Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, Late 2016 Releases

Hey folks, don’t want to spend big bucks for wine for the holiday table? Check out this quintet of affordable Bordeaux wines — which generally fared much better than the last round of affordabordeaux that we reviewed.

NV La Fleur de Francois Cremant de Bordeaux Rose Brut – A sparkling rose made from 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Rather malty and yeasty, but balanced by floral notes and notes of fresh berries, this wine drinks much like the better-known Cremant d’Alsace, melding cereal character with fresh fruit. Simple but versatile, with a round body that can stand up to heavier foods. B+ / $16

2013 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Blanc – Fresh and grassy, this blend of 69% sauvignon blanc, 28% semillon, and 3% muscadelle drinks with its sauvignon blanc foot forward, a grassy and lightly tropical experience, with light lemon juice notes clear and strong on the finish. Highly drinkable but definitely simple, it’s a versatile wine that works as a summer sipper or as a pairing with lighter fare. A- / $10

2011 Chateau le Calvaire Bordeaux Superieur – This wine (a 64% cabernet/36% merlot blend) may have no pedigree, but it’s an outstanding bottling that I recommend without reservation. Silky, fresh fruit, heavy on cherries, finds companionship with very light currant notes, some floral elements, tea leaf, and a bit of cinnamon. Well-balanced from start to finish, it showcases fruit without being at all jammy, its tannins deftly folding in on the wine as it fades out with a gentle, lingering floral touch. An amazing value wine. A- / $11

2012 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Superieur – 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc. This is a fairly workaday Bordeaux, with fruit dialed way back so that only some tart, unripe cherry notes remain. Notes of tobacco and balsamic fill in the gaps, but the dusty and mildly astringent finish isn’t much to look forward to. C / $16

2014 Barton & Guestier Bordeaux – 85% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Another simple wine, and young. That said, fruit is dialed down a bit, leaving this wine to showcase mild herbs, some wood, and a significant amount of tannin. Watch for raspberry on the back end, which helps the wine rise to the occasion with a bit more gusto. B / $10

Review: 2015 Pighin Pinot Grigio Friuli

This Friuli-sourced pinot grigio offers some of the usual tropical fruit notes, with ample acidity, but it is weighed down by a significant vegetal character that is particularly present on the nose. The finish winds things up with a brisk, almost sour, finish — but also a touch of mushroom. It’s a nice value, but still a wine with some compromises attached.

B- / $15 / pighin.com

Review: Wines of Frank Family Vineyards, 2016 Releases



Three new reds from Frank Family, vying for a spot on your winter table.

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – A darker and denser pinot than we’ve come to expect from Carneros, complete with notes of bittersweet chocolate, licorice root, and gritty charcoal. Good thing there’s ample fruit to keep all of the above in check, providing balance in the form of dark cherries and notes of dried tea. Quite drying on the finish. B+ / $35

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah Napa Valley – A classic petite sirah, loaded up with burly notes of licorice, tannic charred wood, and fruit leather. The tannins grip the palate immediately and hang on for dear life — this is a bold wine that requires a bold food pairing to really be approachable, at which point it reveals more charms in the form of light florals and fresher fruit notes. B+ / $35

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Dusty up front and intensely tannic, this is a restrained cab loaded up with brambly notes, licorice (again, yes), tobacco, and tar. The fruit layer lies well beneath all of this, but give the wine plenty of time and ample air (decanting isn’t out of the question) and some of its charms make their way to the fore. A better plan might involve a couple of years of cellaring, though. B / $53


Review: 2014 Quilt Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley


Quilt is the first cabernet from Copper Cane Wines company, founded by Joseph Wagner (son of Chuck Wagner of Caymus fame; Joe launched and sold the unfathomably successful Meiomi). Given Wagner’s depth of experience with cab, a lot of eyes are on Quilt’s inaugural release to see if lightning can strike yet again. Let’s see!

Dense with currants and some earthiness on the nose, it’s unmistakeable as California cab from the get-go. The body doesn’t diverge from the course, offering loads of jammy berry fruit, vanilla, and woody overtones. And it never really lets up, punching you right in the throat with its powerful currant character, its tannins enveloped in a lightly sweet and incredibly lengthy fadeaway.

All told, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the young Wagner, though I’m hoping to see more nuance from the next vintage.

B / $45 / coppercane.com

Review: 2013 Lander-Jenkins Pinot Noir California


Budget pinot noir is never my (or anyone’s) go-to beverage, but this California bottling from Lander-Jenkins, part of the Rutherford Wine Company, actually does a respectable level of service to a $15 bottle of vino.

Primary tasting notes include classically-pinot cherry and tea leaf, though there’s a bit of brown sugar sweetness, almost molasses-like at times, that tends to linger on the finish. All told, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s a wine that fights above its weight by showing more balance than you might expect — and which will probably blend in well enough on your holiday table.

B / $15 / rutherfordwine.com

Review: 2013 Saved Red Wine


A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.

The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:

Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.

B+ / $16 / savedwines.com

Tasting Report: Wines of the Petaluma Gap, 2016

Draw a line eastward from Bodega Bay to Sonoma, and another one parallel to that about 10 miles to the south. Congratulations, you’ve just outlined, roughly, the Petaluma Gap, a much-discussed region of Sonoma County (plus a bit of Marin County) that is heralded particularly for its colder-climate pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The “gap” itself is a break in the mountains that surround this region, creating a canyon of sorts through which the cold Pacific breeze can blow, all the way to the San Pablo Bay.

Recently the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance put together a tasting of wines grown exclusively from grapes grown in this small region. You’ll find some familiar names in the tasting report below, along with some you’ve probably never heard of.

Brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Petaluma Gap Wines, 2016 Releases

2013 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / C+ / rather vegetal, bitter edges
2014 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / A- / more floral, still dense with dried fruits
2013 Agnitio Wines Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard / B / earthy, but quite buttery at times
2014 Black Kite Cellars Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / fairly classic, lots of aromatics
2013 Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / some antiseptic notes on the nose; body is rich and bold, ample cherry
2013 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / B+ / acidic, quite tart, restrained fruit
2014 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / A- / also very tart, but nicely focused with overtones of tea leaf amidst bolder fruit
2012 Clouds Rest Vineyards Allure Chardonnay / A- / strong fruit notes fade into a butter and spice character
2011 Clouds Rest Vineyards Femme Fatale Pinot Noir / A- / aromatic, spicy, bold cherry notes
2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir (Reserve) / A- / very big, heavy spice, cloves and cinnamon, plus dried fruits; long finish
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Fogline Neighbors / A- / fruity, lively with lots of acidity
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Hillside Block / A- / similar, tending more toward a baking spice note
2013 Keller Estate Pinot Noir La Cruz Vineyard / B+ / a bit dusty, but solid berry underpinnings
2013 Keller Estate Rotie / B / 93% syrah; very aromatic, licorice notes on a big big body
2012 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve / B / lots of aromatics, dense finish is lackluster
2012 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Noir El Coro Vineyard / B / lots of aromatics, almost ethereal in body; some earthy overtones mar the finish
2013 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Meunier Parliament Hills Vineyard / A- / lots of acidity, plus some cocoa character, curious
2013 Loxton Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / spicy, bold raisin bread note
2014 Loxton Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / A- / chewy and balanced
2013 Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / big and mouth-filling with coffee and chocolate notes, still tannic; try in 3-4 years
2014 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir / A- / bold and rich in style; dark fruit, chocolate notes
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard / B / meaty, a classic Rhone syrah style; very bold, lasting finish
2012 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / very fruit forward, quite acidic with a flick of licorice and dark chocolate
2013 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / quite similar; a bit more punch
2014 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / slightly bigger herbal character
2014 WALT Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / C+ / licorice nose; somewhat flabby body; very bitter finish
2014 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / B- / modest, simple but quite bitter edges
2013 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / C+ / very very dry; dusty to an extreme