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 »

Wine Reviews: Sauvignon Blanc from Chile

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-09-2022

Talinay Vineyard. Credit: Tabali

I’ve long wanted to travel to Chile, because it would be easy to combine some of my favorite passions in life into one big trip. I’d tour vineyards and meet with winemakers, take surf treks to remote reef breaks, an expedition into the mountains, enjoy birdwatching adventures in coastal estuaries. I have not clue if these goals will be realized, but I sure hope so.

In the meantime, everything is so expensive! But Sauvignon Blanc from Chile isn’t — and a lot of it is pretty dang good. Sauv Blanc is Chile’s second most widely-planted variety (more than 37,000 acres under vine), and the grape is planted all over the country’s diverse wine regions. There’s way too much to try and summarize (thousands of miles of coastal and mountainous terrain), but considering the narrow stretch of the country, they share coastal influences, which keep the wines vibrant and delicious. If you like hints of sea salt in your Sauv Blanc like I do, you can get a lot of that here.

Another thing I respect is how the country’s wine consortium created a sustainability code that addresses different environmental practices, and it’s been adopted by producers that represent about 80% of the country’s exports. And while there are some well-known supermarket brands I’ve seen around for years, I’m finding more and more Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from new-to-me producers popping up, and I like that.

For beach reads, octopus salads, baked flounder, a big tray of oysters, and a host of other summertime activities, Chilean Sauv Blancs would fit the bill very nicely. And most of the wines are in that $20 range, and offer a lot more depth and complexity than a lot of other similarly-priced Sauv Blancs from other countries. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Fourth of July Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-03-2022

It’s Fourth of July weekend, so that means we need some American wines in the mix. This weekend, I’m spending time at the ballpark with the kiddo, grilling with some friends, sipping some wines and listening to the neighborhood dogs lose their minds over the incessant fireworks.

I hope you’re all enjoying the weekend and holiday, gathering with friends and enjoying some nice vino. I’ve gathered this mix of American samples I’ve received, mostly from California, that would make nice accompaniments to any summer grill-out.

Oregon’s Troon delivers a crunchy, delish Piquette worth checking out. I’ve got a few whites to beat the heat, and two bottles from Napa brand The Mill Keeper, multi-vintage wines from that offer a fun, juicy, crowd-friendly appeal but spot complexity as well. And for any grilled meats, I’ve got a nice mix of Napa reds from the likes of Frank Family, Grieve, Gamble and Cliff Lede.

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 06-25-2022

Let’s take a trip this week. From Spain, I’ve got some delicious, grill-friendly reds from Ribera del Duero and Madrid that offer value, fruit and Spanish flair. And to beat the heat, I’ve got some bubbles and zesty whites (Garnacha Blanca and Rias Baixas are always good for that).

I don’t know about you, but I get excited when I first try a wine from a new-to-me country. The most recent example: Kosovo. I don’t know much about the country except for some books I read about wars in the region — but as someone who lived in Ukraine and traveled a lot in eastern and southern Europe, I’m always excited to dig into new cultures and histories. And, clearly, I should look more into the winemaking culture here, as there are two fun, juicy reds from this country’s Rahoveci Valley in this report.

I love me some reds from Central Italy’s Abruzzo region, but I don’t have a lot of experience with their white wines. But I there’s a lot to like here. Known more for ripe reds, this region is also home to some rosés and whites, and I think Pecorino tends to offer a bit more depth and interesting flavors than some other white grapes.

There’s also two delicious tawny Ports from Dow, who always delivers. A summer-friendly Wachau Gruner and a Bourgogne-Aligote round out this report. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »