Wine Reviews: California Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-25-2015

Since my last report on California Cabernets, I’ve received a bunch of impressive offerings from around the state, hailing from the 2012, 2011 and 2010 vintages.

I don’t usually pop a California Cabernet during these hot, humid summer days, but most of these wines will benefit from being buried in the cellar for at least a few years anyway.

Many of my favorite wines are not cheap, and many of the cheap wines were not my favorite. That said, there are some moderately priced and delicious wines in this lot. And some of these wines are worth the splurge, especially the single-vineyard Knights Valley Cabs from Anakota, which are just gorgeous.

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

Wine Reviews: Virginia Governor’s Cup Winners

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-18-2015

If you don’t yet take Virginia wines seriously, step up to the tasting table and get to work. Well-established and up-and-coming wineries are producing all sorts of exciting stuff.

The gold medal award winners of the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup are a good place to start. Since 1982, the Governor’s Cup wine competition has been highlighting the best selections from the commonwealth’s diverse array of wines. And as the top 12 wines of the 2015 competition show, Virginia has so much to offer.

One of the common threads in this year’s batch of winners is the preeminence of Merlot in the Meritage blends. When I first started tasting Virginia wines eight years ago or so, it seemed like Cabernet Franc had designs on becoming the red grape of the commonwealth. While Virginia Cabernet Franc can be very good (it certainly adds a lot of spice and savory qualities to many Meritage blends), I’ve been more impressed by how well Merlot performs in Virginia. I was recently chatting with Virginia Wine buff Frank Morgan about what grape variety is the most underrated performer in Virginia, and we agreed: Merlot.

Petit Verdot is also gaining respect, as demonstrated by two of the varietal wines in this batch. And I was excited to taste a delicious Tannat from renowned Virginia winery Michael Shaps and a Touriga from Cross Keys. Virginia is home to some stunning Chardonnay and other white wines, but this year’s winners were dominated by dry reds. A couple dessert wines were included for sweet measure.

If there’s one thing that gives me hesitation about a lot of Virginia wines, it’s an overreliance on new oak. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effect of some new oak on a wine, especially a bold Bordeaux-style blend. But some the nuanced flavor profiles in these wines can be obscured a bit by the toasted oak elements.

That said, many of these Governor’s Cup winners display a uniquely Virginian appeal. And with more and more options from all across the state, there has never been a better time to explore Virginia wine.

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

Wine Reviews: New Zealand

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-11-2015

The waves of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc have not let up, and the American market remains loaded with inexpensive offerings. Many of the wines play the same riff, but grassy grapefruit-driven wines clearly have a solid fan base.

New Zealand is home to plenty of other white wines, of course, as demonstrated in this small sampling. This lot doesn’t contain any stunners, but as a group these wines are consistent, tasty and moderately priced. I was especially impressed with the Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir, which is a solid bargain at $17.

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

Wine Reviews: California Grab Bag Reds

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-04-2015

It’s the dead of summer and it’s hot here in the District. These days, white and pink wines are my go-to. That said, drinking juicy California red wines and grilling out on a summer day is something of a patriotic duty for the American wine lover. And what better day than the Fourth of July to crack some Cali Zin, Petite Sirah or Charbono and toast to the good ol’ US of A?

These diverse wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Merlot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-27-2015

A decade ago a character in some movie made some comment about Merlot sucking. All of the sudden, poor Merlot was persona non grata.

Not sure what all the fuss was about because Merlot can be a beautiful thing. Sure, there’s plenty of uninspiring Merlot, but replace the word Merlot with any grape and the same thing would be true.

Luckily for me, this bunch of California Merlots contained a few really good ones. The wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Lodi Native: Redefining Old Vine Zinfandel

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-20-2015

Lodi is home to a ton of Zinfandel, 111,000 tons, actually. In 2011, that amounted to 32% of all Zin grown in California, according to Wines of Lodi California, a trade group. But in this historically rich region between Sacramento and Stockton, the best juice comes from single vineyards of old gnarly vines.

To highlight these old vine treasures, six winemakers have teamed up under the Lodi Native umbrella, producing six different single-vineyard Zinfandels (most of them from Lodi’s Mokelumne River appellation). The idea is to let these old vines speak as clearly as possible about their roots, so the wines are all fermented with native yeasts, and they get no new oak, fining or filtration. The bottles are sold as a $180 six-pack from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Together, they comprise a master class in old vine Zinfandel goodness.

During a recent online video tasting, Stuart Spencer, winemaker at Lodi’s St. Amant Winery, said the Lodi Native team hopes to elevate the region as a whole and broaden the picture of what’s being made in Lodi. And these winemakers have all sorts of ancient vine Zinfandel sites to choose from, with many historic vineyards remaining “undiscovered,” Spencer said. “There are really some treasures out here in these acres of Zinfandel vines.”

I was really impressed with this project’s first vintage, 2012, and the Lodi Native crew has done it again in 2013. If you’re used to candied, bruiser, oak-slathered Zins, you may be surprised by the freshness, vibrancy and silkiness of these old vine beauties.

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

Wine Reviews: California Syrah

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-13-2015

The Rhone Rangers are coming to the District next week for a big shindig, and I can’t wait. The grand tasting offers up a chance to taste some 80 Rhone-inspired wines from 20-plus producers. To get the celebration started early, this week we’re looking at a bunch of California Syrahs.

I was very impressed with this whole lot (which includes wines from the 2009-2012 vintages). For my palate, the earthy, pepper, spicy Syrahs from Baker Lane took the cake, but I thoroughly enjoyed sipping all of these.

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

Wine Reviews: Willamette Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-06-2015

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir needs no introduction. This week, we’re taking a look at a few solid examples from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 vintages. Honestly, I didn’t find a mediocre wine, although the elegance and complexity of the 2011 Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve wowed me the most.

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

Wine Reviews: American Rosé

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-30-2015

American consumers love rosé. They’ve been drinking more of it and American winemakers are producing more of their own as well. This is one of my favorite wine consumer trends of late. The more rosé that’s consumed, produced and imported, the more good rosé will rise to the top.

Of course, summer and rosé go together like, well, the sun and the beach. While I enjoy rosé year-round, especially in the dead of winter to psyche myself into a warmer weather mindset, there’s no denying that classic refreshing character of a cool glass of pink on a hot day.

Lately, we’ve received a diverse selection of American rosés, including two delicious offerings from Virginia, and some pink Pinot and Syrah goodness from California.

These wines, all from the 2014 vintage, 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 05-23-2015

Since our last look at California Pinot Noir, I’ve had the chance to taste through a wide range of interesting Pinots — and I found a few beauties.

To generalize widely, the 2012s I’ve tasted seem to need more time to open up, although they’re full of very attractive fruit. The 2013s seem a bit more approachable young, showing a slightly fresher approach but still plenty of concentration.

For me, the Dierberg single-vineyard Pinots (made by Tyler Thomas) stood out for their elegance, beautiful fruit, and lip-smacking freshness. But I found quite a few other impressive Pinots in this crew, and there are some richer, chewier wines as well.

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