Review: J Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris and 2013 Pinot Noir

CA_Pinot_Gris_2014-220x680Two new release from J Vineyards in Sonoma, California — a pinot gris and a pinot noir. Let’s try them!

2014 J Vineyard Pinot Gris California – A simple white, quite herbal and touched with notes of camphor and menthol. Light lemongrass notes up front give way to rosemary and sage. Best with food. B / $15

2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A soft and fruity wine, classically structured with cherry fruit, some raspberry, and some sweet tea. It’s a bit sweeter than I’d like, and the sugary backbone really starts to take over after a while. Ultimately that robs the wine of some of the grace that it exhibits up front, though it’s still a food-friendly sipper. B+ / $35

jwine.com

Review: 2012 Matchbook The Arsonist and Tinto Rey

71jzazc7YdL._UY490_CR0,0,450,490_Two new releases just arrived from our friends at Matchbook in Zamora, California. One of them blew my socks off. Keep reading to find out which one!

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist Red Blend – 52% petit verdot, 24% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better wine at this price level. Petit verdot at this concentration is very rare, but Matchbook makes it work far beyond all expectations. Brilliant violets and plum mingle with notes of chocolate and spice, melding together in the context of a fruity but balanced palate. Modest acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish give this wine elegance and long-haul legs. It drinks well on its own, but it’s a gorgeous food wine — pair with just about anything. A / $22

2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey Red Blend Giguiere Family – 50% tempranillo, 27% syrah, 11% petit verdot, 8% graciano, 4% tannat. A less masterful wine, but it works well enough. A little thin on the palate, it offers notes of green vegetable and hemp rope, with a backbone of cherry, tea leaf, and dark chocolate. Somewhat scattered, it never comes together the way I’d like, and it exits on a relatively lackluster, moderately bitter finish. B- / $17

crewwines.com

Review: NV Cockburn’s Special Reserve Porto

Cockburns_Special_Reserve_75clCockburn’s Special Reserve is a widely available ruby Port, nothing fancy, but workable in a pinch. The wine offers a largely standard nose of raisins, with a bit of dried blueberry. On the palate, the wine comes across as less dense than many nonvintage Ports, a touch watery, but still full of flavor and life. Again, juicy raisins mingle with light milk chocolate notes, plus a smattering of herbs on the finish. The fade-out is moderate to short, but never unpleasant. A fine way to invest less than 20 bucks in an after dinner drink for the sideboard.

B / $18 / cockburns.com

Tasting the Wines of Lodi Native, 2013 Vintage

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Lodi is an area that most California wine fans are familiar with, especially if they enjoy a glass of Zin once in a while. 40 percent of all Zinfandel grown in California comes from this region, and it has the highest proportion of old vine Zin in the state – with some active, still-producing vines dating back to the 1880s.

But Lodi isn’t often thought of when it comes to high-end or natural winemaking. Many of the wines here are unabashedly manipulated and doctored, attempts to make them palatable while keeping prices low.

Lodi Native is an altogether different idea. The project got its start in 2012, when a half-dozen winemakers got it in their head to try natural winemaking in Lodi. This wasn’t a terribly popular idea, but these folks charged ahead nonetheless, putting together a series of six single-vineyard Zinfandels from all around Lodi with the intent of showcasing Lodi’s terroir. These wines are all natural, with only sulfur dioxide added – the wines have all native yeasts, no inoculation, no acidification, no oak chips or similar, no water, and so on. These are predominantly Old Vine Zins meant to showcase exactly what that means.

2012’s wines were a hit – though this is not really designed as a commercial project; rather it’s primarily an educational opportunity – and the group is back with a second round. Recently I had the opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage of Lodi Native wines — complete with discussion with all of the winemakers — and here are my thoughts on the lot.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Fields Family Wines – Smells a bit corky (as do all of these wines, actually… all a little funky on the nose), with lots of earth and vegetal notes. Give the body time and fruit finally emerges. B

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Maley Brothers – Lots of dense berry fruit here, massive in body, with classic chocolate notes. Quite sweet, very much in line with Lodi Zin. B+

2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard McCay Cellars – An earthier expression, with herbal notes and a sultry body. Restrained and balanced. B+

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard St. Amant – The big winner of the group, with amazingly ripe and juicy blueberry notes. Balanced with wood character on the long finish, a real delight. A

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Macchia – Lots of red fruit, tea leaf, and some baking spices. Long and lightly sweet finish. A-

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard m2 Wines – Classically dense, extracted Zinfandel, almost loke a dessert wine. Intense, but quite enjoyable with loads of flavor. A-

$180 for the case of six wines / lodinative.com

Review: 2013 Starmont Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Starmont-2013-Carneros-PinotTwo new releases from our friends at Starmont, Merryvale’s sister winery and an all-around great value label.

2013 Starmont Chardonnay Carneros – A mere $23 will get you this masterfully made Chardonnay, which balances buttery oak with fresh pears and a dusting of cinnamon sugar. A touch of acid on the finish brightens things up. A- / $23

2013 Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros – Light body, with simple fruit elements all up front — cherries and a touch of strawberry — with backing notes of brewed tea, some baking spice, and a gentle finish. A- / $27

starmontwinery.com

Tasting the Wines of Gil Family Estates – 2015 Releases

Juan Gil SilverEstablished in 1916 in the Jumilla region of Spain by Juan Gil Jiménez, the Gil Family Estates empire now spans four generations of winemakers. Today, Gil Family Estates operates nine bodegas in eight different appelations, with a continued goal of producing high-end wines at a good value.

We recently tasted five different bottlings from Gil Family Estates, representing its holdings from across the country. Thoughts follow.

2013 Juan Gil Jumilla – 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) from the home vineyard in Jumilla, in the southeast of Spain. A very chocolate-driven wine, the lush berry fruit goes on and on, layering in an almost chocolate syrup character with a seductive, lengthy finish. A really beautiful wine, and one that makes me wonder why more people aren’t toying with 100% Mourvedre wines. A- / $17

2013 Can Blau Monsant – 40% Mazuelo, 40% Syrah, 25% Garnacha. The Monstant region surrounds Priorat in the northeast of Spain, near Barcelona, and this wine is made in a similar style, though it’s not nearly as dense and rooty. A touch of balsamic gives the fruit — blackberry and some blueberry — an edge, along with chocolate notes that come along on the finish. Nice density, and quite food friendly. B+ / $17

2013 Tridente Tempranillo – 100% Tempranillo from western Spain, near the Portuguese border. A dark and dense wine, it features leathery and peppery notes atop a darkly fruity, almost raisiny core. Heavy tannin and dusty coal notes pervade. B+ / $17

2013 Atteca Old Vines – 100% Garnacha from Calatayud in northeast Spain. Intense fruit here drives the show, bright strawberry and cherry, with light touches of cola and root beer on the finish. One of the most fruit-forward wines in this collection, with a bright, New World structure. B+ / $17

2014 Laya Almansa – 70% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Monastrell. From Almansa in the southeast of Spain. A bit of a bummer after some high-quality wines preceding it, with this dense wine loaded with cassis and ultimately prune character, before settling into a chocolate candy-meets-raisin routine. Saccharine and simplistic, it’s easy enough at first, but over time it becomes off-putting. C+ / $9

gilfamily.es

Review: 2015 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

GD_Nouveau_FY16_BS_MainLabel_FINALThe freshest of the freshest wine is now in a supermarket near you. Georges Duboeuf’s 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau is here, and for once it’s actually worth seeking out.

This ultra-young wine offers a nose of ripe strawberries and candied fruit notes, as always, but finds balance on the body in the form of some chocolate, fresh herb notes, and much less sweetness than this wine typically exhibits. Lately I’ve found myself becoming heavily attuned to sweetness in wines these days, and Bojo Nouveau is often a serious offender in that category. Surprisingly, the wine manages to keep the sugar in check with the 2015 vintage, which is definitely a boon for an oft-maligned category — and for you, the holiday drinker.

Even the bottle design is better than usual!

B+ / $8 / duboeuf.com

Review: 2012 Bootleg Red Wine Napa County

Bootleg Bottle ShotAnother Jackson Family Wines limited edition bottling, this one made by winemaker Brian Kosi, Bootleg is primarily a Napa blend of 36% Merlot, 28% Petite Sirah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, and 4% Zinfandel — with a little Pope Valley fruit in there.

Closed off at first, this 2012 bottling features aromas of blackberry and sweet licorice candy. The palate offers some dusty notes, with significant tannins, and the fruit underneath struggles to make its voice heard. The finish is all ground herbs and quite drying on the palate, but touched with some coffee bean and cocoa nib notes — which makes for a dusty, restrained exit. Try it in 2018 or beyond.

B / $39 / jacksonfamilywines.com

Tasting the Wines of Angela Velenosi, 2015 Releases

velenosiAngela Velenosi works the Le Marche region of Italy, east of Tuscany, to produce a fantastic assortment of wines bottled under the Velenosi Vini banner (also look for “Villa Angela” on the label). I couldn’t attend a lunch with her to taste through her wines, but she was kind enough to send a collection of eight of them for me to try on my own.

Thoughts follow.

NV Velenosi Passerina Vino Spumante Brut – Want an alternative to Prosecco? Check out Velenosi’s sparkler made from Passerina grapes. Notes of honey and banana liven up a creamy but crisp lemon/apple core, giving this wine a character that’s a bit closer to Alsatian Cremant than its Italian cousins. Perfectly palatable. B+ / $16

2014 Velenosi Falerio Pecorino DOC – Pecorino? Not just a delightful cheese, but also a wine, it turns out. Similar to Pinot Grigio, but with a more herbal, almost vegetal character on the finish. Tropical notes up front make this a nice summertime sipper, but the greener elements call for a food pairing. Simple but fully approachable. B / $9

2014 Velenosi Verdicchio Classico Dei Castilli di Jesi DOC – A well-crafted Verdicchio, with bright acidity and notes of lemon zest, peaches, and subtle grapefruit notes. Very cleansing and refreshing, it’s a more refined alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A- / $15

2013 Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC – 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes, a variety I had heretofore been unfamiliar with. Quite sweet, with a vegetal/herbal undertone. The palate is almost candylike with strawberry notes, an7d surprisingly creamy — almost unctuous. On the finish, balsamic notes arise to wash much of that away, creating a bit of a conflict of balance. C+ / $13

2013 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese. Simple, but pretty, with bright cherry notes laced through with tobacco and a little tar. Lightly leathery and a bit herbal, with a gently sweet character on the back end. B / $15

2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese — an older bottling. What a difference a few years makes; this wine is showing layers of berries, vanilla, and a touch of marshmallow cream. Tart cherry notes stretch out the slightly syrupy finish. B+ / $15

2011 Velenosi Ludi Offida Rosso DOCG – 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Extremely dense, loaded with notes of prunes, licorice candy, dark chocolate, and some balsamic. Massive, densely alcoholic and featuring a “big meal”-friendly, satiny body. Give this one time — decant it if you can — and a big glass to quaff from. Drinks like a much more expensive wine (and the bottle has the heft to back that up). A- / $35

NV Velenosi Visciole – A blend of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and syrup from sugar-soaked sour cherries. Pretty wacky, but it grows on you, believe it or not. The cherries-in-syrup character is by far the main event here, though at 13.5% abv there’s plenty of wine in the mix to give this a slightly elevated edge. This isn’t something I could drink every day, but it’d play beautifully at the next Italian wedding you throw. B / $22 (500ml)

velenosivini.com

Review: Old York Cellars NV Merlot and 2013 Sweet Riesling

old york

Yes Virginia, they make wine in Virginia. Also New Jersey, where you’ll find Old York Cellars.

These wines make for an interesting introduction to the styles you’ll find on the other coast. We tasted along with the winery during a web-based event. Thoughts follow.

NV Old York Cellars Merlot – Nonvintage merlot, a distant cousin to anything you’d find coming from California. The curious nose seems vaguely eastern (or at least eastern European), with intense herbs, spearmint, and incense notes. The palate is fruitier than you’d expect, but very dry, its fresh fruits tempered with notes of bacon and barbecue. A bit of mothball comes along on the finish. Altogether, I can best describe it only as a very strange little wine. C / $18

2013 Old York Cellars Sweet Riesling – Some antiseptic notes kick things off in this semi-sweet riesling bottling, which eventually evokes some layers of orange blossoms and watery honey. The body is far less sweet than you might expect, coming across as herbal and sometimes vegetal. The very thin body cuts into what fruit is there — though the honey and apple notes at the core give it at least something to hold on to for a time. C / $17

oldyorkcellars.com