Monday, January 22, 2018

Humboldt: Digging Deep into California's Wildest, Most Remote Wine Region

For a state with a long history of winegrowing, wine from Humboldt County, California, is a relative newcomer. Located north of Mendocino, this is a vast area characterized by rugged coastlines, jagged mountain ridges, steep slopes, dense forests, and large swaths of untouched natural beauty. 

In my experience, wine from Humboldt is generally characterized by brisk acidity, crisp fruit, and complex earthy and savory elements. Don’t head to Humboldt looking for jammy, high-octane, teeth-staining wines. Organic viticulture, minimalist winemaking, and an experimental approach set the aesthetic for winemaking in Humboldt. 

Many vineyards are planted at elevations between 500 and 1,600 feet, as the elevation can rise quickly when heading inland from the coast. But it’s not necessarily the elevation that leads to Humboldt wine’s cool, vibrant style, but the persistent influence of the Pacific Ocean. A lot of coastal mountain ridges in California run North-South, but in Humboldt the ridges run East-West, and they’re steep. The perforations in the coastal mountain ridges suck in cold air from the ocean, while several creeks and rivers cut long, winding paths inland. This is also the wettest region of California, as round after round of winter storms crash in from the North Pacific, bringing massive waves, cold air, wind, and plenty of rain. 

This is where tiny Humboldt vineyards carve out a living. Due to its remoteness and rough terrain, vineyards are very few and far between. The total area planted to grapevines has hovered around only 120 acres in recent years, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

But each vineyard exists where it does because a dedicated grower decided to take a gamble and plant wine grapes. Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon lead the pack in terms of acreage planted, but small plots of many other grape varieties are scattered around Humboldt. 

Joe Collins, founder of Briceland Vineyards, is Humboldt County wine’s pioneer. In the early 1970s, when Joe finished college in Berkeley, he ventured deep into Northern California. He brought with him experience in home winemaking and an experimental ethos that found a perfect match in Humboldt County. A self-taught winemaker, he read a lot of books, and met up with long-time North Coast winemaker Jed Steele, who was working at Edmeades in Mendocino. Joe began sourcing Mendocino County grapes before he had any real operations in Humboldt.

In 1977, Joe planted some of the first grapevines in Humboldt County, an experimental effort of about 100 vines and a half dozen grape varieties. In the early 1980s, he planted more grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Briceland (named after the small eponymous Humboldt town) put out its first vintage in 1985. For the next few years, it subsisted on Mendocino County fruit. Beginning in the early 1990s, Joe was able to source reliable fruit (in small quantities) from a number of very small vineyards in Humboldt.

Early on, Joe focused a lot on Pinot Noir-based sparkling wine, but the range of wines increased as different varieties began to pop up around the county. Joe Collins and his wife Maggie Carey are now retired, and they have handed the reins to the next generation, Andrew and Rosie Morris. Andrew has kept the Briceland tradition going, but he’s also shifted focus a bit toward vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs (and other grapes).

In 2016, I visited Humboldt for the first time, to camp in the mountains and surf some massive waves with my brother for his 30th birthday. The waves, the mountains, the forests — I was blown away by the raw power and beauty of this area, known as the Lost Coast. I enjoyed a visit to Briceland Vineyards, which I detailed in this 2016 post, and spent time tasting and talking wine with Andrew Morris.

I was so excited by the wines, I knew I had to taste them again, at a table, in a less awe-inducing setting — my house. So Andrew sent me a mixed case of these wines, and I decided to gather up some wine friends and share my love of Humboldt wines with them. Overall, the wines were well received. The whites stood out for their precise varietal  examples of Sauv Blanc, Arneis, and Gewurztraminer. The single-vineyard Pinots are excellent, while the Syrah and Petit Verdot offer fascinating takes on these grapes, with flavors that may surprise you, and structure that will impress.

For me, each wine in this lineup had a certain signature, a stylistic quirk that was both unique and delicious. Below are my notes on the wines, which I tasted sighted.

2016 Briceland Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Reserve - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Love this stuff! Bursts with grapefruit, sea salt, lemon curd, spicy oregano, cut grass and sea breeze. Brisk and bright on the palate but I love the rich textural elements in this wine. Green melon, orange, lemon, apricot, the fruit is met with salt, chalk, mineral-driven complexity, with oregano, herbal tea, honeysuckle. No one element dominates, this is a harmonious and complex Sauvignon Blanc. (91 points)

2016 Briceland Vineyards Arneis Spirit Canyon Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Lovely aromatics and white peaches and yellow and white flowers, some lemon zest and spicy white pepper notes. So pretty on the palate, beautiful textural depth but nervy acidity. Lots of orange, kiwi, apricot and lemon fruit laced with chalky minerals and ocean spray, some floral and spicy undertones. A really exciting interpretation of this grape, which you don’t see much of in California. (91 points)

2016 Briceland Vineyards Gewürztraminer Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Bursting tropical aromatics of pineapple, kumquat, lychee, baby’s breath, dandelion. Dry and lovely waxy texture on the palate with bright acidity. Lots of floral-herbal complexity, honey, waxy notes, all blending nicely with the kumquat, white peach, apricot fruit. Lovely, vibrant stuff, super spicy and rich but dry, this is killer. (90 points)

N.V. Briceland Vineyards Rosé of Pinot - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Very pale watermelon color. Pretty aromatic display of strawberries, wild raspberries, nettle, rose hips, white tea. Medium-bodied, vibrant, lip-acidity frames the wine nicely, supported by strawberry and red apple peel. Some spicy herbal tea, lemon verbena, nettle and rose hip elements add complexity. Definitely more on the spicy herbal end of the rose spectrum, but I find this delicious and intriguing. (88 points)

2012 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Spicy and beefy on the nose with pickles and pepper on top of juicy cherry and red plum fruit. On the palate, impressive depth and structure to the tannins, refreshing acidity. Black cherry and pomegranate fruit laced with black pepper, sage, charcoal, smoky earth. Lots of depth for aging, but really delicious right out of the gate. (90 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Phelps Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Pretty ruby color. So pretty and floral and spicy on the nose, with rose petals, rhubarb, eucalyptus, pine tree, on top of fresh red cherries and raspberries. On the palate, crisp acidity frames the wine wonderfully, but there’s a solid backdrop from the tannins. Red cherry, pomegranate, raspberry, the fruit is fresh and chilled but juicy, and this is laced with rose petals, sweet herbs, wet earth. Lovely now, lots of years of improvement ahead. (92 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
A deeper ruby color. Black cherries burst on the nose, juicy raspberries, rose petals, some cola and sweeter herb notes here, but also a rich, wet soil note. On the palate, this is so fresh and juicy with lots of ripe cherries and raspberries, mixed with cola, rose petals — a lot of complexity in here, and the structure to age from solid tannic grip. (91 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Ronda's Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Deep ruby color. Aromas of suave cherries and raspberries, with rose petals and clove, some creosote and bay leaf kind of notes that are really attractive. Silky texture despite power from the tannins, there’s such refreshing acidity in this wine. Cool raspberry and red plum fruit, laced with savory spice and herb notes (tobacco, rose hips, clove, bay leaf, pepper), and some dark, earthy mineral tones as well. I’d love to see where this goes in three to five years. Wow, this is gorgeous stuff. (93 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Medium ruby color. Gorgeous aromatics of cherry cola, wild raspberry, red apple peel, and a complex variety of sweet herbal/floral and spicy/savory elements: roses, rhubarb, raspberry leaf, black tea, clove, pepper – lots to unpack. Vibrant acidity, medium tannic grip, the balance is really solid here. The fruit is so pretty and delicious, cherries, plums, raspberries, McIntosh apple, and mixed with leathery, spicy elements and deeper floral/earth tones. Such complexity here and lots of time for the cellar. (93 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Zinfandel Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Bright ruby color. Smells so pretty with bright red fruits (red apple, tart cherries, raspberry) with lots of menthol, tar, wild herbs. On the palate this is silky and tangy with soft tannins, goes down easy but the complexity is impressive. Raspberries and cherries mix with spice cake, clove, violets and pepper. Delicious stuff, so tangy and lively. (91 points)

2015 Briceland Vineyards Zinfandel Dark Horse Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Medium ruby color. Nose shows cherries and currants mixed with clove, spiced tea and raspberry leaf. Juicy, fresh and lively on the palate with smooth tannins and crisp acidity. Raspberry and black cherry fruit mixes so well with flavors of cola, earth, leather, roses and clove. Delicious stuff. (90 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Syrah Dark Horse Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Smoky aromas with herbs and pepper and dark plums. Fresh on the palate, moderate tannic backbone, the wine is packed with black cherries, tart plums. I get notes of earth, pepper, sage. This is a saucy but tart Syrah. (89 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Aromas of juicy black currants, sweet cocoa, leather, spiced tea, grilled herbs – nice! Sturdy tannins, medium acidity, well-framed with flavors of black cherries and dark plums. Bright but nicely structured with delicious savory, herbal, earthy and leathery tones. I’d love to bury this for four to six years. (90 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Petit Verdot Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Aromas of dark plums, tart black cherries, I love the complex elements of cocoa, charcoal, pepper, spiced black tea – lovely complexity in here. Tart but structured on the palate, although this isn’t hardened or rigid like a lot of young PV can be. Bright currant and roasted fig fruit mixes well with savory spice and earthy/charcoal elements. Lovely stuff, will continue to evolve for quite some time. (91 points)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Historic, Aged White & Tawny Ports from Kopke

I love Port, and of course, vintage Port. But there are so many other styles of Port that can be overlooked, at least until you receive a bunch of fascinating wines from Kopke.

Kopke does things a bit differently, with a unique focus on aged white Ports (10, 20, 30 and 40-year), as well as Colheita wines (vintage-dated Tawny Ports) dating back decades. Established in 1638, Kopke is obviously an ancient house with a long history, but most recently, in 2006, it was purchased by the Sogevinus Group, which owns several other Port brands.

All the wines I received were bottled in 2017, as noted on the back label. These wines spend as much time in the barrel as possible, and Kopke actually bottles their wines to order.

In short, Kopke boasts some fascinating stuff worth seeking out for the Port nerds out there. Skeptics of white Port, beware, these are wonderful wines. 

They were received as trade samples and tasted sighted from 375ml bottles.

N.V. Kopke Porto 10 Years Old White - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $40/375ml
Medium orange color. Aromas of orange peel, apricot jam, ginger, white flowers, honeysuckle. Plump texture on the palate but fresh acid, this is full of almond cake and graham cracker flavors on top of bruised apple and apricot jam. The depth is really impressive considering this is the youngest of the group. (90 points)

N.V. Kopke Porto 20 Year Old White - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $60/375ml
Rich orange color. Lovely aromatics of spiced white tea, candied orange peel, ginger snaps, toasted almond, honey – complex and evolving on the nose. Rich textural depth on the palate, a honeyed, oily mouthfeel but refreshing acidity keeps it in balance. The apricot and orange marmalade flavors play well with candied ginger, honeyed tea, graham cracker, toasted almond, spiced herbal liqueur. The complexity is wonderful, and yet it is fresh and easy to drink. (92 points)

N.V. Kopke Porto 30 Year Old White - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $90/375ml
Orange/amber color. Smells lovely: orange marmalade, apricot jam, green tea, ginger, almond, honey. Rich but so fresh on the palate with moderating acidity and plenty of orange, candied pineapple and mango flavors. Notes of graham cracker, cinnamon, candied ginger, along with complex elements of sea salt, spiced white tea, clover, floral perfume, honeycomb. Wow, this is complex, deep, delicious, gorgeous stuff! (94 points)

N.V. Kopke Porto 40 Year Old White - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $150/375ml
Rich amber color. Intoxicating aromas of lemon oil, almond, orange marmalade, caramelized sugar, candied apple peel, roasted pecans and honey – wow. The textural depth is absurd, honeyed and oily but stays fresh from the acidity. Flavors of apricot jam, ginger snaps, green tea, candle wax, wood varnish, graham cracker, honeycomb, the complexity is astounding. Long, lingering finish with deep notes of sea salt and honey. So delicious, but so lively. Wow. (96 points)

2003 Kopke Porto Colheita White - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $40/750ml
Rich orange color. Pretty aromatic display of orange liqueur, apricot jam, spiced tea, apple pie and cinnamon. Plump and rich but fresh, this is honeyed and plush with flavors of apricot, orange marmalade, graham cracker, lemon oil, so complex and deep. Delicious stuff with decades ahead. (92 points)

1941 Kopke Porto Colheita - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $785/750ml
Deep auburn color. Waves in intoxicating aromas: ginger snap, yellow raisin, candied pecans, dried mango, pumpkin pie spice. Incredible aromatic display. On the palate, the textural depth is impressive, medium acidity and the sweetness are woven in so beautifully. Harmonious flavors of glazed pear, baked apple, yellow raisin, topped in cinnamon, clove, candied nuts, shaved ginger, honey, spiced black tea, orange peel — complex and delicious, deep and velvety, wow. Gorgeous now, but this has decades to go for sure. (95 points)

1967 Kopke Porto Colheita - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $240/750ml
Rich amber color. Nose of caramel, clove, cinnamon and ginger snap on top of apple cider and orange marmalade, lots of intoxicating and complex aromas. Plump texture on the palate but such pretty acidity, balancing out the sweetness, and letting the flavors shine: ginger snap, apple crisp, orange marmalade, spiced orange liqueur, clove, honey, black tea. Rich and unctuous but plenty of freshness, too, and plenty of time ahead. (94 points)

1981 Kopke Porto Colheita - Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $240/750ml
Rich, deep orange color. Aromas of orange marmalade, fig paste, sweet tobacco, violets, clove, candied ginger. Full, rich texture but superb balance and freshness. Flavors of quince paste, yellow plums, dried apricot, with notes of cinnamon, clove, ginger snaps, fruit cake and graham cracker. Finishes with nougat, honey and freshness. Lots of depth, plenty of evolution ahead. (93 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Incredible Wine & Value from Lodi: Fields Family Wines

This week I have to rant a bit about some really impressive wines from Fields Family Wines. This Lodi estate and winery was purchased by Russ Fields in 2005, and Ryan Sherman makes the wines.

This producer represents everything I love about Lodi wines — lots of old vines, a wide range of grape varieties, vibrant flavor profiles. But these wines are also leaner, fresher and more minimalist in style than some of the burlier wines one can find from Lodi.

I’ve long been a fan of the Syrahs and Tempranillo from this producer, although I’ve never tasted an unexciting wine, and I’m excited to see what Ryan continues to do with Grenache Blanc and Vermentino. On top of the quality, this wines are a ripping deal considering the price tags.

They were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Fields Family Wines Grenache Blanc DeLu Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $24
Interesting pale copper color. Aromas of chalk dust, sea shells, limestone on top of peaches and apricots and orange blossom. Zesty acidity on the palate of this medium-bodied wine, it’s full of juicy fruit (apricot, green apple, lemon curd) but complex with elements of chalk dust, honeysuckle, sea shells, floral perfume. Mineral-driven, oceanic, crisp, lively, delicious stuff. More California Grenache Blanc, please! (91 points) 

2016 Fields Family Wines Vermentino DeLu Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $21
Medium yellow color. Love the nose of peaches and citrus peel, along with complex floral notes and sea salt. Crisp and lively wine on a medium-bodied frame with lots of lemon zest, peach nectar, apricot, along with chalky, sea shell and sea breeze notes and a whole lot of baby’s breath and cut flowers. Tingling minerality on the finish. Delicious, complex stuff. Insane value here. (92 points)  

2014 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lot 13 Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $28
Light purple color. Aromatic waves of red and black cherries and currants, complex roses and violets, spicy potpourri, anise, clay pots, tobacco and coffee grounds. Full-bodied, solid grip to the tannins, moderating acidity keeps it balanced. Plush but tangy with red and black cherries, plums and smoky figs, along with cocoa, anise, charcoal dust, tobacco pipe, grilled herbs, violets. Wow, the balance is pristine, the depth is obvious, the deliciousness is undeniable and I’d love to hold this for 3-5 years. (92 points)  

2014 Fields Family Wines Syrah Estate - California, Central Valley, Lodi, Mokelumne River
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Smells of spiced coffee, tobacco, black pepper, cinnamon, on top of tart black cherries, raspberries and tangy plums. Medium+ tannins, fresh acidity, nice balance and vibrancy but structure for the cellar. Tart plums and raspberries mix with cola, cocoa powder, spiced black tea, chicory coffee, cedar, fallen leaves and pepper. Lovely balance and freshness but this is also serious and will improve in the cellar. Stellar for the price. All Syrah aged in less than 20% new French oak. (91 points)

2016 Fields Family Wines Syrah Whole Cluster - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $25
Lively ruby color. Aromas of bright red cherries, wild blueberries, roses, black pepper, lavender, incense sticks. Wow, complex elements of earth and smashed rocks – fascinating to sniff. Medium-bodied with lip-smacking acidity, fresh but shows medium/dusty tannins. Plump but tart fruit (red and black cherries and tangy plums). Notes of coffee, black pepper, clove, bay leaf, loamy soil. Bright and juicy but complex, yet so easy to drink. 100% whole cluster, semi-carbonic fermentation in old barrels, 12.8% alcohol. Seek this out if you’re looking for a more Old World style Syrah from Lodi. Wow. (93 points) 

2014 Fields Family Wines Zinfandel Stampede Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi, Clements Hills
SRP: $28
Gorgeous ruby color. Vibrant aromas of red cherries, currants, strawberry, with lots of spicy oregano, rhubarb, pipe tobacco, violets and pepper. On the palate this shows solid but suave tannins, moderating acidity, and a lip-smacking appeal. Packed with cherries and currants, the fruit is tart but deep, and laced with notes of rich clay and loamy earth, violets, coffee, black olive, clove and spiced coffee. Silky, clean and crisp but packed with complex flavors and aging potential. (92 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Value and Deliciousness in New Releases from Portugal

I’ve been tasting a lot of Portuguese wines lately, which I’m always happy to do. Per usual, I found a bunch of exciting wines, many of which provide absurd levels of quality for the price.

I’ll have a report up soon on some epic Ports and reliable Madeira wines, but in the meantime, this report features solely dry wines, rosés, a white, and a bunch of dry reds. The latter category shines in this report, with many delicious, structured, age-worthy reds coming in with reasonable prices. And if you’re holed up during a crazy cold snap like the one we’ve had here on the East Coast, these Portuguese reds would be a great idea!

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Herdade Do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
SRP: $30
Light yellow color. Aroma of rich apples, pears, but also lime zest, honeysuckle, honeycomb, some salted almonds. Creamy texture but lip-smacking acidity, with lemon curd, apricot, yellow pear. Zesty, chalky, lemon verbena, crusty mineral notes mix with olive oil and waxy elements. Fascinating and delicious, it evolves so much with air and time in the glass. Made from Antao Vaz grapes. (91 points)

SRP: $16
Ruby red grapefruit color. So floral and spicy on the nose with white pepper, oregano and rhubarb along with strawberries and red apple peels. Racy but juicy on the palate with wild strawberries, red apple and raspberry. Notes of roses, white pepper, sliced cucumbers, chalky notes. Spicy but fruity, juicy but so refreshing. Made from all Touriga Nacional. (88 points)

2016 Azores Wine Company Vulcânico Rosé - Portugal, Açores, Vinho Regional Açores
SRP: $25
Pale salmon color. Nose of lovely white peaches, red apples, white pepper, rosemary, rhubarb. On the palate, this acidity is so refreshing and spicy, but generous creaminess and plenty of fruit (raspberry, red apple peel, white peach, strawberry). Plenty of white pepper, rhubarb, rose petals, white tea. Delicious, gluggable stuff but impressive depth and complexity. 25% Saborinho, 25% Argonomica, 25% Aragonez, 25% Touriga Nacional. (89 points)

SRP: $20
Rich purple color. Aromas of violets, clove, charcoal on top of black currants and roasted figs. Full-bodied, solid tannic grip but velvety, too, and moderating acidity. The black cherry and crunchy dark plum fruit is mixed with a host of savory spices and herbs (clove, bay leaf, black pepper, sage) and notes of fallen leaves and graphite. Complex, structured, but elegant, too, and so good for the money. A blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Barroca. (89 points)

2013 Adega Cooperativa de Borba Montes Claros Garrafeira - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo, Borba
SRP: $19
Light purple color. Aromas of tart black cherries, juicy blackberry am, along with spicy violets and clove potpourri, smoky earth, coffee, pepper and oak. Bold but suave on the palate (silky tannins, fresh acidity, lovely balance). Plenty of chewy plum and black cherry fruit, jammy but tart, too. Violets, eucalyptus, pepper, charcoal, vanilla, coffee. Plush but complex, fruit-tastic but earth and spicy as well. A blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez, Syrah and Touriga Nacional, aged 12 months in oak and chestnut barrels. (90 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Vinho Regional Alentejano Monte Velho - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
SRP: $9
Rich ruby color. Smells of spicy red and black berry compote, scorched earth, savory herbs and spices. Juicy but bright, fleshy tannins and fresh acidity make for a vibrant, balanced wine. Black cherries and blackberries mix well with smoky herbs, charcoal, vanilla, coffee, some underlying mineral and rocky elements. Nice depth but an accessible wine. A blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah. For the money, wow! (88 points)

2014 Esporão Alentejo Reserva - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
SRP: $28
Rich purple color. Aromas of cool black cherries, blackberries, violets, sweet coffee, dark chocolate shavings and cocoa. Nice grip to the tannins, medium acidity, with suave but chewy plums, black cherry and blackberry fruit, rich but nice tangy edge. Notes of cocoa, earth, spiced coffee, violets, coconut, black pepper. Shows depth and complexity to back up the delicious dark fruit, and I think this should improve nicely over the next 3-5 years. (89 points)

2015 Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Monte da Peceguina - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. Smells of plush but tart blackberries and black currants, along with violet petals, coffee, eucalyptus and lavender. Push texture on the palate but well-built with tannins and fresh acidity. Black currants, roasted figs, surprisingly deep fruit, with complexities of olive, graphite, dark chocolate shavings, anise and vanilla. The second wine from the Soares’ family, this is surprisingly good for the price. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon. (90 points)

2012 Casa de Mouraz Dão - Portugal, Beiras, Dão
SRP: $19
Light purple color. Aromas of spicy red and black currants, laced with smoky, meaty, leather notes, some cellar dust, olives and lots of earth. Medium+ bodied, smooth but structured tannins, medium-low acidity. Waves of tart black currants and cherries are tossed with pine resin, tobacco pipe, grilled peppered steak, coffee grounds and anise. Deep, complex, impressive, still time ahead. (90 points)

2015 Amareleza Vinhos Piteira Tinto de Talha - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
SRP: $23
Light purple color. On the nose, a huge burst of sweet plums, blueberry pancake syrup, cola and grape jelly. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, low acidity, this is packed with sweet, candied black and blue fruit and grape bubble gum and jam flavors. Some earth and sweet cola too. More than a bit out of whack and balance. Made from the Moreto grape. (78 points)

2014 Adega da Cartuxa Évora Cartuxa - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo, Évora
SRP: $25
Rich purple color. Rich currants and roasted figs, along with anise, espresso, mint, dark chocolate chips. Full-bodied on the palate, with solid grip but fresh acid and lovely balance. Crushed blackberries and suave black currants, the fruit is deep but tangy. Complex elements of freshly paved road, graphite, loamy earth, espresso, cedar and dark chocolate. Bold but stylish and pristine, and a long life ahead. (91 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Cork Report’s 2017 Wines of the Year

Image from The Cork Report.
For my first post of 2018, I wanted to highlight a great "best of" list from The Cork Report, a great wine site founded by Lenn Thompson. He focuses exclusively on American wines made in states that are not California, Washington or Oregon. These other 47 states produce a whole lot of really interesting wine, much of which flies under the radar for a lot of wine drinkers.

A solid group of wine writers got together and highlighted some of the most intriguing and delicious wines we came across in 2017, and the recommendations are all gathered up in this post. Check it my recommended wines from Arizona and Virginia, as well as some others.

All the best in 2018!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

In the #MeToo Era, Feminist Punk is Still a Powerful Weapon

Everything I know about feminism, I learned from punk rock.

Well, that’s not entirely true, a lot came from reading Simone de Beauvoir and Emma Goldman, and talking with strong women in my life who helped me understand the privileged position I hold as a male in my culture. But the importance of sexual equality, the need to dismantle patriarchy, these are values I hold, values I derived from punk rock.

The enduring #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment and assault (and the numerous revelations about so many well-known predatory men), has left me with a range of complex emotions. While listening to these conversations, I’ve struggled with feelings of helplessness. But I think the best thing I can do as a man is to listen to what women are trying to say, and maybe amplify a few voices.

With about 20 years of experience in various punk, hardcore and metal scenes throughout the United States, I realize I do have something to add, a lesson I’ve learned: Feminist messaging in extreme music has been, and continues to be, a prophylactic and necessary measure to combat sexual harassment and assault of women.

Shawna Potter of War on Women. Photo from Cody Ganzer.
The Baltimore punk band War on Women is one of today’s most outspoken feminist groups, and I’m a huge fan. The band comprises two men and two women, and they really rock the hell out of a live show (that’s what this is all about, after all). War on Women’s message is both empowering (as hardcore should be) and challenging (as punk rock and metal should be).

“We started very intentionally,” singer Shawna Potter said in a recent video interview with the music site Noisey. “We knew we wanted to make a feminist band, and we wanted to talk about things that matter… really explicitly and overtly.”

War on Women is an easy target — they are openly feminist social justice warriors who challenge patriarchy and sing with righteous indignation about rape culture, street harassment, and the infringements upon reproductive rights. Whenever strong and talented women enter a male-dominated space and stake a claim to it, there is a backlash from men, and it’s the same damn thing in the punk scene. The backlash against War on Women has been both disheartening and boringly predictable.

In an essay she wrote for Noisey, singer Shawna Potter tells the story of some of the vitriolic bullshit that happened while on the Vans Warped Tour this year. When a woman holding up a sign that said “Punk shouldn’t be predatory,” showed up at a set from the Boston band The Dickies, a member of the band (known for saying disgusting things about young women), went on an unhinged, threatening rant. Internet storms erupted, and unfortunately The Dickies found their fair share of men coming to their defense and lecturing War on Women and other feminist punk activists to, basically, shut up and leave the punk scene to the boys.

Photo from Cody Ganzer.
To these reactions, Potter has a simple message, which she told Noisey: “If you don’t like our band, that's fine. End sexism and I’ll literally have nothing to sing about.”

But sexism is, and has historically been, a serious issue in punk music. There are far too many stories of abusive men demeaning, harassing, assaulting, and raping women. I’ve seen men grope women at punk shows and take advantage of women who were drunk. One of the only times in my life I ever threw the first punch was at a man assaulting a woman at a punk show. Sexual harassment and assault in punk scenes happens too often, unfortunately, but it can be reduced.

The night before Trump’s inauguration, I attended a show by the British punk/folk songwriter Frank Turner. He said that the most beautiful thing about punk rock is that it allows people to create their own culture, to set their own values. Smashing sexism, stopping sexual violence, these are values, as long as the people within the culture claim them.

I grew up going to every Warped Tour to see bands like Bad Religion, Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, but haven’t been to one in years, and I was skeptical of War on Women’s decision to go on the tour, given its reputation for being a haven of drunken bros and teenage girls. But as I followed War on Women’s statements on social media, I realized the band saw the tour as an opportunity to reach people who might not otherwise be exposed to feminist ideas. Most punk, hardcore and metal shows are dominated by men, and the shows where women match the men in number are rare. War on Women made the most of this opportunity by organizing a campaign called “Safer Scenes.” The band described this campaign as a means of formulating proactive, preventative solutions to sexual harassment and assault that takes place in concerts and festival atmospheres.

“We want to help rid the Warped Tour of the ugliness it’s been plagued with over the years, and to do that we must shine a light on it,” Potter wrote. The idea was to train band members and concertgoers in bystander intervention, to help empower not only would-be victims of sexual harassment and assault but everyone else around to refuse to tolerate sexually abusive behavior.

I have to quickly highlight another example of punk as a weapon against sexual assault, and it comes from a Massachusetts band called Goolagoon. They are an insane amount of fun — after all it’s a Spongebob Squarepants-themed punk/grind band. I saw them play last year at a metal festival in Baltimore, and the fury of their live performance was incredible. The frontwoman, who goes only by Lily, is dynamic singer with an engaging stage presence, and she doesn’t mince her words when it comes to sexual violence.

Southern-California hardcore punk band Abjection. Credit: Cody Ganzer 
As she started off the band’s song “Life of Crime” (from their blistering record of the same name) Lily gripped the microphone and screamed at the top of her lungs: “To every man who’s ever sexually terrorized women: WE ARE NOT YOUR FUCKING PROPERTY! FUCK! RIGHT! OFF!” The band then goes into a brutal 50-second assault full of speedy riffs contrasted against slow, heavy noise. The crowd, myself included, was blown away and the band received loud applause from an audience composed almost entirely of men.

“PRO-FEMINIST” is written in block letters on the cover of Propagandhi’s album, Less Talk, More Rock. As an angry teenage boy (surrounded by a lot of other angry teenage boys), the loudly pro-feminist position of the band jumped out at me. I was 13 when that album came out and I bought it largely because the feminist message struck me as empowering and deserving of respect.

Propagandhi at DC's Rock & Roll Hotel - 2017
This band (one of my all-time favorites) has always been outspoken and in-your-face. I’ve supported the band for years, and saw them play a few weeks ago. They played flawlessly to an insane, excited, diverse crowd of fans, and their new album Victory Lap is a pristine and empowering if you’re feeling depressed in the Trump era.

In a recent interview on Canadian radio, Propagandhi frontman Chris Hannah talked about the “frat boy” punk scene culture that he was speaking out against when the band released Less Talk. “We made a conscious decision, the only conscious decision we ever made, to make sure people knew exactly what we were about, and we put out that record Less Talk, More Rock, which actually said ‘Gay-Positive, Pro-Feminist’ on the cover, and our record sales plummeted, and none of those jocks were at our shows anymore,” Hannah said.

He calls taking that stance “career suicide,” but the album (and the band) has stood the test of time. And the punk scene’s progressive shift has proven that, for every guy who got pissed and left when a band took a pro-feminist stance, more open-minded punks took their place. More women filled that space.

Of course, feminist punk is nothing new. As anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s knows, plenty of momentous feminist punk bands have been sounding these alarms since before I was born. (The music magazine Pitchfork released a great discography of feminist punk classics, which you can check out here. I think it’s an awesome list.)

For me, Crass’ “Penis Envy” is a classic feminist punk record, and one of my favorite punk albums of all time. Musically astringent, raw and chaotic, with intense vocals from Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre, and lyrics immersed in feminism and anarcho-politics. It’s as powerful today as it was in 1981. Bikini Kill, X-Ray Spex, Vice Squad, the Slits, even pre-punk rockers like Patti Smith — this movement goes way back. But feminist punk culture is still alive and well. And that’s a great thing, because it is necessary, effective, and a whole lot of fun, too. 

What drew me to punk and metal scenes was the welcoming atmosphere, as strange as that may sound considering how loud and abrasive the music can be. I found punk shows to be spaces where people from all backgrounds could find other misfits and forget their problems while listening to some kick-ass music. Punk hasn’t died and won’t anytime soon, young men are being attracted to punk scenes for the first time right now. My hope is that they, like me, will be introduced to powerful feminist messages at a young age. And I hope that fighting sexism, misogyny and sexual violence will continue to be a value that many punk rockers hold.

This post first appeared on the site Good Men Project.