Review: 2010 Montes Alpha M

MontesAlphaM11Here’s a gorgeous release from Montes, the (almost) top of the line of the well-regarded Alpha line, Montes Alpha M. This 2010 bottling is a blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc, 5% merlot, and 5% petit verdot. A “Chilean first growth,” this wine has all the hallmarks of a Bordeaux blend, offering dense currants up front, then spicy black pepper, a touch of sour cherry, and a bit of mushroomy earth at the back end. Deep and complex, it’s got notes of black tea, rhubarb, dark chocolate, gooseberry… it goes on and on. Enjoyable at first pour, it only gets better and opens up as it evolves with exposure to air.

A / $85 / monteswines.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Tasting Report: In Pursuit of Balance, 2015

If you like good pinot noir, there’s one wine tasting experience you don’t want to miss: In Pursuit of Balance, a consortium of producers who eschew overblown, extracted wines in favor of more delicate, nuanced wines that show off what pinot (and its Burgundian cousin, chardonnay) can really taste like. Only pinot and chardonnay are allowed to be poured at the IPOB event, so cabernet lovers need not apply.

I recently attended IPOB’s 2015 stopover in San Francisco and had the luxury of sampling wines from some of the brightest names in wine today. Special shout-outs to Coapin, Ojai, and Peay (always on fire), all of which were pouring some amazingly expressive bottlings at the event.  Thoughts on everything sampled follow. If you have a chance to attend an IPOB event, do so!

Tasting Report: In Pursuit of Balance, San Francisco, 2015

2009 Au Bon Climat Clendenen Family “Le Bon Climat” Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bright, slight mustard note; clear with acidity and fruit
2011 Au Bon Climat “Nuits-Blanches au Bouge” Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bright, melon and tropical notes
2013 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast / B / very fruity, quite sweet
2013 Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan / B+ / a little thin, steely
2013 Ceritas Peter Martin Ray Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains / A- / lots of acid; a bit buttery
2013 Ceritas Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / a beauty – fruity, with especially fresh apples
2013 Copain DuPratt Vineyard Chardonnay Anderson Valley / B+ / edging too far into butter and oak
2013 Copain Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay Anderson Valley / A / racy, lots of minerals and baking spices
2012 Drew Family Cellars Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands / A- / big and hush, deep with blackberry notes
2013 Drew Family Cellars Fog Eater Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B+ / a sugar bomb, cocoa notes
2013 Drew Family Cellars Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / A- / lush with fruit and tea leaf
2012 Drew Family Cellars Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge / B+ / lovely fruit up front, pushes into sweetness
2005 Drew Family Cellars Ashley’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills / B / oxidizing; some vinegar notes developing amid stewed fruit
2013 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / some butter, lots of vanilla, good minerality
2013 Failla Estate Vineyard Chardonnay Fort Ross-Seaview / B+ / more oak, vanilla, good balance
2013 Failla Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay Coombsville / A- / nice balance, very rich, tropical and coconut notes
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / quite tropical, butterscotch notes, nice acidity on the back
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / vanilla touches, then baking spices; lush and fruit forward
2011 Flowers Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / lighter body, fresh fruit and herb notes
2013 Hanzell Sebella Chardonnay Sonoma Valley / B+ / some coconut; lemony, nougat notes
2012 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley / B+ / richer, bigger body; more vanilla
2012 Hirsch San Andreas Fault Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B- / considerable barnyard here; big earth for days
2012 Hirsch East Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / very bright, some balsamic and savory spice notes
2012 Hirsch Reserve Fault Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / touch of barnyard, lots of barrel influence
2013 Liquid Farm La Hermana Chardonnay Santa Maria / A- / very pretty, lovely citrus and lime notes
2013 Liquid Farm White Hill Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / A- / some candied flowers, more citrus
2013 Liquid Farm Golden Slope Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / A- / bigger vanilla character, some tropical notes
2013 Liquid Farm FOUR Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / B+ / even more vanilla, woodier
2013 Liquid Farm Bien Nacido Bien Bien Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / B / pushing heavy into wood, some bitter elements emerging
2013 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / some bigger wood notes here; vanilla and coconut
2013 Littorai Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B / balance is a bit off
2011 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / B / some barnyard on the nose; lots of frest fruit on the body; canned veg on the finish
2012 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / A- / fresher, some baking spice with fresh herbs
2013 Ojai Solomon Hills Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A / elegant structure, tropical and mineral notes together
2013 Ojai Bien Nacido Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bolder with some coconut elements
2012 Ojai Solomon Hills Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / A- / fleshy, quite bright raspberry
2013 Ojai Bien Nacido Clone 22 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / B- / slightly flabby, huge jammy notes
2012 Peay Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / very delicate, flowers and gentle citrus
2013 Peay Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / creamier, bolder
2012 Peay Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / raspberry tea notes, well balanced
2012 Peay Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / lots of depth, dense fruit with a long finish
2013 Peay Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / very big, dense jammy fruit with a long finish
2013 Peay Savoy Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / more sweetness here, lots of fresh red berries; not as well balanced
2013 Peay “Cep” Pinot Noir / A- / chocolate and violets, cherry notes; great value wine
2013 Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley / A- / quite lush, dense fruit with a gentle finish
2013 Twomey Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / A- / slightly bolder, bit of chocolate influence
2013 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / woody, with fruit notes; bright and ripe finish
2013 Wind Gap Woodruff Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains / B / strawberry, tea leaf, too sweet
2013 Wind Gap Sun Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / brighter structure, touch of licorice
2012 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / simple nose, nice blackberry and some herbs

Tasting the Wines of Round Pond, 2015 Releases

067

The brother-sister team of Miles and Ryan MacDonnell have grown grapes at their Rutherford property in Napa as part of their family’s business since 1983 and began running the Round Pond Estate together in 2003. In 2002, Round Pond branched out from growing grapes into making its own wine, and today the family continues to expand its winemaking operation as well as selling grapes to some of the region’s blue chip wineries.

Round Pond grows primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but also cultivates a smattering of other wines, a number of which we tried at a recent lunch at the Gotham Clubhouse, a private club located in the outfield of San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Round Pond also offers a lunch called Il Pranzo at its winery, where you can experience its wines paired with a meal as well as its estate-made olive oils and vinegars.

Miles led us through the afternoon, with Gotham’s chef pairing each of these wines with a small plate. The food was uniformly excellent. More detailed thoughts on the wines tasted follow.

2014 Round Pond Rosato di Nebbiolo – One doesn’t find a lot of Nebbiolo in Napa, much less Nebbiolo rose. This wine is so pretty and lush, with fresh berries, peaches, and floral notes, that I wish you could get it somewhere besides Round Pond’s winery. A-

2014 Round Pond Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc – A crisp and herbal Sauvignon Blanc, nice acidity and a bracing finish; great pairing with a smoked salmon dish. A-

2012 Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Round Pond’s entry level Cabernet (priced at $30), powerful and dense with notes of chocolate and tons of jam. A straightforward wine, but quite a delight. A-

2012 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – This mid-level wine offers more nuance, with some pepper notes amidst the currants. Silky and lush. A-

2012 Round Pond Proprietary Red – A red blend, and surprisingly light on its feet, with its silky tannins pairing nicely with a small filet of beef. Raspberry on the finish. A-

2010 Round Pond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – The top of the line, but this was the only wine in the lineup that wasn’t quite on fire for me. Dense with lots of tannin and menthol notes, it offers opulence but needs several more years in the bottle before it hits prime time. B+

roundpond.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Tasting Report: Wines of Duckhorn, 2015 Releases

duckhorn

Noted California winery Duckhorn has become quite an empire of late, with operations under a number of brand names spanning all over California and stretching up to Washington state. The winery recently put together a tasting of virtually every wine it has now in current release, almost all of which we sampled — poured by the winemakers themselves. Tasting notes on the full Duckhorn slate (plus a few older rarities — including a gem of a cabernet from 2003) follow forthwith.

Tasting Report: Wines of Duckhorn, 2015 Releases

2013 Decoy Chardonnay Sonoma County / A- / buttery with some acid, too; touch of nougat
2013 Decoy Pinot Noir Sonoma County / B+ / simple; on the tannic side with notes of dried herbs
2013 Decoy Zinfandel Sonoma County / B- / roasted meats, chewy and funky; damp earth
2013 Decoy Merlot Sonoma County / B- / dried, crushed flowers; some vegetal notes
2013 Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County / B / lots of meaty character, heavy tannin, coconuts on the finish
2012 Decoy Red Wine Sonoma County / B / very dry and tart, cherry notes and tea leaf
2013 Migration Chardonnay Russian River Valley / B+ / dialed back but still showing some apple tart character
2012 Migration Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / puchy with vanilla and coconuts, light fruit
2011 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B+ / dense tea and coffee notes, dark blackberries
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate / B / lots of tannin here, dark fruit, tea, coffee
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Ten Degrees Estate / A / gorgeous, balanced fruit with notes of tea, cinnamon, some flint; quite supple
2012 Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain Washington State / B+ / lush and fruit forward, dense red berries
2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley / A- / huge tropical notes, vanilla kicker
2013 Duckhorn Chardonnay Napa Valley / A- / easygoing chardonnay, buttery but balanced
2012 Duckhorn Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley / A- / rich honey, marshmallow, nougat, and almonds
2012 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley / B+ / nice balance, chewy with vanilla and a little root beer character
2012 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / B+ / drinking young but well, big tannic profile
2011 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Rutherford / A- / punchy, lots of acitidy, peppery notes
2012 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard / A+ / gorgeous violet notes, lush blueberries, lengthy finish
2011 Duckhorn The Discussion Estate Napa Valley Red Wine / A / baking spices, floral notes, and fruit, well balanced all around
2007 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Rutherford / A / some violets, nice structure with dialed-back vanilla and restrained tannin
2003 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / A+ / so pretty, lush and floral and loaded with red fruit, vanilla, and cocoa; perfectly balanced
2011 Paraduxx Proprietary Napa Valley Red Wine / B+ / very dry, easy fruit notes, some fresh herbs
2011 Paraduxx Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine / B- / smoky on the nose, wet earth, some greenery

[BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: 2013 Kalfu Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

kalfuKalfu is a new Chilean wine brand hailing from the Leyda Yalley on the country’s coast. Here’s a look at two of the winery’s inaugural releases.

2013 Kalfu “Kuda” Chardonnay Unoaked Leyda Valley Chile – Engaging, tastes expensive. Quite neutral, apple notes on the nose, with light creme brulee, kumquat, and some light tropical character on the back end. Really easy to enjoy. A- / $19

2013 Kalfu “Sumpai” Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Chile – Meaty, with notes of figs and prunes, touched with notes of tobacco, pencil lead, and leather oil. Not much Pinot varietal character here, but fans of flavors that run to sour cherry and spiced meat may find something here. C- / $24

no website

Review: 2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi IGT

Buio Buio2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi is produced in Sulcis, on the southwestern tip of Sardinia. Produced from 100% carignano (the Italian name for carignane), it’s part of a vanguard of wines from Sulcis that are just now making their way to the U.S. Buio Buio is restrained and almost floral on the nose, but the body is lush with notes of juicy Port, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. The palate stretches on for quite awhile, leading to a slightly sweet and supple finish with modest tannins. Worth exploring.

A- / $25 / cantinamesa.it

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

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

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

A- / $30 / arcanumwine.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Howell Mountain 2015

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

Brief thoughts on all wines tasted at the event follow.

Tasting Report: Wines of Howell Mountain 2015

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

[BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: Wines of La Merika, 2015 Releases

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

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

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

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

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

lamerika.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: 2013 The Federalist Zinfandel Lodi

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

A- / $14 / terlatowines.com