Wine Reviews: KITÁ

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-15-2018

I’ve been a big fan of Tara Gomez’s Kita wines for a few years now, and the new releases are true to form.

These wines are mostly sourced from the Camp 4 Vineyard, a former Fess Parker vineyard located on the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. (For a full backgrounder, check out this post from last year.) While the wines boast plenty of fruit and ripeness, there’s a vibrant, fresh, complex aesthetic in all of the wines that I find really attractive, not to mention the price points.

I recently tasted through a range of Kita’s wines (their 2017 whites, and some reds from 2015 and 2016) and was impressed yet again. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Argentina Under $20

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-14-2018

This week’s wines hail from Argentina and should all retail for less than $20. With plenty of prime grilling season left, there are a lot of delicious reds in here that would fare well with grilled meats and crowds of friends and family.

Included in this report are four wines from Domaine Bousquet, whose wines are line-priced at $13, widely available, and deliver for the price. In the mostly Malbec category, two producers Ruca Malén and Nieto Senetiner, also offer value-driven wines that provide a whole lot of stuffing for the sub-$20 price points.

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

Wine Reviews: Concha y Toro

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-07-2018

Concha y Toro fascinates me as a business enterprise. It’s Chile’s biggest wine producer, one of the largest wine companies in the world, and it exports millions of cases of its Casillero del Diablo wine to countries all over the world. It was those wines, and the Marques de Casa Concha brands, that introduced me to Chilean wines a dozen or so years ago. But corporate success aside, the wines are generally delicious and accessible.

From entry-level all the way up to the incredible (and expensive) Don Melchor Cabernet, Concha y Toro casts a wide net, with brands at different price points, focusing on different regions. I recently received a handful of Concha y Toro wines (no Don Melchor this time, alas) and found what I usually do when I taste these wines: significant quality and value.

I also tasted several Carmeneres from different regions and price points, and was reminded again how fun that variety is. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 07-05-2018

Godforsaken_Grapes_By_Jason_WilsonMany wine nerds have likely heard a similar statistic: about 80% of the world’s wine comes from about 20 grapes. Meanwhile, planet Earth boasts some 1,400 grape varieties used in winemaking, which means there is a whole lot of “obscure” wine out there. Since I’ve been paying close attention to wine, for about a dozen years now, I’ve seen a huge uptick in excitement about wines like Mtsvane from Georgia, Trousseau from Jura, orange wines from Slovenia, etc. Even though I’m still totally happy sipping California Chardonnay, I think this increased attention on lesser known wines has been extremely positive in many ways.

In his new book, “Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine,” Philly’s Jason Wilson digs deep into the other 20% of the world’s wine. After focusing on spirits and cocktails for much of his life, Wilson caught a bad case of the wine geek bug, and soon began traveling to Austria, Switzerland, Northeast Italy, and other regions, searching for obscure wines and the interesting people who keep them alive.

In an interview with Wine Enthusiast, Wilson said this about his motivations behind writing the book: “This book is very personal, dealing with my own growing obsession with wine during my late 30s and 40s. I wanted to write about what happens when one goes down the rabbit hole into serious geekdom. I also saw a bigger story. The wine industry is undergoing a massive sea change and the influence of a certain type of ‘serious wine critic’ is on the wane. I wanted to capture this moment.”

The title of the book was taken from a now infamous screed posted by Robert Parker in 2014, in which he complained that a younger generation of wine-lovers (which he called a “group of absolutists”) was engaging in, “near-complete rejection of some of the finest grapes and the wines they produce. Instead they espouse, with enormous gusto and noise, grapes and wines that are virtually unknown.” These “godforsaken grapes” (like Trousseau, Savagnin, Blaufränkisch and others), Parker decreed, made wines that were “rarely palatable.”

A lot of people were ruffled by Parker’s post, but I remember feeling a bit sad. It reminded me of an old metalhead ranting about how bands these days don’t make music like they used to. Blah, blah, blah. This thinking also sets up a false dichotomy, pitting what Wilson calls “serious wines” against the “obscure” or “natural” or “geeky” wines. I’ve never felt the need to pick a side in this fight — Napa Cabs are great, so is Schiava from Alto Adige. The world is big enough for everything. Isn’t there enough tribalism in the world already? It’s just wine — right? Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Crémant d’Alsace

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-30-2018

alsaceHigh quality Champagne-method sparkling wine and value — not always an easy combination to come by. Luckily, Crémant d’Alsace exists.

For less than $25, Crémant d’Alsace provides some of my favorite sparkling wines from France. In Alsace, the producer Lucien Albrecht first began applying the Champagne method process to their own grapes in 1971, and, after lobbying the French authorities for an official designation, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Crémant d’Alsace was born in 1976. Now, producers all over Alsace make wines this way from a variety of grapes. I’ve been drinking Crémant d’Alsace since I was legally able to purchase alcohol, because I found a few reliably good producers whose wines were so delicious and affordable.

I’m a Champagne worshipper; nothing will ever rival that. But I can’t always spend the money on Champagne, and sometimes I want something good but inexpensive to share with family and friends. And this is where Alsace wines excel, with high quality and $20-ish price points.

Since my last post on Alsace, I received four Crémants d’Alsace, all of which should retail for $25 or less. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Lighter Side of Alentejo: White Wines Offer Quality, Value

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-28-2018

Ask a group of wine geeks to free associate based on the phrase “Alentejo wines” and I’m guessing you’ll get comments about big, bold, jammy red wines. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But, after spending five days tasting my way through this region of Southern Portugal, I was impressed with how many exciting white wines I found.


Susana Esteban’s white wines (field blends from higher elevation sites,old vines) were some of the most exciting wines of my trip.

Aside from the thrilling and ancient amphora wines of Alentejo (which I wrote about in detail in this post), the high quality of the white wine (branco in Portuguese) was one of my biggest takeaways from the trip. White wine grapes are seriously outnumbered, with about 27,000 acres planted to red grapes and less than 9,000 planted to whites, according to data from the Vine and Wine Commission of Alentejo. But that’s still a lot of white wine, spread out across a large region, and the quality can be quite high.

Antão Vaz came up again and again in the wines that I found exciting, usually as the dominant grape in a blend. This indigenous local variety is heralded especially in the subregions of Evora and Vidigueira. It survives well in heat and is quite drought-resistant, which comes in handy in a region that has suffered through several years of drought. (Although this year has been quite wet, and I certainly got rained on quite a bit during my visit in early June.) The grape is quite aromatic and provides lots of oomph to white blends, and can stand up to a good amount of new oak. However, the grape can lack focused acidity, especially if picked later.

Hence: Arinto. This grape which can produce crisp, vibrant wines with deep minerality and tropical fruits. This wine popped up again and again in the white blends I fell for. Gouveio fits into blends quite a bit as well, which used to be called Verdelho, and that was confusing (as grape names are always) because it’s genetically separate from the Verdelho of Madeira fame.

Roupeiro and Fernão Pires round out the grapes you’re most likely to encounter in Alentejo white blends. Portugal has tons of indigenous grape varieties, and I definitely encountered some hard-to-pronounce grapes I’d never heard of before. But I also found some white Rhone grapes that seem to do quite well in this hot region, and I even found an exciting Sauv Blanc from a cooler vineyard near the ocean.

Stylistically, the whites were all over the map. From lip-smacking, lighter-bodied versions to drink with Portuguese seafood, to rich, unctuous, barrel-fermented, lees-stirred creamsicles — there’s a bit of everything out there.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-23-2018

We’re back to the Golden State this week with a mix of newly-released wines from various producers.

Old school California powerhouse Wente lays out four Chardonnays that show an interesting diversity of styles. For several years, I’ve loved the bright and brisk Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs coming from Sonoma’s Alma Fria, and their 2015s are singing beautifully right now, and will continue to do so for years. Ehlers Estate’s Sauv Blanc and Chateau Montelena’s Zin deliver yet again, while a few other wines round out the report.

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

Wine Book Reviews: The Wandering Vine

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 06-16-2018

9781472938442It’s hard to imagine what the “Old World” wine maps would look like today had the Roman Empire never existed. So many lives, cultures, religions, and independent groups of people were crushed under the heel of Rome — but vineyards and wine spread out to almost all corners of Rome’s reach.

To cover the entire history of vineyard expansion under Roman rule would be a daunting task, and likely result in a heavy read. Luckily, Nina Caplan’s travel and wine memoir, “The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me,” is a joy to read.

In the introduction, Caplan says her goal is to trace the path of the Romans, “back from England to France, Spain and Italy… an attempt to understand how they conquered the world through wine, and to look at some of the more unlikely consequences of that conquest.” She manages to weave together historical and modern wine stories expertly. Caplan travels from her home of England to Champagne, to Burgundy, to the Rhone, to Provence. She covers lots of Spanish and Italian regions (Barcelona, Tarragona, Seville, Palermo, Naples), and finishes up in Rome.

The story of wine, like the story of people, Caplan writes, is a story of displacement, of constant movement and adaptation. “How much duller our dinner tables would be if people and vines had ever learned to stay still!” she proclaims. “If we are lucky enough to happen on the right soil and left to inhabit it peacefully, we can root ourselves and flourish, to the benefit of all.” Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Rias Baixas Albariño

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-16-2018

With vibrant acidity, fresh fruit, and lots of oceanic and floral tones, Albariño from Rias Baixas is summer classic for me. Located across the Miño River from Portugal, this coastal area of Galicia produces almost exclusively white wines.

The Albariño grape rules, while other local white varieties like Caino and Loureiro are mixed in. I love the distinct oceanic elements (like sea breeze, sea salt and crushed shells) that I find in a lot of wines from this area. Tasting a good one makes me think of sitting by the ocean (my happy place) — and the price points make me happy as well.

Here on the U.S. East Coast, I’ve seen wider availability, and higher quality wines, from Rias Baixas. For years, I felt like the same few brands produced reliable, but not necessarily exciting wines. But the more I taste, the more I’m convinced that Rias Baixas Albariño can be more than fun, relatively inexpensive summer whites. Some of them are “serious wines.”

I recently received a bunch of Rias Baixas and found solid quality across the board, with a few standouts that I think far over-deliver for the price. These wines were received as samples and I tasted them single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Alentejo’s Amphora Wines: an Ancient Tradition in Renewal

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 06-14-2018

talha rocimWith rolled eyes, several Alentejo winemakers joked with me about the reputation they think many Americans have about their wines: They’re red, they’re high in alcohol, and they’re doused with too much oak. While I did get my palate pleasantly pounded by a brutal 16.5% red aged in all new oak, for the most part, this reputation (if it was once somewhat accurate), is undeserved.

Case in point: the talha wines from this region of southern Portugal. Talha is the Portuguese term for clay fermentation pots, also known by their Greco-Roman name amphora. And in Altentejo the talha tradition runs deep — 2,000 years, to the days of the Roman Empire. Except for Georgia (where using open-topped clay pots is a much older custom), Alentejo is the only region in the world with such a long history of producing wines this way.

On a recent trip, sponsored by Wines of Alentejo, I dug deep into the Alentejo wine culture and found an exciting mix of ancient practices and modern innovation. A new generation of winemakers is keeping this history alive, while adding their own signature. Over the course of a week, I tasted tons of wines, and, far and away, I was most thrilled with the talha wines, or vinhas da talha.

In the glass, generally speaking, I get bright and floral aromas, which can be shocking complex, inviting, and pleasantly different. The flavor profile of the grapes (usually blends) shines through wonderfully, unhindered by any toast or oak influences. The alcohol levels are frequently around 12-13%. But the texture is what really gets me excited: smooth, fresh, sometimes slightly dusty, always unique and hard to describe (although I’ve tried in my tasting notes). Read the rest of this entry »