Wine Reviews: Greece

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-21-2015

Okay, I don’t have a ton of experience tasting Greek wine. There are a couple reasons for this: I haven’t visited the country; the labels are confusing and plastered with words I can’t pronounce; and I don’t come across many Greek bottles here in the States.

But I’ve been missing out.

I recently tasted through six Greek wines and found lots to like. I’m especially intrigued by the unique flavor profiles and food-friendly approach of wines made from the indigenous red grape, Agiorgitiko. For my palate, the wines from Claudia Papayianni stole the show, especially the Viognier-Assyrtiko blend, which would be killer with all sorts of seafood.

These Greek selections come from Stellar Imports, and they were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bila-Haut

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-15-2015

The Roussillon region of France is full of value. Refreshing rosés, bright whites, saucy reds and rich sweet wines (vins doux naturels), the adventurous consumer has a lot of options.

Some of the most widely available bottles come from a Michel Chapoutier project named Bila-Haut. When I first caught the wine bug in the early-2000s, I remember being attracted to these wines based on their interesting labels and low price points. And the juice was good, too.

I recently tasted through a bunch of new Bila-Haut releases and was impressed with their across-the-board quality and value. At $27, the high-end cuvee, Occultum Lapidem, is really worth seeking out for the cellar.

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

Wine Reviews: California Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-21-2015

It’s the dead of winter here in the mid-Atlantic and crisp white wines might not be the first choice when you’re thinking of cracking open a bottle. But if you’re in the mood for seafood and salads, or you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a warm, sunny deck somewhere closer to the equator, California Sauvignon Blanc is a good call.

These Cali Sauv Blancs comprise a diverse crew, showcasing different regional nuances and winemaking signatures, and many of them are available for reasonable prices.

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 02-14-2015

One of the greatest things about exploring California wines is the diversity. We taste a lot of California classics, Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Rhone reds, and most of the California red wine samples we receive fall into these tried and true categories. But there’s so much else worth checking out.

After my initial fascination with Petite Sirah wore off, I have experienced something of a regained appreciation for the grape. And some Central Coast producers are doing interesting things with Malbec. There’s some Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Barbera thrown in for good measure. A small drop in the bucket, of course, but I enjoyed exploring these wines, which were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Washington State

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-31-2015

When it comes to pure deliciousness and joy in a wine-drinking experience, Washington State wines almost always deliver for me. Every time I think I have a grasp of the wines and their producers, I discover a new winemaker that wows me and keeps me wanting to learn more.

There are also plenty of value-driven bottles available, although some of these, like bulk regional blends from anywhere, can lack excitement. Still, dollar for dollar, the quality of Washington State continues to impress.

This batch was received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bodegas Numanthia

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-24-2015

If you know Toro, you know Bodegas Numanthia. This estate’s bruiser reds have received praise from many respected voices in the wine world. And, when you taste the wines, it’s easy to understand why they engender so much excitement.

These wines come out slugging. They’re not shifty boxers, they’re fat heavyweights who lean on their opponents and knock them out with single punches to the temple. The intense power and concentration in these wines demands attention. But by their nature, they lack the finesse, sleekness, elegance.

So, I tasted these three wines sighted, and then left them for 24 hours before re-tasting. All three are incredibly young, and they showed much better after being open a full day, when they started to calm down (relatively speaking).

I appreciate these wines. I admire the guts and glory approach. In this weight division, Numanthia is a titleholder. And in these cold winter months, decanting one of these bad boys by the fire sounds great.

If you want to experience all the brute force, drink the Termes now. My personal preference would be to cellar them all for at least three years, the Termanthia much longer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Tasty Values from Bulgaria

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-17-2015

Bulgarian’s Thracian Valley is home to a wide array of wines that can be as impressive as they are inexpensive. “It’s no longer that crap they used to sell to Russia by the millions,” a Bulgarian vintner once told me.


I recently tasted through the lineup from a relatively new project called Parallel 43, a Virginia-based importer and wholesaler focused on promoting Bulgarian wines. It can’t be easy trying to convince consumers to drink Bulgarian Mavrud, but, for the adventurous and value-minded, there’s a lot to like coming out of the Thracian Valley.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Zinfandel

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-10-2015

I know conventional wisdom is to pair Zinfandel with the grilled foods of summer. But Zinfandel also works perfectly for these short, cold days here in the mid-Atlantic. Sure these wines are rich and fruity, but the good ones provide a lot of other elements to contemplate. And when I pour a quality Zinfandel for my casual wine drinking friends, the results are near unanimous excitement.

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

Much Love for Mendocino – Malbec

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-03-2015

If you’ve ever read an article about Mendocino wine, it probably falls into one of two standard formats: “Anderson Valley Pinot is Really Good” or “Apparently They Grow Something Other Than Weed in Mendocino — Who’da Thunk It?”

Yes, Anderson Valley winemakers are producing some amazing Pinot Noir, not to mention Chardonnay, Syrah, sparkling wine and more. Yes, Mendocino County is home to some sublime marijuana. But the land itself is too massive and varied to be pigeonholed.

Mendocino County is a place that demands awe and thought — same goes for the wine. It’s more remote, more rugged, more untamed. The redwoods are bigger and the turns more vertigo-inducing. We’re talking further north, past the exits most tourists take into Napa or Sonoma. But to miss out on Mendocino is to miss out on some exciting wines and some stunning country.

On one of several Mendocino trips, I spent some time with my brother and his in-laws in Potter Valley, a relatively remote appellation that is home to a bunch of unique Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. One day I got up well before dawn and drove through the redwoods and mountains toward the ocean. I explored some of the many pristine, empty and frigid surf breaks on the Mendocino coast and surfed until I couldn’t move my lips. On the way inland, I stopped to warm up at a few wineries, including Yorkville Cellars, located in the rocky hills of the Yorkville Highlands appellation.

Rennie Vineyard. Used with permission: Yorkville Cellars

Rennie Vineyard. Used with permission: Yorkville Cellars

Here, just north of the Sonoma County line, Yorkville specializes in Bordeaux varietal wines and blends, producing a diverse array of bottles for a total of some 1,000 cases each year. I enjoyed the wines thoroughly and have fond memories of the visit.

Several years and Mendocino trips later, I was excited to receive four sample bottles from Yorkville Cellars: all Malbecs, all from the same vineyard, all completely different styles. These four Malbecs all hail from the Rennie Vineyard, located at 1,000 feet above sea level, which is planted to all the main Bordeaux varieties, plus Carmenere. Despite my love for Mendocino wine, I’d never tasted a Malbec before, but I was pleasantly surprised by these. And I think producing four takes on single-vineyard Malbec speaks to the unique and adventurous spirit of many Mendocino winemakers.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Brut Rosé Rennie Vineyard
SRP: $36
Bright cherry-copper colored. Nose of white cherries, roses, chalk and sea breeze. On the palate this is fresh and bright and tangy yet it shows a rounded texture. Flavors of cherries and wild strawberries play off of chalky, floral and oceanic elements, with hints of toasted biscuits. A very pretty bubbly, and a great pairing with sushi. One of the more distinctive interesting domestic sparklers I’ve tasted in a while.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Vin d’Une Nuit Rennie Vineyard
SRP: $22
A bright strawberry color with a slight fizz. Nose: white cherries, wild strawberries, a bright sea breeze and seashell note as well, some roses. Bright and tangy on the palate, a clean feel but also bursting with fruit (strawberry, white cherry, McIntosh apple). Crisp, clean, would cut through all sorts of food, provides a lot of refreshment, but also some ripe fruit. Herbal, oceanic and mineral elements add complexity. You don’t see many of them, but I’m thinking this Malbec rosé idea is working. This one gets about 20 hours of skin contact.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Rennie Vineyard
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Nose is bold and inviting, blackberries, dark plums, boysenberry, some light roast coffee. On the palate this is bright but fleshy, with fine lightweight tannins and brisk acid. The blackberry, dark plum and blueberry fruit is tart and fresh, giving the wine a light presence, but there’s depth in here as well. Pure fruit, laced with notes of cocoa dust, dried rose petals, rose hips and balsamic glaze. Fresh and juicy and open for business. 17 months in seasoned French oak. As deep and loamy as a Mendoza Malbec, but with more bright, high-toned floral notes.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Sweet Malbec Rennie Vineyard
SRP: $22
A very light red color, like strawberries and cherry juice. On the nose, I get candied apple, sweet roses, cherry cola and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with a chewy mouthfeel, slight acid. Flavors of Thanksgiving spiced cranberry sauce, caramel apple, roses and clover honey, also some underlying dusty-earthy notes.  A juicy and rich presence but the flavors show nuance. Still cool and refreshing, but perhaps this style doesn’t lend itself to those more complex elements in the Rennie Malbec. A Malbec rosé with 10% alcohol and 7% residual sugar, cool fermented with no oak. I could see this being a huge hit at holiday parties.

There’s much more to love about Mendocino wine country, which I hope to explore in future posts.

Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-20-2014

Lots of winemakers from across California have praised the 2012 vintage. The more Pinot Noirs from 2012 I taste, the more I understand their excitement.

This report features a few exciting wines from 2012, as well as some from the leaner, tangier 2011 vintage, and a pair of late releases from 2009.

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