Wine Reviews: Rhone Syrah

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-08-2020

Syrah (and specifically Syrah from France’s Northern Rhone Valley) deserves a lot of credit for igniting my love of wine. As a young wine nerd, I looked up to wines like Hermitage or Cote-Rotie, but I couldn’t afford them. So, I went looking for wines from appellations like Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph — juicy Syrah fruit, solid tannins, lively acidity, and hefty doses of meaty, pepper, earthy, savory goodness.

Over the years, I haven’t strayed far from my love of Northern Rhone Syrah. The New World Syrahs that I’ve fallen in love with (California, Washington, South Africa, for example) tend to be ones that I might considering sneaking into a blind-tasting of Northern Rhone wines as ringers. But nothing beats the real Rhone Syrah, so I was excited to taste through a few samples recently, most of which are from the 2017 vintage.

After the heralded 2016 vintage, 2017 had some tough elements. Frost and some hail threw off St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage a bit. A warm, dry summer led to smaller, more concentrated berries with thicker skins, and Syrah harvest started and ended quite early. While yields were lower, the quality of the fruit seems quite high.

I found these wines showed lots of juiciness, darker fruit, and the tannins, while providing structure, seem to have rounder edges. I’m an acid hound, but while this isn’t a zingy vintage, I found enough balance and freshness from the acidity in these wines. Overall, these Rhone wines make me crave a snowstorm, some grilled lamb, and lots of roasted root vegetables.

Three of these wines are all Syrah from the Northern Rhone, while the last is a Syrah-based blend from the Southern Rhone. 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 01-25-2020

I’m back this week with another round of new California releases, and this report has some goodies.

Spring Mountain’s Smith-Madrone has long made incredible, age-worthy, unique wines, and their new Riesling and Cabernet deliver oodles of goodness for not much money. Lake County’s Steele Wines makes more appearances here, which I welcome. Lake County doesn’t get a lot of love, but Jed Steele has been making wine there for many decades, and these wines continue to offer lots of quality and value.

Mi Sueño’s Syrah and Cab, and a few other wines, round out this report. These bottles were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Virginia Governor’s Cup

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-18-2020

I love Virginia wines, and not just because a lot of Virginia wine country is close to my home in Washington, DC. It’s been difficult to keep up, however, with Virginia wines, as more and more producers keep popping up, year after year.

For the past seven years or so, I’ve enjoyed sampling some of the Commonwealth’s best wines through the Governor’s Cup Case. For the 2019 Governor’s Cup competition, wineries submitted more than 500 entries. An esteemed group of wine experts blind-tasted their way through them all, narrowing the winners down to 12.

This year features some well-known producers, and some that I was not as familiar with. Stalwarts like Horton and Barboursville make an appearance, as does King Family, whose wines frequently feature in the winning dozen. And Early Mountain’s Eluvium blend wows again.

But winemaker Michael Shaps really ran away with this in the 2019 Governor’s Cup. He makes wine in Burgundy (under the Maison Shaps label), and some excellent Virginia wines under the Michael Shaps Wineworks moniker, three of which made it into this case. He also works as a consulting winemaker for more than a dozen Virginia wineries. Two of those wines also made it into this case.

These wines were received as part of an online tasting organized by my friend and Virginia wine whiz Frank Morgan. They were tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-11-2020

Since last month’s Italian tasting report, I’ve received some more Italian samples to dig into.

This week, I’m focusing on two producers. Enrico Serafino has been producing wine in the Roero subregion of Piedmont for some 140 years. In addition to the traditional white and red table wines of the region, Serafino also makes some Champagne-method sparkling wines. I found the three wines I tasted deliver a lot of classic Piedmont elements, and a lot of quality for their respective price points.

I also received some Tuscan wines from Badia a Coltibuono. This estate in the Chianti hills has been controlled by the same family for five generations, although the winery used to be an abbey that dates back to the 11th Century. All the wines are estate-grown and organic. Like other wines in this portfolio, Badia a Coltibuono delivers some solid Chianti value, and their entry-level wines are fresh, lively and pleasant.

These wines are all imported exclusively by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, which imports a variety of Italian wines direct from wineries. They were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-04-2020

Happy New Year, all!

I’m back to start off the new year with a bunch of California Pinot Noirs. In the fall, I started receiving a lot of California Pinots and Chardonnays. I don’t often get to do comparative blind tastings, so I was excited to collect them and taste through them. (The Chardonnay report can be found here.)

This is a nice mix of inexpensive, widely-available brands, with some single-vineyard, smaller production stuff.

J Vineyards’ Sonoma Pinots provide wines that deliver a great classic cherry and cola goodness that I’ve grown to love.

The Maggy Hawk wines are all really exciting, and stood out with their finesse and elegance. These wines are made by Pinot Noir veteran winemaker Tony Rynders, and all sourced from the same vineyard. Each of the four wines, however, is a blend of different blocks and clones. These are really interesting wines that I’d recommend seeking out if you like Anderson Valley Pinot.

The full report is below. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bodegas LAN

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-28-2019

LAN's Viña Lanciano estate. Credit: Bodegas LAN.

LAN’s Viña Lanciano estate. Credit: Bodegas LAN.

For me, Rioja has always carried with it this sense of noble history and tradition. I associate Rioja with old, dusty cellars, giant oak vats, bottles with Spanish noblemen on the labels.

But Bodegas LAN is a relative newbie in this time-honored region, and does things a bit differently. Formed in 1972 in Rioja Alta, the name of this estate is an acronym based on the Rioja provinces of Logroño, Alava and Navarra. They produce a wide range of wines, from inexpensive, early-drinking bottles, to deeper, concentrated wines that benefit from years of cellar aging.

LAN’s best wines come from the Viña Lanciano vineyard, a 180-acre property that sticks out like a thumb into a bend of the Ebro River. Divided into 22 parcels, Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano and Garnacha vines (some of which are 60 years old) dig into rocky, riverbed soils. Being surrounded by water helps shield these vines from temperature extremes during the year.

Another thing about LAN that makes it unique is their barrel regimen and cellar room. The cellar has about 20,000 casks stacked in different pyramids. Installed around 2000, LAN has an automatic stacking and racking system that keeps their barrels organized. Every six months, the barrels are racked, emptied and tasted, allowing the winemaking team to adjust the barrel regimen if needed.

LAN also uses a wide selection of oak types, sourced from France, America, Russia, Hungary and Spain. Hybrid casks (with American oak staves and French oak heads) are used for the LAN Crianza and Reserva.

In November, I had the opportunity to taste through a bunch of wines from Bodegas LAN with Winestudio, a wine education and marketing program. It was an interesting time, learning about these wines, and being reminded about how much quality and distinctiveness they can show, for relatively few dollars.

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

Wine Reviews: Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-21-2019

This week, I’m focusing on some white and red wines from Italy.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received a few wines from Veneto, Sicily and Piedmont. Sicilian whites really hit the spot for me pretty frequently, with their bright, tropical aesthetic. While some of the Veneto reds pair well with wintertime and rich, hearty dishes.

Most of these wines cost around $20, so there are some serious bargains in this report.

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

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-14-2019

It’s been a while since I’ve focused exclusively on California Chardonnay, so I’m excited to delve back in.

The breadth of different styles is what always keeps me coming back to Cali Chards. No matter how California Chardonnay is generalized as a category, there are so many wines that do their own thing, buck the trend.

I don’t curate the wines I receive, so while my personal favorites aren’t featured here, I think this is a solid group.

Ramey comes in with four different single-vineyard wines, each of which stood out. It’s interesting, as all four of these wines are treated the same in the cellar: native yeast fermentation, full maloactic fermentation in barrel, with battonage, aged about 20 months in 20% new French oak. They’re all 14.5% alcohol, too. They all rock a similar tune while showing nuanced harmonies of their vineyard site. Smith-Madrone comes through with a killer Spring Mountain Chard, again. And some less expensive wines like The Paring show that there’s still value to be found in Cali Chard.

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

Wine Reviews: Bubbles

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-07-2019

The holiday season is in full swing — the lights, the commercials and jingles, shopping, all that stuff. And, right on cue, I’ve been receiving a lot of bubbles for review.

Of course, good bubbles (especially Champagne) are good year-round, but popping the cork on a bottle of fizzy wine during the holidays, with family and friends, it really never gets old.

To help with the holiday sparkling wine shopping, I have a nice mix of sparkling wines this week. I recently tasted through some delightful Champagne, to some surprisingly good Proseccos, and some value-driven Cavas. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Italy, France, Portugal & Spain

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

To all the American readers, hopefully you’ve been enjoying Thanksgiving with family, friends, delicious food and wines over the holiday weekend!

After focusing a lot on California wines recently, I’ve tasted through a bunch of samples from Italy, Portugal and Spain, and found some good recommendations to share.

Fattoria La Valentina does a good job with inexpensive wines from the Abruzzi region, while two wines from Alto Adige bring that crisp, zesty, Alpine-style goodness.

From France, Ferraton doles out two solid offerings from the Rhone Valley.

Port house Symington Family Estates has ventured further south into Alentejo’s Portalegre region to source grapes for a new project called Quinta da Fonte Souto. I love this region, so I was stoked to taste the inaugural 2017 vintage of their red and white. They’re both good, but the white is really something else.

And from Spain, we have two value-driven Riojas from Bodegas Beronia, and a beefy Garnacha that would pair well with cold, snowy nights.

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