Monday, August 29, 2016

Wine Reviews: California White Wines

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, blends, this report features a bunch of California white wines from all over the state. The Dragonette Cellars Duvarita Vineyard 2014 was shockingly good, while Sonoma Chardonnay purveyor La Pitchoune continues to impress me with their 2013s. Toss in some newly-released Sauvignon Blancs and a few blends, and you've got a nice selection of late summer sippers.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

2014 Dragonette Cellars Chardonnay Duvarita Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $60
Medium gold color. Aromas of lemon curd, oranges, caramel apple, along with a kick of minerals, chalk and shells — this is quite exciting to sniff. Medium-full-bodied, I love the mouthfeel: plump and creamy yet balanced by vibrant acidity. Lemon meringue meets baked apple and peach tart. I love the complexity of honey, bread crumbs, graham cracker, a lively mineral kick. Rich but elegant and harmonious, this scores high in the deliciousness ranking. This wine comes out slugging, but it’s precision is so impressive. Wow, folks. Aged 12 months in 12% new French oak. From a clearly fascinating site in sandy soils west of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. (92 points)

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $35
Light gold color. A juicy, more tropical appeal on the nose, like papaya and pineapple mixed in with bruised apple and honeybutter. Lovely creamy texture on the palate, some medium acidity keeps it moving forward, but this is a velvety almost oily mouthfeel. Bruised apple, apricot jam, orange marmalade, those flavors are topped in almond, candle wax, clover honey and cinnamon sticks. Despite these rich flavors, the wine maintains vivacity and brightness, especially on the finish, where a kick of acidity and minerals leaves the palate wanting more. (89 points)

2014 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $52
Medium gold color. Gorgeous nose of yellow flowers, apple slices, orange peel, dried apricot, honey and some mountain stream rocks. Chunky texture on the palate, almost chewy (14.9% alcohol) but the acidity helps balance it out. Straight-up delicious, too: yellow apple, peaches, oranges and pineapples, topped in chopped nuts, honeycomb and almond skin. A nice kick of rocks and minerals bounces off the oak-influenced elements. Almost dense at this point but it opens up a lot, and will surely continue to do so in the cellar. No maloactic fermentation, this is aged 14 months in 3/4 new French oak. The grapes come from a single vineyard in Carneros. (91 points)

SRP: $26
Medium gold color. Smells of juicy pears, yellow apple and apricot jam with some nutty and butterscotch elements as well. Plump texture on the palate, this is a richly creamy wine but some slight acidity keeps it from feeling too heavy. Juicy apricot and bruised apple fruit mixes with nougat, peanut shell and butterscotch elements. Not too toasty or rich, but plenty of those big, delicious Chardonnay elements in this wine. Fermented in about 40% new French oak with full maloactic fermentation. (86 points)

2014 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $28
Light gold color. Bright floral notes mix with all colors of apples, and some aromas of hazelnut and almond. Juicy and round on the palate but cool acidity keeps it lively. Plump pears, baked apples and apricots mix with honeyed tea, cinnamon spice and caramel popcorn. Rich in texture and flavor but this is refreshing as well as delicious. Barrel-fermented and aged nine months in 25% new French oak. (87 points)

2014 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $20
Gold color. Smells of bruised apples, toasted almond, honey — you get the idea of the style. Plump and creamy on the palate, some light acidity helps. This wine is full of apricot, yellow apples, topped with nougat, cinnamon, hazelnut and butterscotch. A typical style, but it tastes good. (85 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $68
Light gold color. Smells like golden apples, juicy pears, mixed with honeysuckle, cinnamon, almond and crushed chalk. Full and creamy, a rich and lush feel, but the acidity keeps it firing. Plump yellow fruit (plum, appple, pear) and loaded with non-fruit complexity: honey, almond, nutmeg and clove. But these flavors are matched with chalk, wildflowers and sea spray. A delicious big boy of a Chardonnay, but it's paradoxically surgical. I’d love to re-taste in a few years. Aged 16 months in 1/3 new French oak. (91 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Chardonnay Chenoweth Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $88
Pretty golden color. I love the salty, nettle and white floral components to the nose, which liven up the rich apple and yellow plum fruit. Full-bodied, but this wine hides its weight well via the crisp acidity. Juicy yellow apple and plum, apricot and orange, mix in some honeycomb, croissant, salted butter. There’s a vibrant sense of sea shell and minerality in this wine, and the finish is long, creamy but crisp. Beautiful stuff — this is what my palate craves in Sonoma Chardonnay. I’d love to retaste in two or three years. Aged 16 months in 50% new French oak. (92 points)

2014 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $27
Light gold color. Very floral and bright on the nose with peaches and lychee, backed up by notes of cucumber and rosewater. Creamy texture, vibrant acidity, the fruit is very tropical (guava, pineapple, passion fruit), backed up by sweet honey, brown sugar and nougat. Sweet floral perfume pervades the finish. No maloactic fermentation, this spends 10 months in 20% new French oak. (87 points)

2013 Agnitio Wines Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $50
Light gold color. Smells of yellow apples and apricots covered in nougat, honey, lilies and clean laundry. Plump and creamy texture on the palate, acidity keeps it moderately fresh. Apricots and spiced apple sauce flavors mix with honey, chopped almonds and white tea. A rich style but it's not heavy, and I get this lively mineral presence in the wine that keeps it interesting. This wine sees 1/4 maloactic fermentation and time in 25% new French oak. (88 points)

2015 Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $22
Medium yellow color. Rich aromatics of guava, pineapple and limes, topped with lemongrass and sliced jalapenos. Medium-bodied, creamy, slightly waxy texture on the palate with medium acidity. Chunky pineapple and mango fruit blends nicely with citrus zest, grapefruit, salted lime and an integrated mix of lemon grass, white pepper and chalk. Solid stuff for the price. Includes 7% Semillon. (87 points)

2014 Murrieta's Well The Whip - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $24
Pale lemon color. Smells insanely floral and soapy, like perfume, honeysuckle and laundry powder on top of oranges and lychee. Medium-bodied with a slightly waxy mouthfeel and some moderate acidity. The oranges, white peaches and pineapple fruit is juicy and topped with candle wax, floral perfume, laundry soap and sugar cane and orange blossom. Really interesting flavors, here, but if you dislike floral notes or avoid this wine. A kitchen sink blend of Semillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli and Viognier. (85 points)

SRP: $13
Medium straw color. Nose of grapefruit and lime topped with white and green peppers, some honeysuckle as well. Medium-bodied with medium but refreshing acidity. The grapefruit and tangerines are ripe but tangy and blended in with elements of pepper, lemongrass and honeysuckle. Not too complex but very pleasant and refreshing. (85 points)

SRP: $31
Medium straw color. Aromas of juicy white peach, green apple mixed with elements of almond and green beans, honeysuckle and crushed chalk. Medium-plus-bodied with a creamy texture but bright acidity keeps it crisp and clean. Honeysuckle, lemongrass, chalk and minerals accent the green apple, sliced peaches and honeydew melon. Juicy fruit is mixed with quite complex elements of almond, honey, white tea, chalk and minerals. Tasty but racy stuff — another solid vintage of this wine. About 80% of this comes from the Musque clone, which accentuates these fresh floral elements. Aged six months in old French oak, which rounds out the wine but doesn’t impart oaky flavors. Nicely done, per usual. (88 points)

SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Honey, almonds and yellow flower aromas on top of apricot and yellow apple. On the palate, this shows a creamy, waxy texture but some solid acid keeps it quite balanced. Apricots, yellow plums, bruised apple, the fruit is backed up with some floral, white tea and honeycomb elements. Straight-up fun, but some nice balance and diversity of flavors. A blend of75% Chardonnay, 14% Viognier, 8% Roussanne and 3% Marsanne. (86 points)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Winery to Watch: Maryland's Old Westminster

In recent years, Virginia wine has been getting the recognition it deserves from more and more wine consumers and critics. But what about its neighbor to north, Maryland? After all, the climate and soils of the Virginia and Maryland Piedmont are quite similar, and wine producers in Maryland have been taking viticulture and winemaking seriously for decades. (The state's winemaking history goes back to the late 1600s.)

Checking out the Home Vineyard - Old Westminster Winery.
I lived in Maryland for a few years and tasked myself with touring and tasting as much as possible. I worked some harvests, pressed some grapes, volunteered at local wine events, worked tasting tables at the Maryland Wine Festival, and covered Maryland wine for a local newspaper. In the mid- and late-2000s, I found a lot of wines that were less than exciting. I'm talking about lots of (non-grape) fruit wines, off-dry, off-balance or thin wines. I did find some good juice from producers like Elk Run, Suguarloaf Mountain, Boordy, Cygnus and others. But, for wine exploring trips, I started heading to Virginia.

Maryland wine has changed. Shit is getting real.

Old Westminster Winery is taking the lead and making some of Maryland's most exciting wines. Along with producers like Serpent Ridge and Black Ankle, Old Westminster aims to prove Maryland wines are legit. For me, the evidence is clear. If you're skeptical (understandable), I invite you to seek out these wines with an open mind.

Old Westminster is a family affair, dating back to 2008, when Jay and Virginia Baker (no relation) decided the rocky soils of their Carroll County farm could be a vineyard. Eight years later, they produce a wide range of whites, reds and sparkling wines that will smash any negative preconceptions you have about Maryland vino.

Lisa, Drew & Ashli - Credit: Old Westminster Winery
The Baker children (all younger than me, damnit) have accomplished an impressive amount in a relatively brief period of time. Lisa crafts the wines, Drew manages the vineyard and Ashli heads up the tasting room and event planning. Together, they're pushing the limits of Maryland wine's potential, and turning quite a few heads (including mine) in the process.

After tasting through a few of their wines this summer, I had to visit. On a hot summer Sunday, I drove through the hills of Central Maryland with my 14-month-old girl to see what was going on.

Growing high quality wine grapes in such a warm and humid climate isn't easy, and as I drove to the winery, I was reminded of how difficult viticulture can be in this region. Do you remember those videos of massive flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland? That same storm had dumped 7 inches of rain overnight on the hills around Old Westminster. Gravel washouts, overflowing creeks, sopping earth —these ain't drought-stricken California vines.

Storms like this happen in the mid-Atlantic, and it's one of the crazy/awesome things about living here. So, given the frequent storms, it makes sense why the Bakers chose to plant Albariño, a white variety historically grown in the Rias Baixas region of Northern Spain. In Rias Baixas, they get plenty of sun, but it's also the rainiest region of Spain. The vineyards are heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the heavy storms it sends inland. Maryland, sound familiar?

This grape handles wet weather like a champ, and Albariño has the added benefit of making absolutely delicious wines. Old Westminster is making a strong argument with their Albariño: this grape should be planted widely in the Mid-Atlantic. Old Westminster makes a still and a sparkling Albariño (via the Petillant Naturel method) from their Home vineyard. Both are fascinating and tasty iterations of this grape.

So, I met up with Drew Baker at the winery. This place has an impressive tasting room with a lot of indoor and outdoor space. One could throw some seriously hopping wine parties at this winery, which opened last year. Drew poured a bunch of his wines for me to taste and we chatted about what his family is up to. And it struck me: each member of this family has put in a ton of effort in order to pull this off. And after some recent recognition from some food and wine publications, people (myself included) are starting to realize: we are seeing the future of Maryland wine unfold before us.

Old Westminster tends to pick grapes a bit early, which keeps the acidity higher. It also helps the grapes avoid mid-September storms, which can be intense, drench vineyards across the mid-Atlantic, and cause rot problems. The team at Old Westminster are churning out a bunch of different bottles, but the wines share a common thread: freshness, vibrant fruit, subtle complexities, judicious use of oak. The Home Vineyard is producing some stellar juice, but OW also sources grapes from some really interesting sites in Western Maryland. (I hear rumors of limestone soils and higher elevation vineyards. And... maybe... Riesling? More research required.)

I've introduced this project enough. You get it. I'm a fan. So I'll get to the wines. (Note: I sipped these wines and jotted these notes in a strange state of mind: at the winery, with Drew, while entertaining my 14-month-old, who was running around the tasting room shrieking with joy. Not exactly a formal tasting, but a really fun one.)

2014 Old Westminster Winery Chardonnay Home Vineyard - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Really solid aromatics. Bright acidity keeps this wine very lively, but there's a relatively creamy mouthfeel with nuanced hints of vanilla to accent the green and yellow apple fruit. Crisp and bright but full of flavor.

2014 Old Westminster Winery Sauvignon Blanc - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Salt and floral on the nose and palate with brisk acidity and a lean approach. Hints of white pepper and spice accent the sliced green apple and lime fruit. Bright, clean, nuanced, very impressive stuff for a grape that can be hard to pull off in Maryland.

2014 Old Westminster Winery Trio - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
This blend changes every year, but this vintage is Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc and Viognier. It's creamy and fleshy with ripe fruit but tart acidity. Hints of sweetness (from an off-dry fermentation of Chardonnay) but it's woven in really well. Nice little floral/spice/honey kick.

2015 Old Westminster Winery Viognier Cool Ridge Vineyard - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
This is a far more refreshing and vibrant style than most any mid-Atlantic Viognier I've tasted. Picked a bit earlier, the wine shows brisk acidity and, while fruity, is stays away from that extracted tropical style. Bright floral aromas. Crisp on the palate but the peach and melon fruit also has some honey notes. I love this style.

N.V. Old Westminster Winery Revelry First Edition - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
This kitchen sink blend is a fresh, vibrant and light red wine with lip-smacking acid and bright red fruits. Hints of pepper and earth as well. Delicious, fun stuff.

N.V. Old Westminster Winery Tapestry Second Edition - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
A multi-vintage blend that includes Syrah and some Bordeaux varieties. Juicy and vibrant with lots of fruit and a surprising dose of structure. Some earthy, pepper notes add complexity.

2013 Old Westminster Winery Channery Hill - Maryland, North Central Piedmont
Wow, this is really impressive juice. Dark, rich fruit on the nose with some leather and spice. Chewy texture, dusty tannins, medium acidity, lots of vibrant but dark berry fruit mixed with some smoke and earth. Downright delicious, too. 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

2013 Old Westminster Winery Cabernet Franc Home Vineyard - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
A bit dense upon first being open, but this is obviously serious juice. Dark, saucy berries mix with cinnamon, clove and pepper. The mouthfeel is rich but velvety smooth. Serious structure for the cellar, but it's got the juicy fruit to make it immediately pleasurable. Lots of pepper, earth, charcoal and clove complexity. Wow, I'd love to sit down with some friends and taste this over the course of an evening, or pop a bottle in five years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wine Reviews: California Bordeaux Reds

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Yes, California Cabernet is king, but this report includes some solid examples of Merlot, Malbec and Bordeaux varietal blends. Actually, a Malbec in this report blew me away with its awesomeness. 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2013 Scotto Family Wines 50 Harvests Meritage - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Gorgeous purple color. Dark and bold on the nose with black cherries, cassis and dark plums, topped in earth, graphite, charcoal and elements of cedar shavings. Full-bodied, this wine boasts firm tannins and some moderate acid, the wine is big but maintains a good level of balance. The dark berry and plum fruit is rich but tastes pure and lively. Beautiful secondary elements of charcoal, pencil shavings, spiced coffee, anise and vanilla. Chewy but not too heavy, a beautiful wine that should age nicely over the next ten years. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc aged 20 months in French oak. (89 points)

2013 Mount Veeder Winery Reserve - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $100
Vibrant purple color. Very pretty aromas of sweet plums, red and black currants, rich violets, earth, tobacco, mint and cedar. Full-bodied with some sturdy but velvety tannins and a good dose of acidity for balance. Flavors of roasted chestnut, espresso and dark chocolate and drizzled on top of plum, dark currant and juicy blackberries — the fruit is pure and vibrant. A bold, dominant wine but it’s put together wonderfully and has plenty to unveil after years in the cellar. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec, aged 20 months in 100% new French oak barrels. (92 points)

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville - California, Napa Valley, Oakville SRP: $55
Deep purple color. Nose: deep black currant, roasted figs, rich plums, with smoky charcoal, vanilla and cedar. Full-bodied on the palate, velvety texture but structured tannins, a surprising shot of tang from the acid. Black currant, blackberry, juicy plums, roasted fig — the fruit is chewy but seductive. Notes of vanilla, charcoal, espresso and lots of dark chocolate abound. Some earthy-leafy notes too. A few years of sleeping in the bottle will help, but it’s a relatively approachable style of young Napa Cab. All To Kalon fruit (81% Cab, with some Cab Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot) aged 22 months in about ¾ new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery BDX - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $65
Deep purple. Rich concentration on the nose, with black cherries, deep plums, blackberry compote, and then tobacco, mocha, eucalyptus and vanilla. Full-bodied with bold but velvety tannins, there’s a firm structure to the wine while some medium acidity helps it stay focused. Gushing black cherry, cassis, dark plum fruit with solid concentration. Notes of smoky oak and vanilla, but it doesn’t dominate, and I get notes of loamy soil, charcoal, grilled herbs and coffee. This will definitely improve with a few years in the cellar, as it shows serious concentration. . Cabernet Sauvignon with 32% Cab Franc, about 80% of which comes from the To Kalon Vineyard. (90 points)

Chris Carpenter does it again. Wow.
2012 Mt. Brave Malbec - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $80
Dark purple color. What a lovely nose! I get deep currants and plums, rich but elegant fruit, and a medley of cedar, leaves, violets, eucalyptus and clove. Such structure on the palate, firm tannins but moderate-plus acidity keeps the wine vibrant and holds it together nicely. The black cherry and currant fruit is so pure and silky but quite concentrated. I also get fallen leaves, deep flowers, black tea, charcoal and pencil shavings. The mocha and vanilla elements are matched by minerals and earth, and it combines in an overall beautiful package. Long-lived but boldly beautiful now. Perhaps the greatest California Malbec I’ve ever tasted. Aged 19 months in about 65% new French oak. (94 points)

2012 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $75
Deep purple color. Gorgeous aromatics, but they take a lot of time to open up. Dark currants, black cherries, lots of wet leaves, mossy earth, tobacco, eucalyptus, black tea, cedar and pencil shavings. Bold and so structured on the palate with firm tannins and moderate acidity that holds the wine together. Black cherries, dark currants, the fruit is dense but stays elegant. Pure, vibrant and enticing with its complexity of cedar, earth, tar, tobacco, eucalyptus and coffee grounds. Long and exquisite, gorgeous now but this has serious structure for five to twelve years of aging, easily. Includes a combined 12% Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, the wine is aged 19 months in about 80% new French oak. (93 points)

2013 Gainey Merlot - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $24
Rich purple color. Deep but lovely on the nose, with juicy plums, rich black cherries, the fruit smells so pure and it’s topped with loamy soil, sweet eucalyptus and vanilla. Full-bodied, medium acidity, structured tannins but they’re smoothed out around the edges. The black cherry, dark plum and blackberry fruit, rich and chewy but stays fresh. Dark roast coffee, graphite, loamy soil and eucalypts on the palate, accented with well-knit elements of vanilla and toast. A juicy, plush and downright delicious wine. From Gainey’s Home Ranch Vineyard, this includes 4% Cabernet Franc and is aged 15 months in 20% new French oak. (89 points)

2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $28
Juicy purple color. Cool blackberry and blueberry with some juicy cherry fruit as well. Notes of earth and violets mix with some milk chocolate and cherry wood. Med-full-bodied with some smooth but moderate tannins — a nice tanginess from the acidity. Blueberry, black cherry and plum fruit, which is ripe and juicy but not candied or dense. Floral, potting soil and coffee elements blend nicely with the toast and vanilla. Fan-friendly stuff with broad appeal but it’s put together very nicely. (87 points)

2013 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Jackson Estate - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley SRP: $38
Deep purple color. Aromas of spicy tobacco, pine needles and pepper accentuate the plush currant and black cherry fruit. Full but fleshy on the palate, very nice balanced between tannins and acidity. Juicy black cherries and cassis mix with quite balanced elements of cedar, coffee, vanilla and a bit of loamy soil and pepper to finish it all off. A velvety, pleasant style but it opens up a lot in the glass and will likely do more over the next few years. Includes a combined 6% Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and Merlot, aged 19 months in a mix of new and used French and American oak. (88 points)

2013 Tom Gore Vineyards Field Blend - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $40
Deep purple color. The nose is deep and lush with currants and plums, the fruit is rich but shows a tart edge, and I get notes of cedar, spicy tobacco and eucalyptus. Solid structure on the palate, nice grip to the tannins, medium acid. Tart black currant and black cherry fruit topped with smoke, cedar and eucalyptus. Significant structure but still vibrant, and it gets better with air. A blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo and Carignan aged 20 months in oak. (87 points)

2013 Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley SRP: $27
Medium purple color. Juicy currants plums and cherries on the nose, along with loam, rose petals, mint and coffee. Generous on the palate, but shows some vibrancy, with smooth tannins and medium acidity. Cedar, vanilla and cola mix well with the black cherry ice cream and juicy currant fruit. Fun, tasty stuff but shows a good amount of depth for a wine in this price point. Includes 8% Petite Sirah and 1% Merlot aged in 1/3 new oak (mostly American with about 25% French oak) for 16 months. (87 points)

2013 Tom Gore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California
SRP: $15
Dark ruby color. Juicy and jammy on the palate with blueberry jam and black cherry ice cream, but there’s a good amount of spice and earth mixed in as well. A juicy, chewy and straight-up delicious wine with soft tannins and mild acidity. The fruit is packed in there (blueberry jam, black cherry ice cream, roasted fig), but some charcoal and pepper elements add other elements. Sweet coffee, vanilla and coconut linger long onto the finish. Uncomplicated but highly delicious. Includes a combined 10% Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. (86 points) 

<85 points
2013 Liberated Wine Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Vibrant purple color. Smells of candied cherries, plum sauce and raspberry jam. Full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) with soft tannins and medium-low acidity. Jammy raspberries, cherries and raisin cake flavors mix with mocha, vanilla and coffee. Fun, simple, crowd-pleasing stuff. Includes 15% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc, this spends 12 months in French and American oak.

2014 Mirassou Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California
SRP: $12

Light purple color. Bursting sweet aromas of red licorice, raspberry jam, chocolate-covered cherries and vanilla cola. Medium-bodied, light tannins, medium-low acidity, a chewy and candied style of wine. Tastes like raspberry jam and milk chocolate candies filled with liquid cherry candy, and notes of vanilla and toast. A sweet, candied style if you’re looking for that style.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Red Wines for Summertime Sippping

It's still pretty hot in the mid-Atlantic (and much of the country), but that doesn't mean you need to limit yourself to white and pink wines. Some red wines are perfect for these late summer evenings.

A bunch of wine writers (myself included), give some of our recommendations for summer reds in a new article on the wine site Snooth.

Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Review: A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st-Century Winery

Does this plot sound familiar?

Wealthy couple who made a fortune in [insert Wall St., real estate, etc.] decides to chase their dreams: buying their own vineyard and winery in Napa. Once there, they bankroll an eponymous Cabernet of the dense and oaky variety, which garners high praise from Robert Parker. This couple revels in the realization of their dream, purchases art, clinks glasses with other wealthy folks and politicians at galas, fundraisers, etc.

Tell that same story again and again and you have a pretty good idea of what's gone on in Napa Valley over the past few decades. Sure there are outliers, upstarts, scrappy winemakers with a pick-up truck and a dream, but the highest pedestals are reserved for the wealthy who swoop in and buy a Napa Cab into existence.

Craig and Kathryn Hall tell their iteration of this story in a new book, "A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st-CenturyWinery." The book, slated for September release, reads like an extended press release.

Kathryn, former U.S. ambassador to Austria, has some family roots in the wine business — her family has a vineyard in Mendocino's Redwood Valley. Craig was a big real estate guru and co-owner of Dallas Cowboys. They seem like perfectly nice people. They seem to love what they do and respect their winemaking team and employees. They are clearly successful businesspeople and have done quite well for their wine brand. Hall wines have received plenty of 95+ point scores from major publications. But these ingredients do not an interesting story make.

The narrative point of view is impossible to nail down because it shifts back and forth with sporadic intensity. The reader get's Craig's first person POV, then Kathryn's, then a kind of omniscient third-person combo-POV which speaks for both of them. These can all be present in a single chapter.

The prose is bland and packed with clichés about shared passions, making wine from the ground up, insisting on quality over quantity, you get the idea.

This isn’t a book for wine nerds. Despite its prominence on the front cover, wine is a secondary character. The protagonist is the business venture, the brand, the “perfect score.” It just so happens that Napa Valley Cabernet acts as the stool on which the protagonist proudly stands.

The book does contain some discussion of the ins and outs of purchasing and running a winery. But if you know anything at all about wine, the tone sounds almost condescending when the authors explain basic aspects of growing grapes and making wine.

A good portion of the book is spent recounting which parties, auctions and charitable events the Halls attend — it’s “as if the Great Gatsby has returned life.” These chapters read more like “Tales of a Rich Napa Socialite,” with far too much focus on name-dropping and glamour.

The story of the titular 100-point wine is somewhat interesting. The team held off picking, making quite a risk to wait through a big storm, then meticulously pocked and sorted the grapes before moving the fruit to the winery. They do deserve congratulations for their hard work and realizing their dream of producing a 2010 vintage Cabernet (not an easy vintage at all). 

But I’m not sure this book has much to offer readers. Too much incoherence, too little grit. Too much navel-gazing, too little wine. Too much focus on scores, not enough focus on... well... everything else.  I was left desiring the art and soul promised in the title.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Excels in 2014 Vintage

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Ready to dig into some Willamette Valley Pinot Noir? My answer to that question will always be a resounding yes.

The majority of these releases hail from the 2014 vintage, a year heralded by many Willamette Valley winemakers as historic in its high quality. With record-breaking quantities of heat and plenty of sun, the Pinot grapes were ripe and the crop was bountiful. Some growers reporting a 40% increase in crop size from the 2013 vintage. But the quality of the fruit is high, and the wines I’ve tasted don't stray into overripe territory.

“Never seen the likes of it in 25 years,” Doug Tunnell of Brick House Wine Company told’m sure we’ll look back at 2014 as a rare gift.”

A stellar vintage like 2014 provides a perfect lens through which to examine Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from the entry level. And I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of vibrant, juicy, complex and delicious Pinots that cost less than $30. These wines tend to drink best young, but a lot of these 2014s will improve dramatically in the cellar, methinks. Some 2013 Pinots in this report showed very well, too.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 60 Souls Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $25
Light ruby color. A lighter, more restrained aromatic display of strawberries, raspberries, rose petals and hints of dusty earth. Quite full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) with moderate acid and light tannins, which lends itself to a chewier style. That said, the fruit is still showing some crunch around the edges, but there are some strawberry and raspberry jam elements that take the lead. Notes of pine forest and dusty soil, just a hint of oak. Nice stuff for the price. (85 points)

SRP: $19
Light ruby color. Aromas of bright cherries and strawberries with red licorice, sweet roses and cola. Medium-bodied, light tannins, crisp acidity. Flavors remind me of tart red apples, white cherries and wild strawberries. Notes of pepper, smoke and faint earth add a bit of complexity. Simple, pleasant stuff, this provides a great introduction to Oregon Pinot at a very reasonable price. (85 points)

2014 Adelsheim Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $32
Deep ruby color. A saucy cherry nose with bright raspberry, wet earth, cinnamon and clove, violets. Juicy texture on the palate, smooth but structured tannins and medium acidity. Plump black cherries, juicy raspberries and tart plums. I get clove, leather, roses and violets, some black tea, not to mention a thread of minerals and crushed rocks that strings this wine together. Even in the entry level category, Adelsheim nails it. Fun now but it actually has the structure to improve for a few years. (88 points)

2014 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Breaking Ground - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains
SRP: $45
Juicy ruby color. Aromas of juicy black cherries and raspberries, backed up by a mix of anise, cedar, dark chocolate and coffee notes. A very pretty and supple wine with fleshy tannins and cool acidity. Black cherry and raspberry flavors, the fruit is ripe but elegant. Complex elements of cola, violets, forest floor, fennel and tobacco. Such a crisp, vibrant and attractive wine right out of the bottle, but it has stuffing to improve for years. Aged 10 months in about ¼ new French oak. This is a new wine from Adelsheim to commemorate 45 years since David Adelsheim first purchased vineyard land in the Chehalem Mountains. (91 points)

SRP: $25
Bright ruby. A spicy, herbal and floral kick on the nose (like rose hips, pepper and sage) on top of tart cranberries and sour cherries. Medium-bodied, a velvety presence on the palate, although moderated by medium acid and dusty tannins. Juicy black cherries mix with cranberry sauce flavors, and I get some earth, spiced coffee, clove and cedar, which are woven together nicely. A very pretty wine. 10 months in about 11% new oak. (88 points) 

2014 Broadley Vineyards Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $20
Light ruby/bright rose color. Smells of ripe McIntosh apple, sour cherry, strawberry jam, and I get some caramel, coffee and earth. Medium tannins, tart acidity, medium-bodied with a slightly chewy presence. Ripe and juicy cherries, red apple peel, tart cherries – there’s a good amount of rose hips, white pepper and some cola and light roast coffee. Fruity but brisk, this is quite good for around $20 bucks. (87 points)

2013 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Aromas are sweet and warm, but also spicy and peppery, with cherries and strawberries and roses mixed in. Smooth but fleshy, medium-bodied, nice tart kick to the acidity with some dusty tannins. Cranberries and juicy cherries, the fruit is tart and juicy, laced with warm autumnal spices, dried leaves and a hefty dose of cracked black pepper. This deserves a spot on the table for sure. Very pretty but showing significant complexity. (88 points) 

2014 Chehalem Pinot Noir Three Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $32
Light ruby color. So bright and floral on the nose, along with spiced tea and clove to accent the sweet cherry and strawberry fruit. Medium+ body, smooth tannins, moderately rich texture with vibrant acidity. Pretty cherry and strawberry fruit, clean and fresh but packed with flavor, and I get elements of roses, clove, clay and underbrush. Underlying minerality and tobacco lingers onto the finish. Elegant and refined. From Corral Creek, Ridgecrest and Stoller Vineyards, this sees about 8% new oak. (89 points)

2014 Erath Pinot Noir Willakia Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills
SRP: $60
Deep ruby color. Takes time to open up, but then the black cherry, red currant and plum aromas start to come out, and I also get some rhubarb, potting soil, some mint and tobacco. Medium-bodied on the palate with dusty but structured tannins and precise acidity, a smooth but vibrant feel to the wine. Cranberry, plum and cherry fruit abound, but the fruit is suave and whipped together with elements of rose petal, mint, tobacco, coffee and spiced black tea. Complex and a bit tight at this point, so there’s a lot to unpack in the cellar. Aged in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

2014 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $29
Deep ruby color. On the nose, I get warm berry compote, strawberry jam, cola and coffee. Juicy strawberries and black cherries play off the light tannins and crisp acidity, the latter of which keeps the wine bright and tangy throughout. Notes of cola, sweet coffee, rhubarb pie, some clove and lavender notes. Lighter-style stuff, it shows well right out of the bottle. (86 points) 

SRP: $28
Vibrant rose/ruby color. Smells of sweet cherries and raspberry jam mixed with notes of sweet tobacco, spicy pepper and roses. Medium-bodied, light tannins, crisp acidity, making this pleasant and approachable. Juicy cherries, raspberries, strawberry jam, the fruit is backed up by notes of cola, wood and light roast coffee. Not super complex but very pleasant. (86 points)

2014 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir Red Cap - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $20
Pale ruby color. I love the smoke, leather and herbal complexity of aromas, which adorn the spicy strawberry and red currant fruit. Medium-bodied, a little grip to the tannins, vibrant acidity, this is lip-smacking wine but it has some punch to it. Juicy cherries and cranberry sauce, along with an interesting blend of pepper, leaves, rose petals and mushroom. Deliciously fruit but also spicy and savory. For this price point, this is wonderful stuff. (88 points)

2014 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Tavola - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $27
Juicy ruby color. Smells of raspberries, roses, cola, sweet rhubarb and white pepper. Medium-bodied with lightly fleshy tannins and crispy acidity. Juicy and fruity (raspberries, red cherries, strawberries) but tart and crunchy. Notes of smoke, white pepper, rhubarb and a herbal liqueur note. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff for near-term drinking. Aged 11 months in French oak (20% new). (86 points)

2014 Roco Pinot Noir Gravel Road - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $30
Light ruby color. Aromas show vibrant strawberries, cherries, along with rhubarb, rose petals and some clove. On the palate, light but slightly chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Fresh and fun but lots of flavor with juicy red and black berries, along with rhubarb and cola. There’s an earthy note with some coffee and toast to round it out. Delicious but tangy and spicy as well, this needs food and friends. (87 points)

2013 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Cuvée - Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $35
Medium ruby color. Vibrant aromas of raspberries and cherries, the fruit is light but so vibrant, and I get notes of rose petal and mint. Medium-bodied with light and dusty tannins, acidity keeps the wine refreshing. Juicy raspberries and strawberries bounce over the palate with ease – lots of rose petal and clay soil notes, with integrated flavors of coffee, and a lingering sense of pepper and mushroom. Delicious flavors, but it’s a nuanced and smooth wine that feels so easy and approachable to sip. (88 points)

2013 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Jordan Block - Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville
SRP: $50
Slightly darker ruby color. Nose of black cherries and strawberries, but I am loving these savory and earthy complexities: soy, tobacco, leather, black tea, mushroom – so much going on for the fan of these kinds of aromas. On the palate, good lord this is a spirited but elegant wine! Medium-bodied at 13% alcohol, the tannins provide structure but they’re fined down and approachable, with plenty of acidity to keep it vibrant. Gorgeous fruit (black cherry adds depth to the red currant and raspberry) but the non-fruit flavors are so striking: mushroom, soy, wet leaves, pepper, rose petals, potting soil — just a lot of stuff going on here. The complexity of flavors doesn’t prevent this wine from feeling smooth and elegant on the palate. Delicious stuff now, but I’d like to taste it in three years or so. (91 points) 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Cali Reds for Summertime Grilling

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It’s the dog days of summer in the mid-Atlantic, and it’s been hot and humid for as long as I can remember. When I’m done pounding H20 all day long, I generally uncork bubbles or whites or pink wine.

That said, if you’re firing up a grill, red wines should probably be involved, no matter the weather conditions. I recently tasted through a wide array of California red wines that should pair nicely with summertime meals, parties and grill-outs. From Petite Sirah to Zin blends to Rhone reds, there are some goodies in this report, many of which are reasonably priced. 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. 

2014 Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Medium ruby color. Jammy aromas of currants, plums and blackberries along with cola and coffee. Full and juicy with fleshy tannins and low acidity. A bold presence with saucy blueberry and jammy blackberries, backed up by cola, vanilla (lots of it) and caramel. High deliciousness factor for those with a Paso Robles sweet tooth predilection. 77% Zinfandel, 14% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah, 1% Grenache. (85 points)

2014 Chronic Cellars Petite Sirah Suite Petite - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $16
Deep purple color. Smells of rick blackberries, plum skins, blueberry concentrate, some roasted red pepper and vanilla as well. Full and chewy on the palate with some structure in the tannic grip, low acid makes this feel a bit heavy, but the flavors are delish: blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry jam. I also get some toasted coconut, mocha and crème brulee. Tasty stuff. Includes 15% Petite Sirah. (85 points)

2014 Chronic Cellars Sofa King Bueno - California, Central Coast, Paso RoblesSRP: $22
Vibrant purple color. Smells of roasted plums, blueberry and raspberry jam, along with sweet coffee and vanilla. Full-bodied and saucy with moderate tannic structure and low acidity. Dense plums, blackberries and blueberries, the fruit is jammy and rich and laced with smoke, black pepper glaze, milk chocolate, coffee. A bit candied and chewy in style but good amount of deliciousness. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Tannat. (85 points)

2012 Oso Libre Zinfandel Osezno - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $38
Medium ruby color. Smells like a spicy mix of pepper, clove and all spice on top of juicy plums and red cherry fruit with notes of maple and brown sugar. Full-bodied on the palate but not heavy, this has a waxy feel to it with fleshy tannins and medium acidity. A cool mix of black and red cherries with roasted figs and dates. Interesting blend of maple and roasted chestnut elements with spicy clove and nutmeg, and this makes for a fun spice rack of flavors. Stays clean, not too hot, with impressive balance and complexity. From the La Vista Vineyard in Adelaida, this Zin is aged 20 months in new Hungarian and old French oak. (90 points) 

2012 Oso Libre Nativo - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $45
Light ruby color. More floral on the nose than the Osezno Zinfandel, with roses and violets on top of juicy raspberries, red apples, wild strawberry, topped in some sage and pepper. Full but so velvety and silky on the palate, smooth tannin frams the medium acidity. Red apple and juicy cherries mix with darker plum notes, while the fruit is juicy and vibrant it’s not jam jar in the slightest. I get complex waves of roasted chestnut, allspice, tar, rhubarb, rose hips. Full of flavor but so bright, refined, even, although this could develop with time in the cellar. 100% Primitivo (Italian clone of Zinfandel), this wine is aged 20 months in new Hungarian and old French oak. (91 points) 

2013 Edmeades Winery Edmeades' Folly - California, Mendocino County
SRP: $26
Bright purple color. Aromas of black cherries, gushing blackberry, cassis — a dark, loamy, iron-rich note, like charcoal and tar mixed with dark coffee, toasted coconut and cedar shavings. A concentrated wine on the palate, with dusty tannic structure and medium-low acidity. Juicy black cherries and blueberries, covered in dark chocolate and some espresso. Sweet vanilla and charcoal, coffee and caramel sauce make this a bold a lush wine. Rich, saucy, bold, sure this is delicious but it’s also pretty complex and structured. A blend of Zinfandel with 23% Syrah, 15% Merlot and 15% Petite Sirah aged in 15% new American and French oak. (88 points)  

2013 Edmeades Winery Petite Sirah - California, Mendocino County
SRP: $35
Purple pitch colored. Deep and saucy aromatics with dense blueberry and boysenberry jam, also some vanilla, milk chocolate, charcoal pit and espresso. Full-bodied and chewy on the palate, some grit to the tannins, medium-low acidity. Blackberry, blueberry jam, mixes with espresso, dark chocolate, graphite, vanilla and charred wood. A bold and extracted wine but it’s structured well and could stand up to a big-ass steak or a few years in the cellar, or both. Includes 7% Zinfandel, this spends 15% new French oak, and 85% used French and American oak. (88 points) 

2013 Murrieta's Well The Spur - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $30
Smells sweet and juicy, dark but floral, with black and red berry fruit laced with smoke, herbs, dark chocolate and red licorice. Dusty-light tannins on the palate, some moderate acidity, this is a medium-full-bodied wine with a chewy, fruit-driven structure. Black cherries and currants mix with blueberry jam, and the fruit is touched with chocolate shavings, sweet barbecue sauce and some leafy, spicy elements. Fun stuff for the price. A blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. (86 points) 

2013 Murphy-Goode Zinfandel Liar's Dice - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $21
Light purple color. Smells of sweet cherries, candied raspberries, strawberry jam – along with some cocoa powder, pepper and sweet cola. Full-bodied, some moderate acid, light tannins but a chewy mouthfeel. Flavors of sweet cherries, raspberries and red currant jam, the fruit is juicy and ripe but also shows a bit of tartness. Roasted chestnuts, sweet cola, cedar and coffee notes add some complexity. Fun stuff for early consumption; bring on the grilled food. Includes 4% Petite Sirah, this is aged 10 months in mostly American oak. (86 points)