Review: Lillet Rose

lilletThere’s a third (and while it’s not new, it’s the newest) member of the Lillet aromatic wine family: Lillet Rose, which rides the line between the crisp Lillet Blanc and the dark red Lillet Rouge.

Lillet Rose is a moderate pink in hue, and it fits right in between these two classic apertif wines.

Made primarily from semillon grapes (the same base as Lillet Blanc) with the addition of liqueurs made from berries and sweet and bitter oranges, the wine could pass as a hearty rose if you didn’t know better. The deep-down herbal notes give it away as Lillet, but here the addition of the liqueurs add both sweetness and nuance. Lots of orange notes give this a bittersweet bite, with a finish that recalls pink lemonade, fresh rosemary, and even a little bitter cocoa powder.

Is it heresy to say this might be my favorite expression of the three for straight sipping? Bring on the summer.

34 proof.

A- / $16 /

Review: White Wines of Murphy-Goode, 2014 Vintage

murphy-goode-the-fume-nv-266Murphy-Goode hits with a collection of three white wines, spanning the gamut of major California styles. All 2014 vintages, let’s dig in to these affordable bottlings.

2014 Murphy-Goode Pinot Grigio California – Lightly tropical and lightly aromatic — emphasis on “light.” This is a simple wine for simple time — summer sipping, barbecues, bar mitzvahs, you know. Touches of pineapple, particularly on the finish, give the wine more legs than its near transparency would indicate. Nothing fancy, but good enough for the price.  B / $13

2014 Murphy-Goode Chardonnay California – Modest on the nose with overtones of grilled meats, some lemon, and a little perfume on the back end. A bit nutty at times, the body is somewhat undercooked, with light melon notes and some nougat. Largely forgettable. C+ / $14

2014 Murphy-Good “The Fume” Sauvignon Blanc North Coast – Crisp and lemony, this is a mild and lightly perfumed expression of California sauvignon blanc, its focus squarely on its clean structure and mineral components. Steely but not harshly acidic, with just the slightest touch of honey, it’s a simple wine but feels solid enough this time of year. B+ / $14

Tasting Report: Wines of Mendocino, 2016

IMG_7482It had been too long since we trekked to Mendocino, so a few weeks back we loaded up the car and hit the windy, Redwood-strewn trail to the rocky California coast, and hit up some of the star wineries of the region along the way.

The Anderson Valley and Mendocino County continue to raise the game in the wine world, with a particular focus on cold climate pinot noir and unusual Alsatian white wines. Join us as we visit both some old favorites and some new friends making wine on the edge of the world.

Tasting Report: Wines of Mendocino – 2016 Road Trip

2013 Baxter Chardonnay Oppenlander Vineyard / $38 / B+ / very brisk, lots of minerals, some tropics and a touch of honey; very little oak character
2013 Baxter Pinot Noir Valenti Vineyard / $48 / A- / lots of acid, gentle fruit, tart and subtle with a touch of rosemary; a delicate wine
2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard / $60 / B+ / blackberry and tea leaf are stronger, but the wine is quite restrained; sublte wood and earth notes on the finish
2013 Baxter Pinot Noir Langley Vineyard / $48 / A / strawberry, with sharp herbal notes at times; lengthy finish offers tart cherry notes foremost
2013 Baxter Pinot Noir Run Dog Vineyard / $48 / B+ / well-balanced with a fruity attack, soft astringency, and a mushroom/leather finish; suggest laying this one down for a bit; 3 barrels made
2013 Baxter Syrah Valenti Vineyard / $42 / B+ / classic syrah with terroir-driven character; chocolate on the finish, plus black pepper
2014 Goldeneye Vin Gris of Pinot Noir / $30 / B+ / quite tart, apricots and flroals, bright acidity and a slightly bitter finish
2013 Migration Russian River Pinot Noir / $38 / B+ / bright, with baking spices on the nose; a bit sweet on the tongue, slightly tart
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir / $55 / B+ / bolder, with tea leaf and cherries; vanilla and chocolate influence is strong; semi-sweet finish (poured from magnum)
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard / $82 / A- / pretty balance, some pepper and baking spices; cherries lead the way to the finish
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Split Rail Vineyard / $82 / B+ / rounder body, very fruit forward with a touch of sweetness, brandied cherries
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir The Narrows Vineyard / $82 / A / more brooding, with forest floor notes a-plenty, but the best balance of the bunch
2012 Goldeneye Ten Degrees Pinot Noir / $115 / A / peppery on the nose, lovely structure with a bit of a bitter edge, some cocoa powder, and a gentle finish
2013 Witching Stick Wines Chardonnay / $NA / A- / brisk and supple, gentle vanilla notes
2012 Witching Stick Wines Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard / $NA / A- / dense, with licorice notes, some tannic structure, and solid fruit
2012 Witching Stick Wines Pinot Noir Gianoli Vineyard / $NA / B+ / darker and smoky, more of a barrel influence here
2013 Witching Stick Wines Zinfandel Fashauer Vineyard / $NA / B+ / big and fruity, with black pepper and tons of sweetness
2013 Navarro Chardonnay Mendocino / $19 / A- / apple, melons, pears; big fruit with light vanilla notes
2013 Navarro Chardonnay Anderson Valley / $25 / B+ / more oak, fresh fruit, caramelized pear
2014 Navarro Pinot Gris / $20 / B+ / lots of baked apple, with a touch of vanilla
2014 Navarro Gewurztraminer Estate Bottled (Dry) / $20 / B+ / dry and perfumed, tropical finish
2013 Navarro Riesling   / $20 / B / honeysuckle, orange oil notes
2014 Navarro Edelzwicker / $16 / A- / sweeter side of gewurztraminer showing here
2012 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode a l’Ancienne / $32 / B / candied, with vanilla and caramel notes; very fruity
2013 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode a l’Ancienne / $32 / A- / more acid; tart with a nice balance of fruit
2013 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode a l’Ancienne Unflitered / $35 / A- / quite similar; but with a slight edge of bitterness
2013 Navarro Pinot Noir Deep End Blend / $55 / A / very rich, cocoa notes; strawberries and spice
2013 Navarro Zinfandel Mendocino / $22 / B+ / atypical for zinfandel; very fruity and fresh cherry notes
2012 Navarro Riesling Cluster Select Late Harvest (375ml) / $20 / B+ / somewhat dusty nose; floral and fruity
2012 Navarro Gewurztraminer Late Harvest (375ml) / $35 / B+ / peachy, with florals and a very sweet finish

Review: Cambria Benchbreak 2014 Chardonnay and 2013 Pinot Noir

cambriaTwo new wines from Cambria and its Benchbreak series, a line of sustainably grown wines from the Santa Maria Valley. Thoughts follow.

2014 Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – Intensely oaky and meaty on the nose, this chardonnay — which is otherwise lightly bodied and quite fruity — takes the butter and pushes it in a different direction — namely, toward sausage and smoked ham notes, which really put a damper on the party. The finish blends a vegetal and bacon character, neither of which I’m particularly looking for in a white wine and which definitely doesn’t work here, at least sans a meal. C+ / $22

2013 Cambria Benchbreak Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley – Surprisingly light bodied, this gentle pinot initially offers forth light notes of tea leaf, cardamom, and simple red berries. Over time, it evolves a bit of a black pepper note — mild, but folding in a bit of crispness to what is otherwise a wispy wine. Grows on you, though. B / $25

Review: True Myth 2014 Chardonnay and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon


true myth

True Myth is a new label from Edna Valley-based Niven Family Estates, inspired by the idea that “the one True Myth is Mother Nature.” Let’s tuck into the label’s first two offerings.

2014 True Myth Chardonnay Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard – Vibrant citrus on the nose, the oak element doesn’t emerge until you sip it, where modest oak and vanilla notes come to the fore. The citrus takes on more of a pineapple note as the finish arrives, and that tends to work well enough with the vanilla component. I get a touch of coconut, and hints of apricot and a dash of fresh herbs. Stylistically restrained in comparison to what you’ll find in Sonoma or Napa, it’s approachable poolside sipping as springtime starts to heat things up. B / $18

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A solid wine, bittersweet up top with a moderate to big body that showcases currants, hazelnut, mild vanilla, and even a little lime-like citrus on the rather tart but moderately long finish. Quite a nice little sipper, particularly at this price level. A- / $24

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, 2016 Releases

KJVR_13MerlotFour new wines in the KJ stable have recently been released, all in the Vintner’s Reserve line, the second (from the bottom) level in the five tiers that Kendall-Jackson produces.

Thoughts on these wines, all reds, follow.

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot Sonoma County – As inoffensive a wine as anyone could hope for, this simple merlot showcases blackberry and blueberry, with a modestly tannic core. Some vanilla comes to the forefront alongside a nice bite of bitterness and a gentle denouement. It’s a perfectly drinkable pizza ‘n’ pasta wine… but it tastes like it could be any varietal. B / $19

2014 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Syrah Santa Barbara County – Musty and smoky, even a syrah lover like me had some trouble pushing past the funk here. Once inside, the sour cherry core offers few real pleasures, and the bittersweet finish comes across as lackluster and cheap. C / $17

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – The nose is bright with currants and blackberries, but the body is flat and almost watery, with zero finish. Harmless currants and black pepper stud the caramel-focused body for very brief time it spends on the palate, and the finish offers a slug of tannin that quickly fades. Improves with some air, but this isn’t a wine that should merit decanting. B- / $24

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Summation Red Wine Blend California – A mystery blend that includes merlot, zinfandel, syrah, and other grapes. Lush, almost opulent, a big surprise in an otherwise lackluster lineup. Big currants and blueberry dominate, while soft tannins lead the way to some baking spice and vanilla notes on the finish. Excellent balance with a lush and rounded finish and an easy approachability. Buy this one; it’s a huge value. A- / $17

Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, 2016 Releases

grand-vin-de-reignac-2006Bordeaux means money, pure and simple. Or is it? There’s plenty of affordable Bordeaux out there, and while quality can be hit and miss, if you take the time to sift through the market, you can find some gems.

Here’s a sampling of five affordable Bordeaux wines — two whites and three reds. Affordabordeaux? No?

Starting with white wines…

2013 Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Blanc – Sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle compose this awfully tart white, a sour apple-infused wine with ammonia overtones. The finish offers fruit with just a touch of tropical character, but by and large it’s a bit too tart for easy enjoyment. C / $12

2014 Augey Bordeaux Blanc – 75% sauvignon blanc and 25% semillon. Not bad, a fresh but simple wine showcasing lemon and some apple fruit, with floral notes on the finish. Just a hint of sweetness gives it easy drinkability without veering into plonk. B+ / $9

And now the reds…

2009 Domaine de Montalon Bordeaux Superieur – A classically funky wine that exhibits everything people dislike about Bordeaux wines: mushrooms galore, forest floor, old dirt… this is rustic stuff that would be more interesting if the body wasn’t so thin to the point of wateriness. A miss. C- / $17

2013 Chateau Genins Bordeaux – Pungent, with a slightly sour character that recalls unripe blackberries and balsamic vinegar. The short and tart finish fades as quickly as it arrives. C / $11

2012 Grand Vin de Reignac Bordeaux Superieur – Merlot heavy. Easily the best red of the bunch (but also the most expensive), a full-bodied sipper with dark currants and notes of dark chocolate, moderate tannins, some black pepper, and a lengthy, silky finish. Nothing fancy, really, but exactly what an inexpensive Bordeaux ought to taste like. B+ / $25