Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-25-2017

It’s time for a round-up of new releases from California. I gathered together some of the samples I’d received over the winter and early spring and collected them into this catch-all report.

I recommend a lot of small production, hard-to-find wines from California (because those are the greatest), but it can be harder to find larger production, widely-available wines from California that deliver deliciousness and some excitement. The Q Wines are available in retail stores nationwide from WX brands, and they really deliver in their price points and availability.

The Eighty-Four Wines are the result of a project between Elias Fernandez and Doug Shafter, named after the year in which they began making wine together. And we have a Chard and a Pinot from Alder Fels. Lastly, throw in some Cabs and blends from Napa producers Silverado Vineyards, Rombauer, and Shafer. Most of those wines need time but are great examples of the beautiful reds coming out of Napa from the 2013 and 2014 vintages. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Smith-Madrone

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-18-2017

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Credit: Smith-Madrone

When it comes to old-school, time-tested Napa producers, I have so much respect for Smith-Madrone. And on top of being an historic piece of the Napa wine puzzle, this winery continues, vintage after vintage, releasing exciting, even thrilling wines.

Founded in the early 70s, (the first vintage was ’77) Smith-Madrone’s winery is located on Spring Mountain, west of St. Helena. The operation is run by brothers Stuart Smith, managing partner and vineyard manager, Charles Smith III, winemaker, and Sam Smith, assistant winemaker. Their estate vines cling to steep slopes between 1,300 and 2,000 feet in elevation on soils of red, stony clay. A pioneer of dry farming in Napa, Smith-Madrone produces about 4,000 cases a year of dynamic and lively wines, which consistently show a sense of refreshment, purity and minerality, in addition to that deep, mountain Napa fruit. And, perhaps most exciting of all, the prices are so reasonable when compared with many other Napa wines of this quality and provenance.

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

Wine Reviews: Beauregard Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-04-2017

AVA

Credit: Beauregard Vineyards

As a surfer, Santa Cruz was a religious pilgrimage. As a wine lover, the Santa Cruz Mountains wines are also awe-inducing. The entire region is a freak of raw nature. The waves are gnarly, the water and winds cold, the mountains steep. But this leads to a maze of soils and microclimates perfect for all sorts of wine grapes. Santa Cruz Mountain wines, combining higher elevation with the cold and fog from the Pacific Ocean, are known and loved for their combination of tremendous freshness, complexity, and structure for aging. Sure, there is plenty of juicy and delicious fruit, but these vibrant wines offer something for pretty much every kind of palate.

I recently tasted through a host of wines from Beauregard Vineyards, wines that remind me why I love this region. Beauregard is old school Santa Cruz royalty. The estate dates back to 1945, when Deputy Sheriff Amos Beauregard bought a dozen acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel vines in Bonny Doon. This southwest slope sits at 1,700 to 1,850 feet in elevation and was first planted to grapevines in 1880.

Jim Beauregard, Amos’ grandson, was pivotal in the establishment of the Ben Lemond Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA), in 1983. He forged a reputation for his wines and their site-specific nature. Today, fourth-generation winemaker Ryan Beauregard holds the reins. And, as this tasting demonstrated, the future of Santa Cruz Mountain wines is in very good hands.

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

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-25-2017

We’re back with another grab bag of wines from all over the world. This report features some bargain Riesling from Mosel, a killer South African Chardonnay, some inexpensive Mendoza goodness, some Portuguese reds, and a few interesting blends from Locations Wines.

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

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 »