This sparkler is made in the same method as Champagne, but in Trento, Italy, located in the far north of the nation, midway between Milan and Venice. Made from 100% Chardonnay. It’s a fresh and flavorful wine that lands somewhere between Champagne and Prosecco in most of the facets of its construction.
Fizzy, but not too fizzy, it’s big with apple and peach notes and a touch of lemon oil up front. As it evolves, a touch of walnut, some light notes of roasted meats, and hints of red berry fruit come to the fore. Watch for a touch of floral character — white, springtime flowers — particularly on the nose as the wine opens up in the glass.
A- / $35 / ferraritrento.it
2012’s bottling of the Bordeaux-style Trilogy is composed of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 6% Petite Verdot — another quartet of grapes for a wine named for threes. It’s another knockout vintage, offering a lush core of cherries, currants, and plum, well-laced with notes of chocolate sauce. Beautiful perfume on the nose offers violet notes but also a mix of fresh and dried herbs, with a lightly tannic kicker. Very well crafted and ready to go now.
A- / $75 / florasprings.com
We meant to review these two Heidsieck Champagne bottlings for the holidays but, you know, things got away from us…
NV Piper-Brut Champagne (red label) – Super crisp apple on the nose, with strong notes of lemongrass. The body is tart with just the right amount of sweetness to back it up, plenty more of those apples with a light, brioche-driven breadiness on the finish. Just about perfect. A / $39
1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Champagne – 100% Chardonnay. Drinking old. Sour apple up front, then intense notes of mushroom and musty bread amidst some vinegary, old-apple character in the middle. The finish continues to push some old wine notes. Fans of well-aged vintage Champagne may find all of this charming, but I can’t get onboard. C- / $185
Two new releases from Sonoma-based Arrowood, including — oddly enough — a new 2011 Cabernet, released in a time when everyone else is putting out their 2012 releases. Thoughts follow.
2013 Arrowood Chardonnay Sonoma County – Nothing new to see here. This California starts off with buttery vanilla notes and sticks with them to the end. Some pear and banana notes arrive in the middle, but otherwise this wine fades into relative anonymity in short order. B / $20
2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – Hearty and a bit rustic, this Sonoma Cab kicks off with a ton of fruit before delving into notes of blackberry syrup, coffee beans, dark chocolate, and some bitter root notes. Not entirely well-integrated, the tannin almost gets away from this one with a finish that is more herbal than fruit-driven. B / $37
Three new wines from Sonoma’s Frei Brothers, which seemingly only has a “Reserve” label. Thoughts follow…
2013 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A big, slap-your-mama California Chardonnay, but one that’s not without some charm. The big vanilla is kept in check by some lemon and orange notes, with a pervasive apple cider character. There’s enough acidity on the back end to give this wine a fair amount of life, but given the lingering sweetness, I’d still reserve it for the dessert course. B- / $20
2012 Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Initially very fruity, to the point of being jammy, this wine eventually settles down to reveal lots of black fruit, dark chocolate, and coffee bean notes. I get hints of cinnamon and allspice, but by and large it’s a chewy, Napa-style cabernet with gentle tannins, modest sweetness, and a lengthy, dense finish. B+ / $27
2012 Frei Brothers Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A workmanlike Pinot, drinkable but too thin, simply lacking in enough body. The fruit is there, but it’s restrained — cherries and some raspberry notes — dialed back and held in check for a short, but innocuous, finish. B / $27
Napa’s Frank Family has two of its flagship wines ready for their 2015 debut. Thoughts on the winery’s Chardonnay and Zinfandel follow.
2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – Same aging regimen on this Carneros bottling — barrel fermented in 34% new, 33% once, and 33% twice-filled French oak barrels for 9 months. Moderately tropical on the nose, but it’s surprisingly mild on the whole. The big, oaky body is a clear Cali bomb — all brown butter, vanilla, and notes from the barrel. Desperate for some acidity, the finish is a bit flabby and uninspired for a wine at this price. B- / $35
2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – Textbook Zin, pushing the fruit to within an inch of its life, but still just hanging on to some balance by the skin of its teeth. Raisin notes, some forest floor, and tea leaf all make an appearance, giving this an unusual but surprisingly lively construction. Quite food-friendly. 79% Zin, 18% Petite Sirah, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. B / $37
San Franciscans, please join me on March 16 at the Metreon City View for In Pursuit of Balance, a tasting of California pinot noir and chardonnay that has an honest-to-God manifesto behind it. IPOB is a group of producers “seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.”
You can get your lips around these wines — and these are some excellent producers, I can attest myself — in just over a week. To wit:
On March 16 (from 6 to 9 pm), thirty-three of California’s top wineries will share their wines at In Pursuit of Balance, an event created in 2011 to celebrate balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Joining those wineries will be nine of the Bay Area’s top restaurants, including SPQR, Nopa, Bar Tartine and RN74. IPOB represents a unique opportunity to taste thirty-three of the finest California pinot and chardonnay producers in a focused setting. As one of the most exciting and controversial movements in California wine, IPOB has been covered by, among others, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Food + Wine Magazine.
Tickets are $125, and you can nab them here. (Not in SF? IPOB is also headed to Houston and Japan.) Cheers!
This year’s expression of California Chardonnay from Menage a Trois is a tough one, loaded with vanilla candy to within an inch of its life, and balanced only by a hint of caramel apple and a twist of lemon on the finish. Cloying and mouth-coating from the get-go, it grabs you by the sweet tooth and never lets up. Enter at your own risk.
D+ / $8 / menageatroiswines.com
This New Zealand Pinot (produced by Kim Crawford) is a lean expression of the grape, particularly by Kiwi standards. Herbal, almost vegetal on the nose, it hits the palate with a surprising degree of sweetness. This settles down quickly once it gets some air, however, revealing notes of cherry juice, cinnamon, a bit of oxidized citrus, and some tobacco. The finish is drying and surprisingly tannic, almost bittersweet at times.
B / $37 / loveblockwine.com
Carpano’s Antica Formula vermouth is the first lady of aromatic wines. In a world where most vermouth runs under $10 for a bottle and is tossed out during clean-up from last night’s party, the $30 or more you’ll pay for a liter of Antica Formula indicates at least someone thinks pretty highly of it.
The heritage of this spirit dates back to the late 1700s, when vermouth was invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano — inspired by German aromatic wines. Antica Formula doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to today’s German wines, but it doesn’t take long to see why it has such a loyal following.
On its own, Antica Formula offers a complex nose of raisins, prunes, licorice, root beer, and citrus peel. The body is initially sweet, then slowly turns more and more bitter — almost to the level of an amaro — as it fades in the glass. In cocktails, this can create a dazzling complexity and, depending on how much you use, an intensity of flavor. Manhattans are gorgeous with it, the vermouth a wonderfull foil for whiskey, and Negronis take on another dimension. Rather than disappearing into a cocktail, the wine coaxes out notes of cocoa powder, dark fruits, and the spices of Christmas.
That said, drink it year-round.
A / $32 (1 liter) / specialitybrands.com