Wine Reviews: 2018 Rosés

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-28-2019

It’s Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, and the pink wines have started piling in. As such, this will be the one of several rosé reports this Spring/Summer, I’m sure. But this first batch has some real goodies.

I’m a big fan of Rioja producer C.V.N.E., and they make two different pinks that are seriously good for the money.

Most of the other rosés are from California, based on grapes like Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet, Aglianico. Three non-saignée rosés from Sonoma’s Inman Family really wowed me. Inman started off the Endless Crush wines 15 years ago, making a single-vineyard wine from Olivet Grange Vineyard, but the winery has since expanded to include two other vineyard-designated pinks. They share bright, mineral-driven appeal and juicy fruit, but each has its own nuances and seasonings.

Lastly, there’s an exciting Pinot Noir rosé from Oregon producer Gran Moraine, whose wines have really impressed me over the years.

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

Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-27-2019

High-elevation vineyards fascinate me, and, as such, I’ve long been drawn to wines from Argentina. Especially in the Salta region, these vineyards are planted at dizzying heights.

In terms of highest elevation vineyards in the world, that title belongs to Bodega Colomé. The bodega sits at about 7,500 feet, but their highest vineyard (Altura Máxima) is located some 10,000 feet above sea level.

I recently tasted through some impressive wines from this producer, as well as fellow Salta winery Bodega Amalaya. This report also includes a wine from Domaine Bousquet and a serious value-driven Chilean red called Primus.

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 04-20-2019

This week brings another roundup of wines from all over the world. Let’s dig in.

Included in this report are a pair of appassimento style wines from Pasqua, a producer from Italy’s Veneto region. For the price, they offer up a really cool springboard into this traditional style of wines.

While I love wines from the Italian region of Alto Adige, it’s not that often I taste a Pinot Grigio that stands up and slaps me in the face (in a good way). Peter Zemmer’s Riserva Giatl is a super complex and invigorating PG that deserves some attention.

Per usual, the Port producer Dow’s delivers, this time with two aged Tawny Ports (10- and 20-Year-Old), which reminded me again why I love aged Tawnies.

I also tasted four wines from the northern Spanish region of Navarra, which is home to many solid wines that sell here in the U.S. for very little money. There’s a rosé, a Chard, a Pinot and a Merlot blend, and they all punch well above their price point.

Lastly, I want to highlight two wines from Early Mountain, a Virginia producer who has been going from strength to strength lately. Their newly released Chardonnay and Shenandoah Valley Cabernet Franc show what this exciting winery has to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Much to Discover in the High Desert Wines of Southern Arizona

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-13-2019

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Surreal scenery outside Sonoita, Arizona.

As an East Coaster, I didn’t see a proper American desert until I first traveled to Arizona in 2010. Immediately, I became obsessed with this state and all its extreme natural beauty. With few expectations, I also dove deep into the wine scene, and found some dynamic producers making delicious wines.

Many of the wines I enjoyed most hailed from the Southeast of Arizona, the Cochise County area, which abuts Mexico and New Mexico. The state’s only American Viticultural Areas are located here, Sonoita and Willcox. This is also where the modern Arizona wine industry began, when soil scientist Dr. Gordon Dutt founded Sonoita Vineyards in 1983 after an experimental vineyard showed promise. I recently visited the region for the first time and encountered a beautiful land of high desert plains, rugged mountains, wide open space, and exciting wines.

Yes, Arizona is hot and dry. But the diversity in microclimates, soil types, winegrapes, and winemakers tells a much more complex story. Geologic maps of Arizona are dizzying, and the area has an abundance of rocky, sandy soils, limestone, clay, giving winegrowers many great options to work with.

Most of the vineyards in Southeast Arizona are planted around 4,300-5,000 feet in elevation. This leads to serious temperature swings, allowing grapes to ripen in the sun and heat, and maintain acidity as the nighttime temperatures drop. During my visit to Sonoita in February, I woke up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit after driving through snow-covered mountains, their peaks sometimes hidden above the clouds. The day after I left, six inches of snow fell, which goes to show how variable and extreme conditions can be.

To start off my visit, I met Todd Bostock, winemaker at Dos Cabezas, a producer I’ve grown to respect. We met on a cold, sunny day in Sonoita, and I tasted through his wines and chatted about what he’s up to these days at his winery. And he’s up to a lot of awesome stuff.

Pronghorn Vineyard. Credit: Dos Cabezas

Pronghorn Vineyard. Credit: Dos Cabezas

The late Arizona winegrower Al Buhl started Dos Cabezas in 1995. Todd, who started home winemaking early before studying with UC Davis’ extension program, took a winemaking job at Dos Cabezas in 2002. The Bostock family took control over the project in 2006. Todd farms 37 acres in Willcox’s Cimarron Vineyard, which sit at 4,300 feet. This fascinating vineyard is home to seven white grape varieties (from Albarino to Viognier) and 17 red grapes (from Aglianico to Vranec). The 15-acre Pronghorn vineyard, in Sonoita, sits at 4,800 feet and is home to ten different grape varieties.

As such, Dos Cabezas is all about the blends. There’s a lot of vintage variation in this part of the country, and lots of weather difficulties, including early and late frosts, hail, so having access to a wide array of grapes gives Todd freedom to tweak the makeup of his wines each vintage. You can tell a lot about a wine nerd by what empty bottles they keep around on shelves or cabinets. In Todd’s barrel room, I saw a diverse selection and epic bottles, but it was the Chateauneuf wines (from several of my favorite producers) that stood out. And that Chateauneuf ethos of blending all sorts of different grapes comes through in Todd’s wines. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-30-2019

I’ve been receiving a lot of new releases from California lately (especially rosés), so this report is my attempt to keep up!

This week, I’m taking a look at two Sonoma County wines from Sosie, which really wowed me with their brightness, freshness and lower alcohol vibes. California’s only Kerner wine (from David Ramey’s Sidebar brand) makes a delightful appearance in this report, while the Sidebar Zinfandel shows a red-fruited, bright as day appeal.

I also tasted some big name 2015 Napa Cabs (Beaulieu’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve and LaJota’s Howell Mountain), which showed why they’re popular and expensive.

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

Wine Reviews: Yangarra Estate

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-23-2019

Yangarra is one of those producers that has kept me interested in Australian over the years.

High Sands Grenache. Credit: Yangarra Estate.

High Sands Grenache. Credit: Yangarra Estate.

I’ve found their wines boast plenty of sunshiny fruit, but I love the freshness, acidity and non-fruit complexity I get in these wines.

Located in the northeast part of the McLaren Vale, Yangarra is a certified biodynamic estate focused on the classic Rhone varieties. Grapevines have been planted on the estate since the late 1800s, but its modern history begins in 1946, when Bernard Smart planted unirrigated, bush vine Grenache. This became known as the High Sands Vineyard (because of its sandy clay soil), and demand for the fruit from this vineyard grew and grew.

Today, Yangarra’s vineyards comprise some 100 hectares, spread into 35 different blocks.

In 2001, Jackson Family Wines purchased Yangarra, and soon after local winemaker Peter Fraser took the helm. He uses wild yeast fermentation and judicious use of new oak, and the resulting wines have a purity of expression that I find really attractive.

I recently tasted through some Yangarra wines, and found across-the-board quality. The ceramic egg and skin-fermented Roussanne, as well as the High Sands Grenache, really stood out and wowed me. I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-16-2019

Welcome back for another roundup of new releases from California!

I’ve been getting a lot of new wines from California, and this report has a good amount of the staples: Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet, Zinfandel. There are a couple value-driven wines that deliver, and some exciting new releases from Sonoma’s Anaba and Lake County’s Hawk & Horse.

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

Alicante Bouschet’s Adopted Home of Alentejo

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-09-2019

In the summer of 2018, I spent a week exploring Portugal’s Alentejo region, and I came back with a much deeper respect for its wines, history and culture. Stretching inland, east of Lisbon, this hot, dry region is home to vast swaths of cork forests and vineyards spread across a countryside of rolling hills and farms.

One of things that surprised me most about Alentejo was how many good to excellent wines I tasted made from the Alicante Bouschet grape. With more than 100 years of experience with this grape, Alentejo and Alicante have a long, symbiotic relationship, and winemakers there have learned how to harness the full potential of this grape.

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Winemaker Iain Richardson in the vineyards of Herdade do Mouchão

In the 1880s, a Frenchman named Henri Bouschet created the grape by crossing Petit Bouschet (itself a cross of two even more obscure grapes) with Grenache. The result was a thick-skinned, dark-colored grape variety that showed good defense against rot. It can produce such dark wines that Portuguese winemakers took to calling it Tinta de Excrever, which means “writing ink.” Fun fact: Alicante is a rare teinturier variety, which means the pulp inside is red (like the Georgian grape Saperavi). The grape flourished in California during prohibition, as its resistance to rot meant grapes could handle transportation to home winemakers and bootleggers. Because of its dark color and intensity, it was also widely used as a blending grape in order to add some meat and potatoes to thinner wines.

But it was a man looking to make some money in the cork business who helped this grape reach its pinnacle. In the mid-1800s, Thomas Reynolds (an Oporto-based exporter of Port, cork, and other goods) moved his family to the rural, largely untouched region of Alentejo. He established a massive estate, Herdade do Mouchão, dominated by cork tree forests, but also olive trees and vineyards. Sometime before the turn of the 20th Century, two professors from Montpellier brought cuttings of Alicante Bouschet to Mouchão, where it adapted well. In 1901, the Reynolds family built a winery, adding a distillery in 1929. The original winery is still functioning, and it operated without electricity until 1991! It is one of the most fascinating wineries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. And the wines, especially the flagship red, are stunning.

With more than 200 indigenous grape varieties to choose from, it’s amazing an imported science experiment found such a foothold in Alentejo. But wine history is weird like that. Today, growers all over Alentejo use Alicante, frequently blending it with other indigenous and international grape varieties. Many respected winemakers use traditional methods of hand-picking and food-treading the grapes in large concrete or marble containers. Alicante Bouschet benefits from barrel aging, and it can withstand a good amount of new, toasty oak, though I’m more inclined toward wines that have been aged for long periods in large, old wood. No matter how it is made or where the vineyard is, these are almost always dark, concentrated, tannic, long-aging wines. But the best Alicantes maintain fresh acidity that helps balance out the density. The dark fruit is also accented by these notes of leather, pepper, charcoal, and herbs and spices, which I find really attractive. Pairing options with grilled meats and vegetables are endless.

I recently had the chance to revisit some Alicante Bouschet wines form Alentejo, most of which I had tasted during my trip. For fun, I tasted the wines single-blind, just to see if the Mouchão would stand out and wow me as much as it has in the past. (Spoiler alert: for my palate, this wine is so special that it stands out like a sore thumb.) Like many wines I enjoy from Alentejo, some of these are highly impressive for the money, and most of them could (or should) benefit from years in the cellar.

My notes on these wines (which were received as trade samples), are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-02-2019

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – they grow together, and they go together. And, this week, I’ve got a fresh batch of Chards and Pinots from California.

In this report, I tasted two vintages of Chardonnay from Oceano, which is owned and operated by Rachel Martin of Virginia’s Boxwood Estate. The fruit is sourced from the slops of Price Canyon in San Luis Obispo County, and the vineyard is located less than two miles from the coast. The wines were fermented and aged at Caldwell Vineyards in Napa. These wines really impressed me with their lively, salty, oceanic vibes, and I’m excited to see they have a Pinot Noir coming soon, too.

I also tasted some new Anderson Valley releases from FEL, which is owned by Cliff Lede and used to be branded as Breggo years ago. I’ve followed these wines for a long time, and these new ones keep up a long tradition of rocking yet nuanced Pinot and Chard.

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 02-16-2019

Back for the fourth time, I’m digging into some wines from the state of Colorado. Yep, it’s more than just good beer in the Centennial State.

I recently tasted through the winners of the 2018 Colorado Governor’s Cup. Like Virginia’s renowned Governor’s Cup, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board kicked off a similar program in 2011. In 2018, 46 Colorado wineries submitted 344 wines to the competition. These wines were judged by a panel of somms, chefs, writers, and wine experts, including Warren Winiarski. They chose a baker’s dozen worth of winning wines.

Colorado is a huge state, but it doesn’t crack the top 10 states in terms of wine production. The state’s winegrowing regions boast plenty of sunshine, low humidity, diverse soils, offering up plenty of opportunity to grow quality wine grapes. And, fun fact: the state’s two American Viticultural Areas (Grand Valley and West Elks, located in the western part of the state) are the highest elevation appellations in the country.

More and more, it seems to me, Colorado winemakers are not afraid to experiment and strike their own path, like Infinite Monkey Theorem’s quirky blends and branding aesthetic, and Red Fox’s Teroldego in this report. This is the most impressive batch of Colorado wines I’ve tasted yet. Now, to get out there for some tourism.

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