Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-05-2023

From across the country, I’ve been watching this crazy winter weather across California. You’ve been on my mind lately, as I see beautiful images of snow-covered vineyards contrasted with some destruction and mind-boggling high-altitude snow levels. As Spring kicks off, and in anticipation of a coming California trip, I’m highlighting some new releases from the golden state this week.

Smith-Madrone (one of those snow-covered vineyards) continues to deliver with their Riesling. Like guitarists who cannot stop writing amazing riffs record after record, the Smith brothers continue to turn out stellar Riesling after Riesling from their Spring Mountain site (around 1,800 feet and slopes at a grade up to 34%). The 2018 continues that trend. I also have a delicious Cab from Napa’s Lobo Wines, a producer frequent readers may recognize, and a killer Sauv Blanc from Napa’s Grieve that is good choice for whenever the snow melts and the flowers start to bloom. Lastly, there are some reliable and value-driven Mendocino wines from Barra – a little something for everyone this week.

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

Wine Reviews: Italian Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-26-2023

Despite this current dose of winter weather across much of the country, Spring has seemed close for a while now. I’m looking forward to foraging spring mushrooms and celebrating with some bright white wines. Etna Bianco is great for this, and I have two delightful examples in this report, from the renowned producers Donnafugata and Duca di Salaparuta. Tuscany’s Pomino Bianco DOC also hits the spot with their zesty, focused, mineral-driven blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

For reds, I have matching Etna Rossos – wines I’ve long loved from a region that is endlessly exciting to explore. And we have a relative rarity this week as well: a delicious, complex yet inexpensive Barolo. Perla Terra’s 2018 delivers what, for me, is an easy six-pack buy.

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

Wine Reviews: Argentina and Chile

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-11-2023

I’ve long yearned to visit the expansive Chilean landscape – to visit winemakers, immerse myself in the culture, surf some remote point breaks, and climb some rocks and mountains. It’s in the top tier of my bucket list, and I can’t wait to make it a reality. In the meantime, I have some bonkers-good wines from Viña Ventisquero. Started in the late 90s in the Maipo Valley, they’ve since expanded to Casablanca, Colchagua, and Leyda Valleys. Their Tara project is based in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, and involves challenging conditions and soils, but the resulting wine I tasted is really something. The Pinots from the Leyda and Casablanca Valleys that show a lot of personality and freshness.

I also have some value-driven wines from Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet. This producer boasts almost 700 acres of certified organic vineyards, from which they source classic grapes to craft value-driven, expressive wines. These are really good options if you’re looking to stock up on some fun, crowd-pleasing wines from Argentina.

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

Wine Reviews: Valentine’s Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-04-2023

Six more weeks of winter is the call. And it seems the groundhog ritual came up right this time, as much of the country was hit with a solid burst of cold air. I’m looking forward to spending some time outdoors this weekend (I love the cold), slow-cooking some pork, and popping some Rioja or a red Burgundy while catching up with friends. I hope your weekend is full of some warmth and wintry deliciousness as well.

Credit: Catena Zapata

With Valentine’s Day on the way, some of you may be stocking up, buying gifts, or just looking for something fun or exciting to open. So, this week I have a round-up of recent samples for your consideration. From bubbles

I love Malbec from Argentina, but not as much as Laura Catena. Her family’s estate, Catena Zapata, has been producing thrilling Malbecs from high elevation sites for many years. Laura recently published a book, “Malbec Mon Amour,” with oenologist Alejandro Vigil, a love letter to wine and the Malbec grape that combines beautiful writing with maps, photos, history, geology, conversations, and travel writing. It’s enjoyable and easy to breeze through, but also packed with detailed information and insights, and contains such an awesome introduction from Laura Catena that I have to share: “To the land of Mendoza and its inhabitants. And to the bees, owls, skunks, insects, plants and microbes whose generosity allows us to grow vines year after year.” I just love that. This book would be a great gift for lovers of Malbec, Argentina, or wine in general.  And I’d highly suggest reading it while sipping some Catena Zapata wines, three of which are featured this week.

I’ve also included some bubbles (of course) of the value-driven variety, and some German pinks because, well, it’s always a great time for rosé. And I have a few Italian reds to warm things up just right.

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

Wine Reviews: Special Selections from California and Oregon

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-29-2023

California’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been following these crazy winter storms from afar, and hoping for the best for you all. I’m also excited to visit soon, and very much looking forward to seeing family and friends in Sonoma, doing some surfing, going on climbing adventures, and visiting some of my favorite wine country.

In anticipation, I’ve had the pleasure of tasting through some lovely California wines recently, and I have some selections this week that keep my love for California wine thriving. There are some real Cabernet-based gems in here, from the likes Napa’s Kelly Fleming and Priest Ranch, and from Sonoma’s Chalk Hill and Hamel Family.

From Oregon, I have some new options from the always inventive, reliably delicious Troon Vineyard. This crew does a whole lot, from Vermentinos to skin contact whites, deep Tannats and spicy Syrahs. But this week I want to highlight their Druid’s Fluid blends, which are really tasty and do a good job representing a cross-section of their different estate grapes.

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

Wine Reviews: International Values

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-21-2023

I’m looking forward to exploring more diverse wines and regions in 2023, so I’m starting off this week with a few such selections. In the coming weeks, I’ll be diving deeper into a bunch of South American wines, but this week I’ve got a nice round-up from all over. And they’re all in the $15-$35 range.

Winemaker power couple Bob Lindquist and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist have a really cool project called Vara. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they source grapes from spots in Spain and California. Louisa’s experience with Spanish varieties brings them grapes from selected estates in regions like Ribera del Duero and Montsant, while Bob’s California experience brings in the good stuff from Central Coast vineyards like Santa Maria Valley and Paso Robles. It’s a bit different, of course, tasting a wine sourced from different regions and countries, but I think these experiments work out really well. The wines are delicious and different, and worth seeking out if you’re looking to try new things in 2023.

When it comes to vibrant, inexpensive Sauvignon Blancs, South Africa and Chile are my go-to countries. And this week I have some Chilean options from Leyda Valley, a region that sits just a handful of miles from the Pacific coast. Here, Viña Leyda’s winemaker Viviana Navarrette focuses on producing coastal-influenced, taut, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc from mostly granitic soils. They offer up crunchy, spicy, sea salty deliciousness with a lot of value and serve as a great introduction to this region’s Sauvignon Blanc goodness.

I’m a big fan of everything Portugal, and the amount of consistent and quality wines I find. And the value is always appreciated. This week’s selections from Douro’s Casa Ferreirinha deliver just what I look for.

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

Wine Reviews: Italian Value Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-14-2023

If you’re doing a dry January – congratulations! You’re halfway through. Whether you’re imbibing this month or not, the post-holiday season is a nice time to take stock of things, and to stock up on some options for the cellar.

Late last year, I tasted through a half-dozen Italian reds that got me thinking: “Wow, I’d be happy with six apiece of these in my cellar.” From Marche to Puglia, these wines come from well-known, family-owned producers and offer a lot of diversity. They’re all imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, which has amassed an impressive portfolio and imports directly from the producers themselves. So, if you’re resolving to save money in 2023, I bet at least a few of these delicious reds would fit the bill perfectly.

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

Wine Reviews: Italian Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-24-2022

I hope you all are having a safe and happy holiday season so far. Winter is in full force over much of the U.S. at the moment, and a dangerous storm is affecting travel for millions, so I hope you’re in a warm place surrounded by loved ones — and hopefully some good food and wine.

I recently made my first lasagna of the season, which is a tradition for my family in the holidays, and I was happy to taste through some Italian wines and share some merriment with friends and family. And as travel and gift bills come due, I think it’s a great time to share some inexpensive options. So, to round out 2022, I have some Italian selections to share.

Even though it’s a frigid weekend for most everyone in the U.S. this week, I have a batch of mineral-driven Italian white wines. They’re all imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, sourced from estates across Italian regions. This represents a small snapshot of the diversity in Italian white wines and the value in here is something to get excited about.

I also have some interesting wines from Tenuta Sallier de la Tour. This Sicilian estate is owned by Tasca d’Almerita, and, earlier this year, began being imported by Dalla Terra. The price points are attractive, but more so the wines in the bottle. They offer a lot of classic Sicilian flavors, along with complexity and depth that outperforms their price tag. This was my first time trying this estate, and I’ll happily return to these wines when I’m looking for something fun and delicious from Sicily. (I’d be happy to see a bottle on a by-the-glass list for sure.)

These wines were received as trade samples. The white wines were tasted single-blind, while the rest were tasted sighted. Happy holidays to all! Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bouchaine’s Carneros Pinots

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-17-2022

The clonal variability of Pinot Noir is a fascinating thing. The propensity it has to mutate means there are hundreds of clones available, although not all are commercially important.

There’s rarely a single clone that winemakers swear by in all circumstances. Rather, similar to the way a rock climber places specialized protection in particular cracks and fissures, winemakers try to plant the right clone in the right spot to achieve their goals.

Credit: Bouchaine Vineyards

California’s Bouchaine knows this process well. In the cooler Carneros region of Napa, Bouchaine has 87 planted acres, more than half of which are planted to Pinot Noir. Different clones in different blocks allows them to craft a diverse palate of Pinot expression.

I recently had the pleasure of tasting through four wines from winemaker and general manager Chris Kajani. The Napa native has been making wine at Bouchaine since 2015, and really knocked it out of the park in 2019. “We’re in the vineyard all the time. I’m there every day,” she described in a recent webinar. “We basically are picking based on taste.” Of course they run tests and check numbers, “but in the grand scheme of things there’s normally a certain flavor that I’m looking for and a certain ripeness to the tannins.”

With slight variations in soils, it gives the clonal uniqueness a chance to shine. “Pinot Noir has more clonal options than any other variety,” Kajani said. “And that’s why Pinot people can’t stop talking about clones. It’s what we do.”

Take the Swan clone, for example, which was planted by old-school Sonoma legend Joseph Swan at the advice of winemaker André Tchelistcheff. He also advised Bouchaine proprietor Tatiana Copeland on planting this clone on the Bouchaine estate. It certainly has found a great home in Bouchaine’s vineyards, as their wine is exquisite.

I tasted through four of Bouchaine’s elegant Pinots, three of which were single-clone bottlings, and the fourth is a blend of different estate clones. They’re individually delicious and very well-made, but collectively they offer a much more nuanced look at this grape and place. Parsing the differences between the three clonal selections, and comparing those to the bigger-picture blend, is a captivating and enjoyable process. And, considering the reasonable prices on these wines, this would be a great way to dig further into Carneros Pinot with a group of wine nerds, family, or friends.

And 2019 is a great vintage to dive into the intricacies in these wines. It’s one of my favorite vintages in Napa and Sonoma in recent memory – plenty of ripeness, but an airy, vibrant quality to many of the wines as well. It’s a vintage that drinks incredibly well right out of the bottle, but a lot of these wines have the stuffing for serious cellar improvement as well.

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

Wine Reviews: Warm Winter Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-10-2022

Wintertime is here, and I hope you’re looking forward to the holidays. It’s getting colder, and I made my first cassoulet of the season, so it’s time for warming red wines.

And with the World Cup going on, I decided to round up some red wines from around the world that would be great options for the winter season. I also wanted to highlight some serious values as well, and many of these wines fit that bill.

From Chile to Napa, I have some Cabernets that offer a lot of richness and depth for not a lot of money. And there’s a delightful Tuscan red and Barossa Shiraz in here as well.

Rioja is always a good call in my book, and this week I have three from Bodegas Montecillo – a producer that has 150 years of winemaking history and sources their grapes mostly from the Rioja Alta subregion. The value in these wines is seriously impressive, and they have the ability to age and improve in the cellar for a while.

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