Wine Reviews: Worldwide Roundup

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-21-2016

We receive a lot of samples from all over the world, but sometimes there aren’t enough to fit into a single tasting or under the same umbrella. In the past, I’ve called these catch-all reports “Odds & Ends” but these wines aren’t odd, and they’re not at the end of any list I would compose.

So, without further explanation, here are a slew of reviews of wines from all over world, made in all different styles.

These 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 05-14-2016

For the California Chardonnay newcomers, or those looking to expand their palates and try different kinds of Chardonnays, welcome to the club. There are more diverse California Chardonnays today than ever before, and no matter what kind of style you like, there is a Cali Chard out there for you.

I love exploring lesser-known varieties and interesting blends from all over California, but there’s something about these wines that never gets old for me. Are some of them bland or over-oaked? Sure. But, for me, those well-priced delicious bottles and the more expensive gems I come across are worth the effort of exploring some of the less exciting wines. A lot of my wine friends have moved on from Cali Chard, as if it were a gateway drug one consumes before moving onto the hardcore stuff from Chablis and the Cote de Beaune. But I never outgrew the stuff, partly because California Chardonnay is a constantly evolving field, reinventing itself over and over again, interpreting incredibly diverse sites into unique and compelling wines.

Since my last report on California Chardonnay, I’ve tasted through a bunch of wines, most from the 2014 vintage, although a few late-released 2013s are still hitting shelves.

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

Wine Reviews: Lodi, California

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-07-2016

Credit: Lodi Winegrape Commission

What the hell is going on in Lodi?

This historic region, which stretches between Sacramento and Stockton, is home to more and more thrilling wines, year after year. They keep shocking me with their quality and value. It’s getting a bit absurd.

While vineyards were first planted here in the mid-19th Century, the 20th Century saw Lodi develop a reputation as a fruit basket for bulk wines. And, yes, tons of Lodi Zinfandel (and other grapes) were blended into tons of crappy wine. But to dismiss, or simply ignore, the wines of Lodi is to miss out on a whole lot. Today, Lodi is California wine’s big tent freak show of awesomeness.

Adventurous consumers and beverage buyers have so much to explore: small producers, incredibly varied grape varieties, old vines, funky blends, organic or “natural” stuff. And, due to a variety of factors (like cheaper vineyard land and decades of indifference from large media outlets), the price to deliciousness ratio is excellent.

Lodi wines are getting credit like never before, but this is no accident. The Lodi Winegrape Commission, the region’s trade group, has been preaching the gospel of Lodi wine for about a quarter century, but they’ve really stepped it up in recent years. With their $1.8 million budget, they put together tastings and trade events to showcase the 750 growers they represent. And small producers like St. Amant, Fields Family, m2, Macchia, McCay Cellars and Borra have turned this region’s rich history and diverse grape varieties into a compelling case that Lodi wines can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys.

Take Lodi Native, for example, a cooperative project that brings together a half dozen of the region’s best producers to harness the real treasure of this region — gnarly ancient vine Zinfandel. The wines are made with native yeasts and no new oak, so the unique terroir of these old vineyards (some are a century old) shines through gloriously. I’ve been floored by both the 2012 and 2013 iterations of Lodi Native, and I can’t wait to see what they bring in future vintages.

A lot of the most interesting wines (like the Lodi Natives) hail from the Mokelumne River sub-appellation. This area is home to so many unique and old-school vineyards. Bob Koth planted his Mokelumne Glen Vineyard to a dizzying array of German and Austrian grape varieties in the 1990s, after being blown away by some Riesling on a trip to Germany. He now farms what is surely one of the largest and most diverse collections of Northern European grape varieties in the New World. We’re talking about grapes like Kerner, Bacchus, Dornfelder, Zweigelt, and a bunch of others we native English speakers have trouble pronouncing. The Mokelumne Glen Vineyard produced its own estate wines from 1998 until 2009, but now the fruit is sold to producers like m2, Borra, Ramey and Forlorn Hope.

But Lodi is a very hot place, so the choice to plant cold climate varieties struck me as odd. During a recent online tasting and video chat, I asked Markus Niggli (winemaker at Borra Vineyards and Markus Wine Co.) how these grapes do in Lodi’s climate.

Markus, originally from Switzerland, had worked with a lot of these grapes in his home country, and he said the two climates are obviously and drastically different. But, he added, the reason these grapes work in Mokelumne River is the large diurnal temperature swing, which is especially noticeable in this riverside vineyard. When the temperate drops some 40 degrees overnight, it allows the grapes to cool down, resulting in wines that boast high ripeness while maintaining some refreshing acidity.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve tasted through a bunch of wines from Lodi, including the Mokelumne River Vineyard wines, a few from Ryan Sherman’s awesome project Fields Family, and a trio of reds from Mettler Vineyards.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted sighted (except for the Fields wines, which were tasted single-blind along with a bunch of other California reds). Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Wakefield

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-30-2016

The Taylor family kicked off their winery in 1969, after scoring a 430-acre vineyard near the Wakefield River in Southern Australia’s Clare Valley region. These wines are known as Taylor’s in Australia but, due to trademark restrictions, they’re labeled as Wakefield in the Northern Hemisphere.

At more than 1,100 feet above sea level, the Taylor vineyards get plenty of sun but receive the benefit if large diurnal temperature swings. The resulting wines are rich in flavor but structured and vibrant. The St. Andrews wines come from the estate fruit grown in their terra rossa soil, while the Jaraman wines are blended with fruit from other sites. Wakefield also produces two stunning high-end wines, the Pioneer Shiraz and Visionary Cabernet, from the best plots in their vineyards. (I reviewed these wines in November 2015. Spoiler: they are amazing.)

Today, the Taylor’s/Wakefield winemaking team is composed of Mitchell Taylor (Managing Director), Adam Eggins (Chief Winemaker), and winemakers Chad Bowman (who joined in 2003) and Phillip Reschke (who joined in 2013).

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

Wine Reviews: Rosé Season in Full Spring

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-23-2016

It’s that time of year again! The trees have blossomed, my email inbox is filling up with “Rosé sale!” offers, and all my favorite wine shops have scooted the pink stuff toward the front of the store.

I drink the pink all year round, but with longer days, more sunshine and warmer weather here in the mid-Atlantic, I crave rosé more than ever. And during spring and summer, I love exploring the new releases from all over the world, made from all kinds of grape varieties and blends. Add in the generally modest price tags, and I arrive at the conclusion: we should all open some rosé right now.

Odds are you, like me, have your go-to favorites. I dig pinks from Bandol, Marsannay, and a bunch of California Rhone-style interpretations. But good rosé increasingly comes from pretty much everywhere people make good wine. If a lot of winemakers and working in a region, odds are someone is producing a kick-ass dry rosé. This has been one of the most encouraging developments in the worldwide wine trade since I began seriously exploring wine about 12 years ago. And I hope the pink parade continues for years to come, because these wines deserve a spot on any table or wine list.

Here are a few examples of some crisp new rosé. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Cabernet & Merlot

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-16-2016

This crew of wines included some real beauties. As is usually the case, I find that the best wines aren’t cheap. However, I also find the most expensive aren’t always the ones I like the most.

Of course, it all comes down to personal preference and — when talking about California Bordeaux varietal wines — a lot of it comes down to your tolerance for oak. The Shafer is a massive and oaky steel-toed boot to the palate, but I love it because, somehow, it all comes together. However, I found some other wines with far less new oak tasted overdone and charred.

This report includes wines from four recently available vintages (2010-2013), which reflects tremendous variation in style and aging ability.

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

Wine Reviews: Capture

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-02-2016

captureCapture Wines is a California North Coast project aimed at producing Bordeaux variety wines from high elevation sites in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties. It was founded by Denis Malbec (what a last name!), who grew up around a little shack you may have heard of, Chateau Latour. His father was Latour’s cellar master, and Denis took over in 1994. But he moved to California, founded Capture, and began seeking Napa and Sonoma sites for high-end Bordeaux varietal wines.

The Jackson Family purchased Capture Wines in 2014, and they seem to be sticking to this relatively narrow focus with their range of wines. Graham Weerts now oversees winemaking for Capture, with the help of Sam Teakle, who has worked in South Australia and France.

The label’s two Sauvignon Blancs are blended from Sonoma County and Lake County fruit. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver for the price. I found the Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to be very impressive and worthy of a long sleep in the cellar.

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

Wine Reviews: Sicilian Value from Vento di Mare

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-26-2016

IMAG3328$12 Italian wines — it’s a minefield I rarely enter any more. See, as a 21-year-old, I spent way too much of my hard-earned dough searching for good Chianti and Pinot Grigio for $10 to $15.

I was living in Brooklyn and, having grown up on the Jersey Shore, random bottles of cheap Italian wine seemed the natural place to go. Now that I was pulling down decent cash at Kinko’s, and saving money by sleeping in an illegally-rented basement in Brighton Beach, I had some extra money for the first time in my life. So I spent a lot of it on cheap Italian wine. Surely those classy-looking bottles at the corner store would be delicious and pair well with my homemade eggplant parm — right?


For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me. Why were these wines so lifeless?

Truth is, there are plenty of good, inexpensive Italian wines. But the bottles you see on every shelf and grocery store in America (with the kitschy labels and castles and Renaissance sketches), some of these wines can be so boring you’ll wish you bought grain alcohol and grape juice.

But, as is the case in most every wine-producing country, someone, somewhere is producing wine on the cheap worth getting excited about. These usually hail from the lesser-heralded regions, from grapes you may not be familiar with, and — damnit — Safeway may not carry them.

If you find the good ones, it’s worth the effort. I was recently impressed with the overall quality of this Vento Di Mare brand of wines from Sicily. For $12 a pop, I’d gladly buy up any of these wines to open at big family gatherings.

Actually, I tested these wines out on my family. I tasted through the Vento Di Mare lineup before my Ma was passing through town on her way to a sister’s weekend in Pennsylvania. After tasting and writing about these wines, I sent the bottles with her so she and my four aunts could enjoy them. They drank these wines that night with charcuterie, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, baked ziti, ravioli — you get the idea. The next week, I got a postcard, signed from all of my aunties. “We loved those wines! They made the food and fellowship so much better!”

See? This is what I was looking for when I was scouring shelves for cheap-o-vino. Wines that cost little money, but were delicious with food and enjoyed by everyone at the table. If you’re looking for something like that, you may want to seek out Vento Di Mare.

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

Wine Reviews: Franciacorta

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-19-2016

When it comes to en vogue bubbles, a lot of attention has turned to Prosecco. It seems to be a big hit with the kids these days. As I’ve reported on before, there are some damn good Proseccos out there, especially from Cartizze.

But for my palate, if it’s Italian bubbles I’m after, Franciacorta is the place. Made with some classic Champagne grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero (Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco can account for up to 50% of the blend) these Lombardia wines were elevated to DOCG status in 1995.

These are Champagne method bubbles with at least 18 months on the lees. The vines grown in sandy, silty soils near Lake Iseo, which has moderating influences in both winter and summer. There is clearly no substitute for Champagne. But, buck for buck, these Franciacorta wines offer a ton of sparkling excitement.

I recently tasted through some Franciacorta from two producers, Barone Pizzini and La Valle, and found a whole lot to like.

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

Wine Reviews: Colorado Wine

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-12-2016

Credit: Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

Best known for a dizzying array of craft breweries, Colorado also produces more and more wine. And if a recent tasting is any indication, some of these wines are quite good.

Wine is likely not the first (or second, or fifth) thing you think of when you hear Colorado, but winemakers in this state are hoping to change that. Colorado definitely has some quality ingredients for winegrowing: 300+ days of sun per year, low humidity, cool mountain breezes, high elevation sites (with vineyards planted between 4,000 and 7,000 feet).

More than 125 wineries crush grapes from more than 1,000 acres of grapes. And the state’s wine industry is growing. In 2009, Colorado wineries sold about 100,000 cases. By 2015, that number had jumped to almost 150,000 cases, according to Colorado Wine. Riesling is the state’s top wine grape, accounting for almost a quarter of Colorado wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot round out the top five. But despite the size of the state, wine production is relatively small. Colorado doesn’t scratch the top ten states in terms of wine production. For example, Pennsylvania, the 10th largest wine-producing state, churns out about 800,000 cases of wine per year, according to Wine Vines Analytics.

Still, I love the idea of exploring wine from new regions and different states. And considering the incredible natural beauty and tourist attractions the state has to offer, I’d love to taste some local vino while taking in the mountain views.

Like Virginia’s renowned Governor’s Cup, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board kicked off a similar program in 2011. The Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition saw 241 entries from 37 wineries in 2015. The Governor’s Case, which includes the top 12 wines, is a snapshot of the cream of the crop from that competition.

To be honest, I found some of the wines a bit odd. It took a lot of swirling, spitting and head-scratching to figure some of them out. Some wines were too heavily oaked (I found a similar trend in tasting through a case of Idaho wines last year). But the adventurous palate has a whole lot to explore in Colorado. And if your palate is anything like mine, you’re bound to find some wines that get you excited.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »