Wine Reviews: Rosé

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-06-2017

I love a crisp, dry rosé any day of the year, but Spring and Summer are prime pink time for obvious reasons. Digging in to the first crop of last vintage’s rosé is fun yearly task, and I’ve got a whole bunch of (mostly) 2016 rosés to get your mouth watering as the weather heats up.

Some of these are very widely available (like the Chronic Cellars, Kim Crawford and Laurent-Perrier Champagne), while some (like the smaller production pinks from Virginia) aren’t easy to find. But here are my notes on a bunch of rosés that 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 04-29-2017

This week we’ve got a hodgepodge of wines from all around the world.

I recently tasted a Chenin and a red blend from a new project called Lubanzi. These are South African wines brought in by two young Americans, Charles Brain and Walker Brown, who fell in love with South African wines (as I did) while traveling around Cape Town. There are so many great winemakers, old vines, and exceptional wines in South Africa, and at such moderate prices. But we don’t get nearly enough of them here, so it’s awesome to see a crew with passion bringing high-quality, value-driven South African vino to the States.

We also have a Locations wines from Dave Phinney and two different Sauvignon Blanc’s from New Zealand’s Nobilo. Lastly, I really liked a zesty, complex dry Furmint from Oremus. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-22-2017

There’s a little bit of everything in this catch-all tasting of newly-released wines from California: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, white blends, Chard, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Malbec, etc.

For my palate, the most impressive wines hail from Sutro, a single-vineyard Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon project located in Alexander Valley. Just wow.

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

Wine Reviews: Alsace Pinot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-16-2017

Alsace is primo Pinot territory. Not just Pinot Noir, of course, but its related varieties, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, have long and heralded histories in this region. I recent tasted through a few Pinots from Alsace and, unsurprisingly, I found a lot to like.

I love the vibrancy, tanginess and minerality of this wines. But, especially in the whites, there’s such enjoyable interplay between plump texture and rich fruit flavors. There’s always some level of difficulty determining how sweet an Alsace white wine will be (demonstrated by the two Pinot Gris wines in this tasting). If it says “vendange tardive,” meaning late harvest, you know you’re in for some sugar. But determining sweetness isn’t easy unless you’re well versed in the specific producer’s style.

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

Wine Reviews: Values from Trivento and Concha y Toro

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-08-2017

Argentina’s Trivento and Chile’s Concha y Toro have been releasing delicious, crowd-friendly wines all of America for many years. With a series of appellations and brands, you can spend $10 to $25 and be pretty sure you’re going to get something solid. And each producer has high-end wines like Eolo and Don Melchor that are tremendously good.

I think the wines in this report offer casual or new wine drinkers a good introduction to the wines and styles widely available from Argentina and Chile. And there’s a little something (especially in the Marques to Casa Concha series) wine geeks should find interesting.

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

Wine Reviews: Steele

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-01-2017

Jed Steele has been making wine in California for about 45 years. He first worked as a cellar rat at Stony Hill in the late 60, before getting his Master’s in Enology from UC Davis and heading off to work for Mendocino’s Edmeades. Add in some work at the burgeoning Kendall-Jackson, and Jed had all the experience he needed to start his own label in 1991.

Steele, based in Kelseyville near Clear Lake (in Lake County), produces more than 20 different wines, everything from Aligote to Zinfandel, but most wines are produced in relatively small amounts (less than 1,000 cases). Jeb’s extensive experience in different California wine regions has allowed him to source fruit from many different sites. So I was surprised to see Chardonnay from Santa Barbara and Zinfandel from Mendocino all in the same lineup.

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

Wine Book Reviews: Cork Dork

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 03-28-2017

1489172544550Calling all gonzo wine geeks, aspiring somms, restaurant lifers, science nerds and culture critics. There is something in Bianca Bosker’s book “Cork Dork” for all of you. The book goes on sale today from Penguin Books Original.

The run-on title (“A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste”) aside, this book is as fresh and fun as a Wachau Riesling. Bosker’s book is packed with helpful information, wrapped in honest inquiry, and slathered with humor and wit. “Less a journey from grape to glass… this is an adventure from glass to gullet,” she writes. And, sure enough, there is a whole lot of cork-popping, glass-draining hedonism recollected in 300-something pages. But there’s also plenty of information that should be useful for both wine novices and other “cork dorks.”

Many readers may have seen the movie “Somm,” and its sequel, which chronicle several sommeliers studying for the Master Sommelier exam. While I liked “Somm,” I feel Bosker’s book may provide an easier hook for casual wine fans who want to know about the fast-paced, bottle-clinking life of America’s wine stewards. Bosker’s book jumps into some of the same waters (the pre-blind taste test jitters, cramming for the written test with appellation flash cards, stressing out of the service exam), but she tells the story from the perspective of an outsider, a neophyte, a “civilian.” Combined with her punchy, intelligent prose, this outsider perspective on the hardcore New York wine subculture makes it accessible.

Having spent much of her journalism career focused on technology, Bosker strives to break complex subjects down into digestible parts. Where there is myth, she wants to find demonstration. Where there are powerful personalities making wide-sweeping claims (there might be a few of those in the wine world), she wants to find out if those claims hold up to scrutiny.

But Bosker does more than rehash stories about the intensity of wine study programs and the difficulty of big blind tastings. She spends time with flavor scientists and neuroscientists to try to figure out whether wine expertise is a definitive, demonstrable thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-25-2017

It’s time for a round-up of new releases from California. I gathered together some of the samples I’d received over the winter and early spring and collected them into this catch-all report.

I recommend a lot of small production, hard-to-find wines from California (because those are the greatest), but it can be harder to find larger production, widely-available wines from California that deliver deliciousness and some excitement. The Q Wines are available in retail stores nationwide from WX brands, and they really deliver in their price points and availability.

The Eighty-Four Wines are the result of a project between Elias Fernandez and Doug Shafter, named after the year in which they began making wine together. And we have a Chard and a Pinot from Alder Fels. Lastly, throw in some Cabs and blends from Napa producers Silverado Vineyards, Rombauer, and Shafer. Most of those wines need time but are great examples of the beautiful reds coming out of Napa from the 2013 and 2014 vintages. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Smith-Madrone

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-18-2017


Credit: Smith-Madrone

When it comes to old-school, time-tested Napa producers, I have so much respect for Smith-Madrone. And on top of being an historic piece of the Napa wine puzzle, this winery continues, vintage after vintage, releasing exciting, even thrilling wines.

Founded in the early 70s, (the first vintage was ’77) Smith-Madrone’s winery is located on Spring Mountain, west of St. Helena. The operation is run by brothers Stuart Smith, managing partner and vineyard manager, Charles Smith III, winemaker, and Sam Smith, assistant winemaker. Their estate vines cling to steep slopes between 1,300 and 2,000 feet in elevation on soils of red, stony clay. A pioneer of dry farming in Napa, Smith-Madrone produces about 4,000 cases a year of dynamic and lively wines, which consistently show a sense of refreshment, purity and minerality, in addition to that deep, mountain Napa fruit. And, perhaps most exciting of all, the prices are so reasonable when compared with many other Napa wines of this quality and provenance.

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

Wine Reviews: Beauregard Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-04-2017


Credit: Beauregard Vineyards

As a surfer, Santa Cruz was a religious pilgrimage. As a wine lover, the Santa Cruz Mountains wines are also awe-inducing. The entire region is a freak of raw nature. The waves are gnarly, the water and winds cold, the mountains steep. But this leads to a maze of soils and microclimates perfect for all sorts of wine grapes. Santa Cruz Mountain wines, combining higher elevation with the cold and fog from the Pacific Ocean, are known and loved for their combination of tremendous freshness, complexity, and structure for aging. Sure, there is plenty of juicy and delicious fruit, but these vibrant wines offer something for pretty much every kind of palate.

I recently tasted through a host of wines from Beauregard Vineyards, wines that remind me why I love this region. Beauregard is old school Santa Cruz royalty. The estate dates back to 1945, when Deputy Sheriff Amos Beauregard bought a dozen acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel vines in Bonny Doon. This southwest slope sits at 1,700 to 1,850 feet in elevation and was first planted to grapevines in 1880.

Jim Beauregard, Amos’ grandson, was pivotal in the establishment of the Ben Lemond Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA), in 1983. He forged a reputation for his wines and their site-specific nature. Today, fourth-generation winemaker Ryan Beauregard holds the reins. And, as this tasting demonstrated, the future of Santa Cruz Mountain wines is in very good hands.

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