Category Archives: Wine

Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

TY KU Premium Sake Collection Pack 525x367 Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) - Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: Cune Rioja 2010 Crianza and 2013 Monopole

cune rioja 164x300 Review: Cune Rioja 2010 Crianza and 2013 MonopoleCune, pronounced coo-nay, is a major producer of a range of Rioja wines. Alternately known as Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España (CVNE), Spain’s Cune dates back to 1879. Thoughts on two of its new releases follow.

2010 Cune Rioja Crianza - 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha Tinta and 10% Mazuelo. What a delightful little wine. Simple but full of fruit — not jam or jellies — this Crianza is brilliant with gentle blackberry notes, laced with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and licorice. Touches of floral character on the nose add nuance. Everything’s in balance here, with the body mercifully dialed back to the lighter side of “moderate” while still far from dipping into “watery.” Summer-friendly reds that aren’t Pinot Noir are hard to come by, but this Crianza does the trick beautifully, and on the cheap. A / $15

2013 Cune Rioja Monopole – 100% Viura. A very acidic white, metallic and flinty with notes of melon, pineapple, and — especially — lemon. Comes on strong and never really lets up, with a brisk, almost enamel-dissolving finish. B+ / $15

cvne.com

Tasting the Wines of Hourglass Vineyard, 2014 Releases

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live event with Napa-based Hourglass Vineyard’s owner Jeff Smith and its new winemaker Tony Biagi. Before tasting through four of the winery’s current releases, the duo discussed the changes involved with switching winemakers, including their new approach to winemaking and their return to higher-acidity, more elegant winemaking as they retreat from the traditional opulence of Napa. As well, the winery has a new focus on blending (and seemingly a love affair with Petit Verdot). Thoughts on all four wines follow.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc Estate – Quite acidic, with pineapple and lemon balanced by touches of ammonia. Fresh, with lots of mineral notes, and touches of peach rising on the finish. There’s a bit of coconut in there, too. Solid. B+ / $40

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot Napa Valley - 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Mint, chocolate, and a layering of raspberry, blackberry, and dried raisin character. Not as racy or acidic as I’d hoped for, the mint character really overpowering things on the back end. The finish goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. B / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec Napa Valley - 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. Again, heavy on the mint character, which plays well with the heavy chocolate and strawberry notes in this wine. Again the body isn’t as racy or as acidic as I’d expected, but here the flavors complement one another more completely. Give this one time to open up and some violet character emerges. Not exactly the Malbec you might be expecting, but worthwhile. B+ / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc Napa Valley - 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. Easily the darkest of these wines, both in color and in body. Dark chocolate, licorice, floral notes, and strawberry jam all come together in one powerhouse of a whole. This is the most “old school” (meaning: late-’90s) wine from this collection, a more dense and chewy wine with a lengthy finish — that mint returning for an encore. Probably my favorite wine of the bunch, but you’ll pay for the privilege, to be sure! A- / $135

hourglasswines.com

Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month Club

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues 86x300 Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month ClubWine of the Month Clubs are legion, but if you want to get started with one that offers a pretty broad range of unusual (yet well curated) wines, perhaps you could do worse than one of the originals, the International Wine of the Month Club. The focus here is on imported wines, with selections coming in from across the globe. (Domestics also show up in the distribution, though.)

Three programs are available ranging in price from $33 to $70 a month, all providing two bottles a month (you choose red, white, or one of each). Prices quoted below are for additional bottle reorders from the club if you’re already a member or are indicative of market pricing.

We sampled two of the club’s recent offerings. While every wine it sends you is going to be different, of course, they are probably indicative of what you can expect in general. Thoughts on follow.

2012 Luma Inzolia-Chardonnay Terre Siciliane – 60% Inzolia, 40% Chardonnay from Sicily. Easily mistaken for a California Chardonnay at first, with butter and vanilla notes on the nose and up front on the palate. As the wine’s body evolves, acidity builds and some baking spices emerge. It’s well balanced between the two, a solid sipper that goes well with food, too. B+ / $19

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues  – Chilean Carmenere, from 2005, you say? Not a typo. Wow, this just has no business being on the market today. Well past its prime, the nose is all vegetal green pepper and old sofa cushions. The body fares just as badly, a sweaty, very green wine with a mushroomy finish. Some time opens things up a bit, but by then the wine diverges heavily into the barnyard. I’m chalking it up to a misfire. D- / $40

winemonthclub.com

Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 Releases

chloe wines 170x300 Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 ReleasesChloe is yet another wine brand designed to appeal to the I-need-a-cutely-named-wine-with-a-cute-bottle-to-take-to-the-dinner-party crowd. Not to be confused with Chloe Wines (a Seattle importer), the Chloe Wine Collection is a new offshoot of The Wine Group, a California-based mega-bottler.

Chloe is starting up with three wines — two California bottlings and an Italian white. Thoughts on each follow.

2013 Chloe Pinot Grigio Valdadige Italy DOC – Mild on the nose, and steely. Tropical notes emerge, namely pineapple, with melon notes emerging on the finish. Easy to enjoy as an aperitif, and works well with food too. A- / $17

2012 Chloe Chardonnay Sonoma County - Big and buttery, almost to a fault. The nose starts off with something akin to butterscotch or cake frosting, before finally settling down into a brown sugar, vanilla extract, oak barrel character. Restrained pineapple notes emerge, but a weirdly herbal, almost astringent, finish wipes them all away. C+ / $17

2011 Chloe Red No. 249 North Coast California – A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Petit Verdot from the Northern California region. Fruity but not overblown. Big strawberry notes. A touch of blackberry. Some rhubarb. Long, semi-sweet finish, with butterscotch candy notes on the finish. B / $17

chloewinecollection.com

Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon Blanc

Natura CS 2012 72x300 Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon BlancWe may have missed the “Earth Day” timing of these affordable, biodynamic, sustainably produced wines from Chile’s Emiliana Winery, but it’s safe to say you’ll find them for sale pretty much year-round. Anyway, we love to hear stories about Earth-friendly wines being made… but if you’re serious about sustainability, perhaps you should be drinking local plonk instead of foreign stuff? Just sayin’.

2012 Emiliana Natura Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley Curious nose: dark cocoa powder, toasty wood, and dense currant notes. The body doesn’t really deliver, alas, bringing some astringency to bear alongside an acidic, moderately tannic, and restrained fruit. The finish is drying and a bit bittersweet. C / $10

2012 Emiliana Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva San Antonio Valley - Intensely vegetal nose. Asparagus, lettuce, some lemon peel, pepe du chat. The body brings on some merciful acidity and citrus juice notes, here predominantly grapefruit. Very tart finish, which washes away those somewhat uninspiring notes on the nose. B- / $15

emiliana.cl

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambiance 200x300 Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 ReleasesA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old - Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old - Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

taylor.pt

Review: 2011 Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon 1721 94x300 Review: 2011 Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyLast week we reviewed the initial releases from boutique winery Uproot, a pair of Sauvignon Blancs. Now the company is expanding with the de rigueur Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa-sourced and priced for collecting.

Thoughts: It’s seductive, with red berry notes on the nose. Very light tannin, with some sweetness evident even before the first sip. On the palate, it’s a bit chalky up front (a surprise), before building its berry core up. As the wine opens up, the fruit turns more toward jam, while secondary notes of licorice, cedar, and milk chocolate emerge. Some sweet marshmallow notes also present themselves on the finish.

A- / $78 / drinkuproot.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Domaine Carneros, 2014

Visiting the grand chateau of Domaine Carneros in the region between Napa and Sonoma is always a treat, and a recent jaunt wine-ward brought us back to the spectacular views of Domaine’s north-facing patio. We sampled a variety of both sparkling and still wines. Brief thoughts on everything tasted — all of which is currently available — follow.

2006 Domaine Carneros La Reve Blanc de Blancs / $99 / A- / rich and yeasty, nutty and malty notes; slight floral finish

2010 Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut Rose / $37 / A- / big fruit character, with tart raspberry and herbal notes on the finish

2009 Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut Cuvee / $28 / B+ / quite dry, with apple and fig notes, some floral and citrus character

2008 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir / $80 / A / rich with menthol, tobacco, and cedar box notes, massive and dense, with a chocolate/blueberry character to it

2011 Domaine Carneros Estate Pinot Noir / $35 / A- / dark cherry, licorice, and dense blackberry notes; lingering sweetness and more cherries on the finish

domainecarneros.com

Review: NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose Napa Valley

domaine carneros brut rose 125x300 Review: NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose Napa ValleyNamed for Madame de la Pompadour, Louis XV’s lover, this new brut rose from Domaine Carneros is 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay.

This is a more powerful sparkler than I’m accustomed to from Domaine Carneros, offering a complex collection of aromas that range from yeasty notes to strawberry to smoked bacon to balsa wood. The body boils this down mainly to the fruit component, with jammier berry and stone fruit notes, atop a fizzy, yeasty core. The finish is a touch sweet, and brings up some very slight, gentle vegetal notes, almost the aroma of char-grilled vegetables. Curious stuff.

B+ / $36 / domainecarneros.com

Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello Riserva

Piccini Brunello Riserva NV 2 94x300 Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello RiservaTwo new Brunello releases from Piccini, a huge Tuscan producer that still manages to carve out time for these rarities, 100% sangiovese wines from the Montalcino region, aged at least 2 years in oak.

Some thoughts follow.

2009 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – A beautiful wine, showing a complex collection of cherries, blackberries, violets, and menthol on the nose. The body adds to that with hints of earthy mushroom, spicy licorice root, and touches of tobacco and cedar box on the finish. Over time, hints of prunes and raspberry emerge, too — this is a wine that evolves beautifully in the glass and is well worth exploring over the course of an evening. All in all, it’s a moderately dense wine with lots to recommend it, a Brunello that’s close to a benchmark for the style. A / $60

2008 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG - Similar to the standard bottling, but tougher to parse. There’s more herbal character on this one, with those violets really pumped up to create quite a perfumy experience. The body still packs in plenty of tannin, and it doesn’t quite give up its grip even after an hour in glass. Notes of coffee and leather send the fruit into dried plum and dense, dried cherry areas. Still tough on the finish. This’ll probably be hitting its stride in 2018. A- / $80

aveniubrands.com

Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and Protos

Tinto Figuero 4 Month 109x300 Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and ProtosSpanish wines are known for being released well-aged, with some Rioja reservas spending 8 to 10 years in barrel and bottle before hitting the market… and sometimes longer.

But not all Spanish wines are aged for such a long time. In fact, the Ribera del Duero has two lesser-known classifications, in addition to the older crianza and reserva bottlings, which are intended to be consumed young. Known as barrica and roble wines, these Riberas are released within a year of harvest, both spending between three to eight months in oak — though, by Spanish law, they are not required to spend any time in barrel at all. Basically: It’s prison rules wine, letting a winemaker do just about anything he wants to craft the best wine he can, without having to worry about Spain’s arcane aging and labeling requirements.

Both wines are made from 100% tempranillo (aka tinto fino) grapes — but otherwise couldn’t be more different. Thoughts follow…

2012 Garcia Figuero Roble Ribera del Duero - This “roble” wine spends only four months in new oak barrels (3/4 American, 1/4 French), then four more months in bottle before release. (The wine is also officially known as “Four Months in Barrel” in English — hence the big “4″ on the label.) The nose is intense with bramble, dense wood, and meaty sausage notes. On the body, there’s more fruit than expected, but these thick blackberry jam notes are punched down by licorice, bitter roots, tobacco leaf, and tar characteristics. Chewy and more than a little tough. C+ / $20

2011 Protos Tinto Fino - This wine spends a full year in 60% French, 40% American oak barrels. The difference between the Figuero is remarkable, with the Protos showing a much more refined character on the nose and body. Aromas of blackberry and violets pervade, and the body is moderate to lush, with fresh fruit, some peppery notes, and a touch of floral character. This is a young wine that is sometimes a bit brash, but on the whole it’s finding its balance, with ample structure and smoothed out tannins. B+ / $15

Tasting Report: Rhone Rangers 2014

It’s never hard to find good wines at the annual Rhone Rangers festival of Rhone-style wines made in California, and this year’s event was no exception. An easy standout: The wines of Big Basin, which released its first vintage back in 2002 but which I am only now discovering for the first time.

Complete tasting notes on all wines encountered follow.

Tasting Report: Rhone Rangers 2014

2011 Arrowood Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard / $30 / B / very buttery, biscuit notes
2011 Arrowood Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard / $35 / B- / thin, somewhat lifeless
2010 Big Basin Syrah Old Corral Santa Cruz Mountains / $55 / A- / touches of mint, cherry notes
2010 Big Basin Syrah Coastview Vineyard Gabilan Mountains Monterey / $48 / A- / some currants, chocolate, easygoing
2010 Big Basin Red Blend Grizzly / $48 / A- / a touch softer
2011 Big Basin Red Blend Paderewski Vineyard Paso Robles / $55 / A / spicy, just a bit of chocolate
2011 Big Basin Homestead / $36 / A- / Rhone blend; cigar box, lush spices, fun
2010 Big Basin Rattlesnake Rock Syrah / $55 / B+ / more dense, some meaty notes
2011 Big Basin Homestead Block Roussanne / $48 / B+ / rich, pineapple with some vanilla
2009 Bonny Doon Red Blend Le Cigare Volant Normale / $38 / A / beautiful, balanced fruit with light earth notes
2009 Bonny Doon Red Blend Le Cigare Volant En Bonbonne / $75 / A- / spends time in glass carboys before bottling; menthol notes; brisk, slightly more acidic
2012 Bonny Doon Cuvee R / $NA / A- / rich chocolate, dense blueberry
2012 Davis Family Vineyards White Blend Cuvee Luke Saralee’s Vineyard / $28 / A- / peachy, lightly sweet, butterscotch notes
2010 Davis Family Vineyards Syrah Soul Patch Russian River Valley / $42 / B+ / jammy, lush, red berries
2010 Davis Family Vineyards Red Blend Marco Mistral / $100 (magnum) / B+ / dense, exotic, curious
2012 Donelan Roussanne Venus / $45 / A- / big aromatics, pretty, easy to love
2012 Donelan Red Blend Cuvee Moriah / $40 / B+ / drinking young, cigar box
2011 Donelan Syrah Cuvee Christine / $45 / B+ / light body, some green notes
2011 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill / $45 / B+ / dense and chewy, pepper and plums
2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Syrah Kalen’s Big Boy Blend Sonoma County / $42 / A- / fruity, good balance, restrained palate
2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Syrah Las Madres Vineyard Carneros / $40 / A- / chewy with lush fruit, some chocolate
2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber Russian River Valley / $40 / A / coffee and cocoa powder, lovely finish
2012 Skinner Vineyards Picpoul Blanc El Dorado County / $24 / B+ / melon, goosebarry, toasted wood finish
2012 Skinner Vineyards Mourvedre El Dorado County / $24 / B / meaty, chewy, roasted nuts
2011 Skinner Vineyards Red Blend Eighteen Sixty-One / $30 / A / brighter, balance, rich with silky acidity
2008 Terre Rouge Syrah Sentinel Oak Vineyard Shenandoah Valley / $35 / A / unusual coffee, chocolate, and toffee notes; like a rich dessert
2007 Terre Rouge Syrah DTR Ranch Fiddletown / $38 / B / funky on the finish
2008 Terre Rouge Syrah Ascent Sierra Foothills / $90 / A / mint notes balanced with rich layers of fruit
2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard Santa Ynez / $25 / B+ / butter cookes and apple notes
2012 Two Shepherds White Blend Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard / $28 / A- / more floral, better acid
2013 Two Shepherds Rose of Grenache Gris Rose / $24 / A- / pretty, floral, touches of strawberry
2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Saralee’s Vineyard / $38 / B+ / quite fruity, hints of chocolate
2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge / $NA / B+ / mint, spices, cherry
2011 Two Shepherds Syrah/Mourvedre / $NA / A- / drinking well, solid acid and tart raspberry
2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah / $25 / B+ / peppery, beef jerky notes
2010 Zaca Mesa Z Three Red Blend / $42 / A- / pepper and blueberry/blackberry notes

 

Review: 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose

Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose 2012 109x300 Review: 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon RoseThis rose of Cabernet hails from Mulderbosch, located in the Stellenbosch region of coastal South Africa. This wine has been in release since 1999 and was the first of its kind from South Africa.

Fresh and fruity, this rose offers crisp notes of strawberry, with undertones of lemon, lime, and tangerine. There’s only the lightest touch of floral notes underneath, which lets the fruit really shine.

Complex? Not exactly, but that’s par for the course for rose — bright, lively, and ready for summer fun and sun. And dirt cheap, to boot!

A- / $8 / mulderbosch.co.za

Tasting Report: Blue Chip Wineries of Paso Robles, 2014

Paso Robles, in central California, is a wine region that has never gotten much respect. Sandwiched between high-profile Napa/Sonoma to the north; the well-regarded Santa Barbara (Sideways) region to the south; and the bulk-wine-producing Central Valley to the east, Paso is close to nothing and, for many, just not worth a very lengthy drive for what many see as inferior wines.

I can’t help you with your travel plans, but it’s time to look more closely at Paso, a region rapidly on the rise in the quality department. Once known as a home for zinfandel (never a good sign for any region), Paso is now producing a remarkable range of quality wines, with a special focus on Rhone-style wines (syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and their ilk). Cabernet Sauvignon is also on the rise here — as is the number of wineries in total. Over 300 wineries populate this region now, and more are on the way.

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Recently we spent several days touring Paso, with a specific focus on some of the region’s brightest stars. We also took the opportunity to stay at Justin’s completely revamped Just Inn, dining that evening at Justin: The Restaurant, an intimate place serving local and seasonal fare. (Note: Justin hosted both.) The Just Inn Isosceles Suite is quite the affair, featuring a lovely sitting area with fireplace, a king-size Tempur-Pedic bed, and a well-appointed bathroom complete with Jacuzzi-style tub.

The Justin Restaurant was a fun experience, with careful service and a steady pace of inventive dishes coming from the kitchen. (No a la carte here, only a set menu of about seven dishes.) Wine pairings (all Justin wines) are available, or you can order a bottle from a list that largely comprises imports. (We had the Justin pairings, of course.)

Many of the dishes were quite delightful, including a delectable venison loin, a luscious spring pea soup, and a fun little “deconstructed grilled cheese sandwich,” served as an amuse bouche from the kitchen. Other dishes weren’t as memorable — like the cheese course of burrata (not my favorite), served not with bread but with a pile of breadcrumbs. The only miss was the second course of hamachi crudo, a few beautiful slices of fish that were absolutely divine… until they were covered with a bright-green and quite bitter “herb jus,” washing out the lovely brininess of the fish. Sometimes, simpler is better.

On the whole, it was a lovely meal. Some photos follow. (Dine there yourself by entering Justin’s mega-sweepstakes on Facebook!)

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Complete tasting notes on all wines tasted during the trip follow.

Tasting Report: Paso Robles 2014

2013 L’Aventure Rose Estate / $25 / B+ / rose of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and petit verdot; crisp and light; some lemon and vanilla notes
2011 L’Aventure Optimus / $45 / B+ / syrah/cab/petit verdot; silky, chocolate notes; big tannins now with some rough edges; definite mint notes
2011 L’Aventure Cote a Cote / $85 / A / syrah/mourvedre/grenache; good structure; more softness; some floral notes, black and blueberry; quite lovely
2011 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee / $85 / A- / syrah/cab/petit verdot; massive black fruit, blackberry nose; tobacco and lots of tannins; needs time to soften; approachable now
2012 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Gap Cuvee Blanc / $40 / B / grenache blanc/picpoul blanc/rousanne; marshmallow meets floral and honey notes, green apple character
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Pick Grenache Cuvee / $55 / A / blended with syrah, mourvedre, and counoise; lots of ripe strawberries, some tea notes; vanilla – great little wine
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The 46 Greanche-Syrah / $55 / A- / 50-50 blend; similar to The Pick, more of a beefy quality, tobacco notes, some jam
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards 5 Blocks Syrah Cuvee / $55 / B+ / mourvedre/syrah/grenache/cinsault; modest, some herbs, jammier finish
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Hedge Syrah / $60 / A- / 100% syrah; lush, floral meets fruit, black cherry, big finish
2012 Calcareous Chardonnay Paso Robles / $32 / A- / lots of mineral, butterscotch; tart with a buttery body
2011 Calcareous Pinot Noir York Mountain / $40 / B / fruity and tart, light raspberry and blueberry notes; spicy end, some bitterness on the finish
2010 Calcareous Grenache-Mourvedre / $36 / B+ / licorice, big pepper notes; dense spice, earthiness
2010 Calcareous Lloyd / $49 / A- / malbec/cab/cab franc/petit verdot/merlot; lovely nose, restrained; cherry and raspberry fruit; some cedar and vanilla
2010 Calcareous Moose Paso Robles / $48 / A / syrah with 11% petit verdot; huge nose; most lush body of the bunch; vanilla and tobacco notes
2010 Calcareous Tres Violet / $42 / A / the winery’s signature blend – syrah/mourvedre/grenache; slighly thin, but with big floral tones; quiet and silky; the violets are there
2010 Calcareous Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles / $38 / A / huge blueberry and even bigger floral notes; some cocoa and cedar; wonderful
2011 Calcareous Syrah (barrel sample) / $45 / A / going to be killer; blueberry jam, a backbone of pepper; nicely chewy
2011 Oso Libre Volado Viognier / $32 / B / buttery, some tropical notes
2011 Oso Libre Carnal GSM Blend / $40 / B+ / smoky, a BBQ wine; acid on the finish
NV Oso Libre Primoroso Winemaker’s Blend / $39 / B+ / a vatting of 10 different varietal wines from 2009-11 vintages; wacky; some straberry candy, lots going on as expected
2010 Oso Libre Quixotic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $50 / A- / light and fruity; barely hints at tannins
2009 Oso Libre Reserva Bordeaux Style Blend / $52 / B+ / cab/merlot blend; big fruit, black tea, brown sugar, strawberry candies
2011 Oso Libre Nativo Estate Primitivo / $45 / B+ / wood smoke, dense; leathery, coffee bean notes
NV Oso Libre Rojo del Patron Winemaker’s Blend / $32 / B+ / zin/cab blend; quite sweet; edged with violets and more strawberry candy
2012 Justin Viognier / $23 / B- / woodier take on Viognier; light tropical notes with a big slug of vanilla; not my favorite
2013 Justin Sauvignon Blanc / $14 / B / mango, pineapple; quite steely
2013 Justin Rose Estate / $20 / A- / pretty, strawberry with tart and light sweet notes
2011 Justin Reserve Tempranillo / $45 / A- / huge cherry, vanilla, almost pinot-like in structure; a real surprise
2008 Justin Syrah / $40 / A- / cedra box, with long herbal notes; fun, with a long finish featuring dried fruites
2011 Justin Justification / $50 / B / cab franc/merlot blend; touch of barnyard here; dense, coffee, currants
2011 Justin Isosceles / $62 / B+ / cab/merlot/cab franc; pre-release but in bottle; drinking young, almost green; light cherry; give this 3 years
2010 Justin Isosceles Reserve / $100 / A / 90% cab with malbec/cab franc/merlot; huge wine; concentrated fruit and cassis, some chocolate and a bit of strawberry

Review: 2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

Porter Pinot Noir 300x300 Review: 2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir and Pinot GrisPorter & Plot is a new company specializing not in making wine but rather in finding limited-production wines from all over the U.S., and bringing them to consumers at prices of less than $20. (If you know Cameron Hughes, it basically does the same thing, just on a much larger scale.)

P&P is just now getting out of the gate with two wines, a SoCal Pinot Noir and a Washington Pinot Gris. We tasted them both. Thoughts follow.

2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir Edna Valley – Interesting nose on this Pinot, with chocolate, coffee, and blackberry jam. Unfortunately the sweetness on the body is dialed up way too high, with the body hitting high on the jam portion of the above, awash with pushy, fruity notes. It drinks reasonably well with food, but on its own it quickly becomes too much. B / $16

2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Gris Columbia Valley - Mild nose. Some butter and vanilla, but quite restrained. On the palate, there’s tropical notes, particularly guava/papaya, and touches of pineapple. The finish is a bit too buttery considering the amount of fruit up front, which makes for a bit of discord on the finish, but it’s not a bad experience on the whole. You’ll swear it’s Chardonnay. B / $13

porterandplot.com

Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 Vintages

bianchi cabernet sauvignon 233x300 Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 VintagesBianchi is a Paso Robles-based winery making some impressively high-quality wines at around the $20 price level. We got a taste of the latest releases, three reds from the 2011 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2011 Bianchi Zinfandel Paso Robles – Initially quite jammy, intense strawberry and raspberry notes on the nose and the front of the palate. Things settle down with a bit of time, revealing a somewhat more balanced wine in the end, with notes of tea leaf, dark chocolate, and licorice, with a gentle, pleasing finish. B+ / $18

2011 Bianchi Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Garey Vineyard – Seductive. Nose of rosemary, thyme, and even cloves. The body is lighter than you’d expect — much lighter — with an easy strawberry, raspberry, and subtle chocolate note. The finish hints at spices again, and even rhubarb. Lots going on, but well balanced in the end. Quite lovely. A / $22

2011 Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A solid, if young wine. Notes of greenery, chicory, pepper, and incense are layered atop a fruit-forward core, adding layers of complexity (and ample tannin) over a fairly berry-rich wine. Modest finish, with notes of black pepper and green pepper. Well-made. B+ / $19

bianchiwine.com

Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 Releases

bottiglia monterone 82x300 Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 ReleasesThe Order of Malta. The Knights of the White Cross. There’s a whole lot of mystery from the get-go with this collection of Italian wines, all of which bear the distinct white-on-red, stylized, squared-off cross on their labels… but which reveal nothing about what that insignia means.

What’s it all about? The Sovereign Order of Malta is an ancient Catholic Religious Order that continues today to provide global relief efforts to areas affected by natural disasters. There are different chapters of The Order around the world. One of the things the organization does is make wine. For the first time, wines from The Order of Malta are now becoming available in the United States, courtesy of Fritz Cellars (Clay Fritz was a member of The Order for a number of years before deciding to import the wines).

I wasn’t able to attend a formal tasting with Fritz, but I did receive a number of the newly imported wines for review. Thoughts follow.

2012 Rocca Bernarda Ribolla Gialla Friuli DOC – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape to Italy, and at first this white wine drinks like an indistinct blend, fruity and moderately acidic, but a bit touch to parse. As it warms, notes of honeydew and white flowers develop, adding some mystery to an inexpensive and drinkable wine. B+ / $27

2012 Castello di Magione Monterone Grechetto Colli del Trasimeno DOC – A brilliant gold wine with massive fruitiness all around. The nose is rich with apples, pears, apricots, and bright honeysuckle notes. The body is tart and rich with all of the above, but also laced with buttery vanilla. The finish is zippy and alive, like a lemon meringue pie. Good stuff.  Amazing value. A- / $25

2008 Castello di Magione Morcinaia Vendemmia – An Umbrian blend made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gamay. It’s the Sangiovese that pops the brightest, with bright cherry notes at play with some earthy, slightly herbal character (Gamay, maybe?). Solid body, but nothing mind-blowing. The finish is a bit tart for my tastes, but it works well with food. B / $40

2012 Castello di Magione Sangiovese Umbria – A brisk, classic (albeit young) Sangiovese. Floral notes on the nose interplay with cherry fruit, while a brambly character brings nuance to the body. Some dried herbal notes hang around on the finish. Very food friendly and well-crafted considering the price. A- / $25

fritzwinery.com

Review: Bandit Chardonnay and Merlot

Bandit Merlot 1L HI Res Bottle Shot 131x300 Review: Bandit Chardonnay and MerlotYou’ve seen these brightly colored Tetra Pak wine canisters before, and probably never gave them a second thought. Wine in a plastic-and-cardboard box? Where’s the romance of that?

Sure, Bandit isn’t aiming to replace Screaming Eagle in your cellar, but these extremely inexpensive wines do serve a purpose, besides being cheap. The containers are less wasteful, and they don’t have that nagging problem of shattering into a million pieces if you drop them. Available in five varieties, these non-vintage wines are available seemingly everywhere.

So, I finally tasted a couple of them. Thoughts follow.

NV Bandit Chardonnay California – Surprisingly good. The oak influence is minimal, leaving the bright fruit plenty of room to shine. Pretty apple notes are happy with quiet vanilla, mango, and lemon juice, giving this wine a bit of an apple pie character. The finish is a tad steely, but otherwise it excels in its simplicity. B+

NV Bandit Merlot California – About as expected. Quite sweet, with pumped up fruit notes. These seem to be masking a sort of green skunkiness, which creeps forth after time in the glass. It’s far from undrinkable, but just too candylike for serious drinking. C-

$9 per 1-liter container ($5 for 500ml) / banditwines.com