Wine Reviews: Château du Moulin-a-Vent

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-18-2017

I buy, cellar, and drink a lot of Cru Beaujolais. I love the freshness, the food-friendly appeal, the crisp and complex flavor profiles. They perplex me with their seemingly contradictory traits: they age beautifully but can be so crazy expressive in their youth. On a weeknight, when I’m cooking dinner (it doesn’t really matter what I’m cooking), popping a bottle of Cru Bojo makes everything better.

I recently tasted through four wines from Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent. While not inexpensive, these wines delivered exactly what I love about wines from this region.

The estate and brand have undergone seismic changes since 2009, when grocery store chain owner Jean-Jaques Parinet bought the estate. More than 70,000 vines were replanted and the cellar equipment was updated. Parinet, now overseeing 37 hecrates of vineyards, also decided to vinify four different terroirs separately, emphasizing the diversity of expressions within the vineyards.

Two wines hail from 2012, and two from 2011. 2012 was a rough vintage, with yields way down, and while the finished wines managed to get a good amount of ripeness, the wines are dominated by this zesty acidity, with a lighter frame and more tangy-fruited. But these wines, for palates like mine, are a total blast to drink – bright, fresh, complex, lots of juicy red fruit but some fascinating herbal and savory elements even at a young age.

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

Wine Reviews: Crocker & Starr

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-11-2017

Crocker-starr-58 copyCrocker-starr-58 copy2016 marked the 20th vintage for Pam Starr under her Crocker & Starr label. They opened a new winery in 2016 as well, so the future is looking bright for this purveyor of pure, delicious St. Helena wines.

The estate vineyard dates back to the late 1800s, but venture capitalist Charlie Crocker purchased the estate in the early 70s and began replanting Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon where Merlot, Riesling, and Zinfandel had put down roots. When the St. Helena AVA was approved in 1995, Charlie tapped the winemaking talent of Pam Starr, who was making wine at neighboring Spotteswoode, and this project kicked off.

Over the past two decades, the estate has grown to some 85 planted acres of Bordeaux varieties. The team transitioned from conventional to organic farming, which Pam credits for providing a sense of “verve” to the wines. They held onto the best older Cabernet Sauvignon vines, but planted Cabernet Franc and other red varieties, and Sauvignon Blanc in some more clay-dominated areas of the estate.

I recently tasted four new releases from Crocker & Starr, all four of which are exciting, absolutely delicious, and age-worthy (even the Sauv Blanc would be cool with three or four years on it). I was really impressed with the flagship Stone Place Cabernet, but also surprised by the depth and purity of the Malbec-dominated blend and the Cabernet Franc.

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

Wine Reviews: California Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-04-2017

Near the turn of the year, I had a bunch of unrelated California wines left to taste, and none of them seemed to fit into a coherent category. So I threw them together for a grab bag tasting.

I’ve got a few from Gamling & McDuck, a label with an off-the-wall branding aesthetic and seriously good juice in the bottle. We also take a look at some wines from Jamieson Ranch, which sources grapes from Napa, Sonoma, and beyond, and produces several brands at varied price points. Chronic Cellars makes an appearance; these wines are a few steps up from some of the big brands that purvey those residual sugar-laden, generic California AVA wines. These are jammy, fun, un-structured wines for easy-drinking. Oh, and a 2013 Cardinale Cabernet — whoa.

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

Wine Reviews: Wakefield

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-28-2017

I’ve reviewed some wines from Australia’s Wakefield before, here and here. They also produce a $200 a pop Visionary Cabernet and Pioneer Shiraz, which are stellar.  This time I’ve got two wines from their Jaraman label, which are blended from multiple regions, and two wines from the St. Andrews brand, which come from estate fruit planted in Clare Valley terra rossa soil.

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

Wine Reviews: Tuscan Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-21-2017

It’s been a while since I’ve focused on Italy in my tasting reports, but I’ve received a bunch of Tuscan reds over the past few months, so here we go.

Included are three wines from Tenuta Degli Dei, a father-son partnership between Roberto and Tommaso Cavalli. Their family farm in Chianti had been used for raising horses until 2000, when they began making wine. The 2011s from Tenuta di Arceno really impressed me with their structure, depth, and age-worthiness. A few other wines are included as well.

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

Wine Reviews: Chablis

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-14-2017

God, I love Chablis. I taste a ton of California Chardonnay, and I am a massive fan of more Cali Chards than I can count. But, when I sit down to taste a bunch of Chablis, my mouth starts to water before I even take a sniff.

Unfortunately, I can’t drink Raveneau on the reg. If I won the lottery, I’d be snatching them up by the case. But, while the top echelon of Chablis producers demand serious money, there are a lot of producers of good, and sometimes exciting, Chablis for a reasonable amount of money.

This tasting included wines from all over the quality and classification spectrum of Chablis, from Grand Cru down to Premier Cru, generic Chablis, and Petit Chablis. (However, my favorite was the Premier Cru Fourchaume)

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

Wine Reviews: Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-08-2017

About a decade ago, when I was a struggling newspaper reporter with a flashy new ID to purchase wine and a measly budget with which to purchase it, I cut my teeth on inexpensive Bordeaux. These wines didn’t need years in the cellar (which I didn’t have) — these were cheap, zesty Sauv Blancs for salads and fish and fresh and Merlot-tinged reds for everything else. I found a lot of fun wines, but even as a wine newb, I was turned off by some of the acidic, weak, and stemmy wines. Flash forward to today, and I think it’s fair to say the overall quality of entry-level Bordeaux has made an impressive leap.

While I still taste some wines I’d much rather avoid, those wines seem fewer and farther between. There is plenty of juicy and fresh blanc and rouge out there. If you’re dropping cash on some grand vin from a respected Chateau, it’s probably a good idea to give your palate a primer on the vintage. 2013 is widely disparaged as a vintage, but some of the wines have a fresh and tangy, early-drinking presence that I find attractive. And the 2014s are overshadowed by the hype of 2015, there are some really good wines that you may be able to snag for less. And wines from less prestigious appellations can give you an idea on what to expect from the serious stuff.

A few weeks ago I pointed out a few bargain-heavy, tasty, accessible Bordeaux reds from the Cotes de Bordeaux appellations. I’m back this week with a case of Bordeaux (white, red and sweet) from Vins de Bordeaux, the region’s trade group.

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

Wine Reviews: Pinot Noir Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-07-2017

It’s time for a whole lot of Pinot Noir. Well, it’s always time for Pinot, but I recently tasted through a bunch of them from all over the world, most of which are not very expensive.

This report features a few leaner, zestier versions from Alsace, most of which I think over-deliver for the price. Speaking of good prices, we’ve also got some value-driven Pinots from lesser heralded villages in Burgundy. While not exactly thrilling, some of these $20-$25 bottles are seriously good for the money. Lastly, I’ve included a Pinot from Italy and a few from California that I received after I’d already conducted my California Pinot single-blind tastings for the fall.

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

Wine Reviews: Zena Crown Vineyard

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-31-2016


Credit: Zena Crown Vineyard

This week, let’s dive into some serious Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: Zena Crown Vineyard.

These Pinots are sourced from a southwest-facing slope, a volcanic soil site that has been bottled as a vineyard-designated wine from heralded producers like Beaux Freres and Penner-Ash. This Zena Crown Vineyard outfit formed in 2013, a cooperative project between winemakers Shane Moore and Tony Rynders. Seventeen different blocks of Pinot Noir (planted to many different clones) comprise the Zena Crown Vineyard, and these wines show off Shane and Tony’s blending prowess, as each wine is a combination of various clones and plots.

This is precise, vibrant, delicious Oregon Pinot Noir – full of racy acidity, lip-smacking mineral presence, tart but delicious red fruits, and loads of complex earthy, spicy notes. Each has its own personality, but they share serious structure, alcohol levels in the high 12% range, and invigorating acidity. These are Pinots share with wine nerd friends and engage in pleasant debate about whether that note on the finish is rooibos tea, eucalyptus, sage, white pepper — and everyone would be right. These wines pack that real sense of intrigue and mystique, but it’s by no means a purely intellectual exercise. They’re damned delicious.

These Pinots are stunning right out of the bottle, but time and air do wonders, as will serious cellar time. If I were buying in, I’d cellar a bottle apiece for at least four or five years, because there’s so much complexity to unwrap.

The wines all spend about 17 months in French oak, most of which (75-90%) are new, but that new oak is woven in wonderfully, softening the tannins a bit and imparting some flavors but by no means overtaking the fruit and non-fruit flavors. They’re stunning interpretations of Eola-Amity Hills Pinot and I imagine any Oregon Pinot enthusiast would be stoked to get their hands on some.

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

Wine Reviews: Colorado Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-24-2016


The Colorado River flows through the state’s Grand Valley AVA. Credit: Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

Back in March, I reviewed a case of wines from Colorado, the winners of the state’s 2015 Governor’s Cup Awards. While I found some fun bottles, some wines felt out of whack, unbalanced, weird. I recently tasted through this year’s top 12 Colorado wines, and found much more to get excited about.

Colorado, better known for brews than vino, has been growing in recent years. In 2009, Colorado wineries sold about 100,000 cases, but that number had jumped to almost 150,000 by 2015, according to Colorado Wine.

With abundant sunshine (more than 300 days per year) and low humidity, wine grapes can thrive. But high elevation vineyards (from 4,000 feet to a staggering 7,000 feet) and Colorado’s climate can make for some tough conditions.  “Low yields and large year-to-year yield fluctuations are characteristic of Colorado grape production, even in the Grand Valley AVA, due to cold temperature injury,” according to a 2016 report from the Viticulture and Enology programs at the Colorado Wine Industry.

But some solid wines are coming out of the state. My palate tends toward Colorado reds from Bordeaux varieties, although Syrah can do well, too. What I like about a lot of these wines is the combination of generally moderate alcohol content, structured tannins, and a tangy zip of acidity that keeps the wine fresh. And the prices for some of these wines make exploring them easier. That is, of course, if you can find any, as the wines are made in small quantities and not available in many markets.

However, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure and gorgeous scenery to pair with wine-tasting, perhaps a trip to Colorado should include some wine tourism. I know that’s my plan.

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