Review: Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, 2014 Vintage

479155“Two Lands harnesses the creative power of collaboration by bringing together two award-winning winemakers from opposite sides of the world to create a range of premium and totally unique Australian wines that marry Californian winemaking craft with Australian varietal character.”

Well, let’s see how that pans out.

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio Australia – A bit creamy and buttery for a pinot grigio, but not as tropical as what you might see out of New Zealand. The fruit component veers toward pears with a touch of mango, but the finish is a bit too restrained. B- / $14

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Chardonnay Australia – Quite a surprise, as it’s very aromatic and perfumed on the nose, almost to a grandma’s-bathroom level — unusual for chardonnay. On the tongue, there’s a significantly off-putting overripe melon character that’s paired with a blown-out, artificial-tasting butter flavor (think microwave “double butter flavor” popcorn). The finish has a mouth-coating chemical character to it. Pass. D+ / $14

Review: Left Coast Cellars 2013 Pinot Noir and 2014 White Pinot Noir

Willamette, Oregon-based Left Coast Cellars makes pinot noir — no surprise there — but it comes in two varieties: A standard red cuvee and a white wine. All grapes have white juice of course; the color comes making the wine with the skins. But white varieties of the major red wine grapes are quite rare. Let’s see this one pans out, alongside its standard pinot…

2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Very light body, with fresh berries backed by light floral elements. Secondary character includes a hint of cinnamon, with just a little fresh thyme to back things up. Things turn slightly strange — a bit sweet with more baking spice than I’d like — as the finish builds. Quite drinkable, particularly with food. B+ / $24

2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – There’s a reason they turn pinot noir grapes into red wine, it seems — this white offers some initial grassiness and minerality, but this evolves into a lightly vegetal overtone, with a hint of mushroom character. This evokes a relatively low-end white, but the unique varietal choice makes it more interesting than that simply on a novelty basis. B- / $24

Review: La Quintinye Vermouth Royal – Complete Lineup

la quintinye Vermouth Rouge JBLQ HQThis line of French artisanal vermouths is newly available in the United States. Fans of the aromatic wine, be it straight up or in cocktails, should definitely pick up a bottle or two or three.

This is a modern style of vermouth, complex and a bit avant garde in its production. La Quintinye is made with 18 to 28 aromatics (I’m not going to list them all here, check out their website for details) depending on the variety, plus a blend of white wines (yes, white is used for all three versions). Uniquely fortifying the mix is Pineau des Charentes (color varying depending on the variety), a fortified “wine” that blends unfermented grape juice with Cognac, which is then aged in oak barrels.

We tried all three varieties and present our reviews for your consideration.

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Extra Dry – Vibrant yellow, with a nose of bittersweet herbs, some honey, various citrus peels, and a little Band-Aid note on the back. The body is sharp and, again, bittersweet, chewy with loads of green herbs and citrus-focused, plus a lively woody/brambly note on the finish that pairs well with a hint of crisp white wine and that distinct Pineau character. Has trouble holding its own with gin, but can overpower vodka if you’re not careful with it. 17% abv. B+

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc – Blanc or bianco vermouth is essentially intended to be “sweet” (aka rouge) vermouth, but without the color. La Quintinye’s rendition is quite sweet (but not too much) and about the same shade of gold as the Extra Dry, offering notes of fresh sugared grapefruit, lemonade, peaches, and hints of cinnamon. Some sage notes emerge on the nose, but this is a lush and summery experience that really strikes all the right chords. Use in cocktails as a substitute for Lillet, St. Germain, or in lieu of dry vermouth — but I like it best on its own. 16% abv. A

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge – The classic sweet vermouth. Aromatic on the nose with florals, citrus peels, and some woody, slightly bitter notes evident. On the tongue, sweetness hits first — plums, raisins, and brown sugar then a touch of bitter root, tinged with notes of dark chocolate and vanilla. This is the most complex of the trio and probably my favorite of the bunch, likely because it is killer when used as a mixer with bourbon. An easy go-to for a sweet vermouth, any day. 16.5% abv. A

each $24 /

Review: Wines of Argentina’s Alamos, 2015 Releases

Alamos Seleccion 2013 Mendoza Argentina Malbec 750mlAn affordable Argentinian icon, Catena’s Alamos brand is out with three new releases. Let’s try ’em all!

2014 Alamos Torrontes Origin Salta – Extremely aromatic and perfumed, a field of white flowers in a summer rainstorm. Big apple and white peach notes and honeysuckle dominate the palate, with a very fragrant finish quickly following (and lasting for quite a while). B / $8

2014 Alamos Malbec Mendoza – Nice, dense fruit here, chewy and rounded on the palate. Notes of cloves and licorice play well with a plum and currant core, with touches of tobacco showing on the finish. Drinks well above pedigree. A- / $9

2013 Alamos Malbec Seleccion Mendoza – The reserve bottling of the Malbec above is a more herbal and aromatic wine, initially a bit closed but over time opening up to reveal elegant fruit, a layer of fresh herbs, and some light wood notes — sandalwood? — and a bit of incense. Quite lovely. A- / $17

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2015 Releases

crossbarnWe’ve covered the wines of Paul Hobbs in the past, but this year we look at a larger collection of five offerings. Thoughts? Here they come!

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Fresh and easygoing, blending tropical notes with gingerbread cookies up front. The finish is creamy and caramel-focused, but it’s not overwhelming with this sweetness. Some light herbal notes add nuance on the back end. A letdown. B / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Coast – Big and bright, punctuated with citrus and some fresh herbs — thyme and a touch of fresh cinnamon. The finish fades to a less distinctly acidic character, offering some chewiness and a bit of brown sugar — but all of that actually makes CrossBarn’s sauvignon blanc quite food-friendly, compared to most of the enamel-stripping examples of California sauvignon blanc out there. B+ / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Quite dry, perfumed with notes of both roses and white flowers. Gentle raspberry and strawberry notes dust the palate, but it’s far from overly fruited. Pretty and food-friendly but a bit underwhelming. B / $19

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Excellent representation of Anderson Valley pinot, including bright cherry fruit, a dusting of spice, and gentle vanilla notes. A moderate, balanced body makes this approachable from all sides — summer sipping or enjoying alongside a steak — a real versatile player in any cellar. Stock up. A- / $35

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Nice and spice up front, with black pepper at play with blackberry notes. Some dusky baking spice emerges, offering cloves and some slight, bitter root notes. A dusting of sweetness on the back end complements what has come before, a little vanilla and citrus add layers of complexity atop a solid pinot noir. A- / $35

Tasting Report: West of West Wine Festival 2015

The West of West Wine Festival is all about wine at its westernmost terminus in the United States: The Sonoma Coast, where dense fog and craggy conditions make growing conditions ripe only for a few prized varietals — chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah.

Recently I spent an afternoon at the WoW grand tasting, working through dozens of wines from the region. Many are dense and powerful, but a surprising number find elegance and grace in the Sonoma Coast, too. My clear favorites came from Peay, always a standout, DuMOL, and Failla — which showcased just how different pinots from this region can be (even when the vineyards are right next door).

Brief thoughts on all wines tasted follow.

Tasting Report: West of West Wine Festival 2015

2014 Baker Lane Vineyards Viognier / B+ / racy, engages with minerality to tame the heavy aromatics
2013 Baker Lane Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cuvee Pinot Noir / B+ / good balance, chocolate, earth, wood, some astringency
2012 Baker Lane Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve Sonoma Coast / B+ / quite dense, dried herbs, cherries, licorice
2012 Baker Lane Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cuvee Syrah / B / quite dry, lots of meaty notes
2010 Baker Lane Vineyards Sonoma Coast Estate Syrah / B / rich, good balance, herbs and meat but lighter in style
2014 Baker Lane Vineyards Rose / A- / very fresh, light strawberry shortcake
2014 Charles Heintz Vineyards Rachael Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / nice balance, fresh, solid vanilla core
2014 Charles Heintz Vineyards Searby Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B / unoaked; bold, lots of rosemary notes
2014 Charles Heintz Vineyards Valentina Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / C+ / very weedy, some sweetness
2014 Charles Heintz Vineyards Roxy Syrah Sonoma Coast / C- / far out of balance
2012 Claypool Cellars Rice Spivak Vineyard Pachyderm CC Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / somewhat bolder and fresher
2012 Claypool Cellars Pachyderm CC Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / herbal, some meaty notes
2013 DuMOL Vineyard Connor Joy Road Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / more aromatic, thinner body
2012 DuMOL Vineyard Connor Joy Road Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / great balance, bittersweet notes, lovely
2013 DuMOL Vineyard Isobel Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / beautiful, perfect balance of fruit and spice
2013 DuMOL Vineyard Isobel Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / more acid here, some greenery notes
2013 DuMOL Vineyard Aidan Wildrose Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / pretty fruit, with some meaty edges
2012 DuMOL Vineyard Jack Robert’s Run Gregori Vineyard Syrah Sonoma Coast / B+ / intense herbs with clear viognier notes, apricots; body lacks power
2013 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / gentle, nice balance, mild in style
2013 Failla Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / chewy, some dried cherry/raisin notes, a bit of citrus
2013 Failla Occidental Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / darker, stewier, with Burgundy character
2013 Failla Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / very fruity, citrus leads to a light tannin on the finish
2011 Flowers Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / herbal, a bit edgy
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / nice fruit, tropical notes and caramel lacing
2012 Flowers Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Block 17 Sonoma Coast / A- / lots of depth, pretty
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Block 15 Sonoma Coast / B+ / slightly thin and overly herbal
2012 Flowers Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Meunier Block 19 Sonoma Coast / B+ / exotic, some stone fruit, baking spices
2011 Fort Ross Vineyard Symposium / B- / a pinot noir/pinotage blend; strong dried herbs, off finish
2013 Fort Ross Vineyard Sea Slopes Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview / B / gentle style; some herbs
2011 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview / B / lots of acid, some florals, slight cheesy element
2011 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve Fort Ross-Seaview / B / stronger herbs, Burgundy focus
2010 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage Fort Ross-Seaview / B- / light fruit with olive notes, very dry
2012 Fort Ross Vineyard Stagecoach Road Pinot Noir / B / bolder body, pungent herbal character
2012 Furthermore Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard / B+ / delicate and floral
2012 Furthermore Alchemy Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / a cuvee; dense, a bit brooding, give this one some bottle age
2012 Furthermore Gloria Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / some sweetness, a bit of raisin and Christmas spices
2012 Furthermore Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / big and bold, bright fruit, some cocoa powder
2014 Furthermore Eden Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B / very young, florals and jam; needs time to develop
2006 Peay Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / a bit salty, aging beautifully
2013 Peay Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / classic structure, buttery and nutty
2013 Peay Vineyards Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / drinking young, herbal and perfumed
2013 Peay Vineyards Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / big and tough, chewy, cherries and dark fruits, lush, wonderful
2013 Peay Vineyards Ama Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / nice balance, fruit forward, emerging earth notes
2013 Peay Vineyards La Bruma Estate Syrah Sonoma Coast / B+ / drinking young also, very fruity and quite acidic
2009 Peay Vineyards Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / gorgeous, dense fruit with a slight sweetness
2012 Sojourn Cellars Oakville Cabernet / B / a cheat (not from the Sonoma Coast); dusty and chewy, classic young cab
2013 Sojourn Cellars Campbell Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / huge aromatics, lots of rosemary
2013 Sojourn Cellars Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / big and fruity, almost jammy; tea notes; edged with licorice
2013 Sojourn Cellars Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / much tougher, woody, lots of herbs
2013 Sojourn Cellars Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / nice balance, rich and lush
2013 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacamo Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / explodes with chocolate notes; earthy on the finish
2013 Sojourn Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / deep, big body; some dense fruits
2014 Soliste Soleil Rouge Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / very light style of wines; nice acid, lots of strawberry
2012 Soliste L’Esperance Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / very fresh berry, light herbs, delicate with big acidity
2012 Soliste Foret Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / quite floral, aromatic, quite delicate
2013 Soliste Narcisse Pinot Noir / B / citrus and lime notes, some candy character
2013 Zepaltas Wines Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B / traditional, lots of tropical notes, some caramel
2013 Zepaltas Wines Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / easygoing, nice finish, herbal punctuation
2013 Zepaltas Wines Devoto Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B / quite herbal, drying, ginger notes
2013 Zepaltas Wines Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / stronger in style; classic dark fruit

Review: 2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba

viglio Low Histamine Dolcetto d'Alba bottleHere’s something you don’t see every day: Italian wines with reduced histamines. Why histamines? Some say these are responsible for “red wine headaches?”

How does a wine turn out with its histamines taken away? Let’s take a look.

2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Barbera d’Alba DOC – Slightly sweet, atypical of barbera, with notes of blackcurrant jam and a touch of vanilla and chocolate. Silky on the body, but that sweetness lingers too long for a wine of this style. B- / $20

2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Dolcetto d’Alba DOC – Somewhat more herbal, with a modest bitterness clinging to a gentle, plum-focused core. Relatively thin, and a little watery on the finish. Fair but not really distinguished in any way. B- / $20

Review: Wines of Ehlers Estate, 2015 Releases

ehlers ESt. Helena-based Ehlers is a high-end Napa winery producing a modest number of red-centric wines. Today we’re looking at a total of four 2015 releases, including 2014 whites/roses and 2012 reds. The fun starts below…

2014 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena – Crisp and loaded with citrus, florals, and mineral notes, all wrapped up in a nicely acidic package. Fresh lemon and grapefruit, white flowers, and a touch of honeysuckle all come and go through the course of sipping on this extremely deft, balanced, and masterfully crafted sauvignon blanc. It’s exactly what this varietal should taste like. A / $28

2014 Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rose St. Helena – A rose of 100% cabernet franc, pink and dry and pretty as can be. Notes of dried flowers, fresh raspberry, some citrus, a bit of vanilla creme brulee, and a touch of balsamic give this a dazzling complexity — but it’s the dry and cleansing finish that makes it exceptionally memorable (and food friendly). A rose to try even if you’re an avowed rose hater. A / $28

2012 Ehlers Estate Merlot St. Helena – 92% merlot, 8% cabernet franc. Light violet notes offer an entry into a well-crafted but ultimately somewhat boring merlot, which yields flavors of blueberry and rhubarb and overtones of chocolate. An herbal edge on the finish cuts some of the sweetness a bit, elevating the experience with some aromatics that come into play late in the game. Give it time and use a large glass for the best experience. B+ / $55

2012 Ehlers Estate “E” 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon – 95% cabernet sauvignon, 2% cabernet franc, 2% merlot, 1% petit verdot. Dense. Give it time upon opening, maybe with a decanter. As it opens up, it reveals all the gorgeous opulence you’d expect from a Napa cab — intense cassis, fresh rosemary, lengthy vanilla, and subtle lumber notes. Paired with a sizable steak, what’s not to like here? Subtle chocolate, woody bramble, and touches of root beer merge with time. Everything’s operating on all cylinders here. Beautiful, beautiful cabernet. A / $110

Review: 3 White Wines from Kim Crawford, 2014 Vintage

kim crawfordThree new whites from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford — each made from one of three different varietals. On with the show…

2014 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris Marlborough – Fruit-forward, with both bright tropical and crisp apple notes. There’s a bit of nougaty sweetness that creeps in and grows in power as the body develops. That sugar, unfortunately, lingers on the tongue for a bit too long, cutting the much-needed acidity down to almost nothing. B / $16

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Crisp with lots of tropical character, classic New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Again that sweet nougat character emerges, though here it is less overbearing and better integrated into the wine. Pineapple notes and modest acidity finish things up. B / $11

2014 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay East Coast New Zealand – The best wine in the bunch here, with everything restrained appropriately, from tropical fruit to sugar. Rather, touches of lemon, apple, and pear give this wine approachability both on its own and with food. Simple, but not without a level of refinement. A- / $14

Review: 6 Wines from Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Releases

frank family NV Napa Valley PinotCalistoga-based Frank Family Vineyards has been on a tear of late. Recently we received a collection of six wines for consideration, including two from the standard lineup and four from the reserve line. (It’s easy to tell the difference at a glance, as the reserves all feature etched bottles rather than standard labels.) Let’s crack into them, starting with the “standard issue” wines!

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – Bright and fruity with big cherry and ample vanilla up front, exploration reveals touches of cola and coffee, dusted with a bit of cinnamon on the finish. Well balanced on the body, its aromatics intensify and add depth with time in the glass. It’s a nice summer wine, but it has enough complexity to stand up to a formal dinner, too. A- / $35

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A blend of 80% cab, 11% merlot, 5% petit verdot, and 4% cabernet franc. Very dry, with traditional notes of cassis and raspberry. There’s a significant oak influence here, with vanilla overtones emerging after you spend an hour or so with this wine in the glass. It’s worth the investment. Let that lumberyard character blow off and mellow out a bit — or decant — to bring out the best in the 2012 Frank Family Cab. B+ / $50

And now the reserve wines…

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Lewis Vineyard Reserve – A really big wine (with 14.5% alcohol to back it up), this Carneros Chardonnay offers a nice balance of brown butter notes and applesauce on the nose. On the palate, it starts with crisp green apple then segues into some floral notes before finally settling into that big, deep, rich butter character. With its long and soothing finish, the wine ends up opulent and powerful — the kind of wine you might reach for with a high-end meal (but which won’t pair well with a red). A- / $65

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lewis Vineyard Reserve – This Carneros-born bottling of pinot offers rich fruit, almost too much of it. While notes of black pepper and boysenberry are rich on the nose, the body pumps up the jam, pumps it up, while your feet are stompin’. Heavy Bing cherry notes on the palate, then the finish folds in a bit of mint and chocolate, which helps the dessert-like characteristics of the wine to increasingly dominate. A bit of a letdown in this strong field of wines. B / $65

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley Reserve – 83% zinfandel, 17% petite sirah. Chiles Valley is a sub-appellation of Napa, south of Pope Valley on the eastern side of the AVA. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. Whatever the place it’s from, this is solid Zin. Lightly raisiny on the nose, it also adds notes of herbs, namely baking spices, to the mix. The body is restrained, unlike many a Zin, showcasing the melange of spice and fruit, with a supple, slightly jammy, lip-smacking finish — with just a touch of chocolate. If you think you “don’t like Zinfandel,” give this bottling a try. A- / $55

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah S&J Vineyard Reserve – Dusty and dry at first, this Napa petite sirah features strong chocolate, plum, and blackberry notes, with heavy overtones of lumberyard, tree bark, and dried herbs — lavender, rosemary, and thyme. It leans a bit too far toward the bitter side of things, but a touch of blueberry and black pepper on the back end pull it back into focus. B+ / $60