Wine Reviews: Holiday Treats

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-13-2020

It’s been a long year, and this is a very different holiday season. But I hope you and yours are safe, healthy, and have an enjoyable holiday season, whatever you are celebrating.

In the spirit of the holidays, I’ve gathered up a collection of wines from all over the world that could add some cheer in the coming winter.

From one of the brightest, most complex Soaves I’ve tried in a long time, to Quilceda Creek’s second wine and the new vintage of Napa’s Cardinale, I’ve found some beauties. Merry Edwards’ first vintage of a Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine is absolutely delicious, and worth checking out, especially if you (like me) are a fan of their classic Sauv Blanc.

There’s some Champagne and other bubbles, of course. And if you’re not up for opening a full bottle, this report also includes several 375ml examples that are widely available in the U.S.

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

Wine Reviews: Paso Robles

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-05-2020

I’ve enjoyed Paso Robles wines for many years, but it wasn’t until a visit there in 2017 that I began to understand why. Over the course of a week, I found beautiful landscapes, complex and diverse soils, and a tight-knit community with an encouraging sense of collaboration and experimentation.

I fell in love with many different elements that make the region special, from its proximity to the coast, the ancient seabed soils, and the amount of small producers who seemed to be doing their own thing on their own terms. After coming back, I wrote that “Paso Robles’ dynamic wine culture is a standing invitation to travelers,” and I long for the time when it is safe to take up that invitation again.

Vailia From. Credit: Desparada Wines

But, while stuck at home, I jumped at the chance to taste some exciting new releases from this Central California region, and attend a virtual tasting with some Paso winemakers.

I especially enjoyed listening to Desparada Wines proprietor and winemaker Vailia From, who makes wine in Paso’s Tin City. It’s a large collection of warehouse and outdoor space that offers boutique winemakers a chance to share equipment and collaborate in a way that might not otherwise be financially feasible. Small lot wines, craft beers, ciders, and distilled spirits abound here. If you’re ever going to Paso, it’s a must-see spot.

After visiting Paso Robles once, From decided to move there, working at a co-op before striking off on her own label. She said it was the welcoming environment and down-to-earth locals that made her want to stick around. “It’s really communal. There are so many awesome people here,” said From. “Your neighbor has your back. There’s not a lot of pretention. There’s not a lot of douchebags.”

I couldn’t have summed it up any better myself.

While Paso’s calling card is red wines (made largely from Bordeaux, Rhone, Spanish and Italian grapes), the white wines made here are some of my personal favorites. Don’t think Paso can do legit Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo? I beg to differ.

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

Wine Reviews: Alentejo

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-28-2020

I’m thankful and privileged to be healthy and safe during these pandemic times. But, like many millions of people, my travel plans for this year have evaporated.

For my five-year-old daughter’s birthday this spring, I was thrilled to bring my family to Portugal. It is a country whose culture, wine, waves, food and natural bounty fascinate me to no end. When I’m there, I often think, more than any other place I’ve visited: I should have been born here. While that trip is dashed, I can’t wait to get back when it’s safe to do so.

When I visited the region of Alentejo three years ago, I found an overwhelming amount of diverse and high-quality wines and producers. It was such a treat to dig deep into the region’s tradition of wines fermented in amphora, explore the history and diversity of the region’s adopted red grape Alicante Bouschet, and I was impressed to learn about the exciting white wines produced there as well.

 As an outdoors, nature and wildlife enthusiast, it was sometimes hard to think about wine while I was traveling through Alentejo — there was just so many rolling hills, forests, fields, and natural beauty going by outside my window. With relatively low population density, large amounts of uncultivated land, and ever presence of the famous cork forests, the region offers a lot of unspoiled natural beauty and thriving wildlife. Among the group I traveled with was Wines of Alentejo’s U.S. director Tiago Caravana, who, in addition to his wine career, is an incredible wildlife photographer, and was always on point with my random questions about the region’s diverse mammals and birds of prey.

So, I hopped at the chance to attend a webinar with Tiago and others in the region’s trade group this summer. We tasted what I consider to be some really solid examples of what the region can produce, and we spent a lot of time discussing the sustainability efforts of the regional winegrowing commission. Lots of Alentejo producers have been taking sustainable vineyard and winery practices serious for many years, but in 2014, the regional winegrowing commission created a voluntary program called Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program.

This program is designed to improve environmental, social and economic welfare in the region, specifically focusing on issues like water control, pest management, energy conservation, and packaging. Several of the wineries represented in the tasting focused on their attempts at improving sustainability by using sheep to reduce cover crops, utilizing bat boxes to fight pesky insects, increasing use of solar power, reducing bottle weight, etc.

But the proof is in the bottle, and these wines offer a good window into Alentejo’s ancient and thriving wine culture. 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 11-14-2020

This week I’m back with another roundup of wines from California, including some new-to-me producers, and some I’ve known and loved for many years.

In the latter category, Smith Madrone’s new Chardonnay and Cab are true to their roots, delivering complex, intriguing, delicious Spring Mountain wines whose price points still baffle me.

Louis Martini’s iconic Monte Rosso vineyard, and their Lot 1 Cabernet, are the type of wines I’d want to cellar or enjoy some cold evening this winter.

St. Helena’s Battuello comes through with some interesting offerings from their estate vineyards, which dates back five generations, when Matteo Battuello established it in 1909. The two Valdiguiés that are so delicious, and their Petit Verdot is a stunner.

A delicious, screaming value of a Grenache Blanc and some Sauvignon Blancs round out this report. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Experiencing ZD Wines, Take Three

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-02-2020

Working from home during COVID-19 has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s great to be home with my family. On the other, I can never get away from that list of home improvement projects. From my desk at the dining room table, the chipped trim paint on the doorway taunts me. The missing French door reminds me it’s still half-stripped in the garage, waiting to be stained and finished.

The only escape is to leave town. Which we did recently, to the beaches of Delaware, where we relaxed and enjoyed these great bottles from ZD Wines, including the addition of a new varietal to their lineup, Sauvignon Blanc.

2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley (SRP $27)

This wine is perfect for a hot day at the beach. (Our day was cool and windy). Not wanting to get hassled by any beach patrollers, I poured half the bottle into a clear glass flip-top container. And there it sat, discreetly in the sand next to me as I reclined and read. As you’d expect, it’s nice and tart. It has tropical notes and reminds me of canned pineapple, minus the tinny, can taste. I also get white peach on the nose.

This is a very nice, lower-priced bottle from a quality producer. A great beach wine.

2018 50th Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay, Carneros (SRP $75)

I freakin’ love pork belly. We’ve been getting our meat from a local farm this summer and I asked them to put some pork belly in our monthly share, and they obliged. I made it crispy and golden, with saltiness and some great unctuousness to pair with this ZD Chardonnay, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite Chardonnays.  

It’s golden in the glass, with Honeycrisp apple and crushed pineapple on the nose. I taste some beautiful butter (despite the fact it doesn’t go through ML) and lychee at the end. The mouthfeel is creamy, with a tingle of acidity, with no alcohol bite. Simply put, this wine is rich yet zesty. It beautifully straddles the line between acid and creaminess. I still can’t believe there’s no ML, but I’m guessing the extended yeast contact during cold-barrel fermentation gives it its creamy almost butteriness.

2018 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Carneros (SRP $84)

The first thing I notice with this Pinot is the color. It’s deep and dark with a red rim, and reminds me of cherry coke. You can’t see through this one, and it certainly doesn’t look thin. The nose is like a handful of cranberries, with some “green” hints that anyone who’s enjoyed Long Island reds will recognize. Although not quite the bell pepper aromas you get out near the Hamptons.

When I take a hearty mouthful, there’s great side-of-the-tongue-coating acidity, and the wine lingers well enough to get a proper taste. There’s vanilla. And then something that my wife said reminded her of wines with notable ML. I love the use of oak in this wine. It’s there, but not overdone. Just great, juicy acidity. A darn good vanilla berry combo.

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-31-2020

Happy Saturday, and I hope, if you’re reading this, you are healthy and well. This week, I have a mix of wines from different, interesting regions.

Tasca d’Almerita produces a wide range of delicious, value-driven wines from Sicily. These are zesty, bright white wines from indigenous grapes, and the Etna Rosso packs a lot of punch for the price.

I’ve written a lot about Arizona wines in the past, since I’ve been visiting the state to hike and visit family for the past 10 years or so. The Arizona wine scene is diverse, and my favorites tend to be hard to find. But Aridus, based in the high-elevation region of Willcox, makes more widely-available wines that offer a good introduction to what the state has to offer.

Living in DC, I will admit my local bias: I am passionate about the land and wines of the commonwealth of Virginia. I recently joined a virtual chat with Virginia wine guru Frank Morgan and four wine producers to taste and talk about what’s going on in Virginia wine these days. If you haven’t tried Virginia Petit Manseng or Petit Verdot, and are up for venturing out into new territory, there are two excellent examples in this report.

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

Wine Reviews: Knights Bridge Winery

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-17-2020

This week, I’m visiting (from afar) Sonoma’s Knights Valley. Here, in the northeast corner of Sonoma, where Napa and Sonoma meet at the base of Mount Saint Helena, the climate is the warm and the soils rocky.

I recently received a group of wines from Knights Bridge from this area. This winery was formed in 2006, and the wines are made by Douglas Daneilak, who has been with Knights Bridge since the beginning. Their diverse mix of Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays offers an interesting way to analyze what this region has to offer. This was my first time tasting wines from this producer, and I found an interesting mix of complex white wines (and a few reds) worth seeking out.

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

Wine Reviews: Napa Valley Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-03-2020

My heart is breaking as I follow from afar the news of more fires in California. The impacts of the Glass Fire that continues to devastate Napa are tragic and overwhelming. The scale of the destruction of life, property, livelihoods seems impossible to imagine. My sincerest thoughts and wishes for safety are with all of the people affected by this and other fires.

While there are so many more immediate concerns and ways to support those affected, it seems to be as good a time as any to buy some Napa wine and raise a glass to their safety. This week, in a spirit of support for the people who make Napa Valley wine possible, I have a round-up of some recent Napa red wine releases.

Sullivan, under new ownership since 2018, was founded by Jim O’Neill Sullivan in 1972. This Rutherford estate offers up two exciting reds in this report.

Calla Lilly Estate also brings a pair of delicious wines. This Pope Valley estate was founded by two Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs, who sought out winemaker Cary Gott. The 20 acres of vineyards reside on the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain. The 2015 vintage of their Audax is really something.

La Pelle is a Napa project that brings together Israeli-born winemaker Maayan Koschitzky, Mexican-born farmer and winemaker Miguel Luna, and American-born farmer and founder of Silverado Farming Company, Peter Richmond. I’ll let their wines speak for themselves.

Shafer is a Napa stalwart that needs to introduction. Their TD-9 continues to deliver deep, Napa goodness for a reasonable price, while the Relentless Syrah lives up to its name.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Steele Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-26-2020

Long-time readers may have seen me focus on Steele Wines in the past. And that’s because there’s something about this producer’s old-school aesthetic, budget friendly appeal, and diverse and delicious portfolio, that I think deserves attention. Owner/winemaker Jed Steele has been vinifying grapes for 50 years; this year Steele Wines marked its 28th anniversary.

This old school Lake County producer puts out a staggering array of wines. There are different brands, price-points, and lots of different sources of fruit from around California. Thing is, from entry-level to their upper tier wines, these wines are reliably well-made, delicious, and frequently complex, offering a lot of bang for the buck.

I recently tasted a batch of new releases and found a lot of wines that I would recommend for those looking to try something yummy and a bit off-the-beaten path without spending a lot of money.

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 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 »