Wine Reviews: Black Kite Cellars

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-12-2021

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir likely needs no introduction here. This Mendocino appellation is packed with well-known vineyards and producers, making quite a wide array of styles.

Among them, Black Kite Cellars has an impressive portfolio. Kicked off in 2003, Black Kite Cellars is the product of Rebecca and Tom Birdsall, and co-founded by Rebecca’s parents, Donald and Maureen Green. They bought the site that would become Kite’s Rest in 1995, and it was replanted to Pinot Noir in 1999. Divided into several blocks, the 40-acre parcel rises up from the Navarro River (River Turn), through gravelly loam (Stony Terrace), and up to the edge of the forest (Redwood’s Edge). The wines are made by Jeff Gaffner, formerly of Arrowood, who also has his own label, Saxon Brown.

They produce five different Pinot Noirs from their estate Kite’s Rest vineyard (their “home” Pinots), in addition to some “away” Pinot Noirs from other sites. The Pinot Noirs offers a great look into the differences between these sites. And their Chardonnays, sourced from some epic Sonoma sites, are delightful. Two are featured today.

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

Wine Reviews: California Wines for Summer

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-06-2021

It’s not officially summer in the Northern Hemisphere yet, but it sure does feel like it. Personally, I don’t handle any sort of heat and humidity well, unless I’m a stone’s throw from a beach or pool. So now that it’s regularly hitting 90+ degrees in DC, I won’t be popping too many red wines.

This Spring, I’ve received a lot of California wines that would do well to beat the heat, and I’ve compiled some white and pink wines that deliver. Smith-Madrone’s Spring Mountain Riesling does it again; it is consistently one of the most exciting California Rieslings I’ve come across. FEL represents Anderson Valley well with their three offerings, while Sonoma’s Notre Vue is a that’s putting out some exciting stuff.

Some eye-opening Sauvignon Blancs, a delicious Grenache Blanc and a few others round out this solid mix. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Francs

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-29-2021

I’m a big fan of Cabernet Franc. My palate tends toward those earthy, olive-laden, spicy and brisk iterations out of the Loire Valley, especially a well-aged one with some dusty tannins. But, living in Washington, DC, I’ve also spent many years browsing Cabernet Francs from Virginia and Maryland, too. There’s a of mediocrity out there, and some weird stuff for sure, but I’ve also found really delicious ones, which I will stand up for if I hear Mid-Atlantic wines disparaged.

California Cabernet Francs for me have been pretty hit-or-miss over the years. I have a handful of favorites, but I’m always looking for someone from somewhere to craft a wine that awakens that Cabernet Franc excitement in me. Well, I’m here to report a “hit” today: Ashes & Diamonds’ Cabernet Franc.

I recently tasted three vintages of this Napa producer’s Cabernet Franc, and have to say, they are fantastic. We’re talking structured tannins, vibrant acidity, moderate alcohol (around 13%), tangy fruit, and a bunch of earthy, savory, spicy tones to unpack. The wines have old-school Napa vibes, the kind of wines that leave freshness on the finish and beg for a big spread of food and a group of friends.

This project was founded by California native Kashy Khaledi, a media and advertising executive, in 2013. At the winemaking helm is renowned winemaker Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses, enologist at Domaine Dujac and winemaker at Snowden Vineyards. The several vineyard sources seem like truly special sites, from the gravelly, clay and loam soils of the Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard in Oak Knoll to the thin, rocky soils of the Mountain Peak Vineyard in the Atlas Peak appellation.

Using fruit from Carneros, Oak Knoll and Yountville districts, winemaker Steve Matthiasson has made something really special with these three wines. They will reward the patient in the cellar, and would be a delightful addition to any wine dinner with your Loire nerd friends.

I received these were as trade samples and tasted them single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-22-2021

It’s been a very long time since I’ve traveled internationally, and with no plans for the future, I’m assuaging my travel lust this week with a mix of wines from all over the world.

I have some solid French wines in this report, including a diverse group of wines from the Languedoc region, some summer-friendly pink wines, and a delightful Chateauneuf. There are a few interesting wines from Germany (including a stellar Riesling), and some value from Portugal as well. Some crushable yet complex New Zealand reds make quite an impression, too.

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

Wine Reviews: Troon Vineyard

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-08-2021

I’ve had the pleasure of following Oregon’s Troon Vineyard since 2017, when I first tasted their wines. Since then, the hits just keep coming.

Troon is a biodynamic producer from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, an area in the south of the state that boast diverse geology, warm days, cool nights, and some exciting wineries. Troon, in my opinion, of course, has been consistently slinging out focused, unique wines from a large mix of grape varieties. Over the years, they’ve experimented with different styles, blends, adding things like Pet-Nat and Piquette to the mix, but also focusing on deep, juicy reds made from grapes like Tannat.

I recently tasted four of their releases from 2020, and I’m excited to share them. These wines sport new labels this year, tastefully designed and incorporating images of their biodynamic preparations. (I only point this out because, well, like record album artwork, I think labels matter — and this aesthetic is really working.)

Their Kubli Bench line is composed of really interesting blends, two of which are featured in this week’s report. There’s a delicious Vermentino (definitely a specialty of the winery) and a new, Beaujolais-inspired Grenache that is perfect for warmer weather.

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 05-02-2021

I’m back this week with a wide-ranging mix of Italian wines. Aside from a few Piedmont wines, most of the wines in this week’s report hail from Tuscany. All these Tuscan samples show the diversity in styles, prices and wines from this heralded region. From bargain-priced bottles for pizza and patios, to a high-end Merlot that could be a great Right Bank ringer in a blind tasting, there’s hopefully something for everyone in here.

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

Wine Review: Raptor Ridge

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-17-2021

Raptor Ridge Winery has been building up a reputation for classic Oregon wines for more than a quarter century now. Founder and winegrower Scott Shull has been vinifying Oregon grapes since 1989, and in 1995, he founded Raptor Ridge as a garage winery. His wife Annie Shull is the winery’s chief operations officer, and together, this power couple went on to prepare their own vineyard in 2000, and open their own tasting room in 2010.

I’ve tasted a few of their wines over the years, and remember being impressed with their liveliness, depth and value. And, as a bird nerd and big-time raptor dork, I’ll confess, I was always attracted to how they incorporate local raptors (like Cooper’s Hawks and Peregrine Falcons) into their whole aesthetic. And I also respect their up-front stance on some of the States’ social woes, and their commitment to do what they can to diversify the wine industry.

But it’s all about the juice, and Raptor Ridge delivers. They source grapes from their estate Tuscowallame Vineyard, located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. The Shulls also obtain grapes from a range of different Willamette Valley vineyards, up to about a dozen, depending on the vintage. If you’re looking to try a few different wines without spending a ton of money, Raptor Ridge offers some pretty cool “$99 AVA Series” three-packs on their website.

I recently received a few Raptor Ridge wines to review, which represent a good cross-section of their portfolio. 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 04-03-2021

Spring has sprung here on the East Coast, with blossoms a’ bloomin’ and new California releases arriving. This week I have a large and diverse group of wines from across the Golden State.

Napa and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc offers a lot of spring and summer enjoyment, and there are some exciting options from Grieve and Chalk Hill. Chardonnays from Newton, Sonoma-Cutrer, Fort Ross and Frank Family deliver diversity.

On the red side of things, there are some rocking Napa Cabernets in this report from Shafer and Sullivan. And a lot of Pinot Noirs appear, with a bit of something for everyone.

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

Wine Reviews: Ravines Wine Cellars

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-20-2021

This week I’m focusing on three wines from New York’s Finger Lakes that really impressed me.

Started in 2001, Ravines Wine Cellars is the product of Morten and Lisa Hallgren, whose palates were honed in the culinary and winemaking worlds long before they came to America. Morten, Danish by birth, grew up in Provence, where his parents owned Domaine de Castel Roubine. He went on to study oenology in Montpellier and worked at Bordeaux’s Cos d’Estournel.

He worked in wineries in Texas and North Carolina before taking a job at the renowned Dr. Konstantin Frank Cellars. It was here that he developed a passion for dry, bright Finger Lakes wine.

They now have 130 acres of estate vines. I love Finger Lakes wines, so I was excited to taste through these offerings. They were exciting and offer a lot of tremendous value, especially if you’re looking to stock up for Spring and Summer.

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

Wine Reviews: Prosecco

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-06-2021

I’ve written about Prosecco several times in the past, and I’m back again to highlight some wines that may make you rethink this region. There’s a maze of supermarket big brands and mass-produced wines, sure, but of you dig a bit deeper, there are some good ones to discover.

The best wines come from the hills in the Valdobbiadene appellation, as they tend to show much more mineral, chalky, flinty tones with more verve and brightness. And even as you move up tiers of quality, the price points tend to stay highly reasonable. Some folks may still look down on Prosecco as mass-produced brunch stuff, but there are some wines out there filled with character. When it comes to bubbles, I’m a Champagne guy through and through, but there are a few wines in this report that I would rather drink that some of the big house, widely-available Champagnes that run at least twice the price.

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