Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-12-2020

I’m back this week with another round-up of some recent samples from around the world.

This week, Umberto Cesari delivers two interesting wines from Emilia-Romagna’s Rubicone region.

For years now, I’ve been very impressed with Troon’s wines, and they continue to keep their stride. These wines are biodynamic, lower-alcohol, made with native yeasts, and they show tremendous depth and complexity. The U.S. wine scene is lucky to have Troon, an outfit that always maintains quality and focus while constantly branching out and experimenting. And, apparently, now they make one of the only Piquettes I’ve tasted that I can honestly recommend.

And there’s also Post Malone’s Maison No. 9 French pink – hey, I review what I get!

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

Wine Reviews: Ashes & Diamonds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-29-2020

I’m back this week to focus on more California wines, this time from Napa’s Ashes & Diamonds.

This project was founded by California native Kashy Khaledi, a media and advertising executive, in 2013. The winery brands itself as “a love letter to Napa Valley as it was when it took the world stage in the 1960s.” Their glassy, mid-century modern winery, located off Highway 29, looks like a fascinating place to visit.

For winemaking duties, Khaledi wisely sought out renowned winemaker Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses, enologist at Domaine Dujac and winemaker at Snowden Vineyards. The several vineyard sources seem like truly special sites, from the gravelly, clay and loam soils of the Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard in Oak Knoll to the thin, rocky soils of the Mountain Peak Vineyard in the Atlas Peak appellation.

I had been aware of these wines for a while, but never wrapped my palate around one until recently. I receive and review a lot of California wines, many of which I appreciate and enjoy. But it’s rare that I taste wines that get me as stoked as these. Sipping these wines, I was shocked at their complexity, vibrancy, effortlessness. The wines are really special and delicious, and perfect for palates with a tendency toward old-school California and Old World styles.

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

Wine Reviews: Lake County’s Hawk and Horse Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-22-2020

California is on my mind and heart these days, as I watch from afar as these fires destroy so much. My thoughts and hopes are with all of you affected by these California fires. Stay safe.

There’s never been a better time to support California wineries, so today I want to shine a light on some interesting wines from Lake County, which has some special sites and exciting vineyards. These wines still don’t get nearly as much attention as wines from its neighboring counties, but that just means there is much to explore. I’ve tried to highlight different Lake County producers, and this week, I’m excited to dig into an old favorite: Hawk and Horse Vineyards.

Credit: Hawk and Horse Vineyards

After an exhaustive search for a site in the North Coast, David Boies settled on the El Roble Grande Ranch in Lower Lake, California, in 1982. It was an abandoned horse-breeding facility surrounded by 900 acres of wilderness. But the high-elevation (1,800 to 2,200 feet), red volcanic soils, pristine nature and access to water, showed potential for growing great grapes.

Co-owners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins took over daily ranch operations and planted the vines in 2001. Today, they have about 18 acres of grapes, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with about an acre apiece of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. The winery still houses some horses and cattle, and is home to many red-tailed hawks (hence the name). The vineyards have been certified organic since 2004 and biodynamic since 2008.

I’ve tasted this Cabernet Sauvignon a few times over the years, and found it to be a consistently exciting and dynamic wine, showing structure, pretty fruit, and some unique and complex earthy, spicy tones. It seemed like a wine that could age, but I never had the chance to test that out, until now. In addition to the other wines in this tasting report, the winery is also selling a trio of library releases (which includes the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages) for $330. While that’s not cheap, if these wines said Napa on the label, I think folks would call this a “value.” Tasting these aged wines was an eye-opening experience that really allows the taster to understand the intricacies of this special place.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted:

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Brengman Brothers’ Michigan Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-15-2020

Michigan wines have fascinated me for a while, so I’m excited to be back this week tasting a bunch of wines from Brengman Brothers.

This family-run winery, now entering its 17th vintage, is based near Traverse City, Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The peninsula, which juts into Grand Traverse Bay, is home to more than 20 wineries. Cool climate grapes like Riesling thrive here, and the Bordeaux style blends from this region can show brisk, bright, Old World appeal, with lots of spicy and floral components.

The appellation, which was formed in 1982, is characterized by its proximity to Lake Michigan, creating an inland maritime climate which helps moderate temperature extremes. Lake effect snow can actually help protect vines against potentially devastating spring frosts, but, on the flip side, the climate allows for ice wine production in some vintages.

Brengman Bros. sources their grapes from three vineyards. In their Timberlee Vineyard (30 acres), Crain Hill Vineyard (25 acres), and Cedar Lake Vineyard (5 acres) they grow a wide range of grape varieties, from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc to Muscat Ottonel, Petit Verdot, even some Rotgipfler. (I had to revisit my textbooks for that last one.) The winery is 100% solar powered, and equipped to move barrels outside for cold stabilization in the Michigan winter.

While I thought a few of the wines really stood out, they were all interesting, and only one missed the mark (for me). I can struggle with hot, heavy wines (especially in summer), so I found these wines a delightful, refreshing experience. They’re certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area or buying direct.

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

Experiencing Anaba Wines, Take Two

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-11-2020

Judging from my repeats of certain wineries, you can see I don’t have nearly the network or name recognition of Isaac Baker. But I do enjoy flexing my wine reviewing muscles on occasion, when new books and films are in short supply, and producers are kind enough to reach out with samples.

In the Groundhog Day days of COVID-19 home life, I’ve also been thinking about the experience of the everyday. Instagram isn’t reality, and I’m usually experiencing these wines in the course of everyday life. Picture me handing a glass of these wines to my wife as she’s coming downstairs from putting our seven-month-old to bed and asking her, “What d’you think of this?” On the other hand, taking a page from Henry James, an author I’ve read quite a bit, I do believe there is something to be found worth writing about in the common, the mundane, the routine. 

Anaba sent me their Spring releases recently, and here’s how I experienced them.

Anaba 2019 Rose of Grenache, Sonoma County (SRP $30)

Way past boredom, I’ve started unboxing old things from the attic and selling what I can on eBay, mostly trading cards from childhood. I’ve also been cooking up a storm, and pairing the few wines I’ve received in recent months. We drank this rose slightly chilled with soy marmalade salmon and curry roasted butternut squash and golden beets.

The first thing you’ll notice is this wine is far more orange than pink. It has a fresh, chalky nose, like wet stone after a summer shower. For some reason it brings me back to the North Fork of Long Island in summer, looking out over the water toward Connecticut. It hits me with bright acidity and the muddled chalkiness of freeze dried strawberries. My wife thought it was a bit too “alcoholy” at first, but after letting it breathe she said it got better. After an hour, in fact, it began to hit our noses with ripe peach and those candy peach rings! 

Nothing to complain about with this wine. It has more body than I’ve typically encountered in rose, so it probably pairs well with heavier summer fare.

Anaba 2017 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast (SRP $48)

I’d planned a special meal of seared scallops for our wedding anniversary, and picked this bottle to go with it. I poured it into two Riedels about thirty minutes beforehand. I used a portion of the bottle to deglaze the pan and make a reduction sauce, which tasted so wonderful mixed up in the roasted beets, carrots, onions, and blistered tomatoes on our plates.

Our glasses blossomed with tart strawberry, blackberry, handfuls of dirt, and star anise. This is an incredibly fragrant wine, and I was quite enthused about gulping it down.

The taste and mouthfeel were a letdown for me. The wine seemed to wash over my tongue and quickly disappear, without much in the way of discernible flavor. I expected more acidity too. I found it a bit thin, flat maybe, and lacking in that “calling me back for more” quality.

My wife, on the other hand, loved this wine. So there you go, the subjectivity of wine drinking at its finest.

Anaba 2017 Chardonnay, Carneros J McK Estate Vineyard (SRP $46)

Another night, another amazing meal prepared. This time with some local pork, and I again used the wine to make a pan sauce. This 2017 Chardonnay is golden/straw colored and full of wonderful lychee aromas, reminiscent of these Asian gummy candies I once had at Epcot. There’s also golden, super-ripe pineapple (indicating to me more sugar than tartness) and those Juicy Pear flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans.

Halfway through my meal prep, skillet in one hand and wine glass in the other, a thirty-foot limb fell off the tree in my front yard. I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of running my chainsaw after a couple glasses of wine, but fortunately I was saved by the police and emergency crew who showed up to clear the street. The tree would wait until the next day.

Returning to my wine an hour later, I enjoyed its slightly creamy mouthfeel, but would have liked a touch more acidity and staying power. Still, it had just enough of both to beckon me for another sip on this 92-degree day.

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-01-2020

Happy Saturday, folks. I’m back this week with a mix of wines from around the world, a lot of which are great options for summertime.

One of my favorite German producers, Peter Lauer, makes an appearance with a serious value of a Riesling. Domaine Wachau comes out swinging with a fun and inexpensive Gruner that is definitely worth checking out. And a smattering of different Rioja offers up a lot of quality and value that would be great with summer grill-outs.

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

Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-18-2020

I’m excited to be back this week with some offerings from Argentina and Chile.

Domaine Bousquet’s organic “Virgen” reds dole out plenty of freshness and complexity for a crazy low price. I also have some crisp and deep Malbecs from some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world, Bodega Colomé. And Los Vascos continues to put out reliable, value-driven Chilean wines.

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

Wine Reviews: Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-11-2020

I’ve been at home for 17 weeks now, and the travel lust is in full swing. Unfortunately, here in the U.S. we are still in the middle of the first pandemic wave, and things look worse and worse these days. So, this week, to satiate my desire for travel and cheery myself up, I’m visiting a range of Italian wines.

The estate wines of Alois Lageder, in Italy’s Dolomiti region, are organic and biodynamic and really exciting. But I was pleasantly surprised to taste the quality and vibrancy in their Terra Alpina wines, which are sourced from different growers in the region. For the price, these wines offer this sense of regional typicity, depth, and “realness.”

I also tasted an impressive Super Tuscan at an entry-level price from Tenuta di Arceno, and some crushable Veneto wines from Pasqua. Lastly, Zenato’s Amarone makes me long for autumnal weather and slow-cooked meats.

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

Wine Reviews: Monticello

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-04-2020

Considering today is Independence Day in the United States, I thought it fitting to highlight some recent samples from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I’ve been a big fan and follower of Virginia wine since I moved to Washington, DC, about 12 years ago. I’ve had the privilege to taste many wines from all over the Commonwealth, but this week I’m highlighting wines from the Monticello AVA. Carrying on Thomas Jefferson’s wine vision for this region, some 33 wineries call this area home. The region is centered around Charlottesville, stretching toward the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. If you’re ever travelling in the Mid-Atlantic (one can dream of post-pandemic wines, can’t one?) and looking for a wine trail adventure, this is a great place to start.

Stinson Vineyards makes two super-reliable pink wines from Tannat and Mourvedre. I’ve been tasting these wines for years now, and Rachel Stinson’s 2019s are true to form – some of my favorite rosés from the Commonwealth. The three red blends stem from a webinar I attended on the French influence in Virginia wine, curated by a great Virginia wine writer and ambassador, Frank Morgan. Matthieu Finot of King Family, Damien Blanchon of Afton Mountain, and Benoit Pineau of Pollak are all Frenchmen doing exciting things in Virginia, and the state’s wine industry is lucky to have them.

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

Wine Reviews: Merry Edwards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-20-2020

Merry Edwards is an icon in California winemaking. She has a long history of blazing trails and making exceptional wine, from her days in the mid-70s working at Mount Eden, to becoming founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek in 1977, to creating her own consulting business and eventually her own eponymous wine brand in the 90s. Her well-deserved accolades are too many to list.

I’ve visited the Sonoma County winery several over the years, always tying it in with a visit to Joseph Swan, whose founder mentored Merry in the early days. Merry’s well-known Sauvignon Blanc has always excited me, but the single-vineyard Pinots and Chardonnay are what have kept me coming back to these wines year after year.

There have been some recent changes at Merry Edwards Winery. In 2018, Merry announced Heidi von der Mehden (who joined in 2015 as associate winemaker) would succeed her as winemaker, the first time anyone else held that position. Last year, the French firm Maison Louis Roederer purchased the winery. Despite these changes, I’m hoping the wines in the glass stay the same – delicious, exciting, memorable interpretations of their place. After tasting a few of their new releases, that sure seems to be the case.

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