Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases


Established by Jim and Mary Dierberg in 1996, Dierberg Vineyards is a pinot and chardonnay shop that grows grapes in two cool-climate estate vineyards: the 160-acre Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the 70-acre Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. (The family also runs the Star Lane winery, which is in the Happy Canyon area.

Today we look at the 2016 releases of the Santa Barbara-esque Dierberg.

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – Nicely balanced between fruit and brown butter, this is a Santa Maria chardonnay that starts off with classic vanilla and oak notes, plus a bit of roasted meat character, then finally settles into a fruity groove that offers notes of figs, passion fruit, pears, and baked apples. Gentle sandalwood notes dust the finish, which manages to hang on tightly to that fruit all the way to the end. Beautiful Burgundy-style chardonnay… and an amazing value wine. A / $25

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – A dense SoCal pinot, this flavor-packed wine offers raspberry and baking spice, heavy on the cloves, with a finish that heads toward tobacco and licorice. As it opens up, a lively strawberry note takes hold, which helps to balance out the darker fruit up front. A touch of pencil lead lingers on the back end. The body is on the dense side, but the finish lightens things up just enough. Great on its own, it excels with food. A- / $40

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard – Heading south, and up from the valley and into the hills of Santa Rita. Oddly this wine takes a turn toward a lighter style, restrained in flavor, but lively and light. Blueberries and blackberries take the lead here, but with more acidity — a bit like a fruit-flavored lemonade, dialed down, anyway. The finish is lightly sour, with rhubarb notes, making it pair better with food than on its own. B+ / $43

Review: Blandy’s Madeira Collection, 10 Years Old


Not too long ago, we rounded up the world of Madeira as Blandy’s sees it. I won’t go into the full Madeira backstory; click the link if you want the deep dive into what Madeira is and where it comes from.

In that review we looked at five year old Madeiras. Now we kick it up another half-decade and look at the same wines at 10 years old, double the age.

I won’t regurgitate the story of Madeira again (click the above link for that tale) and will instead delve into these fortified wines, one by one, going stylistically from driest to sweetest, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 10 Years Old – A dark gold in color. Nutty and lightly fruity on the nose. Dry, but with enough life to keep things lively and sippable. Light tropical notes emerge on the finish, plus some lychee. This is quite pleasant on its own — or I might try it with tonic on the rocks as an aperitif. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 10 Years Old – Classic amber-hued sherry color. More roasted nuts, with some citrus influence. Quite almond- and hazelnut-heavy on the palate, with slight coffee overtones, but still showing enough sweetness in the form of orange and lemon to add some balance. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Bual Medium Rich 10 Years Old – A dark tea-stained brown in color. This Madeira offers a distinct sherry-like sharpness, with notes of bitter orange peel, raspberry, with those classic nutty notes coming on strong on the finish — here showing themselves more in the form of candied walnuts. Rounded and lush, but fully approachable. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 10 Years Old – Dark, almost coffee brown. Very nutty, on the palate it has the classic character that I think of when I think of “Madeira,” loaded with dried fruit and Christmas spice. The finish is moderately sour, with a heavy raisin character that lingers on the palate for quite some time. B+

each $24 /

Drinkhacker 2016 Wine Cheat Sheet / Vintage Chart

It’s a new year for the Cheat Sheet, that quick ‘n’ handy guide to various wine vintages, which you can cut out, fold up, and keep in your wallet or purse so it’s always at the ready when you find a wine list flummoxing you.

As always, here’s how to use the cheat sheet: Only the last two digits of a year are included to save space, and the list only rarely reaches back into the pre-WWII era, so assume anything you see starting with a zero or one to be from this century.

All years listed here are considered good to great vintages, but those in green with underlining are the cream of the crop, “classic” years that you should consider the very best on the market. (Why green and underlined? So you can tell the difference whether you use a color or black & white printer.)

Check back next October for the next revision of the cheat sheet!

Cheers! wine cheat sheet download options:

drinkhacker vintage chart 2016 [doc]

drinkhacker vintage chart 2016 [pdf]

Review: Attems 2015 Pinot Grigio and 2014 Pinot Grigio Ramato



Two wines from Attems, located in the Venezia region of Italy. Both in fact are made from the same grape — pinot grigio — but one is made in the traditional dry white style, the other as a ramato, or orange style.

Let’s taste both.

2015 Attems Pinot Grigio – Surprisingly buttery, to the point where this comes across like a baby chardonnay. Floral notes emerge over a time, but oaky vanilla lingers on the finish, coating the palate. B- / $15

2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato – Orange wine is essentially a white wine made in the style of red, with the skins. Here it’s used to create a curious combo, fresh and fruity and amply acidic up front, then stepping into herbal territory, with notes of rosemary, thyme, and sage. These characteristics become particularly pronounced as the wine warms up, leading to a rather intense and dusky finish. A- / $19

Review: 2005 vs. 2007 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva


Bodegas Franco Espanolas, a Rioja winery dating back to 1890, recently released a three-pack of old Gran Reserva wines, including vintages from 1999, 2005, and 2007. The three-pack costs $125, but rarity of the ’99 is making it tough to come by.

We did however get a look at both the ’05 and ’07, which are blends of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, and mazuelo, aged 24 to 36 months depending on the vintage in American oak barrels followed by a minimum of 36 months in bottle.

You can find them separately. Let’s take a look.

2005 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva – Well aged, and starting to fade. This wine showcases a balsamic character up front, then offers notes of tart cherry, dusky dried herbs, and mushroom. The finish shows the wine on its way downhill, those heavy balsamic notes leading to a somewhat astringent finale. There’s some life left here, but not much. C+ / $25

2007 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva – A much more rounded and balanced wine, showing the initial traces of balsamic but still offering plenty of fruit in the form of cherry and raspberry. The body layers in some cocoa powder and roasted nut notes, finishing with a return to those light balsamic notes and a twist of ground black pepper, plus well-integrated oak notes. B+ / $20

Tasting the Wines of Amalaya and Colome, 2016 Releases


Amalaya and Colome are both based in Salta, Argentina — and both are owned by California’s Hess Family Wines. Today we look at two wines from each, a torrontes and a malbec, all delightfully different despite being neighbors, both geographically and business-wise.

2015 Amalaya Torrontes/Riesling Salta – 85% torrontes and 15% riesling. The riesling is a huge help here, and a big influence on the wine, giving it both tightly perfumed aromatics and some apricot/peach notes reminiscent of viognier. The flatter torrontes benefits from this, lifting it up into a more festive, zippy wine. B+ / $10

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta – A blend of 85% malbec, 10% tannat, and 5% syrah. It’s a very dry wine, dusty at times before exhibiting notes of tree bark, chicory, and licorice overlaying its lightly balsamic, blackberry core. Modest body, but the finish is quite drying, slightly pruny, and a little thin. B / $12

2015 Colome Torrontes – Quite lemony, with a pinch of rosemary in the mix. The finish diverges toward a more heavily herbal character, including notes of juniper, though its acidity is high enough to at least keep this in check to some degree. B- / $12

2013 Colome Malbec Estate – What a breath of fresh air this wine is. Malbec can be so overwhelming, but Colome’s expression is full of fruit but tempered with a sprinkle of licorice, savory herbs, cloves, and graphite. Some mushroom evolves on the nose; give it time and some lively floral notes emerge, too. The finish is dry and a bit leathery, which actually makes for a balanced and engaging experience. A lovely and unexpectedly special wine — one to stock up on. A / $20

Visiting and Tasting With Hourglass Wines


“Michelin restaurants have more equipment than we do.”

So says Tony Biagi, winemaker at north Napa’s Hourglass and a celebrity in his own right, having made wines at Plumpjack, CADE, and other blue-chip operations. Now he’s got another feather in his cap in the form of Hourglass, a cult winery in the making, where a few years ago he replaced Bob Foley as winemaker.

Hourglass is the brainchild of Jeff and Carolyn Smith. Jeff is a wine veteran with grapes in his blood — his family’s been making wine in the Valley since 1975. After a stint selling Skyy and watching it become a national phenomenon (Jeff says he came up with the cobalt blue bottle), he bought his first vineyard, planted mainly cabernet, and hasn’t looked back.

Hourglass now has 18 vintages under its belt, and with Biagi now holding the reins, the winery seems poised for greatness, with a series of coveted releases now under its belt. Biagi will talk your ear off about his research into balancing tannin with “bound color” in a wine while aiming to minimally manipulate his finished product, but the main event today surrounds tasting a collection of young and unbottled 2015 vintage wines, including single-varietal malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc (one of Biagi’s beloved pet projects), plus some pre-release blends made from these grapes.

Some photos of this small but impressively well-designed winery follow, along with official tasting notes from three current/almost-released expressions of Hourglass’s cabernets from the 2014 vintage. Thanks to Tony and Jeff for a great day in Napa!

2014 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – I love this wine (which is 100% cabernet sauvignon). So nicely balanced, it offers an incredibly complex profile of gentle fruit, saddle leather, pipe tobacco, and violets. A slight balsamic edge endures well into the palate, which leads to a finish of black pepper, (very) dark chocolate, and tart blackberry. The denouement is lengthy, a classic yet complex representation of Napa cab. A / $165

2014 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A denser and bolder version of the the flagship wine, 90% cab blended with 6% malbec and 4% petit verdot, all drawn from Hourglass’s prized Blueline Estate Vineyard. This wine ups the ante on those tobacco and leather notes, tamping down the fruit a tad in the service of brambly tannins. Blackberry emerges as the wine opens up, along with restrained floral notes and some citrus. Again, give this one ample time or decant and chocolate notes emerge as well. A- / $125

2014 Hourglass Blueline Estate 36-24-36 – Moving up to the really rare stuff. Named for the iconic measurements of the “perfect” woman, this is a blend of 92% cabernet sauvignon and 8% petit verdot. This is a dense wine, more so than I would have expected based on this blend, loaded with hardy licorice, balsamic, and tart blackberry atop well-integrated oak notes and a light herbal character. There’s epic length here, culminating in some light menthol notes and a touch of cocoa. It’s enchanting today, but this wine needs ample time to open up — either by decanting or significant time in glass… or by letting it age in bottle for a few more years. A- / $225