Category Archives: Wine

Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 Releases

9 Ramione 2009 212x300 Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 ReleasesSicily’s Baglio di Pianetto takes the classic grapes of this fiery island and funnels it through the mystique of a French chateau style of production. That’s what they say anyway. The production at this winery (which also has a resort on the premises) is extensive. Today we look at a selection of six wines — two whites and four reds, including two DOC “reserve” wines. Thoughts on everything follow.

2013 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Insolia Sicilia DOC – From the higher-end DOC bottling of Baglio di Pianetto comes this 100% insolia, a lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. Equally enjoyable. A / $NA

2013 Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Sicilia IGT – A blend of insolia and viognier. What a fun white this is, lush with white peaches, apricots, lemon, and vanilla. It’s a perfectly dialed-back expression of viognier, that overwhelming fruit showing both restraint and mouth-filling gorgeousness. A / $16

2012 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC – Not a particularly refined Nero, a bit weedy, a bit barky, and a bit of old fruit. Dusky and brooding, but lacking the oomph of more powerful Neros. Some fun touches of licorice and vanilla emerge on the nose if you give it time. Fine, but more apropos as a food wine. B / $NA

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Ramione Sicilia IGT – This is a blend of merlot and nero d’avola. Softer than you’d think, with a strongly fruity nose of blackberries, touched with a bit of tobacco and leather. A simple wine, with some mild astringency on the finish. Works well with tomoto-based dishes. B+ / $20

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Shymer Sicilia IGT – A blend of syrah and merlot, which sounds like it will be a whole lot better than it ends up being. There’s almost no body or soul on this wine. It drinks like one of those grape-flavored waters you might buy when Aquafina just doesn’t do it. Has the fruit already raced out of this wine, or was there none to begin with? Not worth bothering with. C- / $20

2007 Baglio di Pianetto Cembali Nero d’Avola IGT – This 100% nero d’avola starts off muted and dull, but fruit emerges with some time in glass. Bright cherry and currant notes are fun for a bit, but they quickly turn toward the raisiny, with balsamic notes and some racy oxidized character coming to the forefront — indicative of this wine’s age. B / $20

bagliodipianetto.com

Review: Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2010 Brut Cuvee, and 2007 La Reve

1 90627750 3 Review: Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2010 Brut Cuvee, and 2007 La ReveToday it’s a smorgasbord of wines from our friends at Carneros-based Domaine Carneros. Let’s jump right in.

2012 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir Carneros – A gorgeous Pinot, with notes of currants, blueberry, brewed tea, cocoa nibs, and touches of violets. Everything’s firing almost perfectly here — it’s so easy-drinking that it’s hard to put down, but the panoply of flavors in the glass make it an exploratory revelation as well. A / $75

2010 Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvee Carneros – 51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir. Crisp and fruit-forward, this sparkler has an apple-citrus kick with a touch of vanilla on the back end. One of the easiest-sipping sparkling wines you’re likely to find, with an orchard up front and plenty of homey biscuity notes in the back. A / $29

2007 Domaine Carneros La Reve Blanc de Blancs – 100% Chardonnay. A very fine and subtle edition of La Reve, this on with toasty notes that balance the pears, apples, and lemons that dominate the body. The modest fizziness is restrained but pairs well with fruit that grows and grows as the body builds to a seductive head. Let this one rest for a few more years. A- / $99

domainecarneros.com

Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

chateau montelena 2011 cab 200x300 Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyA lighter style of Cab arrives from Chateau Montelena this year, a rare, fresh Cabernet that you can actually enjoy with warm weather, fresh and lively at just 13.4% abv.

Fresh strawberry and light vanilla cookie notes dominate — altogether unusual for a Napa Cabernet. As the body develops, some mild tannins emerge, but it keeps things focused on the fruit. Increasing notes of strawberry and cherry, touched with wispy smoke, emerge, and given some time, you’ll find notes of balsamic and gentle tobacco notes. More than ready to drink now; not one to hold.

91.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, .5% Cabernet Franc.

A- / $50 / montelena.com

Review: Arteis & Co. Vintage Brut Champagne – 1999 Brut and 2002 Extra Brut

arteis 525x393 Review: Arteis & Co. Vintage Brut Champagne   1999 Brut and 2002 Extra Brut

Arteis is a small French producer of Champagne “micro-cuvees.” The company made its big introduction to the U.S. market in New York last year. Now it’s making more inroads to the U.S., mainly in restaurant markets. We sampled two of the four Arteis vintages now on the market; both are well-aged Champagnes that have just recently been bottled. Thoughts follow.

Oh: Arteis asked us to let you know that on-premise pricing for these wines is considerably higher: $105-150 and $300-350 for the two, respectively.

1999 Arteis Brut Champagne – 40% Chardonnay Couilly, 40% Chardonnay Vertus, 10% Pinot Noir Vertus, 10% Meunier Congy. Disgorged in May 2013, this bright vintage Champagne is a winner. Spicy and floral on the nose (with a healthy but not overpowering yeastiness), it offers rich fig and pear fruit notes on the palate, with notes of both crisp red bell pepper and brown sugar on the finish. Complex and intriguing, but just a touch on the sweet side for a vintage brut. A- / $50

2002 Arteis Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne – 100% Chardonnay from Cuis (Côte des Blancs). Disgorged in August 2013, this is another refined champagne, though quite different from the 1999 due to its bone-dry palate. The nose is light with biscuit notes and light apple fruit. On the tongue, again it recalls the fields more than the fruit — heather and amber waves of grain. Notes of grapefruit and blood orange come along as the finish develops, which is palate cleansing and lightly bittersweet. A- / $129

arteis.co

Review: Flora Springs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 Merlot

flora springs 2012 napa valley merlot bottle 71x300 Review: Flora Springs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 MerlotTwo new releases from Flora Springs in Napa.

2013 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Sololiquy Vineyard Oakville – Crisp, with mild lemon and orange notes. Very clean, with minimal mineral notes and light acidity. Extremely pale in color, this wine is the very definition of a “summery white” — light as a feather and elusive when it comes to character, but hard not to like. B+ / $17

2012 Flora Springs Merlot Napa Valley – Chocolate notes come across first on the nose, with a touch of root beer essence in back of that. Woodsy/root notes continue to dominate on the palate, but that chalky bittersweet chocolate character makes a powerful appearance on the finish. Worth a look. B / $18

florasprings.com

Review: Wines of Edna Valley Vineyard, 2014 Releases

Edna Valley Vyd 2013 Central Coast Sauv Blanc 750ml New 75x300 Review: Wines of Edna Valley Vineyard, 2014 ReleasesLocated on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, California, Edna Valley Vineyard (not “Vineyards”) is a budget producer of California’s most popular varietals. With its 2014 releases now hitting the market — 2012 vintage reds, 2013 vintage whites — here’s a look at three of the winery’s Central Coast-designated bottlings. All drink at levels considerably above their incredibly affordable price points.

2013 Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast – Brisk pineapple quickly fades into intense acidity, with notes of intense lemon juice and pepe du chat. Stylistically basic, but made with competence. B / $15

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Coast – Gentle and quiet, as expected from a value Pinot. Light notes of blackberry, tea, and black pepper create a surprisingly balanced finished product, with a quite dry finish. B+ / $16

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – As with the Pinot, this affordable Cab is gentle and dialed back, offering notes of blueberry, balsamic, currants, and more black tea. Very simple, lightly sweet finish, it’s jammier and juicier than the Pinot, but just as easygoing. B+ / $20

ednavalleyvineyard.com

Review: Bolla Prosecco and Sparkling Rose

BL Prosecco DOC 89x300 Review: Bolla Prosecco and Sparkling RoseBolla makes wines in a wide range of qualities, but these sparklers decidedly tip the lowest end of the price scale. Thoughts follow.

NV Bolla Prosecco Treviso DOC –  100% Glera grapes. Harmless, with a moderate level of carbonation and fruit right from the start. The body offers big apple and pear notes, touches of grapefruit, and a finish reminiscent of creamy vanilla wafers. Like many budget Proseccos, it is simultaneously unmemorable and wholly drinkable on a hot day. B / $10

NV Bolla Sparkling Rose Wine – Don’t call it Prosecco: This sparkler is merely from “Italy” (actually the Veneto region, the very home of Prosecco) and is made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Raboso grapes. Very light fizz. Very fruity, with strong peach overtones and notes of cotton candy. The sugary sweetness goes on for days. It’s not sparkling white zinfandel, but it’s edging dangerously close to that territory. C / $12

bolla.com

2 More Wines from the International Wine of the Month Club

bellingham bernard series small barrel smv 2011 1 169x300 2 More Wines from the International Wine of the Month ClubThe good folks at the International Wine of the Month Club didn’t think our D- rating on one of their recent offerings was representative of the club’s offerings, so we invited them to submit another pair of samples for consideration. (For what it’s worth, I was also told that if you really don’t like one of the bottles the club sends you, they will replace it.)

So here we go with two more reviews from the IWMC’s cellars. You can read all about the club and how it works at the above link. Thoughts on the new wines follow.

2012 Chateau La Croix de Queynac Bordeaux Blanc – Americans drink precious little white Bordeaux, but this budget bottling from the Right Bank shows that perhaps we should do otherwise. Loaded with tropical fruit, lemon, oranges, and a touch of floral elements, it’s a lightly sweet sipper that works well as a summer refresher and as a companion to lighter dinner fare. B+ / $12

2011 Bellingham Wines The Bernard Series S.M.V. Small Barrel – This is a South African blend of 75% Shiraz, 22% Mourvedre, and 3% Viognier. Big and burly, this is a chewy wine that combines a big Aussie Shiraz with an earthy Cote-Rotie. Initially a bit jarring, the intensity settles down to reveal dark blackberry, tea leaf, dark chocolate, and some wood. It’s a powerful wine but not one without ample charms, finishing sweet and focused on its chocolate-covered fruit. Those looking for restraint and finesse may give it a pass. B+ / $31

winemonthclub.com

Review: 2012 Starmont Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Starmont 2012 StanlyRanchEstate Chardonnay 104x300 Review: 2012 Starmont Pinot Noir and ChardonnayTwo new high-end wines from this adjunct of the Merryvale Winery, located in Napa Valley. Both are exquisite offerings. Thoughts follow.

2012 Starmont Pinot Noir Stanly Ranch Estate Carneros – Gorgeous Carneros Pinot, light as a feather with silky notes of tea leaf, cherry, cola, and a little strawberry. Seductive on the nose, it’s got a brisk attack and a long, lasting finish. This is one of those pinots that you just drink and drink and keep pouring and pouring and then it’s gone and you sigh and think that, yeah, someone there knows what they’re doing. A / $55

2012 Starmont Chardonnay Stanly Ranch Estate Carneros – Buttery Chardonnay, but not overpoweringly woody. Instead it provides notes of vanilla, peaches, a touch of pineapple, and a lemon spritz on the finish. Touches of roasted meats on the back end as well. On the whole, it’s nicely balanced and very easy drinking — and it’s lovely with fish. A / $45

merryvale.com

Review: 2 Wines from the SommSelect Website

1162291x 125x300 Review: 2 Wines from the SommSelect WebsiteIf you’ve ever seen the documentary Somm, you will remember Ian Cauble, the bright-eyed sommelier who seems like a shoo-in to pass the Master Sommelier test administered at the end of the film. I won’t spoil what happens in the movie, but fast forward to today, and Cauble has his own internet wine website, SommSelect. Essentially a spin on the “daily deal” website, SommSelect is focused on bringing limited-release, high-end, international wines to market at discount prices. You won’t find $5 bargain bins here, mind you. The two wines the company sent us to try out both hover around $40 retail (though pricing as they appeared on the SommSelect site during their original offer is not available).

I can’t comment on SommSelect’s service — though the website seems really straightforward and you get free shipping if you buy just two bottles — but I can talk about a couple of the wines the company recently had on offer. Thoughts follow.

2011 Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Unique – This southern Rhone wine drinks like a much more mature bottling than it is, rich with earth tones, raisiny/Port notes, and some chalkiness. Despite a somewhat harsh attack on the palate, a little too balsamic-meets-barnyard for my taste, the wine settles down as it gets some air, offering notes of blackberry jam and distinct notes of fruit-flavored tea. An intriguing combination of Old World and New World, though ultimately those barnyard notes are tough to shake. B / $47

2012 Chanin Wines Chardonnay Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Barbara – Surprisingly tart and lemony for a Chardonnay, only 15% of this wine is finished in new oak, the rest remaining in neutral oak barrels. Bright with fruit and grassy notes, it does open up as it warms (as Cauble’s tasting notes promise), revealing apricot notes, creme brulee, ginger, and a seductively mushroomy, earthy backbone. A- / $38

sommselect.com

Tasting the Wines of Washington’s Columbia Winery with Winemaker Sean Hails

1288 300x225 Tasting the Wines of Washingtons Columbia Winery with Winemaker Sean HailsThough we’re only a few hundred miles away, here in California we honestly don’t see many wines from Washington state. And yet, after California, Washington has the 2nd largest number of wineries in the country.

Columbia is one of them. Not to be confused with Columbia Crest, Columbia recently became part of the Gallo empire, rebranded and relabeled its bottles, and hired Sean Hails to oversee the operation. With a focus on affordable bottlings (plus a large number of unique offerings sold only in the winery’s tasting room), Columbia seems to be keeping quality high and prices low.

I recently dined with winemaker Hails at Sausailto’s Murray Circle, where we tasted through the 2012 vintage of three of the company’s flagship wines, all bargains at $14 a bottle. Thoughts follow.

2012 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley – 89% chardonnay with some semillon and chenin blanc. This is a crisp wine with apple and lemon notes, some baking spice, and good acid. Really well made all around, with the fruit doing most of the talking. A-

2012 Columbia Winery Merlot Columbia Valley – 85% merlot, plus cabernet and syrah. Licorice and some smoke on the nose, but the body is all fruit, with well-integrated tannins and a simple blackberry/strawberry/raspberry character to it. Simple, well-honed finish. A-

2012 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – 86% cabernet sauvignon, with touches of petit verdot, syrah, and malbec. The only wine not totally ready to drink here, it’s thick with tannin and tight  but offers some jammy fruit, tempered with dusty notes of charcoal. This is a simpler wine but one which can handle food well. B+

columbiawinery.com

 

Review: 3 Wines from Four Vines, 2014 Releases

four vines 128x300 Review: 3 Wines from Four Vines, 2014 ReleasesThree new releases from our friends at Four Vines. Thoughts follow.

2012 Four Vines Naked Unoaked Chardonnay Santa Barbara – Unoaked as promised, which leaves this SoCal Chard buttery without being stuffed full of wood and sawdust notes. The body’s bigger than most unoaked Chardonnays I’ve experienced of late, which is a nice balance to the wine’s natural acidity. Some light vanilla biscuit notes round out the finish. Great price on this. A- / $10

2011 Four Vines Biker Zinfandel Paso Robles – A big, chocolaty Zin, dense with raisiny, Port-like notes, ample sweetness, notes of vanilla, and a nice chocolate kick on the back end. Plays poorly with food but can work all right as an after-dinner sipper. B / $20

2011 Four Vines Truant Zinfandel California Old Vines – A meatier, more nuanced Zin, loaded with chocolate but balanced by notes of plum and blackberry, some smoke, and some earthy bramble notes. Better balance here than in the overblown Biker, and better both on its own and with a meal. Another outstanding value. A- / $10

fourvines.com

A Deep Dive Into Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard with Winemaker Nova Cadamatre

New to the Robert Mondavi winemaking team is Nova Cadamatre, who hosted a few dozen writers recently to an exploration of various Robert Mondavi Cabernet releases, all of which hail in total or in part from the famed To Kalon Vineyard, which is adjacent to the Mondavi winery facility.

Cadamatre guided us through seven wines — four freshly vinted varietals straight from various To Kalon blocks (all harvested in 2013, they’ve been in barrel for about 9 months), and three finished wines, all Cabs, from the 2010 vintage.

The idea here was to see how the vineyard impacts the wine. These three Cabs represent a wide range of Mondavi’s offerings, including the $28 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, which uses a small portion of To Kalon in its blend; the $55 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, which is 99% To Kalon; and the $145 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, a collectible wine that is also almost entirely from the To Kalon vineyard — but is made from different blocks than the Oakville.

To be sure, grapes matter. The Napa Valley Cab (B) bottling is pretty enough and drinkable, but not really anything to write home about. The Oakville (A-) offers better balance, more jam and chocolate, with distinct blackberry and blueberry notes. It’s a considerable improvement, as the price tag should indicate, too. The Reserve (A) is, as expected, the best of the lot, though it is bound in quite a bit of tannin at present, showing raisins, bramble, and some flinty earth notes. Here, in comparison to the Oakville bottling, you can really see the different a few hundred yards and older vines make, even if value remains subjective.

Looking at the barrel samples, it was easier to see how older vines led to more complex wines. Wine made from very young vines from To Kalon was heavy on fruit and flowers, with molasses notes behind. As the vines got older — 15 and then 30 years old — tannins grew and the fruit became less simplistic, more wrapped up with wood notes and showing strong herbal character.

The moral of the story: Vineyards matter, vineyard position matters, and older vines can lead to complex wines — at least in the case of Robert Mondavi Cabernet. While I’m not suggesting you get seduced by the appearance of “Old Vines” on a wine label — the term is meaningless and is usually reserved for Zinfandel in the U.S. — it’s something you can leverage as a consumer next time you’re getting chatted up in a tasting room. Ask about vine age. See if your expectations match what’s in the glass. If you can, try the same experiment with wines made from the same vineyard but from vines of different ages — and see what your palate has to say.

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Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2014

Pinot Days 2014 is now behind us, and as usual it offered some of the best Pinot Noirs (and a few Chardonnays) from all over California and Oregon. There was plenty to love at this show, particularly wines from the always-enchanting Sojourn and Dutton-Goldfield, but I also made a huge discovery in the form of Belden Barns, a brand new label from Sonoma that was only now making its public debut. Keep an eye out for this rising star!

Thoughts on all wines tasted follow. Prices are noted where they were available.

Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2014

2011 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley / $45 / B+ / tart, quite herbal
2011 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Mendocino County / $34 / B+ / lots of cherry, tart, mineral edge
2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Nash Mill Vineyard, Anderson Valley / $40 / A- / silky and balanced, bursting with fruit
2012 La Follette Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / A- / silky and modest, pretty, quiet
2011 La Follette Pinot Noir van der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain / B+ / lush, roaste meat notes, smoky edge
2011 La Follette Pinot Noir DuNah Vineyard Russian River Valley / A- / citrusy, sweet and sour sauce notes
2012 La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / A- / big tropical notes, caramel
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $54 / A- / intense cherry, strawberry; grows as finish builds
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $54 / A / rich and full of cocoa and raspberry notes; a favorite
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $59 / A- / orange peel and herbal notes, dense with evergreen and cherry tones
2012 Ca’Nani a Del Dotto Pinot Noir / B+ / very big body, strawberry notes
2009 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Cinghale Vineyard Sonoma Coast / B / massive herbs and grassy nots, lots of oak
2011 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Russian River Selection / B+ / high acid, focused on fruit
2012 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Halberg Vineyard Russian River Valley / B / heavy tartness, herbal character
2012 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Halberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Dijon Clones / B- / similar, more vegetal
2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills / C / something’s off here; big barnyard nose, funky flavors
2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Estate Cuvee / C+ / light barnyard, lots of wet earth
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Chardonnay Artist Label Oregon / $30 / A- / a surprising winner, rich and creamy, with lots of fresh fruit
2011 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley / $50 / B+ / a bit tough now, give this one a year or two
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Home Vineyard” / $60 / B / herbal, mushroom, restrained
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Lower Block” / $65 / B / similar, quite tart
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Old Block” / $75 / B / slightly edgier, with bigger mushroom notes
2005 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Texas Hill Road Vineyard” / B+ / hanging on, with grilled meats and anise notes
2001 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Home Vineyard” / B- / showing some VA, but still has a core of fruit
2012 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir / $48 / A / rich, with robust chocolate notes — first public showing of this new Sonoma Mountain winery
2012 Belden Barns Estate Pinot Noir / $38 / A- / good balance, fruit and chocolate, but restrained composition
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley / A- / baking spices and lively fruit showing up here
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands / A- / similar, better balance
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Dairyman Vineyard Russian River Valley / B+ / on the tart side; lively fruit
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard Marin County / $58 / A- / big body, lots of fruit and spice
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County / $58 / A- / lots of fruit again, tart edge, slight chocolate character
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch-Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley / $58 / A- / similar character, ample fruit, some vanilla
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch-Emerald Ridge Vineyard Green Valley / $58 / A- / some menthol character, mild herbs, strawberry and cherry
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley / $58 / A- / pretty, some floral notes, raspberry

Review: Ventisquero Grey 2012 Pinot Noir and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Ventisquero NV GreyPinotNoir Bottleshot 104x300 Review: Ventisquero Grey 2012 Pinot Noir and 2011 Cabernet SauvignonWe covered the “Grey” line from Chilean producer Ventisquero late last year, and now the winery is back with two more releases, both from international varietals. Thoughts follow.

2012 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Las Terrazas Vineyard – This single block Pinot spends 12 months in French oak barrels, after which time it comes out as an earthy, intense expression of the grape. Massive mushroom and wet leather notes interplay with blackberry and cassis. It’s spicy, but with more the bite of a green pepper than anything in the herb family. Interesting structure but the balance is pushed to far into the vegetal. B / $20

2011 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Trinidad Vineyard – Grey Cabernet pops out after 18 months in oak barrels, revealing a surprisingly balanced and restrained wine. The nose is vibrant with fruit and lightly peppery, with just hints of licorice. On the palate it shows only a light dusting of tannins, with deep blackberry, tree bark, and light balsamic notes. Quite fruit-friendly, and a very good value to boot. B+ / $18

ventisquero.com

Review: 2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley

Merryvale 2013 Sauv Blanc NV 105x300 Review: 2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa ValleyThis is the way sauvignon blanc should be done. With this 2013 release Merryvale has perfectly balanced this simple but tricky grape. The nose and attack are floral and lightly sweet, hinting at white flowers and honeysuckle. As the body builds, there is more honey, tropical fruit, and a rich, creme brulee finish. Could use a touch more acid, but overall this is a hands-down winner that is exemplary on its own or with a light meal.

A / $28 / merryvale.com

Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn Chardonnay

hahn pinot gris 13 bottle 98x300 Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn ChardonnayHahn’s Pinot Noir has a good reputation, but it also produces some very affordable whites, both sourced from the Monterey area. Thoughts follow.

2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris Monterey – Quite tropical on the nose, but the body is restrained, coming off with buttery notes up front and reserving its mango-pineapple character for the finish. Hints of bacon fat and pine needles on the nose. Simple, but on the mark. B+ / $14

2012 Hahn Winery Chardonnay Monterey – Buttery and unctuous, a rather typical Californiafied version of this grape. Restrained pear and gentle lemon notes round out the palate, but otherwise it is a simple wine with a monstrous body and a somewhat short, slightly herbal finish. B / $14

hahnestates.com

Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 Releases

pina napa valley 142x300 Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 ReleasesEvery year we anticipate a shipment of wines from Pina Napa Valley for review, and every year that shipment seems to get larger. For 2014 the winery has offered a whopping six wines for review — five from different regions of Napa — upon which we’re happily ready to offer our commentary.

2012 Pina Napa Valley Chardonnay Low Vineyard Oak Knoll District – My first encounter with Pina’s Chardonnay. In fact, I didn’t even know they made a Chardonnay. This is a rather textbook Chardonnay, imbued with a big, meaty character, dense fig and pear notes, vanilla, and a touch of salted caramel. The body is missing the certain creaminess that you need with bold Chardonnays like this, and it fares better as it warms up a bit. B- / $34

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard Napa Valley – Bold, classic Napa Cab. The nose is full of currants, dark chocolate, and violets. On the body, sweeter than expected, with more of a blackberry jam character touched with black tea, gooseberries, and a bit of coffee bean, which adds just a hint of bitterness on the back end. A- / $80

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard Yountville – A milder, fatter-bodied Cab, this wine offers a juicy nose of blackberry jam, currants, and light black pepper notes. The body is ripe and lush — it’s as close to a summer-worthy Cabernet as you can get without putting an animal on the label — with a long, almost fruit-juice finish. One of Pina’s simpler wines, but highly enjoyable on its own merits. A- / $85

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Ames Vineyard Oakville – A simpler expression of Pina. Relatively tannic and on the green side, this wine dials down the jam in favor of notes from the earthier side of things, including mushroom, celery, cracked pepper, and saddle leather. Very dry and restrained, it offers only minimal fruit but packs in ample elegance. Drink now. B+ / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard Howell Mountain – Racy and dense, this is a classic mountain Cab, loaded with intense blackberry, currant, and plum notes, alongside touches of blueberry, black tea, licorice, and leather. Lots going on, but this is a wine firing on all cylinders, dark as could be but masking a brooding and authentic soul. A / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford – The greenest and most vegetal of this vintage, the Firehouse Vineyard bottling comes off as almost astringent at first, offering plenty of tannin and oak notes but only a dusting of fruit. There’s just not much life in this wine, and without food it comes off as already past its prime. B- / $90

pinanapavalley.com

Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGT

Brancaia 2011 Toscana IGT Tre Red Blend 750ml 80x300 Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGTHere’s a very simple wine, one of the most gentle Italian reds I’ve ever encountered. This blend of Sangiovese (80%), Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is named for both the three varietals and the three vineyards it is sourced from.

The nose nods at both cherries and milk chocolate, but the body is pure fruit. Almost maraschino cherry, even strawberry in character, the fruit is balanced with notes of brewed tea and touches of vanilla. Some wood overtones come along on the finish… but it’s never able to muscle the fruit out of the picture.

B+ / $23 / brancaia.com

Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and Rose

The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 175x300 Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and RoseAre we not men? We are Pinot!

(Sorry.)

Devo founding member Gerald Casale is the man behind the new wine label The 50 by 50, which is named for a never-built home that doesn’t exist on a property that’s wedged between the Atlas Peak AVA and Wild Horse AVA in Napa County. (How very Devo, no?)

The 23-acre estate is planted with Bordeaux varietals, but those don’t seem to be ready to turn into wine yet, so for now Casale is offering two wines from the Sonoma Coast, both from Pinot Noir grapes. (Watch for the Bordeaux style estate wines in 2019 or so.) Meanwhile, thoughts on the current releases follow.

2013 The 50 by 50 Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Big strawberry and raspberry notes on this rose, right up front and lasting well into the finish. This high fruit, high acid wine is an iconic summer sipper, offering hints of tropical fruits and melon as the wine fades from the tongue. B+ / $20

2012 The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – A simple but totally enjoyable expression of Pinot Noir, offering tart cherry notes up front, tempered with touches of coffee, tree bark, dark chocolate, and a bit of cloves. Drink this one slightly chilled; at room temperature it comes across as a bit thin. My wine snob wife was a much bigger fan. B+ / $30

thefiftybyfifty.com