Wine Reviews: Wakefield’s Pioneer Shiraz & Visionary Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-21-2015

Wakefield produces some exciting wines from Clare Valley, South Australia, ranging the spectrum from approachable, relatively inexpensive bottles to, well, these big boys.

The Pioneer Shiraz and The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon come from the Wakefield team’s best vineyard blocks in the Clare Valley. These are bold, concentrated wines that spend time in American oak, but the purity of fruit, complexity of flavors and aging potential make these wines very impressive. They’re special wines for sure — as they should be, considering the suggested retail price is $200.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Wakefield Shiraz The Pioneer - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $200
Rich purple color. Complex nose that needs time to open up and show it’s full bounty, but I start getting black cherry, blueberry and black currant mixed in with notes of bacon fat, black pepper, mushroom, notes of roasted coffee, eucalyptus and anise. Full-bodied, firm tannins but they’re smoothed out around the edges, and an impressive amount of acid holds the wine together. Black cherry, blueberry and dark currant fruit, tart and crunchy but full of sweet flavors. A complex web of black pepper, soy sauce, cedar, eucalyptus and mint makes this a delight to sip and ponder. Long finish with deep notes of asphalt and minerals. Rich and mouth-filling but so elegant. Really bold and worthy of cellar development, but impressive in its accessibility and vibrancy at this young point. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon The Visionary - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $200
Medium purple color. Aromatically slugging, with deep red and black currants and tart plums, but with air more reserved and elegant notes come out, tobacco, eucalyptus, mint, sweet violets, pickle, white pepper. Seriously complex sniffing. On the palate, this shows a firm tannic structure, some medium acid. Tart black currants and dark plums, the fruit has crunchy skins but lots of ooze on the inside. Complex secondary notes of tar, charcoal, wet forest, mint, white pepper, clove, roasted chestnut and dark roast coffee. Crazy complex but the elements unravel beautifully on the palate. The oak signature is written in thick pen, but it has enough other elements going for it. A burly wine that will improve for ten years and hold for longer, but it’s quite a thing to taste the power right now. (93 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Value-Driven Douro Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-14-2015

In the $15-$25 range, does it get any better than Douro reds? Sure you can spend a lot more than that on some incredible red blends from this region. But, if you’re looking for bang-for-your-buck vino, the quality of dry reds coming out of Portugal’s Douro region is consistently impressive.

These three wines were received as trade samples and tastes sighted:

Review: 2012 Prats and Symington Douro Post Scriptum de Chryseia - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Rich plums, tart black cherries on the nose, rich violets and coffee grounds. Medium-bodied, I like the tartness of the wine, balancing with fine yet firm tannins. Juicy black cherries, plums, tart blackberries, blend in some pencil shavings, loamy soil, mixed with deep floral tones. Dusty, some nice sweet herbal notes and roasted coffee. Full and bold, it gets so much livelier with air but can easily develop and calm down in the cellar. Mostly Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. (88 points IJB)

Review 2011 Quinta de Roriz Douro Prazo de Roriz - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $16
Bright and juicy with tangy red berries, some tobacco and pepper. Juicy and fresh on the palate with some nice grip from the tannins and tartness from the acid. Cherries and red currants, with some darker berry fruit, backed up by clove, pepper and a nice kick of minerals. Showing well now but could probably unwrap some more complexity over the next few years. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Quinta de la Rosa Douro - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $20
Deep purple color. Smells of black cherries, blackberry and raspberry jam, lots of earthy-charcoal notes along with some tobacco and roasted coffee. Full-bodied, tart acid, the fig, blackberry and blueberry fruit tastes crunchy but slightly roasted, like it was tossed on a charcoal pit for a minute. The fruit stays tart and fresh though despite the richness, and there’s a pleasant sense of pine forest and wet earth underneath. Quite good for the price, a solid autumnal bargain for sure. A cold weather sipper by itself or with rich stews. 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz and 30% Touriga Franca. (87 points IJB)

Exploring the Magic of Monte Rosso

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-07-2015

IMAG2320As I rode through the Monte Rosso vineyard in the back of an open-air Jeep, clouds of copper-red dust rose up around me. The soil was so fine it coated everyone in the vehicle, and it became impossible not to breathe it in and taste it. After sipping some Monte Rosso wines earlier in the day, the flavor of lingering red dust felt familiar.

The sky was clear and bright as I took in the views of rolling hills and gnarled old vines. From an outlook near the top of the vineyard, which sits on the southwest side of the Mayacamas Range but falls under the Sonoma Valley appellation, I could see the San Francisco skyline in the distance. I was in a special place.

“The specialness of the place and the specialness of the wine coincide,” winemaker Michael Eddy told me. Eddy joined the Gallo Family group in 2005 and now oversees and mentors winemakers across the North Coast. I picked his brain about the Monte Rosso vineyard and its wines over a delicious meal in the Louis M. Martini cellar. Today, Monte Rosso is the jewel in large crown of the Gallo Family, the entity that owns Martini and sponsored this trip.

First planted in 1880, the vineyard survived through prohibition while founder Emmanuel Goldstein sent grapes to home winemakers in San Francisco. Louis Martini purchased the property in 1938 and named it Monte Rosso. The moniker makes sense considering the Martini family’s Italian heritage, the vineyards elevation of 700-1,200 feet, and the bright red loam soil.

The Monte Rosso Vineyard comprises 575 acres, of which 230 are planted to about a dozen varieties. The vineyard is most famous for its Cabernet and Zinfandel, but it’s also home to other Bordeaux varieties and some oddities like Folle Blanche (the grape of Cognac). The most heralded plots are the gnarly old vines: 65-year-old Cabernet, 110-year-old Zinfandel and Semillon. In addition to bottling their own line of wines from this vineyard, Louis Martini has sold fruit to producers like Carlisle, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Sbragia Family, among others.

Morgan Twain-Peterson, who crafts Zinfandel from Monte Rosso under his Bedrock label, says of Monte Rosso Vineyard: “the terroir here is so strong that I have often mistaken a Monte Rosso Cabernet for Zinfandel — the wines smell and taste like Monte Rosso, far less like the given varietal.”

If I had to come up with a theme for the wines from this storied vineyard, something consistent across vintage and variety, I’d say they have bountiful earthiness, higher than average acidity, and they maintain a sense of elegance despite the density of fruit. Also, they’re all damn good.

My notes on the Monte Rosso wines are tasted are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Some of Virginia’s Finest: Michael Shaps

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-31-2015

“Virginia wine sucks.”

I’ve heard the same tired remarks about Virginia wine since I first started exploring it a half-dozen years ago. Perhaps at one point in time, Virginia wine haters deserved the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had a few crummy bottles or an unexciting trip to a winery that didn’t take the wine part of the operation all that seriously. Maybe they just didn’t know any better and, hey, the good stuff is really hard to find, right?

Maybe. But, these days, when someone fires off a declarative “Virginia doesn’t make good wine” comment, they are providing you with an indicator of willful ignorance. There is so much good, even great, Virginia wine that the naysayers have no excuse anymore.

Michael Shaps has heard from the “Virginia wine sucks” crowd for decades. “Back in ‘95, there was a lot more of it,” he said. These days? “For every one who makes that comment there are ten people who get it.”

I tasted three of Shaps’ wines during a virtual #VAWineChat tasting with Frank Morgan, Virginia wine guru and social media master. During the live stream earlier this month, I was joined by dozens of other folks who sampled the same wines and chatted with Shaps about his vino and the state of the Virginia wine industry.

If you want to sip some of the best wine in Virginia, bottles from Michael Shaps should definitely be on that tasting table. Shaps studied winemaking in Beaune, and worked for Jefferson Vineyards and King Family, and has 20 years of experience crafting impressive Virginia wine. He makes wine for some 20 clients at a custom crush facility as well. Shaps’ 2012 Tannat and his 2012 desert Petit Manseng “Raisin d’Etre” were among the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup winners — and I found both of them to be great examples of what Virginia vino can achieve.

Petit Manseng is a grape Michael gets excited about when he talks about it. He calls this grape “bulletproof in the vineyard” for its ability to handle the heat and humidity of Virginia’s winegrowing climate. “It’s an ideal grape for our climate and our situation, but the challenge is managing the acidity,” Shaps said. Petit Manseng grapes can have tart and bracing acidity, but if you let the grapes hang on the vine for a long time, they can reach higher levels of ripeness that can help balance out the zip from the acid. This adds richness in the form of alcohol content as well, and the 2014 clocked in at 14.6% alcohol. And while Virginia Petit Manseng can be rich and honeyed, it maintains such freshness and is frequently marked with interesting spice and floral components. It’s a wine that can accompany richer seafood (like Shaps’ dry style) or the richest deserts and cheeses (when made into unctuous late-harvest wines).

“It’s something unique that we do here that no one else can do, it’s been really turning some heads,” Shaps said during the tasting.  I turned my head to Virginia Petit Manseng a few years ago, and things have only gotten better since then.

Many producers who can get their hands on Petit Manseng allow it to hang on the vine for a long time. For his Raisin d’Etre wine, Shaps allows the grapes to ripen all the way to 28-30 brix. Then the grapes are harvested and brought into tobacco barns and dried, concentrating the sweetness even further. The result is one of the best and most unique sweet wines I’ve tasted out of Virginia. His dry version is Exhibit A in why Virginia Petit Manseng should be on your radar.

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

Wine Reviews: A Trio of Cali Rosés

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-24-2015

It’s the end of October but it’s still gorgeous outside here in the mid-Atlantic. Regardless of the shorter days and impending cold weather, it’s always rosé season as far as I’m concerned. Here are a trio of reasonably priced California rosé that would suffice for any weather.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2014 Quivira Grenache Rosé Dry Creek Valley - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $22
Bright salmon color. Fresh aromatic display: crunchy white and red berry fruit, notes of roses, nettles and sea salt. Medium-bodied with tangy acid. Flavors of watermelon, wild strawberry and white cherries mix with notes of white pepper and spicy oregano. Clean and cool but lots to contemplate. 62% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 8% Counoise. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2014 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $28
Medium salmon colored. So vibrant and fresh on the nose, with wild strawberries, white cherries and watermelon, mixed in with sea salt, crushed shells and a hint of white pepper. Crisp, clean, racy but attractive in its creaminess as well. I love the watermelon and tangy white cherries, and I get notes of honeysuckle, chalk, sea salt and rosewater. Delicious stuff right here, so vibrant and begging for shellfish and salads. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Cornerstone Cellars Rosé Rocks! - California
SRP: $15
Strawberry sangria colored. Nose of strawberry shortcake, maraschino cherries and some pepper. Creamy profile, medium acid, lots of strawberry and raspberry jam, add in some watermelon. Hints of pepper, spice and green herbs. A richer style in terms of fruit, but dry and showing some brightness. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. (85 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Lieb Cellars of Long Island

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-10-2015

The North Fork of Long Island’s Lieb Cellars was founded in 1992, and judging from a recent tasting of their wines, they have found a healthy rhythm. The wines shared a common thread: they’re bright, clean, refreshing and delicious. Lieb Cellars gets their juice from 11 classic vinifera varieties, which are planted in Tetris-like blocks across four different vineyards. This diversity appears to give Australian-born winemaker Russell Hearn a lot of options for blending.

They have a range of everyday-drinking wines, the Bridge Lane label (a white blend, a red blend and a Chardonnay), which are shockingly tasty and interesting for $15 a bottle. In addition to the typical bottle, these wines come in three-liter boxes and 20-liter plastic kegs. For big get-togethers, I could see a box or keg of Bridge Lane as an inexpensive but crowd-pleasing option, but they offer enough subtlety and complexity for wine lovers to appreciate, especially given the price. The “Reserve” label wines are unique expressions of their grapes and places, but the Cab Franc stole the show for my palate.

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

Wine Reviews: Tuscan Reds $15-$35

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-03-2015

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on Tuscan reds. On the other hand, it’s easy to be disappointed by moderately priced blends. But, if you know your palate, there are a lot of solid bottles out there in the $15-$35 range. Many of them are ready to drink and food friendly (although shop carefully if you’re sensitive to oak.)

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

Wine Reviews: Garnacha

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-26-2015

For wine newbs and nerds alike, Spanish Garnacha offers a lot of fun options, many of them for a moderate price. This grape (Spanish for Grenache) has historically been used in blends, but it’s common as a varietal wine, and “Garnacha” is featured frequently and prominently on many Spanish wine labels. A juicy red grape, Garnacha is becoming more widely known among consumers looking for something smooth yet bold and fruity.

Apparently every grape now has to have it’s own “day,” so on September 18, I tasted some Spanish Garnacha on Garnacha/Grenache Day. In an online video tasting sponsored by Snooth, Guillermo Cruz, sommelier at the award-winning Mugaritz in San Sebastian, said customers frequently ask for a bottle of Garnacha by name, which was an uncommon request just a few years ago.

Like any wine from any region, the $10 bottles with screwcaps and kitschy labels are most likely going to be sweet, candied wines without much depth. But perhaps unlike many regions, Spanish Garnacha quality rises quickly with only slight cost increases. There are lots of real, terroir-driven wines out there for $15-$25, which isn’t as easy to find with some other popular red varieties.

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

Wine Reviews: Acinum Wines from Veneto

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-19-2015

Vias Imports — a big player in the U.S. when it comes to Italian imports — has just launched its own label called Acinum. Hitting the nationwide market this month, these wines are solid, value-driven examples of the classic Veneto wines: Prosecco, Soave Classico, Valpolicella and Amarone.

The wines are a result of collaboration between the chairman of Vias Imports, Fabrizio Pedrolli, and grower and oenologist Enrico Paternoster. For those looking for an introduction to the wines of the Veneto, these widely-available bottles would be a good and inexpensive place to start.

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

Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-12-2015

I never tire of tasting California Pinot Noir. Since our last tasting report published in May, I’ve tasted a few newly-released Pinots from across the state. From the $15 multi-regional blends to the $60 bottle with 100% new oak, it’s always fun and educational to explore what’s happening with Cali Pinot.

In this batch, I especially liked the two Masút Pinots, which were the first wines I’ve tasted from the relatively new Mendocino AVA, Eagle Peak. If these wines are any indication of what’s coming out of this region, I can’t wait to taste more.

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