eolo generally retails for around $70. 2005 was the inaugural vintage of Eolo, and 2010 is the current release, so this vertical captured them all. I have to say, I was impressed with these wines. All of them were compelling, evolving and worthy of contemplation and cellar time.

I met Prandina and her colleague, marketing manager Silvina Barros, at Ripple in DC’s Cleveland Park, one of my favorite spots for any wine dinner. My notes from the comparative tasting are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: American Odds & Ends

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-05-2014

I don’t know how else to describe them.

These odds and ends were mixed into blind-tasted samples of California Cabernets and Chardonnays, Oregon Pinot Noirs, South African wines, stuff from everywhere. The dry wines were tasted blind, as they were mixed in with other regions, but I tasted the dessert wines sighted.

All wines were received as trade samples.

Review: 2012 Vie Winery “Belle-Amie” RoséCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Looks like the color of a cherry Jolly Rancher. A kick of pepper is the first thing I notice on the nose, followed up by roses, watermelon and wild strawberries. The palate displays a big, creamy feel along with persistent acid. The watermelon and strawberry fruit tastes fresh and ripe, there’s also this lime and grapefruit aspect that keeps it snappy. The white pepper and herbal undertones work great. Full, complex, but the acid makes it food-friendly. An impressive rosé blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Macari Chardonnay Early WineNew York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $17
Faint bubbles, straw colored. Aromas of white peach, bright honeysuckle, lime zest, crushed rocks and sea shells. Medium-bodied with tingling acid on the palate. Crisp green pears and apples, sweet white peach, tangy, minerals. Very bright and steely, but there are also some honey and sweet floral notes. Really tasty stuff. Ideal for deli sandwiches, salads and seafood. They call it an early wine because it was harvested September 7, bottled after a brief fermentation on October 26, and released a few days later. An exciting wine. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Nico Wines BarberaCalifornia
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. Smells of ripe cherries, roses and red licorice candy. Medium bodied with medium acid and soft tannins. Juicy with cherries and sweet currant jam flavors, backed up by some earth and vanilla bean. A bit candied, but a fun, pleasant wine for sure. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Stinson Vineyards MeritageVirginia
SRP: $25
Smells soft and sweet, lots of fresh blackberries and plums, mixed in with some mocha and toast. Medium tannins on the palate, some crisp acid, supporting fresh black cherry and plum fruit. I get some hazelnut and chestnut flavor, as well as some mocha. The combination of nutty and bright fruit flavors makes this a unique and tasty wine. A blend of 35% Merlot, 25% Petite Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Macari “Bergen Road”New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $46
On the nose, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, all of it fresh and ripe. Silky and velvety, blueberry and black cherries, some nice acid adds tanginess, full and pure, some dark chocolate, earth, bell pepper and herbal elements, even some rocky-granite notes. Complex and long on the finish. Really delicious stuff, not overdone or bothersome. Tasted blind, I thought I was tasted an upper tier Washington State Bordeaux blend. But, no, this is an impressive Long Island blend of 56% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petite Verdot. Wow. (91 points IJB)

(The following dessert wines were tasted sighted.)
Review: 2011 Macari Riesling “Block E”New York, Finger Lakes
SRP: $40
Yellow-orange color. Aromas of sweet marmalade, honeycomb, orange peel, banana and oil. Rich on honeyed, with lots of apricot and dried pineapple fruit. Honeycomb, sweet marmalade, lemon oil and nut flavors add complexity. A lot going on here, and not overly sweet, but a bit low on the acid perhaps. 12.9% alcohol and 180 g/l of sugar. An impressive effort. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Stinson Vineyards Tannat “Imperialis”Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $29/500ml
Nose of smoke, fig paste, currant jam, caramelized sugar and charcoal. Fresh and fruity, with lots of fig and cassis. The smoky, earthy tones are really nice, and there’s some sweet coconut and caramel as well. Sweet, but not too much, and the acid keeps it balanced. One of the most impressive dessert reds I’ve had from Virginia. This 100% Tannat is fermented in open top puncheons and aged in old French oak, bottled unfined or unfiltered. 16% alcohol. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards “Latigo”California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $45/375ml
Dark purple colored. Aromas of chocolate-covered raisins, raspberry candies, sweet black licorice and caramel. There’s also a nice bourbon cask-coconut aspect. Nice structure, with some coffee grind tannins, rich blackberries and raspberries, some mocha and coconut. Sweet flowers and caramel notes on the finish. A delicious, but also intriguing, dessert wine. Not subtle, with 17.2% alcohol and 13% residual sugar, but tasty. This 100% Cabernet is fortified with high-proof, oak-aged brandy. (89 points IJB)

Organic Wines From Languedoc-Roussillon

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 03-22-2014

Cazes wine in window

Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes.

If the Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest French wine region, it’s also the greenest.

The Languedoc-Roussillon is home to some 51,472 acres of organic vineyards, farmed by 1,245 producers, according to 2012 figures from the French Bio Agency. That’s nearly a third of the 160,124 acres of vineyards across France that have been certified organic or are undergoing conversion.

I recently spent five days wine tasting my way through this vast region. My trip was centered around the 2014 Millésime BioFair, a trade show in Montpellier focused on promoting organic and biodynamic wines. The fair was organized by SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, which brought over a group of wine writers and sommeliers from the United States and Canada for the trip.

On the first day of our trip, we drove west from Montpellier to the small town of Rivesaltes, home of one of the region’s many Vin Doux Naturel sweet wines. I spent the two-hour drive looking out the window, observing this land of contrasts. A field of knotty old bush vines abutted an IKEA superstore. Campfires smoldered in the middle of trailer park sites. Newly pruned vineyards sat on one side of the road, abandoned vineyards on the other, their vines left to fend for themselves among weeds and mustard grass. Construction sites, covered in graffiti, looked over the clear blue of the Mediterranean. I began to understand where all those Vin de Pays d’Oc came from, and perhaps how they got their earthy, rustic character.

Before lunch, our group gathered in a tasting room at the organic powerhouse Domaine Cazes. SudVinBio gathered more than 70 bottles of organic wine from all over the Languedoc-Roussillon for us to taste. Most of the wines carried price tags in the 6 to 12 Euro range, although a few scattered bottles cost upwards of 25 Euros.

To be honest, the tasting was a mixed bag. Yes, the Languedoc-Roussillon still carries a reputation for insipid wine and crummy winemaking, and, yes, the wines can still live up to that reputation. Many of these wines tasted dull, bitter or reeked of brett. But among the mediocre, a few wines stood out and demanded attention.

My notes on a few of those wines are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Languedoc-Roussillon

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-15-2014

I spent five days in January touring the Languedoc-Roussillon region, meeting winemakers and tasting through a slew of organic wines from the region. Before departing, though, I tasted through several wines from the region. before my trip. Like many wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon, they show a lot of character and retail for about $20 or less.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Calmel + J Joseph Chardonnay Villa Blanche - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
SRP: $13
A medium gold color in the glass. Aromas of whipped honey, white flowers, chamomile tea, green and yellow pear. On the palate, this wine shows medium acid on a medium-bodied frame. The green pear and honeydew flavors are light, matched with up by notes of chamomile tea, honey and lemon. A sea shell note lingers onto the finish. I like the flavors, but I don’t get a lot of depth out of this wine. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Mas de Guiot Vin de Pays du Gard Cabernet-Syrah - France, Languedoc, Vin de Pays du Gard
SRP: $15
The nose is full of sweet red and black currant fruit, mixed in with some pepper. Juicy currant and plum fruit leads the way on the palate, with fine-grained tannins offering a bit of support along with medium acid. Roasted coffee and toasted oak flavors add to the overall easy-drinking approach. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Mas de Guiot Vin de Pays du Gard Grenache-Syrah - France, Languedoc, Vin de Pays du Gard
SRP: $10
Aromas of leather, roasted lamb and pepper over top of juicy plums. The tannins have a bit of grip and the acid shows through. Blueberry mixes with plums, and the rich fruit is backed up by pepper and soy flavors. A generously fruity wine, but it shows a lot of rustic, earthy flavors that make me crave burgers or lamb chops. Despite the “Grenache-Syrah” label this is 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Corbières - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Corbières
SRP: $15
A bright medium ruby color Aromas of bright red plums and currants, some red apple peel, and lots of earthy-spicy aromas. On the palate, the fine-silky tannins a whole lot of freshness from the acid. Nice cracked pepper, meat and earthy flavors. Tasty stuff, probably more of a near-term drinker. I’d love to open this with some roasted lamb and veg. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Corbières La Réserve - France, Languedoc, Corbières
SRP: $20
On the nose, beef, pepper and charcoal blend in with blackberry and currant fruit. Juicy and fresh in its approach, with fine tannins and medium+ acid. Red cherries and currants, along with black pepper, dried Provencal herbs and charcoal, a bit of beef. Sleek and drinking perfectly well now. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Vin de Pays d’Hauterive Le Clos - France, Languedoc, Vin de Pays d’Hauterive
SRP: $11
Snappy cherries and raspberries on the nose, bright red flowers and some pepper. Tart on the palate, with grainy tannins supporting the cherry and red currant fruit. Some loamy, dusty notes on the finish. Not very complex, but fresh and definitely food-friendly. 45% Merlot, 20% Carignan, 20% Grenache and 15% Cabernet. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Calmel + J Joseph Faugères - France, Languedoc, Faugères
SRP: $15
A smoky nose, like charcoal, hot asphalt over top of the red and black plum fruit, currant skins, dried flowers, leather. On the palate, the freshness is very nice, firm but manageable tannins, some crispness from the acid. Dark plum, currant and pomegranate fruit is snappy but smoky. I like the charcoal, chestnut and black pepper notes. A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Carignan. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Calmel + J Joseph Saint-Chinian - France, Languedoc, Saint-Chinian
SRP: $13
Aromas of juicy blackberries and plums, smoke, sweet lavender, charcoal. Nice grip to the tannins, pervasive freshness, it forms a silky texture. Darker and more structured than the 2011 Faugeres, this wine shows rich blackberry and currant fruit, mixed in with a hefty dose of pepper, dusty soil and smoke. A nice kick of lavender and rosemary on the finish. Full and plush, but there’s a lot going on in here. 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Carignan. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Calmel + J Joseph Vin de Pays des Côtes de Brian Vieux Carignan - France, Languedoc, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Brian
SRP: $19
Clear bold purple color. Black cherries and blackberries on the nose, with some dust notes, pencil shavings and tree bark, as weird as that may sound. Firm but fine tannins and medium acid, creamy mouthfeel. Lots of dark roasted plums and blackberries, earthy and inky notes, some pepper, capers and anise. Dark and peppery with some well-integrated toast. A lot going on here with this vin de pays Carignan. (89 points IJB)

In the Roussillon, Shifting Lines Between Sweet and Dry

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 03-10-2014

For generations, Roussillon winemakers have relied on Vins Doux Naturels as their bread and butter. These “naturally sweet wines” are made by fortifying wine with near pure alcohol to arrest fermentation, resulting in a sweet wine with higher alcohol. But as consumers increasingly opt for dry wines, choosing to leave the dessert wines on the shelves, Roussillon is losing some of its sweetness.

Olivier Pithon produces stunning dry whites and reds from old vines once used for VDNs, and he makes a compelling case for his vision of the region's future.

Olivier Pithon produces stunning dry whites and reds from old vines once used for VDNs. He makes a compelling case for his vision of the region’s future.

Perhaps this is an inevitable swing of the pendulum after decades — even centuries — of many Roussillon winemakers producing a glut of sugary-sweet wines for an eager market. Perhaps, as several Roussillon winemakers told me, a younger generation is choosing instead to sip cocktails. In the face of these changing conditions, growers and winemakers are doing what they always do: adjusting. And based on my experience during a recent trip to the region, they’re doing a damn good job.

The Roussillon, which borders Spain and straddles the Mediterranean coast, produces more than 80% of France’s VDNs, according to the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon (CIVR), a trade group. VDNs are made in a variety of styles, according to the rules of the various appellations, and range from the apricot jam-driven Muscat de Rivesaltes, to the richly sweet reds of Maury and Banyuls. Of the Roussillon VDNs, Muscat de Rivesaltes makes up some 65%. From 1996 to 2012, the average annual yield for Muscat de Rivesaltes was 127,389 hectoliters. But in 2012, according to CIVR data, Roussillon winemakers only produced 108,834 hectoliters.

During a January trip to the Roussillon, I tasted a lot of sweet wines and spoke with several winemakers about the future of the region’s VDNs. Their responses were strikingly similar: the future looks bleak.

In Montpellier, I dined with Jean-Francois Deu, winemaker and proprietor of Domaine du Traginer. Deu grows Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre in Collioure, a seaside slice of France that abuts Spanish Catalunya. This is traditional Banyuls territory, a centuries-old dessert wine made from fortified Grenache. They’re rich wines with sweet plum, earth and caramel themes. There’s a lot to like about Traginer’s 2011 Banyuls — it’s velvety and sweet, full of structure, complexity and aging potential. Deu still sells some Banyuls, just not as much as his family used to.

When I asked Deu about the future of Roussillon’s VDNs, he laughed. “Sweet wine?” He ran his hand across his throat. “It’s finished.” Deu said importers are afraid to buy VDNs because they don’t think they can sell them. “When I pour this [Banyuls] for people, they like it a lot,” Deu said. “But they don’t buy it.” Whereas with dry wines, he said, people buy them, drink them and come back to buy more.”

Luckily for Domaine de Traginer and other Banyuls producers, they can use the same grapes to make dry red wine under the Collioure appellation. (Banyuls is basically fortified Collioure, as the two appellations share geographical boundaries.) Jean-Francois said his dry reds are selling just fine, and it helps that the Collioure appellation has a good (and I’d say well-deserved) reputation in France and abroad. “If I can sell Banyuls, I will,” Deu said. “If I can’t, I will sell Collioure.”

So, are lovers of Southern French sweetness in trouble? Well, no, not really. There’s still plenty of the sweet stuff to go around.

Some simple, uninspiring Rivesaltes wines may fall out of fashion, and they won’t be missed. But those who take it seriously, like stalwart producer Domaine Cazes, are still going strong, and making a case that this sweet and richly historic wine has a future. Cazes has been making sweet Rivesaltes since the late 1800s. In addition to a slew of dry whites, roses and reds, Cazes bottles several sweet wines with various Rivesaltes appellations. During a visit to the estate, I tasted a bunch of Rivesaltes with winemaker Emmanuel Cazes. His 2010 Muscat de Rivesaltes is a simple lychee-driven wine with honey undertones. The Rivesaltes Ambré is made from Grenache Gris grapes that are oxidized as they age for seven years in open wood casks. The 2000 vintage is a nutty wine with balanced sweetness and lots of toasted almond and dried apricot elements. Rivesaltes Grenat is another appellation-specific wine made from fortified Grenache Noir — and Cazes’ is quite tasty.

Domaine Cazes: Carrying the VDN torch for 100+ years.

Domaine Cazes: Carrying the VDN torch for 100+ years.

On a tour of the Domaine Cazes cellars, I wandered into a cold, damp room filled with old foudres. The room smelled of wet rocks, dried fruit and brandy. Emmanuel bottles and releases some of this wine periodically, reds, whites, ambrés, all at various stages of a long evolution. Emmanuel poured me some of the Cazes 1978 Rivesaltes, which was a simply beautiful wine, full of life and complex dried fruit, dried flowers and honeycomb notes. The domaine sells about a dozen other vintages of this wine, dating all the way back to 1931. These aged Rivesaltes appear aimed for a niche market of collectors and sugar-toothed enthusiasts, but Cazes’ commitment to traditional sweet wine is clear. They’ll sell VDNs as long as they can.

As I was riding around the areas near Rivesaltes with some representatives from SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, I saw many vineyards that appeared abandoned. Grasses, wildflowers and windswept bushes had overtaken the old vines and were stealing all the sun. Rusted car parts and construction waste littered many vineyards. I asked our guide about these dystopian vineyard wastelands, and she said that many of them had once been home to Grenache Gris and Muscat grapes, used to make VDNs. Instead of ripping up the vines, apparently some growers just moved on and let nature figure it out.

But as producers of sweet wine bail, a group of enthusiastic young winemakers is stepping in. They’re buying up some of these old vineyards and making compelling dry wines.

One example is Domaine Les Conques vigneron Francois Douville. New to the Roussillon region, Douville bought a few plots of gnarled Granche Gris and Macabeo vines which had been used to make sweet Rivesaltes for decades. The grape varieties were all mixed together when they were planted, and Douville co-ferments them all into a dry white blend he calls Boheme. It’s a clean, zesty white with white peach and seashell flavors. The wine is so fresh, vibrant and food-friendly, it’s no wonder Douville chose this route instead of making a VDN.

Olivier Pithon is another Roussillon winemaker who snagged up some vineyards that had long been used to make sweet wine. His LA D18 was one of the most thrilling and surprising wines of my trip. It’s made from old vine Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeo, which used to be blended into VDN. I tasted the 2007 and the 2011 vintages of the LA D18, and both were impressive — crisp, clean, citrus-driven wines tinged with mineral and oceanic flavors. Pithon, who is originally from the Loire Valley, chose the Roussillon because of the abundance of old vines (80 to 100+ years old) and the diversity of terroirs. He’s trying to prove that dry Roussillon whites, like the Loire whites he knows so well, can improve in the cellar. He’s making some solid arguments. Looking for a comparison to Pithon’s 2007, the best I could come up with was a high-end Muscadet with several years on it, although the LA D18 is certainly unique. And considering that the sea is only a few kilometers away from Pithon’s cellars, this dry white makes complete sense to me. It’s made for the table, and it provides a more honest explanation of terroir when compared to the sweet wines I tasted.

Severine Bourrier, winemaker-proprietor of Chateau de l’Ou, is also convinced Roussillon’s future rests on dry wines. We shared dinner in Perpignan, and she told me all about her Syrah and Chardonnay vines south of the city. Here, she said, appellation rules forbid winemakers from making more Muscat than they did the previous year. So, the production of sweet Muscat has only one way to go — down. For Bourrier, this isn’t a bad thing. She wants to represent the Roussillon with wines like her 100% Syrah and 100% Chardonnay, which are bottled under the proprietary name Infiniment and carry a Cotes Catalan appellation. They’re modern wines, made with ripe fruit and new oak, but they’re delicious and I think they could hold up well in blind tastings of similar wines from the New World.

Time will tell whether the market for sweet Roussillon wines will continue to dry up. But, in the meantime, consumers looking for dry, food-friendly, terroir-driven wines have more options than ever. And that’s awesome.

Wine Reviews: Gloria Ferrer Bubbles

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-08-2014

Over the years, I’ve found that Gloria Ferrer produces consistently solid Sonoma County bubbles in a range of styles. And at about $20 a pop, they tend to be good bargains. These four sparklers from Gloria Ferrer were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: N.V. Gloria Ferrer Brut
California, Sonoma County
SRP: $22
Lemon cake, yellow apple and fresh biscuit aromas. Tangy acid, with lemon crème and green apple and white cherry flavors, backed up by toasted biscuit, honey and a slight sweet herbal note. Fun stuff, a blend of 91% Pinot Noir and 9% Chardonnay. (87 points IJB)

Review: N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs
California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $22
Aromas of white and yellow flowers, lemon curd, toasted bread and a lot of minerals. Tangy acid kicks off the palate, which shows yellow apple and apricot fruit. I love the shot of minerals, chalk and river stones, and the hazelnut note on the finish. Crisp, some impressive complexity, and very good for the price. (88 points IJB)

Review: N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs
California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $22
Copper colored. Aromas of fresh red apples, wild strawberries, sea salt and toasted bread. Fresh acid, some nice creaminess on the palate, I like the mix of apricot and red apple peel flavors. Some mineral spice, musk and brioche as well. Tasty stuff, showing some nice complexity. This Blanc de Noirs is actually a blend of 92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay. (88 points IJB)

Review: N.V. Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi
California, Sonoma, Carneros
A gold-copper color. Aromas of honeysuckle, orange blossoms, apple juice some biscuity notes. The palate tangy acid and fine bubbles. Flavors of sweet apple juice, ruby red grapefruit, wildflowers, white peach, some biscuity notes just a bit of sea salt. Pinot Noir with 8% Chardonnay and 3% Muscat. I’m not a huge fan of the sweetness in this wine, but it could be a lot of fun for brunch, picnics and parties. (85 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: 2008 Italian Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-01-2014

This week we’re focusing on a few diverse Italian reds from the 2008 vintage. Unfortunately, there were only four of these beauties received as samples, so the wines were tasted sighted.

Review: 2008 Azienda Agricola Montevetrano Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT
Italy, Campania, Colli di Salerno IGT
SRP: $80
A magenta purple color. Quite perfumed for a young wine, with roses, sour cherries, red currants and dusty soil. On the palate, the acid is bright and the tannins are like granite. Lovely tart currant and sour cherries mix with an endless display of non-fruit flavors: oregano, black pepper, chestnut, green olive and soy, all seamless and integrated. Oak nuances add complexity. Pure, fresh, sure to be long-lived (easily 10-15+). But even as such a young wine, it’s simply beautiful. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Aglianico. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2008 Damilano Barolo Cannubi
Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
SRP: $77
Deep aromatics, plums, black currants, cedar, smoke and an aroma that reminds me of a freshly paved road. Gritty tannins but the acid rips. This wine is full and packed with red and black currants and cranberries. More sweet oak and cedar than I would expect, but it’s matched with loamy soil, granite, leather and tar flavors. Green olive and incense notes come out with time and linger on the long finish. Young but beautiful. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino
Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
SRP: $65
A medium ruby-cherry color. Red and black currants and cherries on the nose mixed with floral perfume, lavender, black olive and oregano notes. On the palate, the cherry and currant fruit has a fresh, tart feel. Firm tannins for structure, medium+ acid. Lots of earthy-herbal flavors (olive, granite, tobacco, leather). Long, graceful finish with complex mineral notes. Surprisingly expressive at this age, the wine shows a lot of elegance but will easily improve over the next five to ten years. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2008 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $70
That beautiful deep purple-black Amarone color. Richly floral on the nose (violets, rose petals), deep black cherry and currant notes, lots of mocha-toasty goodness. Firm tannic backbone, medium- acid, richly textured. Full of black cherry and red currant fruit, a bit of sweet raisins. The roasted coffee, charcoal, caramel, tobacco and Brazil nut flavors are long and complex. I keep coming back to this Brazil nut flavor, it’s crazy, but I love it. Big and bold for sure, but well-done. 16.5% alcohol, a blend of 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella and 5% each Croatina and Oseleta. (90 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: California ABC Whites

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-15-2014

Here at Terroirist, we receive and review a lot of California Chardonnays. But this week we’re focusing on a grab bag of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) whites. All wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

Review: 2012 Conundrum Wines White Table Wine
SRP: $20
I recently walked through a flower warehouse, and this wine smells like everything in there. Some of these intense floral notes are a bit pungent, and there’s this lychee and white peach stuff as well. On the palate, this is rich and ripe, all sorts of melon, grapefruit, yellow apple. I get this other honey, orange marmalade, lychee nut and lavender stuff going on. The acid is a bit low for my tastes, and there’s sweetness to the perfume. I’ve liked and disliked previous vintages of this wine, but the 2012 seems to show some balance. What grapes are in here? I don’t know. That’s their whole shtick. Sure tastes like Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Riesling and possibly Gewurz. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Smith-Madrone Riesling
California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $27
A very light yellow color. Aromas of grapefruit, white flowers, some apricot and a distinct crushed limestone note. The acid tingles the palate as the apricot, creamy peach and green melon roll in. There’s an awesome lime juice and rock quarry aspect that reminds me of the Mosel, which I’m not sure I’ve ever said about a Napa Riesling. Very crisp and lively, this likely has some fun evolution ahead of it. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Fess Parker Riesling Santa Barbara County
California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Smells rich, like orange marmalade, white peach and some of those circus peanut candies. Creamy texture, a bit low on the acid for my Riesling tastes. Lots of lychee, also some honey, perfume and a pungent wildflower note. A bit simple, lacking precision, but tasty. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Magnolia Court Sauvignon Blanc
California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
A green-tinged yellow color. Bright nose of lemon-lime, some grapefruit, mango, sea salt. Medium+ bodied, richly-textured with green and yellow apple fruit, nutty, but a sense of vibrancy from the acid. I get a salted nut and apricot note, some honey. Impressive for the price. Includes 19% Chenin Blanc. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Estate Grown
California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $22
Medium straw-yellow color. A burst of grapefruit and white peach on the nose, underlined by some sage and green onion. Crisp acid but a lot of creaminess to the mouthfeel. Richly textured, with honey and almond notes accenting the yellow apple, pineapple and pear fruit. A slight herbal tone, but it takes a back seat to the creamy, honeyed fruit. Some tart green apple peel and mineral components on the finish. Creamier, less green in style, I’m digging this Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged in 90% stainless steel and 10% French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc
California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Aromas of honeysuckle, lemon-lime, a hint of green herbs and white pepper. Medium-bodied, lots of acid keeps this thing tart and lively. Grapefruit, lots of tangerine, the fruit is backed up by notes of sea salt and fresh green herbs and peppers. Tangy, focused, with some significant complexity. I’m impressed, especially considering the price. 100% stainless steel, no maloactic fermentation. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc
California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
On the nose: classic Sauvignon aromas of green grass, snap peas, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple. Medium-bodied, medium+ acid provides some tang. Green apple, grapefruit, orange pith, backed up by green pea and herbs, slightly less intense than I was assuming from the nose. Some wildflower, nutty and almond notes on the finish. Tasty stuff, but quite intense and herbal. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Kelly Fleming Wines Sauvignon Blanc
California, Napa Valley
SRP: $36
Clear, light yellow color. Aromas of orange blossom, white peach, honeysuckle, some pineapple. Medium+ body, medium acid, there’s a waxy-creamy aura to this wine. A lot of nice peach and pear fruit, glazed with a mix of honey and almond. Rich and forward, but I like the tang and the floral, herbal and mineral notes on the finish. Impressive depth. Made from primarily the Musque clone, this wine sees a combination of French oak and stainless steel. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc
California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $16
Clear straw color. So much guava on the nose, it just bursts from the glass, and there’s also some hay and grass. On the palate, tangy acid on a medium-bodied frame. Grapefruit flavors dominate, but there’s still that guava nectar and a slight green pepper note. Really tasty stuff that would please many a palate. (87 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-08-2014

This week we’re taking a break from a run of California reviews and focusing on South America’s top two: Argentina and Chile. Terroirist received these crisp Sauvignon Blancs and rich reds as trade samples. Because South American samples are received somewhat sporadically, all wines in this reported were tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Sauvignon Blanc Los Vascos - Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $10
Aromas of grapefruit, some green melon and some grassy-herbal notes. Tangy acid on the palate, with grapefruit, orange peel, accented by notes of cilantro and mint. A bit simple, but a tasty, crowd-pleasing wine. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Viña Peñalolén Sauvignon Blanc
Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $13
A light lemon peel color. Lots of grapefruit and lemon on the nose, along with a strong kick of bell pepper and jalapeno. Medium-bodied with some nice creaminess and medium+ acid. Grapefruit, white peach and lime fruit blends together with white pepper and jalapeno. A bit lacking in depth and length, but clearly a nice wine that would work great with salads. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Hacienda Araucano (Lurton) Sauvignon Blanc Reserva
Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley, Lolol
SRP: $11
Some cantaloupe and grapefruit and a green grass note. Crisp and tangy on the palate, with green melon and grapefruit, along with a good amount of minerals, a nice but of sage and rosemary note. A hint of grass, but not too much. Crowd-pleasing stuff. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Classic
Chile, San Antonio Valley, Leyda Valley
SRP: $13
Very pale straw color. Nose of grapefruit, white flowers, green onion, sea shells. Clean and crisp on the palate, with lively acid, some apricot and white peach. Quite intensely herbal, even for my palate, with flavors that remind me of tomatillos and green chili peppers. But there’s enough freshness and juicy fruit that I still think it works out. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2008 Cousiño-Macul “Lota”
Chile, Maipo Valley
SRP: $70
On the nose, charcoal, iron and bell pepper flavors dust the blueberry and plum fruit. Dense on the palate, but very tangy, with firm tannins. Blackberry and plum fruit abounds, backed up by notes of mocha, sweet oak, black pepper, anise and tobacco. Big, but also pure and vibrant with a long life ahead of it. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Catena Alta
Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $45
A wonderfully complex nose of plums, black cherries, violets, lots of earth, mineral and mocha. Solid tannic structure but there’s plenty of acid. Juicy black cherries and plums, tasting jammy but fresh at the same time. Pepper, charcoal, vanilla, clove and lingering iron and graphite all add complexity. Made from vines grown upwards of 3,000 feet, I’d love to taste this again in three or four years. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Graffigna Malbec Reserve
Argentina, San Juan
SRP: $11
A nose of spicy cherries, cola and toast. The palate shows juicy tannins and smooth acid. Dark plum and blackberry fruit, coated with mocha, toast and charcoal. A bit too toasty and smoky perhaps, but still a fun wine. (85 points IJB)

Wines scoring <85 points
2011 Cultivate Malbec “The Gambler”
Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $15
Smells savory and sweet, with charcoal and roasted plums. Tart on the palate, with easy-sipping tannins. The blue and black fruits are tart but sweet at the same time. Some mocha and basic spice accents the finish. A good party wine, but not the most complex Malbec.

Photos from Languedoc-Roussillon

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 02-03-2014

I just returned from five days of wine tasting my way through the Languedoc-Roussillon. It was quite an experience. The trip was organized and sponsored by SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, and centered around the Millésime Bio Fair in Montpellier.

I was joined by a group of wine writers (including Alder Yarrow and W. Blake Gray) and sommeliers from the United States and Canada. We kicked off the trip with two days of vineyard tours in the Roussillon, where I experienced more than my share of the intense Tramontane winds.

After the vineyard tours, we spent a few days at the Bio Fair in Montpellier, a trade show with more 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll have more posts about the region’s wines and the people who make them. In the meantime, check out Terroirist on Facebook for more photos and updates.

Cazes - vineyard with clouds

Cazes - Emmanuel in the wind

Pithon - 100 year old vines

Gardies - vineyard shot (2)

Cazes wine in window