Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wine in the Wilderness - Exploring Humboldt's Lost Coast

No highways cut through here. Mountains drop precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. Everything is wet and the nights are long and cold. This mountainous coastal region of northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt Counties, called the Lost Coast, is the largest stretch of coastal wilderness in the lower 48 states.

I came here for the waves, the stoke, the mountains, the serene darkness of the forest. And, yes, the wine. They make damn good wine out here.

I visited Andrew Morris, the winemaker and proprietor of Briceland Vineyards, on a rare warm and sunny morning in November. The sun poked through after a terrible downpour that lasted all night (a local told me it rained four inches). My friend and I were forced to bail, soaked and frozen, from our flooded tent and sleep in our car. In the morning, we checked the surf, but the tide was dead high, making it impossible to reach our spot. So we grabbed some coffee and drove over the mountains to see Andrew. The drive east on Shelter Cove Road could be described using any or all of the following words: gorgeous, sketchy, stunning — holy shit, bro, you’re way too close to the edge! — mindboggling, etc.

When rainstorms come early, they can be a big threat to the grape harvest, but the grapes had been harvested more than a month ago. My brother, travelling buddies and I visited the Lost Coast in full-swing rainy season. But we lucked out, and only got one soaking wet night out of five. Even when it’s not actively raining, the Lost Coast is a wet place. The air tasted of mountain stream and I could watch individual droplets drift in the thick fog. Cold mountain streams cut through forests, waterfalls pour down rocks cliffs into the sea, dense fog packs narrow valleys, rich moss and ferns pad the ground while massive redwoods block out the sun. After a soaking wet October, mushrooms flourished in the woods. My brother is a mushroom foraging guru, so I just followed his lead and cooked the mushrooms he said were both safe and tasty. 

Hand-foraged mushrooms sautéed over a campfire, paired with Humboldt Pinot is an epic palate experience.

This is an extreme place in every way, and that’s why we came. The weather swings can be extreme. Ditto for the waves, which ranged in size from pumping 10 feet to death-defying 30 feet. My brother and I, lifelong surfing buds, caught some incredible waves, but also spent too much time underwater, getting worked by the cold, chunky surf and currents. Here, the surf is sketchier, the waters sharkier, the roads hairier, and the marijuana smells much, much better. In this environment (like all of the challenging regions home to great wine), growing wine grapes needs to be done with extreme care.

A “good vintage” in Humboldt, Andrew said, would start without a late spring frost, which can damage grapes during critical growing stages. A good vintage would have plenty of ripening days — a certain amount of days with proper sunlight, providing what is needed to fully ripen grapes. And while Humboldt gets fewer ripening days than California regions further south and inland, it’s still ahead of Burgundy. I hear they make some decent Pinot there. A good vintage would also end without an early appearance of autumn’s cold and rain. And, preferably, a good vintage would be free from forest fires, which break out during the dry season and threaten these small, rugged vineyards with smoke taint. Despite these pitfalls, when a finished Pinot Noir or Zinfandel from Humboldt makes it through, the result can be phenomenal.

Take Andrew’s Pinot Noirs, sourced from several single vineyards in southern Humboldt County. These wines are lower in alcohol (usually in the low 13% range) and packed with lip-smacking acidity. They’re incredibly fresh and food-friendly and lack any brazen new oak influences or baked, extracted flavors. The tannins are present and provide structure (combined with the acidity, this makes for great aging potential), but they’re very accessible in their youth. No dark roast coffee or caramel-cola stuff going on here. These are anti-Kosta-Brownes, and I’m stoked they exist.

Andrew studied winemaking at the UC Davis extension and apprenticed with his father-in-law, Joe Collins, Briceland’s founder and winemaker. Gradually, Andrew took the reins. With consummate attention to detail and high technical knowledge, Andrew wanted to keep the reputation of Briceland’s wines going strong.

Andrew and his wife Rosie of Briceland Vineyards.
In the 1970s, Joe Collins began experimental plantings in Humboldt, which was considered by many in the growing California wine industry to be too cold and wet to grow proper wine grapes. But small growers scoped out the right spots, the right grape varieties, and they made it happen. Briceland quickly developed several sources of high quality fruit, most of which are small parcels carved into the forest on steep slopes. By 1985, Joe Collins and Maggie Carey launched Briceland Vineyards.

Like most commercial outfits in Humboldt, this is a boutique operation. Andrew releases only 1,500 cases of wine per year, and about 75% of that never leaves the area. Briceland sells a lot of its wines in restaurants (of which there are few) and local shops. (If you’re headed to Shelter Cove, the General Store has an awesome selection of Briceland’s wines and a bunch of local brews — highly recommended). About 75% of Briceland wines come from Humboldt, while Andrew also works with some really good Mendocino fruit.

I’ve been a huge fan of Mendocino wines for years (and a big fan of the few Humboldt wines I’d tasted), so it was fascinating to taste Andrew’s Syrahs and Zinfandels back to back, one of each from Humboldt and Mendocino. The Mendocino stuff has a bit more richness and darker, sunshiny fruit, while the elegance and tart freshness of the Humboldt fruit really shines through.

There are two ways to get your hands on these wines. You could travel to the area, which will be epic, I guarantee it. Or maybe you could contact Briceland directly. But if you love the adventure of wine, and you’re open to this style, you’ll be thrilled. These wines range in price from about $21 for the white wines to $35 for some of the single-vineyard Pinots — all absurdly reasonable for the high quality of the juice.

Below are my notes on the wines I tasted with Andrew.

2015 Briceland Vineyards Gewürztraminer Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
An exciting, zesty, bone-dry version with tropical fruit and floral spice on the nose. Crisp acidity, medium-bodied with a slightly creamy mouthfeel and flavors of peaches, guava and honey to mix with minerals and white pepper. Delicious, lip-smacking, endless food pairing options. (89 points)

2015 Briceland Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Humboldt County - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
A vibrant and zesty Sauvignon Blanc with white pepper, lemon and peach aromas. Crisp and very bright with complex elements of salty spice to accent the lemon and green melon fruit. (88 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Arneis Spirit Canyon Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Smells of peaches, white flowers, lemon oil and a hint of pepper. So bright and clean on the palate with a salty appeal on top of lemon, orange peel and kiwi fruit. Delicious, nervy and intriguing. Not much Arneis in California, but Mendocino is home to some very good stuff. (90 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Very pretty aromas of tart and spicy cherries, mint and earth. Bright acidity and moderately structured tannins, the cherries are crunchy and delicious and laced with notes of sweet flowers, strawberry greens, clove and an underlying mineral freshness. An eye-opening wine. (90 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Ronda's Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Aromas of gushing cherries and raspberries, lots of rose petal and eucalyptus, too. Lush palate with soft tannins and bright, crisp acidity. Waves of tar black cherries and strawberries, the fruit is laced with notes of spicy clove, wet leaves and mossy earth. Complex, vibrant, straight-up delicious. A uniquely Humboldt Pinot that hails from a 1,600 foot, South-facing slope planted in 1983. (92 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Phelps Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Aromas of juicier, darker cherries with some raspberries and fresh herbal notes. Juicy and fleshy but structured tannins and crisp acidity. Flavors of cola, rhubarb and raspberry leaf tea accent the cherry and strawberry fruit. Lovely spicy complexity. (91 points)

2013 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
These Pinots keep on firing. This one shows more smoky earth, violets, savory spices on top of juicy cherries. Smooth, fresh and juicy with complex spice, leather and earth accents on top of tart strawberries and cherries, hints of cola and eucalyptus. (92 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Sweeter cherry fruit than the 2013, with that same spicy/savory quality and smoky earth. Silky, smooth but tart acidity, the tart red fruit is complex and so bright. Notes of earth, clove, savory mushrooms. Wow, such a pretty wine. It opened up a lot (as friends and I drank the rest of the bottle with dinner). Huge hit. (92 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Zinfandel Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt CountyLove the aromas of tart red fruit and spice. Silky, fresh and spicy with rose petals, earth and spice. Wow. If tasted blind, I could see mistaking this for a Pinot but, when sipped after Briceland Pinots, this shows more sweet flowers and earth. Lovely stuff. (91 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Zinfandel Dark Horse Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
This vineyard shows aromas of darker cherries and clove. The fruit is (relatively) darker than the Ishi Pishi, showing more black cherry and blackberry, but still so fresh with medium/light tannins. I get notes of clove, tobacco and cola. A vibrant Zinfandel, very interesting to taste back-to-back with the Ishi Pishi Ranch. (90 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Syrah Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Gorgeous aromas of red and black currants topped in black pepper, roasted red pepper and charred herbs. Juicy and so darn fresh on the palate with moderate/light tannic structure. Red cherries, a touch of black cherry, topped in scorched earth, violets, black pepper, beef broth and cured meat. Delicious flavors, this is an intriguing and complex Syrah. (91 points)

2014 Briceland Vineyards Syrah Dark Horse Vineyard - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Smells like juicy black cherries, leather and spicy pepper. Chewier texture than the Ishi Pishi Ranch, this shows bright acid and medium/light tannins. Red and black cherries topped with pepper, violets and baking spices. So fun and juicy but surprisingly complex. (90 points)

2012 Briceland Vineyards Noir D'Orleans Ishi Pishi Ranch - California, North Coast, Humboldt County
Smells of dark plums and currants topped in loam and spicy clove. Rich but fresh, tart and vibrant, structured nicely with firm tannins. Bright black currant and crunchy plums and notes of peppercorns, roasted red pepper, loamy earth and spiced coffee. Seems like a good one to bury for a few years. Dominated by Petit Verdot, with some other Bordeaux varieties. For those tired of heavy, oak-slathered California Bordeaux reds, try this zesty number. (90 points)

If you're interested, I put together a four-minute GoPro video of my surf adventures here: 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Winter is on its way, and here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s already cold, windy and dark most of the time. Sure, it’s prime time for burly red wines, but I sip whites all year round. I cook a lot of vegetarian dishes, so I always have chilled white wines around, and sometimes I just can’t handle to density or tannic bite of a young red wine.

I recently tasted through a few Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs from California, and found a lot to like.

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

2015 Matchbook Chardonnay Old Head - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $15
Medium yellow color. Smells of bruised yellow apples, apricot, white peaches, and the fruit is topped with honey and toasted nuts. On the palate this shows plump and honeyed texture with medium-low acidity. Juicy pears and bruised apples fruit, rich and generous, mixed with honeyed tea, buttered popcorn and some toasted nuts. A bit simple, but fun stuff if you like this style. Aged in about 20% new oak barrels. (85 points) 

2014 FEL Chardonnay Savoy Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $48
Rich golden color. Aromas of bruised apple, baked pear, apricot, along with some hazelnut and dried honey, some yellow flowers and orange blossom. The aromas get really complex and expressive with air. The palate is full-bodied with a creamy texture but the acidity is bright and vibrant. Juicy peach and pear fruit combines with banana and baked apple. Complex secondary flavors of hazelnut, almond, honeycomb, finishes with a spritz of acidity and minerals. Very impressive now but should improve nicely in the cellar. Aged two years in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

2014 Stonestreet Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $40
Bright gold color. Aromas of peach, glazed apple, honeysuckle, and an interesting mix of sea salt and caramelized nuts. Full bodied and rich but generous acidity, the bruised apple and baked pear fruit mixes with bright white flowers and a refreshing chalky sense. Fresh and complex, but lots of that classic honey and nutty richness. Aged 11 months in about 40% new French oak, this is a blend of estate grapes from sites on the western ridge of the Mayacamas. (88 points)

2015 La Voix Chardonnay Here and Heaven John Sebastiano Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $55
Medium gold color. Gorgeous aromas of oranges and lemon curd topped in sea salt, crushed rocks, talc, honeysuckle — wow! Medium-bodied on the palate with brisk acidity and lots of saline and minerals. Juicy apricot, lemon curd, orange peel, mixed in with complex notes of white tea, honey, chalk and salted almond. Exciting with its intense flavors but there is so much freshness and depth in this wine. I think this will be fascinating in three or four years, too. Native yeast fermentation, aged in old oak barrels, this is a thrilling wine for fans of more restrained Chardonnay. (93 points)

2015 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $24
Pale straw color. Smells of white peaches, nectarines, some honey and hints of white pepper. Bright and lively on the palate with a medium-bodied frame and pervasive acidity. Guava, peach and nectarine mix with tart green apples and limes for a focused combination of fruit. Notes of chalk, salted almond, sea breeze and minerals linger on the long finish. Crisp but packed with flavor. Mostly stainless steel but 40% is fermented and aged in a mix of new and used French oak and Acacia wood. (89 points)

2014 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Very bright yellow with a hint of green. Aromas burst open with lemon, lime, kiwi, sea shells, hay and cut flower stems. Zippy acidity combines with some generous texture, this is wonderfully balanced. Bright lemon, kiwi and ruby red grapefruit play nicely with these notes of dandelion, flower stems, and there's a pervasive sense of minerals and rocky stream. Long, intense finish with chalky mineral notes. Bracing yet gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc. 70/30 stainless steel and old foudre fermentation, 13.5% alcohol. (91 points)

2015 Galerie Sauvignon Blanc Naissance - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
Pale gold color. Smells of salted limes, kiwi, green apples and lots of rich yellow and white flowers. Crisp and bright with a moderately creamy mouthfeel, the white peach, apple and lime juice drizzled on papaya meets chalk, minerals and white flowers. So zesty and clean but enough complexity to keep this seriously interesting. Where a lot of Napa Sauv Blancs get hedonistic, this is nuanced and intriguing. This spends time in a mixture of stainless steel, concrete and new and used French oak with six months on the lees. (90 points)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Serious Bargains from Spain & Portugal

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It's no secret that Spain and Portugal are home to seriously delicious wines at very reasonable prices. If your annual wine budget is getting maxed out, some of these wines might be a great way to make it through the holiday season.

This week we're focusing on a few wines apiece from three producers. Senda/Verde is a group of Spanish wines from Bierzo and the northern coastal region of Galicia, while Bodegas Carlos Serres is a purveyor of solid, inexpensive Rioja. Lastly, Faisão producers good, cheap wines from Vinho Verde and Dão in Portugal.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Senda Verde Albariño Rías Baixas - Spain, Galicia, Rías Baixas
SRP: $13
Ripe yellow color. Nose of juicy white peaches, guava and pineapple, along with sea breeze and white flowers. Plump texture on the palate but bright, crisp acidity. Flavors of white peach and lime drizzled on papayas, backed up by minerals, seashells, honeysuckle. A clean, refreshing wine with a lot to offer. More people should be checking out Rias Baixas Albarinos like this one. Considering the price tag, there's nothing to lose. (86 points) 

2015 Senda Verde Treixadura Ribeiro - Spain, Galicia, Ribeiro
SRP: $13
Medium yellow color. Fresh sliced green apples and pears on the nose along with citrus peel, flower shop and sugar cane. Light- to medium-bodied with a slight creaminess to the mouthfeel and zesty acidity. Peach nectar, mango, a shot of lime, the fruit is blended with notes of cut flowers, honeysuckle and hints of chalk. Juicy, fun, fresh stuff. A cheap and good excuse to explore this interesting grape variety, which is grown on the banks of the Mino River. (86 points)

2015 Senda Verde Godello Bierzo - Spain, Castilla y León, Bierzo
SRP: $13
Lemon peel colored. Bright aromas of honeysuckle, nettle, white pepper, on top of green pears and apples and papaya. Crisp acidity but a creamy mouthfeel combined with juicy but tart fruit (green apples, pears, limes drizzled on papaya). A bright sense of minerality, white flowers, chalk and salty breeze. Godello is such a cool variety, such freshness and vibrancy but packed with delicious flavors, and this is a great intro. (87 points)

2015 Bodegas Carlos Serres Rioja Blanco - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Lighty yellow color. Aromas of lime, green apples, sea salt, oregano and cut flower stems. Tart acidity, bright and crisp, with white flowers, perfume and nettle on top of green apples and kiwi. Not complex but offers a perfect, tangy, inexpensive, delicious white Rioja. At $10 a pop, this is a perfect bistro white wine for salads, cheese, oysters and hot days. 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo Blanco. (87 points)

2015 Bodegas Carlos Serres Tempranillo Old Vines - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Light ruby color. Smoky, earthy, tobacco-laden red fruit on the nose (red apple, strawberry). Medium-bodied with light, simple tannins and vibrant, lip-smacking acidity. Red apple and raspberry mix with black cherry, roasted coffee, scorched earth and tobacco. Juicy, fresh, earthy, pleasant wine for early consumption. All Tempranillo from 20+ year-old vines. (85 points)

2012 Bodegas Carlos Serres Rioja Crianza - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $12
Medium ruby color. Smells of tart raspberries and strawberries with notes of smoke, tar, tobacco and hay. Fresh and tangy on the palate with light tannins and bright acid. Tart and juicy raspberries accented with campfire, tobacco, pipe resin and fallen leaves. Fresh and flavorful and good value. Tempranillo with 15% Garnacha, aged 14 months in French and American oak and six months in bottle. (86 points)

2010 Bodegas Carlos Serres Rioja Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black cherries, spice coffee, fallen leaves and pipe tobacco. Silky tannins, vibrant acid, this wine shows a fresh and juicy core of black cherry and pomegranate. I get hints of smoky earth, herbal spice, incense and violets. Silky, fresh but complex and showing very well right now. Tempranillo with 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo, aged 24 months in American and French oak and 12 months in bottle. (88 points)

2015 Faisão Vinho Verde - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
Not great, but great for 8 bucks.
SRP: $8
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz. Aromas of white peaches, juicy pineapple, lots of white and yellow flowers. Bright and light-bodied on the palate with some slight sweetness but crisp acidity. White peaches galore, guava, lime, this is a fun, fruity, floral and pleasantly easy-drinking Vinho Verde. A blend of 40% Arinto, 30% Trajadura, 30% Loureiro. (84 points) 

2015 Faisão Vinho Verde Rosé - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
SRP: $8
Pale salmon color. Smells salty and tart with white cherries, strawberry greens and rose hips. Bright and tart on the palate, light-bodied, with flavors of watermelon, white cherries, strawberry rhubarb. Notes of sugar cane and floral perfume make this a fun rosé for salads, apps and picnics. A blend of Espadeiro, Borracal and Padeiro. (84 points)

2014 Faisão Dão - Portugal, Beiras, Dão
SRP: $8
Medium ruby colored. Smells of smoky cherries, raspberries, white pepper and tomato greens. Medium-bodied with a fleshy texture, soft tannins and bright acidity. Juicy raspberries and strawberries with pepper, smoke, light roast coffee. Fresh and fruit, simple but pleasant, a nice bistro or barbecue red. A blend of Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional. (85 points)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

On Thanksgiving, Eat and Drink a Bit of Everything

It's almost Thanksgiving! Let the feasting and drinking and awkward political arguing begin!

Pretty much any (good) wine will do, but if you're looking for some specific recommendations, check out list solid list from Snooth. A bunch of cool wine writers (and this nerd) share some of the bottles that will be on our tables.

All the best to you and yours during this holiday season.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wine Reviews: Pinot Noir from California and Oregon

You’ve likely been bombarded by media about Thanksgiving wine pairings. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just open up all sorts of bottles and let the crowd and food sort it out.

But, thinking back over the past few Thanksgiving meals, I can’t remember a dinner that lacked at least one California Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, and of course Burgundy, will also do. For me, Pinot Noir exudes crisp autumn weather and makes me hunger for warm, hearty foods.

A lot of 2014 California Pinot Noirs are hitting shelves, and they’re tasting darn good — lots of freshness and red fruits but some show serious concentration.

This tasting includes a host of Pinots from Etude, which has been producing vibrant Carneros Pinot Noir for three decades. In recent years, they’ve expanded into a range of Pinot Noirs from other sites in California (and even a Willamette Pinot and a zinger from New Zealand). The wines taste so site-specific, and each stood out as unique in a single-blind tasting, but they maintain a house style focused on crisp acidity, juicy red fruit and lots of spice. This was my first time tasting the Willamette Valley Pinots from Lenne, a producer focused on two estate Pinot Noirs from a site near the town of Yamhill. (I’m impressed.) And we also have some late releases from Clos de La Tech and Holman Ranch.

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

2010 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $42
Dark ruby color. Aromatically bursting with savory and spicy elements, like spiced coffee, old library books and black tea, on top of black cherries and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with some sturdy structure to the tannins, and the wine is framed by vibrant acidity. Dark, concentrated cherry and plum fruit, with dark chocolate, coffee, clove, smashed rocks, and a complex host of herbal and savory spices. Needs time to open up, or time in the cellar, but this is a bold yet complex Pinot. Impressive. Plenty of life ahead. Aged 12 months in 3/4 new French oak. (92 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Bannockburn - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Bannockburn
SRP: $60
Vibrant ruby color. Smells like cool raspberries and strawberries with cola, rhubarb, white pepper and sage — complex and gorgeous aromas. Maintains lively acidity and freshness throughout, while sporting structured but smooth tannins. Tart strawberries and wild raspberry fruit is pure and crisp, and laced with complex elements of raspberry leaf tea, savory mushroom, topsoil, rose petals, warm spices. Gorgeous silky texture on the palate. I had no idea a New Zealand Pinot made it into this single-blind tasting, and this had be perplexed as to its origin but totally swooning over its deliciousness and complexity. I’d love to taste this in three to five. (93 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch
- California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $45
Light ruby color. Sweet but tart red and black cherry fruit on the nose, along with rhubarb, cola and eucalyptus and pumpkin pie spice. Full-bodiedwith moderately bright acid, velvety mouthfeel but some grip from the dry tannins. Dark cherry and plum, the fruit is juicy but a bit compact, and needs time to coax out the sweet floral, cinnamon, cocoa and mushroom notes. A sense of graphite and stony minerality lingers on the finish. Very nice but it’ll be better in a few years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (89 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Ellenbach - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $60
Deep ruby color. Aromas of sweet, chewy cherries and raspberry jam, with tobacco, cola and rooibos tea. Tart acidity, dusty tannins provide enough structure, and there are loads of sweet black cherries and raspberry jam flavors on the palate. Cola, rhubarb, rose petals, lots of other stuff going on, some clove and pine. Rich and chewy but stays fresh. Should evolve nicely over the next few years. (90 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard
- California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby/light purple color. Smells like a mix of tart cherries and raspberry jam coated in black tea and spicy tobacco. Full-bodied but tart acidity, this is a richer, more extracted Pinot but the acidity keeps it vibrant. Red plums, raspberry jam, some darker cherry fruit, add in some earth, mocha and herbal spice tea. Gets significantly better with air — I’d like to revisit in two or three years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (90 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir North Canyon Vineyard
- California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Aromas of chilled raspberries, juicy strawberries and pomegranate, mixed with rose hips, and some warm cinnamon spices — elegant and deep aromas that take time to fully develop. Medium/full-bodied with a dusty tannic structure, full of tingling acidity. Juicy black cherries and crunchy pomegranates blend with flavors of cherry wood, cedar, tobacco shop and allspice. Finishes long and crisp, more savory spices and mushroom and wet forest come out with air.. Great now but good near-term ager. 10 months in ¼ new French oak. (91 points)

2014 Etude Pinot Noir Yamhilll Vista Vineyard
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy strawberries, tart red currants, dusty earth, leather and rhubarb. Fleshy texture will a full body and moderate acidity and medium tannin. Juicy raspberries and strawberry jams, with rose petals, sweet coffee, rhubarb pie and caramel. Finishes with earthy spice. Delish, ready to go, but could age in the near term. Aged 13 months in 1/3 new French oak. (89 points)

2014 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard
- California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $70
Deep ruby color. Smells of sweet cherries and strawberries, along with rose hops, tobacco, pickling spices and more savory notes of tilled soil and mushroom. Medium-full-bodied with smooth but structured tannins and moderately crisp acidity for balance. The tart strawberries mix with richer black cherry notes – laced with elements of soy, mushroom, pipe tobacco and earth, along with some intermingled notes of cigar box and light roast coffee. Delicious stuff now but it should evolve nicely over the next few years. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 53% new. (91 points)

2012 Holman Ranch Pinot Noir
- California, Central Coast, Carmel Valley
SRP: $35
Light raspberry color. Smells of tart strawberries, cherries, and red apple peel topped with pepper, rhubarb, fennel and cola. Fresh acidity, light-medium-bodied (12.8% alcohol) with fine tannins that still provide structure. A lighter, brisk approach but still plenty of texture and flavors. Sour cherries, watermelon, wild strawberries, the tart fruit is laced with notes of tobacco, pepper and dusty earth, just a hint of cola. Vibrant, fresh, tangy, showing wonderfully right out of the bottle. (89 points)

2015 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir The Fog Prince
- California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Dark ruby color. Aromas of sweet red cherries, raspberry jam, cola, vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate this shows light tannins, a slightly chewy texture and some fresh acidity. Sweet/sour cherries and tangy raspberries blend nicely with some cola, roses, toffee and espresso notes. An easy-drinking style but very delicious, and a good value. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (88 points)

2013 Lenne Pinot Noir LeNez
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
The whole giant nose on the label thing is kind of weird, but these are legit Pinots.
SRP: $30
Pale ruby. Aromas of sour cherries, tart blueberries and black cherries, along with sage and pepper and mushroom/earth. Medium-bodied, moderate acidity. Bright red fruit gushes across the palate (strawberries, wild raspberries) with notes of herbal tea, rose hips, spiced cranberry sauce, tilled soil and eucalyptus. Tart, vibrant, refreshing finish, yet this has a lot of concentration for the cellar. So pretty, and great value. Aged in about 1/4 new oak, 13% alcohol, this is a blend of each clone planted on Lenne’s estate vineyard. (90 points)

2013 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Pale ruby. Elegant, vibrant red fruit aromas with lots of rose hips, white pepper and such gorgeous floral complexity. Medium-bodied, so juicy and bright with some moderately grippy tannic structure and lip-smacking acidity. Tart cherries, raspberries, wild strawberry, the fruit is so damned vibrant and delicious, and laced with lots of roses, violets and white mushrooms. Velvety and sporting serious grip, this is also silky and elegant. An exciting Pinot Noir. More tar and cedar on this one (1/3 new oak) but it’s woven in expertly. Gorgeous stuff that will improve for four or five years easily. (92 points)

2014 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir
- Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $38
Bright ruby color. Juicy black cherries mix with red currant, topped with lots of violets, soil, hints of leather and cocoa. Medium/full-bodied with structured but accessible tannin and moderate but refreshing acidity. Very cool mix of black and sour red cherries, along with notes of roses, violets, chestnut and savory spice. Some cedar and cocoa from the oak, but it’s balanced nicely. A dusty mineral and soil element comes out with time. Delicious now but built for a solid life in the cellar. (92 points)

2014 Nielson by Byron Pinot Noir
- California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby color. Aromas of chilled but juicy red berries (strawberry, cherry, raspberry) along with a complexity of herbal and spice elements (mint, white pepper, rhubarb). Full-bodied but smooth and velvety, the chewy tannins and medium acidity make this pleasant and approachable. Juicy cherries, raspberries and jammy strawberries, the fruit is juicy and ripe but not heavy. I get sage, violets, rhubarb and white pepper notes. Touched with cedar and vanilla, but those elements are woven in nicely. Rich, velvety but also bright and leaves the palate feeling refreshed. Aged 15 months in 40% new oak. (89 points)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ringing In Autumn With California Reds

This report includes a hodgepodge of Zinfandels, Cabernets, Syrahs and red blends received over the past few weeks. A lot of goodies in here that pair wonderfully with autumnal weather.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind (unless otherwise noted).

2014 La Voix Syrah So What - California, Central Coast, Ballard Canyon
SRP: $40
Deep ruby color. Smells of juicy raspberries, cherries, darker plums, along with earth, tobacco, violets and menthol. Full-bodied but bright on the palate, fleshy tannin meets crisp acidity, the wine is rich and juicy but also tart and fresh. Black cherries, plums and raspberries mix with tar, smoke, soy glaze and mint sauce. Sweet and luscious but so fresh, lots of poise and balance. Could age nicely over the next four to five years. Aged 20 months in 20% new French oak barrels. (91 points)

2014 La Voix Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Ecstasy of Gold - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $65
Deep ruby/light purple color. Intoxicating nose of juicy black cherries, blueberry and tart black currant along with rose and violet petals, savory spices like clove and cardamom, and some roasted herb and vanilla notes. Full-bodied but velvety with smooth tannins and medium-plus acidity. The black cherry, dark plum and currant fruit is saucy but maintains lots of freshness as well, and it’s backed up with notes of cola, sweet coffee, grilled herbs and dark, earthy flavors. Oak nuances are woven in very nicely. Delicious now but could improve in the near term. Wow, very impressive. The Cabernet comes from Los Olivos and Happy Canyon, while 10% Merlot from Los Olivos and 10% Malbec from Santa Maria Valley are blended in. Aged 20 months in 40% new oak. (91 points)

2014 Bruce Patch Zinfandel Harris Kratka Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Deep ruby colored. A bunch of dusty, earthy, savory spice aromas, plenty of elegant floral tones, all on top of sweet red berries. Large and in-charge (15.4%), structured but silky, medium/low acidity keeps it from being too weighed down. Raspberry jam, juicy black cherries and currants, lots of rose petals, green herbs, potting soil, charcoal and smashed rock flavors. Complex and evocative. Huge and hedonistic but maintains mystique. I'd love to see how this ages over the next three or four years. Aged 18 months in French and American oak, this wine includes 10% Carignan, 5% Petite Sirah. (91 points)

2014 Quivira Zinfandel Black Boar - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $45
Vibrant purple color. Smells of black cherry and blackberry jam topped with roasted coffee, cocoa powder, vanilla and dark chocolate shavings. Full-bodied, chewy tannins, low acidity, this is a concentrated wine loaded with saucy blackberries and black cherry compote. The fruit is laced with roasted chestnut, coffee, charcoal, vanilla cola and some pepper. High octane stuff but highly delicious as well. Includes 18% Petite Sirah, this is aged in three- and four-year-old French, American and Hungarian oak. (88 points)

2013 Bruce Patch Old Vine Zinfandel Carreras Ranch Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $40
Deep ruby colored. Aromas of sweet raspberry, juicy strawberry, jammy black cherry, also notes of clove, eucalyptus, black pepper and ginger. Full and juicy, structured by medium tannin, a chewy but smooth mouthfeel with lots of raspberry and blackberry fruit. Interesting mix of coffee, cola, scorched earth, violets and vanilla. Super delicious but far more than a one-trick Zinfandel. Aged two years in American oak. (90 points)

2014 Bruce Patch Red Dress - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Aromas of currant and blackberry compote, along with sweet flowers, black pepper and bay leaf. Full and chewy on the palate, structure is solid, acid is fresh, combines for a pretty mouthfeel. Dark, juicy berries, but the fruit shows a tart edge. I love the earthy, black pepper, herbal notes in this wine. Some toasted oak, woven in well, and there’s a Southern Italian Primitivo-like earthy, spicy complexity to this wine. Drinking nicely now but structure for near-term improvement. An old-school Sonoma County blend of 63% Zinfandel, 16% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 7% Carignan, 4% Petite Sirah, aged 20 months in French and American oak. (89 points)

2014 2Sons Winery The Federalist Dueling Pistols - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $18
Bright purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries and sweet raspberries, along with sage and clove – this kind of sweet herbal aspect mixes with vanilla/oak. Full-bodied with velvety tannins and moderate acidity keeps it quite fresh. Juicy black cherries, raspberries and red currant fruit. Smoky notes and vanilla, along with red hots and pepper. I like the way this stays clear of baked fruit and sweetness, and tends toward the fresher end of the spectrum – makes for easy early drinking. A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. Aged 15 months in 20% new American and Hungarian oak. Tasted sighted. (87 points)

2013 Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $23
Deep purple color. Good mix of black cherries with roasted fig and tart currant aromas, and I get some loam, espresso and subtle vanilla. Full-bodied with fined-down tannins, which combines with the medium acidity for a chewy mouthfeel. Juicy cherry and currant fruit, whipped with earth, charcoal, sweet tobacco and vanilla. Full of flavor but has a silky appeal. A near-term drinker. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, Syrah and Merlot. Aged 11 months in French and American oak (10% new). (87 points)

2013 Acumen Cabernet Sauvignon Mountainside - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Rich purple color. A dark aromatic core of plums and currants with notes of cedar and pine forest floor meeting some coffee and vanilla. Very dry tannins on the palate, full-bodied, medium acidity helps tie it all together. Flavors of kirsch, black currant, dense black cherry, concentrated but delicious fruit. Lots of forest, cedar, dried leaves, rich soil, a very earthy wine but plenty of roasted coffee and dark chocolate. Delicious stuff but this could use three to five in the cellar. Includes 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 1% Merlot, aged 18 months in 72% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $53
Juicy purple color. Bursts with aromas of black cherries, blackberry compote, surrounded by sweet violets, clove, menthol, sage and cedar. Full-bodied on the palate with chewy tannins and some moderate acidity that keeps the wine vibrant. Lively dark fruit (roasted plum, black cherry, black currant). I get notes of anise, sage, sweet clove and potting soil. Smoky oak and vanilla integrated nicely. A full, delicious and saucy wine but structured, too. I'd love to see this with four or five years of cellar time on it. Includes 13% Merlot, 4% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, the wine is aged 20 months in 33% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Franciscan Estate Magnificat - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Deep purple color. Smells of roasted plums, black currants and black cherries, topped with cedar, eucalyptus, vanilla and spiced chai. Mouthfilling texture with moderate tannic structure and medium/low acidity. Saucy black currants and black cherries, the fruit is matched with anise, eucalyptus, dark coffee and charred vanilla bean flavors. Could use air or a year or two. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 24% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged 20 months in 70% new oak. Tasted sighted. (89 points)

2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $70
Juicy purple color. Aromas of hedonistic dark fruit (blackberry jam, black currants) but waves of mint, tobacco and eucalyptus lift it up. Full-bodied, dry and bold tannic structure but the edges aren't too rough, medium acidity. Saucy blackberry and cassis, add in grilled herbs and eucalyptus. Cedar, vanilla and cigar box elements are bold but woven in nicely. Finishes with a kiss of acid and some earthy flavor. 3-5 years will help this unravel a bit. Includes Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, aged 28 months in about 70% new French oak. (90 points)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Election Day, Raise a Glass of American Wine

Election Day is finally upon us. And we have survived it — so far.

First, go fulfill your civil, personal, moral (spiritual, if you’re into that) obligation: Get off your ass and VOTE. After that, I think we all need to uncork some wine.

“This election season has been long, brutal, and exhausting,” says everyone, from every spot on the American political spectrum. 2016 has been sopping with negativity, divisiveness and vitriol. But we have a reason to hold our heads up high, Americans. We are living in the midst of the American wine renaissance. Seriously. That is a thing.

Blue states, red states, swing states, all of them are home to beautiful vineyards and winemakers seeking to represent their sliver of land by making wine from it. Wherever you live in this massive, diverse, amazing country of ours, you’re not too far from a winery.

“Oh,” you say, “I don’t live in the Bay Area. There’s no good wine around here.” Yeah… I’m going to have to go ahead and… disagree with you. Most of the American populace is located within a weekend trip away from some beautiful wine country and some delicious local wines. 

From sea to shining sea, America is packed with absurdly beautiful wine country. Get out there and check it out!
Long Island? Packed with exciting wineries. Ditto for the Finger Lakes region of New York. I live in DC, and in less than two hours I can hit the road and visit one of dozens of amazing wineries in Virginia and Maryland. Texas’ Hill Country is home to a bunch of exciting, spicy wine. Arizona? Don’t get me started about the kick-ass wines coming out of Cochise County and the Verde Valley. Washington State is a gold mine. Oregon produces some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world. And determined winemakers are bottling delicious wine in Missouri, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, New Jersey, Ohio, and on and on.

I’m rambling. Point is: America is a goddamn goldmine of wines. Get out there and explore.

Earlier this year, a fellow booze writer Dan Dunn published a hilarious book called “American Wino: Reds, Whites & One Man’s Blues.” In it, he recounts the true story of failed love, devastation from the death of his brother, and his means of escape: a cross-country trek across our great American viticultural landscape.

Basically, he drives, visits wineries, talks with locals, and drinks.
I reviewed the book here, but here’s the boiled down version: “A lot of wine writing can be either stuffy to the point of suffocation or uninspired to the point of meaninglessness. Dan’s writing avoids both of these pitfalls. He pretty much gets loaded, waits for hilarious shit to happen, and then writes it down.” Dunn finds good wine and good times all over this country, in states you may never have considered visiting. His cross-country trip is quite a feat, but there are wineries in your home state worth checking out.

Drive out to a vineyard. Walk around with a loved one or the family or your dog. Pop into the tasting room and order a flight. Taste through everything they have, and keep an open mind. Ask about where the grapes come from, why this particular place works for the type of grapes they are growing, and how they make the wine. Listen to winemakers — as a group of professionals they are among the coolest people you’ll ever meet. Wine snobbery exists, of course, but not in the vineyard, and not in the barrel room. It’s the perfect place to learn about wine and, by tasting, to learn what you like.

To give you a drop-in-the-bucket sampling of what I’m talking about, I’ve included a few wine recommendations from all over this awesome country of ours.


The Federalist “Dueling Pistols” (California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley)
To pair with this insane election cycle, a new red blend has hit markets around the U.S., The Federalist. It’s a blend of Zinfandel and Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, a haven of old school (and old vine) California Zinfandel. The label makes me think of our federalist voting structure — which can make things very frustrating on a local level, but which provides tremendously effective protection against anyone who would ever attempt to “rig” an election through “voter fraud.” (That’s not a real thing, by the way.) This wine, on the other hand, is a mouthful of fresh cherries and raspberries with some smoky oak and vanilla. A blend of 50/50 Syrah and Zinfandel, and better than a lot of other red blends in this price range ($17).

Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello)
Pale straw color. Smells of tart green apples and limes mixed with juicy pears and an impressive amount of chalk, white pepper and sliced jalapenos. Rocking acidity on the palate, which balances nicely with the moderately waxy mouthfeel. This is a delicious but vibrant Sauv Blanc with limes, apples and peaches. The fruit is topped with mountain stream, honeysuckle, sea salt, chalk and sliced jalapenos. This Sauv Blanc has a little bit of everything rolled into its character. Crisp, refreshing finish. A consistently exciting and dynamic Virginia Sauvignon Blanc, vintage in, vintage out. About $25.

Old Westminster Winery Albariño Petillant Naturel Home Vineyard (Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore)
This is one of the coolest wines I’ve come across all year. It’s a rare (and wonderfully bizarre) style of sparkling wine made from Maryland grapes (the variety hails from northern Spain). It smells of lemons, limes and musky perfume. On the palate, this is so pleasantly vibrant with subtle bubbles, bright acidity and a light but somewhat waxy texture. Gushes with green apple, apricot and melon, but there’s a deep floral presence in this wine. Nerd level 11! But the deliciousness factor is right there, too. This is Maryland’s first wine of this style, and it comes from the state’s most exciting producer.

Lieb Family Cellars Bridge Lane (New York, Long Island, North Fork)
Smells of black cherries, tart raspberries, and some spicy-floral elements. Refreshing acidity, smooth and easy to drink with a tart appeal of cherries and plums. Mostly Merlot with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot, this is an impressive value. It comes in bottles, but is also available in box and keg, which is pretty cool. Yes, good box wine from Long Island is a thing. You can find this one for less than $10.

Sawtooth Malbec Trout Trilogy (Idaho, Snake River Valley)
Full-bodied (14.6% alcohol), silky tannins but plenty of structure, the refreshing acid really keeps this wine alive and bright. Chewy blackberry and plum fruit with charcoal, graphite and tar accents, definitely showing its oak signature with chestnut, mocha and dark chocolate shavings, but there’s a lovely balance and freshness to this wine, elegance even. Impressed.

Arizona has some gorgeous wine country
Arizona Stronghold Vineyard Chardonnay Dala (Arizona, Cochise County)
An infusion of white peach, honey and white flowers. Rich and creamy but bright and tangy at the same time. White peach, yellow apple and apricot mix with notes of hazelnut and honeycomb. Very nice, especially for $10-$15! Arizona wine country is remote, unique and shockingly beautiful.

Hawk Haven Talon (New Jersey, Outer Coastal Plain)
Impressive structure, refreshing acid. A cherry-driven wine (juicy but the fruit isn’t too sweet). Smoky cedar notes, with earth and candied nuts. A 50-50 blend of Merlot and Syrah from estate grapes. Pretty cool they were able to pull off Syrah, as it isn't easy to grow in coastal Jersey. If you’re traveling in South Jersey, check this place out! Not cheap (about $30), but this Jersey boy will call out anyone who says good wine can’t come from Jersey.

N.V. Gruet Winery Brut (New Mexico)
Such a solid sparkler for the price (about $12-15 depending on your market). Melon and lemon themes mix with crisp acid, a bit of creaminess and some nutty notes. A delicious wine that’s both inexpensive and wildly popular at parties. Did I mention this is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based sparkling wine (made via the same method as Champagne) is from friggin’ New Mexico? Do a Google image search for New Mexico vineyards and tell me that doesn’t look like a stunning place to visit.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Esporão - Delicious Wine on the Cheap from Indigenous Portuguese Varieties

When it comes to wines with high quality to price ratios, Portuguese wines are up there with the best in the world. And the producer Herdade Do Esporão churns out a wide array of delicious wines for insane value.

Esporao's grapes ripen under the warm Alentejo sun. Credit: Esporao
Herdade Do Esporão is an historic estate synonymous with the Portuguese region of Alentejo. This area of Southeastern Portugal, abutting Spain, is hot and dry and home to olive groves and indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, which are perfectly adapted to their home soils and climate. Esporão is rightfully credited with bringing wide attention to this region by crafting clean, modern, fruit-forward wines that maintain a distinctly Portuguese spice and flair. Hoerdade Do Esporão tends a massive estate: some 1,100 acres of vineyards planted to more than 190 grape varieties, about 40 of which constitute the bulk of production, according to Esporão’s 2015 report.

I taste a lot of Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from all over the world, and that’s fine. A lot of consumers want to see a familiar grape variety on the label. I get it. But I find it refreshing and exciting to taste wines that combine a dozen rare and almost surely unpronounceable grape varieties. Especially when the wines are killer. These indigenous grape varieties, combined with well-drained and diverse soils, a warm climate, and some traditional winemaking techniques form dynamic and unique wines. And most of them are cheap.

The original estate was delineated all the way back in 1267, and called Defesa do Esporão. José Roquette and Joaquim Bandeira purchased the estate in 1973. The first Esporão brand wine appeared in 1985, and today the wines are exported to more than 50 international markets.

Esporao's Chief Winemaker David Baverstock
In 1985, the first vintage saw the creation of the Esporão brand. The wine is now exported to more than 50 international markets. And Esporão has expanded into the Douro (home of Port and amazing dry Portuguese red blends) with the purchase of Quinta dos Murças in 2008.

I recently tasted through a large portion of Esporão’s portfolio at a trade tasting in DC with Chief Winemaker David Baverstock. David grew up in Australia’s Barossa Valley, where he and studied winemaking in the 1970s. Australian winemaking dates back to the 1800s, but in the 70s, David said, there was less than a thriving wine scene. So he looked to Europe and, eventually, to Portugal, which has become his family’s adopted home.
“Nicest people in the world,” he said. And they make damned nice wine.

Below are my notes on Esporão’s wines.

2012 Herdade do Esporão Método Classico Bruto - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Tart and fresh but juicy, showing white peach and nectarine flavors with some sugar cane and floral tones. Easy-drinking, pleasant. Made from the Antao Vaz grape using the Champagne method (with nine months on the lees). (84 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Alandra Branco - Portugal
Aromas: super floral and perfumed. On the palate, juicy peaches and apricots blend with salty/floral tones. Simple and crowd-pleasingly tasty. A blend of white Portuguese varieties, Antao Vaz, Perrum, and Arinto. (85 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho Branco - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Attention: Insane value alert.
Aromas of sea salt, minerals, lemon curd and white flowers. Such pretty texture on the palate, vibrant acidity, there’s a creaminess but such brightness and minerality. Pears, honeysuckle, flowers, sea salt. This is an exciting white wine that would pair with endless styles of food. The fact that this wine is $7 is insane. Portuguese economies of scale, combined with indigenous varieties and relatively minimalist winemaking means that this exciting wine makes it to the U.S. for cheap as hell. I sipped this with five or six sommeliers, and it was everyone’s favorite white. A blend of regional white varieties, Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, and Perrum. (90 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Verdelho V - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Aromas of sea breeze, cucumber, white flowers and pears. Juicy peaches, melons mix with sea salt, flowers, minerals, such a pretty wine. Per usual with this producer, so impressive for the price. An impressive introduction to this lovely Portuguese variety (which is known for its use in Madeira). (87 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Alandra - Portugal
Smells of spicy red berries and herbs. Tart and spicy on the palate with juicy red currants and cherries, some pepper and earth tones. A real wine for $6? They do exist. A blend of red Portuguese grapes, including Moreto, Castelao, and Trincadeira. (85 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Darker, juicier aromas than the Alandra. Berry compote, savory spices and earth. On the palate, juicy, fleshy, fun but showing some tannic structure and fresh acidity. Spicy dark fruit with a smoky finish – delicious with some charcuterie. Crazy value. (87 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Trincadeira T - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Smells like juicy black cherries and dark soil. Smoky, juicy black cherries and plums with flavors of charcoal and earth. Easy-drinking, soft, approachable style. Made from the Trincadeira grape. (86 points)

2013 Herdade do Esporão Assobio Quinta dos Murças - Portugal, Douro
Aromas: more currant, darker fruit, with anise and pepper notes. I love the balance on the palate, dusty tannins and fresh acidity, plus you get all this juicy red berry fruit and some sweet, herbal, spice flavors. Delicious and absurdly friendly with food. Open six bottles of this at a party and see how fast it goes. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. (87 points)

2014 Herdade do Esporão Defesa - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Aromas of dark and juicy plums and currants, along with menthol and sweet green herbs. Good structure on the palate with moderate acidity for freshness. Juicy dark currants, smoky herbs and spices. Structure is impressive for the price, this seems built enough for a few years in the cellar. A blend of Touriga Nacional and Syrah. (87+ points)

2013 Herdade do Esporão Reserva - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
Lovely aromas of tart currants, juicy berries, earth and smoke. Dusty tannic structure, moderate acidity, pretty red and black fruit laced with cedar, coffee. Near-term aging could be a good idea. A blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 12 months in French and American oak. A very serious wine for a not-so-serious price. (88 points)

2010 Herdade do Esporão Douro Reserva Quinta dos Murças - Portugal, Douro
In contrast to the rest of the lineup, this is a dark purple colored wine. Smells deep and rich with complex black cherries and plums, mixed with mint, eucalyptus, pepper and violets. On the palate, this is smooth from age but still structured nicely with good balance between tannins and acidity. Plums, currants, violets, dusty earth, wet soil, leaves. Long, spicy finish. This spends 12 months in 15% new oak. A red Douro grape blend from vines planted in the 1940s, this will improve nicely over the next three to five years. (89 points)

2011 Herdade do Esporão Alentejo Private Selection - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
Dark plum color. Concentrated on the nose, dark plums and currants, pepper and mint – lots going on here. Awesome balance on the palate with dry tannins and vibrant acidity. Dark currants, saucy plums, the fruit is mixed with spiced tea, pepper, eucalyptus, mint. Cedar and coffee are woven in well, this is bold but elegant. 12 months in all new French oak and 18 months in bottle before release. It’s a big, New World-style but there’s a lot of freshness, which makes this wine really attractive. A blend of red grapes including Arogonez, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon. (90 points)

N.V. Herdade do Esporão Porto 10 Year Tawny Quinta dos Murças - Portugal, Douro, Porto$21
Aromas of raisins, caramels, quince paste and roasted nuts. A spicy ginger note on the palate, along with quince and apricot jam. Rich texture but very lively, elegant, even, and freshness balances out the sweetness quite nicely. (89 points)