Sunday, April 16, 2017

Alsace is Primo for Pinot Blanc, Gris & Noir

Alsace is primo Pinot territory. Not just Pinot Noir, of course, but its related varieties Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc have long and heralded histories in this region. I recent tasted through a few Pinots from Alsace and, unsurprisingly, I found a lot to like. 

I love the vibrancy, tanginess and minerality of this wines. But, especially in the whites, there’s such enjoyable interplay between plump texture and rich fruit flavors. There’s always some level of difficulty determining
how sweet an Alsace white wine will be (demonstrated by the two Pinot Gris wines in this tasting). If it says “vendange tardive,” meaning late harvest, you know you’re in for some sugar. But, otherwise, determining sweetness isn’t easy unless you’re well versed in the producer’s style. 

What’s easy about Alsace is the fact that the grape varieties are generally listed right there on the front label, and the prices can be quite reasonable.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc - France, Alsace
SRP: $ 16
Light gold color. Smells like fresh limes and white peaches topped in crushed chalk, limestone and intense white and yellow flowers. Medium-bodied with brisk acidity and a pleasant, slightly honeyed texture. Tangerine and peach nectarine blend with chalk, saline, white pepper, cut flowers. Deep, lingering sense of minerals. Crisp but lots of flavor and texture. (90 points)


2014 François Baur Pinot Blanc Herrenweg - France, Alsace
SRP: $18
Light gold color. Pretty and rich on the nose with lemon curd, lemon oil and tangerine, also some crushed shells, floral perfume and vanilla potpourri. Deep texture with bright acidity. Complex, balanced, rich and honeyed but lip-smacking and vibrant. Apricots, lemons, orange marmalade, the fruit blends with spiced white tea and salted almond. Very long, impressive in depth and complexity. I’d love to see how this ages over the next three to five years. (90 points)


2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés - France, Alsace
SRP: $20
Light gold color. Nose of lemon curd, apricot, pineapple, notes of crushed shells. Plump texture with fresh acidity, just a hint of sweetness, and it all lines up in balance. Juicy fruit (apricot, orange, lemon curd), mineral water, quinine, mint and sea salt notes with elements of white flowers and clean laundry. Very delicious but also precise and age-worthy. Long, lasting, mineral-encrusted finish. 13.5% alcohol and about 7 g/l residual sugar. Pure Alsace Pinot Gris goodness. (90 points)

2010 Maurice Schoech Pinot Gris Mambourg - France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
SRP: $30
Rich golden color. Smells like candle waxy, quinine, honeycomb, slight oxidative notes but woven in well with the bruised yellow apple and orange marmalade. Plump and richly textured with significant sweetness and moderate acidity. Flavors of apricots, orange marmalade, lemon pith, with notes of lamp oil and wax. Finishes with minerals and floral complexity. It seems a bit too sweet for my preference (40 g/l sugar) but quite nice. (87 points)


2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés - France, Alsace
SRP: $26

Very pale ruby color. Smells bright and refreshing with pomegranate, sour cherry and wild strawberry along with pepper, mushroom and lots of roses. Medium-bodied with fresh, lip-smacking acidity and subtle tannic structure. Crisp, chilled red fruits mix well with earth, mushroom and rosebush notes. Bright, refreshing, open for business and near-term enjoyment. (88 point)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Friday, April 14, 2017

This Spring & Summer, Check Out Virginia Rosé

If you’ve perused this blog at all, you know I’m a big supporter of Virginia wines. Are they among my favorite in the world? No. Do they take up a lot of space in my cellar? Not really. But with DC as my adopted home town, Virginia wine country has a very special place in my heart. And more and more producers are turning out all sorts of well-made, delicious, specifically Virginian wine.
 
Now that the spring is in full swing, you’ll likely see more and more rosé wine on the shelves. I’ve been seriously into wine for about a decade, and one of the most exciting big-picture trends I’ve seen over that time is the growth in popularity, quantity and quality of American dry rosé. Wine-drinkers in the U.S. have embraced dry, crisp, delicious, diverse pink wine as part of their consumption habits.
 
Wineries across the country can barely keep up with demand, especially in Virginia. I had a hard time finding recent statistics on Virginia rosé, but here’s my anecdotal evidence: There are more (and more very good) Virginia rosés than ever before. Almost all wineries make them, and now through early fall is prime pink wine time. So if you live in the DC-MD-VA area, get out there and find some!
 
Photo Credit: Frank Morgan - Drink What U Like
I recently tasted through seven different Virginia rosés during an online meetup with VA wine guru Frank Morgan and the winemakers from each of the wineries. It was a good chance to see what’s going in with Virginia pink and chat with the winemakers about how rosé fits into their portfolios.
  
These wines are all purposefully made into rosé, meaning the vineyards and grapes are managed with rosé production in mind, as opposed to some rosés made with grapes that didn’t fully ripen. A lot of rosé is sold directly to the consumer from tasting rooms (which are popular tourist destinations in the spring and summer months) while others have some small distribution around mid-Atlantic shops and restaurants. If you’re in the area, the best way to experience refreshing VA rosé is to head out to a vineyard and taste for yourself. Virginia wineries are located in some gorgeous country, and a crisp, cool pink on a hot day is a privilege worth seeking out.
 
Here are my notes on the wines I tasted…
 
2016 Early Mountain Vineyards Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
$24
Pale strawberry color. Bright and brisk aromas of white and red flowers, white cherries, strawberries, some green herbs and perfume. Crisp and zesty on the palate with fresh strawberries and tart white cherry notes, a white tea, green herb and baby’s breath notes. A refreshing salinity and minerality. Lots going on here but so lip-smackingly delicious, too.  60% Merlot, 25% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec, alcohol 12.2%, whole-cluster pressed, stainless steel fermented. (89 points)
 
2016 King Family Vineyards Crosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
$20
Rich watermelon color. Nose shows juicy peaches, nectarines and tart white cherries with white pepper, nettle and hyacinth. Bright and zesty palate, very perfumed (white flowers, perfume shop, a mass of honeysuckle, spiced floral tea), and some bright white cherry and watermelon rind fruit. Complex, generous texture, exciting yet straightforward and lively. 85% Merlot with some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (87 points)
 
$18
Color like watermelon Jolly ranchers. Nose of red apple, strawberry jam, rose petals, a note of cut flower stems. Medium-bodied with a fleshy texture and crisp, lip-smacking acid. This is a vibrant and crunchy dry wine with strawberries, juicy cherries and red apples, notes of honey, flowers, chalk dust, minerals and cheese rind. Wow, I am really surprised at how much I like this wine. Intensely fresh but also rich in fruit and flavor, very gluggable but showing solid complexity. All Chambourcin rose from a vineyard planted specifically for rosé. (89 points)
 
2016 Breaux Vineyards Rosé - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
$24
Pale watermelon color. Nose of McIntosh apple, sour cherry, raspberry leaf and bell pepper. A creamy, smooth, mouth-filling texture but dry and still very fresh. Red apple, strawberry, juicy fruit mixes with honeyed white tea, almond, white pepper, some Southern sweet tea (although tastes dry). Fun stuff. I like the combination of richness and spiciness in this wine. 38% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot. (87 points)
 
2016 Breaux Vineyards Cellar Selection Nebbiolo Rosé - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
$26
Medium copper color. Tons of white pepper and wild green herb aromas, lavender and roses on top of tart white cherry and strawberry fruit. Palate is 14.1% so there’s a creamy and even waxy texture but the acidity is lovely and supports white cherry, tart red plum and apple. Lots of white pepper and wild herbs and flowers, this is surprisingly complex, rich but vibrant, so delicious. All estate-grown Nebbiolo fermented in neutral oak and stainless steel. (90 points)
 
2014 Hillsborough Vineyards Serefina - Virginia, Northern Virginia
$26
Strawberry jam color. Smells like strawberry jam, Swedish fish candies, watermelon and rose petals. Medium+ bodied with brisk acidity. Flavors of sweet red apple, grapefruit pith, strawberry jam mixes with notes of rosewater, oregano, bitter seaweed and saline. Strange but fun. This is such an odd wine but oddly sort of attractive. Made with 90% Petit Manseng fermented in stainless steel, with 10% Tannat fermented on its skins in old French oak and blended in. (83 points)
 
2015 Hillsborough Vineyards Serefina - Virginia, Northern Virginia
$26
Dark cherry juice colored. A cider and orange wine-like aspect of wild yeast, candied orange peel. Medium-bodied and crisp with a spritz and a delightfully tangy bite. This is much better than the 2014, it shows more fruit and less austerity and oddities. Lots of cherries and blood orange with a tangy herbal and white pepper element – a sour beer/orange wine aspect to this wine, but it’s also neither of those things. Still perplexing, just a lot more accessible and approachable (and more delicious) than the 2014. Mostly Petit Manseng with some red wine (made from Tannat) blended in. (87 points)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lodi Rules: Sustainable Certified, Straight-Up Delicious Wines

I’ve praised Lodi in the past for being “a big tent freak show of awesomeness” because there are so many different and obscure varieties, gnarly old vines and a real spirit of experimentation among Lodi winemakers. This historic region located near Sacramento was long a producer of bulk wines, mostly Zinfandel. But that’s an old story. The new Lodi is a thrilling place for the wine-lover to explore.

Lodi has gotten lots of attention lately (including Wine Enthusiast’s Region of the Year in 2015), and I think a lot of this stems from the efforts of the the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the region’s trade group. Representing more than 750 growers, this group has been preaching the gospel of Lodi wine for about a quarter century, but they’ve really stepped it up in recent years.

Lodi boasts varied soils that can help dozens of grape varieties flourish, a Mediterranean-like climate with wide diurnal temperature swings, and a host of experienced growers and winemakers who take the grapes seriously. For consumers, this means a wide array of styles, blends, varietal wines, and a lot of them are less expensive than wines of comparable quality from other California regions.

Old vines are treasures, and Lodi has plenty of these vineyard gems, but their existence isn’t guaranteed. Growers face financial and development pressure to rip out old vines, or replant with new and more productive vines. Also, gnarly old vines require more labor-intensive hand harvesting. It’s more expense for less wine, but the finished wines can be fabulous.

Lodi is also on the cutting edge of environmentally-friendly farming and winemaking certification. I recently attended an on-line tasting (with Aaron Shinn of Round Valley Ranches, winemaker Chad Joseph and Stuart Spencer of the Lodi Winegrape Commission) focused on breaking down the Lodi Rules Sustainable Winegrowing Program. This is an extensive certification process that takes into account all sorts of different aspects of viticulture: pest control, soil, water, business practices. Based on 101 different measurable standards, the goal is to reduce pesticide risk to humans, animals and ecosystems. Since 2005, the program has certified about 24,000 acres in Lodi, and almost 13,000 acres in other areas of California. Some winemakers offer financial incentives to their growers to get certified, making it a little bit easier to get the vineyards up to snuff. According to the LWC, those incentives have exceeded $7 million since 2010.  

Below are my notes on the four wines I tasted.

SRP: $20
Light straw color. Aromas of white peaches and limes mix with honeysuckle, nettle and oregano. Crisp and clean on the palate but plenty of texture and bright acidity. Crunchy limes mix with juicy white peaches and guava nectar. Notes of sea salt, cut flowers, and I get refreshing minerals on the back end. This is serious Lodi Sauvignon Blanc. All stainless steel, 13% alcohol. (89 points)

2015 Bokisch Vineyards Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
SRP: $18
Light gold color. Bursting aromatic display of white and yellow flowers, lemons, limes, white peaches, along with honeysuckle, chamomile tea and some sliced cucumber. Brisk acidity meets a moderately creamy mouthfeel on a medium-bodied wine, it’s all balanced quite nicely. Juicy white peaches and tangy lemon blend well with notes of dandelion, white tea, honeysuckle and sea salt. Lively, refreshing, showing solid complexity but goes down so easily. All stainless steel, 12.5% alcohol.  (90 points)

2014 Michael Klouda Zinfandel Broken Vine - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $26
Light purple color. Interesting nose, because I get a mix of bright strawberry and raspberry with darker notes of prune and roasted plums, backed up with some spicy herbs and red flowers. Full-bodied but not thick at 14%, this wine shows moderate tannins and acidity. Juicy raspberry mixes with sweet black cherry, the fruit is pure and fresh and backed up with notes of incense sticks, clove, light roast coffee and red licorice. Packed with deliciousness but this stays fresh and vibrant as well. Aged 16 months in used oak. (90 points)

2014 Michael-David Vineyards Cabernet Franc Inkblot - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $35
Extracted purple color. Rich, dark, saucy aromas of black currant, blueberry, mulling spices, sweet coffee and black pepper glaze. Massive on the palate (15.4% alcohol) this has sweet, chewy tannins and low acidity. It’s extracted and rich and too heavy for my palate, but the fruit is delicious (plum cake, blueberry jam, sweet black cherries) and I get notes of coffee, vanilla and anise. I see how this would be a huge hit with a lot of wine drinkers, but it doesn’t seem balanced to me. I would never peg this as Cab Franc in a blind tasting. I probably would’ve guessed The Prisoner. Maybe this needs time, or maybe I will never wrap my palate around it. (Note: By day 2, this was a lot more interesting, so time is the key, I think.) This wine includes some Petite Sirah and is aged 21 months in French oak. (85 points)

Monday, April 10, 2017

New Post on The Inertia: Planning Epic Surf & Wine Trips

My favorite trips revolve around my two favorite things: surfing and wine. Luckily, there are many regions that produce both incredible wine and epic surf.

My new post on the top regions for wine and surf is now up at The Inertia.

Check out the full piece here.


Wine and waves pair perfectly and can be found together all over the world. Credit: Txakoli Ameztoi





Sunday, April 9, 2017

South American Value Wines From Trivento & Concha y Toro

Argentina’s Trivento and Chile’s Concha y Toro have been releasing delicious, crowd-friendly wines all of America for many years. With a series of appellations and brands, you can spend $10 to $25 and be pretty sure you’re going to get something solid. And each producer has high-end wines like Eolo and Don Melchor that are tremendously good.

I think the wines in this report offer casual or new wine drinkers a good introduction to the wines and styles widely available from Argentina and Chile. And there’s a little something (especially in the Marques to Casa Concha series) wine geeks should find interesting.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Trivento Malbec Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Medium ruby color. Aromas of bright red cherries and raspberry jam along with tobacco, cedar, anise and rose hips. Medium-bodied with light tannins and refreshing acidity, and it’s all balanced nicely. Raspberry jam and red plums mix with some loamy soil, cedar, mint and vanilla. Not deep or complex but a tasty, fresher style Malbec. (86 points)

2014 Trivento Malbec Golden Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $21
Deep ruby/light purple color. Nose of dark plums, vibrant black cherry and cassis, along with a complex web of violets, cedar, vanilla, charcoal and rocky, dark soil. Full-bodied and solidly structured with tannins but freshened with acidity. Juicy black cherries and tart blueberries blend so well with notes of roasted green herbs, black pepper, tobacco, graphite and violet petals. Good now but could hold for a few years. (89 points)

SRP: $17
Bright purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose with tart blueberry and black currant fruit, along with dark roast coffee, black licorice, graphite, potting soil and cedar notes. Full-bodied with silky tannins, offering some moderate grip, but there’s refreshing acidity. Dark currant and juicy but tart blueberries mix with loamy soil, graphite, charcoal, sweet pipe tobacco and espresso. Yummy but also serious in the sense that it could age a few years. (88 points)

SRP: $22
Bright yellow color. Aromas of juicy green apple mixed with richer, cinnamon-spiced, baked yellow apple, and a dollop of whipped cream, toasted nuts and vanilla. Full-bodied with a generously creamy texture but the acidity whips in and keeps it all quite clean and refreshing. Juicy yellow apples and pears mix with notes of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and cream filling, but there’s also some chalk dust and sea breeze notes underneath. Rich and bold but stays fresh. From the Quebrada Seca vineyard in Limari. (89 points)

SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose of ripe blackberries and cassis, violets, mint, cocoa powder, charcoal. Full and saucy on the palate, but suave, with medium/firm tannins and moderate acidity. Tart black currant, gushing black cherry, the fruit is mixed with loam, graphite, mint, mocha and vanilla. Lots going on here, and more and more comes out with air. Another great example of this perennially-performing Chilean Cabernet. 100% Cabernet from the Puente Alto and Pirque Vineyards. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Steele Wines: Long-Time Lake County Winery Produces Fun Wines at Moderate Prices

Jed Steele has been making wine in California for about 45 years. He first worked as a cellar rat at Stony Hill in the late 60, before getting his Master’s in Enology from UC Davis and heading off to work for Mendocino’s Edmeades. Add in some work at the burgeoning Kendall-Jackson, and Jed had all the experience he needed to start his own label in 1991. 

Steele, based in Kelseyville near Clear Lake (in Lake County), produces more than 20 different wines, everything from Aligote to Zinfandel. Jeb’s extensive experience in different California wine regions has allowed him to source fruit from many different sites. So I was surprised to see Chardonnay from Santa Barbara and Zinfandel from Mendocino all in the same lineup.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Steele Wines Chardonnay Steele Cuvée
- California
SRP: $21
Medium yellow color. Aromas of green apples and grapefruit with some honeyed herbal tea and flower vase notes. Medium-bodied, slightly waxy texture but fresh acidity. Green apples and bruised pear, vanilla crème, sharper notes of white pepper and dandelion. Some contrasting elements, but it’s still a fun wine. Aged 8 months in 20% new French oak, 13.5% alcohol, the fruit comes from several sites across California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino’s Redwood Valley. (86 points) 


2015 Steele Wines Chardonnay Durell Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $30
Pale yellow color. Aromas of peach nectar, yellow apple, honey, some chalk, mint and almond notes. On the palate, this shows a creamy, medium+ body but some fresh acidity. Limes mix with richer bruised apple and apricot fruit, and there’s a pretty contrast between the floral and grapefruit zest notes with some green tea, yellow flower and honey notes. Impressive, fresh, lengthy stuff. Aged 10-12 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points) 


2015 Steele Wines Cabernet Franc Rosé - California, North Coast, Lake County

SRP: $15
Bright watermelon color. Super floral nose with bananas, watermelon and cherry candy. Plump and juicy palate with some moderating acidity. Chunks of watermelon, raspberry jam, some tart white cherry notes, too, along with lots of floral perfume and banana peel. Fun, up-front, gluggable stuff. From the Silva Vineyard in Lake County. 14% alcohol. (85 points)

2013 Steele Wines Pinot Noir Goodchild Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Brisk aromas of chilled cranberries, juicy raspberries, rhubarb, clove and eucalyptus. Full, bold, chewy-textured, but freshness from the acidity and easy-on-the-mouth tannins. Rhubarb, rose petal, top soil and pickle notes mix in with some clove and vanilla. Stays ripe but this is such a crisp and vibrant style. 14.5% alcohol, aged 12 months in 30% new French oak. (89 points)

2013 Steele Wines Zinfandel Century Old Vines Catfish Vineyard
- California, North Coast, Clear Lake
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose of bold black cherries, currants, grape jelly, violets and anise. Full-bodied with surprisingly sturdy tannins and medium acidity. Dark cherries and blueberry fruit, ripe and juicy but showing a tart edge, mixes with loam, rocky soil, black pepper and black licorice notes. Delish, complex, some years of cellar potential, too. A single-vineyard wine from Kelsey Bench, Lake County, this includes small amounts of Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet, Petite Sirah and Cinsault. aged 12 months in 35% new hybrid French/American oak barrels, 14.5% alcohol. (89 points)

2013 Steele Wines Zinfandel Old Vine Zin Pacini Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. Rich and dark and saucy aromas of cherries, boysenberry, roasted coffee, violets, dark chocolate. Full and dark (15.2%), some tone to the tannic grip, some moderate acidity helps keep it from being too heavy. Black cherries and blackberries, loaded with roasted coffee, violets, sweet cola, black pepper glaze, some vanilla and ginger cookies. Opens up and shows a cool teriyaki jerky note. I think a few years would help this unwind even more. 15.2% alcohol, this spends 12 months in American oak. (89 points)


This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.