Review: 2014 La Follette Chardonnay and Pinot Noir North Coast

It’s been many years since I dined with Greg La Follette, back when he was making wine under the Tandem label. Now La Follette has a label under his own name, and his North Coast-sourced 2014 releases are here. Let’s give them a try.

2014 La Follette Chardonnay North Coast – Vanilla cookie notes are heavy on the nose, but tempered by clear notes of lemon and toasty brioche buns. The body is quite bold and rounded, but it’s nonetheless fresh and lively, with a lasting finish that works well alone or with food. An excellent example of a big California chardonnay that is dialed back just the right amount. A- / $22

2014 La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast – Moderate body, with notes of blackberry and dark cherry, tempered through light vanilla and gentle, toasty wood. There’s an undercurrent of licorice-loaded tannins here, but it’s kept in check by a gentle sweetness and a distinct silkiness on the palate. A- / $22

lafollettewines.com

Review: Wines of Lula Cellars, 2016 Releases

Mendocino’s Lula Cellars is the brainchild of winemaker Jeff Hansen, who produces a number of traditional Anderson Valley varietals in his Philo facility. Today we look at three of the winery’s new releases (all from late 2016), a pair of pinots and a zinfandel.

2013 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Mendocino – Fairly burly, even by Mendocino standards, offering notes of blackberry, tea leaf, bitter herbs, and tobacco all wrapped up in a slightly earthy, mushroom-tinged body. The fruit endures to the end, but it’s tempered by a powerful grip that, at times, feels a bit out of place. B+ / $45

2013 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Costa Vineyard Mendocino – This single-vineyard pinot is a clear step up from the more general bottling, and it finds a bolder body pairing nicely with expressive blueberry, cherry, and a denser, more powerful tea character. The blackberry notes in the above wine are more evident on the juicy finish, which is tempered with just a touch of herbal, earthy bitterness. A beautiful, versatile wine through and through. Oddly, it’s the same price as the non-single-vineyard Mendocino bottling; absolutely this is the one to get. A / $45

2014 Lula Cellars Zinfandel Mariah Vineyard Mendocino – A softer zin, Lula’s Mendo bottling offers notes of cola, chocolate-covered cherries, and a touch of vanilla, particularly evident on the back end. Some tannins give the wine a bit of grip, but they’re kept in check by the lightly sweet body and silky finish. B+ / $29

lulacellars.com

Review: Four Provence Roses, 2015 Vintage

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good rose with dinner tonight. Here are four rose wines from France’s Provence, all 2015 vintages, worth a look.

2015 Domaine de la Sangliere Cuvee Speciale Cotes de Provence – Lightly grassy and herbal on the nose, this wine exhibits a bold berry profile on the palate featuring fresh notes of strawberry, plus hints of jasmine and a bit of thyme. Exotic and complex for a rose, and quite worthwhile. A- / $11

2015 Xavier Flouret Nationale 7 Cotes de Provence – A very light-bodied wine, with floral notes prominent up front and a somewhat duller, lightly vegetal body. Lively enough at mealtime, but it lacks zing on its own. B / $20

2015 Mas de Cadenet Cotes de Provence Sainte Victoire – Strawberry heavy on the nose and the palate, with an undercurrent of toasty grains. Arguably the most straightforward rose in this collection, it goes down with little fuss en route to a short but wholly inoffensive finish. B+ / $16

2015 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose – This is a much bolder wine than the 2014 release, showcasing big fruit flavors in the realm of peach, apricot, and pear, all folded into a slightly palate that ultimately turns somewhat sour on the back end. The finish is rustic and a bit tart. Best with food. B- / $20

Review: Urban Accents Wine & Cider Mulling Spices

Buying a bunch of individual spices to make mulled wine might cost you a small fortune — and prepackaged mixes of powdered mystery spice are hardly an appropriately upscale alternative.

Urban Accents, which sells various sauces and spices, offers a solution in this sizeable jar of whole mulling spices, which include cinnamon, orange, lemon, star anise, vanilla and other spices, all fully formed. (For real, I cracked open the jar and saw a whole, unbroken star anise right on top.)

To use, just fill a tea ball infuser with a scoop of spices and dunk it into a mug of warm cider or wine; let steep for a few minutes. Simply use more for larger portions.

Results: Huge anise notes on the nose, but I think the body could benefit from a bigger dose of spice than a single tea ball can supply. The flavor is just too thin, with only hints of vanilla and cinnamon — and not enough of either. Double up on the recipe — or just dump the spices directly into your wine/cider and drink carefully — to give it a much-needed boost.

B- / $10 per 4.5 oz jar / urbanaccents.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Adler Fels 2015 Chardonnay and 2014 Pinot Noir

Adler Fels is an old California wine brand that, 35 years after its original launch, has rebranded and relaunched with a “renewed commitment to innovative and world-class winemaking and premium sourcing.” From its home in the Mayacamas Mountains, the winery has dropped two releases for the new year, a chardonnay and a pinot noir, both sourced from dual locations. Details — and thoughts — follow.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – A 50-50 blend of Sonoma and Monterey County fruit. Light vanilla notes meld well with notes of apples and pears. While the palate continues to develop more brown butter notes, the wine manages to stay light on its feet thanks to a slight acidity that tempers the back end, ensuring it finishes on the crisp and clean side. A- / $20

2014 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir – 76% Santa Barbara County fruit, 26% Sonoma fruit. A soft and lightly aromatic pinot, gentle with cherries and laced just so with tobacco, vanilla, and dried blueberries. Fresh and lively, it offers plenty of flavor without getting bogged down in a gummy mess. The lightly bittersweet finish gives it depth without blowing out what is otherwise an elegant, lightly herbal denouement. A / $28

adlerfels.com

Tempranillo Roundup (2016 Releases): Vara, Bodegas Paso Robles, Castoro, Berryessa Gap, Matchbook, Becker Vineyards

Tempranillo is the star of Spain’s Rioja region, but it is also grown internationally, including right here in the U.S. Today we look at six tempranillo wines from five different regions to see how terroir can affect the wine — though you’ll note that many are blended with other grapes, with graciano particularly popular. (Graciano is another Rioja native that is commonly blended into tempranillo wines around the world.)

While you consider the importance of graciano from a viticultural perspective, sip on one of these…

2013 (Lot #013) Vara Tinto Especial Tempranillo – From the Santa Maria Valley. 75% tempranillo, 13% grenache, 9% syrah, 3% graciano. From the color alone, it’s a thin wine, extremely so. There are interesting notes on the palate, though, including red berries which meld with brisk orange zest, notes of sandalwood, and just a touch of currants on the back end. As summery a red wine as you’ll find. Sorry that it’s December. B+ / $12

2009 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea Central Coast – Despite the name of the winery, this is a Central Coast bottling. 86% tempranillo, 14% graciano. A lush wine, loaded up with a big and juicy currant character, with lighter notes of licorice and cloves backing up the heavy fruit up front. The finish seems plum and some orange peel notes, the latter particularly giving the wine a bit of a lift. Well done. A- / $35

2014 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard – From Paso Robles. A mainstream wine, with big notes of plums and ripe cherries, the lush body leads to a berry-scented finish that hangs on the palate for quite awhile. Some tannin is evident, with a touch of balsamic detectable, but the finish remains heavy on the fruit. B+ / $30

2014 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – From Yolo County. This is a drier style of tempranillo, a bit dusty, its mild berry core coated with notes of licorice and clove oil. Some olive notes and dried plum notes add intrigue, but a slightly sour edge calls out for a robust food pairing. B- / $18

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – 84% tempranillo, 8% graciano, 8% petit verdot. Another Yolo County wine, this one showcasing a bigger body and a bit more fruit — heavy with raspberry and strawberry particularly. Balsamic notes are the connecting thread between the two wines, though here they make a stronger showing, particularly late in the game. There’s also a candy licorice (not at all salty or bitter) on the finish. Again, the wine shows how food-friendly tempranillo can be. B / $15

2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo Reserve Texas – While no one was looking, Texas has become a hotbed of tempranillo production. This Hill Country producer’s is unorthodox and stands apart from the rest of the wines in this roundup thanks to significant brown sugar, cinnamon, and brown butter notes, which give the wine a lightness and liveliness that the other wines in the field don’t have. That’s a good and a bad thing, as it makes for a somewhat less “serious” wine that lacks body and offers a gummy yet thin finish, but it does show a whole other side of the grape. C / $25

Review: 2014 Garzon Tannat Uruguay

Uruguay’s Bodega Garzon makes more than white wines. It also produces reds, including this tannat.

It’s a fresh and lively wine, full of raspberry and plum fruit without being stereotypically jammy, layering in notes of spice cake, cloves, and a finish that echoes brambly currants and a bit of tea leaf. A clean wine with a simple but balanced structure, it’s an easygoing wine, but one which is extremely food friendly and versatile.

B+ / $15 / bodegagarzon.com

-->