Wine Reviews: Fun Finds from California and Arizona

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-15-2022

This week, I have a selection of American wines I find exciting.

For many years, I’ve been touting Arizona wines, and I’m here to do it again. I love a lot of Arizona producers, their DIY winemaking culture, the interesting mix of varieties and styles. One of my favorite activities in life is to go climbing and hiking in some Arizona mountains and come home to a delicious local red blend with a grilled steak. Aridus is a great entry into Arizona wines, as this Willcox-based producer has a lot of different bottles available in a bunch of markets.

I’m also a huge fan of amphora wines (grapes fermented on their skins in clay vessels). It’s been done all around the world in ancient winemaking cultures, from Georgia, Italy and Portugal. I spent a lot of time digging into the amphora winemaking culture in Alentejo a few years ago, and I’ve been keenly watching for New World producers who step up and make wines in this method and style. Behold! Beckmen Vineyards delivers with their “1Ingredient” wines. From Ballard Canyon, these wines are pure expressions of their grapes and place, but also of their fermentation method – as the wines offer this beautiful mouthfeel and elegant complexity. Check this out if any of this sounds interesting.

Booker is a Paso Robles producer I’ve known and respected for a while. Their wines are so exciting and delicious, and offer a ton of value, too. Paso is such a dynamic scene, and I always enjoy keeping up with what they’re doing out there – and Booker is a staple and legend for a reason.

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

Wine Reviews: Spring Selections from California

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-07-2022

Happy Saturday to you all, and happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. It’s a mid-Spring weekend here on the east coast, with plenty of rain. But I’m excited to get out in the woods in a few days to explore some more wildflowers and mushrooms. To pair with any morels I may find (which likely won’t amount to much), I’ve got a bunch of new California wines.

Some of these are from producers I’ve known and enjoyed for a while, like the reliably exciting Chardonnays and Pinots from Sonoma’s Gary Farrell, and the value-driven and delicious wines from The Paring. But some of these are new to me, like Titus from Napa. Ancient Peaks delivers some vibrant Paso Robles wines into the mix as well. And I was excited to taste a wine grape/apple blend that I received. Kivel Stadt cellars’ Gravignon Blanc is a 50/50 co-ferment of Sauv Blanc and Gravenstein apples, and it is just delightful. Winemaker Sam Baron created this lower-alcohol, bright and zesty concoction from Alexander Valley fruit that brings a ton of Spring-y goodness – definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for something new.

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

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-23-2022

I’ve recently returned from a wonderful trip to Portugal and am back to focusing on some goodies from California.

Napa Cabernet is classic for a reason, and I’ve got some solid ones this week.

Since opening in 2014, Hamel has been putting out some really exciting wines from Sonoma Valley and Moon Mountain District. This was my first time trying their Nuns Canyon Cab and, just, wow. Calla Lily comes out swinging with two delightful Cabs worthy of consideration and cellar space, followed up by Cliff Lede’s latest Stag’s Leap Cab offering.

This was my first time tasting wines from Napa’s Lobo Wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offered a lot more brightness and finesse than I was expecting, and the reds offer a lot of earthy, spicy vibes to enjoy. They planted their first Chardonnay vines in Oak Knoll about 20 years ago, and then found their 42-acre Atlas Peak property in 2007.While not inexpensive, these wines really deliver for the price.

Ram’s Gate makes another appearance here with two exciting wines. Their Chards and Pinots are delicious across the board, but this new Hyde Chardonnay is really something. And Paso’s Tooth and Nail keep on trucking with some burly but well-made red blends.

These wines were received as trade samples. For this report, I tasted the Cabernets below single-blind, and the rest of the wines sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Malbec & More from Argentina

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-17-2022

Welcome back. I hope your Spring is going well so far. Seems like there’s a “day” for everything these days: Donut Day; National Sibling Day; National Ditch Work and Go Fishing Day. OK, one of those might not be a “thing.”

But today, April 17, is “World Malbec Day,” set to commemorate the first agricultural school in Argentina, which opened in 1853.

For a long time now, Malbec and Argentina have become synonymous in the minds of many wine consumers – you all know this. The sprawling vineyards of Mendoza and other regions are home to so much Malbec, Malbec-based blends, not to mention other Bordeaux varieties.

And another great thing? You can probably find all of these babies for less than $25. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-27-2022

I love finding wines that express their region and style well, but do it in a way (and with a price tag) that makes them open to a wider audience. Like those gateway bands or experiences that sends a wide-eyed explorer looking for more.

This week, I have an array of wines from Europe that could play this role well. For as great (and inaccessible) as the best Bordeaux wines can be, I’m frequently impressed the quality and age-worthiness of reds from lesser-known appellations and producers. From Italy, Tuscan powerhouse Banfi delivers two entry-level wines and a Super Tuscan that, while not cheap, offers a peek into this style, where one can always spend plenty more.

German rose is a category worthy of further exploration, and there are some fun reds from Portugal’s Douro region in here, too. I also wanted to highlight two women winemakers behind some exciting white wines from Spain. Ruth Fernandez from Dominio de Punctum brings a zesty, crunchy Pet-Nat that stays clean and fresh, while Alexia Luca de Tena’s Rias Baixas is a widely-available and classic interpretation of this region.

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

Wine Reviews: Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-20-2022

Spring has sprung, and I hope you all have some delicious wines and food in your future with friends and family. This week, I’m focusing on a handful of wines from Italy. From Piedmont in the north to Campania in the south, there are some serious values here.

Barbera d’Asti has been a reliable fount of delicious, inexpensive fun for me over the years. I love this grape, and the depth of expression that it is capable of in this DOCG is unique. These wines have a well-known reputation for being fresh and fun, with low tannin, juicy fruit, and an accessible appeal, with value-driven prices. And that is certainly true, but I’m also continually impressed with the depth and personality to be found in these wines. I recently received a mix of Barbera wines that reminded me why I still love them — some producers I know, and some I don’t.

I also have two classic wines from Campania from a new-to-me producer. Petilia, a brother/sister-run estate in Irpina, tends about 20 hectares of classic regional grapes. I love Fiano’s richness and how the volcanic soils in this wine and region impart that deep, vibrant essence. Their Aglianico is just what you’d hope for, deep, spicy, complex, and great with grilled foods and warm weather.

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 03-05-2022

Chablis has long been one of my favorite wines. As a lover of all things oceanic, I feel for these wines when I discovered them as a young 20-something. The best ones reminded me of oyster shells, lemon slices, and getting rolled around beneath the waves. I was hooked.

All these years later, I still keep up with them, checking in on the vintage, preparing wines for summer seafood and gatherings with other Chablis-loving friends. And after a good day of surfing, in my book there is nothing better than a crisp, nervy Chablis.

So I was happy to receive a few Chablis releases for this report, thee “entry-level” Chablis wines that overdeliver, and a 1er Cru. I’d be stoked to have any of these on my table this spring with some seafood and good company.

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

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-26-2022

This week, I’m looking at some new California wines that offer a broad spectrum of price points and styles.

I’ve really been impressed with a lot of the 2019s I’ve been tasting from Napa and Sonoma, and I think the two Shafer wines in this report really show the excellence of this vintage. The wines show such depth and aging potential, but a ton of freshness, too – it’s that liveliness that makes me want to buy and hold 2019s.

Sonoma-Cutrer offers up a bright 2021 rosé, and Napa’s Frank Family delivers another solid vintage of their Carneros Chardonnay.

There are some Cabs from Josh Cellars in the mix as well, which provide reliable value wines to consumers all over. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Oregon’s Applegate Valley

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-13-2022

Source: Troon Vineyard

The Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon seems like a wonderful place. A traditional orchard fruit growing zone with a long winemaking history, this area received its American Viticultural Area designation (AVA) in 2000, and it is a sub-appellation within the Rogue Valley. Today there are some 700 acres under vine, and the area’s climate provides warn sunny days and cold nights. The Kubli Bench zone offers diverse, well-drained soils. And the winemakers that call this place home seem set on creating unique, pure wines.

I’ve been tasting (and really enjoying) wines from Troon Vineyard since 2017, and their wines continue to impress. This producer is always trying new things, new blends, new styles, and evolving with the times while staying true to their biodynamic farming and winemaking style. The amphorae-aged offerings in this report show how they continue to seek out exciting wines for a new generation of consumers.

Schmidt Family Vineyards is a neighbor of Troon’s, and this is my first foray into their wines. Owned by Cal and Judy Schmidt, this Kubli Bench winery planted its first estate vines in 2001, and their first vintage was 2004. They’ve since grown to about 5,500 cases per year, and boast a nice mix of varietals. I was excited to review a diverse lineup of their wines, and found a lot of personality and value from this producer.

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

Wine Reviews: Virginia White Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-05-2022

Virginia is on my mind this weekend. I’m off for yet another solo winter hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I recently tasted through some beautiful Virginia wines.

Long-time readers have heard me rave about Virginia wines for many years, and it’s been interesting to see how the perception of Virginia wine has improved, in other wine media and the public at large. The landscape has shifted so much, and there’s way more out there than some zippy Cab Francs and rich Viogniers.

The Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards each year have been an exciting way to promote the state’s wines, and next month we’ll know the 12 winners of 2022. I think we could likely see some of the producers featured in this report on that list. I love some Bordeaux blends, Cab Francs, and have a soft spot for VA Petit Verdot, but this report is all white wines (and a sparkler). The diversity of styles and flavors in just this small gathering of wines really speaks to Virginia’s strengths.

And, hey, if you’re looking to explore wines from the commonwealth, Valentine’s Day coming up. Virginia is for (wine)lovers. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »