Category Archives: Wine

Review: Wines of Menage a Trois, 2013 Releases

folie a deux 82x300 Review: Wines of Menage a Trois, 2013 ReleasesMenage a Trois is a second, low-cost label produced by Napa-based Folie a Deux. These aren’t the world’s most challenging bottlings, but they’re by and large good enough for everyday drinking. Here’s how the current batch of releases measure up.

2012 Menage a Trois Sauvignon Blanc California – Unsurprising Sauv Blanc. Huge grapefruit and pepe du chat notes on the nose, more citrus on the palate, sour lemon, and a touch of green pepper. Highly acidic on a light body. Very simple and in some ways refreshing with the right kind of food, though hardly a showstopper. B-

2011 Menage a Trois Pinot Gris California – Quite sweet, surprisingly so for this style of wine. Pineapple and mango on the front give the impression of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with candied/canned peaches coming up behind. A simple wine, as expected, but dialed a bit too far forward with the sweetness. B

2011 Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast California – A simple wine, with notes of menthol and green pepper on the nose. Medium body, with understated notes of plum and cassis jam, blueberries, and spice. Short finish fades quickly. B

2011 Menage a Trois Merlot California – Menthol-driven berries, raspberry primarily. Notes of black tea and licorice add a little complexity, but overall this is a sweet little number driven by almost over-ripe fruit than its other elements. B

2011 Menage a Trois Malbec Mendoza Argentina - A plummy, slightly jammy Malbec, missing the intensity, earth, and black pepper that characterizes the bolder blends. This drinks rather easy, almost like Merlot or a milder Syrah, though the green pepper finish keeps things interesting without becoming bitter (well, almost). B

each $11 to $12 /

Review: 2012 Battistina Gavi DOCG

BATTISTINA Gavi 87x300 Review: 2012 Battistina Gavi DOCGA nice end-of season white wine from Italy, 2012 Battistina Gavi DOCG is made from 100% estate Cortese grapes in Piedmont. A well-balanced white, loaded with floral elements and stone fruit, namely peaches and a touch of apricot. There’s a little pineapple on the finish, too. Modest acidity on a medium body, it all comes together as a refreshing, almost summery white.

A- / $16 / no website

Review: 2010 Charter Oak Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard

 Review: 2010 Charter Oak Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso VineyardThis winery specializes in Zinfandel, including some single vineyard bottlings like this one from the Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma. The wine is a dense and heady (15.0% abv) Zin, loaded with fresh plums, blackberries, and menthol on the nose. The palate is similar, with a touch of liquified milk chocolate, some cedar notes, and plenty of berries. The moderate finish offers balance. This isn’t quite the greatest Zinfandel I’ve ever had, but winemaker Robert Fanucci certainly knows what he’s doing with this troublesome grape.

A- / $48 /

Review: 2011 HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon California

HC CabBeauty 225x300 Review: 2011 HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon CaliforniaCheryl Indelicato is the curernt queen of the long-running Indelicato empire, best known for its Delicato wine brand — one which was recently retired and relaunched as Domino. Among a dozen or so wines the family produces is this new bottling, HandCraft, another value project with Indelicato’s personal stamp all over it. A range of four wines is offered. We received the Cabernet only for review.

This simple Cab (75% aged in oak 4-6 months, 25% in stainless) is blended with a bit of Petite Sirah and Sangiovese. Very, very light body. Fruity with dense strawberry character, without a hint of wood to it. Some mint touches are evident on the edges.

The nose does hint at some earthy terroir, but it’s all but absent in the body, where that layered berry fruit takes hold. It’s quite a sweet wine, with a long and somewhat syrupy finish. Definitely a wine that should do well with the value segment, though it’s too blown-out for my tastes.

C / $12 /

Review: Wines of MacMurray Ranch, 2013 Releases

MacMurray Ranch 2011 R. River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750ml 88x300 Review: Wines of MacMurray Ranch, 2013 ReleasesWe just covered MacMurray Ranch a few months ago, now three more bottlings are hitting the market. Thoughts follow.

2012 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley – Lots of green beans on the initial nose, but this fades a bit as the wine warms up. It ultimately reveals lemon, some pineapple, and some mango notes, with a brisk acidity to back it up. Touches of cinnamon and vanilla behind that. It’s an easy drinking wine, but the overall body is a bit too forward, and the balance slightly akimbo. B / $20

2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A pleasant and very light Pinot, with pleasant and simple raspberry aromas and flavors at the core. Cherries, fruit punch, just a hint of tobacco. Incredibly easy drinking, almost to the point where it comes across as watery. B+ / $28

2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Central Coast - Easy to drink, difficult to describe much about why. This is a strawberry-light wine, sweet and easy and full of life, but not a lot of nuance. Some green olive and mild cedar character is evident, but otherwise it’s berry-land all the way. That’s not a bad thing, though, particularly at 20 bones. B+ / $20

Review: 2010 Cliff Lede Landslide Fire Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 LandslideFire 96x300 Review: 2010 Cliff Lede Landslide Fire Stags Leap District Cabernet SauvignonUltra-high-end California producer Cliff Lede produces this limited edition bottling, but don’t go looking for the name on the label. Landslide Fire takes center stage. Cliff Lede is relegated to the tiny type on the back label copy.

A bland of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec from Napa’s Stags Leap District, this is a big wine that is nonetheless surprisingly ready to go only three years after harvest.

Tons of fresh American oak on this, with an immediate nose of lumberyard and pencil shavings. Beneath that: blackcurrants, some blackberry, tobacco, and black pepper. The body is similar, but surprisingly restrained on fruit. It’s the tannins that hit you hard. The first sip is mouth-puckering and withering. After some time in air (and perhaps a slight chill to the bottle), things even out and some of that fruit is revealed. But it’s quite manhandled by the wood, leaving behind a sawdust character that only adds to the tannin profile. At this price, I’d like to see more balance.

B+ / $95 /

Review: Wines of Domaines Paul Mas, 2011 Vintage

Paul Mas Estate Malbec without hills 200x300 Review: Wines of Domaines Paul Mas, 2011 VintageDomaines Paul Mas hails from France’s Languedoc region, the largest winemaking region in the world, where a nearly infinite variety of wines can be found. Languedoc wines are also often very inexpensive, as the price tags on the three wines tasted below will confirm.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard – The nose offers roasted meats and overripe plum notes. The body is similar, but quite earthy, a little musty even. The finish tries to come back with some jamminess, but never quite pulls it all together. B- / $12

2011 Paul Mas Estate Coteaux du Languedoc Clos des Mures – A dusty, undercooked wine (mostly Syrah), something you’d get as the “house red” at your local bistro. Ultimately harmless, but so unmemorable with its brambly undertones and chunky, unrefined finish. C- / $15

2011 Paul Mas Estate Malbec Gardemiel Vineyard – Easily the best of the lot, though this surprisingly easygoing Malbec doesn’t exactly make a statement on the palate. Pleasant and fruity with muted cherry and light tobacco notes, the body comes on late and leaves early. A simple, gulp-it-back wine to go with everyday food, it’s hard not to like but far from loveable. B+ / $13

Review: 2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

 Review: 2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyAnother solid and wholly drinkable Cab from Montelena, one of California’s grande dames of Napa Cabernet.

This newly released 2010 bottling is ready to go, full of juicy black currants, tea leaf, a touch of chocolate, and plenty of fruit. All the ripe berries are classic characteristics of Montelena, but as with the 2009, there’s ample restraint here that keeps the wine from blowing out with fruit. It’s a really lovely wine, with great balance and a smooth, supple finish. No complaints here.

91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. 13.9% abv.

A / $50 /

Tasting Report: Wines of Paso Robles, 2013 Releases

Paso Robles is an interesting and surprisingly varied winegrowing region, and recently I had the opportunity to taste through wines from a number of winemakers based in this mid-California coastal region.

From Albarino to Petite Sirah, these wines are all over the map, but they share one thing in common: the toasty environment of Paso in their DNA.

Thoughts on all wines tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Wines of Paso Robles, Grand Tasting Tour 2013

2010 Alta Colina Old 900 / $48 / B+ / licorice, charcoal, some dusky cherry (95% Syrah)
2010 Alta Colina Toasted Slope Syrah / $38 / B+ / dense, more raisin character here, some woodiness
2010 Ancient Peaks Renegade / $23 / B / very juicy, bit of dust (Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot)
2010 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge / $50 / B / a bit of stone fruit on the back end (Bordeaux blend)
2012 Burbank Ranch Summertime Grenache Blanc / $34 / B+ / floral, big body, some earth
2012 Burbank Ranch Summer Moon Sauvignon Blanc / $28 / A- / lemony, very tart, lots of acid
2010 Burbank Ranch Fortunate Sun Cabernet Sauvignon / $36 / B+ / light, lovely body with flowers and strawberries
2010 Cass Cabernet Sauvignon / $45 / C+ / very vegetal nose, green body, less funky on the finish
2011 Clayhouse Estate Cuvee Blanc / $23 / B / from the top supplier of table grapes in the US; fairly buttery, not too fruity
2011 DAOU Grenache Blanc / $36 / B+ / lots of butterscotch and caramel, minimal acid
2010 DAOU Petite Sirah / $32 / A- / big chocolate character with some coconut
2010 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon / $32 / B / a bit of cough syrup sweetness (blended with Malbec and Merlot)
2010 Halter Ranch Ancestor / $50 / B / really minty, herbal and thick (Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Malbec)
2009 J. Lohr Cuvee POM / $50 / A / inspired by left bank/Pomeral wines; great blend, lovely balance with chocolate notes
2009 J. Lohr Cuvee St. E / $50 / B / inspired by St. Emelion; more tart, lighter body
2009 J. Lohr Cuvee PAU / $50 / B+ / inspired by Pauillac; modest, age-worthy, with some smoke
2010 L’Aventure Optimus / $45 / A- / intense, lots of body, plums and some smoke (55% Syrah, Cab, Petit Verdot)
2010 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee / $85 / A / dark and deep, dense with cocoa and complexity (42% Surah, 42% Cab, 16% Petit Verdot)
2010 Proulx Dimples / $40 / A / lots of distinct fig notes, very intriguing (Grenache, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, etc.)
2011 Silver Horse Albarino / $27 / B+ / much citrus, some herbal bits
2009 Venteux Cabernet Sauvignon / $48 / B+ / some tartness, cherry, lots of berries, bits of tobacco
2009 Venteux Petite Sirah / $46 / C / minty nose, then over-sweetened on the back end

Review: Wines of Balverne, 2013 Releases

balverne pinot noir 279x300 Review: Wines of Balverne, 2013 ReleasesBalverne was a well-known wine brand in the 1980s, making estate wines on its Russian River Valley property since 1972. The vineyard changed hands in 1992 and winemaking stopped, the grapes instead being sold to other winemakers. Now Balverne is back, beginning again in 2005 under the name Windsor Oaks — and now as its original moniker, Balverne.

How do the new Balverne wines stack up? Here’s a look at the new lineup.

2012 Balverne Rose of Sangiovese Chalk Hill – I never find much love in Sangiovese roses. A little green and brambly, which is a shame considering the otherwise intriguing strawberry notes that are hinted at on the nose. Short finish. B- / $20

2012 Balverne Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley – Light grapefruit on the nose, more apple on the body. Lightly brambly, particularly on the finish, which feels a little gritty. A relatively easy Chardonnay, but not an earth-shaker. B / $25

2012 Balverne Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – Very tart, lots of very fresh grapefruit character, with a touch of lemon. For lovers of heavily acidic wines, this one does the job, even throwing in a touch of salted caramel when the finish comes ’round. A- / $25

2010 Balverne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Modest Pinot Noir, with notes of black tea and raspberry jam. Good overall character, but a little flabby on the body, which could use a bump of extra tartness. B / $35

Tasting Report: 2011 Vintage Port (and Beyond)

One of the can’t-miss wine experiences of any year is the roadshow during which the new Vintage Ports are poured. Of course, these don’t happen every year. The last major one was the 2009 vintage, released two years ago.

Overall, 2011 is a standout, the first great Vintage Port year since 2003 — which, on the whole, is showing really well today. In fact, Taylor Fladgate’s standard 2011 bottling was one of the best wines I encountered in the entire event. We’ll probably see 2007 continue to develop, but for now it remains a bit closed off.

Thoughts on all wines tasted follow, in reverse chronological/vintage order.

Tasting Report: The 2011 Vintage Port Declaration

2011 Croft Vintage Port / A- / fruit forward, some incense, very fruity
2011 Fonseca Vintage Port / B+ / bigger, more body, some licorice and dark chocolate
2011 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B+ / slightly fishy nose, fruit overwhelmed by an earthy body, some bottle variation evident
2011 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional / A- / better balance here, strong tannin, big backbone, lots of life
2011 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B+ / some floral notes on the nose, long body, slightly green but fresh berry notes
2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / A / ample tannin, pretty violets, candied ginger, cassis; lots of depth
2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port Vargellas Vinha Velha / B- / really pumped up violets/floral notes, but at the expense of body and balance; tasted twice
2009 Croft Vintage Port / B+ / straightforward, if a bit flabby
2009 Fonseca Vintage Port / B+ / juicy, lots of berries, very sweet
2009 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / B+ / minty, light body, some floral notes
2008 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B+ / unusual mint notes, long and lush
2008 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B / somewhat pruny, blueberry popsicles
2007 Croft Vintage Port / B+ / tea notes, somewhat unbalanced finish
2007 Fonseca Vintage Port / B+ / consistent from year to year; bright jam, currants, fresh fruit
2007 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B / not showing a lot of nuance yet
2007 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B+ / lean, some incense notes licorice on the back end
2007 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / B+ / curious cola notes, more mint and flowers
2004 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / A- / classic light menthol, licorice, chocolate on the finish
2004 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port / B+ / first vintage; some tannin here, brambles
2004 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port Vargellas Vinha Velha / A- / nice mint notes, quite mild, complex finish offers cola, licorice, cocoa nibs
2003 Croft Vintage Port / A / a favorite of the tasting; intense, hugely floral, powerful and deep; tea and pepper notes deep in the recesses
2003 Fonseca Vintage Port / A- / silky and smoothing out, lush, balanced
2003 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port / B+ / very fruity, lively, some sweatiness on the nose
2003 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional / B+ / pretty fruit, jasmine, light sandalwood; finish is still with tannin and some astringency
2003 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port / B+ / super light body, already fading? Some blackberry, tea leaf, cola

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

Our friends at Winebow, a major wine importer, host this event on a fairly annual basis, bringing some of the biggest names in Italian wine (and a little grappa) to the States for tasting and consideration. In addition, some virtually unknown brands, looking for distribution in the U.S., are made available, too. Prices below are wholesale. As always, thoughts follow on everything tasted.

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

2009 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT / $17 / B+ / slightly green
2009 Allegrini La Grola Veronese IGT / $23 / A- / fresh, nice body
2007 Allegrini La Poja Corvina Veronese IGT / $68 / A / gorgeous nose, brilliant minerals
2008 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC / $67 / A / dense, cocoa, cofee, complex
2010 Altesino Rosso di Altesino Toscana IGT / $16 / B / fresh, earth meets fruit
2010 Altesino Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $24 / B / similar, some green notes, bitter finish
2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $55 / B / nose is off, heavy herbs and olive
2011 Fattoria Le Pupille Morellino di Scansano DOCG / $17 / A- / lively, pretty fruit, light herbs
2008 Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Valente Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG / $43 / A- / licorice, chunky chocolate notes
2009 Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi Maremma IGT / $103 / A / classic Super Tuscan, no complaints
2010 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC / $11 / A- / complex for a young wine, some jam, herbal touches,
2008 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC 50th Vendemmia / $13 / B+ / much more wood here, clinging to a fruity core
2010 Maculan Brentino Veneto IGT / $16 / B / light, enjoyable, fresh herbs
2010 Maculan Palazzotto Cabernet Sauvignon Breganze DOC / $26 / A- / nice balance, great everyday drinker, versatile
2009 Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT / $73 / A- / elegant, beautiful structure, fruit meets charcoal, roasted meats
2010 San Polo Rubio Toscana IGT / $13 / B- / heavy earth, tannic
2010 San Polo Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $20 / B- / similar, unripe
2008 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $65 / B- / green and tough
2010 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Borgo Syrah Cortona DOC / $18 / A- / lovely, fresh fruit and berry notes
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Il Bosco Syrah Cortona DOC / $50 / A- / old vines; some licorice and chocolate
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Migliara Syrah Cortona DOC / $74 / B+ / inky, almost like an Australian Shiraz in style
2011 Tua Rita Rosso dei Notri Toscana IGT / $20 / B / slight tannin, raspberries, plummy core
2009 Tua Rita Giusto di Notri Toscana IGT / $67 / A- / intense, fennel and cedar, tar, herbs follow


Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Bianca / $41 / A- / powerful nose, surprisingly fruity body, lemon and citrus, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Riserva / $49 / B+ / wood doesn’t add much to this grappa, a touch of vanilla, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Tagliatella / $41 / B / strong cherry, bittersweet; marketed as an alternative to Campari, 70 proof
Nardini Grappa Acqua di Cedro Liqueur / $41 / B+ / like limoncello without the color, light herbal notes
Nardini Grappa Amaro / $34 / A- / slight mint, almonds, licorice touches; bitter finish, good balance

Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2013

Another standout Pinot Days this year, still going strong despite some continued economic setbacks and other wine events that seem to be shrinking. Top picks include wines from Bailiwick, Domaine Serene (Oregon), Sequana, Sojourn, and Waits-Mast. Hard though to go wrong with Kosta Browne, pouring here on a rare public showing. Favorite line overheard while waiting to be served at this ultra-busy booth: “I don’t even know what we’re waiting for.”

Notes follow.

Complete Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2013

2010 Bailiwick Borderline Pinot Noir / A- / lots of aromatics
2010 Bailiwick Foray Pinot Noir / B+ / a touch musty
2010 Bailiwick Silver Pines Pinot Noir / A / lots of body, intense
2011 Bonneau Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir / B / some carmael notes, sweetish finish
2010 Egret Pinot Noir / B- / lots of chocolate, lean body (Bonneau’s second label)
2008 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley / A- / fresh apples and spice
2009 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir Willamette Valley / A / tobacco notes, big and earthy
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Azaya Ranch Marin Pinot Noir / A- / unique, fresh mint
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Emerald Ridge Pinot Noir / B+ / huge, lots of fruit
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Fox Den Pinot Noir / A- / interesting balance
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Angel Camp Pinot Noir / A- /
2010 Expression 44 Eola-Amity Hills Zena Crown Pinot Noir / B- / thin
2010 Expression 44 Eola-Amity Hills Roserock Pinot Noir / B / earthier
2010 Expression 38 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir / A- / much different, better structure
2011 Goldeneye Decoy / B / light, fresh
2011 Goldeneye Migration / A- / good balance, lots of fruit
2010 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir / A- / chocolate notes, huge body
2011 Hilliard-Bruce Sun Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills / A- / big and spicy, mild finish
2010 Hilliard-Bruce Sun Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills / B+ / somewhat less structure, big bramble notes
2010 Hilliard-Bruce Moon Pinot Noir / A / beautiful wine, floral and fresh
2011 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir / B / fine but lean
2010 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Robert Thomas Vineyard / B+ / sturdier, fruit is muted
2009 Kessler-Hawk Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir / B / tart, quite dry
2010 Kessler-Hawk Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir / B / minty, big body
2010 Kessler-Hawk Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir Clone 2A / B /
2010 Kessler-Hawk Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir Pommard / B- / unripe
2011 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir / A / light and peppery
2011 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir / A / really beautiful, silky with chocolate notes
2011 La Rochelle Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir / B+ / Burgundy style, some earth
2011 La Rochelle Vander Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir / B+ / easy fruit, opening up
2010 Sequana Russian River Valley Pinot Noir / A / dense berries, very lush,
2010 Sequana Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Sundawg Ridge / A- / lots more tart cherry, with a slightly tougher body
2011 Sojourn Ridgetop Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir / A- / lots going on, cocoa, big fruity body
2011 Sojourn Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir / A / beautiful balance, lovely body, some menthol
2011 Sojourn Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / lovely structure
2010 Sojourn Beckstoffer Vineyard George III Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford / A- / cheating to bring a Cab to Pinot (sold as “dark pinot” to passers-by), long finish, Port-like, nuts, dark chocolate
2012 Waits-Mast Rose Mendocino / A- / brisk, lively
2010 Waits-Mast Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir / A- / lots of fruit, intense
2009 Waits-Mast Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir / A / bold and fun
2010 Woodenhead Wet Kiss Pinot Noir / A- / don’t mind the awful label, this cute wine is filled with dark chocolate notes
2010 Woodenhead Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Cinder Cone / B+ / long finish, mint and tannin
2009 Woodenhead Wiley Vineyard Pinot Noir / A- / pretty, nice balance

Review: Flora Springs 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Trilogy

flora springs trilogy 70x300 Review: Flora Springs 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 TrilogyOne of the old guard, reliable names of California wine country, Flora Springs has been putting out quality wine since the ’70s. New vintages of two of its signature bottlings are just now hitting the market. We got to try them. Thoughts follow.

2012 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Oakville Napa Valley Soliloquy Vineyard – Extremely sour and heavy in acid. Challenging even for a Sauvignon Blanc lover, with notes of grapefruit, lemon oil, and a healthy slug of pepe du chat. A little pineapple on the finish adds nuance. B / $25

2010 Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley – 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 4% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc — not exactly the “trilogy” of grapes that the name refers to, but who’s counting, eh? A modest wine, with mild chocolate notes, some wood, and a nicely herbal backbone — licorice, some tobacco, some cedar plank character. It’s easily drinkable but missing out on weight in the body. B+ / $75

Review: Breggo Aromatic Whites, 2012 Vintage

Three new aromatic white wines from Breggo, located in California’s Anderson Valley. Get ‘em while there’s something left of summer.

2012 Breggo Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – Light, with floral aromatics that fade into tropical fruit notes — pineapple, some peaches — in short order. A fresh but uncomplicated palate cleanser, with a surprisingly long and fruity finish. B+

2012 Breggo Pinot Gris Anderson Valley – An easy wine, tropical, lots of pineapple, with a lemon back-end. Ample aromatics on the nose — perfumy, but not overly heavy. A really short finish invites repeated sipping and investigation, but this is a fantastic wine that vanishes far too quickly. 

2012 Breggo Riesling Anderson Valley – Quite perfumy and sweet, but surprisingly creamy for a Riesling. Lots of tropical notes on this one, a pineapple core with lemon custard on top. Bright acidity, but the lemon finish feels a touch overpowering. A-

each $25 /

Review: Winemaker Judit Llop’s New Wines from Priorat and Monsant

mas de subira 79x300 Review: Winemaker Judit Llops New Wines from Priorat and MonsantOne of the new guard winemakers of Spain, Judit Llop is in charge of a variety of wines from the Priorat and Monsant region, both in the northeasternmost region of Spain. I didn’t get to meet Llop on her most recent visit here, but she was kind enough to send along her newest wines, which includes two new labels: Mas de Subirà from Priorat and Garbó from Montsant.

Thoughts follow.

2012 Garbó Rosat Montsant – The first Priorat rose I’ve ever had, this is a racy rose with a lot going on. It starts with big strawberry notes, then quickly segues into floral character. A few vegetal notes on the back end mar an otherwise racy little wine. B / $16

2009 Morlanda Crianca Priorat – Fragrant and floral, with modest fruit notes. This is a wine that’s all about balance, a well structured sipper with a complex mess of flavors that work really well together. After the more flowery notes fade, I get light balsamic vinegar notes, fresh cedar, rosemary, all wrapped around a plum and cherry core. Really lovely wine. 60% Garnacha, 30% Cariñena, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A- / $44

2010 Mas de Subira Priorat – Initially a little off-putting, overwhelming with violet, seaweed, and roasted meat notes. Things settle down a bit with time, but not much. The rough-hewn, charcoal-infused body is no match for some delicate floral notes that come across, almost, on the back end, but which are drowned out by licorice and wood notes. B- / $22

2011 Garbó Negre Montsant – Fresh, plenty of bright cherry fruit on this wine, fresh but not overpowering thanks to plenty of acidity up front. Not a terrible amount of nuance — some floral notes — but difficult not to enjoy. 50% Syrah, 30% Tempranillo, 20% Merlot. B+ / $18

Review: Uproot Sauvignon Blancs

uproot gray 121x300 Review: Uproot Sauvignon BlancsUproot is a brand new wine label that is launching with just two varietals: Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache Blanc. Exceedingly unconventional, Uproot offers one of very few Sauvignon Blancs that is aged in oak barrels: 47 percent one year old French Barrels, 44 percent French Oak puncheons, and nine percent stainless steel.

Here’s how the inaugural Sauvignon Blanc bottlings shake out.

2011 Uproot Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – A whiff of ammonia on the nose leads to a crisp and refreshingly tart body. Crisp grasses and a touch of lemon peel take you into a light, hay-infused finish. Not at all tropical or overly fruity, this wine is a fresh and easy aperitif, perhaps a little too modest for its own good. B+ / $42

2011 Uproot Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Gray Edition – Aged in oak for nine months longer than the standard bottling. Beautiful wine. Here we have a moderate to big body, typical of Chardonnay, but tamped down with the acid of Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, with melon, pineapple, and lemon notes, the finish is lightly grassy like the non-Gray version, but quite refreshing. Unexpected for a Sauv Blanc (right down to the 2/3-size bottle) but surprisingly drinkable. A- / $44 (500ml)

Review: 2010 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

pina napa valley 142x300 Review: 2010 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonsWe’ve long been fans of Pina, one of Napa’s undersung wineries. This year, the winery has again provided a solid slate of four single-vineyard Cabernets for our tasting pleasure. While the 2010 crop initially appears uneven (at least at this point), you will find some tasty gems in store for you.

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley D’Adamo Vineyard – A very mild wine for Pina. Some tobacco on the nose, slightly green on the body. Light body. Clear Cabernet character in the form of strong blackcurrant, but not enough power to back it up. B / $75

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Wolff Vineyard – Big wood on this, pencil shavings and coal dust on the nose. Restrained fruit and some greenery follow. Again, a lighter body, though more tart and less jammy than the D’Adamo bottling. B+ / $85

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard – A bit sweaty on the nose. As you drink it reveals very tough, almost unripe plums, green pepper, and heavy tobacco on the finish. Never really comes together. B- / $85

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Firehouse Vineyard – Easily the big hit in this collection, a huge and plum-filled Cabernet that brings it all home. Wood is modest, the currants of ripe, and the silky tannins mingle with light chocolate notes on the finish to really build to a powerful finale. Total redemption for some wines that otherwise don’t quite get there this vintage. This was a barrel tasting highlight a few years ago… Pina knew it already! A / $85

Review: Gallo Signature Series Wines, 2013 Releases

Gallo Signature Series 100x300 Review: Gallo Signature Series Wines, 2013 ReleasesGallo is one of the best-known wine brands in the world, but it makes more than jug wines designed for family reunion picnics. A lot more. The Gallo Signature Series, made by Gina Gallo (granddaughter of Julio), are all small-release wines designed to compete with the top shelf. The 2013 releases, covering the basics of California, are just now arriving. Thoughts follow.

2011 Gallo Signature Series Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Burly and oaky, a traditional, wood-forward Chardonnay with plenty of buttery, nutty underpinnings. Missing out on balance, it goes more vegetal than fruity, although a moderate apple and marshmallow character on the finish offers a pleasant finale. B / $30

2011 Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – A modest Pinot, with reasonable cherry and strawberry notes. Some smokiness and wood, laced with a little green pepper and licorice… actually all coming together in a way that works reasonably well, alongside a little menthol kick that develops on the nose as the wine opens up. What it lacks in body (which is a lot), this wine offers in character. B+ / $35

2010 Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - The best of the lot, a 98% Cab (2% Petit Verdot) wine that is easy to drink (though quite high in alcohol at 14.8%). Fresh red berries play with light vanilla and wood barrel notes, creating a pleasant, if simple overall experience. The finish is long and lightly sweet, offering fresh mint and gingerbread notes on the back end. B+ / $40

Tasting Report: 2012 California Cabernet Sauvignon

The California Cabernet Society’s annual barrel tasting event has gotten smaller over the last few years, but that’s afforded guests more time to visit with each winery, and the chance to taste through some older vintages (something I rarely have the time for at the more exhaustive/exhausting events).

2012 Cabernet was the focus of this recent show, and while most of these wines won’t hit the market until next year, it’s already shaping up to be a curious vintage for California. Very light tannins are the order of the day — it’s one of the most delicate Cab years in recent memory. For wineries that know how to work with this lighter structure, magic is in the air. For those insistent on creating heavy, ultra-ripe wines, many are coming across as overcooked.

Thoughts follow on all wines tasted. Remember: Comments on all 2012 wines relate to barrel samples. Older vintages are production bottlings.

Tasting Report: 2012 California Cabernet Sauvignon (and older vintages)

2012 Ackerman Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / lots of dried herbs, young
2008 Ackerman Cabernet Sauvignon / A / drinking well, lively fruit
2005 Ackerman Cabernet Sauvignon / B- / weedy, some oxidation
2012 Adelaida Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / huge jam, blackberry, tar
2009 Adelaida Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / very fruity, lots of tobacco
2012 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 George III Vineyard / B+ / blackberry cobbler
2010 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 George III Vineyard / B / already showing age
2012 Blue Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Best Barrels / B / some chocolate notes, modest
2009 Briar Rose Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / youthful, fresh, perfumy
2012 Cain Concept / C / a mild body, some stinkiness
2012 Cain Five / C- / intense barnyard, par for the course
2012 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon / B / unfinished/not final blend; fresh and up front, short finish
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon / A / lovely balance of fruit and perfume
2009 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon / A / drinking beautifully now
2009 Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone / A / intense, a knockout full of intense tobacco, cedar, and black fruit
2012 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill / A+ / another knockout, loaded with fruit, earth, wood, and more; killer
2010 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill / A / maturing, ample earth, plenty of tannin
2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon / B / simple
2010 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon / B / lots of jam
2010 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon / B / heavy flowers, light fruit
2007 Hagafen Prix Reserve / B / similar notes
2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon / B / blueberry and strawberry notes, very very light
2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / lots of floral elements, quite perfumy and, again, light on its toes
2012 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / fresh, lots of acid
2012 Kenefick Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon / B / earthy, peppery kick, some barnyard
2012 Linked Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley / B+ / big fruit, classic structure
2008 Linked Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley / B- / somewhat green, over-earthed
2012 Louis M. Martini Monte Rosso / A- / big, lots of promise ahead
2008 Louis M. Martini Monte Rosso / A- / drinking very well, lovely berry overtones
2012 Mario Bazan Cabernet Sauvignon / A / lots of lavender, showing well, perfume meets flowers
2009 Mario Bazan Cabernet Sauvignon / A- / light and floral
2012 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / B+ / big fruit, red berries
2012 Rocca Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / drinking well, straightforward
2012 Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon Cherry Block / A- / nice fruit (cherries, even?), strawberry notes
2010 Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon Cherry Block / A- / slightly more herbal, long finish
2011 Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / barrel sample; tight, a bit of a mystery now
2012 Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / heavy acid, wood beneath that
2010 Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon Lineage / B+ / ample herbal character, good acid
2009 Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon Lineage / B+ / very youthful
2012 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / still cooking, lots of promise but some barnyard here
2008 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon / B / heavier with a menthol kick
2012 Terlato Cabernet Sauvignon / C+ / very young, all jam and some marshmallow notes
2012 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Mario’s Vineyard / B+ / heavy chocolate, ample tannin
2009 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Mario’s Vineyard / B+ / still young, similar notes
2012 Viader Cabernet Sauvignon / A / big body, chewy but tart, chocolate and raspberry a-plenty
2008 Viader Cabernet Sauvignon / A- / some meat here, cocoa, lots of herbs
2012 Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / herbal, good fruit at the core
2012 ZD Wines Cabernet Sauvignon / A- / black and blueberry, lots of fruit
2009 ZD Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / A- / lots of complexity, menthol, tobacco, herbs … a little weird, actually