Wine Reviews: California Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-22-2022

I love California wine, and this week I have a handful of wines from producers that consistently deliver for me. It’s autumn, the nights have been cool and I’ve been cooking a lot at home. And it is prime time for deep Napa Cabs, refreshing Sonoma Pinot Noirs and creamy Chards. I’m planning on hosting a lot of friends and family over the coming holidays, and I chose some wines I would love to serve at such occasions. There are complex and age-worthy Cabs from some great producers: Smith-Madrone, Sullivan Rutherford Estate, Frank Family. And Gary Farrell and Ram’s Gate deliver Sonoma goodness in droves.

If you’re stocking up for the coming holiday season, here are some of my favorites from recent California samples. These wines were tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Autumnal Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-15-2022

Autumn is in full swing, and I am loving it. I’ve been enjoying cool morning birdwatching walks, seeing the leaves start to change and evenings spent cooking up soups, stews and braised meat dishes after a long summer.

I’m looking forward to hosting friends and family over the coming weeks, and, of course, planning some wines to share.

I’m always stocking up on whites, pinks and bubbles around this time of year, and I’ve got a few selections that would be versatile options for the upcoming season. For sparklers, I have an interesting new project to share: Vara from sparkling wine guru Laurent Gruet. This Brut blends Washington state Chardonnay with some Cava grapes from Spain – and the result is pretty darn cool.

Italian reds will definitely be a big feature of my fall and winter meal planning, and I’ll share some really nice ones this week. Founded in 1857, Bertani knows what they’re doing with Amarone, and their 2011 Amarone Classico is a stunner. And I have some value-driven reds that would be great for big gatherings.

I also have two awesome wines from Shaw-Ross Imports, a delightful aged Gavi from La Scolca and a beautiful Chilean red from Eduardo Chadwick and Robert Mondavi’s Seña.

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

Wine Reviews: 2020 California Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-01-2022

2020 was a challenging year everywhere. In California, growers and vintners had to deal with a lot of their own: the novel coronavirus’ impacts, heat waves, wildfires in parts of the state. And while conditions were varied across the vast growing regions, a lot of the yields were lower. From what I’m hearing and tasting so far, the fruit quality seems to be really high and the resulting wines are very pretty and expressive.

Sonoma’s Merry Edwards likely needs no introduction here – I’ve focused on their wines before and will continue to do so because, well, they’re great. I’ve been a huge fan of their Pinots for about 15 years now, and the 2020s are stunners, and a great follow-up to the epic 2019s.

Another reliable Pinot producer, Siduri, brings some value-driven Pinot to the table. I had always been a fan of their single vineyard bottlings, but these appellation-level wines (from Anderson Valley, Santa Barbara and Willamette in Oregon) offer a nice snapshot of the region at an enticing price.

And to round things out, I also have an exceptional Chardonnay from Sonoma’s Chalk Hill.

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

Wine Reviews: Two Hands Shiraz

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-24-2022

Syrah is my favorite grape, and I love all of its great iterations.

In a world of increasing uncertainty and change, I find Two Hands wines to be refreshingly reliable. I first tried Two Hands in 2007 or so, and I was a newb and venturing into more “serious” bottles while trying to spend my money wisely. That’s when I tasted some of Two Hands’ Australian Shiraz, and I was hooked. A few years later, I shared a 2002 Ares Shiraz with friends, and the experience was exquisite. It was such a memorable, singular bottle and time that I became a life-long fan.

That said, it had actually been a while since I opened a Two Hands wines, so I was excited to attend a virtual tasting with co-founder Michael Twelftree. When he and his co-founder decided in 1999 to pursue making great Aussie Shiraz and marketing it to the world, I wonder if they imagined it would turn out so well. As a lover and student of wine, I respect this winery’s approach, from the consistency and quality of the wine (of course – that’s first), to the diverse range they produce, to the whimsical yet meaningful names, the label design and marketing. It seems like a team that take their work very seriously, but not themselves too seriously.

Coming from a background in construction, Michael fell in love with wine at an in-store tasting (just like me) and said, “this magical world of wine unfolded before me.” He continued: “We are always trying to think of everything we do through the consumer’s perspective.” Its a stated goal that rings true to me, as a consumer of these wines.

A long-time player in the U.S. market, he also acknowledged it can be difficult to convey regional differences in Australia, from the purple-fruited but coastal-influenced McLaren Vale wines to the deeper, more concentrated juice from Barossa. But the more time you spend with these wines, especially when tasting them together, those regional nuances and signatures start to become evident. While I drink far more Syrah from France and the U.S., I love that Two Hands consistently provides Shiraz (and other wines), that speak so eloquently of their place.

While the winery has expanded to acquire new sites in recent years, I found the same quality and vibrancy in this recent tasting that I remember from years and years ago. The alcohol is kept in check, which makes these wines lively and refreshing, and the oak is also used sparingly and efficiently. If you’ve never tried Two Hands, or if you’re of the opinion Australian wines just aren’t for you anymore, I’d urge you to reconsider. As long as this crew continues doing what they’re doing, there will always be a welcome spot on this Cornas-lover’s table for Two Hands wines.

These wines (all 100% Shiraz) were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Specialties

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-10-2022

California has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been following harvest reports and wineries as they prepare the 2022 vintage. And with the long-term drought, the recent heat wave, and now there’s a threat of flooding from hurricane leftovers? Sheesh! I hope you any California readers have been staying cool and well over this stretch.

So, this week, I have some really special wines from California to share – some chosen selections from producers I’ve grown to respect and appreciate.

Singer Wines at Baker Lane Estate really comes out swinging with two exceptional Rhone wines. Made by legend Stephen Singer, the wines from this west-facing site in the Sebastopol Hills speak with a crystal-clear voice to their place and grapes. If you’re looking for highly delicious yet nuanced Syrah and Viognier, these small-production wines are definitely worth your time and money.

Eden Rift makes some focused and singular Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and it was a privilege to taste their 2019s. From the limestone-rich soils of the Cienega Valley, these are wines you taste and can just tell they come from a very special place. Especially considering the prices, the wines consistently overperform, and the 2019s are singing.

Sonoma is well represented here, including by Sonoma-Cutrer’s new Grand Brut Rosé, which certainly overdelivers for the price. LaPelle performs with a striking Bien Nacido Pinot Noir, and DuMOL’s Pinot offering is also delightful. Lastly, I also have a Paso Robles Cab that’s a whole lot of fun — Tooth and Nail’s wines are reliably delicious and this Cab is like a chunky slab of rock-and-roll in the glass, for a solid price.

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

Wine Reviews: Locals’ Summer Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-03-2022

Happy Labor Day weekend! I, for one, am excited to see September again. We finally got a break from the heat and humidity here in the Mid-Atlantic region, and I’m sure the autumnal decorations and pumpkin spice will be arriving en masse soon.

Growing up two blocks from the beach on the Jersey Shore, we called September “locals’ summer,” and it was my favorite time. The tourists tended to clear out from our beach town while the air and water temperatures stayed delightful all through September. And we still have about three weeks of summer left (meteorologically speaking), so there’s plenty of time to hit the ocean, the lake, the river, or gather up family and friends for a grill-out.

As such, here’s a handful of wines that I’d welcome to any locals’ summer gathering.

I’ve got another Alentejo white this week because, well, they are delightful and fit the bill. And a Godello from Pagos del Galir in Spain will certainly keep the summer vibes going.

Rosé needs a place at the table (or beach), so I’ve got an exceptional offering from Sonoma’s Ram’s Gate and delicious pinks from Languedoc and Provence. I also have some crushable bubbles with an impressive Cava from Poema, and some value-driven Northern Italian wines with Corvezzo’s offerings.

As the evenings get cooler, I’m looking forward to some juicy, spicy red wines, and Chile is a great place to go. I’ve enjoyed the serious depth and value found from the Primus label, imported by Gonzalez Byass. Sourcing organically grown Cabernet and Carmenere from Apalta and Maipo, these wines provide grill-friendly appeal, plenty of stony, earthy complexity, all with very moderate price tags.

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

Wine Reviews: Alentejo White Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-27-2022

On something like a weekly basis, I find myself daydreaming: Wow, I wish I were back in Portugal right now.

It’s one of my favorite places in the world to visit. I love the epic coastline and surf culture, the food, the welcoming people, the history and architecture… and, of course, the wine. And, as long-time readers may recall, I’m a big fan of the diverse, inexpensive, exciting wines from the Alentejo region. Known mostly for their red wines, the white wines (branco) have kept me coming back for years.

The diversity of microclimates, soils and winemaking methods in Alentejo give the adventurous consumer something of a kid-in-the-candy-store feeling – there’s just so much high-quality stuff out there. The wines in this report do a good job introducing what’s available.

Indigenous grapes abound here, and the exact blends of each specific wine can get dizzying, with grapes like Arinto, Antao Vaz, Verdelho, Siria (which I didn’t even know was a grape until recently) and others. But this also provides growers and winemakers with the freedom to craft blends that harness the best attributes of their individual parts. If you haven’t yet delved into the white wines of this historic region before, perhaps some of these wines (and their very attractive price points) will provide some inspiration.

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

Wine Reviews: Rosato from Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-20-2022

Don’t worry – there’s still plenty of time left in summer, at least technically. It seems like summer lasts forever these days anyway, but luckily, so does pink wine season.

This week I have a handful of rosato wines from Italy that I found interesting and exciting. From Veneto to Puglia, these wines are made from traditional regional grapes like Montepulciano and Susumaniello, and their colors span the gamut from pale copper to raspberry juice.

Considering the recent high inflation levels, I find it refreshing to see well-crafted, delicious pink wine at these price points. These wines are all exclusively imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, which allows distributors to get these wines direct from the wineries and keeps the prices very reasonable. Whoever they have selecting Italian rosato wines clearly knows what they’re doing, as I found this to be an impressive and diverse portfolio. If you’re looking to replenish some of your rosé stash, check your local market for some of these wines.

This week’s selections were received as samples and tasted single blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-13-2022

This week’s report encompasses a range of wines that speak to diversity and value.

Oregon Pinot fans are surely aware of Willakenzie, which formed in 1991 and boasts a 420-acre estate in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Five years ago, Erik Kramer joined as winemaker, continuing on the Pinot legacy but branching out into Chardonnay as well.

I’ve known Mendoza’s Trapiche mostly for their widely-available and inexpensive Malbec, but they’ve got some gems in their portfolio as well. Take the Terroir Series, three single-vineyard Malbecs that offer nuance, depth and distinction at a very reasonable price. From vines all planted above 3,000 feet, winemaker Sergio Case is doing something special with these wines. Age-worthy and packed with value, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a few of these apiece and forget about them in the cellar for a few election cycles.

For these hot, humid days, I also have some Cavas from Bella Conchi that offer a lot of fun without breaking the bank. And one rosé from Napa’s Smith-Madrone – only the third time they’ve made this one, but it really rocks.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted, while the Trapiche wines were tasted single blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California’s Lobo Wines and Hawk and Horse

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-29-2022

I’m back to California this week with two producers who have some delightful new releases worth sharing.

I’ve been a fan of Lake County’s Hawk and Horse for years, so I was excited to taste their 2019 offerings. Especially considering the winery didn’t produce any wines in 2018 due to wildfires. Luckily, they’re back to form with their consistent, small-lot Bordeaux reds, which are sourced from the winery’s 18-acre estate vineyard, sitting at 1,800 to 2,000 feet with some steep slopes. The rocky, red volcanic soil and terroir here offer a signature fresh acidity that complements the dark fruit and pronounces spice tones very well. If you haven’t ventured far into Lake County wines, this is a great biodynamic producer to get to know.

Earlier this year, I tasted Napa’s Lobo Wines for the first time, and I’m back to check out their new 2019 vintage releases. I’m finding a lot of consistency in quality and deliciousness from this producer. Napa wines are never cheap, but this producer really offers a lot of interesting wines with fun flavors and styles for very reasonable prices.

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