Paso Robles’ Dynamic Wine Culture Is a Standing Invitation to Travelers

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-30-2017

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The view from atop the vineyards of Kukkula Wines.

In early September, I spent several days digging into the Paso Robles wine scene, and I came back feeling refreshed and inspired about the future of this region. I’ve loved Paso Robles wines for many years, but it remained one of the few California wine regions still on my list to visit. So I was excited to go on a trip, sponsored by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, and it proved to be an exciting place.

It boasts a mix of geographical features, varied soils and microclimates, allowing many different grape varieties to flourish. I found a thriving wine culture marked both by experimentation and tradition, individualism and cooperation. It’s easy to see why more and more wine-lovers are visiting Paso Robles.

Paso wines have received large-scale attention, high praise, and high scores from major wine critics for a long time (Justin’s Isosceles and Saxum’s Syrahs come to mind). But another thing that’s great about Paso: there are so many intriguing wines flying well under the radar. With more than 200 wineries, and vineyards that grow more than 40 grape varieties, there’s a little bit of everything happening out here.

Geographically located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Paso winelands are intimately linked with the nearby Pacific Ocean. When I got off the plane at San Luis Obispo airport, the surfer in me grew stoked as I tasted cool, salty air streaming in from Morro Bay. In the morning it may be cool and foggy, but when the sun heats up, winds come whipping over the hills. As grapes here ripen, they get plenty of heat and sunshine, and they also receive plenty of cool, fresh air.

Onshore winds from the ocean get sucked into the Paso Robles appellation through the Templeton Gap, basically a crack in the coastal mountain range that separates Paso from the Pacific. This results in a day-night temperature swing of some 40-50 degrees during the growing season, one of the largest temperature swings in wine-growing California. While I was visiting, the mornings were crisp and foggy, the afternoons warm and windy, the evenings cool and long. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-23-2017

This week is another hodgepodge of wines from around the world — mostly from California and New Zealand.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Moraga

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-16-2017

The Moraga Vineyards estate in Bel Air goes for sale including the Winery at $29.5 million

Moraga Vineyards – Bel Air, California

So, there’s this wine, it’s sourced from a vineyard within Los Angeles city limits, and the estate is owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you haven’t tasted Moraga, I can’t blame you for being highly skeptical. But, after tasting these wines, it is clear to me that this is no novelty wine, no vanity endeavor.

The small estate (only six acres combined, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc) is located within the city limits of Los Angeles, in the Santa Monica Mountains of Bel Air. (As in, “Yo homes, to Bel Air!” – Fresh Prince). This is the sole winery that sources estate grapes from within LA, and it is likely one of the most valuable plots of vineyard land in California. (I’m sure a developer would love to have a crack at this hillside, so I think its great vines are still there.)

Tom Jones, former Northrop Grumman CEO, purchased this property in 1959, and slowly converted the small ranch into a winery and estate vineyards. He first planted vines in 1978, and but 1989 was Moraga’s first vintage. Conservative media titan Rupert Murdoch purchased Moraga in 2013. Murdoch had fallen in love with the property and wine, and, as part of the purchase, he agreed to keep the estate contiguous. He also kept the long-time winemaker, Scott Rich. Today, Moraga produces about 10,000 bottles per year (approximately 70% red, 30% white).

The vines are planted on steep slopes of Santa Monica shale. Yes, this area can get lots of heat, but the Pacific Ocean sits just a few miles away, and cooling influences are pulled inland through a canyon that connects the vineyard to the sea.

The white sells for about $115 and the red sells for about $175, so these wines don’t come cheap. And I am by no means joining Moraga’s wine club. But, if you’re a high roller looking for something unique to add to your California collection, these wines could fit the mold. And their quality and deliciousness should be evident to even the most hardcore skeptics.

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

Book Review: Italian Wine Unplugged – Grape by Grape

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 09-10-2017

gI_152111_Book e Tablet fullWhen I began studying wine as an overzealous 22-year-old, I bought a copy of “Italian Wine for Dummies.” It’s actually a good overview of Italian wines, and I sometimes reference it when I forget grape names or legal blending requirements.

But for serious students of wine, and those in the trade who work closely with Italian wines, “Italian Wine Unplugged: Grape by Grape” has everything you could possibly need.

Italian wines, grapes and laws are a labyrinth for wine-loving mortals (like myself), and this book is a master key. It’s written by Stevie Kim, director of the massive trade event Vinitaly, and a lineup of other Italian wine pros. The beta version is now available in e-book for $10, and they’ve set a December 2017 date for the launch of the paperback version.

Basically, this is an encyclopedia of Italian wine grapes (more than 430 of them), which is broken into three sections. The “Must-Know Grapes” section will challenge most serious Italian wine fans. Sure Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are in there, but don’t forget Ciliegiolo and Schioppettino. “Lesser-Known Grapes” gets even more in-depth, with grape names that could cause any Italian wine student to scratch their head — Susumaniello, Tazzelenghe, Uva Rara. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Two Tuscan Producers

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-09-2017

We’re off to Tuscany this weekend, with an array of wines from two different producers, Principe Corsini and Viticcio

Principe Corsini, produces wines under two labels: Villa Le Corti, located in San Casciano Val di Pesa (Chianti Classico); and Tenuta Marsiliana in Maremma.

Villa Le Corti is a large estate, more than 600 acres with about 120 planted to Sangiovese and some 180 acres planted to olive trees to produce Chianti Classico DOP olive oil. Tenuta Marsiliana is focused on producing Super Tuscan style wines from Maremma vineyards, which are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Viticcio is located in Greve, in Chianti, and has been producing wine since 1964. Starting off with Chianit Classico, the estate now comprises about 300 acres spread among the hills of Chianti Classico, Maremma and Bolgheri.

The 2014 Tuscan reds I’ve tasted don’t have that dense, punchy quality of long-aging vintages, but they do have plenty of acidity, vibrant fruit, and also some structured tannins. They seem ready to drink young, which is a pleasure while the 2012s and the 2013s sleep for much longer.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted, and the prices are Wine-Searcher averages. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Viña Ardanza

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-02-2017

Viña Ardanza is the flagship wine of La Rioja Alta, S.A., which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Even though it is only produced in certain years, Viña Ardanza aims for a level of consistency in how the wine is made. It’s a blend of 80% Tempranillo (from the Vina Ardanza vineyard in Rioja Alta) and 20% Garnacha from Rioja Baja. Both wines are aged in American oak — the Tempranillo sees some 36 months in mostly four-year-old oak while the Garnacha gets about 30 months in two- to three-year-old. The 2008 vintage is the first made from entirely estate-grown fruit.

These are old school Riojas with vibrant red fruits and a maze of earthy, savory, spicy elements.  The 2008 should still be on shelves ($32 SRP), while the 2001 Reserva Especial and the 2004 Reserva can be found on the secondary market for about $50. For that kind of money, these wines are absolutely worth it.

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

Reviews: Camus Cognac

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-27-2017

I’m focusing on something a little different this week: Cognac.

I received some samples from the Camus Wine & Spirits Group, which produces a range of different Cognacs. This house dates back more than 150 years, and is currently the largest family-owned Cognac house. They also hold about 450 acres in the renowned Borderies cru, the smallest of the Cognac appellations, and they produce their Borderies eaux-de-vie from all estate-grown grapes.

I don’t have a lot of experience in reviewing spirits, I’ll admit, but I have tasted a lot of Cognac in my days, enough to at least give this a shot.

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

Wine Reviews: Alma Fria

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-26-2017

2014 Sonoma Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are something to behold. Coming off the heels of the exceptional 2013 vintage, I have been blown away by the vibrancy, freshness and purity of flavors in a lot of these wines. And while many seem to show well on release, I think patience will pay off for a lot of 2014s.

I recently tasted through the 2014 releases from Alma Fria, and was very impressed. I’ve enjoyed their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs before, although “enjoy” is an understatement. I find these wines thrilling and stunningly delicious.

Terroirist also ran an interview with Alma Fria’s proprietor and winemaker Jan Holterman, which you can check out here for more background information on this exciting project.

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

Lodi Native’s Old Vine Zins Shine in 2014

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-19-2017

A centenarian vine in Marian's Vineyard. Credit: Lodi Wine

A centenarian vine in Marian’s Vineyard. Credit: Lodi Wine

Lodi is a gold mine of delicious, fascinating wines. Old vines, tons of relatively obscure grape varieties, winemakers carving out their own style.

Perhaps one of my favorite wine developments from this region has been Lodi Native, a cooperative project between six like-minded winemakers. They each source Zinfandel from very old vines in a specific vineyard, and craft the wine using native yeast fermentation, no new oak.

Lodi Native Zins are dynamic, delicious expressions of Lodi terroir. To taste them all side-by-side is a real treat, and I was surprised again by the uniqueness of each vineyard and the dynamism of the Zinfandel grape. If you’re a Zin-head, you need to taste these. If you’re a Zin skeptic convinced you hold justifiable derision for the wines, try these wines and let the scales fall from your eyes.

Most of the wines come from the sub-appellation of Mokelumne River, although one wine is sourced from an old vineyard in Clements Hills. 2014 is the third vintage of this cooperative endeavor, and I think it’s the best I’ve tasted (although the 2013 and 2012 iterations are both excellent). The wines are available as a six-pack only, for a total of $180. (Click here for more information).

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

Wine Reviews: Virginia Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-13-2017

Stinson is one of my favorite Virginia wine producers, and the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Ankida Ridge have been causing a justifiable stir for a few years now. I recently tasted wines from both producers, and found all sorts of reasons to get excited about the future of Virginia wine. If producers like these keep putting out wines like these, the best is yet to come. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »