Wine Reviews: California White Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-15-2015

Let’s take a break from Chardonnay and focus on some other white wine options from California. Though I love Cali Chard, it’s exciting to come across a diverse group of Gewürztraminer, Riesling  Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc from the Golden State. I enjoy California whites year round, but warm weather makes these wines even more attractive.

This grab bag of California whites was received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Australia

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-09-2015

From high-end, vineyard-designated bottles to entry-level offerings, California winemakers are teaming up with Australian growers and vintners in a series of intercontinental projects — and some of the results are impressive.

First off, we have a duo of delicious reds from Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard. This project brings together Australian winemaker Charlie Seppelt, whose family owns the Barossa institution Seppeltsfield, and Napa winemaker Chris Carpenter, who makes some stellar Napa Cabernet for Cardinale, La Jota and Mt. Brave. Dating back to 1971, fruit from this McLaren Vale vineyard has found its way into Clarendon Hills and the iconic Penfold’s Grange. These two wines retail for around $75 a pop, but they pack loads of depth, complexity and cellar potential.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have a new project from Jacob’s Creek called Two Lands. Long known for their inexpensive, simple, fruity regional blends, this Aussie powerhouse has teamed up with Ehren Jordan, winemaker at California’s Failla — hence the “Two Lands” moniker. The fruit is sourced from a wide array of vineyard sites, including Padthaway, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills. I found this partnership interesting and unexpected, but at $14 a bottle, they’re putting out some good quality wines. I could see these wines faring well on by-the-glass lists, or they could serve as a good stepping stone for those just starting their Australian wine explorations.

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

Wine Reviews: Murphy-Goode Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-02-2015

On my first trip to Sonoma, my younger sister and I stopped into Murphy-Goode’s tasting room in Healdsburg. We were in the area for my brother’s wedding, and before driving up to the Mendocino coast, we visited a few tasting rooms and soaked up the aura of Sonoma goodness.

All wine tourists have similar stories about their delicious discoveries and rich memories, which linger long after the take-home bottles have been cellared and emptied. This is part of the reason I look fondly on Murphy-Goode wines, those purple labels and playful proprietary names.

I’ve enjoyed M-G’s Chardonnay aged in Minnesota oak, their Sauvignon Blanc and their juicy, fruit-forward Zinfandel. But Murphy-Goode makes some impressive Cabernet Sauvignons as well, sourcing grapes from vineyards in Alexander and Knights Valleys.

I recently tasted through four 2012 Cabernets from Murphy-Goode, all of which are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, no Merlot or Cab Franc chasers. For me, the Terre a Lago was just a step above the rest in complexity and depth, but all the wines share a focus on rich currant and plum fruit along with notes of sweet cola and eucalyptus. They’re structured solidly, and all of them were more expressive on day two. Despite their youthful deliciousness, I think they could use a few years in the cellar.

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

Wine Reviews: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-25-2015

If you’re looking for delicious, age-worthy Tuscan reds, but don’t want to spend a lot of money, you should really check out the wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Perhaps overshadowed by the big boys of Brunello di Montalicino, which garner more critical acclaim and come with correspondingly higher price points, there are lots of exciting wines hailing from Montepulciano. Here, Prugnolo Gentile, the local clone of Sangiovese, is the staple. But winemakers are allowed to blend in up to 30 percent of some indigenous grapes like Canaiolo and Mammolo, as well as international red grapes and even some white grapes, (although few producers use the entire pallet allowed by the appellation laws).

I recently tasted through some Vino Nobile wines at Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC, and was impressed by the across-the-board quality. At the tasting, arranged by a trade group called the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, I was joined by a group of Vino Nobile winemakers and the mayor of Montepulciano, Andrea Rossi.

Several of the producers were quite young, and the discussion turned to the differences between the Montepulciano of old and the more recent released. They explained how a new generation of young winemakers is stepping up to the task, willing to put in the time, effort and money to make the best wines possible from their sites and to promote them to a wider audience.

The youngest producer, Marco Anselmi, took over his family estate when his grandfather died in 2006. The 2007 Vino Nobile was Mario’s first vintage as winemaker. He named the wine “Damo” in honor of his grandfather, but he readily admits his grandfather came from a different time and place — and he made very different wine.

While Marco is rooted in the rich tradition of his hometown wine, he talks about changes: lowering yields in the vineyard, rethinking vine density and clonal selection, using sustainable farming and winemaking practices. I’m sure Damo’s wines were interesting (and I’d love to taste them next to Marco’s), but it’s inspiring to hear a young winemaker speak so passionately about raising the caliber of his hometown wines.

My notes on the wines (which were tasted sighted) are below the fold. While these wines are not easy to find in the States, poring through Wine-Searcher yields price points in the $20-$30 range. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: A Trio of South African White Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-18-2015

While exploring the Cape winelands last year, I tasted many a fine Bordeaux and Rhone blend from Stellenbosch, and some delicious Pinot Noir from the Southern Cape. But the biggest wine-related revelation from my trip was the high quality and value of South African white wines.

I tasted a lot of exciting Chenin Blancs, Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays, but one of my favorite white wines of the trip was a Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Clairette blend that floored me with its freshness and sea-salty elegance.

You have to look around a bit to find some of the really good South African white wines here in the States, but they’re out there. I for one would like to see more and more of them.

I recently tasted through three South African white wines that were delicious and full of value. These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bubbles and Port

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-11-2015

American bubbles, Champagne, Port, and a Sherry thrown in for good measure. Some samples are distinct in style and sporadic enough that they don’t fit into a designated category. Although, one could argue a common thread among these bottles is that they all scream: Invite people over and open me!

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

Wine Reviews: California Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-04-2015

This batch of California Cabernet represents an interesting cross-section of regions, styles of vintages.

Running the gamut from candied, drink-me-now (or not at all) bottles, to sexy, cellar-worthy wines, diversity in Cali Cabs always intrigues me. Some of the wines I liked best were among the more expensive, but I was impressed with the high quality of several bottles in the $20-$40 range. And for about $50, I don’t know of a better Napa Cab than the 2011 Smith-Madrone.

These 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 03-28-2015

We get a lot of California Chardonnay samples, but I never tire of tasting them. The diversity of regional nuances and winemaking styles is striking and exciting. I’m convinced there really is a Cali Chard out there for any palate.

These Chardonnays were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »