Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-28-2020

The coronavirus pandemic is causing havoc the world over. While tasting wines from Italy, Spain, the United States, I can’t help think of how all these places are being upended by this pandemic. I hope you all are staying safe, taking care of yourselves and each other, and also enjoying some good wine and food at home.

I’ve been trying to cook as much vegetables as I can during these past two weeks of lockdown, and I’ve found myself playing around with lots of Indian and Moroccan spices. Luckily, I had two Pinot Blancs from Alsace to sample that also work really well with the dishes I’ve been slinging. Alsace is where I first fell in love with wine, and it is vibrant, exciting, inexpensive wines like the two in this report that keep me coming back.

This report also includes two wines from Fournier, in Ribera del Duero, which was purchased by Gonzalez Byass in 2019.

And from the U.S. come several Oregon and Washington wines. I’ve been hurling praise at Applegate Valley’s Troon wines for years now. And while I tend to personally enjoy their whites more, these Tannat-based reds are crisp, crunchy and juicy in a way that’s more accessible than most Tannats that I’ve tasted.

Tamarack Cellars offers a whole lot of Washington red goodness for less than $30, and Owen Roe’s wines also make an appearance.

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

Wine Reviews: Alma Fria

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-21-2020

I first tasted Alma Fria’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in 2016, and I knew I had stumbled onto something special.

These West Sonoma Coast wines sport lower alcohol, but plenty of delicious fruit. I love their Chards for this sea spray, salinity that makes me salivate, and their Pinots for the elegant floral, spice and earth tones.

Founder Jan Holtermann comes from a background of wine importing with his family’s business in Costa Rica. But, in 2011, he and his wife Silvia moved their family to Healdsburg, California, to start Alma Fria. They purchased their own vineyard in 2012, the Holtermann Vineyard in Annapolis.

They found a winemaker in Carroll Kemp (also of Red Car), whose children went to the same Kindergarten class in Healdsburg. With vineyard manager Greg Adams (who has worked with other local producers like Lynmar, Patz & Hall) the team was underway. (Click here for a 2016 Terroirist interview with Jan Holtermann.)

 I recently received a batch of some Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the 2016 and 2017 vintages. Across the board, these wines are fantastic, especially if you’re looking for more sleek, crisp styles. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Lodi, California

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-14-2020

I’ve been a fan of wines from Lodi for a long time, and it’s been interesting to follow them for these past ten years or so.

Lodi wines are all about diversity, as the wines in this report show. With old vines, diverse soils, and tons of different grape varieties, winemakers have a lot to work with. There are small lot, old vine, bright and vibrant styles, and large production, jammy, fun styles, and everything in between, really. In addition to all the classic California staples, I enjoy wines made from Spanish, Italian, German and Austrian grapes, too.

And Lodi’s wine trade group has been working hard to promote these wines in the wine community for many years. I think a lot of it has paid off. With an engaged social media presence, a well-done blog, and fascinating projects like the Lodi Native Zinfandels that I first wrote about in 2014, I’m still excited about this region.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Elaine Chukan Brown as she and some other Lodi wine folks were touring the country. I had a great time hearing her passion for the wines of Lodi and the people who make them. I also received some Lodi samples recently, which I included in this report. The wines were all tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: St. Helena

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-07-2020

Sandwiched between Calistoga and Rutherford, the land that now falls in the St. Helena appellation has been at the center of Napa Valley winemaking history since the late 1800s.

In the St. Helena appellation, which dates back to 1995, there are some 6,800 acres of vines, the most of Napa’s AVAs, spread among some 400 different vineyards.

While my favorite Napa wines tend to come from some of the mountain appellations, I’ve loved many a St. Helena wine over the years. So, I was excited about the opportunity to taste several wines from different, respected St. Helena producers, many with long, storied histories.

The diversity of styles and price ranges can be significant. When buying Napa wines in particular, I always try to get a sense of the producer’s style or the vineyard, and which ones speak to me most, before putting down that hard-earned cash. While quality in the wines is high across the board, knowing your personal Napa wine preferences goes a long way.

I was excited to taste wines from producers I know and love like Corison, Ehlers, Pellet, as well as some others I wasn’t familiar with. 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 02-29-2020

This week, I’m headed back to California with a roundup of samples I’ve received recently.

Fort Ross Winery’s Sea Slopes brand of Pinot and Chardonnay offer up some serious quality for their respective price points. It’s not often I find such fresh, complex Pinots and Chards from California for $30-$35, but these ones deliver. Gary Farrell shows an exciting Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay, while Castello di Amorosa displays three diverse wines.

And Gamble and Cardinale give plenty of delicious, inviting Napa Cabernet goodness.

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

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-22-2020

This week, I have a mix of bubbly, fun wines from all around the globe.

This Champagne-less mix of sparkling wines includes some Crémant de Limoux from Faire La Fête, which have a refreshing 6 g/l dosage and a bright appeal. Although they lack doughy, biscuity depth, they’re balanced, lively and offer a lot of complexity for the price. Gloria Ferrer offers a solid vintage sparkler from California, and Cava makes an appearance as well.

For reds, I recent tasted some widely-available, yummy Malbecs from Argentina, and a big, bold Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as well.

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

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 »