Wine Reviews: California Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-28-2015

The air in the mid-Atlantic is finally baring its cold winter teeth – which I love. It’s time to set the slow-cooker, uncork some rich California reds and raise a glass to darkness at 5:00 PM.

I review a lot of California Pinot Noirs, Cabernets and Syrahs, but we also receive a lot of samples that don’t easily fall into one category or another. Hence, this tasting, which is full of Merlot, Bordeaux-style blends and inky Petite Sirahs.

These wines were received as trade samples an tasted single-blind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Wakefield’s Pioneer Shiraz & Visionary Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-21-2015

Wakefield produces some exciting wines from Clare Valley, South Australia, ranging the spectrum from approachable, relatively inexpensive bottles to, well, these big boys.

The Pioneer Shiraz and The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon come from the Wakefield team’s best vineyard blocks in the Clare Valley. These are bold, concentrated wines that spend time in American oak, but the purity of fruit, complexity of flavors and aging potential make these wines very impressive. They’re special wines for sure — as they should be, considering the suggested retail price is $200.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Wakefield Shiraz The Pioneer - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $200
Rich purple color. Complex nose that needs time to open up and show it’s full bounty, but I start getting black cherry, blueberry and black currant mixed in with notes of bacon fat, black pepper, mushroom, notes of roasted coffee, eucalyptus and anise. Full-bodied, firm tannins but they’re smoothed out around the edges, and an impressive amount of acid holds the wine together. Black cherry, blueberry and dark currant fruit, tart and crunchy but full of sweet flavors. A complex web of black pepper, soy sauce, cedar, eucalyptus and mint makes this a delight to sip and ponder. Long finish with deep notes of asphalt and minerals. Rich and mouth-filling but so elegant. Really bold and worthy of cellar development, but impressive in its accessibility and vibrancy at this young point. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon The Visionary - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $200
Medium purple color. Aromatically slugging, with deep red and black currants and tart plums, but with air more reserved and elegant notes come out, tobacco, eucalyptus, mint, sweet violets, pickle, white pepper. Seriously complex sniffing. On the palate, this shows a firm tannic structure, some medium acid. Tart black currants and dark plums, the fruit has crunchy skins but lots of ooze on the inside. Complex secondary notes of tar, charcoal, wet forest, mint, white pepper, clove, roasted chestnut and dark roast coffee. Crazy complex but the elements unravel beautifully on the palate. The oak signature is written in thick pen, but it has enough other elements going for it. A burly wine that will improve for ten years and hold for longer, but it’s quite a thing to taste the power right now. (93 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Value-Driven Douro Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-14-2015

In the $15-$25 range, does it get any better than Douro reds? Sure you can spend a lot more than that on some incredible red blends from this region. But, if you’re looking for bang-for-your-buck vino, the quality of dry reds coming out of Portugal’s Douro region is consistently impressive.

These three wines were received as trade samples and tastes sighted:

Review: 2012 Prats and Symington Douro Post Scriptum de Chryseia - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Rich plums, tart black cherries on the nose, rich violets and coffee grounds. Medium-bodied, I like the tartness of the wine, balancing with fine yet firm tannins. Juicy black cherries, plums, tart blackberries, blend in some pencil shavings, loamy soil, mixed with deep floral tones. Dusty, some nice sweet herbal notes and roasted coffee. Full and bold, it gets so much livelier with air but can easily develop and calm down in the cellar. Mostly Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. (88 points IJB)

Review 2011 Quinta de Roriz Douro Prazo de Roriz - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $16
Bright and juicy with tangy red berries, some tobacco and pepper. Juicy and fresh on the palate with some nice grip from the tannins and tartness from the acid. Cherries and red currants, with some darker berry fruit, backed up by clove, pepper and a nice kick of minerals. Showing well now but could probably unwrap some more complexity over the next few years. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Quinta de la Rosa Douro - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $20
Deep purple color. Smells of black cherries, blackberry and raspberry jam, lots of earthy-charcoal notes along with some tobacco and roasted coffee. Full-bodied, tart acid, the fig, blackberry and blueberry fruit tastes crunchy but slightly roasted, like it was tossed on a charcoal pit for a minute. The fruit stays tart and fresh though despite the richness, and there’s a pleasant sense of pine forest and wet earth underneath. Quite good for the price, a solid autumnal bargain for sure. A cold weather sipper by itself or with rich stews. 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz and 30% Touriga Franca. (87 points IJB)

Exploring the Magic of Monte Rosso

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

IMAG2320As I rode through the Monte Rosso vineyard in the back of an open-air Jeep, clouds of copper-red dust rose up around me. The soil was so fine it coated everyone in the vehicle, and it became impossible not to breathe it in and taste it. After sipping some Monte Rosso wines earlier in the day, the flavor of lingering red dust felt familiar.

The sky was clear and bright as I took in the views of rolling hills and gnarled old vines. From an outlook near the top of the vineyard, which sits on the southwest side of the Mayacamas Range but falls under the Sonoma Valley appellation, I could see the San Francisco skyline in the distance. I was in a special place.

“The specialness of the place and the specialness of the wine coincide,” winemaker Michael Eddy told me. Eddy joined the Gallo Family group in 2005 and now oversees and mentors winemakers across the North Coast. I picked his brain about the Monte Rosso vineyard and its wines over a delicious meal in the Louis M. Martini cellar. Today, Monte Rosso is the jewel in large crown of the Gallo Family, the entity that owns Martini and sponsored this trip.

First planted in 1880, the vineyard survived through prohibition while founder Emmanuel Goldstein sent grapes to home winemakers in San Francisco. Louis Martini purchased the property in 1938 and named it Monte Rosso. The moniker makes sense considering the Martini family’s Italian heritage, the vineyards elevation of 700-1,200 feet, and the bright red loam soil.

The Monte Rosso Vineyard comprises 575 acres, of which 230 are planted to about a dozen varieties. The vineyard is most famous for its Cabernet and Zinfandel, but it’s also home to other Bordeaux varieties and some oddities like Folle Blanche (the grape of Cognac). The most heralded plots are the gnarly old vines: 65-year-old Cabernet, 110-year-old Zinfandel and Semillon. In addition to bottling their own line of wines from this vineyard, Louis Martini has sold fruit to producers like Carlisle, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Sbragia Family, among others.

Morgan Twain-Peterson, who crafts Zinfandel from Monte Rosso under his Bedrock label, says of Monte Rosso Vineyard: “the terroir here is so strong that I have often mistaken a Monte Rosso Cabernet for Zinfandel — the wines smell and taste like Monte Rosso, far less like the given varietal.”

If I had to come up with a theme for the wines from this storied vineyard, something consistent across vintage and variety, I’d say they have bountiful earthiness, higher than average acidity, and they maintain a sense of elegance despite the density of fruit. Also, they’re all damn good.

My notes on the Monte Rosso wines are tasted are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Some of Virginia’s Finest: Michael Shaps

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-31-2015

“Virginia wine sucks.”

I’ve heard the same tired remarks about Virginia wine since I first started exploring it a half-dozen years ago. Perhaps at one point in time, Virginia wine haters deserved the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had a few crummy bottles or an unexciting trip to a winery that didn’t take the wine part of the operation all that seriously. Maybe they just didn’t know any better and, hey, the good stuff is really hard to find, right?

Maybe. But, these days, when someone fires off a declarative “Virginia doesn’t make good wine” comment, they are providing you with an indicator of willful ignorance. There is so much good, even great, Virginia wine that the naysayers have no excuse anymore.

Michael Shaps has heard from the “Virginia wine sucks” crowd for decades. “Back in ‘95, there was a lot more of it,” he said. These days? “For every one who makes that comment there are ten people who get it.”

I tasted three of Shaps’ wines during a virtual #VAWineChat tasting with Frank Morgan, Virginia wine guru and social media master. During the live stream earlier this month, I was joined by dozens of other folks who sampled the same wines and chatted with Shaps about his vino and the state of the Virginia wine industry.

If you want to sip some of the best wine in Virginia, bottles from Michael Shaps should definitely be on that tasting table. Shaps studied winemaking in Beaune, and worked for Jefferson Vineyards and King Family, and has 20 years of experience crafting impressive Virginia wine. He makes wine for some 20 clients at a custom crush facility as well. Shaps’ 2012 Tannat and his 2012 desert Petit Manseng “Raisin d’Etre” were among the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup winners — and I found both of them to be great examples of what Virginia vino can achieve.

Petit Manseng is a grape Michael gets excited about when he talks about it. He calls this grape “bulletproof in the vineyard” for its ability to handle the heat and humidity of Virginia’s winegrowing climate. “It’s an ideal grape for our climate and our situation, but the challenge is managing the acidity,” Shaps said. Petit Manseng grapes can have tart and bracing acidity, but if you let the grapes hang on the vine for a long time, they can reach higher levels of ripeness that can help balance out the zip from the acid. This adds richness in the form of alcohol content as well, and the 2014 clocked in at 14.6% alcohol. And while Virginia Petit Manseng can be rich and honeyed, it maintains such freshness and is frequently marked with interesting spice and floral components. It’s a wine that can accompany richer seafood (like Shaps’ dry style) or the richest deserts and cheeses (when made into unctuous late-harvest wines).

“It’s something unique that we do here that no one else can do, it’s been really turning some heads,” Shaps said during the tasting.  I turned my head to Virginia Petit Manseng a few years ago, and things have only gotten better since then.

Many producers who can get their hands on Petit Manseng allow it to hang on the vine for a long time. For his Raisin d’Etre wine, Shaps allows the grapes to ripen all the way to 28-30 brix. Then the grapes are harvested and brought into tobacco barns and dried, concentrating the sweetness even further. The result is one of the best and most unique sweet wines I’ve tasted out of Virginia. His dry version is Exhibit A in why Virginia Petit Manseng should be on your radar.

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

Wine Reviews: A Trio of Cali Rosés

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-24-2015

It’s the end of October but it’s still gorgeous outside here in the mid-Atlantic. Regardless of the shorter days and impending cold weather, it’s always rosé season as far as I’m concerned. Here are a trio of reasonably priced California rosé that would suffice for any weather.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2014 Quivira Grenache Rosé Dry Creek Valley - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $22
Bright salmon color. Fresh aromatic display: crunchy white and red berry fruit, notes of roses, nettles and sea salt. Medium-bodied with tangy acid. Flavors of watermelon, wild strawberry and white cherries mix with notes of white pepper and spicy oregano. Clean and cool but lots to contemplate. 62% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 8% Counoise. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2014 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $28
Medium salmon colored. So vibrant and fresh on the nose, with wild strawberries, white cherries and watermelon, mixed in with sea salt, crushed shells and a hint of white pepper. Crisp, clean, racy but attractive in its creaminess as well. I love the watermelon and tangy white cherries, and I get notes of honeysuckle, chalk, sea salt and rosewater. Delicious stuff right here, so vibrant and begging for shellfish and salads. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Cornerstone Cellars Rosé Rocks! - California
SRP: $15
Strawberry sangria colored. Nose of strawberry shortcake, maraschino cherries and some pepper. Creamy profile, medium acid, lots of strawberry and raspberry jam, add in some watermelon. Hints of pepper, spice and green herbs. A richer style in terms of fruit, but dry and showing some brightness. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. (85 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Tuscan Reds $15-$35

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-03-2015

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on Tuscan reds. On the other hand, it’s easy to be disappointed by moderately priced blends. But, if you know your palate, there are a lot of solid bottles out there in the $15-$35 range. Many of them are ready to drink and food friendly (although shop carefully if you’re sensitive to oak.)

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

Wine Reviews: Exploring Idaho Wine

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-29-2015

People make wine in all 50 states. You’ve probably heard this before and thought: Yeah, but how many states produce wine worth buying and drinking? California, Oregon and Washington State lead the pack, of course, and wines from New York and Virginia have been showing great stuff for many years now.

So, which state is next to prove itself to the broader American palate? Michigan is home to some exciting vino. Missouri has been a key player in the history of American viticulture. And I’m a big fan of wines from some high elevation vineyards in Arizona. New Mexico, Texas, Maryland — the patriotic palate has plenty of options.

Well, what about Idaho?

When I told my wife I’d be tasting through a dozen Idaho wines she asked: “Umm… are they potato wines?”

I’m sure Idaho winemakers have heard similar comments more times than they care to remember. It can’t be easy convincing the average American wine drinker they should consider shelling out money for a wine from a state they know little about and have probably never visited. But if you shelve any preconceived notions and actually taste the wines, you may be surprised.

Idaho wine isn’t new, but it’s growing. In 2002, the state was home to just 11 wineries. By 2014 that number had grown to 51, according to the Idaho Wine Commission. These wineries produce more than 200,000 cases of wine a year, but that amount doesn’t even put Idaho in the top ten states in terms of production. (A bit of perspective: Ohio, the tenth-largest wine producing state, churns out about four times more wine than Idaho, according to Wines Vines Analytics.) So it’s understandable that Idaho wines don’t get much recognition on retail shelves or placement on restaurant lists outside of the immediate area.

Most of the states wineries are located in the Snake River Valley, southwest of Boise. In 2007, the Snake River Valley became the state’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA), an area that includes parts of eastern Washington. Several Idaho wineries in the Willow Creek area (a more hilly and rugged region) applied for their own AVA status in 2013, but that AVA is still pending.

I’d tasted a few Idaho Rieslings before, but this mixed case was my first real introduction to the state’s wines. And, I have to say, they make a good argument that Idaho wines should be taken seriously. I appreciated the freshness in a lot of these wines, and many of them have moderate alcohol levels. Also, the price points are generally quite attractive. If I have an overall concern about this lot, it’s the overreliance on new oak. Much of the underlying fruit seems solid, but too many of the nuances are overpowered by toasted barrel scents and flavors.

Still, if this batch is any sign, there’s a lot to explore in Idaho.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Values from Chile & Argentina

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-22-2015

Chile and Argentina have been producing slick, tasty, inexpensive wines for a long time. When I first started (legally) tasting and exploring wines after college, I bought up lots of bottles from producers like Catena, Trivento and Concha y Toro. They were attractive for their inexpensive prices and easily identifiable labels, the grape variety stuck on there front and center.

Fast forward a decade, and these producers are still standard bearers for South American accessibility. With large production levels and wide availability in many markets, these bottles comprise a cheap crash course in South American vino.

I found nothing novel or exciting in this bunch. These wines won’t leave you contemplating your existence. But for $12-$25, Chile and Argentina still deliver.

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

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-08-2015

Since my last report on California Chardonnays, I’ve tasted through a group of interesting and exciting wines. The best hail from that beautiful Central Coast Chardonnay haven, the Santa Maria Valley, but I also found a few fun and inexpensive Chards that would please many a palate.

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