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.


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 »

Wine Reviews: American Grab Bag

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

This week, I have some wine reviews from New York, California, and Washington.

If you know Finger Lakes wine, you know Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant who contributed so much to viticulture in this country.  By producing exceptional wines, and showing what Riesling could do in the Finger Lakes, he earned his spot in the canon of trail-blazing American winemakers. All these years later, the wines are still examples of excellence in American wine.

Napa’s Gratus also contributed wines for this report. This Pope Valley project began in 2010, and the winery now produces about 600 cases per year. These wines were new to me, but I found them vibrant, delicious, and expressive.

Respected Washington producer Tamarack Cellars recently released a 2013 “Emerald Release” Cabernet that blew my mind, and I think it would be a great addition to any Washington Cabernet collector’s cellar.

A few other wines round out this week’s report. I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Quality & Value in 2015 Côtes de Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-26-2019


Vineyards in Blaye. Credit: Côtes de Bordeaux

Expressive Bordeaux in the sub-$30 range can be hard to find. I love Bordeaux, but can’t really afford what I love to drink, at least not very often. On the other hand, I’ve been turned off by inexpensive Bordeaux — too much acidic, bitter or just plain boring wine has made me hesitant to take a chance on a random $30 bottle.

But, over the past few years, I’ve found Côtes de Bordeaux wines can fill an interesting niche. They offer entry-level accessibility to consumers who want to explore Bordeaux without spending a lot of money, and they can offer something delicious and distinctive enough to make Bordeaux fans happy.

Côtes de Bordeaux is composed of five appellations: Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs and Sainte-Foy. Four of them joined together in 2009 to form the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux, while Sainte-Foy joined in 2016. These largely noncontiguous areas are spread out along the right banks of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Blaye, the largest, stretches east from the banks of the Gironde river; Cadillac follows the east bank of the Garonne; Francs and Castillon produce wines from vineyards northeast of Saint-Emilion.

Most of these vineyards are planted on rolling hills with lots of clay and some limestone soils. The wines are almost all red, almost all Merlot-dominated, with some other Bordeaux varieties sprinkled in. Collectively, the five appellations produce about 5.3 million cases of wine, which is about 10% of Bordeaux’s total production.

I’ve written about these wines a few times before, and found a lot of good quality and value. So, knowing the hype about the 2015 vintage in Bordeaux, I figured a few Côtes de Bordeaux wines from this vintage would have a lot to offer. I was able to gather up 10 sample bottles, nine from 2015, with one 2014 ringer, and I blind-tasted them. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Grenache & Syrah from Spain & France

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-19-2019

I’m a big fan of Grenache, both as a varietal wine and of course it has a classic place in blends with Syrah and other Rhone grapes. This week, I have a handful of diverse Grenache wines from Spain, and a Grenache Gris from the Roussillon region of France really wowed me.

I also tasted a few Syrah-focused wines from the Southern Rhone appellation of Costières-de-Nîmes, whose wines I’ve really enjoyed in the past. The value can be excellent, too.

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

Wine Reviews: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-12-2019

For the past five to ten years, I’ve read countless articles on the rise of Prosecco. It’s a less expensive alternative to Champagne, it’s gaining in popularity with millenial drinkers, sales keep growing, etc. And, today, Prosecco is indeed the world’s best-selling sparkling wine by volume — while Champagne brings in a whole lot more revenue.

Here in the States, I’ve seen a lot of Proseccos geared toward a younger American market arrive in my samples pile, and at my local grocery and wine shops. Especially around the holidays in the DC market, Prosecco was everywhere.

I’ll admit my personal bias up front: if someone gave me $100 to spend on Champagne or $200 to spend on Prosecco, I would not hesitate to snag that single Benjamin. And while Champagne-method sparkling wines are far more intriguing to me, sparkling wine isn’t a zero-sum game. And there are some good Proseccos out there.


Conegliano Valdobbiadene vineyards (Source:

A good place to start would be wines from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore appellation. This appellation earned its DOCG status in 2009. These grapes are sourced from the rolling hills of 15 different municipalities around the centers of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The soils here are composed of clay, loam, sandstone and other elements, and the wines show more depth and complexity than your typical Prosecco. Some Conegliano Valdobbiadene wines carry the special designation “Rive,” which indicates wine grown from specific hilly municipalities, from a specific vintage, manual harvesting required, etc.

If you want to find the cream of the crop, check out wines from the DOCG Superiore di Cartizze. Within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene appellation, these wines are sourced exclusivley from about 100 hectares on the steep hill of Cartizze, and I’ve found these wines show interesting minerality and a lot of depth.

I recently tasted through six Proseccos from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, and gained some more appreciation for these wines, many of which show serious value. I received these bottles as trade samples and tasted them single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-29-2018

As the year wraps up and 2019 begins, I have one last round-up of new releases from California.

This week includes another batch from Lake County stalwart producer Jed Steele. I’ve said it before (a bunch of times), and I’ll say it again: some of these wines are so damned good for the money.

I also tasted two vintages of Calla Lily’s Audax Napa Cabernet. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard, first planted in 1995, on the eastern side of Howell Mountain. The vineyard is planted to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Petite Sirah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They’re big and bold, but I found them vibrant and quite balanced as well.

In this report, I cover the newest vintages of Chalk Hill’s Chardonnay, Louis Martini’s Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet, and some new (to me) red wines from Joseph Stephens, a winery in the Santa Clara Valley owned by the Silicon Valley Wine Company.

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

Wine Reviews: Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-23-2018

This week, I’m digging into some wines from Michigan. The state has lots of vineyards, most of which are planted to juice grapes like Concord and Niagara. But, wine grape acreage has been increasing and now tops 3,000 acres, putting it in the top 10 states. Some 50 different wine grape varieties are grown here, with Riesling the main one, followed by Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Most of Michigan’s grapes are grown close to Lake Michigan, like these ones from the Old Mission Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The lake affects the winegrowing by extending the growing season, and it moderates the climate in the coldest months, which can protect against frost. The Old Mission Peninsula juts out from Traverse City, and its rolling hills are surrounded on both sides by the East and West Traverse Bays of Lake Michigan.

The nine wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula account for nearly 30% of the state’s wine grapes (and each winery is represented in this report).

Xx1GUlVfTJuW5zxMVpywFQI’ve tasted a decent amount of Michigan wines in the past, but this lot was the most impressive I’ve come across yet. The white wines have a brisk, vibrant, aspect to them. Just smelling a few of these wines made me salivate. I’m glad this lot focused less on reds. I love Loire Valley reds even in wet vintages, for example, but I’ve felt some Michigan reds can struggle with body and depth.

That said, I am stoked about the Michigan Gamay in this report. I kept revisiting it because it fascinated me, as a Beaujolais devotee and fan of Gamay from other regions. I was also excited to learn that, according to Michigan Wines, Gamay Noir acreage jumped from almost nothing in 2014, to 29 acres in 2016. I can only hope to find more Michigan Gamay of this quality.

You may be skeptical (and for good reason), and surely there are some uninspired wines from Michigan. But there are some seriously good wines out here. I would drink the Bowers Chardonnay in this report over pretty much any California Chardonnay at a $16 price point, for example. And, seriously, the Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling may be my favorite Riesling in America for its price. And even though this is a small sample size, I’m excited to follow how the rest of American opens up to Michigan’s wine culture.

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

Wine Reviews: Year-End Round-Up

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-22-2018

Happy holidays, wine-lovers! I sure hope your holidays are filled with friends, family, fun, and plenty of good wine. As the year wraps up, I have a bunch of wines that didn’t fit neatly into a particular category, so I wanted to include them in my final grab bag report of 2018. And this one has some goodies.

Starting with Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet: Their vineyards, in the Andes foothills appellation of Tupungato, sit in gravelly, sandy soils at about 4,000 feet in elevation. The wines have lots of juicy fruit but the freshness is really attractive, and the balance and depth for their prices is quite impressive.

Ferraton Père & Fils deliver yet again with a pair of sub-$20 Rhone blends, a white and a red, which offer up a lot of class and style in this price point. At $30, M. Chapoutier’s new vintage of the Occultum Lapidem red blend is insanely good, deep, and cellar-worthy.

Italy’s Abruzzi region has a few value-friendly wines in this report, as well as an Amarone that would pair perfectly with a snowstorm and a campfire. Portugal’s Douro provides a few tasty red blends in this report, while I’ve included three American reds from Inconceivable. Lastly, Troon, from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, comes through again with an excellent pair of Tannat-based reds. They excel with all sorts of grapes and wines, and I loved these reds for their uniquely fresh, crunchy, lip-smacking appeal.

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