Wine Reviews: Sanford Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-23-2019

The first time I heard of California Pinot Noir producer Sanford was while watching a movie in the theater. You may have heard of it: Sideways.

I was living in New York, not yet of legal drinking age, but I had the early stages of the wine bug after a few years of high school in Germany. I distinctly remember having the rare day off work at Kinko’s, so I caught a matinee showing of the film. At this point, I had never visited California, but as I watched Miles and Jack sip wines with Sanford tasting room manager Chris Burrows, I took note — more investigation of this Cali Pinot thing was in order.

sanfordOf course, for decades before Hollywood got involved, Sanford had been a crucial part of the California wine landscape.

It all starts in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when botanist Michael Benedict and his friend Richard Sanford set out to find a cooler climate area where they could ripen (but not over-ripen), wine grapes. After gathering, analyzing and scrutinizing data concerning weather, climate, soils, etc., they decided on an area of the Santa Ynez Valley, a region that would later become the “Sta. Rita Hills” American Viticultural Area. The first Sanford & Benedict Vineyard vines were planted in 1971, and two years later, they planted the first Pinot Noir vines.

Michael Benedict and Richard Sanford split after the 1980 vintage, and Richard sold his interest in the vineyard and founded Sanford Winery. There was a lot of back-and-forth in the following years, as control of the vineyard and the winery shifted hands.

La Riconada Vineyard, which abuts the Sanford & Benedict vineyard, was planted in 1997, and this would also become home to the winery and tasting room. The Terlato family partnered with Sanford Winery in 2002, making investments in the vineyards and winery. They became the majority owner and managing partners. In 2007, they purchased the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, re-uniting the winery with its original site.

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of meeting John Terlato and Michael Benedict. We tasted through a variety of new and aged Sanford Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and discussed the special place these wines have in the history of California viticulture.

The wines are currently made by Trey Fletcher (senior winemaker) and Laura Roach (assistant winemaker). Cellar master Auggie Rodriguez has been working at Sanford for more than 20 years, and his father was hired to plant the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in the early 1970s.

With all this history, how do the winery’s current releases stand up? Well, I recently tasted some new Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and found them vibrant, delicious, and highly satisfying. 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 11-16-2019

This week, we have another round of new releases from California. In recent weeks, I’ve received a lot of different wines (whites and reds) from all over the state, from good bargains for early drinking, to splurge-worthy wines that should be cellared for a few Presidential elections.

For me, Steele wine from Lake County has long been a reputable producer of value-driven wines of high quality and distinction. The current crop of releases keeps going on that same track.

There are a few wines from different Gallo brands in this tasting, and some wines from the Hess Collection as well. I also tasted four wines from Hestan Vineyards (a first for me). These “Stephanie” label wines are sourced from a 56-acre estate vineyard, and all four of these wines hail from that vineyard’s 2015 vintage. I found these four wines (treated the same way in the cellar), offered a nice look into their vineyard and style, and I think the wines are really pretty and offer a lot of value compared to many other Napa reds.

Lastly, Napa stalwart Shafer contributes three exciting wines. And the Relentless Syrah and Hillside Select Cabernet strut their stuff.

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

Wine Reviews: Loudoun County

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-09-2019

Washington, DC, has become my adopted hometown. When I first moved here from New York about a dozen years ago, I spent one of my first weekend trips hiking around the Potomac River and tasting wines in the area around Leesburg, Virginia.

The wines I tasted were hit-and-miss, but I fell in love with the area, and have been trying to keep up with the wine scene since. Loudoun is full of beautiful spots, and with more and more quality wines coming out of this region, there is plenty to see and taste.

“DC’s Wine Country” (yes, they’ve trademarked that) dates back to 1981, when Lew Parker planted his first grapes at Willowcroft Farm. Now, there are more than 40 wineries in the county.

During a recent online tasting coordinated by Virginia wine guru Frank Morgan, I tasted through several wines from this Northern Virginia region. While many of the wines and wineries were familiar to me before, this tasting reminded me that I need to get back to Loudoun more often — there’s still so much to explore.

Casanel comes through with a sparkling Chardonnay, and I learned they also make a sparkling Norton that I now must try. Walsh Family makes some really good stuff, and I highly recommend tasting their wines if you get a chance. Their Viognier (notoriously fickle and frequently flabby) was one of the most vibrant Virginia iterations I’ve tasted in a long time. Breaux (another producer I really appreciate) has gotten a lot of praise over the years for their Meritage, Merlot and other reds — and for good reason. Lost Creek and 50 West were both new to me, and offer up some interesting red blends, especially 50 West’s Tannat/Petit Verdot-based blend, which I found fascinating. Lastly, I tasted a Merlot from Rocky & Co., and I found the wine very attractive. This Middleburg-based project seems like one I need to watch.

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

Wine Reviews: Bubbles

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-26-2019

Americans love their bubbles. Even after more than a dozen years of growth, sparkling wine in U.S. is still on the rise, up about 5% last year. And, with the holidays and the New Year coming up, it’s a good time to be on the lookout for inexpensive bubbles.

I recently received some sparkling wines from around the world, most of which come in under $25 — no Champagne here, sorry!

Most of these wines come from Freixenet Mionetto USA, an amalgamation of the two brands known for their Cava and Prosecco, respectively.

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

Wine Reviews: Gundlach Bundschu & Peju

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-19-2019

This week, I’m back to California, focusing on one producer apiece from Sonoma and Napa.

Peju is a well-known name, and a hot spot for Napa wine tourists. This Rutherford estate, founded by Tony and Herta Peju in 1982, produces a wide range of wines (about 40). I tasted six wines (with wide national availability) from winemaker Sara Fowler.

I also tapped into some new wines from Sonoma stalwart Gundlach Bundschu (a.k.a., “Gun Bun”). This historic estate dates back to 1858, when Jacob Gundlach founded the Rhinefarm Vineyard.  I’ve been enjoying these wines for a long time, and I think Gun Bun wines can show a lot of quality for the price.

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

Wine Reviews: Autumnal Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-12-2019

Where I live, in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic, it’s finally starting to feel like autumn, my favorite season. After a hot, humid summer, I’m excited for autumnal weather, food, and wines.

The fall samples have been rolling in these past few weeks, and I’ve curated a selection of wines that would pair well with warm harvest meals, cool nights, and all that watching leaves change kinda stuff.

There’s a nice Mosel Riesling in this report, which I always enjoy around this time of year. Oregon offers up two delicious wines: a Vermentino from biodynamic Applegate Valley producer Troon, who seems to continually ace this variety; and a Brut Rosé from Gran Moraine, whose Pinots and Chardonnays I’ve enjoyed many times.

Chianti Ruffina’s Fattoria Selvapiana (which has been in the same family’s hands since the 1880s) delivers some serious value Sangiovese in this report. These wines show wide appeal, and I could see them fitting well on any big family table. And a zesty, savory Schiava from the Dolomites deserves attention for its food- and budget-friendly vibe.

Lastly, Gonzalez Byass, the large Sherry house, comes through with a few wines that should warm you up as winter approaches.

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 10-05-2019

It’s finally Fall, and the samples from California have been rolling in. This week, I’m focusing on some newly-releases Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs.

I’ve really enjoyed FEL’s take on classic Mendocino Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and their 2017s from the Savoy Vineyard are really something. They ride a clean line between being really pretty and expressive, and deep and age-worthy.

Gary Farrell is well-known for producing Sonoma Pinot and Chard, and they offer a wide portfolio of wines. They have a lot of solid value options, and more complex, single-vineyard wines, a few of which are in this report. Given their quality, I find these wines are priced very reasonably.

Also, Ramey and Sosie really deliver with some Sonoma Syrahs that would do well with some time in the cellar.

And a few other fun, value-driven wines round out this week’s report. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cognac Reviews

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-28-2019

thumbnailHonestly, spirits aren’t really my wheelhouse. I’m a simple, wine-loving dude who rarely consumes spirits or cocktails. But, if I’m going to put some 40% ABV liquid into my gut, it’s likely going to be an Islay Scotch or a good Cognac. So, I’m taking a break from wine this week to focus on this historic spirit.

Cognac seems well-known to wine-loving crowds. North of Bordeaux, in the chalky soils near the Charente River, thousands of growers farm Ugni Blanc grapes to make Cocnac. Spreading out from the village of Cognac, there are six different crus: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires. “Fine Champagne” refers to a blend composed of at least 50% Grande Champagne, with some Petite Champagne.

Most Cognac is made from the Ugni Blanc grape (known as Trebbiano in Italy), but Folle Blanche (which dominated the pre-phylloxera period) and Colombard are also found. The grapes are usually harvested in September, and then they undergo some fermentation, resulting in a high-acid white wine with about 9% alcohol. Then, Cognac producers begin a double distillation process in unique Charentais copper pot stills.

This spirit (eau de vie) is then aged for at least two years before it can be called Cognac. Aging is always done in oak casks, and many producers have their own cooperage system. The period of aging is indicated by a series of letters on the label. V.S. indicates with the youngest spirit in the is at least two years old. V.S.O.P. requires at least four years of aging. And, as of 2018, X.O. now means the youngest spirit in the bend is at least 10 years old.

Over the summer, I dove into some different Cognacs for review, and my notes are below.

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

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-24-2019

This week, I’m back with a catch-all report of wines I received these past few months but didn’t get around to reviewing until recently. (It’s been a busy and enjoyable summer, and I hope the same is true for you.)

Anyway… Smith-Madrone’s Spring Mountain wines are consistently some of my favorite from Napa, and I love their Chardonnay and Riesling in particular. So, since I tasted these wines sighted, I tried to approach them with as much skepticism as possible. That said, the 2016s showed wonderfully. Crystal clear, pristine wines, and both are worthy for serious cellar time. Especially considering the price, I’m still amazed these wines exist.

C.V.N.E. comes through with some moderately-priced Riojas worth checking out. And Italy’s Garafoli provides three wines from Marche that offer some deliciousness and intrigue for the price.

Lastly, Virginia’s Early Mountain delivers a juicy red quaffer that’s perfect for late summer evenings.

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

Wine Reviews: California Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-03-2019

I’m back this week with a diverse handful of newly-released California reds.

I’ve long been a fan of Adam Lee’s Siduri Pinot Noirs. It was purchased by Jackson Family a few years ago, but based on this and other tastings, I’ve found the aesthetic seems to be staying true to form. Adam’s first Siduri Pinot was producer from Anderson Valley fruit, and while tasting two 2017s, I was reminded about what drew me to these wines in the first place.

Napa’s Frank Family comes through with a Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon that bring a lot of personality for wines in their respective price ranges. And Louis Martini’s Sonoma and Napa Cabernets show themselves as accessible, fun but also “serious” wines that offer lots of value.

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