Wine Reviews: Grenache & Syrah from Spain & France

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-19-2019

I’m a big fan of Grenache, both as a varietal wine and of course it has a classic place in blends with Syrah and other Rhone grapes. This week, I have a handful of diverse Grenache wines from Spain, and a Grenache Gris from the Roussillon region of France really wowed me.

I also tasted a few Syrah-focused wines from the Southern Rhone appellation of Costières-de-Nîmes, whose wines I’ve really enjoyed in the past. The value can be excellent, too.

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

Wine Reviews: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-12-2019

For the past five to ten years, I’ve read countless articles on the rise of Prosecco. It’s a less expensive alternative to Champagne, it’s gaining in popularity with millenial drinkers, sales keep growing, etc. And, today, Prosecco is indeed the world’s best-selling sparkling wine by volume — while Champagne brings in a whole lot more revenue.

Here in the States, I’ve seen a lot of Proseccos geared toward a younger American market arrive in my samples pile, and at my local grocery and wine shops. Especially around the holidays in the DC market, Prosecco was everywhere.

I’ll admit my personal bias up front: if someone gave me $100 to spend on Champagne or $200 to spend on Prosecco, I would not hesitate to snag that single Benjamin. And while Champagne-method sparkling wines are far more intriguing to me, sparkling wine isn’t a zero-sum game. And there are some good Proseccos out there.

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Conegliano Valdobbiadene vineyards (Source: Prosecco.it)

A good place to start would be wines from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore appellation. This appellation earned its DOCG status in 2009. These grapes are sourced from the rolling hills of 15 different municipalities around the centers of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The soils here are composed of clay, loam, sandstone and other elements, and the wines show more depth and complexity than your typical Prosecco. Some Conegliano Valdobbiadene wines carry the special designation “Rive,” which indicates wine grown from specific hilly municipalities, from a specific vintage, manual harvesting required, etc.

If you want to find the cream of the crop, check out wines from the DOCG Superiore di Cartizze. Within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene appellation, these wines are sourced exclusivley from about 100 hectares on the steep hill of Cartizze, and I’ve found these wines show interesting minerality and a lot of depth.

I recently tasted through six Proseccos from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, and gained some more appreciation for these wines, many of which show serious value. I received these bottles as trade samples and tasted them single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-29-2018

As the year wraps up and 2019 begins, I have one last round-up of new releases from California.

This week includes another batch from Lake County stalwart producer Jed Steele. I’ve said it before (a bunch of times), and I’ll say it again: some of these wines are so damned good for the money.

I also tasted two vintages of Calla Lily’s Audax Napa Cabernet. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard, first planted in 1995, on the eastern side of Howell Mountain. The vineyard is planted to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Petite Sirah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They’re big and bold, but I found them vibrant and quite balanced as well.

In this report, I cover the newest vintages of Chalk Hill’s Chardonnay, Louis Martini’s Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet, and some new (to me) red wines from Joseph Stephens, a winery in the Santa Clara Valley owned by the Silicon Valley Wine Company.

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

Wine Reviews: Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-23-2018

This week, I’m digging into some wines from Michigan. The state has lots of vineyards, most of which are planted to juice grapes like Concord and Niagara. But, wine grape acreage has been increasing and now tops 3,000 acres, putting it in the top 10 states. Some 50 different wine grape varieties are grown here, with Riesling the main one, followed by Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Most of Michigan’s grapes are grown close to Lake Michigan, like these ones from the Old Mission Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The lake affects the winegrowing by extending the growing season, and it moderates the climate in the coldest months, which can protect against frost. The Old Mission Peninsula juts out from Traverse City, and its rolling hills are surrounded on both sides by the East and West Traverse Bays of Lake Michigan.

The nine wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula account for nearly 30% of the state’s wine grapes (and each winery is represented in this report).

Xx1GUlVfTJuW5zxMVpywFQI’ve tasted a decent amount of Michigan wines in the past, but this lot was the most impressive I’ve come across yet. The white wines have a brisk, vibrant, aspect to them. Just smelling a few of these wines made me salivate. I’m glad this lot focused less on reds. I love Loire Valley reds even in wet vintages, for example, but I’ve felt some Michigan reds can struggle with body and depth.

That said, I am stoked about the Michigan Gamay in this report. I kept revisiting it because it fascinated me, as a Beaujolais devotee and fan of Gamay from other regions. I was also excited to learn that, according to Michigan Wines, Gamay Noir acreage jumped from almost nothing in 2014, to 29 acres in 2016. I can only hope to find more Michigan Gamay of this quality.

You may be skeptical (and for good reason), and surely there are some uninspired wines from Michigan. But there are some seriously good wines out here. I would drink the Bowers Chardonnay in this report over pretty much any California Chardonnay at a $16 price point, for example. And, seriously, the Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling may be my favorite Riesling in America for its price. And even though this is a small sample size, I’m excited to follow how the rest of American opens up to Michigan’s wine culture.

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

Wine Reviews: Year-End Round-Up

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-22-2018

Happy holidays, wine-lovers! I sure hope your holidays are filled with friends, family, fun, and plenty of good wine. As the year wraps up, I have a bunch of wines that didn’t fit neatly into a particular category, so I wanted to include them in my final grab bag report of 2018. And this one has some goodies.

Starting with Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet: Their vineyards, in the Andes foothills appellation of Tupungato, sit in gravelly, sandy soils at about 4,000 feet in elevation. The wines have lots of juicy fruit but the freshness is really attractive, and the balance and depth for their prices is quite impressive.

Ferraton Père & Fils deliver yet again with a pair of sub-$20 Rhone blends, a white and a red, which offer up a lot of class and style in this price point. At $30, M. Chapoutier’s new vintage of the Occultum Lapidem red blend is insanely good, deep, and cellar-worthy.

Italy’s Abruzzi region has a few value-friendly wines in this report, as well as an Amarone that would pair perfectly with a snowstorm and a campfire. Portugal’s Douro provides a few tasty red blends in this report, while I’ve included three American reds from Inconceivable. Lastly, Troon, from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, comes through again with an excellent pair of Tannat-based reds. They excel with all sorts of grapes and wines, and I loved these reds for their uniquely fresh, crunchy, lip-smacking appeal.

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

Wine Reviews: Sparkling Wines for the Holidays

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-15-2018

So, the holiday season is in full swing, and, like every year, the bubbles abound.

I drink Champagne (and, to a lesser extent, Champagne-method bubbles from other regions) year-round, but the average occurrence of bubbly-popping definitely spikes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

In this report, Champagne gets its due, with some wines from the houses of Bruno Paillard and Laurent Perrier. Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma bubbly powerhouse, offers up three budget-friendly offerings, and a Santa Barbara sparkler from Lucas & Lewellen impresses. Lastly, a few sparklers from Alsace deliver — Crémant d’Alsace is one of my favorite sources of inexpensive but delicious sparkling wines, and this duo is a great example.

All of the wines in this report were received as samples and tasted sighted. Happy holidays to you all, and I hope the last few days of your 2018 include some lovely Champagne-method wines. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reivews: New Releases from California

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-08-2018

We’re headed back to California this week for another batch of new releases.

I’ve reviewed the wines of Jed Steele several times in the past, and they continue to offer tons of value for the money. Although the winery sources grapes from other regions, all of the wines in this report hail from Lake County. With more than 50 vintages under his belt, these are tried and true California wines that deliver gobs of goodness, and most of them cost $20 or less.

I also reviewed two wines from Windvane, the new Ramey Claret, and the new release of Cardinale, the latter of which (while expensive), is something to behold.

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

Wine Reviews: Albariño from Rias Baixas

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-01-2018

I love Albariño, and there’s no better place to find the good ones than the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, Spain.

This winegrowing region, located across the Miño River from Portugal, produces 99% white wine, and Albariño makes up about 96% of all grape varieties planted there. So, it’s safe to say, producers here know what they’re doing with the grape.

Rias Baixas wines get lots of cooling, coastal influences from the Atlantic Ocean, and the region is also known for its series of jagged inlets, like shallow fjords, called rias. (The region’s name means “lower rias.”) The region is divided into five subzones (Val do Salnés, Ribeira do Ulla, Condado de Tea, O Rosal, and Soutomaior) typified by their topography and proximity to the ocean or rivers. The soils here boast lots of granite and schist, and the rivers add in alluvial elements.

All of this results in wines that are bright, vibrant, floral, salty, crisp and full of minerals. Plenty of fruit for sure, but I love the complexity of non-fruit elements in Albariño, and its lively, food-friendly appeal. It’s cold and windy on the East Coast as I write this, but crisp white wines are always welcome on my table, regardless of season.

I’ve covered this region before, but I recently tasted a few Albariño wines from Rias Baixas, and found a lot of quality for the price points. I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them single-blind (except for the sole sparkling one). Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Australia

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-24-2018

When I first started getting into wine, I fell hard for Australian stuff. Inexpensive, fun, reliable, yummy, it allowed me to explore different regions and grapes without a lot of effort or money. While my wine purchases have moved away from Australia over the years, I never outgrew my love for Australian wine.

And that’s thanks to producers like Wakefield, and many others, make wines that are much more than just fruit and alcohol. I’ve reviewed Wakefield wines before (check them out here and here), and this crop of new releases reinforces my respect for this producer.

The Taylor family kicked off their winery in 1969, after purchasing a 430-acre vineyard near the Wakefield River in the Clare Valley region. These wines are known as Taylor’s in Australia but, due to trademark restrictions, they’re labeled as Wakefield in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Clare Valley wines all come from the Taylor family estate, where vineyards at more than 1,100 feet above sea level vineyards get plenty of sun but receive the benefit if large diurnal temperature swings. The St. Andrews wines come from the estate fruit grown in their terra rossa soil, while the Jaraman wines are blended with fruit from other sites. For this report I also tasted two vintages apiece of Wakefield’s flagship Cabernet, the Visionary, and Shiraz, the Pioneer. They’re expensive, but so, so good.

I’ve also included four other Australian wines, from Jansz, Tyrell’s, Torbreck and Chambers.

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

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-17-2018

This week’s report covers wines from all over the globe, including Chile, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The new vintage of Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor (the 2015), is a real stunner, while the Chilean producer Odfjell offers less expensive but exciting wines.

I cover a few wines from the Abruzzo region of Italy, along with the perennially value-driven wines from M. Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut brand. Yarden offers up a delicious Champagne method bubbly from Israel, while the Spanish region of Navarra (keeping with tradition) comes through with some solid buys.

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