Three new winter releases from Smith-Madrone, located at the top of Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain.
2012 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Napa Valley Spring Mountain District – Buttery, with strong notes of vanilla and nuts. Not much in the way of a surprise here, with modest pear and lemon notes duking it out with that big, brown butter back end. Ultimately there’s a bit too much wood on this traditionally styled California Chardonnay for my tastes, but it’s a fair enough sipper in the right context. B / $32
2013 Smith-Madrone Riesling Napa Valley Spring Mountain District – Fresh, moderately sweet Riesling, this bottling offers notes of honey and candied apple, with notes of honeysuckle flowers. The floral notes lend a perfumed, but fresh, character to the finish. A- / $27
2011 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Spring Mountain District - Solid, but uncomplicated, with notes of green olive studding simple cassis and raspberry notes. Modest finish, with more fresh, savory herbs coming to the fore. A solid effort. B+ / $48
Three new offerings from Portugal’s Esporao, new releases from the company’s Reserva line as well as its Quinta dos Murcas Reserva offering. Some thoughts follow.
2011 Esporao Reserva Red DOC Alentejo – Made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes, including aragonez, trincadeira, cabernet sauvignon, and alicante bouchet. Incredibly dense, this wine starts with licorice notes and jumps straight down an earthy, leathery hole. The wine simply doesn’t let up, finishing dry as dust, with a raisiny character and a tannic, brambly back-end. B- / $25
2013 Esporao Reserva White DOC Alentejo – A blend of antão vaz, roupeiro, perrum, and semillon. Bold, buttery, and honeyed, this wine is packed with ultra-ripe fruit — rich and sweet like a Sauternes — but without the unctuous body. That sweetness makes it a bit much for food, but the pushy fruitiness is fun enough in its own right. B / $20
2010 Esporao Quinta dos Murcas Reserva DOC Douro – This blend of old vine tinta roriz, tinta amarela, tinta barroca , touriga nacional, touriga francesa, and sousão is a cut above the other wines in this roundup. Simple red berry and currant notes slide their way into more complexity — tea leaf, coffee bean, and some savory herbs — but all wrapped up in a rounded, mature body. There’s the slightest hint of vinegary oxidation on the very back end, which lends a touch of austerity and maturity to what might otherwise be a too-simple wine. It’s working surprisingly well right about now. A- / $40
This grenache hails from McLaren Vale in South Australia. Those expecting the typical, Australian sugar bomb might be pleasantly surprised to find ample restraint here: Touches of strawberry and blueberry up front lead to a silky core that integrates mild notes of spun sugar to the mix. The end result is slightly sweet, but still balanced thanks to its focus on the fruit, and it’s surprisingly food friendly.
574 cases produced.
B+ / $32 / yangarra.com
We previously reviewed two wines (including the first two wines discussed below) in our coverage of Tuscany-based Frescobaldi, one of the royal families of Italian winemaking. In a recent online tasting with the family, we were led through a guided look at four of their current releases. All four are 90% to 100% sangiovese-based wines, but each comes with a much different terroir, aging regimen, and end result. Some thoughts on the four wines tasted follow.
2010 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Nipozzano – Solid cherry with some bright acid, with notes of dark chocolate and coffee bean. Very herbal on the finish, with notes of rosemary and thyme. Quite drying but a clean, pure expression of Chainti. A- / $20
2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Nipozzano Vecchie Viti – Bolder, with more balsamic character up front, and a more brooding, pungency underneath. The finish remains tougher and denser than the standard bottling, but quite food friendly. B+ / $30
2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Montesodi – An estate selection of the Frescobaldi sangiovese harvest. Really lovely on the nose, with notes of both fruit and perfumed florals. Bright and lush, the body folds together cherries and chocolate sauce into a balanced and complex whole, presenting notes of tea leaf, bay leaf, and mint leaf. Lots of leaves. A / $40
2008 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Castelgiocondo – A gorgeous wine, with a nose of chocolate covered cherries and a body that approaches the density of Port. Big and chewy, with touches of dried figs and black tea. Waves of vanilla wash ashore on the finish. Quite a wine, but definitely worth reserving for a special, meat-heavy meal. A- / $75
We’ve covered Flora Springs on a number of occasions — this is our third roundup this year alone. Here’s some new releases to get the new year going for ya.
2013 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley – Very traditional — with heavy oak influence bringing tons of vanilla custard to the table — with just a touch of lemon peel coming forward on the front of the palate. The body is almost oily in texture, the finish loaded with sweetness that makes for an underwhelming experience either solo or with food. Overwhelmingly average in today’s wine world. C / $24
2012 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Traditional and straightforward, with a big plum attack and a sweetish currant finish. Not much in the way of secondary notes, except a slug of vanilla on the back side. Fine, if unchallenging. B / $40
Pampelonne’s new sangria comes in a can instead of a bottle for a reason. This new brand, made with French wines as a base, is lightly sparkling, which gives sangria a neat, new dimension. Available in 250ml mini-cans, these two varieties — one red, one (very pale) rose — are bottled at an easy-to-guzzle 6% abv. Thoughts follow.
Pampelonne Red Sangria – Made with grenache, syrah, and merlot. Pleasant, clearly made with a light-bodied wine. Notes of lemon peel and orange rind are present but not overdone. The fruit in the wine balances well with the added fruit, giving it a fresh but simple composition that seems tailor-made for summertime. B
Pampelonne Rose Lime – 100% Loire muscadet. A pretty pink color… but the nose says something else. Woody and a little funky, there’s a pungency here that just doesn’t seem right. The body offers a muted, artificial-tasting lime note, with a kind of woody element to the back end. While the Sangria is fresh and breezy, the Rose Lime isn’t nearly as fun. C
each $5 (250ml) / enjoypampelonne.com
This new blend comes from the Delicato family, and it’s a bit of a mutt of a wine: Five grape varieties (not sure which) from all over northern California go into an inky, deep purple, super-fruity concoction. Initially overpowering, it does open up to reveal more charming layers underneath its up-front punch — muddled blackberry, dark chocolate chunks, some walnut meat, beef jerky, and ample notes of wood. The big body and almost pungent finish doesn’t turn the wine into a sugar bomb (thankfully), but it does try to push this wine into competition with more austere bottlings. I’m not sure it gets there, but it’s a nice effort.
B- / $25 / delicato.com
If you’ve ever had a glass of Port, you’ve probably had Graham’s Six Grapes, an ubiquitous Ruby Port that is lush, easy-drinking, and cheap — making it a nice choice for everyday after-dinner sipping.
Now Graham’s is giving Six Grapes an upgrade with a new special edition bottling, Special Old Vines Edition. Graham’s explains:
It has been over a hundred years since the famous Six Grapes motif was first used on a bottle of fine Port, our winemakers at W & J Graham, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton, have decided to bottle a small quantity of a special wine made exclusively from the oldest vines on Graham’s five Quintas. The presentation of this special edition Six Grapes Old Vines Port pays homage to the original Six Grapes label that helped make the wine famous so many years ago. This wine will only be available in very limited quantities.
The wine is a winner. The intense raisin and prune notes of standard edition Six Grapes are pushed aside here to make room for more of a chocolate character. It still features classic raisiny Port notes, but in the Special Edition these take on a more gentle, less sour quality. The nose features touches of dried savory herbs, the body is laced with notes of gingerbread and cinnamon. Amazing in its depth, the wine is both fun to really dig into and explore but also incredibly easy to drink.
Only 500 cases have been made, so if this is up your alley, snap Graham’s Six Grapes Special Edition up!
A / $42 / grahams-port.com
These three new releases hail from Santa Rosa-based Sojourn. The wines themselves are made from grapes sourced all the Northern California wine country. Thoughts follow.
2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Big and buttery on the nose, and the body largely follows suit. Subtle notes of melon, tropical fruits, and tart gooseberry percolate on the tongue — but it’s that almost overbearing wood-and-vanilla character that sticks with you on the finish, and for a long while after. B / $48
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley – A lush, rounded Pinot, typical of what you see from the Russian River. Lush cherry and raspberry get a lick of black pepper, some fruit-infused tea, and hints of lychee on the back end. Dangerously drinkable. A- / $48
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Quite a strange expression of Pinot, dense to the point of being almost raisiny on the nose, with some overtones of lavender and wet earth. The body is equally punchy, taking an almost Port-like body and lacing it with vegetal character and more of that wet earth. Needs more acidity — or perhaps just some more bottle time — to bring out the fruit in the grapes. B+ / $59
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard Sonoma Coast – A fresh, classic Pinot, this one’s firing almost perfectly. Fresh cherry mingles with touches of black pepper, while the finish sweetens things up a tad with notes of strawberry. Perfect balance with just the right mix of acidity and oomph. Hard to put down. A / $54
It’s Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not Prosecco. Franciacorta is a DOCG area in the north of Italy, to the west of the Veneto, where most Prosecco is produced. While Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, Franciacorta is largely Chardonnay-based, with some Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco, depending on the producer.
Berlucchi ’61, despite the name, is a nonvintage sparkler made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. The nose offers apple fruit, with touches of bread and yeast. The body starts off extremely — almost oppressively — so dry, it comes off as almost bitter. The wine opens up with time to reveal lots more fruit, a slightly buttery body, and notes of nutmeg and some citrus peel. Things still end up dry, but with more balance than its attack would indicate.
B+ / $30 / terlatowines.com