Review: 2013 Rotari Brut and Rose

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The Trento DOC is part of Italy’s Alto Adige, and it is home to Rotari, a well-distributed sparkling wine made using traditional methods. Generally gentle in style, these are wines that drink well on their own, with food, or in cocktails like Mimosas. As for these specific bottlings, here’s a look at two new, vintage-dated releases from Rotari. (Rotari also makes a lower-end nonvintage wine, so be sure you’re looking at the right bottling.)

2013 Rotari Brut Trentodoc – 100% chardonnay. Surprisingly light on its feet, this drinks like Prosecco crossed with Cava. Fresh and fruity with an apple-heavy core, the dry wine also offers notes of almond, lemon, and a bit of coconut. Gently fizzy with fine bubbles, it’s refreshing and cleansing on the lightly bubbly finish. The bottle may not look like much, but this is an easy go-to sparkler that won’t break the bank. A- / $20

2013 Rotari Rose Trentodoc – Made from pinot noir and chardonnay. Not nearly as much fun as the Brut, the rose has an overly creamy character that makes it a bit muddy at times, and which dulls the fruit profile. Notes of red berries and flowers on the nose give way to an odder body, which offers notes of peaches, bananas, and whipped cream. The finish is short, though harmless. B / $20

rotari.it

Tasting Riesling Two Ways: 2014 Blue Fish vs. 2015 Relax

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Riesling gets a bad rap, because many drinkers associate it only with sticky-sweet wines that are suitable only for the dessert course or the cheese plate. Remember: Riesling comes in all shapes and sizes, from tooth-strippingly sweet to nearly bone dry. The two German rieslings we review below are both closer to the center of the spectrum, but both do a good job of showcasing the two faces of riesling that you’re likely to encounter today.

2014 Blue Fish Riesling Pfalz – This is on the border between dry and medium dry, a crisp and refreshing riesling that offers just the lightest hint of tropical fruit, plus a touch of lemon curd, particularly evident on the rather acidic finish. Aside from some light touches of herbs and a squeeze of tangerine, it’s a straightforward but wholly approachable wine. B+ / $10

2015 Relax Riesling Mosel – Semi-sweet, but not unpalatably so, with notes of lemon, pineapple, and fresh honey syrup. The sweetness builds on the finish, but a modest acidity helps to temper the finale, at least to a degree. Overall, it manages to be quite fresh, though squarely focused on the sweet experience. B- / $10

Review: 2014 Owsley Single Block Pinot Noir

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Sonoma-Cutrer has been quietly producing a “grand cru” inspired pinot noir from its own prized Owsley Vineyard for four years, bottling it of course under the name of Owsley. This isn’t a second label — it’s kind of a zeroth label, a step up from garden-variety S-C, made with a single block of grapes and with decidedly unique winemaking practices. For example, for this 2014 release, “fermentation involved a unique combination of three different methods: oak tank, stainless steel tank and new French oak barrels with the heads removed. Each was allowed to ferment separately for several weeks before being ‘mingled’ together and aging for 16 months in the French barrels.”

The wine presents itself with loads of old world character, kicking off with a meaty, lightly smoky nose, and laying in balsamic notes. On the palate, the wine exudes austerity, offering notes of dark cherry fruit, more balsamic, some dusky spices, and a bit of black pepper. On the finish there are notes of tea leaf and tobacco. All told it’s a well-rounded wine that does indeed echoes great Burgundy, but with a unique, Sonoma spin.

A- / $50 / sonomacutrer.com

Review: 2013 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG

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Avignonesi’s latest 100% Sangiovese wine from the Montepulciano is very dry, almost dusty at times, with more balsamic on the body than I’d expect for a wine of this age. Pleasant enough with food but somewhat thin on its own, the core of dark cherries and blackberries is powerful enough at the start, but eventually it gives way to tobacco, coal dust, and some heavier, green notes.

B / $29 / avignonesi.it

Review: 2011 Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

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A companion red to Cvetic’s Abruzzo-based white, this is a 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the same region. It’s a big, burly wine with powerful balsamic notes up front, leading quickly to an astringent, almost sour finish. Notes of sour cherry, strong tea, licorice, and bitters give the wine some depth, and some soul, but on the whole this wine is already fading and showcases a serious need to be paired with an appropriate type of food to find some level of balance. Tasted twice; first bottle was corked.

B- / $19 / masciarelliwine.com

Review: Broadside 2014 Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

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Here’s a pair of new releases from Broadside, based in Paso Robles.

2014 Broadside Chardonnay Central Coast Wild Ferment – This classic California chardonnay has heavy notes of brown butter, but dials back the overbearing wood character. Some mild notes of figs and pears take up the slack with a dash of vanilla extract on the back end. It’s a little flabby and gummy around the edges, but it’s good enough as an aperitif. B / $18

2014 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – With a nose that offers notes of bramble and tar, you might expect Broadside’s cab to knock you out with tannin on the palate. Not so. The wine is a surprisingly soft expression of cabernet, offering notes of gentle red fruit, baking spice, slate, and touches of vanilla. The finish is a bit herbal, but quite nicely balanced. A- / $18

broadsidewine.com

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases

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A septet of new releases from our friends at FFC. Quality on this round is literally all over the place…

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs Monterey County – The cellophane wrapper should connote luxury, but to me it always comes across as scary. This wine — vintage blanc de blancs! — smells like fizzy chardonnay, which is basically what it really is. Notes of bubble gum and vanilla candy aren’t wildly inappropriate against the backdrop of a gummy, foamy body, but it hardly makes for a nuanced drinking experience. C+ / $15

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio – A simple pinot grigio on the whole, though notes of marzipan and parmesan cheese take things in an unexpected, somewhat rustic direction. Gentle with citrus and apple fruit, lightly acidic, and mildly perfumed, it’s got a bit of everything, which is both good and bad, but which helps to acquit the wine appropriately for what’s intended to be an everyday table wine. B+ / $9

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio – A fruit-heavy style of pinot grigio, with notes of lychee, mango, and pistachio, with a finish that echoes notes of nougat. Quite sweet, but approachable. B / $12

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay California – The label is perhaps meant to remind one of Burgundy, but the palate instead screams “Central Valley.” This is some questionable chardonnay, doctored up and over-oaked to within an inch of its life, offering a nose of sweet honey and a palate that pinballs between candy and canned vegetables. Throughout all of this: An overlay of liquid oak. Ugh. D / $10

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay – The fine print on the back details that this is a Santa Lucia Highlands wine, and its elevated appellation (over the California-only appellation of the Votre Sante) shows bright apple fruit with light vanilla notes, brown butter, and fresh cream. There’s a lovely balance here that many of the wines in this roundup are lacking, and a freshness on the finish that is almost inspiring. A- / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – This is the still rose from the Sofia sub-label, a strawberry-hued and -flavored oddity that won’t inspire or excite. Underneath those sweet berries there’s a somewhat muddy character, lingering on the finish side by side with some increasingly candy-like notes. C / $15

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Pitagora Red Wine Blend Sonoma County – The sole red wine in this collection, Pitagora is a blend of syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite sirah, but it feels closest in tone to a rustic Italian wine, full of dried herbs, cherries, and olive notes. Very dry, with an undercurrent of balsamic. B / $26

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Tasting the Wines of Lambert Bridge and Quivira, 2016

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A recent trip to Dry Creek Valley took us to two of the region’s most noteworthy wineries, Lambert Bridge and Quivira, both well-regarded operations that make a wide variety of wines largely using local and estate fruit.

We tasted through the current releases (and some library wines) at both venues — which are both well worth your time should you find yourself in this uncommonly placid part of the California wine country. Thoughts on all wines tasted follow.

2013 Lambert Bridge Chardonnay / $55 / B- / traditional on the nose, bit butterscotch body; wet and woody finish
2015 Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc / $36 / B / creamier style but quite dry; some gentle herbs, grassy
2013 Lambert Bridge Viognier / $52 / B- / 100% barrel fermented; unusual; caramel notes drag the acidity down
2011 Lambert Bridge Merlot Chambers Vineyard / $60 / A- / heavy chocolate and violet character; big big berries; blueberry and licorice
2009 Lambert Bridge Merlot Chambers Vineyard / $60 / B+ / very bold on the nose; lively with a slight herbaceousness; classic, lean finish
2013 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Franc / $70 / B / very dry, quite herbal; some dialed-back blackberry notes in time (95% cab franc)
2012 Lambert Bridge Malbec Chambers Vineyard / $70 / A- / some barnyard notes; quite earthy but lush and velvety at times; restrained overall, with a bit of black pepper showing
2009 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon / $110 / A- / 100% cab sauvignon; lush and fruity, very pretty, but restrained on its berry profile; quite balanced
2012 Lambert Bridge Petit Verdot Chambers Vineyard / $70 / B+ / dry but very floral, with menthol overtones
2012 Lambert Bridge Crane Creek Cuvee / $110 / A / the five Bordeaux grapes really come together here, showing some earth, a licorice kick, and some coffee character (90% merlot based)
2014 Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc / $24 / B+ / 75% aged in stainless; 25% in acacia wood barrels; cinnamon and ginger notes atop the usual grapefruit-heavy character
2014 Quivira Roussanne-Viognier / $34 / B+ / heavy lavender, eucalyptus, and fig; overwhelming aromatics
2013 Quivira Grenache / $32 / B / super strawberry up front; more general fruit notes on the back end, with a lingering, gentle sweetness
2013 Quivira Elusive / $36 / B+ / southern-style GSM blend; heavy chocolate up front, then some coffee; bolder fruit notes emerge with time
2013 Quivira Flight Zinfandel / $42 / A- / great balance; some menthol notes; lots of cherry character
2013 Quivira Goat Trek Vineyard Blend / $55 / B+ / heavily herbal with ample tannins; zippy fruit and raisin notes on the otherwise aromatic nose
2014 Quivira Black Boar Zinfandel / $NA / B+ / largely available only in restaurants; super fruity, with blackberries and some milk chocolate; huge alcohol on this one
2014 Quivira Montepulciano-Sangiovese / $NA / A- / 65/35 blend; bold but very dry with light aromatics; a big cherry closer

Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases

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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

dierbergvineyard.com

Review: Blandy’s Madeira Collection, 10 Years Old

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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 / blandys.com

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!

Drinkhacker.com 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

 

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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

attems.it