Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-11-2023

Thanks to everyone who has been reading my rantings, ravings, and ratings over these years. It has been an awesome ride. I’m here this weekend with another roundup of selections from across the globe, with some wines focused around diversity and value.

I can’t believe it’s been nine years since I spent three weeks in South Africa. Those experiences come back to me in memories all the time, from the wildlife and landscapes, big scary waves, and delightful wines tasted and wineries visited. I’ve kept up with the scene from afar since, and I’ve enjoyed watching a new generation of winemakers making a name for themselves and producing expressive, interesting wines. I think there’s an audience for well-made, diverse South African wines in the U.S. – I count myself among them – so I’m always happy to see what’s going on. This week, I have an update on three different skin contact wines that really deliver.

There are some bold, juicy, grill-friendly but complex reds from Spain in this report as well, all three of which offer solid value. From Tuscany, I have a $15 duo from Carpineto that would be a great summer sipper or a nice choice for a by-the-glass list.

And if you’re looking for value in Bordeaux (not an easy task), the Cru Bourgeois wines fit the bill. These tend to be Merlot-heavy wines and offer a more accessible, but still serious and in-depth take on this classic region. The wines don’t cost a lot and there’s a lot of opportunity to venture out and find different options.

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 08-06-2023

Two from Meyye Wines

This week I’m back with more California new releases, including some well-known names and new-to-me producers.

Justin’s Paso Robles-based wines are widely available and they have a diverse lineup. I have three of their staples this week that would be great for this late summer, vacation-y time. A Far Niente Cab brings a lot of Napa goodness at a reasonable price, and I also have one of the best bargain California Pinots I’ve found to date in The Pinot Project’s offering.

This is my first dive into Meyye Wines, and I’m already a huge fan. Immediately, I knew something was different with this producer. As a wildlife photographer and bird nerd, the intricate labels embossed with local birds drew me in, and the wines include the names of the birds in the Coast Miwok language. And the wine inside the bottle is just as excellent as I was hoping. Winemaker Rob Campbell — a member of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (Coastal Miwok/Southern Pomo) — launched this project after working with Story Winery in Amador County until 2019, realizing his long-time dream to found a winery honoring his heritage.

“I’m intentionally using the Coast Miwok language since the language was considered ‘officially dead’ in the past, but my people are making a concerted effort to restore it,” Campbell says. “In addition to being ultra-premium wines that taste great, it’s my small way of preserving our language by sharing with native and non-native people alike.” These small production wines are available from the winery’s site, and soon some restaurants, and certainly worth checking out.

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

Wine Reviews: California Wines to Beat the Heat

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-29-2023

Apparently, August 4 is National White Wine Day. And considering the seemingly endless heat across most of the country, the timing sure seems right.

It’s 96 and humid where I am in the Mid-Atlantic, and I know it is a lot worse in other regions. I honestly can’t even think about red wine at the moment, so let’s dive into some delicious California white wines.

From a shockingly good $15 Chard to Chalk Hill and Carneros, this is a Chardonnay heavy sampling, but there’s a lot of diversity in here. Chalk Hill delivers three intriguing offerings, and I have a few from well-known names like Sonoma-Cutrer and Ferrari-Carano. If you haven’t heard of Lange Twins   or Bouchaine, these two producers make some well-balanced Chardonnays at reasonable price points. Bouchaine’s winemaker Chris Kajani makes more than a dozen Chards, and his skills show.

To top things off, I have two unique white wines from Napa’s Mira Winery. I’ve long been a fan of their reds – the Malbec and Cabernet Franc are exquisite – but these two wines are new to me: a skin-fermented Cabernet Franc (OK, so it’s not technically a “white wine”) and a Sauvignon Gris that’s perfect for high-end summer sipping.

These wines were received as samples. The Chardonnays were tasted single-blind, while the Mira wines were tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Italian Values

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-23-2023

Credit: Consorzio Tutela Vini Montecucco

I’m continuing the Italian theme from last week’s rosato collection, and focusing on some value-driven Italian goodies.

Varvaglione has three different takes on the Primitivo grape, each one expressing a unique style and approach, with that overall Puglia Primitivo signature. Each tier of these Primitivo wines has a lot to offer for the price point.

I’ve spoken about the Tuscan region of Montecucco before, and will do so again, because the wines have a ton of personality, depth, and value. These Sangiovese-based wines, sourced from a high percentage of organic vineyards on the slopes of Mount Amiata, deliver their own unique regional take on the grape. The wines tend to fall in the $20-$35 sweet spot and provide plenty of value.

I also have some $15 goodies from Tuscany’s Carpineto and Abruzzi’s Masciarelli.

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

Wine Reviews: Italian Rosato

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-15-2023

It is really hot in a lot of areas of the country right now, and I hope you all are staying cool. I don’t handle heat and humidity well, and these days I’m far more likely to reach for sparkling water than a glass of red wine. But this weekend, it’ll be pink wine time. I recently tasted through some Italian rosatos that are perfect for this time of year.

Italian rosato is a huge and diverse category of wines, as each region has its own indigenous grapes, climate, winemaking culture, and history. This week’s selections represent a drop in the bucket in terms of what’s out there, but the deliciousness and complexity is great across the board. Most of these wines are imported by Dalla Terra, and the quality-to-price ratio is crazy high. If you’re having a party, enjoy Italian food, or just want to have a nice tasting with friends, picking up a few of these is a great way to parse through the nuances of each grape. It’s a lot of fun to compare and contrast the mouthfeel, flavor, and overall vibe of these wines.

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

Wine Reviews: European Roundup

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-09-2023

This week I have a round-up of new releases from France, Spain, and Italy.

My first international wine trip was a deep dive into the Languedoc region of Southern France ten years ago. I was blown away by the history, the different terroirs and wines, the rock outcroppings, and gnarly old vines. Today, I’m revisiting Southern France with four diverse wines, classic styles, and varied regions. The quality and value in these wines has always been attractive to me, and that trend continues here.

I also have some really interesting Tuscan red blends for the Super Tuscan lovers out there. Podere Sapaio and Tenuta Luce deliver some cellar worthy gems.

In summer, Albarino has been a favorite of mine for a long time. And it is expressed most clearly in Spain’s Rias Baixas region. But there are also a ton of styles and nuances in the different subregions and producers. This week, I have a few that would hit the spot this summer.

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

Wine Reviews: Wine Across America

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-01-2023

I can’t believe it’s July. This summer is speeding past, but I’m making plans to take advantage of the weather and time with friends and family. I wish you all a great summer break, wherever and whenever you find it. And as the Fourth of July approaches, it’s a good time to highlight some diverse wines from all across America.

Long-time readers know I’m a big Virginia wine fan, and recently wrote about the Governor’s Cup winners. I’m back with a producer I’ve talked about before, and will do again, because they’re great: Stinson Vineyards. They make some Virginia gems and are not afraid to experiment, from Tannat rosé to skin-ferment Rkatsiteli, I find anything with their label worth buying.

From sea to shining sea on the West Coast, I have some delightfully zippy and coastal Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Fort Ross Seaview Winery that brings serious value to the table. And Fiddlehead Cellars has two seriously complex summer-friendly wines from the Central Coast.

Napa’s Newton comes out swinging with some heavy hitters. Their unfiltered Chardonnay is a regional classic. And the single vineyard Cabernets do an incredible job of showcasing the diversity of Napa regions through their different properties. Taken together, these wines represent a celebration of Napa Cabernet and the varied, exquisite sites where it thrives. The 2019 and 2018 vintages are both singing, and these elegant Cabs would make great gifts or cellar stockers.

From the sun-roasted, high elevation Sonoran Desert comes Aridus, an Arizona-based winery that puts out solid Southwest wines at very reasonable prices. I’m a huge fan of Arizona wines, and this producer offers a nice intro into the state’s industry.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

California Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-24-2023

Credit: Domaine Bousquet

If a new generation of wine-lovers needs an introduction to the quality and deliciousness of wines from Argentina, I think Domaine Bousquet is a great place to start. Being the largest organic and biodynamic exporter in Argentina, this producer has a broad lineup of well-made, value-driven, serious wines. I’ve followed this producer since 2014, and recently took a deeper dive into their lineup. There’s a lot to like here, from regional classics to new players in the rotation.

With some 670 acres of vines, they have classic Mendoza sites and varieties that speak clearly of their place and type, and some vineyards in the Uco Valley whose big diurnal temperature swings allow cooler-loving varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot to thrive.

This Spring, I attended a virtual tasting and discussion with CEO and co-founder Anne Bousquet and Rodrigo Serrano, who took the helm as winemaker in 2018. He’s in his mid-thirties, a Mendoza native, who races go-karts, and is a talented winemaker. He seems as stoked as can be on this project, and that shows in the wines.  

I was excited to try their carbonic maceration Malbec, which are made in small quantities and available in a few select markets. “Combine Malbec with carbonic maceration and the result is highly appealing,” Anne said. The Bousquet team said this wine has been received well so far, and I can see why – super juicy, bright, still clearly Argentina but with that juicy, Bojo-esque goodness.

Bousquet makes both a Charmat and traditional method sparkling wines, because they know their market. “People are loving the sparkling in the United States,” Rodrigo said. They also saw the market growing for lower calorie wines, and though he was skeptical at first, he began researching and testing these wines in 2020 by removing some alcohol post fermentation. The end result, regardless of what you think of this trend, is a wine that has a good amount of flavor and personality, without much alcohol.

There are still values to be found out there, all around the world. For me, Domaine Bousquet is up there with the best dollar-for-dollar producers from anywhere, and their availability, and the diversity in the lineup makes them a solid choice.

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

Wine Review: Virginia Specialties

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-10-2023

Sunrise over Shenandoah National Park

Sunrise over Shenandoah National Park

Virginia is for lovers, they say. And I’m a total Virginia lover. Growing up as a kid on the Jersey Shore, with family connections in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia was always a wild, exciting place to visit. We’d climb mountains, scramble on rocks, jump off waterfalls, catch bass, fend off ticks and ground wasps.

Later in life, when I fell in love with wine and moved to the DC region, I instinctively went to Virginia looking for wines and adventure. I’ve enjoyed following the region’s growth and evolution over these past 15 years. And I’ve been lucky enough to explore Virginia through long drives, hikes, climbs, camping trips, and other adventures.

When it comes to wineries, it should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that Virginia is home to some world-class producers. The scene is dynamic, with new winemakers or shifting teams making waves, while to the older wineries who helped establish this wine region are sticking around and continuing their legacy.

I recently tasted through the big winners at the Virginia Governor’s Cup, something I’ve been doing for a decade now. This prestigious competition has been judged people I respect, including some friends of mine, and I always find the top 12 provide a good overview of what’s currently up in the Virginia wine scene. This year (with more than 600 wines submitted) was no different, as the selections are really nice.

But there’s also a glaring trend worth pointing out – Petit Verdot taking charge. I’ve been stoked on Virginia Petit Verdot for many years. More and more, Virginia winemakers are making varietal wines from this traditional blending grape. And I’m a fan of this trend. The best Virginia Petit Verdots have this racy acidity that helps balance the grippy tannins. I do love how a grape like Merlot and Malbec can soften and add some padding to Petit Verdot’s sharp edges, but when done right, this grape shines on its own. Like the rare background band member that can, at the right place and time, break out into an awesome solo career.

Petit Manseng is another grape I love in Virginia, and have written about for many years. This grape does so well in the Commonwealth, and can be made in such a diversity of styles. We also have some a delicious Italian white variety that has found a home in which to thrive here in Virginia. And Virginia Meritage? Seriously worth checking out.

If you haven’t yet explored Virginia wines, the ones in this report will give you some good guideposts. But it’s beautiful country out there, and the best way to dig in is to visit. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Father’s Day Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-03-2023

If you’re a wine-loving dad, you know your palate best. Or if you’re buying a gift for a wine-loving dad, you know what they enjoy. But in advance of Father’s Day, I’ve selected a wide range of wines that I think dads can nerd out about and pair with whatever you’re up to.

I’m a huge fan of Austrian Rieslings and Gruners, and I really enjoyed geeking out over a quartet of wines from Domane Wachau. They’re all iconic single-vineyard wines from 2021, made by an historic producer that purely express their grape and terroir. And, especially given the quality, they’re priced incredibly well – what dad doesn’t like saving money? Picking up a mixed six-pack of single-vineyards could give you a great tasting lineup for a party with some summer seafood or grilled chicken and veg.

Also included are some delicious reds for grill-outs and gatherings, and I highlight some serious values. From a fascinating producer in New Mexico, Vara, who blends Spanish and California grapes, to delightful values from Chile and Argentina, there should be something in here you’ll enjoy.

Lastly, I want to highlight some Sonoma Pinots (and a Chard) because, well, they’re just great. I visited Sonoma in April with my brother and his family, and we dads had a great time cooking with local ingredients and tasting local wines. And when I’m cooking (which is usually the case in my house), and I’m opening Sonoma Pinot – everyone is happy.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted, except for the Wachau white wines, which were tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »