Review: Wines of Terra d’Oro, 2016 Releases

Amador County is home to Terra d’Oro, the first winery to open in this region since the end of Prohibition. Formerly bottled under the Montevina label, the winery was established in 1973 with a focus on historic grape varietals — particularly those of the Italian persuasion.

We sampled a vast array of current releases from Terra d’Oro. Thoughts follow.

First, some white and rose…

2015 Terra d’Oro Chenin Blanc & Viognier Clarksburg – 87% chenin blanc, 13% viognier. Peaches and lemons arrive up front, with perfume-driven notes taking the lead in short order. The finish offers hints of vanilla and caramel. On the whole, the wine is tropical and a bit buzzy, and it offers a refreshing take on a style that can often be overwhelmingly fruity. B+ / $16

2015 Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara County – There’s a nice slug of mango on the front of this wine, an an otherwise standard pinot grigio from Santa Barbara, far from Amador. Light and quite fresh, it’s an uncomplicated crowd pleaser with a brisk and nicely acidic finish. A- / $16

2015 Terra d’Oro Rose Wine Amador County – Made mostly of nebbiolo grapes. Fruit forward, and loaded with strawberry notes. A surefire crowd pleaser, this is a lively and fragrant wine that showcases crisp acidity and a slight sweetness on the finish. Nothing too fancy going on, but it’s difficult not to enjoy in the moment. B+ / $13

And on to the reds…

2014 Terra d’Oro Barbera Amador County – A bit fruity for a barbera — in fact, it’s got so much bright plum and cherry notes that barbera would’ve been my last guess. That said, this barbeque sipper has plenty to like, including a healthy vanilla note, a dusting of black pepper, and some dried herbs on the back end. It’s a definitive “new world” example of this grape, however. B- / $18

2014 Terra d’Oro Aglianico Amador County – This obscure Italian varietal makes for an interesting alternative to zinfandel, showcasing chocolate and caramel notes along with a moderate slug of citrus. Not as sweet as you’re expecting — at least not after it opens up for a few minutes — and the finish offers restraint. B+ / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Sangiovese Amador County – A dense wine, with intense cherry and vanilla notes, plus a dusting of dark chocolate on the back end. The plummy finish and lack of herbal notes recall cabernet more than sangiovese, which isn’t entirely a bad thing — but which doesn’t ring authentic to the grape. B / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Teroldego Amador County – Made from a obscure Alto Adige grape, this is an inky, ultra-ripe wine with notes of anise, cloves, and loads of dark currants. Sweet up front with a lingering earthy, tannic, and herbal finish, it makes me think of a cross between zinfandel and amarone… with all the good and bad that that connotes. B- / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Petite Sirah Amador County – Ripe and juicy, with a ton of sweetness and residual notes of black tea, black pepper, and licorice. With time, this wine settles down enough to be approachable but the overwhelming sweetness otherwise makes the experience rather singular, culminating in a raisin- and cherry-heavy finish. B / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Amador County – Restrained for zinfandel, with plenty of sweet raisin notes but also notes of blackberry, sweet tea, and vanilla candies. The finish is, again, quite dialed back, bringing forth notes of chocolate and licorice. It’s not an overly serious wine, but it’s a fun one. A- / $18

Finally, a pair of single vineyard zinfandels…

2014 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Home Vineyard – Chocolate and intense Port notes — this is classic Amador County zinfandel, dusted with black pepper and notes of vanilla cake frosting. The finish offers notes of dried blueberry and a solid amount of baking spice and dried ginger notes. Though the body lacks structure (so common with zinfandel) and tends to fade away rather than go out with the bang I’d like to see, it’s still a fun and worthwhile zin. B+ / $24

2014 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard – A somewhat vegetal expression of zin, with notes of coffee, sweet tea, and fruity, juicy plums throughout. Lots of tannin and a heavy wood influence muddy the waters, while the intense cherry jam notes come across as a bit cheap. B- / $22

terradorowinery.com

Review: Wines of Mt. Beautiful, 2016 Releases

Mt Beautiful NC Pinot Noir

Mt. Beautiful is a fairly noteworthy New Zealand winery, which we most recently encountered in our tasting report on new NZ wines. Recently we received a quartet of expressions from the winery. Thoughts on each of these 2016 releases follow.

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris North Canterbury – A simple wine, with moderate florals embedded into a mild tropical and citrus body. The short finish is more aromatic than fruit-focused, with a slight brown sugar edge. A quite pleasant but simplistic companion with lighter fare. B / $19

2015 Mt. Beautiful Riesling North Canterbury – Crisp and aromatic, with light notes of pineapple to give this wine a bit of a New World spin. The finish is loaded with acid and comes across as a bit peachy, with a solid and sophisticated balance between the two. A- / $21

2014 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury – A straightforward sauvignon blanc, though far from the tropical bomb that you typically expect from New Zealand. Instead, here you find bracing acid, significant floral elements, and a dusting of candied pineapple on the slightly earthy back end. B+ / $16

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury – A fairly thin wine, with some vegetal and mushroom notes taking hold of the nose. The palate showcases more red cherry fruit character, though the finish reprises some of those leathery notes, with a surprisingly touch of gingerbread on the finish. B- / $26

mtbeautiful.co.nz

Tasting the Wines of Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Now this is a rarity: A tasting organized based not on producer but on vineyard… and not just any vineyard, a specific vineyard in California’s Lodi region known for producing, of all things, German varietals.

Mokelumne Glen spans 26 acres but is home to more than 40 cultivars, some only a represented by a few vines. Its most notable vines include riesling clones, Kerner, and two black-skinned German grapes, Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch.

We tasted four different wines made from different producers but all from Mokelumne Glen fruit, all led by Brett Koth, the Glen’s vineyard manager. Thoughts follow.

2015 Holman Cellars Uncharted Lodi Bacchus – 100% bacchus, a grape I’d never heard of before this. High in acid and aromatics to the point of near astringency, this crisp white wine offers notes of apricot tempered by the heavy perfume of white flowers and honeysuckle. There’s a surprisingly long and slightly sour finish that seems a bit at odds with an otherwise fresh and lively body. B- / $25

Markus2013NimmoBottle-Horiz-3502014 Markus Wine Co. Nimmo Lodi White Wine – 71% kerner, 13% gewurztraminer, 11% riesling, and 5% bacchus. Curiously, spends 9 months in 60% new French oak. Think of it as chardonnay-light. Caramel and butterscotch mix with herbal and slightly vegetal notes. Fairly fruity despite its general sense of restraint, it finishes without any real muss. B- / $22

2015 Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt – 100% zweigelt, a German red varietal. Bright purple in hue, it offers a funky, very earthy nose (which is typical of German red wines) that is instantly at odds with its youthful, powerfully fruity, and tart body. Notes of fresh cherry juice find a tentative companion in some musky, mushroomy and woody elements. Needs time in glass to reveal more of its charms. Think of it as a Teutotonic Beaujolais Nouveau, by way of Northern California. B- / $24

2014 m2 Wines Belle Étoile Blanche – A dessert wine crafted from 35% reislaner, 25% weissburgunder, 20% riesling, and 20% gewurztraminer. Intensely aromatic and outrageously sweet, this honey-dusted sticky offers tropical overtones plus notes of vanilla and brown sugar, with a hint of savory herbs on the lingering finish. B+ / $24 (500ml)

Review: Wines of Chateau Tourril, 2016 Releases

tourril rose

A new arrival to the U.S. market, Chateau Tourril is a Languedoc-based winery based in Minervois. The operation relies primarily on traditional Rhone Valley grapes, though you’ll need to check the back label to see what’s inside each bottle: Tourril has a fanciful name for each of its bottlings that has nothing to do with the grape varietals it uses for the wine.

We tasted five expressions from Chateau Tourril. Thoughts follow.

2015 Chateau Tourril Helios Grand Vin du Languedoc Minervois – 100% roussanne. A fairly crisp and fresh white, with an initial vanilla and caramel kick that gives way to dense apple notes, some pear, and a long, slightly bitter-tinged finish. Very summery. B+ / $17

2015 Chateau Tourril Havana Minervois – 70% cinsault, 30% grenache. A simple strawberry-heavy rose, showing bitter and herbal notes around the edges and on the quiet, simple finish. A basic French rose, with notes of rosemary to give it some nuance. B / $13

2013 Chateau Tourril Livia Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 100% syrah. Simple and uncomplicated, with slight smoky notes layered atop a surprisingly weak body that offers notes of currants and plums. Notes of roasted meats, dried herbs, and mushroom endure on the finish. Lackluster. C+ / $27

2013 Chateau Tourril Panatella Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 80% syrah, 20% grenache. Surprisingly sweet, with notable cherry notes atop that plum and currant core previously noted. Again, rather thin and a bit out of balance, with a tart and fruit-heavy finish. B- / $20

2011 Chateau Tourril Philippe Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 40% carignan, 30% syrah, 30% grenache. At least it’s not thin. This heavy, meaty wine showcases notes of smoke and roasted lamb atop a dense, currant-heavy core. It drinks like a blend of syrah and young cabernet, with a lightly balsamic, berry-scented finish. Mind the heavy sediment. B / $15

chateautourril.fr

Review: 2014 The Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay Mendocino

Clambake Chardonnay Bottle

This is a pleasant Mendocino chardonnay, unaged in oak, in the traditional style of Mendocino and Anderson County. Surprisingly creamy at first, the wine quickly segues into strong citrus, some tropical notes, and a dusting of rosemary and sage on the finish. Nicely balanced but a tad herbal on its own, it pairs particularly well with seafood dishes.

B+ / $15 / ripelifewines.com

Review: 2014 Josh Cellars Chardonnay

josh chard

This widely available wine carries an unspecific California appellation, but it drinks at a surprisingly much higher level than that would normally indicate.

Pretty pear and apple notes are balanced by mild caramel and vanilla — but Josh Chardonnay stays well on this side of the “oaky-buttery” monstrosity that informs most California chardonnay. The finish is clean, slightly sweet with notes of pie crust and sugar cookies — uncomplicated, but refreshing and brisk.

An amazing value and a worthwhile wine.

A- / $14 / joshcellars.com

Review: 2011 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port

LBV2011

A new LBV release has arrived from Port titan Dow.

Surprisingly restrained, the omnipresent raisin character of this Port is muted by heavy milk chocolate notes, vanilla, and notes of pie crust. The body is loaded with sweetness, but lacks some needed gravity, coming across more like a candy bar than the bold dessert wine it wants to be. Fair enough for a casual dessert wine, but it isn’t a standout of the genre.

B / $15 / dows-port.com