Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-03-2016

We’re back with a grab bag of wine samples from all over the world. This report includes a bunch of wines from Chile’s Concha y Toro (always a reliable producer), including the heralded Don Melchor Cabernet. We’ve got some Champagne, a perfect holiday Port, and some exciting wines from Roussillon.

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

Wine in the Wilderness – Exploring Humboldt’s Lost Coast

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-29-2016

15036224_10154698717797173_6457924708238591057_nNo highways cut through here. Mountains drop precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. Everything is wet and the nights are long and cold. This mountainous coastal region of northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt Counties, called the Lost Coast, is the largest stretch of coastal wilderness in the lower 48 states.

I came here for the waves, the stoke, the mountains, the serene darkness of the forest. And, yes, the wine. They make damn good wine out here.

I visited Andrew Morris, the winemaker and proprietor of Briceland Vineyards, on a rare warm and sunny morning in November. The sun poked through after a terrible downpour that lasted all night (a local told me it rained four inches). My friend and I were forced to bail, soaked and frozen, from our flooded tent and sleep in our car. In the morning, we checked the surf, but the tide was dead high, making it impossible to reach our spot. So we grabbed some coffee and drove over the mountains to see Andrew. The drive east on Shelter Cove Road could be described using any or all of the following words: gorgeous, sketchy, stunning — holy shit, bro, you’re way too close to the edge! — mindboggling, etc.

When rainstorms come early, they can be a big threat to the grape harvest, but the grapes had been harvested more than a month ago. My brother, travelling buddies and I visited the Lost Coast in full-swing rainy season. But we lucked out, and only got one soaking wet night out of five. Even when it’s not actively raining, the Lost Coast is a wet place. The air tasted of mountain stream and I could watch individual droplets drift in the thick fog. Cold mountain streams cut through forests, waterfalls pour down rocks cliffs into the sea, dense fog packs narrow valleys, rich moss and ferns pad the ground while massive redwoods block out the sun. After a soaking wet October, mushrooms flourished in the woods. My brother is a mushroom foraging guru, so I just followed his lead and cooked the mushrooms he said were both safe and tasty. (Hand-foraged mushrooms sautéed over a campfire paired with Humboldt Pinot is an epic palate experience.)

This is an extreme place in every way, and that’s why we came. The weather swings can be extreme. Ditto for the waves, which ranged in size from pumping 10 feet to death-defying 30 feet. My brother and I, lifelong surfing buds, caught some incredible waves, but also spent too much time underwater, getting worked by the cold, chunky surf and currents. Here, the surf is sketchier, the waters sharkier, the roads hairier, and the marijuana smells much, much better. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-27-2016

Winter is on its way, and here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s already cold, windy and dark most of the time. Sure, it’s prime time for burly red wines, but I sip whites all year round. I cook a lot of vegetarian dishes, so I always have chilled white wines around, and sometimes I just can’t handle to density or tannic bite of a young red wine.

I recently tasted through a few Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs from California, and found a lot to like.

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

Wine Reviews: Values from Spain & Portugal

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-26-2016

It’s no secret that Spain and Portugal are home to seriously delicious wines at very reasonable prices. If your annual wine budget is getting maxed out, some of these wines might be a great way to make it through the holiday season.

This week we’re focusing on a few wines apiece from three producers. Senda/Verde is a group of Spanish wines sourced from Bierzo and Galicia, while Bodegas Carlos Serres is a purveyor of solid, inexpensive Rioja. Lastly, Faisão producers good, cheap wines from Vinho Verde and Dão in Portugal.

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

Wine Reviews: California & Oregon Pinot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-19-2016

You’ve likely been bombarded by media about Thanksgiving wine pairings. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just open up all sorts of bottles and let the crowd and food sort it out.

But, thinking back over the past few Thanksgiving meals, I can’t remember a dinner that lacked at least one California Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, and of course Burgundy, will also do. For me, Pinot Noir exudes crisp autumn weather and makes me hunger for warm, hearty foods.

A lot of 2014 California Pinot Noirs are hitting shelves, and they’re tasting darn good — lots of freshness and red fruits but some show serious concentration.

This tasting includes a host of Pinots from Etude, which has been producing vibrant Carneros Pinot Noir for three decades. In recent years, they’ve expanded into a range of Pinot Noirs from other sites in California (and even a Willamette Pinot and a zinger from New Zealand). The wines taste so site-specific, and each stood out as unique in a single-blind tasting, but they maintain a house style focused on crisp acidity, juicy red fruit and lots of spice. This was my first time tasting the Willamette Valley Pinots from Lenne, a producer focused on two estate Pinot Noirs from a site near the town of Yamhill. (I’m impressed.) And we also have some late releases from Clos de La Tech and Holman Ranch.

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

Wine Reviews: California Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-12-2016

This report includes a hodgepodge of Zinfandels, Cabernets, Syrahs and red blends received over the past few weeks. A lot of goodies in here that pair wonderfully with autumnal weather.

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

Wine Reviews: Cadaretta (Washington)

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-05-2016

Cadaretta is a small producer based in Walla Walla, which was established in 2005 by the Middleton family. They produce a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, a Cab Sauv, a Syrah, and a Rhone blend. Most of the wines are sold to mailing list customers, winery visitors and a handful of retailers and restaurants. The wines are solid across the board, and, while not inexpensive, they’re delicious.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2015 Cadaretta SBS - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $23
Pale lemon color. Smells of lemongrass, cut flower stems, sea salt, honeysuckle, on top of lemon and apricot fruit. Plump texture but tart acidity on the palate. The green apple, lemon/lime and apricot fruit is vibrant but crunchy, and I get notes of cucumber water, wildflowers, candle wax, honeyed tea. Lots going on here but it retains a fresh and easy-sipping appeal. 89% Sauvignon Blanc and 11% Sémillon, all stainless steel with three months of lees contact. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $50
Vibrant purple color. Explosive nose of bright but juicy red and black currants, plums, topped with eucalyptus, cedar shavings, menthol and a rich soil note. Full-bodied with velvety but structured tannins and a nice kick of acidity to keep the wine moving forward. Black currant and dark plum skins mix with a host of complex flavors: eucalyptus, coffee, tar, tobacco leaf, cedar and vanilla. A rich but balanced wine that should unravel nicely over the next 3-5 years. Includes 6% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot, aged 20 months in 90% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Cadaretta Syrah - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $35
Deep purple color. Smells of black cherries, blackberries, roasted plums, add in some smoke, spicy pepper, coffee and vanilla. Full and saucy on the palate with fleshy but grippy tannins and medium acidity, which adds a nice tart edge. Black currant and blackberry jam fruit blends nicely with smoke, charcoal and pepper. I also get some nice kicks of coffee, vanilla and warm mocha. Rich but quite complex, showing some aging potential in the near future. Includes 11% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache and 2% Viognier. Aged 21 months in French and American oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Cadaretta Windthrow - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $60
Vibrant purple color. On the nose: tart black currants and juicy black cherries, a real sense of leather (like a new leather jacket), pepper, sweet coffee and roasted nuts. Full and mouth-filling with medium strength tannins and a fresh shot of acidity that keeps it moving forward. Tart black cherries and blackberry jam mix with smoke, tar, leather and pepper. A woody, cigar lounge aspect and the oak is integrated quite well. Will be better in a few years but very nice stuff. 75% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre and 8% Cinsault. Aged 17 months in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Australia’s Two Hands & Hope Estate

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-29-2016

This week I’m focusing on two Australian producers, Two Hands and Hope Estate.

Fronted by Michael Twelftree, with Ben Perkins as winemaker, Two Hands focuses on wines from McLaren Vale and Barossa, especially big, burly, seductive Shiraz. Since kicking off in 2000, Two Hands wines have received effusive praise from big wine publications and won spots on numerous Top 10 lists.

I’ve been interested in Two Hands wines since I was a legal purchaser of alcohol. Back then, I couldn’t afford the wines, but I was obsessed with Australia and spent too much time drooling over tasting notes and high scores. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to taste a whole lot of Two Hands wines, from the massive flagship Ares Shiraz to the delightful and fun Brilliant Disguise Moscato. The wines are all expertly made and delicious. I can’t think of an outlier.

Hope Estate was new to me, although it’s been around since 1994, when proprietor Michael Hope purchased a property in Hunter Valley with about 30 acres of vines. The entire property is massive (about 250 acres), and it has been developed as a big Hunter Valley destination. It now boasts an amphitheater that can hold up to 20,000 guests, apparently big enough that The Boss himself (Broooce!) is playing there in 2017 — holy shit!

Hope Estate wines are moderately priced and crowd-pleasing, although they’re well-made and quite complex (even age-worthy) for their price points.

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

Wine Reviews: California Merlot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-22-2016

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down with a handful of Merlots for a tasting. These selections make for a great re-entry. Some of these wines are quite expensive, full-bodied, oaky and packed with fruit, but I can’t deny the beauty of poise of the Pahlmeter, Mt. Brave, and La Jota Merlots from Napa.

Apparently October is “Merlot Month” — one of those ubiquitous months marketers ascribe to a certain grape variety, region, etc. But it means I’ve been receiving some really solid Merlot samples, so I’m fine with it.

Go Merlot!

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind (except for the Goldschmidt, which was received late and tasted sighted).

Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 10-13-2016

Much like his first, Sideways, Rex Pickett’s follow-up novel, Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, isn’t a wine book, per se, it’s a humorous effort loaded with winery visits, empty Pinot Noir bottles, self-loathing and sloppy sex.

CuHg0N6WAAAyc8rPickett plays an interesting game with real-life and fiction in this book. In this novel, Miles (the perpetually drunk, Pinot-loving protagonist) is a big celebrity in the wine world based on the publication of his novel Shameless (a stand-in for the real-life novel Sideways). He’s spent the past few years soaking in the fame, getting wined and dined by Pinot producers, and, as he’s always more than willing to tell, getting laid.

The relationship with Maya (the Hitching Post waitress and love interest from Sideways) and fizzled after Miles went back to his L.A. home to relish in newfound fame. His mother has had a stroke and his good buddy Jack is reeling from a broken marriage. The stage is set for a new adventure when Miles agrees to bring his mother to live with her sister in Wisconsin. He decides to rent a handicap-accessible van and take his mother, her dog and Jack to Wisconsin, with a little stop-over in Willamette Valley for the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), for which Miles is the master of ceremonies.

If you’re looking for a primer on Willamette Valley Pinot, this is not it. Miles and his crew don’t get to Willamette Valley until page 223. And when they arrive for IPNC, there’s no master class in Oregon Pinot. Instead, there’s a hilarious scene where Miles is forced to sit in a dunk booth filled with Two Buck Chuck Merlot.

The dialogue is consistently punchy, funny, and witty. But the stage-setting and basic narration go through dips of boredom and laziness. (“The parking lot was so full it was difficult to find a place to park.” Hmm…You don’t say.)

However, Pickett does have the ability to get this particular reader a bit emotional during the scenes between Miles and his mother. The passages of dialogue between Miles and his mother are like flashes of brilliant sobriety and deep emotion in a novel filled with drunken excess and surface level human interactions.

For me, Sideways was the exception that proved the rule that books are better than movies. I absolutely loved the movie, and when I see it while scrolling channels, I almost always check it out to see which hilarious spat of dialogue is coming up next. But I found the book frustrating. Pickett’s writing struck me as overcompensating, overindulgent and tiring. In Vertical, there is still plenty of bro-down, dick-swinging, “Chicks, man!” kind of stuff, but I feel like Pickett has grown a bit less sophomoric with this sophomore effort.

The book does contain a series of brutal yet hilarious scenes about Jack’s penis, and more than a few of Miles’ kiss-and-tell confessions. There’s pants-pooping, impromptu dental surgery, (a lot of) drunken sex, spit bucket baths, and the like. While crass at times, Pickett’s protagonist maintains an interesting mix of humor, levity, and pathos, which hold the story together and make it a worthwhile read.

While the wine lover will have fun with the shout-outs to certain wines and wineries, this book is aimed at a far wider audience. But I think the wine world is frequently in need of a humor injection, and Picket provides that in this novel.

Now let’s see if Hollywood buys the screenplay, and Maybe Paul Giamatti will be back to play Miles again. I know I’d pay to see it.

Available now from Loose Gravel Press
E-Book: $9.95
Softcover: $12.95
Hardcover: $24.95