Category Archives: Wine

Tasting the Wines of Washington’s Columbia Winery with Winemaker Sean Hails

1288Though we’re only a few hundred miles away, here in California we honestly don’t see many wines from Washington state. And yet, after California, Washington has the 2nd largest number of wineries in the country.

Columbia is one of them. Not to be confused with Columbia Crest, Columbia recently became part of the Gallo empire, rebranded and relabeled its bottles, and hired Sean Hails to oversee the operation. With a focus on affordable bottlings (plus a large number of unique offerings sold only in the winery’s tasting room), Columbia seems to be keeping quality high and prices low.

I recently dined with winemaker Hails at Sausailto’s Murray Circle, where we tasted through the 2012 vintage of three of the company’s flagship wines, all bargains at $14 a bottle. Thoughts follow.

2012 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley – 89% chardonnay with some semillon and chenin blanc. This is a crisp wine with apple and lemon notes, some baking spice, and good acid. Really well made all around, with the fruit doing most of the talking. A-

2012 Columbia Winery Merlot Columbia Valley – 85% merlot, plus cabernet and syrah. Licorice and some smoke on the nose, but the body is all fruit, with well-integrated tannins and a simple blackberry/strawberry/raspberry character to it. Simple, well-honed finish. A-

2012 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – 86% cabernet sauvignon, with touches of petit verdot, syrah, and malbec. The only wine not totally ready to drink here, it’s thick with tannin and tight  but offers some jammy fruit, tempered with dusty notes of charcoal. This is a simpler wine but one which can handle food well. B+

columbiawinery.com

 

Review: 3 Wines from Four Vines, 2014 Releases

four vinesThree new releases from our friends at Four Vines. Thoughts follow.

2012 Four Vines Naked Unoaked Chardonnay Santa Barbara – Unoaked as promised, which leaves this SoCal Chard buttery without being stuffed full of wood and sawdust notes. The body’s bigger than most unoaked Chardonnays I’ve experienced of late, which is a nice balance to the wine’s natural acidity. Some light vanilla biscuit notes round out the finish. Great price on this. A- / $10

2011 Four Vines Biker Zinfandel Paso Robles – A big, chocolaty Zin, dense with raisiny, Port-like notes, ample sweetness, notes of vanilla, and a nice chocolate kick on the back end. Plays poorly with food but can work all right as an after-dinner sipper. B / $20

2011 Four Vines Truant Zinfandel California Old Vines – A meatier, more nuanced Zin, loaded with chocolate but balanced by notes of plum and blackberry, some smoke, and some earthy bramble notes. Better balance here than in the overblown Biker, and better both on its own and with a meal. Another outstanding value. A- / $10

fourvines.com

A Deep Dive Into Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard with Winemaker Nova Cadamatre

New to the Robert Mondavi winemaking team is Nova Cadamatre, who hosted a few dozen writers recently to an exploration of various Robert Mondavi Cabernet releases, all of which hail in total or in part from the famed To Kalon Vineyard, which is adjacent to the Mondavi winery facility.

Cadamatre guided us through seven wines — four freshly vinted varietals straight from various To Kalon blocks (all harvested in 2013, they’ve been in barrel for about 9 months), and three finished wines, all Cabs, from the 2010 vintage.

The idea here was to see how the vineyard impacts the wine. These three Cabs represent a wide range of Mondavi’s offerings, including the $28 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, which uses a small portion of To Kalon in its blend; the $55 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, which is 99% To Kalon; and the $145 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, a collectible wine that is also almost entirely from the To Kalon vineyard — but is made from different blocks than the Oakville.

To be sure, grapes matter. The Napa Valley Cab (B) bottling is pretty enough and drinkable, but not really anything to write home about. The Oakville (A-) offers better balance, more jam and chocolate, with distinct blackberry and blueberry notes. It’s a considerable improvement, as the price tag should indicate, too. The Reserve (A) is, as expected, the best of the lot, though it is bound in quite a bit of tannin at present, showing raisins, bramble, and some flinty earth notes. Here, in comparison to the Oakville bottling, you can really see the different a few hundred yards and older vines make, even if value remains subjective.

Looking at the barrel samples, it was easier to see how older vines led to more complex wines. Wine made from very young vines from To Kalon was heavy on fruit and flowers, with molasses notes behind. As the vines got older — 15 and then 30 years old — tannins grew and the fruit became less simplistic, more wrapped up with wood notes and showing strong herbal character.

The moral of the story: Vineyards matter, vineyard position matters, and older vines can lead to complex wines — at least in the case of Robert Mondavi Cabernet. While I’m not suggesting you get seduced by the appearance of “Old Vines” on a wine label — the term is meaningless and is usually reserved for Zinfandel in the U.S. — it’s something you can leverage as a consumer next time you’re getting chatted up in a tasting room. Ask about vine age. See if your expectations match what’s in the glass. If you can, try the same experiment with wines made from the same vineyard but from vines of different ages — and see what your palate has to say.

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Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2014

Pinot Days 2014 is now behind us, and as usual it offered some of the best Pinot Noirs (and a few Chardonnays) from all over California and Oregon. There was plenty to love at this show, particularly wines from the always-enchanting Sojourn and Dutton-Goldfield, but I also made a huge discovery in the form of Belden Barns, a brand new label from Sonoma that was only now making its public debut. Keep an eye out for this rising star!

Thoughts on all wines tasted follow. Prices are noted where they were available.

Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2014

2011 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley / $45 / B+ / tart, quite herbal
2011 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Mendocino County / $34 / B+ / lots of cherry, tart, mineral edge
2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Nash Mill Vineyard, Anderson Valley / $40 / A- / silky and balanced, bursting with fruit
2012 La Follette Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / A- / silky and modest, pretty, quiet
2011 La Follette Pinot Noir van der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain / B+ / lush, roaste meat notes, smoky edge
2011 La Follette Pinot Noir DuNah Vineyard Russian River Valley / A- / citrusy, sweet and sour sauce notes
2012 La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / A- / big tropical notes, caramel
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $54 / A- / intense cherry, strawberry; grows as finish builds
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $54 / A / rich and full of cocoa and raspberry notes; a favorite
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $59 / A- / orange peel and herbal notes, dense with evergreen and cherry tones
2012 Ca’Nani a Del Dotto Pinot Noir / B+ / very big body, strawberry notes
2009 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Cinghale Vineyard Sonoma Coast / B / massive herbs and grassy nots, lots of oak
2011 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Russian River Selection / B+ / high acid, focused on fruit
2012 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Halberg Vineyard Russian River Valley / B / heavy tartness, herbal character
2012 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Halberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Dijon Clones / B- / similar, more vegetal
2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills / C / something’s off here; big barnyard nose, funky flavors
2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Estate Cuvee / C+ / light barnyard, lots of wet earth
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Chardonnay Artist Label Oregon / $30 / A- / a surprising winner, rich and creamy, with lots of fresh fruit
2011 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley / $50 / B+ / a bit tough now, give this one a year or two
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Home Vineyard” / $60 / B / herbal, mushroom, restrained
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Lower Block” / $65 / B / similar, quite tart
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Old Block” / $75 / B / slightly edgier, with bigger mushroom notes
2005 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Texas Hill Road Vineyard” / B+ / hanging on, with grilled meats and anise notes
2001 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Home Vineyard” / B- / showing some VA, but still has a core of fruit
2012 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir / $48 / A / rich, with robust chocolate notes — first public showing of this new Sonoma Mountain winery
2012 Belden Barns Estate Pinot Noir / $38 / A- / good balance, fruit and chocolate, but restrained composition
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley / A- / baking spices and lively fruit showing up here
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands / A- / similar, better balance
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Dairyman Vineyard Russian River Valley / B+ / on the tart side; lively fruit
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard Marin County / $58 / A- / big body, lots of fruit and spice
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County / $58 / A- / lots of fruit again, tart edge, slight chocolate character
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch-Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley / $58 / A- / similar character, ample fruit, some vanilla
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch-Emerald Ridge Vineyard Green Valley / $58 / A- / some menthol character, mild herbs, strawberry and cherry
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley / $58 / A- / pretty, some floral notes, raspberry

Review: Ventisquero Grey 2012 Pinot Noir and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Ventisquero_NV_GreyPinotNoir_BottleshotWe covered the “Grey” line from Chilean producer Ventisquero late last year, and now the winery is back with two more releases, both from international varietals. Thoughts follow.

2012 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Las Terrazas Vineyard – This single block Pinot spends 12 months in French oak barrels, after which time it comes out as an earthy, intense expression of the grape. Massive mushroom and wet leather notes interplay with blackberry and cassis. It’s spicy, but with more the bite of a green pepper than anything in the herb family. Interesting structure but the balance is pushed to far into the vegetal. B / $20

2011 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Trinidad Vineyard – Grey Cabernet pops out after 18 months in oak barrels, revealing a surprisingly balanced and restrained wine. The nose is vibrant with fruit and lightly peppery, with just hints of licorice. On the palate it shows only a light dusting of tannins, with deep blackberry, tree bark, and light balsamic notes. Quite fruit-friendly, and a very good value to boot. B+ / $18

ventisquero.com

Review: 2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley

Merryvale-2013-Sauv-Blanc-NVThis is the way sauvignon blanc should be done. With this 2013 release Merryvale has perfectly balanced this simple but tricky grape. The nose and attack are floral and lightly sweet, hinting at white flowers and honeysuckle. As the body builds, there is more honey, tropical fruit, and a rich, creme brulee finish. Could use a touch more acid, but overall this is a hands-down winner that is exemplary on its own or with a light meal.

A / $28 / merryvale.com

Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn Chardonnay

hahn pinot_gris_13_bottleHahn’s Pinot Noir has a good reputation, but it also produces some very affordable whites, both sourced from the Monterey area. Thoughts follow.

2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris Monterey – Quite tropical on the nose, but the body is restrained, coming off with buttery notes up front and reserving its mango-pineapple character for the finish. Hints of bacon fat and pine needles on the nose. Simple, but on the mark. B+ / $14

2012 Hahn Winery Chardonnay Monterey – Buttery and unctuous, a rather typical Californiafied version of this grape. Restrained pear and gentle lemon notes round out the palate, but otherwise it is a simple wine with a monstrous body and a somewhat short, slightly herbal finish. B / $14

hahnestates.com

Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 Releases

pina napa valleyEvery year we anticipate a shipment of wines from Pina Napa Valley for review, and every year that shipment seems to get larger. For 2014 the winery has offered a whopping six wines for review — five from different regions of Napa — upon which we’re happily ready to offer our commentary.

2012 Pina Napa Valley Chardonnay Low Vineyard Oak Knoll District – My first encounter with Pina’s Chardonnay. In fact, I didn’t even know they made a Chardonnay. This is a rather textbook Chardonnay, imbued with a big, meaty character, dense fig and pear notes, vanilla, and a touch of salted caramel. The body is missing the certain creaminess that you need with bold Chardonnays like this, and it fares better as it warms up a bit. B- / $34

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard Napa Valley – Bold, classic Napa Cab. The nose is full of currants, dark chocolate, and violets. On the body, sweeter than expected, with more of a blackberry jam character touched with black tea, gooseberries, and a bit of coffee bean, which adds just a hint of bitterness on the back end. A- / $80

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard Yountville – A milder, fatter-bodied Cab, this wine offers a juicy nose of blackberry jam, currants, and light black pepper notes. The body is ripe and lush — it’s as close to a summer-worthy Cabernet as you can get without putting an animal on the label — with a long, almost fruit-juice finish. One of Pina’s simpler wines, but highly enjoyable on its own merits. A- / $85

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Ames Vineyard Oakville – A simpler expression of Pina. Relatively tannic and on the green side, this wine dials down the jam in favor of notes from the earthier side of things, including mushroom, celery, cracked pepper, and saddle leather. Very dry and restrained, it offers only minimal fruit but packs in ample elegance. Drink now. B+ / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard Howell Mountain – Racy and dense, this is a classic mountain Cab, loaded with intense blackberry, currant, and plum notes, alongside touches of blueberry, black tea, licorice, and leather. Lots going on, but this is a wine firing on all cylinders, dark as could be but masking a brooding and authentic soul. A / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford – The greenest and most vegetal of this vintage, the Firehouse Vineyard bottling comes off as almost astringent at first, offering plenty of tannin and oak notes but only a dusting of fruit. There’s just not much life in this wine, and without food it comes off as already past its prime. B- / $90

pinanapavalley.com

Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGT

Brancaia 2011 Toscana IGT Tre Red Blend 750mlHere’s a very simple wine, one of the most gentle Italian reds I’ve ever encountered. This blend of Sangiovese (80%), Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is named for both the three varietals and the three vineyards it is sourced from.

The nose nods at both cherries and milk chocolate, but the body is pure fruit. Almost maraschino cherry, even strawberry in character, the fruit is balanced with notes of brewed tea and touches of vanilla. Some wood overtones come along on the finish… but it’s never able to muscle the fruit out of the picture.

B+ / $23 / brancaia.com

Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and Rose

The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma CoastAre we not men? We are Pinot!

(Sorry.)

Devo founding member Gerald Casale is the man behind the new wine label The 50 by 50, which is named for a never-built home that doesn’t exist on a property that’s wedged between the Atlas Peak AVA and Wild Horse AVA in Napa County. (How very Devo, no?)

The 23-acre estate is planted with Bordeaux varietals, but those don’t seem to be ready to turn into wine yet, so for now Casale is offering two wines from the Sonoma Coast, both from Pinot Noir grapes. (Watch for the Bordeaux style estate wines in 2019 or so.) Meanwhile, thoughts on the current releases follow.

2013 The 50 by 50 Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Big strawberry and raspberry notes on this rose, right up front and lasting well into the finish. This high fruit, high acid wine is an iconic summer sipper, offering hints of tropical fruits and melon as the wine fades from the tongue. B+ / $20

2012 The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – A simple but totally enjoyable expression of Pinot Noir, offering tart cherry notes up front, tempered with touches of coffee, tree bark, dark chocolate, and a bit of cloves. Drink this one slightly chilled; at room temperature it comes across as a bit thin. My wine snob wife was a much bigger fan. B+ / $30

thefiftybyfifty.com

4 Cremant d’Alsace Wines Reviewed, 2014 Releases

gustave lorentz cremantThis sparkling wine made in the mountains between France and Germany is always a great option when you want high-quality sparkling wine at a reasonable cost. Cremant d’Alsace is made from a variety of grapes — riesling, pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris, auxerrois blanc, and chardonnay are allowed — but pinot blanc and noir are the most common. Stylistically floral and fruity, it is typically dry and not as heavily carbonated as Champagne.

Recently we received four nonvintage Cremants (vintage Cremant is a rarity) from a range of producers in Alsace for review. Thoughts on each follow.

NV Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Rose – 100% pinot noir. Lots of fruit, almost sour at times with notes of table grapes, sour apple, and juicy plums. Modest carbonation is offset with secondary notes of fresh herbs — lavender and rosemary — and the scent of violets. Really fun. A- / $25

NV Baron de Hoen Cremant d’Alsace Brut – 100% pinot blanc. The nose of fresh apples is wonderfully inviting, and the modest level of fizziness makes it quite approachable, even as a sipper with food. Some very light, white-flower floral notes emerge as the wine warms a bit, adding complexity. A- / $16

NV Willm Cremant d’Alsace Brut Blanc de Blancs – 100% pinot blanc. Not a typo in the name there, by the way. A perfectly acceptable Cremant from a less well-known producer, this is less fruity on the nose; it’s more floral, but harder to peg down. The body offers steely minerals, some more white flowers, and a lighter dusting of fruit in the form of grapefruit, pears, and lychee. Lots of acid on the finish. B+ / $10

NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose – 100% pinot noir. A rose version of Albrecht’s popular blanc de blancs. Less refined than other selections on this list, it’s got more of a sour character to it, with a mild earthiness up front. This fades into gentle red plum notes, some raspberry, and figs. Fizzier than the others on this list, also. Just so-so balance with some herbal notes that make the finish a bit strange. B / $15

Review: 2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino and Belnero

Belnero_US_2012Drinking Tuscan wine doesn’t have to mean choosing between ultra-luxe bottlings and rank rotgut. These two 2012 vintage wines from Castello Banfi show that there’s a middle ground, with premium presentations of classic wines that manage to come in at under 30 bucks a bottle. Thoughts follow.

2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – A simple sangiovese, full of slightly dried cherry notes, tobacco leaf, cedar closet, and a touch of mushroom on the back end. Modest body, with a short, lightly acidic finish. A simple wine, it’s best with a hearty meal. B / $25

2012 Castello Banfi Belnero IGT – A blend of predominantly Sangiovese and a smattering of (unnamed) French varietals, aged one year in oak barriques. The nose is studded with tobacco leaf, cloves, and forest floor, the body featuring restrained fruit notes and a healthy slug of wood. A more brooding, dense with smokiness and touches of coffee. B+ / $28

castellobanfi.com

Interview: Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards on Wine Labeling

Last fall I spent a day with Paul Draper at the famed Ridge Vineyards. That interview became the basis of “Juiced!,” a piece on high-tech wine manipulation techniques, which appeared in the April 2014 issue of Wired magazine.

A lot of readers of that story have asked me “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” and “Why aren’t labels required on wine bottles?” Well, finally I can answer those questions. My original interview with Draper was left on the cutting room floor, but by popular demand it is back and available on the web. In this story, Draper talks at length about why most wine doesn’t have labels, and why his wines do.

Enjoy!

One Man’s Quest to Reveal What’s Actually in Your Favorite Wines

Review: NV Nicolas Feuillatte D’Luscious Demi-Sec Rosé Champagne

nicholas feuillate DEMI-SEC ROS DELUSCIOUS_hUsing the name “D’Luscious” is a bit, how do you say, jejune for something is ritzy as Champagne, but these are changing times, no, so let’s not judge iconic sparkler creators Nicolas Feuillatte for an unfortunate monker.

The nonvintage D’Luscious is a demi-sec Champagne, which is one of the sweetest levels of Champagne on the market, with 3 to 5 times the amount of sugar added than the typical Brut bottling. That pretty much overpowers everything in the experience here: D’Luscious is a pretty looking Champagne that features plenty of strawberry fruit on the body and a touch of grassiness on the nose — but ultimately it’s so full of sweetness that you forget everything else that surrounds it.

This kind of Champagne is tailor made for dessert drinking — but hold it back for the end of the meal. As an aperitif it’s almost appetite-demolishing.

B / $40 / nicolas-feuillatte.com

Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer – A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

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Review: 2012 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Caymus 40th 750ml Bottle - 300dpiI give Caymus all the credit for making me a real wine lover. When I was in grad school, my friend Sonny would regularly have me over for dinner — Korean style steaks, asparagus, and Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, which we procured for $20 a bottle back then.

It was a bit of indulgence for kids on a budget, but I’m sure we thought the expense was worth it if we ate Taco Bell and TV dinners the rest of the week.

Caymus quickly elevated itself into cult wine status to the point where I haven’t had it in years — particularly the ritzy Special Selection bottling. But for the winery’s 40th anniversary I was lucky enough to snag a sample bottle. Is the wine just as I remembered? Thoughts follow.

This is classic, dense Napa Cabernet. The nose offers intense blueberry and blackberry notes, hints of menthol, and dark chocolate. These are played up further on the body, along with a strong tart cherry character that comes on strong on the finish. This acidity is a welcome counterpart to the otherwise big, gripping body of the wine, giving some much needed balance to the experience. Tons of aging potential here.

A- / $60 / caymus.com

Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 Releases

Louis M. Martini 2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauv 750mlNo need for a lot of throat-clearing here. Check out these three new Cabs from both Napa and Sonoma, all made by Louis M. Martini.

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Textbook Sonoma Cab, milder on the palate than Napa’s fruit bombs, but with plenty of earthy mushroom notes, leather, balsamic vinegar, and hints of blueberry on the nose. Breathe deep for hints of the garden — some thyme and peppermint on the back end — and watch for some Christmas spice on the palate’s finish. Imminently drinkable, it’s a fun yet modest wine. A- / $35

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A benchmark Napa cab from Martini, with a mix of floral, currant, pepper, and light leather notes on the nose, followed by a solid slug of blackberries, black cherries, and just hints of earth that are laced into the palate. Light on its feet but full of nuance, this wine shows restraint while offering a plenty ample body and a spot-on finish. One of Martini’s finest cabs in years and dirt cheap. A / $22

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – A simple, almost rustic, “burger” wine (which is exactly how I drank it). A little weedy up front, with some notes of sweet pepper, an interesting counterpart to the relatively sweet and cinnamon-infused body, which offers some tropical and brown sugar notes. Perfectly serviceable, if short of awe-inspiring. B / $14

louismartini.com

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 Releases

Crossbarn_By_Paul_Hobbs_Pinot_Noir_Sonoma_Coast_2011_Bottle-900x900Once called “the Steve Jobs of wine,” Paul Hobbs is a NorCal bigshot that makes wines under his own label as well as importing stuff he really likes. CrossBarn is his new, lower-cost label.

We sampled three wines (two Pinots, one Chardonnay) under the CrossBarn label. Thoughts follow.

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Virtually unoaked (80% fermented in tank, 20% in neutral French oak), this wine presents a citrusy but quite herbal nose, with a body offering spiced apples and Meyer lemon, plus some apricot on the finish. Easy to love. A- / $18

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A slightly thin, somewhat meaty example of the varietal. The body’s light blueberry fruit is indistinct, muddied by the savoriness that makes it feel a bit like old fruit juice. B- / $35

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – A much more refined Pinot. It starts with some Port-like notes on the nose, and plenty of macerated cherries. The body isn’t exactly dense with fruit, but it has lots of life and only a hint of vanilla and some woody bramble character by way of terroir. A solid, easy-to-love wine. B+ / $35

crossbarnwinery.com

Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia Valley

charles and charles roseThis Washington state rose, part of the Trinchero empire, is made from a blend of 86% syrah, 6% cinsault, 4% grenache, 2% counoise, and 2% mourvedre. Restrained, this wine has some herbal notes on the nose — rosemary, perhaps — with the fruit creeping out a bit slowly on the palate. Strawberries, for sure, and fresh cherries are readily available on this simple sipper. A smattering of earthier notes — more tree bark than mushroom — back things up.

B+ / $12 / bielerandsmith.com

 

Review: NV Zardetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut

Zardetto Prosecco ImageThis nonvintage Prosecco is a bit chewy and bready — more so than is typical of the style — with notes of  lemon confit, peaches, and white flowers. A shortish finish doesn’t make the very best companion for the bigger body, and while it’s enjoyable enough (particularly at this price level), it could use more power throughout.

B / $14 / zardettoprosecco.com