Review: 2010 Tenuta di Arceno Il Fauno di Arcanum Toscana IGT

il fauno di Arcanum Bottle ShotThis Tuscan winery is owned by the enormous Jackson Family of Wines operation, and it’s only the company’s second Italian brand under its umbrella. Tenuta di Arceno’s Il Fauno di Arcanum bottling (not the same as Arcanum) is a Bordeaux-style blend of 56% merlot, 23% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% petit verdot.

It’s a complex little number, with a nose that kicks off some menthol, dense wood, licorice, and a touch of coal. On the body, more fruit comes through — though restraint is the name of the game — as notes of blackberry and currant emerge, plus a backbone of dark chocolate and a bit of coffee grounds. Some fresh tobacco leaf pops in on the finish. A restrained wine, but one with a lot of charm.

A- / $30 / arcanumwine.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Howell Mountain 2015

The annual “Above the Fog” tasting of wines from Napa’s decidedly inhospitable Howell Mountain region is a showcase for some of the most luxurious — and expensive — wines produced in California. This year producers showed off a wide range of bottlings ranging from 2009 to 2012 releases — with some library wines thrown in for good measure. While most are cabernets — in general, showing a little on the over-extracted side this year — a few other varietals can be found, including the first Howell Mountain pinot noir I’ve ever experienced. (And it was surprisingly good!)

Brief thoughts on all wines tasted at the event follow.

Tasting Report: Wines of Howell Mountain 2015

2010 Arkenstone Vineyards Obsidian / $135 / B+ / pushy, some spice and jam notes
2011 Black Sears Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $95 / B / not quite ripe; surprisingly tart
2009 Bravante Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Howell Mountain / $75 / B / lots of oak and silky tannins with a chalky, earthy finish
2009 Bremer Family Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $90 / B / a bit thin, lots of chocolate, licorice, tart berries
2011 CADE Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain / $80 / B / complex, herbal notes and some wet earth
2012 CADE Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Reserve / $180 / A- / mushrooms, then leather and a touch of vanilla; very long tannic structure
2011 Cimarossa Rive Di Cimarossa Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $70 / B / some floral character, a bit of balsamic
2011 Cimarossa Riva Di Ponente Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $90 / B+ / broader berry and wood-heavy structure
2012 Clif Family Winery Howell Mountain Kit’s Killer Cab / $75 / B- / heavy earth, lots of tannin
2012 Clif Family Winery Croquet Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $110 / B+ / more lush and pretty, some violets
2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon White Label / $80 / B / lots of fruit on the nose, strawberry especially; very light body
2001 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon White Label / $300 / A / amazing right now, soft as a pillow with florals and fruit in harmony
2012 Cresta Velia Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $65 / B+ / chocolate and caramel notes, dark black fruit jam, some flabbiness on the body
2011 Haber Family Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $120 / B+ / big fruit profile, lightly tart; easy drinking with modest tannin
2012 Hindsight Wines Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Vetta Vineyards / $65 / B / some vegetal notes on the nose; caramel sauce on a slightly sweet body
2011 Howell at the Moon Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $85 / B- / intensely vegetal, tawny Port character
2009 Howell at the Moon Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Knoll Vineyard / $125 / B- / similar to above
2011 Howell Mountain Vineyards Howell Mountain Petite Verdot / $65 / A- / fresh and fragrant; lots of florals
2011 Howell Mountain Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / B+ / chewy cedar box notes; leather oil
2011 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / A- / licorice notes; chocolate; still drinking young
2003 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $95 / A- / still fresh, well softened, some sweetness
2011 La Jota Howell Mountain Merlot W.S. Keyes / $150 / B+ / hugely floral with right fruit; a bit tart (24% cabernet)
2011 Lamborn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $100 / A- / lush and almost sweet with tons of fruit; silky and developing nicely
2010 Neal Family Vineyards Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $150 / B+ / densely earthy nose; lots of tannin, slight herbal edge
2012 Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / B / overbearing chocolate notes, big vanilla finish
2011 Pestoni Family Rutherford Grove Winery Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / A- / lively fruit, some perfume notes; soft back end
2011 Pina Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard / $85 / A- / chewy with chocolate notes, big currants, tobacco leaf
2010 Press Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $60 / B- / some earth and funk here; licorice, coffee bean
2012 Prim Family Vineyard Howell Mountain Pinot Noir / $60 / A- / a real surprise; dense chocolate, exotic, baking spices and vanilla
2010 Prim Family Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $80 / A- / somewhat softer than the ’09, nice balance
2009 Prim Family Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $80 / B+ / lots of fresh fruit notes, big jam, overpowered on the finish though
2010 Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah / $45 / B / menthol, some citrus notes; very fragrant
2012 Roberts + Rogers Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $100 / B+ / primarily a grape grower, not a winemaker (prices have been skyrocketing); intense, with deep tannins… give this one time
2010 SPENCE Howell Mountain 100% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $80 / A- / currants, cocoa powder; deep char notes
2010 Summit Lake Emily Kestrel Howell Mountain Cabernet / $60 / B / blue and blackberry notes; a little portlike; develops in time
2011 W.H. Smith Bronze Label Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $48 / B / quite herbal; slight Madeira notes
2011 W.H. Smith Purple Label Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $64 / B+ / softer, with blueberry fruit developing; some fig notes

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Review: Wines of La Merika, 2015 Releases

La Merika Cab bottle 001All of a sudden these La Merika wines are everywhere I look. Bottled by Delicato, these are affordable, bulk wines produced primarily in the California Central Coast region. You probably won’t pick one up at Ruth’s Chris, but with a couple of these bottlings, you could do worse.

2013 La Merika Pinot Grigio Monterey – As pale a wine as I’ve ever seen, this Pinot Grigio offers a nose of canned pears, with a touch of ammonia. The body is lightly tropical with more old/canned fruit notes, and a heavily bittersweet finish that recalls dried, faded herbs that have been sitting in the cupboard for the last decade. Largely unpleasant. D+ / $13

2013 La Merika Chardonnay Central Coast – A standard-grade Chardonnay with reasonable fruit and modest oak, a perfectly acceptable everyday/party wine that will excite no one but offend none, either. Mild citrus and a touch of tropical character add at least some nuance. B- / $13

2012 La Merika Pinot Noir Central Coast – Traditional cherries on the nose, plus some vanilla — this leads to a slightly oversweet but also surprisingly smoky palate, which ultimately fades away to a bittersweet note on the finish. Notes of cola add something to the otherwise somewhat watery palate. C / $15

2012 La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – Surprisingly not at all bad. Ample fruit, with currents and raspberries, with a little dusting of chocolate underneath. Vanilla notes emerge with time, but the wine manages to stay out of jam territory while still keeping the tannins very lean. There’s no real complexity, but there’s nothing offensive about it at all. Again, a surprisingly great value. B+ / $15

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Review: 2013 The Federalist Zinfandel Lodi

federalistAh, at last — a Zinfandel with balance! This lively blend starts with red berries and some cherry notes, then pushes into some notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and touches of blueberry. Nice balance, with pleasant acidity and some oakiness on the back end. Very easy drinking on its own, and it pairs beautifully with food — something few Zinfandels can lay claim to. A great bargain, to boot.

A- / $14 / terlatowines.com

Tasting the Wines of Gerard Bertrand, 2015 Releases

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Gerard Bertrand is a producer in the Roussillon region of France… just next door to the Languedoc, nestled between the Pyrennes mountains (and Spain) and the Mediterranean Sea. But Gerard Bertrand is also a man, an imposing Frenchman who was eye to eye with me at a solid 6’4″ and with the uncanny resemblance of Vincent Cassel. But rather than screaming at ballerinas to “Attack it!” Bertrand makes a number of highly regarded wines (dozens of them) in his mountain commune. He’s also written a book about it: Wine, Moon and Stars, where he talks about biodynamics and a life in winemaking in the south of France. We recently had lunch in San Francisco to talk about the book and taste his wines, both new and (very) old. Thoughts on Betrand’s latest wines follow.

NV Gerard Bertrand Code Rouge Cremant de Limoux AOP – A stellar sparkler that is not rouge at all but rather blanc, very fresh, lively, and bright, with notes of apples, some pears, and toffee. A- / $27

2012 Gerard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc Aude Hauterive IGP – A blend of chardonnay/viognier/sauvignon blanc. Bold and gold in color, it offers honey and mint notes with some almost bready notes on the palate. Food friendly, with an herbal kick and some notes of furniture polish on the nose. B / $36

2014 Gerard Bertrand Chateau La Sauvageonne GMVV Rose Coteaux du Languedoc AOP – Grenache/mourvedre/viognier/vermentino. An interesting rose, with a mild nose and notes of grapefruit, lime zest, and candied flower petals. Some herbal character emerges alongside the slightly chalky finish. B+ / $20

2012 Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora Minervois La Liviniere AOP – A new release. A Rhone-ish blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and carignan. A wine designed to “deliver a mission of peace, love, and harmony.” That’s effective, given this wine’s lovely nose of violets and caramel, and youthful body that exhibits floral notes, and some coconut and chocolate in the finish. Mineral notes perk up with air, too. A- / $NA

0121951 Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintage Banyuls Rivesaltes AOP – Gorgeous old Banyuls, dessert wine made of 100% grenache. Lovely port notes have mellowed into a glorious blend of raisin and fig, chocolate and nuts in perfect harmony. At once gentle, elegent, and rich with dense dessert flavors. A knockout. A+ / $165

I also brought some wines home for tasting later…

2014 Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses – A grenache/cinsault/syrah rose blend. Very fresh and, indeed, floral, with notes of strawberries, peaches, rose petals, and a significant tropical influence. Significant acidity keeps things lively on the palate, but also fruit forward. Brisk and fragrant, quite summery. Note the bottle, the base of which is cast into the impression of a full rose flower. Cute. B+ / $15

2014 Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc – A rose blend of grenache gris and grenache noir, a very pale, light-bodied wine with overtones of fresh herbs, white flowers, and light tropical elements. Very fresh and fragrant, it’s a classic summer rose through and through. B+ / $16

2011 Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel – A blend of grenache/syrah/carignan. Herbal, with overtones of roasted meats on the nose, with touches of licorice and raspberry jam. The body gets going with restrained fruit and some fresh thyme and rosemary, but the fruit becomes more prominent as it gets some air. Ultimately it’s quite lively, with touches of vanilla and coconut, more of that thyme, and a slightly smoky, leathery back end. Let this one breathe a bit and its depth will surprise you. A- / $15

gerard-bertrand.com

Review: 2009 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto

Dows LBV 2009With this 2009, Dow has crafted an affordable late bottled vintage port that’s perfectly quaffable right from the gate. Pure raisins on the nose, with just a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves — laced in. On the tongue, there’s pure dried berries, some caramel and chocolate sauce, and a strawberry glaze. It’s lacking the brooding depth of a vintage port, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? A terrific value.

A- / $24 / dows-port.com

Review: 2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

wn-web-image-cru-sb-2013A pair of new wines from Vineyard 29 under the “Cru” label, one a Napa Sauvignon Blanc from V29’s backyard, the other a pinot brought in from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Both are excellent. Thoughts, as always, follow.

2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Initially this comes across as a slightly tough pinot, with a root-laden/woody edge on the nose. On the palate, there’s lots of cherry fruit up front, then lingering notes of licorice, fruit tea, and a touch of lychee. Ultimately the wine comes together quite well, offering a rounded balance, bold flavors on the body, and a cohesive finish. A- / $54

2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Tons of fruit here, with citrus and apple notes dueling it out with coconut and vanilla. Crisp and acidic on the finish, this little delight uses its rich palate to suck you in, then spits you out clean with mineral notes and a hint of flowers. A- / $54

vineyard29.com

Tasting Report: Bordeaux and Sauternes, 2012 Vintage

Vintage 2012 Bordeaux is in the cusp of release, and recently I had the opportunity to taste a huge swath of it when some 80 chateaux decended on the U.S. All in all, these wines showed quite well. 2012 white Bordeaux wines are drinking particularly well already, and the reds of Saint-Julien had a strong showing as a whole. Special commendations go to Château Gazin from Pomerol, Château La Tour Carnet of the Haut-Medoc, and Château Grand – Puy – Lacoste of Pauillac, all showing off impressive balance. But the star of the show was easily Château Léoville Barton, a Saint-Julien wine with elegence, grace, and impressive depth.

Complete (yet brief) notes on all wines tasted follow.

2012 Bordeaux Tasting Report

2012 Château de Chantegrive Graves Blanc / B- / a bit weedy
2012 Château Bouscaut Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / pretty, with floral notes
2012 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / slightly meaty
2012 Château de Fieuzal Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / lots of bright peaches, some herbs
2012 Château Haut – Bailly Pessac-Leognan Rouge / A- / lush and rounded, raisins and mixed berries
2012 Château Larrivet Haut – Brion Pessac-Leognan Blanc / B+ / more mineral notes, meaty finish
2012 Château Latour – Martillac Pessac-Leognan Rouge / B / jammy, overcooked
2012 Château Picque Caillou Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / grapefruit, melon, and flowers
2012 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A / dense with fruit and nougat notes, and almost vegetal edge adds balance
2012 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac-Leognan Rouge / A- / licorice, dark chocolate, big body
2012 Château Canon – La – Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / A- / thin but lively with fruit and florals
2012 Clos Fourtet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B / dusty, some pruniness
2012 Château La Tour Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / A / loaded with chocolate and blueberries
2012 Château Troplong Mondot Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B+ / earthy and dense, long, tobacco finish
2012 Château Beauregard Pomerol / B- / bizarrely structured, heavy fruit dives into big tannin
2012 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol / A- / lots of chocolate and raspberries
2012 Château La Cabanne Pomerol / B+ / cherry and some bubblegum notes
2012 Château Clinet Pomerol / A- / dense and lush, a powerhouse
2012 Château Gazin Pomerol / A / unusual, mint and berry compote mashed up
2012 Château La Pointe Pomerol / B+ / densely fruity, some mint and milk chocolate
2012 Château Clarke Listrac-Medoc / B+ / slightly thin, herbs and strawberry notes
2012 Château Chasse – Spleen Moulis-en-Medoc / A / just right; acidity supports violets, raspberry, blackberry notes
2012 Château Maucaillou Moulis-en-Medoc / B / dense and dusty, cigar box elements
2012 Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Medoc / A- / deep chocolate and raspberry notes
2012 Château de Camensac Haut-Medoc / B+ / huge earthiness, tobacco notes
2012 Château Cantemerle Haut-Medoc / B+ / lush fruit, some balsamic, raspberry notes
2012 Château Citran Haut-Medoc / B+ / restrained but with some balance, an easygoing style
2012 Château Coufran Haut-Medoc / B / a bit astringent, more balsamic
2012 Château La Lagune Haut-Medoc / A- / easy fruit, some herbs, a little smoke
2012 Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Medoc / A / wonderful balance, fruit meets cedar box
2012 Château La Tour de By Medoc / B+ / a bit thin, lively fruit and herb notes
2012 Château Angludet Margaux / B / a bit flabby, pungent edge
2012 Château Cantenac Brown Margaux / A- / chocolate and berry core; long, dry and tannic; one for cellaring
2012 Château Dauzac Margaux / B+ / lots of bacon, rough around the edges; powerful
2012 Château Durfort – Vivens Margaux / B+ / dense and dry; violets and blackberry notes
2012 Château Ferrière Margaux / B+ / good balance with leather and cedar notes
2012 Château Giscours Margaux / B- / pencil shavings, dry tobacco; very dry finish
2012 Château Kirwan Margaux / B- / thin, very vegetal
2012 Château du Tertre Margaux / B / classic; dusty and pungent earth
2012 Château Beychevelle Saint-Julien / A- / strawberries and violets; tannic finish
2012 Château Gruaud Larose Saint-Julien / A- / very fruity; strawberry notes, milk chocolate
2012 Château Lagrange Saint-Julien / A- / fruity, with chocolate notes; woody back end
2012 Château Langoa Barton Saint-Julien / A- / similar to the Leoville Barton; some sweetness, fruity finish
2012 Château Léoville Barton Saint-Julien / A+ / beautiful, balanced with herbs, red fruit, and an intensely chocolate finish
2012 Château Saint-Pierre Saint-Julien / B / slightly thin and acidic
2012 Château d’Armailhac Pauillac / B+ / green, herbal with some big red fruit coming up behind
2012 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac / B+ / very fruity, a bit overdone
2012 Château Grand – Puy Ducasse Pauillac / A- / fresh, balanced, lots of herbs and fruit together
2012 Château Grand – Puy – Lacoste Pauillac / A / gorgeous; balanced with fruit and lots of spice
2012 Château Haut – Bages Liberal Pauillac / A- / fruity, almost jammy with an herbal finish
2012 Château Lynch – Bages Pauillac / B+ / bright and fruity, balsamic edge
2012 Château Pichon Baron Pauillac / A- / fresh, blackberry, mild chocolate, nicely balanced
2012 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac / A / opulent and beautiful, fruit and chocolate in harmony
2012 Château Ormes de Pez Saint-Estephe / B+ / big cedar box, cherry notes
2012 Château de Pez Saint-Estephe / B / odd balance here; intensely vegetal, cooked fruit notes
2012 Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estephe / A- / tannic but lively, herbs and cedar box
2012 Château Climens Barsac / B+ / dense, honey — almost toffee notes
2012 Château Coutet Barsac-Sauternes / A / rich, caramel sauce and layered with honey
2012 Château Doisy Daëne Barsac / B+ / very intense; baked apples, baking spices
2012 Château Guiraud Sauternes / A / good balance of fruit and honey character
2012 Clos Haut – Peyraguey Sauternes / B+ / butterscotch candies, a bit too sweet
2012 Château Lafaurie – Peyraguey Sauternes / A- / slight herbal edge
2012 Château de Rayne Vigneau Sauternes / B+ / a bit thinner
2012 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes / A / sweet clover honey notes, some lemon in the mix

Tasting: Chiantis of Ruffino, 2015 Releases

ruffinoRecently I had the chance to virtually sit down with Gabriele Tacconi, Ruffino’s chief winemaker, to hear about the launch of its “Gran Selezione,” a new, upper-echelon expression of Tuscany’s most famous wine, Chianti. Gran Selezione add’s a fourth tier to this wine region, from Chianti to Chianti Classico to Riserva to Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione wines must spend at least 30 months aging (including 3 months in bottle), a 6 month increase over the legal standards that Riserva wines are subject to, and these wines must be sourced from 100% winery-owned vineyards.

How does Ruffino’s first “GS” stack up? We tried the full range of Ruffino’s Chianti lineup (well, all four categories of Chianti, anyway), to experience for ourselves. Thoughts follow.

2013 Ruffino Chianti DOCG – 70% sangiovese, plus a mix of other stuff. Bottled in a Burgundy-style bottle, evoking the old wicker basket bottlings. This is a simple wine but it’s far more pleasurable than you’d expect, offering a simple fruit structure (more strawberry than cherry), some touches of roasted meats, and hints of vanilla. Both lightly tannic and lightly jammy, but so simple and extremely light on its feet (and in color). B- / $6

2013 Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Some pepper on the nose, then bright cherry fruit. Lush on the body, its cherry fruit balanced by notes of bacon, roasted meats, and touches of oak-driven vanilla. There’s a simplicity to this wine, but also a depth of character that makes the non-Classico wine look a bit undercooked. B+ / $12

2011 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Somewhat jammy, with a clear cabernet influence on the tongue and some perfumed notes on the nose, driven by the merlot. Altogether it comes across quite a bit like a New World wine, fruit firmly forward, almost sweet thanks to significant oak influence, but nicely balanced and easy to enjoy. A- / $15

2010 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. Lots of similarity with the Riserva Ducale above, with lots of bold fruit up front and a finish that fades to chocolate and vanilla. There’s a nice and intricate tannin structure here, supporting blackberries, tobacco, and leathery notes. The finish tries to dial back some impressive fruitiness, but it can barely stand up to the assault. Old World, welcome to the New World. A- / $30

ruffino.com

Review: 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

nullMt. Brave isn’t called that because they think the name is cute. It’s because the fruit for this wine is grown at high altitudes on the dedicedly inhospitable Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, California.

This 2011 Cabernet (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc) is the picture of restraint. The nose is very mild, with notes of blackberry, tea leaf, mushroom, and cedar — but in the distance, not punching at your nostrils like so many bolder, Napa-born cabernets. The body doesn’t immediate run any specific direction. It’s light and lively, almost to the point of feeling watery, again a big surprise given the usual trajectory for this type of wine.

Instead, look for notes of simple red fruits, vanilla, and a touch of fresh herbal character. Again, this is all very simplistic and a tad underdeveloped, which means it drinks easily enough, but lacks the depth that a wine of this stature should have.

B+ / $75 / mtbravewines.com