Wine Reviews: Hourglass

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-19-2014

At Hourglass, premium Napa Valley red is more than just Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Cabernets deserve serious credit, but Hourglass has been working on some great varietal expressions of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec from the Blueline Vineyard in Calistoga.

2012 was the first full vintage for Hourglass’ winemaker Tony Biagi, who took over from renowned winemaker Bob Foley. It appears Tony arrived at a great time because 2012 was a good growing season, and the resulting wines show balance and depth. The 2013 vintage marks Hourglass’ first white wine, a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which I found refreshing and intriguing.

The new oak in these wines is nuanced and integrated, adding creaminess to the texture and accents to the fruit and earth flavors. But given the complexity of flavors, the structure and the balance, the oak never overpowers, at least for my palate.

These wines aren’t cheap, but they’re delicious and cellar-worthy. All of the wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted from 375ml bottles. The prices below represent the mailing list allocation cost for a 750ml bottle.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc
A pale straw color. Crisp apple and lime aromas, orange blossom, honeysuckle, a striking amount of slate and minerals. Creamy and rich on the palate, but the acid cuts through with impressive power. Richer notes of apricot, honey and orange marmalade blend with elements of oyster shell, sea salt and minerals. Lots of concentration and depth here, this is a beauty of a Napa Sauv Blanc that refuses to fit in a stylistic box. Hourglass’ first shot with white wine, and they nailed it. This wine sees stainless steel as well as some new and old French oak. (91 points IJB)

2012 Hourglass Malbec Blueline
Generous purple color. Vibrant and playful aromas of deep plums and black currants laced with violets, cola and charcoal. On the palate, fine grained but grippy tannins meet with medium acid, almost crisp. Rich and boisterous, full of bright floral tones, this wine is plummy and packed with tart berries. There’s an underlying mix of cocoa powder, charcoal, vanilla bean, cola and black olive. Bold but elegant, this is impressive stuff that shows some solid aging potential. Aged 16 months in 40% new French oak, this wine also includes 25% Petite Verdot. (91 points IJB)

2012 Hourglass Merlot Blueline
Nose of roses, raspberries, caramel, roses, a lot of explosive ripe fruit but it’s backed up by earth and smoke, menthol and smoked meat. Full bodied but this wine shows an elegant texture with fine tannins and medium acid. I get berry compote, raspberries and dark plums; all the fruit is juicy but very tangy. Significant amount of mushroom, balsamic, soy, barbecue sauce and sweet floral elements. Chewy, elegant, rich, complex, this wine is all of these, with a long finish. Could use two to four years and I think this will develop for quite a while longer. Includes 5% Petite Verdot, this wine is aged 16 months in new and seasoned French oak. (93 points IJB)

2012 Hourglass Cabernet Franc Blueline
Deep and saucy on the nose, I get blueberry, blackberry and plums, but also lots of deep loam, granite, paved road and mushroom. On the palate, wow, this is just beautiful — medium acid, great concentration, dusty tannins. Full of tart blueberry and currant fruit, like crunching through the skins, but then the earth, charcoal, cedar and eucalyptus notes come in. The mushroom, granite and tobacco flavors need time to fully show themselves. Great structure here for aging. This sees 20 months in 40% new French oak. Gorgeous. (93 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Charly Nicolle’s Chablis

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-28-2014

Proprietor Charly Nicolle kicked off his domaine in 2004. He’s been expanding his vineyard holdings piece by piece since 1997, when he acquired one tenth of a hectare from his great-grandfather. Today Domaine Charly Nicolle tends 15 hectares of vines spread across several appellations, including Premier Crus and the Grand Cru Bougros.

Like many Chablis winemakers, Charly learned the ropes from his father, Robert, who runs Domaine de la Mandeliere. Charly still works with his father and the two domaines share a team of vineyard workers, but they each control different vines and make different wines.

Charly Nicolle’s wines are all fermented in stainless steel with natural yeasts. They have a clean feel with lots of verve, minerality and oceanic elements. The wines I tasted hailed from the 2012 vintage, except the 2011 Bougros. “The 2012 vintage is a very good one, rather round and aromatic,” Lucie Thieblemont, the domaine’s commercial director, explained in an email. “It has less acidity than the 2011, which makes it very pleasant to drink now, but might be not so good to keep long.”

The wines are indeed round and aromatic right now, but I’m thinking some of them could age well. All of the wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Robert Oatley Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-21-2014

Robert Oatley Vineyards produces a wide range of value-driven, fan-friendly wines from vineyards across Australia. Founder Robert Oatley owned Rosemount Estate, the Australian wine giant whose wines can be found anywhere in America. It seems Robert is taking a more focused approach with this effort; he’s sourcing quality grapes from classic Australian appellations, and the results are delicious.

Robert Oatley Vineyards is run by Robert’s son, Sandy Oatley, and Larry Cherubino, of Cherubino Winery, directs the winemaking. They describe their wines as “authentically Australian wines intentionally suited to the American palate.”

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but my American palate enjoyed these wines quite a bit. And the prices are very attractive.

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

Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-14-2014

Growers and winemakers from all over California have praised the quality of the 2012 vintage, and for good reason. Sure there were regional differences, and the wines in this report cover a wide area of diverse vineyards, but lovers of Pinot Noir have good reason to be excited about the 2012s from California.

The best offer lots of structure and bold fruit but also clean acid.  A return to normalcy perhaps, after the cold and wet 2011 vintage, the weather was warm and steady in 2012, leading to healthy crop sizes and evenly ripened fruit. Some 2011s found their way into this report, and they take a lighter, tangier approach, which I actually enjoy quite a bit.

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

Wine Reviews: California ABC Whites

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-07-2014

Summer and California white wine is always a good pairing.

I was quite impressed with this lot of Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) samples from California. From Albarino to Sauvignon Blanc, these wines would all work well as summer party sippers, although the standouts are complex and food-friendly enough to deserve a long, contemplative meal.

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

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-31-2014

California Chardonnay needs no introduction, so let’s get down to business. Most of these wines came from the 2012 vintage, and based on this tasting, there’s a lot to like about the combination of richness and freshness.

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

Wine Reviews: Global Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-17-2014

Here at Terroirist, we get samples from all over the world. Some of the more varied and obscure samples aren’t easy to group together. Hence this catch-all report, which feautures wines from Brazil, Bulgaria, South Africa and other countries.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: N.V. Salton Intenso BrutBrazil, Serra Gaúcha
SRP: $15
Gold color with medium bubbles. Aromas of whipped honey, roasted nuts and lemon zest. Creamy with fine bubbles and medium acid. Lemon zest and tart green pears, along with saline and oyster brine notes. Much lighter-bodied than Champagne or other New World Bruts, this reminds me more of a crisp Cremant d’Alsace. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Salton Chardonnay VirtudeBrazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
SRP: $22
A rich yellow color. Green and yellow apples on the nose, some honeysuckle, toasted marshmallow. Medium+ bodied, medium acid, this wine shows chunky pineapple and mango fruit, along with notes of honey, walnut and toffee. Not all richness and sunshine though, as some grapefruit peel and lemon come out on the finish. A fun, forward Chardonnay. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2007 Salton Merlot DesejoBrazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Vale dos Vinhedos
SRP: $25
On the nose, a tobacco leaf and rich soil note, with wild raspberries and red plums. Tart acid, a leaner profile, with fine, chalky tannins. Tart cranberries and raspberries lead the way, with undertones of dried leaves, cigar smoke and a flavor that reminds me of crushed nutshells. Very tart and tangy, not rich and silky, but it’s a well-made, food-friendly wine for sure. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2009 Salton TalentoBrazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Bento Gonçalves, Tuiuty
SRP: $22
Much darker on the nose, with black currants, loam, charcoal and vanilla. Medium-bodied, fresh acid combines with some gritty tannins. The black currant and dark plum fruit crackles on the palate. I get some dried leaves, black pepper, soy glaze and tobacco flavors. Drinking well now, but I think this could improve in the cellar. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Tannat. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Veni Vidi Vici RoséBulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
A watermelon-strawberry color. A huge amount of mineral on the nose, like smelling a rock quarry, also some sharp strawberry and lemon zest, along with some white pepper and an aroma that reminds me of sweet pickle relish, seriously. Tangy acid on the palate, this is a bright and brisk wine. I love the wild strawberry and snappy cranberry fruit. Lots of minerals and white pepper in this wine, with some pickle and earth qualities as well. Crisp, clean and pleasant, a Bulgarian rosé that tastes unique, as it should. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Syrah. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Veni Vidi Vici Pinot NoirBulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
A light ruby color. Juicy cherries and cranberries on the nose, some red flowers and rhubarb. Medium bodied, tangy acid, a very floral and focused wine, but enough bright red currants and strawberries. Some earth, wet moss and tobacco notes. So fresh, this is one of the better wines I’ve tasted from this producer, and a solid bargain at $9. I’d love to put this on a by-the-glass list because it’s got some broad appeal and a lot of value. (86 points  IJB)

Review: 2009 Veni Vidi Vici Cabernet SauvignonBulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
Medium ruby color. Smoky and earthy on the nose, like black currants topped with campfire ash and dusty earth. Medium tannins, crisp acid, the currant fruit is tart and crunchy. Earthy, some cedar and cracked pepper. Not too deep or thrilling, but at this price it beats the hell out of almost all competition from Australia or California. (85 points  IJB)

Review: N.V. Blandy Madeira Malmsey 10 Years OldPortugal, Madeira
SRP: $30 (375 ml bottle)
Smells of yellow raisins, caramel, honey, candied pecans and dried apricots. Classic Malmsey richness with some nutty, nougat and caramel sweetness, but lots of dried apricot, mango and mixed nuts. Still fresh though, with a long finish reminiscent of dried flowers, sea brine, saline and pineapple cake. A lot going on, this begs for hard cheeses, dried fruits and mixed nuts. (90 points  IJB)

Review: 2012 Seven Springs Chardonnay Over the MountainSouth Africa, Overberg
SRP: $16
A light yellow color. On the nose, I get kiwi, tangerine, lime, a bit of cream and a chalky-mineral aspect. The acid really rocks on this wine, providing freshness to the creamy tangerine, kiwi and green pear fruit. There’s a complex mix of chalk, mountain stream, minerals and white flowers. The creaminess comes out a bit on the finish, but this wine is anything but heavy. Full of flavor and intensity, but still maintains an elegant edge. A delicious and lively unoaked Chardonnay. (90 points  IJB)

Review: 2011 Seven Springs Sauvignon Blanc Over the MountainSouth Africa, Overberg
SRP: $16
Nose of white peach, green pear, honeysuckle a hint of green grass. Medium+ acid on the palate. A bit of creaminess-waxy elements to the mouthfeel. Tangy, mineral-driven wine with green apple and green pear fruit, backed up by a sage and white pepper note. Not overly grassy, this actually shows some sea brine elements that I quite like. (87 points  IJB)

Review: 2011 Seven Springs Pinot Noir Over the MountainSouth Africa, Overberg
SRP: $20
Clear light ruby color. Lovely nose of bright roses, red cherries, strawberries, pepper and underbrush. Again with this producer, it seems like you’re gonna get tangy acid, which I love. Bright red fruits (cherries, strawberries, cranberries) mix with pepper, roasted chestnut, clay soil and dried roses. Old world notes. On the lighter side, but not weak. Love the red flowers in here. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Seven Springs Syrah Over the MountainSouth Africa, Overberg
SRP: $20
Dark, vibrant purple color. The blackberry and currant fruit smell like they’ve been rolled in pepper and thrown on the grill. High acid and firm grip to the tannins. Tangy plums and black currants blend well with campfire smoke and rich soil aspects. I get some pepper and steak sauce on the finish, but the acid helps it tread lightly on the palate. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Bodega Garzón Sauvignon BlancUruguay
SRP: $17
Slight spritz in the glass, with a pale straw color. Aromas of grapefruit, spiced tea and green olives, as strange as that may sound. Tangy and fresh on the palate. The white peach and orange peel blends with jalapeno, white pepper and lemongrass flavors. Crisp, herbal, but more body than your average New Zealand Sauv Blanc. Very food friendly. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Bodega Garzón AlbariñoUruguay
SRP: $17
Aromas of green melon, lychee and some floral notes (orange blossom, honeysuckle). Juicy and tropical on the palate (pineapple, apricot, green melon), along with some floral notes. Creamy, lacking just a bit on the acidity for my palate, but a fun, summer sipper. (86 points IJB)

Wines Scoring <85 points Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: American Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-10-2014

What a solid bunch of wines. These Pinot Noirs from Oregon and California were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

Review: 2010 Stoller Pinot Noir Reserve Dundee Hills - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
SRP: $45
Clear, medium intensity ruby colored. On the nose, cranberries and sour cherries, a note of red hot candies and rhubarb. Medium+ acid, fine-grained tannins, lots of strawberries and cranberries on the palate. I love the white pepper and resin notes and the creamy oak accents. Tasty, tangy, a good one to drink now or hold for several years. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Stoller Pinot Noir Estate Grown - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
SRP: $25
A clear ruby color. Medium intensity on the nose, with red currants, wild raspberries, and I get the sense that I’m smelling a holly tree, with this strong green-herbal and tart berry combination, some caramel too. On the palate, the tannins are light, medium+ acid, with flavors of tart cranberries, strawberries and a bit of pomegranate seed. An interesting mix of pepper, menthol, some creamy oak and dusty soil. A zesty, lower-alcohol (12.7%) Pinot. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir Hyland Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville
SRP: $35
A dark ruby color in the glass. The nose shows violets and smoke over raspberries and strawberries and a strong mushroom note that I really enjoy. Fresh and elegant on the palate, with very fine tannins, crisp acid and fresh strawberries and cherries, a dark plum note as well. That same mushroom note from the nose comes out on the palate, some bay leaf, cracked pepper and light roast coffee. I dig this wine for its unassuming approach, its nuance, and its delicate flavors, but it’s not one to age for very long. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir Coury - Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville
SRP: $60
Light ruby color. Really nice spice tones on the nose (clove, cinnamon, pepper) on top of bright cherries and cranberries. Brisk acid, fine tannins and snappy red fruit makes this a fresh and food-friendly Pinot. I like the tobacco, pepper and earth accents. (A pleasant hint of seaweed?) A lighter, more reserved style, but showing significant complexity. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Gainey Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Ruby-cherry colored. On the nose, some roses, cool strawberries and raspberries, anise, menthol. On the palate, juicy berry fruit, strawberries and raspberries, like strawberry rhubarb pie, mixed with white pepper, earth and tobacco, Complex, spice-toned, along with cola and tobacco. Bright, balanced and pure, but full of flavor. 13.9% alcohol, aged 11 months in 19% new French oak. A beauty. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Rusack Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Ruby-cherry color. Aromas of fig, cranberries, roses, rhubarb and a smoky note. Fresh acid on the palate, with fine tannins, very pretty in its approach. Flavors of cranberries, fresh cherries mix with notes of cola, pepper, rhubarb. Ripe and open, but stays cool and clean, with a pepper and sage-laced finish. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Rusack Pinot Noir Reserve - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $40
Medium black cherry color. Aromas of fresh, chilled strawberries and cherries, along with roses, earth and some mushroom. Bright cherries and plums lead the way on the palate, with some crunchy plum skin notes. Tangy, moderate structure, with secondary flavors of earth, rhubarb and strawberry greens, some nice tobacco and white pepper. Slight coffee and cedar on the finish. Very well balanced and full of interesting flavors. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Rusack Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Dark ruby colored. Wonderful nose: the strawberry and sour cherry fruit smells fresh and inviting, accented by notes of rhubarb, white pepper and a smell that reminds me sweet pickle relish. From the moment the wine hits the palate, to the finish, the wine is graceful and consistent. Solid tannic structure, highly refreshing acid, and waves of cool strawberry and cherry fruit. The notes of white pepper, earth, tobacco and sweet floral and dried fruit potpourri make this complex and exciting. Long, fresh finish with floral and earth nuances. Beautiful stuff, showing well right out of the bottle, but you could bury this for a while as well. (93 points IJB)

Wurzelwerk: Exploring Riesling and Terroir

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 05-05-2014

Photo: Wurzelwerk. From left to right: Maximilian von Kunow,  Johannes Hasselbach, Stef Jurtschitsch, Alwin Jurtschitsch.

Photo: Wurzelwerk. From left to right: Maximilian von Kunow, Johannes Hasselbach, Stef & Alwin Jurtschitsch.

Winemakers and good friends Johannes, Max, Alwin and Stefanie spent the 2012 holidays together, sharing merriment and each other’s wines. As Riesling bottles emptied and night settled in, the conversation turned to terroir. What does a glass of Riesling say about its vineyard site? Is terroir just a combination of the vineyard’s soil, climate and topography? How much does the winemaker affect a wine’s sense of place?

By the end of the night, they’d devised a plan to try to answer some of these questions. The motto: “Give me your juice; I’ll give you mine.” They called it Wurzelwerk, or root work.

The cast? Johannes Hasselbach, Weingut Gunderloch (Rheinhessen, Germany); Maximilian von Kunow, Weingut von Hövel (Saar, Germany); and Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch, Weingut Jurtschitsch (Kamptal, Austria).

The concept: Each producer trades some of their 2012 harvest with the others. Each producer then crafts three different wines, one from the estate fruit and one from the fruit of the other two.

The result: 3 producers x 3 Rieslings = 9 wines. Their final output totaled about 400 half-liter bottles of each of the nine Rieslings.

I recently attended a Wurzelwerk tasting at Domaine Wine Storage in Washington, DC, where these three producers showed off the results of their experiment. Alwin began the tasting with an explanation of the basic question they were investigating. If soil, aspect, climate and other site-specific factors comprise terroir, then “by rule, it should taste the same,” Alwin said. “In practice, it’s actually quite different.”

After an explanation of the logistical details, we tasted the first three wines side-by-side. The crowd was befuddled. Questions and concern spread through the room. “Why do they taste different?”

Max chuckled. “That’s the question.” Alwin and Johannes refer to Max as the philosopher of the bunch, and it fits considering how energized he gets by these complex mysteries. “You can read a hundred books about wine,” Max told the crowd. He pointed to his glass. “No book has this.”

In order to make the process as uniform as possible, the winemakers removed as many variables as they could. Johannes, for example, normally uses old oak barrels to ferment his Riesling, but for this project everyone used stainless steel.

The grapes were crushed to avoid potential oxidation that could arise from just shipping crates of whole clusters, but the juice was left in contact with the skins. The on the road juice had the same level of skin contact as the home field juice.

(For the sake of consistency and clarity, I’m referring to the wines vinified elsewhere as “on the road” wines, and those wines vinified on their own turf as “home field” wines.) The wines were fermented using only ambient yeasts from the vineyard, meaning no additional yeasts were added to the on the road juice.

Another interesting note: the wines took vastly different amounts of time to ferment. Some were completed three months after the harvest, while others didn’t finish fermenting until June of 2013. Yet another mystery.

This is all part of the fun, Johannes said. “We haven’t demystified wine. If anything, we’ve further mystified it.” The winemakers knew they would learn a few things through this project, and, of course, they did. But Johannes was speaking for all of them all when he said, “The whole idea was looking for answers. What we got was more questions.”

My takeaway: I thought each wine tasted best when it was vinified on its home field. The on the road juice still expressed the basic characteristics of its vineyard, but these wines were slightly out of focus, a bit more hesitant, lacking some of the verve and wow factor of the home field wines. Only slightly, though. I thought all of the wines were impressive. But they were different, unpredictable, perplexing. Their similarities were pushed to the side as my attention focused on their nuanced differences.

My notes follow on the wines are below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Six Vintages of Trivento’s Eolo Malbec

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-11-2014

Victoria Prandina. Credit: Trivento.

Victoria Prandina. Credit: Trivento.

“Winemaking is an art not limited by age or gender,” says Victoria Prandina. As a young woman charged with crafting an old vine, single-vineyard Malbec, she proves this maxim.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Prandina, who makes Trivento’s “Eolo” Malbec in Argentina’s Mendoza region. She’s a dynamic person and winemaker, and her Malbecs are as structured and deep as they are refined and elegant.

We talked a lot about the vineyard, which sits at 3,200 feet, perched just 30 feet above the Mendoza River in the Lujan de Cuyo appellation. The 49-acre vineyard was planted to Malbec in 1912, but just 9 acres of prime plots are used for the Eolo bottling.

The wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, around 70% of which are new. The oak may help integrate the tannins and smooth the wine out, but I was pleased at the lack of overt or heavy-handed flavor elements from the new oak.

Trivento is owned by Chilean powerhouse Concha y Toro, and Eolo generally retails for around $70. 2005 was the inaugural vintage of Eolo, and 2010 is the current release, so this vertical captured them all. I have to say, I was impressed with these wines. All of them were compelling, evolving and worthy of contemplation and cellar time.

I met Prandina and her colleague, marketing manager Silvina Barros, at Ripple in DC’s Cleveland Park, one of my favorite spots for any wine dinner. My notes from the comparative tasting are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »