Wine Reviews: KITÁ

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-15-2018

I’ve been a big fan of Tara Gomez’s Kita wines for a few years now, and the new releases are true to form.

These wines are mostly sourced from the Camp 4 Vineyard, a former Fess Parker vineyard located on the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. (For a full backgrounder, check out this post from last year.) While the wines boast plenty of fruit and ripeness, there’s a vibrant, fresh, complex aesthetic in all of the wines that I find really attractive, not to mention the price points.

I recently tasted through a range of Kita’s wines (their 2017 whites, and some reds from 2015 and 2016) and was impressed yet again. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Argentina Under $20

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-14-2018

This week’s wines hail from Argentina and should all retail for less than $20. With plenty of prime grilling season left, there are a lot of delicious reds in here that would fare well with grilled meats and crowds of friends and family.

Included in this report are four wines from Domaine Bousquet, whose wines are line-priced at $13, widely available, and deliver for the price. In the mostly Malbec category, two producers Ruca Malén and Nieto Senetiner, also offer value-driven wines that provide a whole lot of stuffing for the sub-$20 price points.

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

Wine Reviews: Concha y Toro

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-07-2018

Concha y Toro fascinates me as a business enterprise. It’s Chile’s biggest wine producer, one of the largest wine companies in the world, and it exports millions of cases of its Casillero del Diablo wine to countries all over the world. It was those wines, and the Marques de Casa Concha brands, that introduced me to Chilean wines a dozen or so years ago. But corporate success aside, the wines are generally delicious and accessible.

From entry-level all the way up to the incredible (and expensive) Don Melchor Cabernet, Concha y Toro casts a wide net, with brands at different price points, focusing on different regions. I recently received a handful of Concha y Toro wines (no Don Melchor this time, alas) and found what I usually do when I taste these wines: significant quality and value.

I also tasted several Carmeneres from different regions and price points, and was reminded again how fun that variety is. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Crémant d’Alsace

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-30-2018

alsaceHigh quality Champagne-method sparkling wine and value — not always an easy combination to come by. Luckily, Crémant d’Alsace exists.

For less than $25, Crémant d’Alsace provides some of my favorite sparkling wines from France. In Alsace, the producer Lucien Albrecht first began applying the Champagne method process to their own grapes in 1971, and, after lobbying the French authorities for an official designation, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Crémant d’Alsace was born in 1976. Now, producers all over Alsace make wines this way from a variety of grapes. I’ve been drinking Crémant d’Alsace since I was legally able to purchase alcohol, because I found a few reliably good producers whose wines were so delicious and affordable.

I’m a Champagne worshipper; nothing will ever rival that. But I can’t always spend the money on Champagne, and sometimes I want something good but inexpensive to share with family and friends. And this is where Alsace wines excel, with high quality and $20-ish price points.

Since my last post on Alsace, I received four Crémants d’Alsace, all of which should retail for $25 or less. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Lighter Side of Alentejo: White Wines Offer Quality, Value

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-28-2018

Ask a group of wine geeks to free associate based on the phrase “Alentejo wines” and I’m guessing you’ll get comments about big, bold, jammy red wines. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But, after spending five days tasting my way through this region of Southern Portugal, I was impressed with how many exciting white wines I found.


Susana Esteban’s white wines (field blends from higher elevation sites,old vines) were some of the most exciting wines of my trip.

Aside from the thrilling and ancient amphora wines of Alentejo (which I wrote about in detail in this post), the high quality of the white wine (branco in Portuguese) was one of my biggest takeaways from the trip. White wine grapes are seriously outnumbered, with about 27,000 acres planted to red grapes and less than 9,000 planted to whites, according to data from the Vine and Wine Commission of Alentejo. But that’s still a lot of white wine, spread out across a large region, and the quality can be quite high.

Antão Vaz came up again and again in the wines that I found exciting, usually as the dominant grape in a blend. This indigenous local variety is heralded especially in the subregions of Evora and Vidigueira. It survives well in heat and is quite drought-resistant, which comes in handy in a region that has suffered through several years of drought. (Although this year has been quite wet, and I certainly got rained on quite a bit during my visit in early June.) The grape is quite aromatic and provides lots of oomph to white blends, and can stand up to a good amount of new oak. However, the grape can lack focused acidity, especially if picked later.

Hence: Arinto. This grape which can produce crisp, vibrant wines with deep minerality and tropical fruits. This wine popped up again and again in the white blends I fell for. Gouveio fits into blends quite a bit as well, which used to be called Verdelho, and that was confusing (as grape names are always) because it’s genetically separate from the Verdelho of Madeira fame.

Roupeiro and Fernão Pires round out the grapes you’re most likely to encounter in Alentejo white blends. Portugal has tons of indigenous grape varieties, and I definitely encountered some hard-to-pronounce grapes I’d never heard of before. But I also found some white Rhone grapes that seem to do quite well in this hot region, and I even found an exciting Sauv Blanc from a cooler vineyard near the ocean.

Stylistically, the whites were all over the map. From lip-smacking, lighter-bodied versions to drink with Portuguese seafood, to rich, unctuous, barrel-fermented, lees-stirred creamsicles — there’s a bit of everything out there.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-23-2018

We’re back to the Golden State this week with a mix of newly-released wines from various producers.

Old school California powerhouse Wente lays out four Chardonnays that show an interesting diversity of styles. For several years, I’ve loved the bright and brisk Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs coming from Sonoma’s Alma Fria, and their 2015s are singing beautifully right now, and will continue to do so for years. Ehlers Estate’s Sauv Blanc and Chateau Montelena’s Zin deliver yet again, while a few other wines round out the report.

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

Wine Reviews: Rias Baixas Albariño

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-16-2018

With vibrant acidity, fresh fruit, and lots of oceanic and floral tones, Albariño from Rias Baixas is summer classic for me. Located across the Miño River from Portugal, this coastal area of Galicia produces almost exclusively white wines.

The Albariño grape rules, while other local white varieties like Caino and Loureiro are mixed in. I love the distinct oceanic elements (like sea breeze, sea salt and crushed shells) that I find in a lot of wines from this area. Tasting a good one makes me think of sitting by the ocean (my happy place) — and the price points make me happy as well.

Here on the U.S. East Coast, I’ve seen wider availability, and higher quality wines, from Rias Baixas. For years, I felt like the same few brands produced reliable, but not necessarily exciting wines. But the more I taste, the more I’m convinced that Rias Baixas Albariño can be more than fun, relatively inexpensive summer whites. Some of them are “serious wines.”

I recently received a bunch of Rias Baixas and found solid quality across the board, with a few standouts that I think far over-deliver for the price. These wines were received as samples and I tasted them single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-09-2018

A lot of the wine samples I receive don’t fit neatly into a thematic whole — hence this week’s “grab bag” collection of wines. Some goodies in here to highlight, though!

Nobilo’s widely-available Marlborough wines make another appearance, delivering accessible, tasty wines that are a good first step into New Zealand. A few California Pinots from 2016 entice, while Southern Oregon’s Troon Vineyard delivers yet again with some serious reds from Applegate Valley.

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

Experiencing the Wines of Stewart Cellars

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-05-2018

stewartMost wine reviews consist of two things: a series of sensory descriptions (which are increasingly imaginative, to say the least) and a number between 85 and 100. There are exceptions, to be sure. But in most publications—this one included—the wine review now fits a standard template.

For those who taste and review thousands of wines annually, I would imagine that the process can get quite clinical. I picture a clean, controlled environment, like a science lab, complete with white coats, laboratory flasks, and perfectly polished glasses.

Sure, that might be hyperbole. And don’t get me wrong; I love the reviews on Terroirist from Isaac Baker. But I can’t help but think about how most reviews don’t convey enough about how we actually experience wine.

For me, the most exciting thing about a bottle of wine is the potential it holds for fostering community, intimacy, and relationship. With the right person or people, in the right setting, and with the right food, that which a winemaker has passionately and painstakingly crafted to be good, can become very good. Those are the stories I want to hear!

Stories are what captivate us, what draw us in. So, what if wine assessment took the form of a vignette, that documents and entertains, interlaced with the qualitative notes we’ve come to recognize and value?

A month or so ago I received three new releases from Stewart Cellars as samples. This (below the fold) is how my wife and I experienced them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Virginia Governor’s Cup Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-02-2018

For the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of tasting through the top wines from the Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition. Each year, a group of esteemed judges (led by MW Jay Youmans) taste through hundreds of different Virginia wines, poring through for the best.

To enter, the wine must be produced from 100% Virginia grapes, and this year, more than 440 wines were entered into the competition. The top 12 are gathered into a case as an example of what Virginia has to offer the wine world.

Among the 2018 winners, I was quite impressed by two Bordeaux-variety-based reds from The Barns at Hamilton Station. I hadn’t heard of this winery, but was wowed, and pleased to learn the wines were made by iconic Virginia winemaker Michael Shaps. Like last year, Petit Verdot again makes a serious impression, both as a varietal wine and a blending grape.

Two Viogniers (the 2015 and the 2016) from Virginia really stand out as pure, vibrant, exciting Virginia examples of this grape. And, as usual, some dessert wines wowed the judges and tempted my sweet tooth.

My notes on the top 12 wines are below. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »