Category Archives: Wine

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

Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor

barsol perfecto amor 200x300 Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor“A Peruvian tradition revived.” That tradition: An aperitif wine made from fermenting grape juice, fortified with Pisco. The grapes used for both the juice and the Pisco are Quebranta (50%), Italia (25%), and Torontel (25%) — the classic grapes that are used in Peruvian Pisco.

Sherry and Madeira fans will probably eat this right up. The nose (and color, too) is typical of oxidized wines, pungent, but with raisin and citrus overtones. On the body, it’s lighter than you might expect, with ample sweetness from the juice offset by notes of spiced apples, cloves, and light sherry character. It finishes slightly sweet, finishing with a slight raisin character. I expect most poeple who were served this spirit blind would expect, based on the color, body, alcohol level, and flavor components, that they were actually drinking sherry.

After you tell them what it is, they may very well wonder why they weren’t.

34 proof.

B / $18 / barsolpisco.com

Review: 2012 William Hill North Coast Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

william hill chard 300x300 Review: 2012 William Hill North Coast Chardonnay and Cabernet SauvignonGallo-owned William Hill has just launched a new “Coastal Collection” of wines from California’s indistinct North Coast, a vast region that covers a huge swath of land comprising the entirety of both Napa and Sonoma, plus a smattering of other NorCal AVAs.

Designed with the shopper’s budget in mind, here’s how these two new wines — a Chardonnay and a Cabernet — shake out.

2012 William Hill Chardonnay North Coast – Buttery vanilla on the nose, but all fruit on the body. Think pineapple, guava, a bit of lemon. Hardly any oak at all, but it’s there. A great little value wine. B+ / $17

2012 William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – Dense, overblown purple color looks clearly doctored. The restrained nose is misleading: The body is pure strawberry jam, with chocolate syrup undertones. Sickly sweet to a fault, the finish is utterly cloying as it drives straight to the sugar bowl. D- / $17

williamhillestate.com

We Will Sell No Wine… Before It’s Been Doctored

That was the working headline of the killer story that I wrote for this month’s issue of Wired magazine. It’s all about how most cheap (and, ahem, some decidedly not-so-cheap) wines are made nowadays, thanks to the magic of technology and modern chemistry. You’ll never gulp down the “house red” the same way again.

Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 Releases

2010 Merryvale CS 100x300 Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 ReleasesNew wines from Napa’s Merryvale Vineyards and its second label, Starmont. Thoughts follow.

2012 Starmont Chardonnay Carneros – Typical of California Chardonnay. Oaked, but not overly so, with a big, buttery core that leads to restrained notes of pineapple, green apples, and vanilla caramels. Better with food. B / $22

2012 Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros - Simplistic and not altogether present, this Carneros Pinot has a slightly smoky nose to it, with a tart, jammy body. The finish is on the medicinal side, with a few astringent notes. Tastes cheaper than it is. B- / $27

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A big, blue-chip Cabernet. The nose is dense and at first a little closed off — tobacco and leather, berry brambles. On the palate, things are still restrained as this wine continues to develop, but for now it is showing dense blackberry, licorice, and some tar character. Long, quite tannic finish. Try in 2017. A- / $65

merryvale.com

Review: NV Monmousseau Cremant de Loire

Monmousseau Cremant 300x300 Review: NV Monmousseau Cremant de LoireWhen is Champagne not Champagne? When it’s Cremant, sparkling wine that’s made in the same style as Champagne, but elsewhere in France.

Cremant d’Alsace, from the mountainous region near Germany, is the best known Cremant-producing area, but the Loire Valley makes it too. Cremant de Loire became an official AOC in 1975, and these wines are produced in Anjou, Saumur, and Touraine. Approved grapes in the blend include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and others.

Monmousseau is focused heavily on the production of Cremant de Loire. This non-vintage Cremant de Loire is bright and tart, and just a touch sweet. Notes of lemon, green apples, and figs are prominent on the nose and on the palate. The finish is clean, not at all bready or yeasty, with a steely, fruit-focused character. Delightful. Try it as an alternative to a (similarly-priced) Prosecco.

A- / $16 / monmousseau.com

Review: 2013 Chamisal Stainless Pinot Noir Unoaked Central Coast

Chamisal Stainless PinotNoir 81x300 Review: 2013 Chamisal Stainless Pinot Noir Unoaked Central CoastIf you ever wondered Beaujolais Nouveau would taste like if it was made in California, try this: Chamisal takes a Central Coast Pinot Noir and bottles it, completely unaged in oak.

For a red wine this is completely unheard of. I can probably count on one hand the number of unoaked reds I’ve had in my life.

And here’s why: Pretty much all red wines need the help of wood to reach their potential. Kudos to Chamisal for attempting to showcase the pure essence of the grape, but those aren’t always enticing qualities.

Here, Chamisal shows off the huge strawberry and raspberry fruit notes in the grape, but it’s tempered by bramble and wet earth notes, an unripeness that’s almost sour at times. But most of all, the body’s just not there. The wine is on the thin side, with a sharp finish that ultimately turns a little watery. Without the soothing vanilla punch that time in oak barrels brings, this comes off like a curious and incredibly instructive experiment but not something I’d want to serve at dinner.

C+ / $24 / chamisalvineyards.com

Review: 2012 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa Valley

sequoia grove chardonnay 103x300 Review: 2012 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa ValleyA new release from Rutherford-based Sequoia Grove, right in the heart of Napa.

A modest wine, this Chardonnay is a dialed-back version of California’s classic style. Butter, wood, and vanilla are all present, but muted by some fresh apple and lemon notes that linger on the finish. Worthwhile, if not exactly earth-shattering, particularly with summer dinners at twilight.

B / $28 / sequoiagrove.com

Review: Neige Apple Ice Wine

neige 300x300 Review: Neige Apple Ice WineYou can make wine out of any fruit, including apples. So what about ice wine? From frozen apples? Why not.

Neige (which means “snow”) is made in Canada and imported by Boisset. It’s not really made from frozen winter apples but rather from apples picked in the fall which are then juiced, the juice frozen and concentrated into syrup, and then fermented into wine.

The nose of the wine is a bit on the hoary side — more apple seed than apple fruit. Underneath there’s a hint of fruit, but it needs time in the glass to develop. On the body, a rush of sweet fruit hits you first. The character then turns back toward a woody, cider-like character as the finish arrives, slightly sour but curiously interesting, at least for a wee glass.

13% abv.

B- / $35 (375ml bottle) / boissetfamilyestates.com

Review: 2012 FEL Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

FEL CH AndersonValley 12 198x300 Review: 2012 FEL Chardonnay and Pinot NoirFormerly known as Breggo, FEL is a new label for this winery, but little else has changed. Perhaps the biggest name, aside from a name switcheroo which now honors owner Cliff Lede‘s mother, is the discontinuation of Breggo’s old Riesling and Gewurztraminer bottlings. Thoughts on the remaining wines (the Pinot Gris wasn’t tasted) follow.

2012 FEL Chardonnay Anderson Valley – Unoaked, brisk with notes of vanilla and lemon up front, then fading to butterscotch, light caramel, and slightly tart lemon custard on the finish. Extremely food friendly and fun. A big win for Chardonnay haters. A- / $28

2012 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley - Simple Pinot that doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The mild cherry also offers some sweet vanilla, and a slightly sweet finish gives this wine a pretty, pre-dinner feel to it, though it stands up well against foods like barbecue, where the fruit-forward character helps cut the spice. Nothing fancy, but worthwhile. B+ / $38

felwines.com

Review: 2011 Cliff Lede and Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon

cliff lede 2011 198x300 Review: 2011 Cliff Lede and Moondance Dream Cabernet SauvignonNew 2011 Cabs from Cliff Lede, one of Napa’s blue chip bottlers. Surprising thoughts follow…

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stags Leap District – A big misstep for the normally spot-on Cliff Lede. This ultra-premium Cab has lost all its body, coming across as flabby and pruny, without the barest hint of acidity to keep things alive. The nose is restrained, too, offering some currant but mostly chocolate notes, leaving the body to try to work with notes that approximate a warmed-over, raspberry-inflected melted Hershey bar. C+ / $75

2011 Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District – Cliff Lede’s blue chip bottling. A massive improvement over this year’s standard edition, a lush but restrained expression of pure Cabernet, gorgeous with distinct black pepper inflections atop currant jelly. The body is less racy than the nose would indicate, with silky, but not quite jammy, notes of cassis and red berries, layered with mild cedar wood notes. Hints of spice come back around on the finish. Beautiful. A / $95

cliffledevineyards.com

Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine

inniskillin gold vial 113x300 Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice WineYears have passed since we last encountered Inniskillin and its masterful Canadian ice wines. We recently had the good fortune to sample two new vintages from Inniskillin, both sweet yet low-alcohol dessert wines made from frozen grapes from way up north. Thoughts follow.

2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine – Gorgeous, with a rush of honey, applesauce, and vanilla. On the body, it’s beautifully sweet with more apple, apricots, ripe bananas, and tropical notes…  all layered with that rich honey character. Lovely complexity with a long, long finish. Be careful with this one. 9.5% abv. A- / $50 (375ml)

2008 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine – Red ice wines are always a little strange — sweet, ice cold… and red like tawny port. The nose offers all the honey and jammy fruit notes of white ice wines, and at first the body keeps that rolling, with notes of strawberry, vanilla, and fresh cream. The finish is where things change, that sweetness veering toward sour cherry notes, with add complexity, but leave things on a funky, oxidized note. 9.5% abv. B+ / $100 (375ml)

on.inniskillin.com

Review: Wines of Italy’s Stemmari, 2014 Releases

stemmari pinot noir 94x300 Review: Wines of Italys Stemmari, 2014 ReleasesStemmari is a major winemaker of Sicily, where it produces wines from both native and international varietals, with a ruthless focus on keeping costs down. Most of its wines are available for under $10 a bottle, and some of these are quite good.

The naming system may be a little tricky. The less-expensive, single varietal wines all have Stemmari on the label, and some list Feudo Arancio, an older/alternate name for the company, on the label as well. The blends — which are more expensive — do not use Stemmari on the label but only say Feudo Arancio. Confusing, sure, but either way, they all come from the same company, and the same island… Sicily.

Thoughts follow.

2011 Stemmari Pinot Grigio Sicilia IGT – Crisp. Light peach and pineapple on the nose. The body veers more toward lemon, with a touch of grapefruit. Almost candylike, it’s dangerously easy to drink. A- / $7

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Nero D’Avola Terre Siciliane IGT – Tough and tannic at first, this wine settles down eventually and reveals a quite jammy, strawberry-laden core. Subtle tea and milk chocolate notes add nuance, but the somewhat sweet finish becomes tiresome after awhile. B / $8

2011 Stemmari Pinot Noir Sicilia IGT – Serviceable Pinot, but on the earthy/pruny side of things. Notes of cola and black cherry are also prominent, but the finish is on the tight side. B / $8

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Moscato Sicilia IGT - Super-sweet moscato (just 8.5% alcohol), loaded with peaches, pineapple, and bananas foster. Simple, but it’s what sweet moscato should be. B+ / $9

2010 Feudo Arancio Cantodoro Sicilia IGT - 80% nero d’avola, 20% cabernet sauvignon. Easily the best wine in Stemmari’s lineup, a rich and balanced collection of currants, plums, tobacco, leather, and dark chocolate. It all comes together rather seamlessly, making for a seductive and luscious experience. A- / $18

2010 Feudo Arancio Dalila Sicilia IGT - A blend of 80% grillo (stainless steel fermented) and 20% viognier (aged 8 months in oak barrels). Weird and chardonnay-like up front, with big butter and vanilla notes up front. The body brings out meatlike characteristics that can be a bit at odds with the mild peach and lemon notes that come along on the finish. B / $20

feudoarancio.it

Review: 2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

Mt. Brave Single Bottle Shot with Corkscrew 214x300 Review: 2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. VeederNapa’s Mount Veeder has a new resident: Mt. Brave Winery, one of the most difficult and rugged parts of the Napa Valley. Mt. Brave is focusing on Malbec, Merlot, and (of course) Cabernet Sauvignon, the signature grape of Mount Veeder.

This 2010 release is an impressive early effort for Mt. Brave. Intensely dark purple — this stuff will turn your lips almost black! — it’s a bold and quite delicious Cab. The nose offers berries and candied violets, with touches of milk chocolate. The body is on the sweet side, barely, with bold strawberry, vanilla, and blueberry character. Not quite venturing into dessert territory — it paired exquisitely with pasta with creamy marinara sauce — but getting close, which I like to think means it’s versatile.

A- / $75 / mtbravewines.artisanwine.com

Book Review: The Curious World of Wine

curious world of wine 187x300 Book Review: The Curious World of WineWine is indeed a curious world. Just drinking everyday bottles of the stuff is enough to vault you into a world of confusing terminology, exotic places, and strange people for the rest of your life.

Purdue University’s Richard Vine does the wine fanatic no favors with his book, The Curious World of Wine, which only serves to add to the mystery. A collection of loosely sorted and generally quite short “fun facts,” Vine devotes 210 pages, 10 chapters, and over 100 segments of only a few paragraphs each to one oddball tidbit or another about the world of wine.

Historical vignettes and etymology make up the lion’s share of the book. Some of this you’ll likely have heard before (toasting was born to exchange liquids between two glasses to ensure no one was being poisoned), some you likely haven’t (Robert Mondavi and Philippe de Rothschild conceived of Opus One while the Baron was lounging in bed). Most of the tidbits are at least interesting, even if they’re short on being actively educational.

Vine’s writing is typical of academics — straightforward and largely humorless aside from the overuse of wordplay — but breezy enough to make it easy to get into. If trivia’s your name and wine’s your game, give this book a look.

B / $15 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: 2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Whole Cluster Arroyo Grande Valley

laetitia whole cluster PN Review: 2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Whole Cluster Arroyo Grande ValleyLaetitia’s latest from the Arroyo Grande AVA in San Luis Obispo is a a Pinot Noir made from whole clusters of Clone 115 Pinot Noir grapes, aged half in new and half in used French oak barrels.

Classic dark cherry and cola notes dominate the nose, developing just the lightest touches of chocolate and cedar wood as the body opens up. Rich with fruit yet restrained with a body that’s light enough to keep the palate clean, and a finish that is refined with both dried fruit notes and light herbal touches. A wonderful little wine.

A / $40 / laetitiawine.com

Review: 2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and 2011 Trilogy

flora springs trilogy 70x300 Review: 2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and 2011 TrilogyMore new releases from our friends at Napa Valley’s Flora Springs, including the 2011 vintage of its flagship wine, Trilogy, a Bordeaux style blend.

2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay - Initially quite oaky, this barrel-fermented Chardonnay opens up with notes of figs, peaches, vanilla, and creme brulee. Time in glass is the friend of this wine, which starts out quite dense — you might even decant it! — as the brooding body eventually reveals more of its fruit over an hour or so. B+ / $35

2011 Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley - 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec. A pretty and restrained Trilogy this year offers modest currants and dried cherry notes, plus tobacco, tea leaf, and cocoa bean notes. Quite a bit of tannin is hanging out on the back end, where a bit of touch of blackberry jam awaits. Good stuff. A- / $75

florasprings.com

Tasting in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley: Wines of Bella, Truett-Hurst, Preston

On the other side of Highway 101, Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is a sleepy alternative to the bustle of Napa and even of Sonoma proper. Here, there’s little but narrow roads winding through vineyards. No Michelin-starred restaurants out here or even so much as a gas station. If you need a snack, there’s but one “general store” (always jam-packed) from which to obtain provisions.

Getting around Dry Creek is easy and fun. A recent tour took us to three lesser-known wineries a bit off the beaten path. Thoughts follow.

Tasting Report: Dry Creek Valley

2011 Bella Hills and Benches Zinfandel / $35 / B+ / fragrant and floral; strawberry, mint, sweeter finish
2011 Bella Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel / $40 / A- / intense, big body, huge structure
2010 Bella Big River Ranch Petite Sirah / $38 / B / gravelly, tannic
2012 Bella Late Harvest Zinfandel / $25 / B+ / fun, less cloying than you’d think; easy finish
2012 Ten Acre Russian River Valley Chardonnay / $30 / B+ / Bella’s second label; some butter notes, caramel apple character
2011 Ten Acre Cummings Vineyard Pinot Noir / $55 / A / light pepper, black and blueberry; an exciting wine
2012 Truett-Hurst Swallowtail Chardonnay / $27 / A- / lovely fruit, apple and pear, butterscotch
2012 Truett-Hurst White Sheep Pinot Noir / $40 / B+ / big fruit, red pepper, vanilla
2012 Truett-Hurst Black Sheep Pinot Noir / $40 / B / more chocolate/caramel notes
2012 Truett-Hurst Bradford Mountain Zinfandel / $33 / B+ / good balance; ripe berries, raisins; peppery edge
2012 Truett-Hurst Luci Zinfandel / $33 / A- / somewhat bolder, racy
2012 Truett-Hurst Red Rooster Zinfandel / $33 / B / a little flabby
2012 Truett-Hurst Southdown Zinfandel / $33 / B+ / good balance; slightly peppery; raspberry notes
2012 Preston Madam Preston / $32 / B+ / 50% viognier, 40% rousanne, 8% grenache blanc, 2% marsanne – peachy nose, apricots, marshmallows – perfumed finish
2012 Preston Grenache Blanc / $30 / B+ / bolder, butterscotch notes
2011 Preston Barbera / $34 / B- / thin, blackberry, a bit sweaty
2011 Preston L. Preston / $36 / B+ / 50% syrah, 20% mourvedre, 16% grenache, 8% cinsault, 6% carignane – beautiful nose, classic earth and plums, lots of acid, a bit too tart on the finish
2012 Guadagni Red Table Wine (3L) / $36 / B / artisinal jug wine, blended at Preston (refills available on site); surprisingly easy but simple; plenty of fruit

P.S. 3000 posts! Woot!