Wine Reviews: Rosé Season in Full Spring

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-23-2016

It’s that time of year again! The trees have blossomed, my email inbox is filling up with “Rosé sale!” offers, and all my favorite wine shops have scooted the pink stuff toward the front of the store.

I drink the pink all year round, but with longer days, more sunshine and warmer weather here in the mid-Atlantic, I crave rosé more than ever. And during spring and summer, I love exploring the new releases from all over the world, made from all kinds of grape varieties and blends. Add in the generally modest price tags, and I arrive at the conclusion: we should all open some rosé right now.

Odds are you, like me, have your go-to favorites. I dig pinks from Bandol, Marsannay, and a bunch of California Rhone-style interpretations. But good rosé increasingly comes from pretty much everywhere people make good wine. If a lot of winemakers and working in a region, odds are someone is producing a kick-ass dry rosé. This has been one of the most encouraging developments in the worldwide wine trade since I began seriously exploring wine about 12 years ago. And I hope the pink parade continues for years to come, because these wines deserve a spot on any table or wine list.

Here are a few examples of some crisp new rosé. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Cabernet & Merlot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-16-2016

This crew of wines included some real beauties. As is usually the case, I find that the best wines aren’t cheap. However, I also find the most expensive aren’t always the ones I like the most.

Of course, it all comes down to personal preference and — when talking about California Bordeaux varietal wines — a lot of it comes down to your tolerance for oak. The Shafer is a massive and oaky steel-toed boot to the palate, but I love it because, somehow, it all comes together. However, I found some other wines with far less new oak tasted overdone and charred.

This report includes wines from four recently available vintages (2010-2013), which reflects tremendous variation in style and aging ability.

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

Wine Reviews: Capture

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-02-2016

captureCapture Wines is a California North Coast project aimed at producing Bordeaux variety wines from high elevation sites in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties. It was founded by Denis Malbec (what a last name!), who grew up around a little shack you may have heard of, Chateau Latour. His father was Latour’s cellar master, and Denis took over in 1994. But he moved to California, founded Capture, and began seeking Napa and Sonoma sites for high-end Bordeaux varietal wines.

The Jackson Family purchased Capture Wines in 2014, and they seem to be sticking to this relatively narrow focus with their range of wines. Graham Weerts now oversees winemaking for Capture, with the help of Sam Teakle, who has worked in South Australia and France.

The label’s two Sauvignon Blancs are blended from Sonoma County and Lake County fruit. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver for the price. I found the Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to be very impressive and worthy of a long sleep in the cellar.

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

Wine Reviews: Sicilian Value from Vento di Mare

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-26-2016

IMAG3328$12 Italian wines — it’s a minefield I rarely enter any more. See, as a 21-year-old, I spent way too much of my hard-earned dough searching for good Chianti and Pinot Grigio for $10 to $15.

I was living in Brooklyn and, having grown up on the Jersey Shore, random bottles of cheap Italian wine seemed the natural place to go. Now that I was pulling down decent cash at Kinko’s, and saving money by sleeping in an illegally-rented basement in Brighton Beach, I had some extra money for the first time in my life. So I spent a lot of it on cheap Italian wine. Surely those classy-looking bottles at the corner store would be delicious and pair well with my homemade eggplant parm — right?


For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me. Why were these wines so lifeless?

Truth is, there are plenty of good, inexpensive Italian wines. But the bottles you see on every shelf and grocery store in America (with the kitschy labels and castles and Renaissance sketches), some of these wines can be so boring you’ll wish you bought grain alcohol and grape juice.

But, as is the case in most every wine-producing country, someone, somewhere is producing wine on the cheap worth getting excited about. These usually hail from the lesser-heralded regions, from grapes you may not be familiar with, and — damnit — Safeway may not carry them.

If you find the good ones, it’s worth the effort. I was recently impressed with the overall quality of this Vento Di Mare brand of wines from Sicily. For $12 a pop, I’d gladly buy up any of these wines to open at big family gatherings.

Actually, I tested these wines out on my family. I tasted through the Vento Di Mare lineup before my Ma was passing through town on her way to a sister’s weekend in Pennsylvania. After tasting and writing about these wines, I sent the bottles with her so she and my four aunts could enjoy them. They drank these wines that night with charcuterie, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, baked ziti, ravioli — you get the idea. The next week, I got a postcard, signed from all of my aunties. “We loved those wines! They made the food and fellowship so much better!”

See? This is what I was looking for when I was scouring shelves for cheap-o-vino. Wines that cost little money, but were delicious with food and enjoyed by everyone at the table. If you’re looking for something like that, you may want to seek out Vento Di Mare.

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

Wine Reviews: Franciacorta

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-19-2016

When it comes to en vogue bubbles, a lot of attention has turned to Prosecco. It seems to be a big hit with the kids these days. As I’ve reported on before, there are some damn good Proseccos out there, especially from Cartizze.

But for my palate, if it’s Italian bubbles I’m after, Franciacorta is the place. Made with some classic Champagne grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero (Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco can account for up to 50% of the blend) these Lombardia wines were elevated to DOCG status in 1995.

These are Champagne method bubbles with at least 18 months on the lees. The vines grown in sandy, silty soils near Lake Iseo, which has moderating influences in both winter and summer. There is clearly no substitute for Champagne. But, buck for buck, these Franciacorta wines offer a ton of sparkling excitement.

I recently tasted through some Franciacorta from two producers, Barone Pizzini and La Valle, and found a whole lot to like.

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

Wine Reviews: Colorado Wine

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

Credit: Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

Best known for a dizzying array of craft breweries, Colorado also produces more and more wine. And if a recent tasting is any indication, some of these wines are quite good.

Wine is likely not the first (or second, or fifth) thing you think of when you hear Colorado, but winemakers in this state are hoping to change that. Colorado definitely has some quality ingredients for winegrowing: 300+ days of sun per year, low humidity, cool mountain breezes, high elevation sites (with vineyards planted between 4,000 and 7,000 feet).

More than 125 wineries crush grapes from more than 1,000 acres of grapes. And the state’s wine industry is growing. In 2009, Colorado wineries sold about 100,000 cases. By 2015, that number had jumped to almost 150,000 cases, according to Colorado Wine. Riesling is the state’s top wine grape, accounting for almost a quarter of Colorado wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot round out the top five. But despite the size of the state, wine production is relatively small. Colorado doesn’t scratch the top ten states in terms of wine production. For example, Pennsylvania, the 10th largest wine-producing state, churns out about 800,000 cases of wine per year, according to Wine Vines Analytics.

Still, I love the idea of exploring wine from new regions and different states. And considering the incredible natural beauty and tourist attractions the state has to offer, I’d love to taste some local vino while taking in the mountain views.

Like Virginia’s renowned Governor’s Cup, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board kicked off a similar program in 2011. The Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition saw 241 entries from 37 wineries in 2015. The Governor’s Case, which includes the top 12 wines, is a snapshot of the cream of the crop from that competition.

To be honest, I found some of the wines a bit odd. It took a lot of swirling, spitting and head-scratching to figure some of them out. Some wines were too heavily oaked (I found a similar trend in tasting through a case of Idaho wines last year). But the adventurous palate has a whole lot to explore in Colorado. And if your palate is anything like mine, you’re bound to find some wines that get you excited.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Port

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-05-2016

Winter is waning, but good Port is always in season. For me, there are few better post-dinner, late-night beverages than a good ol’ glass of Port.

Of course, you can spend a whole lot of money on Port, especially Vintage Port, especially when the 2011 vintage has been so heralded by many critics. But there are a lot of entry- and medium-level Ports that offer a glance into this historic wine realm without much pain to the wallet.

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

Wine Reviews: New Zealand

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-27-2016

Since my last report on New Zealand, I’ve tasted through a range of bottles and found some tasty and value-driven wines. New Zealand really has the $12-$20 range dialed in, as producers continue to put out fan-friendly, popular Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

Sure you can spend a lot of money in New Zealand, but for many wine drinkers (myself included) wines like these gave me a pleasant and rewarding introduction to this country’s vino.

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

Barbeito: Tradition Done Differently

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 02-22-2016

During a trip to Madeira eaIMAG3181rlier this month, I visited six of the eight producers on this volcanic Portuguese island. During each stop, I tried to conceptualize the producer’s individual aesthetic within the context of the larger Madeira puzzle.

D’Oliveiras was the wise elder of the group. H.H. Borges was the precise, focused practitioner. Barbeito was the skillful fighter, full of excitement.

Barbeito has been around since 1946, but in a land so rich with winemaking history, that actually makes it the youngest producer on the island of Madeira. (A new producer is in the works, but hasn’t yet brought any wines to market.) Barbeito is also the most innovative producer on the island, and the firm is offering up a host of options that should entice the next generation of wine-drinkers. Their wines (which total about a quarter-million liters per year) have a common racy appeal and attractive freshness. These wines scream “I’m fortified, but I’m so food friendly!” The colors are lighter, ranging from lemon rind to medium orange, and the labels are playful and bright.

The winery is located way up in the precarious hills above Funchal, a stark contrast from downtown street headquarters of Blandy’s, D’Oliveiras and Borges. This facility, opened in 2008, is steely and modern, boasting top-notch equipment like a robotic lugar (a machine that replicates the old tradition of stomping grapes by foot).

“Here we try to combine tradition with innovation,” Leandro Gouveia, Barbeito’s wine shop manager, told me during my visit. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: American Tempranillo

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-20-2016

tempranilloI recently tasted through a half-case of American Tempranillo, and found myself thinking: I wish I saw more of this stuff. The wines came from TAPAS (the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society — clever, huh?), a group of winemakers spreading the word about American interpretations of the classic grape of Rioja.

Four of the wines hail from California, two from Oregon. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported 190 acres of Tempranillo in Oregon in 2011 (the most recent figures I could find). Umpqua Valley seems to be leading the pack, and I’ve been floored by Abacecla’s Tempranillo in the past. I agree with Nancy Rodriguez, who pointed out in Oregon Wine Press that Umpqua Valley Tempranillo wines stand out and demand attention.

In California, Tempranillo is peppered (generally in small amounts) all over the state, totaling a little less than 1,000 acres as of 2014, according to a USDA report.

So, while there aren’t massive amounts of American Tempranillo, some producers have found a nice niche for these wines. They’re worth checking out.

These wines were tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »