Wine Reviews: Galerie – Cabernet & Sauvignon Blanc from Napa & Sonoma

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-06-2016

Laura Díaz Muñoz. Credit: Galerie Wines.

Laura Díaz Muñoz. Credit: Galerie Wines.

Through her solo project, Galerie Wines, Laura Díaz Muñoz offers up a series of varietal wines, two Sauvignon Blancs and two Cabernets, one apiece from Knights Valley and Napa Valley. The grapes are treated the same way, with the same amount of skin contact, same winemaking methods, same barrel regimen, which allows the wines to speak to their different origins. The Knights Valley wines come from Kellogg Vineyard, while the Napa Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet come from a variety of sites around Napa.

Both Sauvignon Blancs were handled the same way in the cellar. Half of the grapes were whole-cluster pressed, and the juice was then racked into a mix of concrete eggs, stainless steel, new and used French oak. The wine was aged on the lees for six months, with stirring done twice a week. Both Cabernets are 100% Cab are aged 19 months in 55% new French oak.

Laura is no newb to these grape varieties. After studying food science as an undergraduate and receiving a graduate degree in oenology from Polytechnic University in Madrid, she worked in Sauvignon Blanc hotbeds of New Zealand and Chile. Laura then joined up with Chris Carpenter, (who produces some incredible Napa Cabernets under the Cardinale, La Jota and Mt. Brave labels) and became the assistant winemaker.

At a dinner with Laura last year, she told me she’d never been to California before accepting the gig with Chris. But she fell in love with Napa, and stuck around, though she travels back to Spain frequently to visit her family.

After working with Chris, Laura said she wanted a project that was fully her own, a wine label that would bare her unique signature. Laura says she and Chris share a similar winemaking philosophy. They both use wild fermentation and Galerie uses the same coopers as Chris, but Laura says she prefers a bit less oak and brighter red fruits in her wines (a preference that rings true in her Cabernets).

While Galerie’s focus is on Cab Sauv and Sauv Blanc, in 2014 Laura crafted one heck of a Riesling. The Spring Mountain Riesling was the first time she’s worked with this grape, but said she was thrilled about the prospect. Spring Mountain seems to produce some really high quality Riesling, and this one stunned me. (Smith-Madrone comes to mind as another example). The fruit comes from a very small plot (less than two acres), so there’s not much to go around. The wine is slightly off-dry, but the intense acid needs a slight bit of sweetness to tame it (and Laura maintains it helps lift the aromatics as well).

Taken together, these five wines comprise quite an impressive portfolio. Major league quality, but AA league prices.  These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Blandy’s 10-Year Madeira

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-30-2016

blandys 10 yearWell, I’m headed off to Madeira tomorrow. I’m more than a bit stoked for this trip — this volcanic island jutting out of the Atlantic has been on my bucket list for years. I’ll be there for a week, tasting wine, touring vineyards, taking in the views and taking lots of notes.

When I get back, I’ll have a series of posts exploring this storied island and its eponymous wines.

In the meantime, and to get things kicked off, I tasted through four Madeiras from renowned producer Blandy’s. I previously tasted through Blandy’s 5-Year Madeiras, and I took the excuse of being snowed in by Winter Storm Jonas to taste through the 10-year wines from this producer.

All of these wines are aged 10 years in old American oak. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. They all retail for about $35 for a 500ml bottle. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-23-2016

California Pinot Noir needs no introduction. So…

Since my last report, I’ve tasted another solid batch of Pinots from all over California. A lot of these wines hail from 2013, a warm and dry vintage that seems to have produced some concentrated but smooth Pinots in many regions. Some 2012s (which generally seem deserving of some cellar time) found their way into this tasting. And I’m looking for good things in 2014 as well.

The wines were all received as trade samples and tasted single-blind, except for the first two rosés, which were tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Gallo Signature Series

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-16-2016

If you stroll through your nearest grocery or liquor store and take a look at the inexpensive options, odds are you’re looking at a handful of Gallo brands. From Alamos Malbec to Carlo Rossi glass jugs to Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel, Gallo has the American palate covered. A 2011 study by Phillip H. Howard at Michigan State University found Gallo maintained an almost 23% share of the U.S. wine market.

Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the E. & J. Gallo Winery in 1933, pitching camp in Modesto, California, where the firm is still headquartered. The company’s tremendous success was built on providing consistent, inexpensive wines to fit specific niches in the American wine consumption puzzle.

Over the years, the company has expanded its approach to incorporate a wider range of the wine spectrum. Gallo of Sonoma offered American wine drinkers (my 21-year-old self included) an introduction to Sonoma wines at a very reasonable price. Other mid-level brands like Frei Brothers and Ghost Pines highlight different California regions and styles. And international labels in their portfolio, like Italy’s Brancaia and Australia’s Clarendon Hills, offer collectors much to appreciate.

Over the past few decades, Gallo has upped the ante in California. They acquired Napa’s Louis M. Martini winery and the William Hill Estate winery, allowing them access to a wide variety of quality Napa fruit. With the purchase of  Louis M. Martini, Gallo also obtained Sonoma’s heralded Monte Rosso Vineyard (which I visited in October). The company also bought Russian River Pinot purveyor MacMurray Ranch. Add in some Chardonnay from Edna Ranch in the Central Coast and Frei Ranch in Sonoma. Along with their acquisitions, Gallo still holds lots of family vineyard land in various spots. Basically, they’ve got quite a lot of supply options.

With their Signature Series, Gallo is sourcing fruit from some of its best spots to produce a range of classic varietal wines: Russian River Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Zinfandel and Napa Cabernet. The wines are made by Gina Gallo, Julio’s granddaughter. The labels carry the Gallo name front and center and cost $33-$50. I think the company is hoping consumers will see past any outdated jug wine connotation and realize that Gallo produces some seriously good juice.

I recently tasted through the lineup of Gallo Signature Series, which were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Rhone Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-09-2016

This week’s tasting report is short and sweet: five California Rhone wines that rock. If California Syrah and Grenache-based blends are your thing, $30 can get you a whole lot of deliciousness. Additionally, Shafer’s “Relentless” is a teeth-staining ball of awesome that deserves the praise it gets. It’s not cheap, but, wow.

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

Wine Reviews: Italian Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-01-2016

A lot of wine-lovers are skeptical about Pinot Grigio, and rightly so. All of us have been thoroughly bored by insipid Pinot Grigios from various Northern Italian regions. But, like every large production category of wines, there are producers taking it seriously. For around  $20, producers in Alto Adige are crafting some really bright and compelling wines —three such wines from the 2014 vintage appear in this report.

Add in an exciting Soave Classico for $20, the ever-reliable Veronese red blend Palazzo Della Torre, and a few others, and you have yourself a good spread of Italian bottles.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
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Wine Reviews: Willamette Valley Pinot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-26-2015

For this report, we’re focusing on two producers, Ransom and Willamette Valley Vineyards.

Ransom is the project of Tad Seestedt, which started off as a distillery in 1997. Tad now makes a few craft spirits and small batch wines. While this was my first time tasting Ransom’s wines, I’m already a fan of the fresh, vibrant, lip-smacking approach of Tad’s Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is the child of Jim Bernau. A Willamette Valley staple, the winery dates back to 1989, and they still put out a variety of wines all over the price point spectrum.

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

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-19-2015

Since the last report on California Chardonnay, I’ve tasted through a range of wines from around the state, most of them from the 2013 vintage.

From the Central Coast to the North Coast, winemakers have praised the 2013 as a warm but even year, producing wines with a lot of structure while still retaining a lively appeal. As is always the case, there is a California Chardonnay out there for everyone, consumers just need to know what they like and what they’re looking for (in terms of style). Differences in site, barrel aging, lees stirring, maloactic ferementation, etc., means there are wines that fall all over the spectrum. And it’s this diversity that keeps me passionate about Cali Chards.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

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Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-12-2015

Chile and Argentina are, of course, different countries with varied winegrowing regions and winemaking histories. But we received just a handful of South American wines this season — hence this catch-all review.

Most of these wines fall into that South American sweet spot: those $10-$20 bottles that deliver reliably tasty (if rather predictable) wines. The Alamos brand of wines from Mendoza’s Catena have long served this purpose for American consumers by offering straightforward, well-made, varietal wines with accessible price points and wide availability. My first Torrontés, Bonarda and my first Argentine Chardonnay were all Alamos wines, so I’m proof that these wines provide a great introduction to the wines of Mendoza.

The major outlier in this report is the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon from Concha y Toro. The 2011 represents the 25th vintage of this iconic Chilean Cabernet, which has been receiving praise and high scores for more than a decade. Another killer wine in this reportis Trivento’s Eolo Malbec. This top of the line for Trivento (also owned by Concha y Toro), the Eolo is an old-vine, high-elevation (3,000+ feet), single-vineyard Malbec of stunning precision — and it ages beautifully as well.

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

Wine Reviews: California Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-05-2015

California Cabernet — what else is there to say? This week, we’re looking at a slew of Cali Cabs, from the fresh, fruity, inexpensive wines to the heavily oaked, pricey nectar.  A few Cab-based blends are mixed in as well.

There are some big boys from Napa this report: Mondavi’s To Kalon, Chris Carpenter’s Cardinale, Shafer’s Hillside Select. These bottles stick out, demanding attention and inspiring awe. They just taste expensive. But these bottles need years to evolve and open up, and, on some level, I feel like I’m cheating the wines by tasting and analyzing them at such a young age. Not that I’m complaining.

2012s have a ton to offer in terms of structure and aging potential, and several Napa Cab producers have told me the 2013s are even more exciting. Luckily some 2010s and 2011s (which were raised under much more difficult vintage conditions) are more approachable now, while the 2012s sleep softly in the cellar and we await for more 2013 releases.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

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