Wine Reviews: Italy

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-02-2021

I’m back this week with a wide-ranging mix of Italian wines. Aside from a few Piedmont wines, most of the wines in this week’s report hail from Tuscany. All these Tuscan samples show the diversity in styles, prices and wines from this heralded region. From bargain-priced bottles for pizza and patios, to a high-end Merlot that could be a great Right Bank ringer in a blind tasting, there’s hopefully something for everyone in here.

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

Wine Review: Raptor Ridge

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-17-2021

Raptor Ridge Winery has been building up a reputation for classic Oregon wines for more than a quarter century now. Founder and winegrower Scott Shull has been vinifying Oregon grapes since 1989, and in 1995, he founded Raptor Ridge as a garage winery. His wife Annie Shull is the winery’s chief operations officer, and together, this power couple went on to prepare their own vineyard in 2000, and open their own tasting room in 2010.

I’ve tasted a few of their wines over the years, and remember being impressed with their liveliness, depth and value. And, as a bird nerd and big-time raptor dork, I’ll confess, I was always attracted to how they incorporate local raptors (like Cooper’s Hawks and Peregrine Falcons) into their whole aesthetic. And I also respect their up-front stance on some of the States’ social woes, and their commitment to do what they can to diversify the wine industry.

But it’s all about the juice, and Raptor Ridge delivers. They source grapes from their estate Tuscowallame Vineyard, located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. The Shulls also obtain grapes from a range of different Willamette Valley vineyards, up to about a dozen, depending on the vintage. If you’re looking to try a few different wines without spending a ton of money, Raptor Ridge offers some pretty cool “$99 AVA Series” three-packs on their website.

I recently received a few Raptor Ridge wines to review, which represent a good cross-section of their portfolio. 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 04-03-2021

Spring has sprung here on the East Coast, with blossoms a’ bloomin’ and new California releases arriving. This week I have a large and diverse group of wines from across the Golden State.

Napa and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc offers a lot of spring and summer enjoyment, and there are some exciting options from Grieve and Chalk Hill. Chardonnays from Newton, Sonoma-Cutrer, Fort Ross and Frank Family deliver diversity.

On the red side of things, there are some rocking Napa Cabernets in this report from Shafer and Sullivan. And a lot of Pinot Noirs appear, with a bit of something for everyone.

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

Wine Reviews: Ravines Wine Cellars

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-20-2021

This week I’m focusing on three wines from New York’s Finger Lakes that really impressed me.

Started in 2001, Ravines Wine Cellars is the product of Morten and Lisa Hallgren, whose palates were honed in the culinary and winemaking worlds long before they came to America. Morten, Danish by birth, grew up in Provence, where his parents owned Domaine de Castel Roubine. He went on to study oenology in Montpellier and worked at Bordeaux’s Cos d’Estournel.

He worked in wineries in Texas and North Carolina before taking a job at the renowned Dr. Konstantin Frank Cellars. It was here that he developed a passion for dry, bright Finger Lakes wine.

They now have 130 acres of estate vines. I love Finger Lakes wines, so I was excited to taste through these offerings. They were exciting and offer a lot of tremendous value, especially if you’re looking to stock up for Spring and Summer.

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

Wine Reviews: Prosecco

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-06-2021

I’ve written about Prosecco several times in the past, and I’m back again to highlight some wines that may make you rethink this region. There’s a maze of supermarket big brands and mass-produced wines, sure, but of you dig a bit deeper, there are some good ones to discover.

The best wines come from the hills in the Valdobbiadene appellation, as they tend to show much more mineral, chalky, flinty tones with more verve and brightness. And even as you move up tiers of quality, the price points tend to stay highly reasonable. Some folks may still look down on Prosecco as mass-produced brunch stuff, but there are some wines out there filled with character. When it comes to bubbles, I’m a Champagne guy through and through, but there are a few wines in this report that I would rather drink that some of the big house, widely-available Champagnes that run at least twice the price.

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

Wine Reviews: Eden Rift

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-20-2021

If you like your California Pinot and Chardonnay bright, complex and nuanced, you may want to pay attention to this week’s offerings from Eden Rift.

This estate in the Cienega Valley AVA has been continuously producing grapes since the late 1800s. Under many different owners, the Hollister-area ranch has a storied history, from producing 100,000 gallons of wine a year in 1916 trying to stay afloat during Prohibition by selling grapes to the church for sacramental wine.

In 2016, the estate was purchased by Christian Pillsbury, a wine pro who holds a WSET Diploma and headed up Asia Pacific for Coravin. Hollister local Cory Waller, who has worked at neighboring Calera and others, works as winemaker. In the cellar, these wines undergo native yeast fermentation, nuanced use of new oak, and the alcohol levels are moderate (usually a bit under 14%).

If I had to briefly sum up the aesthetic of these wines up: they’re precise, clear and highly memorable, like a wildlife photograph framed just right and taken in wonderful focus. This is the first time I’ve tasted these wines, but it won’t be the last. In this report, I taste through their 2018 offerings, which include three Chardonnays and Pinots apiece, an Estate, a Reserve, and a Terraces.

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

Wine Reviews: Portugal and Spain

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-13-2021

Long-time readers may have heard me sing praises of wines from Portugal’s Alentejo region, and, well, I’m here to do it again. In this report, I have a nice mix of the region’s signature saucy, spicy reds that will keep you warm and cozy during winter.

Alentejo’s Esporão produces a dizzying array of wines. In this report, I have their entry-level, widely-available Monte Velho wines, which I think are some of the best values around. I also tasted three Vinho Verdes. I love those wines when I’m sitting at a café eating shellfish in Portugal, but they’re usually (by design), simple wines. Thee three in this report are something else entirely.

I enjoy vibrant, white wines year-round, and I have a few in this report that bring a crisp, summery feel to the colder, darker months. Two vibrant white Riojas, offer a lot of complexity, value and personality.

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

Book and Wine Review: Unplanned Parenthood: Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand, by Darren Delmore of Delmore Wines

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews, Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-10-2021

Unplanned Parenthood is the third installment in Darren Delmore’s Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand series and it’s very much in the same vein as the first two (Slave to the Vine, Lucky Country). It’s one man’s intensely vulnerable take on his journey in wine and search for contentment, stuffed to the brim with over-indulgence and poor decision making. It’s sad and frustrating, punctuated with enough laugh-out-loud moments and simple joys to pull you along—kind of the way life itself feels sometimes.

As I mentioned before, I was fortunate to run into Darren while cruising through Paso Robles a couple years ago. He was an incredibly gracious host to my wife and I at the Tin City co-op where he operates, even scaling the tall stacks of barrels with a wine thief to give us some samples. For this book release, he actually sent me some bottles (thanks, Darren!) to enjoy. I found his Pinots to be genuinely gulpable, and I greedily downed them, the Syrahs too. See my tasting notes below (“Read the rest of this entry”), and check out Darren’s website for more info.

In Lucky Country, Darren worked the harvest at Two Hands in Australia, and in Unplanned Parenthood we find him back in California, this time working at Goldeneye in Anderson Valley. It’s 2010 and he’s 34 years old. 

And it all starts with a bang.

One morning just before starting work at Goldeneye, Darren wakes up with a knee in his back, gun leveled at his head, and immediately second guesses the wisdom of planting that plot of Petite Sirah on a pot farm with his friend Willie. Luckily, they’re able to skirt jail time, as the authorities let them go, but it’s a scared-straight experience for Darren—at least for the moment.

The book covers a lot of ground, taking readers from California to Two Hands in Australia and back. (Those who’ve read Lucky County will be up to speed on the character lineup in Australia.) Darren drinks wine and beer (like, a lot); serenades friends, ladies, and crowds with his guitar; surfs some killer locales; walks with trepidation yet frothing desire into one fling after another, hoping for a love that lasts; and does his cellarhand thing. I also concluded by like page thirty that Darren should probably lay off the edibles.

This episode in the trilogy is more about Darren’s search for love than anything else. And that’s why I call the book intensely vulnerable. This is a real person, baring his soul on the written page, putting himself upon the altar of public critique and judgment. I judged Darren as I read. You’ll judge him too. That’s human. But I also think it’s the point. It’s all therapy: for Darren, who no doubt did some genuine self-reflection through the writing process, and for readers, who are called to reflect upon their own life choices, for better or worse.

Darren is building a great little brand here, based on his own style: oceanic, vagabond, raggedy, but with enough follow-through to actually pull off three legit books, a website, and 5+ bottlings of Pinot and Syrah. I dig it.

My Recommendation
I love reading Darren’s prose. It’s straightforward and honest—Hemingway’d approve. But I’m not a huge fan of the graphic nature of some of the scenes. I also struggle with the title, which is a bit misleading, since the “parenthood” component comes too late in the book and doesn’t play the role I’d expect. Those two disclaimers aside, Unplanned Parenthood is entertaining cover-to-cover, laugh-out-loud at times, and just a solid weekend read. We’ll see if Darren has a fourth installment in him!

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Valentine’s Day Selections

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-06-2021

This Valentine’s Day is much different than others, given the global pandemic. But, in the spirit of looking on the bright side, I’ve gathered together some wines that may help bring some joy to your Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re cooking at home or grabbing some takeout, here’s wishing you a happy and loving time with you and yours. (And, don’t worry, I don’t have any wine and chocolate pairings.)

There are plenty of bubbles in this report, including Moscato, Cava and Champagne. There are some solid inexpensive options in this report (because who couldn’t use some savings these days).

Southern Rhone blends, and specifically Cotes du Rhone wines, are largely responsible for getting me to take wine seriously. When I was first getting into wine, I loved the accessible price points and the vibrant, spicy, food-friendly appeal. I still love these wines, and I have a few delightful examples that offer value and quality.

California wines always have a place in my heart, so I’ve chosen a few that recently stuck out and seem like good choices for a wide range of palates.

Lastly, I included two wines from Oregon’s Troon Vineyard because, well, I love them.

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 01-24-2021

I’m back this week to highlight three Italian producers, two from Piedmont and one from Tuscany.

Tenuta di Arceno, based in southern Chianti Classico, brings a tasty little Super Tuscan to the table. The Gran Selezione is definitely something to check out.

Piedmont stalwart Vietti has a few regional classics. Vietti, whose wines I found available in my early 20s, was one of the producers that introduced me to Piedmont, and they’re still putting out wines that offer a great introduction to these wines at very reasonable prices.

Marchesi di Grésy has been in the di Grésy family since the late 1700s, but it wasn’t until 1973 that they starting making their own wines, instead of selling them to cooperatives. These wines are serious, structured, and, in my opinion, offer serious value.

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